I had to shoo a couple of them out of hearing range, because Bettina moving away had given them even more hope. Bernardo had to be charming at a couple of more, and they hovered nearby like vultures waiting for the handsome gazelle to stop struggling. Some of the women found other chairs beside the pool and tried to drape themselves artfully, or blatantly, waiting for Bernardo to finish talking to me. He ignored them all; that would have been enough to make me walk away. I don't deal with being ignored.
He pulled a chair over so I could sit and leaned in toward me. "What is Dixie threatening to tell Becca?"
I told him.
His face showed the shock. "Fuck," he said with deep feeling.
"Yeah," I said.
"But I thought that Donna and Edward cleared all that up. Donna doesn't believe you guys were an item, right?"
"Not anymore," I said.
"Then what is Dixie's problem?"
"I'm not sure."
"What can we do to minimize the damage?"
"You tell Edward when he and Donna come back out of their room," I said.
"Why can't you tell him?"
"Because this is supposed to be a romantic trip for the three of us, and Micah and I have already disappointed Nathaniel once today. They're waiting in our room for me now."
He motioned toward the waiting women. "And I don't have people waiting for me?"
"You haven't bagged and tagged yours yet; I have."
He sat back in his chair. "You think I couldn't have a woman in my bed within the next few minutes?"
I laughed. "I know you could, but would it be the one you wanted?"
"I want them all," he said, smiling and obviously pleased with himself.
I shook my head. "I know that's not true."
He looked a little less pleased. "How do you know that?"
"You're pickier than that just on the beauty scale alone."
He studied me through his dark glasses, now firmly back hiding his eyes. "So are you."
"Don't compare my dating preferences to yours. I'm a lot pickier than you are."
"That's fair," he said, and then he smiled, adding, "You know, if you wanted to join me and one of the beauties here by the pool, you could."
I laughed. "I've got my own threesome waiting for me in my room, but thanks for thinking of me."
He laughed, too. "I thought you liked girls now, or are you just dating them to make your guys happy?"
I shook my head. "I told you, Bernardo--fantasize about me with other women on your own time, and when you meet the other women in my life you will fantasize."
He gave me a smile that was almost a leer. "Can't wait to meet them."
"So, will you tell Edward?" I asked.
"I'll tell him before I pick my afternoon delight."
"You did not just say afternoon delight." I lowered my sunglasses enough so he could see me roll my eyes.
He laughed, lowering his own glasses so he could wiggle his eyebrows at me.
"Good luck," I said, and started to walk away. Nicky and Rodina settled on either side of me. I glanced back, and Bettina was already at his side, but then so were a few of the other women. Rodina said, "I'm beginning to see why you never slept with your work friend."
"Yeah, I don't like being part of a herd," I said.
She glanced back and said, "Moo."
I glanced back, too. Bettina had climbed into Bernardo's lap, but the other women hadn't given up yet. One was starting to give him a back rub. I followed Nicky, with Rodina bringing up the rear. I watched the back of Nicky's body, the spread of his shoulders and his ass as he walked away from me. It made me happy to know that he was mine. Micah and Nathaniel were waiting for me back at the room, and I was looking forward to joining them. I liked that I had people in my life and that we were sure of one another. We were poly, but we were secure in our group. I liked that, a lot. My own love life always interested me more than anyone else's.
WE WERE ALMOST to our room when I saw a tall, dark-haired man coming toward us. He had to be over six feet tall or I couldn't have seen him over Nicky's body. It took me a second to realize it was Peter Parnell, Donna and Edward's son. When had he gotten that tall and how had I not recognized him? Part of it was me still wearing the sunglasses in the dimmer hallway, but a lot of it was that at nineteen he was finally filling out into the man he'd be for the rest of his life. If I hadn't known that both Nathaniel and I grew several inches after age nineteen, I'd have said he was done.
Nicky moved slightly to the side so that Peter and I could see each other better, I think. I guess I was completely hidden behind him. Genetics and working out had broadened Peter's shoulders and just helped fill out his arms and legs and everything in between so he looked more finished than he had even a year ago. His hair had gone from deep brown to a nearly black brown. It was short except on top, where he'd left it long so that his bangs, if that was the right word, fell across the edge of one eyebrow, because he swept his hair to the side and did something to it so that it stayed that way. He had a habit of running his fingers through just that part of his hair now. I wasn't sure if it was to make sure it stayed where he wanted it, or if he'd started styling it that way because of the habitual gesture.
