"So you'll hold a little of yourself back from everybody."
"No," I said, "I'll hold back a piece of myself for myself. No one gets all of me, Jason, no one, except me."
He shook his head. "So Jean-Claude gets sex, but no blood. Nathaniel gets intimacy, but not intercourse. Asher gets blood but not intercourse. Micah's getting intimacy and intercourse, what are you holding back from him?"
"I don't love him yet."
"I lust after him, but I don't love him yet."
"And Richard, what did you hold back from Richard?"
I stood there wrapped in the damned sheet, feeling the world sinking away to a small screaming thing. "Nothing," I said, "I held back nothing, and he dumped my ass."
Jason just sat there for a second or two, then he got off the bed. I think he meant to hold me, comfort me.
I put out a hand to stop him. "If you hug me, I'm going to cry, and Richard has gotten the last tear out of me that he's going to get."
"I'm sorry, Anita."
"Not your fault."
"No, but it wasn't any of my business either. I don't have the right to psychoanalyze you."
"You're just jealous," I said, and I tried to make it light, joking, and failed.
"About what?" he asked.
"That I have so many people that I could be in love with, if I'd only give that one last inch."
He sat back down on the edge of the bed. "You're right, damn it, but you're right. I am jealous, but I didn't mean to hurt you. I didn't understand until the moment you said how afraid you were of being consumed. I want to be consumed, Anita. I want someone to come along and burn me up."
"You're a romantic," I said.
"You make that sound like a dirty word."
"Not dirty, Jason, just useless." I started for the door. "I'm going to get cleaned up, help yourself to the upstairs shower if you want." Jason called to me, but I kept walking. I'd had all the pillow talk I wanted for one day.
I loved the new shower that I'd had installed in the downstairs master bathroom. One of the bear lycanthropes in town turned out to be a plumber. I'd still paid full price, but at least I knew he wouldn't be asking stupid questions about my living arrangements. I liked a good long bath when the occasion called for it, but at heart I was a shower girl.
I set the showerhead on hard, so that the water beat against my neck, head, shoulders. I hadn't been embarrassed about ha**ng s*x with Jason, and maybe that was wrong, but it hadn't felt sinful. Maybe because it was just another way for him to take care of me. But the little talk afterwards, that had bothered me. That hard emotional truths bothered me more than having intercourse with someone I wasn't in love with probably said something about how far down the well of moral decay I had fallen.
I stood in the hot, hot water, steam foaming against the glass doors of the stall, and was happy that I didn't owe my heart to anyone. It was mine damn it, and I was keeping it in one piece if I could. Richard had broken some part of me, some last bit that had been trying to hang onto a softer more romanticized view of love. He had left, dumped me because I wasn't human enough for him. My fiance in college had dumped me because I wasn't white bread enough for his mother. My stepmother, Judith, had never let me forget that I was small and dark, and she and her children and my father, were tall and blond, and blue-eyed. People had spent my lifetime rejecting me for things I could not change about myself. So f**k them, f**k them all.
I was sitting on the bottom of the shower. I hadn't meant to. I hadn't meant to huddle in the water, hiding. Why was I always chasing after the love of people who I could never be enough for? There were plenty of others who wanted me exactly as I was, small, dark, hard, bloody, thick with metaphysical shit. People who loved me just as I was. Unfortunately, none of them were me.
There was a knock on the door, and I realized that someone had been knocking for a while. I always locked the door when I went in, out of habit,
I turned the water down, so I could hear better. "What is it?"
"Anita, it's Jamil, I need to come in."
"Why?" That one word held a universe of suspicion. If his reason had been something I wouldn't hate he'd have already said why he needed to come in.
I actually heard him sigh through the door. "It's Richard, he's hurt, and we need to use the big bathtub."
"No," I said. I turned off the water and reached for the oversized towel.
"Anita, since the pack sold Raina's house we don't have any body of water big enough to soak him and other pack members in. I found him unconscious on his bedroom floor, he's ice cold."
I wound a smaller towel around my wet hair. "You are not bringing him in here, Jamil. There's got to be some place else to take him. Jean-Claude would let you use the tub at his place."
"Anita, he's icy, if we don't get him warm soon, I don't know what'll happen."
I leaned my head against the door. "Are you telling me that he's going to die?"
"I'm telling you, I don't know. I've never seen another werewolf this bad without some kind of wound to show for it. I don't know what's wrong with him."
I did, unfortunately. Belle hadn't only fed her people off of me, she'd been feeding off of Richard, too. I'd thought about that earlier in the day, but I hadn't dreamed that he wouldn't call his pack and have some of them near him, to strengthen himself on their collected energy. I hadn't known that he would just let himself die. Because long before he got that bad he'd have known something was very wrong.
"Did he call you for help?" I asked, still leaning against the door.
"No, I needed to ask him about pack business, and I tried him at the school, but he'd called in sick. Then I called his house and got no answer. Anita, please, let us in."
Mother f**king son of a bitch. I could not believe that I was having to do this. The man that had broken my heart, called me a monster was about to get soaked in my bathtub for God knew how long.
I unlocked the door and opened it with me behind, hiding, so I couldn't be seen, or see.
Jamil eased through the door with Richard in his arms. It wasn't weight that made it hard--Jamil could have bench-pressed the entire bathroom--it was that Richard was broad-shouldered, and Jamil wasn't small himself.
I tried not to look at either of them, getting only a brief glimpse of Jamil's cornrowed hair, bright red beads intertwined. His shirt was a red to match the beads, his suit jacket black. I didn't take the time to see if his pants matched the jacket. I just started for the door, towels clutched to me.
"Can you turn on the water for me, Anita?" Jamil asked.
"No," I said, and I fled.
I got dressed. I couldn't remember if I'd gotten around to using shampoo on my hair, or only gotten it wet, and I didn't care. I had an image of Richard's face burned in my mind. Eyes closed, that perfectly square jaw with its dimple. But there had been no spill of that glorious hair around his shoulders. That wonderful hair that was brown shot with gold and copper, so that it almost glowed in the sunlight. He'd cut his hair. He'd cut his hair.
I remembered the feel of it in my hands, the silken slide of it over my body, the spill of it around his face when he rose over me. Richard lying underneath my body, his hair like a rich cloud on the pillow, as his eyes lost focus and his body thrust into mine.
I was sitting on the bed, crying, when there was a knock at the door. I had jeans on, but had only gotten to my bra. "Just a minute." My voice was only a little thick.
I slipped the red T-shirt on over the black jeans. I started to say come in,then realized it could be Richard. Unlikely since he was unconscious minutes ago, but I couldn't take the chance. "Who is it?"
"Come in." I scrubbed at my eyes and had my back to the door, while I looked at my shoulder holster and tried to figure out what I'd done with my belt. I needed the belt to slide through the shoulder holster. Where the hell was my belt?
"The police are on the phone," he said, voice quiet.
I just shook my head. "I can't find my belt."
"I'll find it for you," he said. I knew from his voice that he was farther into the room now. I hadn't heard him move. It was like I wasn't hearing everything, like I was losing pieces of things.
"What's wrong with me?" I hadn't actually meant to say it out loud.