IT WAS THE middle of November. I was supposed to be out jogging, but instead I was sitting at my breakfast table talking about men, sex, werewolves, vampires, and that thing that most unmarried but sexually active women fear most of all--a missed period.
Veronica (Ronnie) Sims, best friend and private detective, sat across from me at my little four-seater breakfast table. The table sat on a little raised alcove in a bay window. I did breakfast most mornings looking at the view out onto the deck and the trees beyond. Today, the view wasn't pretty, because the inside of my head was too ugly to see it. Panic will do that to you.
"You're sure you missed October? You didn't just count wrong?" Ronnie asked.
I shook my head and stared into my coffee cup. "I'm two weeks overdue."
She reached across the table and patted my hand. "Two weeks--you had me scared. Two weeks could be anything, Anita. Stress will throw you off that much, and God knows you've had enough stress." She squeezed my hand. "That last serial killer case was only about two weeks ago." She squeezed my hand harder. "What I read in the paper and saw on the news was bad."
I'd stopped telling Ronnie all my bad stuff years ago, when my cases as a legal vampire executioner had gotten so much bloodier than her cases as a private eye. Now I was a federal marshal, along with most of the other legal vamp hunters in the United States. It meant that I had even more access to even more awful shit. Things that Ronnie, or any of my female friends, didn't want to know about. I didn't fault them. I'd rather not have had that many nightmares in my own head. No, I didn't fault Ronnie, but it meant that I couldn't share some of the most awful stuff with her. I was just glad we'd made up a long-standing grumpiness in time to have her here for this particular disaster. I was able to talk about the bad parts of my cases with some of the men in my life, but I couldn't have shared the missed period with any of them. It concerned one of them entirely too much.
She squeezed my hand hard and leaned back. Her gray eyes were all sympathy, and apology. She was still feeling guilty that she'd let her issues about commitment and men rain all over our friendship. She'd had a brief, disastrous marriage years before I met her. She'd come here today to cry on my shoulder about the fact that she was moving in with her boyfriend, Louie Fane--Dr. Louis Fane, thank you very much. He had his doctorate in biology and taught at Washington University. He also turned furry once a month, and was a lieutenant of the local wererat rodere?heir word for pack.
"If Louie wasn't hiding what he was from his colleagues, we'd be going to the big party afterward," she said.
"He teaches people's kids, Ronnie; he can't afford to find out what they'd do if they found out he had lycanthropy."
"College isn't kids, it's definitely grown-up."
"Parents won't see it that way," I said. I looked at her, and finally said, "Are you changing the subject?"
"It's only two weeks, Anita, after one of the most violent cases you've ever had. I wouldn't even lose sleep over it."
"Yeah, but your period is erratic, mine's not. I've never been two weeks late before."
She pushed a strand of blond hair back behind her ear. The new haircut framed her face nicely, but it didn't stay out of her eyes, and she was always pushing it back. "Never?"
I shook my head, and sipped coffee. It was cold. I got up and went to dump it in the sink.
"What's the latest you've ever been?" she asked.
"Two days, I think five once, but I wasn't ha**ng s*x with anyone, so it wasn't scary. I mean, unless there was a star in the east I was safe, just late." I poured coffee from the French press, which emptied it. I was so going to need more coffee.
Ronnie came to stand next to me while I put more hot water on the stove. She leaned her butt against the cabinets and drank her coffee, but she was watching me. "Let me run this back at you. You've never been two weeks late, ever, and you've never missed a whole month before?"
"Not since this whole mess started when I was fourteen, no."
"I always envied you the regular-as-clockwork schedule," she said.
I started dismantling the French press, taking out the lid with its filter on a stick. "Well, the clock is broken right now."
"Shit," she said, softly.
"You can say that again."
"You need a pregnancy test," she said.
"No shit." I dumped the grounds into the trash can, and shook my head. "I can't go shopping for one tonight."
"Can't you make a quick stop on the way to Jean-Claude's little t?e-?t?e tonight? It's not like this is the main event."
Jean-Claude, Master Vampire of the City of St. Louis, and my sweetie, was throwing one of the biggest bashes of the year to welcome to town the first ever mostly-vampire dance company. He was one of their patrons, and when you spend that much money, you apparently get to spend more to throw a party to celebrate that the money was helping the dance troupe earn rave reviews in their cross-country tour. There was going to be national and international media there tomorrow. It was like a Big Deal, and I, as his main squeeze, had to be on his arm, smiling and dressed up. But that was tomorrow. Tonight's little get-together was sort of a prelim to the main event. Without letting the media know, a couple of the visiting Masters of the City had snuck in early. Jean-Claude had called them friends. Master vampires did not call other master vampires friends. Allies, partners--but not friends.
"Yeah, Ronnie, I'm riding in with Micah and Nathaniel. Even if I stop, Nathaniel will insist on going in whatever store with me, or wondering why I don't let him go. I don't want any of them to know until I've got the test and it's yes or no. Maybe it's just nerves, stress, and the test will say no. Then I won't have to tell anybody."
"Where are your two handsome housemates?"
"Jogging. I was supposed to go with them, but I told them you'd called and needed me to hold your hand about moving in with Louie."
"I did," she said, and sipped her coffee. "But suddenly me being nervous about sharing space with a man for the second time in my life doesn't seem like such a big deal. Louie is nothing like the ass**le I married when I was young and stupid."
"Louie sees the real you, Ronnie. He's not looking for some trophy wife. He wants a partner."
"I hope you're right."
"I don't know much today, but I'm sure Louie wants a partner, not a Barbie doll."
She gave me a weak smile, then frowned. "Thanks, but I'm supposed to be comforting you. Are you going to tell them?"
I leaned my hands against the sink, and looked at her through a curtain of my long dark hair. It had gotten too long for my tastes, but Micah had made me a deal: If I cut my hair, he'd cut his, because he preferred his hair shorter, too. So my hair was fast approaching my waist for the first time since junior high, and it was really beginning to get on my nerves. Of course, today everything was getting on my nerves.
"Until I know for sure, I don't want them to know."
"Even if it's yes, Anita, you don't have to tell them. I'll close up my agency for a few days. We'll go away on a girls' retreat, and you can come back without a problem."
I pushed my hair back so I could see her clearly. I think my face showed what I was thinking, because she said, "What?"
"Are you honestly saying that I don't tell any of them? That I just go away for a while and make sure that there's no baby to worry about?"
"It's your body," she said.
"Yeah, and I took my chances by ha**ng s*x with this many men on a regular basis."
"You're on the pill," she said.
"Yeah, and if I'd wanted to be a hundred percent safe I'd have still used condoms, but I didn't. If I'm... pregnant, then I'll deal, but not like that."
"You can't mean you'd keep it."
I shook my head. "I'm not even sure I'm pregnant, but if I was, I couldn't not tell the father. I'm in a committed relationship with several of them. I'm not married, but we live together. We share a life. I couldn't just make this kind of choice without talking to them first."
She shook her head. "No man ever wants you to get an abortion if you're in a relationship. They always want you barefoot and pregnant."
"That's your mother's issues talking, not yours. Or at least not mine."
She looked away, wouldn't meet my eyes. "I can tell you what I'd do, and it wouldn't involve telling Louie."