Micah leaned in to whisper, "I'll cheer on Nathaniel; you help Wyatt get rid of Bettina." He started to walk toward the rest of the group that was moving up to watch the race. I was left facing Wyatt, um, Ru, and the pretty girl on his arm. She was pretty, or would have been if she'd stopped frowning and clinging to Ru as if only violence would remove her.
Rodina leaned in and whispered, "Please, Anita."
I looked at Ru, at this new more confident exterior and the body that had been totally hidden under the baggy clothes he preferred. His eyes started to be a little less certain as I stared at him, and somehow, I didn't want to ruin his mood. He seemed happier than I'd ever seen him. Maybe it was an act, or maybe just pretending to be happy can help.
I held my hand out to Ru, and he smiled. He gave me the hand she wasn't clinging to with both hands and some of her body weight. She pretty much had him pinned. I wondered if she was always this clingy or if it was something about Ru that made her so determined. I tried to draw him to me, but she held on as if it was going to be a tug-of-war with him in the middle. That was too ridiculous, so I moved to Ru's other side and touched his face. He slid his arm around my waist for the first time, and he felt as strong as he looked. He tightened his arm around my waist and drew me in against the side of his body. It was so much bolder than I'd thought he had in him, and for a second it reminded me of Rodrigo, who had been bold and dominant and domineering. I started to recoil from him. He felt it and the light started to fade from his eyes; that quiet, nearly beaten look was creeping back into his eyes, and I didn't want to see it back. I didn't want to be the cause of it. Rodina was right; they were in mourning, too. We'd all lost in Ireland. I stared up into his black eyes and for the first time I saw Ru, not Rodrigo, but the man standing in front of me instead of the ghosts behind me.
I smiled up into his face, let my fingers play along the water drops on his skin. That light touch filled his eyes back up with something happier. I tried to put my arm around his waist but ran into Bettina's body.
"Hey, I'm not into girls, okay?" she said.
I hesitated for a minute with my arm pushed against her body as I tried to hug him; then I smiled up at him and did my best to let him see/feel/think what I was about to do. If it had been Nathaniel, I would have been able to just lower my shields and be sure he understood, but with Ru the connection only went one way: him sensing me. I went up on tiptoes, leaning against the line of his body and putting my lips against his; it wasn't even a kiss, just a touch. I felt his lips curl into a smile and I smiled back. I turned my arm to go around her waist, so I was hugging both of them. She made an unhappy "Hey!" I pulled harder and broke from Ru's lips to lean toward Bettina, as if I meant to kiss her. She gave an unhappy squeal and let him go, only my arm keeping her in place. If I'd been a little more perverse, I'd have gotten a kiss before I let her go, but I didn't like Bettina enough to even go that far. I moved my arm and she stumbled back as if she'd been fighting harder against my arm than I'd felt.
She was calling me names now, lesbian being the nicest of them. I ignored her and was finally able to look up into Ru's ebony eyes without any distractions. He smiled, I smiled, and then I leaned in toward him as he leaned in toward me. We kissed, a light brush of lips, and then his hands tightened on the back of my body, pressing us together so that there was more body English to the kiss. I felt his body through the front of his small bathing suit. It made me push away from the kiss and turn my face in against his neck. His skin was slightly cool from the pool, but it must have been a saltwater pool, because there was no hint of chlorine. His skin smelled clean and good. I wrapped myself around him, burying my face in the bend of his neck where the pulse beat underneath his skin. He was suddenly so warm, and underneath the sweet scent of his skin was heat, a heat that I could warm myself with, if only I could reach it.
I kissed his neck, pressing my lips over that warm, pulsing smoothness. I licked lightly over it and found his skin salty, and not from sweat, but from the salt water of the pool. I licked across his pulse, harder this time, licking as if I could touch that beating thing with my tongue if only I licked hard enough.
Ru shivered in my arms. He said, "Anita," in a voice that was a little breathy.
I opened my mouth enough to set teeth against his skin on either side of that pulsing, dancing point. I could feel it against my tongue like something alive and separate from him, like a tiny bird fluttering under his skin waiting for me to free it so it could fly high in a spill of crimson feathers and screams.
