I nodded. "The latest PC phrase."
"Since when have you been PC?"
"Since I heard the phrase and thought it was funny as hell." I was still leaning against the cabinet, because there was way more anger in her toward me than I understood. The vampire thing I could sort of understand, but her problems with me letting men into my life, that seemed harder to work around.
"Lunarly challenged, I'll have to tell Louie. He'll get a kick out of it." The moment she said it, her face fell, and the weight of it all came crashing down on her. "Oh, shit, Anita, what am I going to do?"
"I don't know." I came back to sit at the table and patted her hand. If it had been Catherine, she'd probably be clinging to me for support, but Ronnie had my issues on closeness, so we didn't hug as much. Alright, Ronnie had my old issues on closeness, except about sex. I'd never understood why if you don't want someone hugging you for comfort that you'd be okay with f**king them, but that was just me.
"I don't want him just gone from my life, but I'm not ready to get married. I may never be ready to get married." She looked at me, and there was such anguish in her eyes. "He wants children. He said, one of the reasons he's happy that I'm not a shapeshifter is so we could have children. Anita, I don't want children."
I squeezed her hand and didn't know what to say.
"I'm a private detective, and I'm thirty. If we got married we'd have to start thinking about kids right away. I'm not ready."
"Do you want kids, ever?" I asked.
She shook her head. "I grew out of wanting two kids and a white picket fence about five years ago. I don't think I ever really wanted it, but it's what you're supposed to want, you know."
She looked at me with her serious, sad eyes and asked, "Do you want kids?"
"No," I said, "my life doesn't have that kind of room."
"No, if you had a different job, would you want to be a mother?"
"Once upon a time I thought I'd get married and have a kid or two, but that was before."
"Before what, Jean-Claude?"
"No, before I became a vampire executioner, and a federal marshal. Before I realized that I'm probably never going to get married. My life works for me right now, but it wouldn't work for a child."
"Why, because you don't have a husband?"
"No, because people try to kill me on a semiregular basis."
"Speaking of violence, what happened to your door?" she asked.
"Gregory broke it down because I wasn't answering the phone and he heard screams."
"Why did he hear screams?"
"Without mentioning vampires, I can't tell you the story."
She sighed. "I thought Jean-Claude was a passing thing, your one big fling. You know, he's the bad guy that you have this great sex with, then you wise up and move on." She looked at me, and she really looked at me, searching my face. "He's not a fling for you, is he?"
"No," I said.
She took in a lot of air, then let it out slowly. "I'm not saying I want or could handle all the details, but tell me enough so I know what happened to your door."
Even edited down, the story took a while. We were just past the point where Richard dumped me royally, when Nathaniel and Gregory came into the room.
Ronnie had her face all set for massive sympathy, and was actually reaching out to offer a hug, when she saw them. Her face froze, and her arms just stopped moving, as if she was suddenly a statue in that kid's game.
Nathaniel was nearly naked, wearing only a leather thong and a whole bunch of straps across his upper body. So many straps that for a moment it gave the illusion that he was bound in some way. He padded into the room, looking totally comfortable in his nearly nothing bondage gear. That might have been what stopped Ronnie in her tracks, or then again, it might have been Gregory. He was still in leopardman form, and still totally nude. He wasn't happy to be nude anymore, but he was still na**d except for his very natural fur coat.
From the look on her face, I wasn't sure Ronnie had really seen that much of Louie in ratman form, or if she had, he'd been more discrete than Gregory was being. He had three straps in his clawed hands and was looking at the rivet on the end of one of them as he glided through the door.
"Hi, Ronnie," Nathaniel said, as if she wasn't staring at him open-mouthed. "Anita, have you seen my punch?"
"Your what? "I asked.
"It's a punch for reattaching leather rivets. I forgot that two of the straps came loose last time I wore this."
"I don't even know what a leather punch looks like," I said. I sipped coffee and watched both the men, and Ronnie's face. She was trying to recover her cool, but the effort was visible and near painful to watch.
"Sort of like a big stapler, with one of those round things on the top." He knelt down to open up the tool drawer. This flashed the back of his body to us, and there was a lot of back to flash. The thin black stripe that was all that covered his ass didn't exactly cover anything as much as it emphasized what was there.
If I hadn't had Ronnie's reaction to watch, I'd have been more distracted myself, but I was enjoying her total failure to hide what she was thinking. There'd been a time when Ronnie had been the more sophisticated of the two of us, and I'd been the one who blushed all the time. She wasn't blushing, she'd actually paled, but the shoe was very firmly on the other foot. She hadn't been around much, so she hadn't seen Nathaniel in maybe six months. Her reaction told me that it wasn't just me who'd noticed the shoulders and the extra muscle development. To someone who hadn't seen him in half a year, the changes must have been even more impressive.
"What makes you think a piece of sewing equipment would be in the kitchen?" I asked, and my voice held that first hint of amusement that I was trying to hide from Ronnie. It was kind of nice not to be the one who was embarrassed for a change.
Nathaniel moved from drawer to drawer, talking without turning around, his hair still up in its high, springy ponytail. "Zane borrowed it to fix his leather jacket and never put it back. You know how Zane is, he doesn't think. He's got to stop borrowing my stuff, if he can't put things back where they belong."
Zane was one of my wereleopards, and he tried to play dominant, but he really wasn't. And Nathaniel was right, Zane never seemed to put anything back where it was supposed to go. "I don't think you'll ever teach him to put things back," I said.
"You could wear it without these three straps," Gregory said. "Most people wouldn't notice." He touched one of the straps on Nathaniel's back, gave it a little flick. "I mean there must be over a dozen of them."
"I'll notice," Nathaniel said, and he kept opening drawers. "If you were Zane, where would you put a punch?" I think he was asking it of no one in particular.
Ronnie had managed to stop gaping. She'd closed her mouth and was trying to look like it was no big deal that two nudish wereleopards were wandering around my kitchen. She watched them covertly out of the corners of her eyes. I don't know if it was because she was embarrassed or because I'd called one of them my boyfriend. Girlfriend rule number one, you don't lust after your best bud's boyfriend.
I got up to help them look. Nathaniel had said it looked like a stapler. Even I could recognize a stapler, so I started opening drawers, too.
Nathaniel found it in the drawer that was supposed to hold only big spoons and oversized Cookware. "Why here?" he asked.
"It does look like a really big stapler, maybe that's why." I offered it up as the best idea I had.
Nathaniel was shaking his head, making his hair dance around his shoulders, in a way it never did except in that very high, tight ponytail. "Whatever the reason, he is not allowed in my stuff anymore."
"Sounds fair," I said. I was looking at all the straps. "You look pretty secured into that outfit, how do you strip out of it?"
He smiled at me. "Are you trying to get me out of my clothes?" He made it sound like teasing, but underneath was something that wasn't teasing at all. I wished I hadn't said it, because he wanted me to want him so badly. I didn't know how this game worked, and I'd never been good at flirting, not really.
I ended up blushing, which I hated. "No," I said, and it sounded whiny even to me.
He could have said a half-dozen things that would have made it worse, but he had mercy on me. "You get it off the same way you get it on." He slid his left arm through the front of all those straps, then raised his arm up his chest, along side his neck, and did something with his shoulder that I couldn't see from where I was standing. The straps just peeled down, and suddenly he was nude from the waist up, with the straps hanging around him like the petals of a black leather flower. "The straps come off completely, but it takes time to reattach them, so you'll have to come tonight if you want to see the whole show." He smiled gently, to take some of the sting out of my embarrassment. I wasn't sure why I was embarrassed, unless it was because Ronnie was there, or I was worried about having to come across soon. Who knew, pick one.