We kissed and our arms just seemed to automatically glide around each other, to press our bodies as close together as we could with clothes on. He'd affected me this way almost from the moment we had seen each other. Lust at first sight. They say it doesn't last, but we were six months and counting.
I melted against his body and kissed him fiercely, deeply. Partly it was what I always wanted to do when I saw him. Partly I was scared, and touching and being touched made me feel better. Not long ago I'd have been more discreet in front of company, but my nerves just weren't good enough to pretend today.
He didn't get embarrassed, or tell me, "Not in front of Ronnie," the way Richard would have done. He kissed me back with the same drowning intensity. His hands holding me like he'd never let me go. We drew back, breathless and laughing.
"Was that for my benefit?" Ronnie asked, and her voice was not happy.
I turned around, still half in Micah's arms. I looked at her angry eyes and suddenly was ready to be angry back. "Not everything is about you, Ronnie."
"Are you telling me you kiss him like that every time he comes home?" The anger was back, and she used it. "He's been gone, what, an hour? I've seen you greet him after a day's work, and it was never like that."
"Like what?" I asked, voice sliding down. If she wanted to fight, we could fight.
"Like he was air and you couldn't breathe him in fast enough."
Micah's voice was mild, placating, trying to talk us both down. "Did we interrupt something?"
I turned to face Ronnie, squarely. "I'm allowed to kiss my boyfriend the way I want to kiss him without getting your permission, Ronnie."
"Don't try and tell me you weren't rubbing my face in it, just now, with the show."
"Go get some therapy, Ronnie, because I am f**king tired of your issues raining all over me."
"I confided in you," she said, voice strangled with some emotion I didn't understand, "and you put on a show like that in front of me. How could you?"
"Oh, that wasn't a show," Nathaniel said from just inside the doorway, "but if it's a show you want, we can do that, too." He glided into the kitchen on the balls of his feet, showing both the grace of his dance training and that otherworldly grace of the wereleopard. He pulled his tank top off in one smooth gesture and let it fall to the floor. I actually backed up a step before I caught myself. I hadn't realized until that moment that he was angry with Ronnie. What little cutting remarks had she been making to him, that I hadn't heard? When he told me she didn't see him as real, he'd been trying to tell me more than I had heard. That I'd missed something big was there in his angry eyes.
He tore the tie from his ponytail and let his ankle-length auburn hair fall around his nearly na**d body. The jogging short-shorts just didn't cover that much.
I had time to say, "Nathaniel--" and he was in front of me. That otherworldly energy that all lycanthropes could give off shivered off his skin and along my body. He was five-six, just tall enough for me to have to look up to meet his eyes. His anger had turned them from lavender to the deeper color of lilacs, if flowers could burn with anger and force of personality. Nathaniel was in those eyes and with that one look he dared me, challenged me, to turn him down.
I didn't want to turn him down. I wanted to wrap his body and that skin-crawling energy around me like a coat. Lately almost any stress seemed to feed into sex. Scared? Sex would make me feel better. Angry? Sex would calm me. Sad? Sex would make me happy. Was I addicted to sex? Maybe. But Nathaniel wasn't offering actual sex. He just wanted as much attention as I'd given Micah. Seemed fair to me.
I closed the distance between us with my hands, my mouth, my body. The energy of his beast spilled around us like being plunged into a warm bath that had a mild electric charge. He'd been one of the least of my leopards until a metaphysical accident had taken him from pomme de sang to my animal to call. I was the first human servant to a vampire to gain the vampire ability to call an animal. All leopards were mine to call, but Nathaniel was my special pet. We'd both gained from the magical bonding, but he'd gained more.
He lifted me up, using just his hands on my thighs. Even through my jeans he made sure I knew he was happy to be pressed against my body. So happy that it forced a small sound from me.
Ronnie's voice came harsh, ugly, like she was choking on her anger. "And when the baby comes, are you going to f**k in front of it, too?"
Nathaniel froze against me. Micah's voice came from behind us. "Baby?"
THAT ONE WORD fell into the room like a thunderbolt, except that afterward the room was quiet. So quiet that I could hear the blood pounding in my head. Nathaniel's body was so still against mine that if I hadn't felt his pulse against my hand, it would have been like he wasn't there. I was afraid to move, afraid to breathe. It was like a moment before a gunfight, when you know it's going to happen, that anything, any movement, will set it off, and you don't want to be the one that makes that happen.
Nathaniel looked down at me, and the look was enough. It broke the unnatural silence, and sound spilled around us. Micah said, "Did Ronnie say baby?"
"Yeah, I said baby." Her voice was ugly with anger.
Nathaniel let me slide to the floor, his hands going to my shoulders. His eyes were so serious that I had to fight to keep meeting them. I did it, though my eyes flinched as if the force of his questions were a light too bright to meet.
"Are you pregnant?" he asked, voice soft.
"I'm not sure," I said, and I gave Ronnie the glare she deserved. "I was going to wait until I was sure before I told any of you guys. But I had to tell someone. I thought, hey, I'll tell my best friend, but I guess I was wrong."
"The kiss with Micah may not have been for my benefit," Ronnie said in that ugly voice that I didn't recognize as hers, "but your pet stripper and you, that was for my benefit."
I turned so that I was facing her, Nathaniel at my back. "You're jealous of the men in my life, yeah, I get that now."
She opened her mouth, closed it, and said, "I guess that's fair. I tell your secret, you tell mine."
I shook my head. "Me telling Nathaniel and Micah that you are jealous of how many men are in my bed, that isn't the same as you telling them that I may be pregnant." I had a mean idea, so I said it. "But it might be close if I told Louie that you were jealous of my boyfriends. Does he know that you can number your old lovers in triple digits?" Yeah, it was mean, but she'd earned it. Only family can fight as dirty as best friends.
She paled a little, and that was enough to answer the question. "He doesn't know," I said, and made it a statement.
"I think he deserves to know," Nathaniel said, and again there was that tone in his anger that said it was more personal than it should have been between them.
"I'd planned on telling him," she said.
"When?" he asked, and he moved around me, so that he was facing her.
I glanced at Micah, and he shook his head, as if he didn't know what was going on either. Good to know we were both confused.
"When you'd moved in together, married him, or never?"
"We're not getting married," she said in a voice that was just a little desperate, as if her fear was washing her anger away. She rallied then. "You did that little show with Anita to rub my face in the fact that I'm about to become monogamous. You're always doing shit like that."
"And how many times have you said, 'Oh, it's Anita's little stripper,' or 'pet stripper,' or 'how's tricks,' or my personal favorite, 'you're damned cute for a walking, talking, beefsteak,' or is that 'beefcake'?"
"Jesus, Nathaniel." I looked at Ronnie. "Did you say all that to him?"
The anger faded around the edges as she finally looked uncomfortable. "Maybe, but not like he makes it sound."
"Then why didn't you say it in front of me?" I asked. "If there was nothing wrong with saying it, why not in front of me?"
"Or me," Micah said, "I would have told you if she'd been saying things like that to Nathaniel."
"Why didn't you tell me, Nathaniel?" I asked.
He gave me his angry eyes. "I told you she didn't see me as real, as a person."
"But you didn't tell me what she'd said; I needed to know."
He shrugged. "She's your best friend, and you'd just made up after a big fight. I didn't want to start another one."