A hand grabbed my hair hard enough that it hurt. Under other circumstances I might have enjoyed it, but not now. I set my teeth in the flesh. If they tore me away now, they'd take his neck with me. I heard a low growl and realized it was me.
Micah's voice against my ear: "Anita, don't do this, not here in front of Edward and the wedding guests."
He could have said a lot of things, but that was a good one to bring me back to myself and wonder what the hell I was doing. I relaxed in Ru's grip and stopped biting him, drawing first my teeth and then my mouth back from his skin.
Ru's eyes were slightly unfocused, as if he'd gotten more from the partial bite than he should have. Rodina spoke low near my ear: "My queen, when is the last time you fed?"
"I had food on the plane," I said.
Micah kept his grip on my hair. He knew that the danger wasn't over yet. I almost told him, I'm okay, I'm safe, but I didn't know what had made me lose control, so I just let Micah draw me back from Ru. Bram stood a little ahead of Micah, closer to me than to his leopard king. If I lost control, he was going to defend his king. I was glad to know that Bram was there, because I wasn't sure what had just happened, or why. Stupid metaphysics.
Nathaniel put an arm over Ru's shoulders and drew him away from me as Micah moved me. Ru said in a voice that was still lower than normal, "I am yours in whatever way you need me to be, my queen."
I blinked and looked at Nathaniel's worried face as he stared at me. "Did you win?" I asked.
"What?" he asked.
"Did you win the race, the heat, the swimming thing?"
He smiled then, and Micah said, "That's our girl."
"I lost," Nathaniel said.
I must have looked surprised, because he added, "The guy is going through college on a swim s
cholarship and he's nearly five inches taller than me. He touched the wall first."
"So, did we lose the money?" I asked, as if I really cared. I didn't, but sometimes you support your people even when they do things you don't understand like bet money on winning a swim race with strangers, or try to tear the throat out of one of your friends. See, we all try to understand one another's little foibles.
"Not yet," Edward said. He was standing near us with a towel in his hands. I was pretty sure there was a weapon of some kind in the towel. I was okay with that. He was only human, after all, and the rest of us standing there weren't. He was the most dangerous human being I'd ever met and one of the most dangerous people, human or superhuman, but still, a weapon was good to have when you were dealing with supernaturals, because sometimes the only difference between a preternatural human being and a monster was a little unsatisfied bloodlust.
Bernardo was standing a little behind Edward. It wasn't that he wasn't going to help if he was needed, but he didn't have Edward's cold-blooded determination, meaning that he might hesitate if it came to killing me. I was their friend, after all. If Edward ever made the decision that I was too dangerous, he'd pull the trigger, because he trusted his judgment that completely, and so did I. Bernardo wasn't as self-contained as Edward, but then few people were.
"We're going to take Anita to the room for a few minutes," Micah said, and he looked at Edward when he said it.
Edward gave a minute nod. "Good idea," he said; his voice was tight, cold. I expected his eyes to be the pale of winter skies, which was the color that his eyes became when he was about to kill. I looked into a richer, friendlier blue than I'd expected and saw something in his eyes that I'd never expected to see: hesitation. He'd do it, but I'd crossed a line for Edward, just as he had for me. We'd pull the trigger on each other if we felt we had no choice and other people's safety was on the line, but it would cost us. Damn it.
I looked past him and saw Rufous. He'd finally stood up, too, though he looked out of shape enough that it made me worry for him, and then I saw his face. His eyes had narrowed, and for lack of a better word he had that cop look, and it was aimed at me. I'd done something interesting and not in a good way. He didn't know what was going on, but he was a cop, and if the flags go up, cops run toward the action, never away from it. Physical fitness and age had nothing to do with it. Rufous was a police officer, period. That made me wonder, so I glanced behind me toward Frankie. He wasn't a cop and never had been, but he was a man who had spent a lot of his career settling violent problems with violent solutions. He was behind us, and I finally realized that both Nathaniel and Ru had given some of their attention to the tall, dark, and potentially dangerous man. I'd totally forgotten about him, which was worse than careless; it was stupid. Just as Edward wasn't my only dangerous friend, so I wasn't his either. If you had to pick a wedding to crash, this would not be the one to choose.