"I want you to make love to me," his voice was soft, but oh, so serious.
I tried to make a joke of it. "Not right now, I hope."
He gave me his gentle smile, the one that said he wasn't going to let me get away with it. "No, not right now, but soon."
I drew back from him, and I was almost afraid of him, afraid in a way that guns can't help with. "Why are you making this so hard?"
"Love should be hard, Anita, or what is it worth? You taught me that all these months in your bed, with your body against mine and no release. You taught me how hard love can be."
"I'm sorry," I said, "I didn't understand until yesterday."
He leaned up on his knees and got close enough to kiss my mouth. "Don't be sorry, make love to me."
My voice was shaky as I said, "Not right now."
"No," and he breathed against my lips, "but soon." He kissed me, one chaste touch of lips, then he stood and moved away to give me some room.
I watched him move across the room toward the door. "I'll tell them we're alright."
I nodded, because I didn't trust my voice. He'd given me room, physically, but emotionally, emotionally, he was giving me no room at all. I waited for the panic to set in, but it didn't. What came was the memory of him inside my body and the thought of what it might be like to have him spill himself inside me.
I'd been loud enough, and it had taken long enough, that part of me wished there was a back door to my office. But there wasn't, so I couldn't slink off even if I'd been willing to do it. Besides, if Bert ever suspected that I was that bothered by it, he'd use it against me. Try for some kind of leverage in the ongoing game of one-upmanship that Bert and I had played for years. The only cure for it was a bold face. Sigh.
I ran my fingers through my hair, which is all you're supposed to do when your hair is as curly as mine. Brushing just makes it frizz. I checked my makeup in the little mirror that I'd started having to keep in the desk. The problem with dressing more like a girl was that it forced you to have to care. Once you put on the lipstick, you had to look at it periodically to make sure it hadn't smeared like clown makeup. I liked the way lipstick looked on me, but I hated having to think about it.
The eye shadow had survived pretty well, but the lipstick was pretty much smeared all over my mouth. Again, I was grateful that the carpet was dark. Red lipstick on a pale carpet would have looked awkward. On the deep brown, you couldn't see it.
I used some makeup remover that was supposed to be used to take off eye makeup, but I'd found it worked dandy on lipstick. I used a moist wipe to get everything off and then had to reapply the lipstick. See, so much trouble. I was just happy that I almost never wore base makeup. That would have been a bitch to get off the carpet.
When my mouth was as red as when I started, I put everything back into the desk drawer, got up, straightened my skirt, took a deep breath, and went for the door. With everything that had happened to me in the last twenty-four hours, having to face Bert down still took more courage than was pretty. You do not f**k at work. You just don't. It's déclassé to say the least. Shit.
When I stepped out into the reception area, I got a surprise. No one assumed we'd been having sex. The screams had been violent enough that everyone assumed it had been a bloody battle, a near thing. The fact that both Nathaniel and I came out bloodier than when we started helped. Mary had sat him down in her very own office chair. She was laying out bandages, while Nathaniel cleaned the wounds on his hand. They were deep, bloody nail marks. Once I would have said that it looked like a leopard ripped him up, but I'd seen the damage that real leopards could do, and I knew better now. I was sort of amazed that I'd done that much damage, though.
I went to stand near him. "I'm sorry," I said.
"I'm not mad."
This close I could see that the front of his knuckles on both hands were raw as well. I frowned. "I didn't do your knuckles."
"Carpet burn," he said.
I looked at the bloody scrapes and made a face. "Ow," I said.
"I don't mind," he said.
Mary looked up at me. "That woman and man are in with Bert. They wouldn't leave without their son's things." She looked pissed. "I cannot believe that they abused you like that."
I licked the edge of my lip where Steve Brown had belted me and realized that it was healed. I'd put on lipstick and it hadn't hurt. Shit, and wow. A very positive side effect. It's nice that there were positive ones.
I touched my cheek where Barbara Brown had sliced me, and it still hurt. I hadn't seen it in a mirror, but it had probably looked worse an hour ago.
"I'll help you clean that up, when I'm finished with your friend," Mary said without a trace of sarcasm. Friend, without any double meanings. It wasn't just her typing skills that had kept Mary on as our daytime secretary. She had a real gift for taking things in stride. She had Nathaniel hold a gauze pad over his hand while she taped it. She hadn't put plastic gloves on. I couldn't remember if I'd told her what Nathaniel was, or not.
In human form he wasn't contagious, but she probably had the right to know. Almost as if Nathaniel read my mind, he said, "I tried to get her to let me clean it up myself."
Mary glanced back at me. "He told me"--she seemed to search for a word--"he told me, and I told him, that you can't catch lycanthropy from a human being."
Nathaniel looked up at me with those big eyes. The look said, I tried.
"You're right, Mary, in human form there's no contagion."
She smiled at Nathaniel in a very motherly way. "See?"
"Most people don't want to take the chance," he said, softly.
Mary finished bandaging his hand and patted him on the shoulder. "Most people are just silly."
He smiled at her, but it left his eyes wounded. Most people are just silly. She had no idea. I guess I didn't either, not really. I'd just begun to get the reactions from people who thought I was a lycanthrope. I hadn't lived with it for years the way Nathaniel had.
Mary turned to me, touching my cheek gently. She was shaking her head. "I wanted to call the police on them. It's enough to file assault charges." She started dabbing at the scratches. There must have been some alcohol in the stuff, because it stung.
I took a deep breath so I wouldn't wince. "I don't want to press charges."
"You feel sorry for them?" she asked.
"You're a better woman than I am, Anita."
I smiled, and the cheek was a little tight for it. "I've been hurt a lot worse than this, Mary."
"Never by a client," she said.
I let that go. There were stories that Mary didn't know, and we all stayed out of jail that way.
She was frowning at me. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you're healing."
"It's clean enough, Mary, thanks." I went around her to the desk and the bandages. I'd need a gauze pad bigger than the one on Nathaniel's hand. Of course, my scratches would probably be healed by dawn, and his hand wouldn't be. Damage that I caused seemed to heal as if another lycanthrope or vamp had cut them up. We'd noticed that just lately.
Mary turned me around with a hand on my shoulder. "You hold the gauze in place, and I'll put the tape on, just like I did for your friend." The look in her eyes said plainly that I was being silly, too.
I let her tape up almost the entire left side of my face just short of the eye. Barbara Brown had done this before, I'd have bet money on it. Women will try to scratch in a fight sometimes, but most of them aren't good at it. Barbara was good at it, like she'd had practice.
Mary looked at my torn nails. "Does that hurt as much as it looks like it does?"
I never know how to answer questions like that. Hell, yes, or how should I know? "It hurts," I said.
She handed me a small bottle of alcohol. "Take this and soak your hands in the bathroom until they stop bleeding."
I looked at her. "Hell, no."
She gave me the parental look. "You've ripped off most of the nails on both hands. Do you want to get infected?"
I thought about telling her that I couldn't get an infection, but we didn't know that for sure. I wasn't truly a lycanthrope, and while I'd gained their ability to heal, I had no way of knowing if I'd gained all their abilities to keep healthy. It would be a bitch to ignore Mary's advice, and then lose a finger to gangrene or something. But damn, it was going to hurt.