I gave her a flat, cold look. The look that says my anger has moved from hot to cold. It's never a good sign. "Go on, Ronnie, say it."
"I didn't mean it," she whispered.
"Yeah," I said, "you did. Now I'm just a whore." My voice sounded as cold as my eyes felt. Too angry and too hurt to be anything but cold. Hot anger can feel good, but the cold will protect you better.
She started to cry. I just stared at her, speechless. What the hell was going on? We were fighting--she wasn't allowed to cry in the middle of it. Especially not when she was the one being a cruel bastard. I could count on one hand the times I'd seen Ronnie cry and still have fingers left over.
I was still angry, but I was puzzled, too, and that took a little of the edge off. "Shouldn't I be the one in tears here?" I asked, because I couldn't think of what else to say. I was mad at her and I'd be damned if I would comfort her right now.
She spoke in that breathless, hiccuping voice that serious crying can give you. "I'm sorry, oh, God, Anita, I'm sorry. I'm just so jealous."
I raised my eyebrows at her. "What are you talking about? Jealous of what?"
"The men," she said in that shivering, uncertain voice. It was like she was someone else for a moment, or maybe this was just part of Ronnie that she didn't let people see. "All the damned men. I'm about to give up everybody. Everybody but Louie, and he's great, but damn it I've had lovers. I hit triple digits."
I wasn't sure that being able to number your lovers at over a hundred was a good thing, but it was something that Ronnie and I had agreed to disagree over a long time ago. I did not say, Look who's the whore, or other hurtful remarks I could have made. I let all the cheap shots I could have made go. She was the one crying.
"And now I'm giving it all up, all of it, for just one man." She leaned her hands against the cabinet as if she needed the support.
"You said sex with Louie was great. I think you've used words like fantastic and mind-blowing."
She nodded, her hair spilling around her face so that I couldn't see her eyes for a moment. "It is, he is, but he's just one man. What if I get bored, or he gets bored with me? How can just one be enough? The last time we were both cheating a month after the wedding." She looked up at that last remark, her gray eyes wide and frightened.
I made a small helpless gesture, and said, "You're asking the wrong person, Ronnie. I'd planned on monogamy. It seemed like a good idea to me."
"That's exactly what I mean." She wiped at the tears on her face in harsh, angry motions, as if the touch of them made her even more upset. "How is it that you, my girlfriend who had only three men in her entire life, ends up dating and f**king five men?"
I didn't know what to say to that, so I tried to concentrate on the hard facts. "Six men," I said.
She frowned at me, her eyes taking on that look that meant she was counting in her head. "I only count five."
"You're leaving someone out, Ronnie."
"No"--and she started counting on her fingers--"Jean-Claude, Asher, Damian, Nathaniel, and Micah. That's it."
I shook my head, again. "I had unprotected sex with one more man last month." I could have said it differently, but maybe if we got back to my personal disaster, we could stop talking about Ronnie's penis envy. She needed more therapy than I knew how to give lately.
She frowned harder, then she got it. "Oh, no, no," she said.
I nodded. Happy to see from her expression that she got the full awfulness of it.
"You just had sex with him once, right?"
I shook my head no, over and over again. "Not just once."
She was looking at me so hard that I couldn't hold her gaze. Even with the tear tracks drying on her face, she was suddenly Ronnie again. Ronnie had a good hard stare. I couldn't meet it, and was left looking at the cabinets. "How much more than 'not just once'?" she asked.
I started to blush and couldn't stop it. Damn it.
"You're blushing--that's not a good sign," she said.
I stared down at the countertop, using my long hair to hide my face.
Her voice was gentler when she said, "How many times, Anita? How many times in the month you've been back together?"
"Seven," I said, still not looking up. I hated admitting it, because the number alone said louder than any words just how much I enjoyed being in Richard's bed.
"Seven times in a month," she said. "Wow, that's..."
I looked up, and the look was enough.
"Sorry, sorry, just..." She looked as if she wasn't sure whether she was going to laugh, or be sad about it. She controlled herself, and finally sounded sad when she said, "Oh, my God, Richard."
I nodded again.
"Richard." She whispered his name, and looked suitably horrified. It was worth a little horror.
Richard Zeeman and I had been off-again, on-again, for years. Mostly off. We'd been engaged briefly until I saw him eat someone. Richard was the leader--Ulfric--of the local werewolf pack. He was also a junior high science teacher, and an all-around Boy Scout. If Boy Scouts were six foot one, muscled, amazingly handsome, and had an amazing ability to be self-destructive. He hated being a monster, and he hated me for being more comfortable with the monsters than he was. He hated a lot of things, but we'd made up just enough to have fallen into bed in the last few weeks. But as my Grandma Blake told me, once was enough.
Of all the men in my life, the worst possible choice to be the father would be Richard, because he of all of them would try for the white picket fence and a normal life. Normal wasn't possible for me, or him, but I knew that and he didn't, not really, not yet. Even if I was pregnant, even if I kept being pregnant, I wasn't going to marry anyone. I wasn't going to change my living arrangements. My life worked the way it was, and Richard's idea of domestic bliss was not mine.
Ronnie gave an abrupt laugh, then swallowed it. I was glaring at her. "Come on, Anita, I'm allowed to be impressed that you've managed to have sex with him seven times in the space of a month. I mean, you don't even live together, and you're having more sex than some of our married friends."
I kept giving her the look that makes bad guys run for cover, but Ronnie was my friend, and it's harder to impress your friends with the scary look. They know you won't really hurt them. The fight was dying under the weight of friendship, and of my problem being more immediate than her years of issues unresolved.
Ronnie touched my arm. "Oh, it wouldn't be Richard's. You're ha**ng s*x with Nathaniel at least every other day."
"Sometimes twice a day," I said.
She smiled. "Well, my, my..." Then waved her hand as if to keep from distracting herself. "But the odds are that it's Nathaniel's, right?"
I smiled at her. "You sound happy about that now."
She shrugged. "Well, a choice of evils, ya know."
"Thanks a lot, Ronnie."
"You know what I meant," she said.
"No, I don't think I do." I think I was ready to be angry about her thinking the men in my life were a choice of evils, but I didn't get a chance to be angry, because two of the men in my life were coming through the front door.
I heard them unlocking the door before it opened, and their voices came raised and a little breathless from the run. They'd been able to run faster, and farther, without me along. I was, after all, still human, and they were not.
Standing between the island and the cabinets we couldn't see the door, but only heard them laughing as they came toward the doorway to the kitchen.
"How can you do that?" Ronnie asked, voice soft.
"What?" I asked, frowning.
"You were smiling."
I looked at her.
"You smiled just at the sound of their voices, even with everything..."
I stopped her with a hand on her arm. One way I knew I didn't want them to find out about the maybe-baby was by overhearing a conversation. Their hearing was a little too keen to risk it. And here they came, my two live-in sweeties.
Micah was in front, looking back over his shoulder, still laughing, talking. He was my height, short, slender, and muscular in that swimmer sort of way. He had to have his suits tailored because he needed an extra-small athletic cut. You didn't get that off the rack. He'd come to me tanned, and stayed that way from jogging outside, mostly shirtless, all summer and autumn. He'd added a T-shirt to the short-shorts today. His hair was that deep, rich brown that some people get after starting life as very blond. His dark hair was tied back in a low ponytail that couldn't hide how curly it was, almost as curly as mine. He'd taken off his sunglasses, so when I moved into his arms I could look up into his chartreuse eyes. Yellow-green leopard eyes in his delicate face. A very bad man had once forced him to stay in leopard form until, when he came back to human, he couldn't come all the way back.