“That,” Envy said, “that’s what I want. I want someone to look at me the way you two look at each other, or the way that Jason and J.J. look at each other. I want gentleness and love.”
“Doesn’t everybody?” Jason said, as he carried her tea to the table.
“No. Anita says she likes Richard being a brute, but she has Nathaniel, and Micah, and Jean-Claude. She has her gentle, and her love.”
“You have Jean-Claude,” I said.
“No, I have sex with Jean-Claude, I’m his lover, but he doesn’t love me.”
Nathaniel turned to her, one hand still in mine. “Are you in love with him?”
I stiffened, my hand tensing in his. “Nathaniel!”
“No, Anita, we need to know how we all really feel about each other. If we’re not honest it all falls apart.”
“He’s right,” Jason said. He sat down at the table at the end so he could see all of us easily.
I glared at him.
“Don’t give me that look,” he said, laughing. “You know it’s true.”
I tried to keep frowning at him, but started smiling in spite of myself. Jason had had that effect on me from almost the beginning when I met him. It was one of the reasons that we were friends and that I hadn’t killed him when I first met him; so glad I hadn’t.
I finally gave in to the smile, but did my best to smother it in my coffee cup, though since I was still holding hands with Nathaniel, the tough-as-nails attitude was a little compromised.
Nathaniel pressed the back of my hand against his bare stomach and I suddenly had more trouble thinking. I looked up at him. “You’re doing that on purpose, aren’t you?”
“Doing what?” he asked, violet eyes wide. If it had been Jason I’d have known he was being disingenuous, but with Nathaniel just liked touching so much sometimes he did it without thinking.
“Nothing,” I said.
Jason grinned at me from the other end of the table. I started to try to glare at him again, but finally said, “Fuck it, what’s wrong, or what’s up?”
Nathaniel raised my hand up so he could kiss it, and rub his cheek against it, like a cat scent-marking—mine. I liked it, because we were each other’s mine; the fact that the word didn’t include an exclusivity clause didn’t make the possessive mine any less real, a point I just couldn’t seem to explain to my monogamous friends.
“I’ll get breakfast started while we wait for Domino. He’s still in the shower.”
Domino was one of our bodyguards, and one of my lovers, but he didn’t sleep at this house much either. We were still organizing our guard rotation since we lost Ares, and I had been willing to believe that Domino was going to be more at the house because of that, but realizing he was going to be in on the talk this morning let me know it hadn’t been a coincidence that the weretiger had slept over and shared a bed with Nathaniel and me. Our third, Micah Callahan, was traveling on business again, so the big bed had room for a guest.
“Tigers like water, a lot,” I said, and sipped at my coffee.
“I’m not overly fond of it,” Envy said, “but that may be because you can never take a shower without a man thinking you want sex.”
Nathaniel moved toward the oven, laughing softly. Jason started to laugh, too. I coughed and nearly aspirated coffee.
She gave me the full weight of those exotic blue eyes. “It must be true for you, too. Richard loves shower sex.”
Jason laughed harder.
“What’s so funny?” Envy asked, looking from one to the other of us.
Jason looked at me with sparkling eyes. This time I managed to glare at him, while I blushed. I’d almost stopped doing that—almost.
“Anita likes water,” he said in a voice that was shiny with laughter.
“The new oven preheated just like it was supposed to,” Nathaniel said, either because it was what interested him or to prove he wasn’t poking this particular badger with a stick. He moved to the fridge to get the cinnamon rolls he’d made last night.
“Yeah, I like sex in water, but see if I climb into the shower with you anytime soon, laughing boy.”
Jason quieted his laughter, and seemed trapped between looking pleased with himself and trying to pretend-pout at me.
“You and Richard seem perfect sexually for each other; why isn’t he one of your main lovers?” Envy asked.
“Because outside the sex we had a lot of issues, and not all of them went away just because he’s doing his therapy,” I said, my voice a little hoarse from swallowing the coffee wrong. Awkward was putting it mildly.
“I’d wait to put in the cinnamon rolls, or else everybody will be down to have some once they fill the whole house with that great smell,” Jason said.
Nathaniel looked up from the tray in his hand, nodded, and put it back in the fridge. Jason was right, but the fact that he’d said it out loud in time to keep that delectable scent from waking the rest of the household was the other reason he was my friend; he was smart and practical when he wanted to be, big emphasis on the wanted to be.
Nathaniel came to sit beside me, on the other side from Envy. I put my hand under the table so I could play along the threads and bare skin peeking through his jeans; they were one of my favorite pairs of jeans on him, too.
“Anita’s being nice, but the truth is that Richard doesn’t like me, and I don’t like him,” Nathaniel said.
“I’ve noticed he seems sort of conflicted about you. It’s like he’s trying to be fair, but he has trouble where you’re concerned; why is that?”
I slid my fingers through the threads of his jeans so I could touch more of his bare skin. “You want to explain it?” he asked, putting his hand over mine to stop me from caressing quite that much, and the fact that he’d stopped me from petting him and was trying to force me to talk about Richard was as big a clue as any of how much he didn’t like him.
I sighed and said, “Richard is a big, handsome, athletic guy, and even the best of them are used to winning.”
“You mean with women?” she asked.
“That, and physical stuff. He’s used to being able to date pretty much any woman he wants, and if he gets out of his own way in a fight, he can hold his own against most nonprofessional fighters.”
“So?” she said.
“So,” Jason said, “he’s used to winning.”
She looked at all of us, frowning. “I don’t understand what that has to do with him and Nathaniel not getting along.”
“I won,” Nathaniel said.
“Anita, being permanently in her life, being her main squeeze, her person, hers, and she’s mine. Micah and I have what Richard wants.”
“You mean Anita.”
He shrugged, and half-nodded. “Anita, and a life that works, and makes us all happy.”
“He’s sleeping with Anita, and he could still have a life with someone else.”
“He could, but no one is Anita.”
That made me uncomfortable, and I fought not to squirm. “It’s not like that.”
“I think Richard could have shared you with Jean-Claude, because he sees him as dominant, big enough, beautiful, another guy who’s used to winning, so they could have shared,” Jason said.
“But other than the beautiful part, I’m none of those things,” Nathaniel said, “and Richard can’t get past that someone like me won.”
“I’m not a prize to be won, damn it,” I said.
“I know that, and that’s one of the reasons I’m here, and Richard isn’t.”
I met Nathaniel’s so-serious gaze and realized there was more truth there than I wanted to admit. “We’re making Richard sound arrogant, and he’s not.”
“Why do you feel you have to defend him?” Nathaniel asked.
“I don’t know, maybe because I was in love with him once, or maybe because he’s still my lover and I feel guilty about that.”
“Why guilty?” Envy asked.
“I’m not sure, but there’s some guilt tied up with him.”
“I was there, Anita; he blew his chance to be with you over and over,” Jason said, “and he doesn’t like me for a lot of the same reasons he doesn’t like Nathaniel and Micah.”