THE SUV LOOKED big until we tried to stuff all of us in it. Nicky rode shotgun because his shoulders squeezed us in the backseat, though since we had to unfold two extra seats just in front of the luggage, weren't they the backseat, and Micah and I were in the middle seat? Rodina and Nathaniel squeezed in the backest seats. Micah was pressed between me and Ru. Bram managed to get his six-foot-plus body folded between me and the door. There was a bodyguard for each of us so that if someone tried to hijack the car, everyone could be covered.
Bernardo drove out of the parking area and we'd barely turned onto the next small road when the ocean was suddenly visible, shining and spreading out toward the horizon. I'd seen the ocean on the West Coast, up and down the East Coast, and in Ireland, but I'd never seen ocean that was this blue. It was aquamarine, turquoise, pale sapphire, as if God had ground up jewels and turned them into water.
"Wow," I said, "I've never seen water that color before."
"It gets even prettier as we drive up toward the Middle Keys," Bernardo said. He turned left, and I watched the shining water dotted with sailboats and motorboats, though some of them looked big enough to be called something else. How big does a boat have to be before you call it a ship?
I settled back in the curve of Micah's arm and the back of the seat and looked out at my first Caribbean blue ocean. I suddenly felt like we really were on a vacation. We weren't on the road long before we turned left again onto the Overseas Highway, U.S. Route 1. "It's the only highway in the Keys," Bernardo said.
"Must make it hard to get lost," I said. Small trees had closed around the highway, but even without the ocean visible you wouldn't have mistaken it for the Midwest or either coast. I wasn't sure what kind of trees were hugging the road, but they were unique enough that it felt foreign, as if it weren't America anymore, but someplace new. The short trees vanished, and now there was ocean on either side of the road, though one side was an overall pale turquoise green, and on the other side of the road it was as if the water was striped, pale turquoise, and then so many shades of blue, from sky blue to royal blue, cobalt, and finally a navy blue that was almost black. The darkest blue reminded me of Jean-Claude's eyes, and I was sad that he wasn't here.
"The darkest blue looks like Jean-Claude's eyes," Nathaniel said from behind us.
I turned so I could see him as I said, "I was thinking the same thing."
"Even if he was with us, he could never see the ocean looking like this," Micah said.
I turned back to look at him, pressed so close to him that I had to move my head back to focus on his face. "What do you mean?"
"Sunlight," he said. "It doesn't look like this at night."
"Oh," I said, "I knew that. I mean, I know, but . . ."
"But you forgot anyway," he said, hugging me with the one arm around my shoulders and kissing me gently on the cheek.
Bernardo said, "Did you forget that Jean-Claude was a vampire?"
"Not exactly," I said. It seemed terribly sad that Jean-Claude could never see the ocean spread out to either side of the highway in shades of blue and green, shining in the sunlight.
"He could see it on a video," Nathaniel said.
I turned to give him a smile. "We could take a video and send it to him."
"And pictures," Micah said, smiling.
I nodded and cuddled my face against his.
"You're really going to miss him," Bernardo said.
I looked up from Micah to see Bernardo looking at us in the rearview mirror. "Why do you sound surprised?" I asked.
He glanced back at the road and then back at us. "I see how you are with Micah and Nathaniel and I just don't know how there's more room for anyone else."
"I figured of all people you'd understand being attracted to multiple people at once," I said.
I caught his grin in the mirror before he turned back to watching the road. "I can be attracted to a lot of women at the same time. It's one of the reasons I've never been married. Monogamy just didn't seem reasonable when the world is full of so many beautiful, funny, smart women."
"Thanks for adding the funny and smart part," I said.
He laughed. "I don't just go for looks all the time."
"Just most of the time," I said.
"You really don't have room to throw stones at my glass house, Anita." He was still laughing as he said it, but I think he meant it.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked.
Micah hugged me a little tighter. "Honey, you don't date unattractive people."
"You date people because you find them attractive," I said.
"Belle Morte would be happy with the men and most of the women in your life, Anita," Rodina said.
"And she collects only the fairest of them all," Ru said.
"They can't all be the fairest of them all," I said, glancing at him where he sat on the other side of Micah. I don't know if my irritation showed on my face or if he could feel it.
"I'm sorry if that offended you, my queen."
"It didn't offend me, Ru. It just didn't make me happy."
"All I know is that you are unhappy with me and I would do anything to make you happy once more."
"Don't say anything," I said.
"But it is the truth."
Nicky spoke from the front seat. "Anita tries not to think about what it means that we are her Brides."
"Wait," Bernardo said, "I knew Nicky was your Bride, but are you saying that Ru is, too?"
"And me," Rodina said from behind us.
"So you're both part of the poly group?" Bernardo asked.
"No," Rodina said.
"Not yet," Ru said.
I leaned around Micah and glared at Ru. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"We are your Brides. That means that we serve you in any way necessary or desired by you."
"I get that; so what?"
"It's okay, Anita," Micah said, stroking his hand down my bare arm the way you'd soothe a horse or a dog.
"Do you want them to be part of our polycule?" I asked, glaring at him, because my confusion was turning into anger and any target would do.
"No, I really don't, no insult to either of them, but there are so many people in our pol
y group now that it's hard to know how to take care of all of them."
"Then why are you trying to soothe me, after what Ru said?"
"He's your Bride. Doesn't that mean that he's supposed to be willing to do anything for you?"
"Yeah, but I didn't ask him to feed the ardeur with me. He's just here as security." I sounded angry, even to me.
"If that is all you need from me, then I am happy to be of service," Ru said, leaning around Micah so he could see my face more clearly.
"I just need you to protect Nathaniel, Micah, and me; that's it."
"Of course," Ru said.
"We have guarded queens before you and we will guard queens after you," Rodina said.
Nicky said, "Is that a threat?"
"No, just the truth. Before our first evil queen died, I thought we would guard her all our days. It has left me with doubts about the permanence of anything, or anyone."
"The queen is dead, long live the queen," Ru said.
"And that's not a threat?" I asked.
He looked surprised, but then his face went back to unreadable blankness, which seemed to be his most common expression. "We would never threaten our dark queen."
"I'm not even sure we're capable of threatening Anita," Rodina said.
I glanced behind me at her. "What does that mean, Rodina?"
"We must take care of you. We are compelled by your emotions more than our own. If you are unhappy, it is almost a physical pain until you are happy once more."
"You are a pain in my ass a lot of the time, and that makes me unhappy."
"I told you, Anita, I like being a pain in the ass. I even like the pain when you're unhappy with me sometimes."
"Why?" Micah asked, glancing at her.
"I think it helps me mourn our brother. I want to hurt, maybe even need to hurt, while I mourn."
"I do not enjoy pain," Ru said.
"I'd have totally pegged you for the submissive and Rodina as the dominant," I said.
"You should know not to judge people like that, Anita. So many of us don't wear our kinks on our sleeves the way that Nathaniel and Nicky do. You don't."
"We are not talking about our kinky preferences in the car like this," I said.
"Does Mr. Spotted-Horse not know your preferences by now?" Ru asked.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked.
"Both of you like beautiful lovers, you are polyamorous, and he stated that he wasn't monogamous. Why have you not explored the possibilities of each other? Since you work together, being lovers would be practical; it would help you feed the ardeur while you are being a marshal."
I studied his face, because he was so serious. "I can't argue with your reasoning, but I'm just not that practical."