I put my hands over both of his, so that we held each other. "You mean make my apologies for me, and Damian and I go hide out in the bedroom?"
Someone had propped the front door back into place. The door hung crooked in the frame, and a little light leaked around the edges, but it wasn't bad. Damian had grabbed at my shoulder at the first line of light that crawled across the floor. I'd patted his hand, but didn't know what else to do. Micah informed us that he'd shut the drapes in the kitchen, so it was as dim as he could make it. I'd smiled at him for that. He always seemed to anticipate my wants. Sometimes it bugged me, but not today. Today, I'd take all the help I could get.
Damian would have been the perfect excuse to hang out in a darker part of the house. Unfortunately, almost as much as I didn't want to see Richard, I didn't want to be alone with Damian. Men can be sort of funny after you've had sex with them, some get downright possessive, others get emotional, and still others just want a chance to do it again. None of that sounded like something I wanted to deal with right that minute. Sure he felt calm against my skin, but that didn't mean that once we were alone he'd be able to stop himself from being male. After all he was one. I just wasn't willing to risk it.
"If you have to look at it that way, yes."
"It's not that I have to look at it that way, Micah, it's the way it is. It would be hiding out."
"She won't hide," Nathaniel said, voice soft and full of sorrow that I couldn't understand, and just the sound in his voice made me glad at that moment that we weren't touching. Whatever he was feeling didn't sound fun in the least.
"Isn't discretion ever the better part of valor with you?" Micah asked, and there was a look in his eyes that was close to pain. But strangely, of all the men in my life, he was one of the few whose mind and emotions I couldn't read. I could read his face, his eyes, his body, but his mind and internal emotions were his own.
"No," I said, "never. Well, almost never." I patted his hands and stepped back just enough so that he had to let me go, or hold on when he knew I didn't want him to.
He let his hands fall away from me, and the first hint of anger trickled into his eyes. "I don't like seeing you hurt."
"I don't like seeing me hurt either," I said.
That almost made him smile. "Trying to make jokes, I guess that's a good sign."
"Trying, only trying? I thought it was funny."
"No," Nathaniel said, "no, it wasn't." He squeezed my arm as he walked by. "I'll get the coffee started."
"You're not going to wait for us?" I asked.
He turned back just short of the kitchen doorway. He was smiling. "I know you'll get in here, eventually, because you couldn't stand yourself if you chickened out. But, by the time you talk yourself into it, I could already have coffee made."
I frowned at him, and just a tiny thread of anger came with it.
Damian grabbed for my hand again, and I didn't fight it.
"Don't get mad at me," Nathaniel said, "I'm about to grind fresh coffee beans for you and use the new French press Jean-Claude got you."
I frowned harder.
"I know how much you hate to admit that you like the French press, but you do like it."
"It doesn't make enough coffee at one time," I said. Even to me it sounded churlish.
"I'll tell Jean-Claude that you would like a really, really big French press." He said it completely deadpan, and only the faintest of smiles and the tiniest gleam in his eyes let me know he was going to add something. "Size queen," then he was through the door, before I could close my mouth and decide whether to yell at him, or laugh.
Nathaniel's attempt to make me laugh accomplished one thing; it made me feel better, though I have to admit the smell of freshly ground coffee helped lure me through the door. I couldn't let one ex-fiancé stand between me and my coffee, could I? Not and keep my self-respect, so in we went.
Richard was sitting at the kitchen table on the side nearest the door. Dr. Lillian was standing over him finishing the bandaging of his entire right shoulder and arm. She glanced at us as we came through the door, but most of her attention stayed on her patient. The first time I'd met her she'd been gray and furry, but now she was a woman of about fifty, slender, with hair as gray and white as her fur was when she was in rat form. There was always something neat about Dr. Lillian, as if her clothes never got too dirty and she always had medical supplies when she needed them. She never seemed to panic. In the human world, she was head of one of the few local emergency trauma centers that had survived the cutbacks. But she spent more and more time helping the semi-permanently furry. Since Marcus had died, we were really short on doctors.
Which explained why there was a bodyguard leaning on the other side of the doorway watching us move into the room. He was slender, a little shy of six feet, though something about the way he stood made him seem shorter. A tangle of black hair fell into his eyes, and they glittered like black jewels from that fall of hair. His graceful hands caressed the edges of his leather jacket, and I caught glimpses of at least four knife hilts before he let the jacket fall closed. There might have been six hilts, but I was sure of four, and that was plenty.
I'd been told the wererats were here, plural, but I hadn't thought about it. Hadn't really heard it. I'd been so busy not seeing Richard, that I hadn't really looked at the room. I'd strapped on a knife and my gun, but I might as well have been unarmed for all the good they would have done me, if Fredo had meant me harm. I hadn't seen him. He'd been standing just inside the door, opposite the side I came through, and I hadn't seen him. Shit.
I managed to keep it off my face. I nodded to Fredo; he nodded back. I wanted to say something, but I didn't trust my voice. I was thinking, Stupid, stupid. And that kind of stupid could get me killed.
Nathaniel was at the back of the kitchen by the sink, under the window that we'd once had to replace because of shotgun damage. The window was fine now, but I wasn't. I lived in a world where I had to see the bad guys. Fredo was on our side, but he was definitely a bad guy. Not a bad guy that would kill me, but one that could, and I'd walked into the room right past him. It was a rookie mistake that let me know just how badly I was doing.
I kept walking until I stood beside Nathaniel with our backs to the room. Damian trailed me like a lost puppy that had found a likely handout. I'd let go of his hand when I realized I hadn't seen Fredo, when I'd felt the movement of Fredo behind me. I wanted my hands free. I knew that Damian needed to touch me, but I needed my hands free. I was feeling claustrophobic. The kitchen's a good-sized room. When the curtains are open it's bright and shiny, but with the curtains shut and the overhead lights on, it was dim and shadowy, and I wanted light. I wanted to step out on the deck and watch the trees with the morning light on them. I didn't want to stand here in the dark and hold the vampire's hand. I wanted a choice, and I didn't seem to have any. I was suddenly so angry, and it wasn't Damian I was mad at.
The far drapes moved, and Clair came back in from the deck, all smiles. "It's a wonderful view."
"Thanks," I said, and went back to watching Nathaniel make coffee. If I just kept not looking anywhere else, maybe I wouldn't let my anger get the best of me. I wanted to rant at Richard, to scream and accuse. And I so did not want to do that in front of his new girlfriend or my boyfriends. Did I just say boyfriends?
I put my hands on the coolness of the counter, closed my eyes, and just tried not to think again. Not thinking was good. Not feeling was better.
A hand laid itself over mine, and the moment it did, I was calmer. I knew without opening my eyes who it was, because only one man's touch calmed me. Calmed me because he'd spent centuries perfecting his calmness. I opened my eyes and met Damian's green gaze. I wanted to hate him. I wanted to be furious at being trapped with him, tied, but I couldn't be. With him touching my hand, with his eyes so ready to fill with pain, I couldn't be angry, not with him. Shit.
I couldn't breathe, not a good solid breath. He took my anger, but he couldn't take the fear. I jerked away from him. "I need to be angry right now, Damian, it's all I've got."
A hand touched my arm, and I jerked away from it. Nathaniel's eyes were cautious rather than hurt. "What's wrong?"
I moved back from both of them, bumping up against the island hard enough that the dishes rattled in the cabinets.