I studied his face as we walked toward each other, trying to see the shadow of the young boy I'd first met, but all I could see was this big, athletic stranger walking toward me. Well, not quite a stranger, because he looked so much like the picture of his dead father that Donna kept in the living room that it was a little disturbing. She was the only person I knew who kept a picture of her first husband when she was with someone else, but maybe that was because she'd been widowed. No, that couldn't be it, because my father didn't keep any pictures of my mother out, and my stepmother, Judith, didn't keep any of her first husband out either, and they were a widow and a widower. Maybe it was a Donna thing, or maybe she wanted her kids to remember him. Whatever her motive, I wondered how Peter felt seeing his dead father's face in the mirror every morning.
"Do I have something on my face?" Peter asked as we all came together in the middle of the hallway.
I shook my head. "No, well, wait, is that a five-o'clock shadow?"
He grinned and there was a glimpse of the kid I'd met all those years ago. It made me smile to see it. "Maybe I'll see if I can grow a beard."
"If you stop shaving before the wedding, your mom will kill you."
He laughed. It was a deep chuckle, and there was nothing little boy about it. I was happy for him growing up, but sometimes I missed Peter from a few years ago. I wondered if this was a tiny bit of how parents feel when they watch their kids grow up: happy and sad all at once.
Peter noticed both Rodina and Nicky, but he looked longer at the man. Peter had only been introduced to Nicky as my or Nathaniel's bodyguard on trips to New Mexico, at first. He had been fine with Nicky; he hadn't even had the issue that most men did with Nicky being physically intimidating, until he found out that Nicky was my lover. He'd liked Nicky less after that. I'd known that Peter had had a crush on me for a while, but I hadn't thought that it might bother him if I added new men to our poly group.
Nicky said, "Peter."
Rodina smiled at them both and then looked down to hide it. She was the ultimate spy and centuries-old assassin; she could control her facial expressions, which meant she wanted Peter to notice, because Nicky wouldn't care. Peter glanced at her, noticing. Why did she want him to see it? I'd ask her later, but I didn't try to hide my irritation with her. Brides were supposed to want to keep me happy, right?
I said, "Why aren't you out by the pool? I know Edward made sure you know how to swim."
He rolled his eyes, and again, that was something he'd done when I first met him. Peter was still in there, just bigger. "While Uncle Bernardo is holding tryouts for his bimbo of the night, no, thanks."
It was my turn to laugh. "Fair enough."
"I would think you could give Bern
ardo a run for his money with his bimbos," Rodina said.
I looked at her, but she was looking at Peter like a girl looks at an attractive guy. Was she flirting with him? Why would she be flirting with him?
I looked at Peter; I mean, really looked at him. I tried to look at him not as Edward and Donna's son, but as a person. He was a little too traditionally masculine for my preferences. I preferred pretty or beautiful to handsome, and his face was longer than I liked, but it was a good face, a strong face. The hair spilling around his eyes gave him that careless bad-boy look. His eyes were a nice solid brown, deep and dark and full of a force of personality that I liked, though not everyone likes that amount of internal fire. But I did. His lower lip was fuller than his upper one, but I could see running my thumb along that pouting lower lip. I realized with almost a shock that Peter was a good-looking guy, and there was a reason that he'd been able to pass for twenty-one before he was eighteen. He didn't look like a kid anymore and probably hadn't for a while. I just hadn't noticed.
Peter looked at Rodina. "I don't think I'm in the same league as Uncle B."
"He's a little too pretty for my taste. I like my men to be more handsome than pretty," she said. She gave him a look out from under her eyelashes. There's only one reason any woman gives that look to anyone. She was flirting. In my head I wanted to say, But why are you flirting with him? But her reaction to him had made me see Peter not as a kid, but as a grown-up, and if you liked your men closer to the rugged, handsome side of the scale, then he was worth flirting with, weird as that seemed to me.
"We're working," Nicky said.
"But once Anita is safely in her room with Micah and Nathaniel, then we won't be working anymore," she said.