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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:00:51

"Not manly enough," I said, and held my hand out to him.

He took my hand but didn't sit down. "No, maybe if I'd been taller it wouldn't have bothered me as much. It certainly doesn't bother Jean-Claude."

"Oh, mon chat, when I was your age men wore elaborate wigs and clothes more elaborate than women's fashion today. A pretty man was prized, and if he could ride, hunt, and use a sword, then he was the height of everything that was best in a man."

"I can't imagine a world where I didn't get grief for looking the way I do as a man."

"It was a man who taught me how to wear high heels, because that's what noblemen wore."

I pulled on Micah's hand. "Cuddle with us."

He grinned and shook his head. "If I cuddle with you wearing that I'll get distracted, and we need to talk."

My smile faded around the edges. "That sounds ominous."

Jean-Claude held me a little tighter. "In all the centuries I have been alive, no conversation that began with the equivalent of 'we need to talk' has ever gone well."

"I don't mean it like that, but I've been trying to talk to just the two of you for a few days now and the scheduling hasn't worked out. I know Anita has to be on the road in a little less than forty-five minutes, and Jean-Claude has at least two hours before he can leave the building safely for Guilty Pleasures."

"You checked our schedules," I said.

"I know your schedules, or at least Jean-Claude's. Yours is too flexible to memorize."

"Okay, sit down and talk instead of cuddle."

He gave me a look that took in every inch of me in the nice bra and panties. "I'll try, but you in more clothes might help me focus on talking."

I blushed and hated it.

He grinned and leaned down to lay a careful kiss on my mouth. "I love that you still blush."

I frowned at him. "Well, I don't."

"It is very endearing," Jean-Claude said.

"What is it you need to speak about?" he said, looking up at Micah.

Micah sat down on the couch, holding my hand, but perching on the edge of the couch as if touching me at all would make him forget what he wanted to say. "You know that I don't have a problem with Jean-Claude and you getting married. You can only legally wed one person and that's got to be our master, which is him."

"You have been most gracious," Jean-Claude said.

"You know that Nathaniel and I have been talking about having a handfasting ceremony with Anita for the three of us."

"We've been talking about getting rings to go on the right-hand ring finger for our threesome."

"I wish you better luck getting her to approve designs than I am having."

"You want such elaborate rings, Jean-Claude. Either they won't fly at my work, or they're just so expensive the thought of wearing them every day makes me nervous. It's like wearing Fort Knox on my hand."

"We do have different tastes in this area."

"We're going for something simpler," Micah said.

Jean-Claude looked at me. "Are you saying your taste matches theirs more than mine?"

"You know it does," I said.

He sighed and settled back on the couch a little more, which seemed a little less cuddling to me.

"Are you upset?" I asked.

Some thought passed over his face too fast or too faint for me to decipher. "No, but in a way I suppose I am. You and I have been debating for weeks on designs for our rings. I think the only reason we were moving ahead with the more elaborate set to be used in the ceremony and state events afterward is that you gave up and let me have my way."

I shrugged. "It's important to you, and I don't have to wear them every day."

"But we are no closer to a design for the set we will wear every day," he said.

"But with Micah and Nathaniel you almost have an everyday design, do you not?"

I glanced at Micah. He was studying the other man's face.

Micah said, "Not quite, but we're close."

"It seems childish, but I believe it will bother me if you have your rings designed before ours."

"I'm sorry, Jean-Claude, I had no idea," Micah said.

"Nor did I; it is strange what will and will not bother you in this complicated domestic arrangement of ours."

"Remember how upset the rest of our domestic arrangement was when they thought the four of us were planning a commitment ceremony?"

"Yes, but once they realized the wedding is just ma petite and myself, they quieted."

"Until they found out that the three of us were still looking at having a commitment ceremony."

"I take it they found out about the rings," I said.

I just hid my face against Jean-Claude's chest. I did not want to deal with the fights and recriminations from some of the other lovers in our lives about this again.

"They want to be included, or rather not feel excluded," Micah said.

"We cannot marry everyone we are sleeping with," Jean-Claude said.

"No, and I think all of us would be willing to include one other person; unfortunately it wouldn't be the same person."

"You put it well, mon ami."

"Jean-Claude has been in love with Asher for centuries, but none of the rest of us is willing to tie ourselves to his moods."

"I love Asher," I said. "I might even be a little in love with him, but no, I won't tie myself to him."

"Anita and Nathaniel would marry Nicky, but I won't," Micah said.

"Nor will I," Jean-Claude said.

"Nathaniel would include more people than any of us, but it doesn't include the ones the rest of us would include."

"So what, either we include everybody, or we can't have a commitment ceremony?" I asked.

"How big a fight do you want on your hands?" Micah asked.

"I will not be forced to marry someone I don't love, even if it isn't legally binding," I said.

"If we don't have our ceremony, then the problem goes away," Micah said.

"Are you willing to just give up on that?" I asked.

"No; if I could figure out a way to marry all three of you for legal real, I would."

"I got the clan tigers to agree that if we included one of them in our commitment ceremony, the others would back off," Micah said.

It was our turn to look at him.

"You did what?" I asked.

"And did you have a weretiger in mind?" Jean-Claude asked.

"My first choice is Cynric."

"No," I said, and it was very final.

"He lives with us, Anita. He helps Nathaniel with the domestic stuff. When I'm out of town on business he sleeps in the bed with you and Nathaniel at the house in Jefferson County."

"Nicky sleeps with us, too," I said, and it sounded churlish even to me.

"And sometimes all four of you bunk together when I'm not there, but when I am there Cynric is the only one I'm willing to wake up and see on the other side of you, or Nathaniel. Besides, Nicky is a werelion, and that won't help us get the tigers off our back about this."

"Cynric is nineteen years old; he should be out playing the field, not settling for just hanging on to the fringes of my love life."

"How is he on the fringe? We wake up most mornings with him helping Nathaniel and Nicky cook breakfast. We go to bed at least half the time with him in the bed with us, no matter who else is included. We can all talk for hours."

"When he's done doing his homework," I said.

"He's graduating soon and already lined up for college, Anita."

"I just have problems saying I'm dating a high school student."

"A high school senior," I said.

"What difference does it make if he's in high school or college? That doesn't change what he means to all of us."

"What difference does it make? What difference does it make?" I stood up and knew I was yelling and didn't care. "He was only sixteen when the Mother of All Darkness mind-fucked us and he and I had sex. I don't even remember it, but he does. For me it was like some date-rape drug, so I know I did it, but I didn't choose to do it, and I resent like hell that it happened like that."

"It wasn't just you and Cynric that night, Anita. The Mother of All Darkness rolled about a half dozen of you."

"But only Cynric followed me home and stayed!"

"Crispin and Domino were there that night, and they live here now," Micah said.

He was right, and I knew it, but somehow it felt wrong. "It's not the same. Crispin and Domino are grown men. They came to stay in St. Louis, but when I didn't have time for them in my life they found lives of their own. They have jobs and Crispin dates other people, and Domino is beginning to, but Cynric is always there. I thought he'd go away next year to college and stay in the dorms, but now he's planning to commute."