"Probably not," I said, "but you're an important part of our household and you should be there to give your opinion."
He looked back and forth between us. "So if you love one of the tigers and I veto them, you'll just agree with me?"
I shrugged. "I don't know for sure, but I certainly wouldn't want to add someone to our poly that you really clashed with, because right now we all like each other a lot. I don't want that to change."
"I'm just your Bride, Anita."
I wrapped my arms around his waist and gazed up at him. "I love you, Nicky; you're a hell of a lot more to me than just Dracula's Bride."
He studied my face, then smiled a little, wrapping his arms around me, so that I was surrounded by all that muscle. Just feeling the potential of all that strength made me shiver a little in his arms.
He grinned then. "That reaction just from hugging you?"
"I don't think Jean-Claude and Micah will allow me to veto anyone that they like, but I appreciate that you and Nathaniel would."
Nathaniel came in from the side and hugged us both. "I love you like a brother, you know that."
"You know that most brothers don't share women, right?" Nicky said.
Nathaniel drew back enough to shrug. "It works for us."
"And for Cynric, too," Nicky said. "I really thought you'd just put a ring on his finger."
I shook my head. "If we can add someone that everyone will sleep with, including Micah, it would just work better."
"Cynric is going to be hurt," Nicky said.
"You're a sociopath--why should you care?" I asked.
"I'm a made sociopath, not a born one, which means I have some emotion, and I like the kid. He's the closest I've gotten to a little brother since I lost my own."
"He'll be at the mixer tonight," Nathaniel said.
I sighed and stepped back so that Nicky just let me go. "I can't help that."
"Are you angry with Sin?" Nathaniel asked.
"No!" I snapped, and then had to take a few deep breaths before I could say, "Let's get home and change for this party thing."
The men exchanged a look.
Nicky shook his head. Nathaniel said, "You are mad at Sin."
"If you want me to go to this party at all, we leave now."
We left. Dino drove the truck that he and Nicky had brought the cow in, but Nicky rode with us. They both tried to get me to talk, but I finally convinced them to leave it the fuck alone and be grateful I was looking at other women at all. I sounded angry even to myself. I really wasn't in a party mood.
SOMEWHERE ON THE drive some horrible tension in me eased. The anger began to slip away on the sound of Nathaniel and Nicky discussing food for the week, and if there were enough ingredients at both the Circus and the house in Jefferson County to make the meals as planned. I liked listening to them plan our domestic stuff. I loved that Nathaniel truly enjoyed that part of living together. I loved that Nicky and he worked so well together both in the kitchen and in the bedroom. Our core group worked so well together and I knew that every time we tried adding a new person even to the edges of the group, we ran the risk of upsetting all of it. Cynric was already in our life and he worked for all of us, some better than others, but he didn't make anyone unhappy. Now I knew some of the issues that made me not want to commit to him, and I hated the issues. It was like victim-blaming him for being another victim of the same trauma. Even in my own head it sounded convoluted and wrong.
"Anita, you missed the exit."
I glanced at Nathaniel. "What?"
"You drove past the exit to the Circus."
"Sorry, I'll hit the next one and backtrack."
"Are you upset about having to meet the tigers this soon?"
I took the exit carefully, forcing myself to pay attention. "Yeah," I lied. Normally he'd be right, I'd be all resistant about having to meet people to be not only a new lover, but potentially someone we'd have a commitment ceremony with, but tonight all I could think about was Cynric and how I'd thought the issue was his age, when it was just an excuse not to look at the truth. I hated that I'd been that blind about myself. I could go have hors d'oeuvres and drinks or whatever with the weretigers and chat, be charming and vague. They could parade tigers all damn night in front of me; I didn't have to pick anyone, and the moment I thought that, I realized that I was lying to Nathaniel, and Micah, and every important person in my life. Damn it, our relationships weren't based on lies.
"What's making you feel so unhappy?" Nicky said.
I didn't want to explain, but I realized that the one person I really owed an explanation to was Cynric. "Cynric, I should have called him to let him know about tonight. He's living with us and I didn't even call him to give him a heads-up about tonight and the other weretigers."
Nathaniel touched the side of my face, and my thoughts were too close to the surface. He got some of them direct, but the sharing made me swerve the car. "Jesus, Nathaniel," I said, over the thudding of my heart in my throat.
He'd jerked back. "You usually shield better than this, Anita. You're worried about Sin, but not just about calling him. I called him and he was pretty stoked at the idea that you'd be willing to look at another woman being added to our inner group."
"Really, then why won't he date anyone but me? I know some of the girls at school have been heartbroken about him being all poly-monogamous."
"He sees it as adding to our family, and the woman would be your lover, too. She'd also be a clan tiger, so she wouldn't expect her relationship with him to supersede yours."
I glanced at him. "You and he have talked about it, haven't you?"
"We have to do something when you're off raising the dead and chasing bad guys," Nicky said.
I glanced behind at him, then forced myself to pay attention to the road again. I wanted to get angry about the fact that the men in my life had conspired against me to add another woman to our merry little band, but they all shared me with multiple men, and as Nathaniel had pointed out, most of them didn't even get sexual contact from the rest of my lovers. They really were very good sports about it all, so it would just be churlish to complain, but . . . I so wanted to.
"Now you're mad," Nicky said. I shook my head. "I'm not."
"I'm trying not to be mad, because it's not logical or fair."
"Feelings aren't fair, Anita," Nathaniel said. "They're just how we feel."
"True, but I'm trying to be less bitchy about mine."
He smiled. "You're grumpy, not bitchy."
I gave him a raised eyebrow. "And the difference between the two is?"
He laughed. "If you were bitchy you wouldn't be trying to do better."
I smiled, then laughed just a little. "Fine, okay, but I am trying."
"We appreciate that."
"We love you," Nicky said.
"We do," Nathaniel said.
"But you'd like a chance to love a few more people," I said.
"If more of the other men were bisexual it wouldn't be an issue for me."
"Another woman would be nice, but she's not going to enjoy sex the way I like it," Nicky said.
"You don't do super-rough all the time," I said.
"No, but even my mild is too much for most women."
"You had to have vanilla sex with some of the women you pretended to date when you were undercover," Nathaniel said.
"Yeah, and it's better than masturbating, but it's still holding bac
"When sex is supposed to be about letting go," I said.
"So, you don't think another woman will do you any good."
"Not really, but that's okay."
"Is it really okay?" I asked, as I turned into the back entrance to the employee parking lot at the Circus of the Damned. I had a reserved spot near the door, because after dark the lot filled up with all the people it took to run the permanent carnival midway, the one-ring circus in its tent, the freak show, and all the things that made it into the Circus of the Damned. Here you could have that summertime traveling carnival experience under one roof, regardless of the weather, if you were willing to wait until nightfall. But then all carnivals are at their best after dark.
Nicky leaned on the back of my seat, his face resting against my hair. "Yeah, it's really okay."
"Why is it okay? Why are you content with only me?"
"I'm not content, I'm happy, and sociopaths don't get to say that very often."
That made me smile. I reached up and touched the side of his face. He rubbed his face between my hand and my hair and said, "Your touching me like this means more to me than more sex with anyone else."
I kept touching him, but I was puzzled and said so.
"I get it," Nathaniel said.
I moved my head so I could look at him, my hand sliding further around Nicky's face, so I could curl my fingers in his hair. "Explain it to me, then."
"That small touch says love, not just lust. We've both had a lot of lust aimed at us, but not so much love."
"Yeah," Nicky said, tracing his fingers down my arm.
"The fact that you worried about Sin and his feelings, even though I know you've got this weird conflict about his age, says just how caring you are. Nicky and I haven't had a lot of people in our life that cared for us, not in the way you do, or the way Micah does."
"Micah doesn't really like me," Nicky said.
"That's not true," I said.
"Do you really like him?" Nathaniel asked.
"I think he's a good leader. He's a better Nimir-Raj for the wereleopards than I am a Rex for the lions."
"That didn't answer the question."
"No, not really. I mean I like him as a leader and a person, but he and I have less of a connection in the poly group."
"You and Jean-Claude don't have much connection either," Nathaniel said.
"No, but I could donate blood to him, if I wanted to, and that would make me more important to him in the poly group. Micah and I don't have anything to bargain with, or offer each other, that will deepen our relationship. He doesn't even like rough sex or bondage much, so we can't even play."
"We should be working on the group we have, not adding to it," I said.