"Me, too. Sorry I'm interrupting your fight training."
He smiled then. "I'm not, I hate it."
"You're starting to show some muscle definition," I said, starting to motion at his arms, but having to stop in midmotion because I'd forgotten and tried to raise my left arm.
"Yeah, and if the women I wanted to date were into that sort of thing it'd be great, but they're more impressed that I can recite Shakespearian sonnets by memory in their ear."
I gave him a look. "Tell me you're joking."
"Haven't you ever dated someone who was into literature?"
"I thought I had, but maybe I'm wrong, because I think if I'd tried to whisper sonnets for pillow talk they'd have giggled at me."
"You have to know your audience," he said. "Mine likes poetry."
"I didn't say I disliked poetry, just not that fond of the sonnets."
"You don't like Shakespeare?" He pretended to be offended, hand to his chest as if I'd wounded him.
"I prefer the tragedies," I said.
He smiled again. "Of course you do, but I don't think whispering Lady Macbeth's soliloquy would get me laid."
It was my turn to grin. "I don't know, depends on the girl."
"No," I said, still smiling, and it was good to be smiling. It helped chase back the tiredness.
He came and sat on the bed beside me, careful to sit on the side that wasn't bandaged. "You look beat, Anita."
"Good to know I feel as bad as I look, or look as bad as I feel, or something like that."
"I didn't mean you look bad, you always look good."
I looked at him. "Now, that is totally not true."
He smiled, frowned, and finally said, "Is this one of those girl moments that I can't win? So if I agree with you, are you going to accuse me of not thinking you're beautiful, and if I disagree with you, are you going to tell me I'm lying?"
I laughed; I couldn't help it. "If you were a boyfriend, or lover, maybe, but no, I'm not going to go all girl-logic weird on you."
"Whew," he said, and pretended to wipe sweat off his brow.
"Am I this tired, or are you funnier than normal, and happier than normal?"
"The second is definitely true," he said.
"Happier even with the extra gym work?"
He nodded. "I had to shower before I came in here, because I was all sweaty from lifting weights and getting my ass kicked."
"I know you're getting intensive training these next four days, so who's doing your one-on-one fight drills?"
"He's good hand-to-hand, but he's even better with knives."
"So I've noticed. He says I'm better with blades than my hands. I can't tell if it's a compliment, or his way of saying I'm so bad with my fists that I need a knife to win a fight."
"If Fredo compliments anything you do with a knife in your hand, it's a good thing. He's the main blade instructor for the guards, and he's wicked good at it. I bloodied him once in a practice match. Impressed the hell out of the other guys."
His pale brown eyes went very wide and made him look even younger. He was actually twenty-five, but he looked closer to eighteen; with his eyes wide and his curls all wet and careless he could have passed for seventeen easy.
"You touched Fredo in a knife match, wow, that is impressive. He's so fast."
"Rats and leopards seem to have an edge in speed. Lions have more muscle."
"Not this lion," he said.
"I was going to ask you something if we were alone."
"You don't remember what it was?"
He hugged me, careful of my shoulder. "You have had a rough day."
"Oh, Magda, what's your take on her? Why is she beating up on Kelly?"
"She wants to be the official first lioness of our pride."
"Nicky has already turned her down for sex, and I'm his Regina, so she can't be that. First lioness in our local pride is a pretty hollow title, actually."
"So why is Magda pushing this?"
"I'm not sure, but I know she's not going to stop."
"Why not, if it gains her nothing?"
"I didn't say it gained her nothing, I just agreed that being first lioness is an empty title."
"Okay, what does it gain her to fight Kelly?"
"I don't know, but I know she sees some goal. The Harlequin are very goal driven whether they're the vampire masters"--he made finger quotes around the word masters--"or the wereanimal companion."
I might have asked more, but there was a very purposeful knock at the door. I hadn't heard any conversation first; either I'd been too busy talking to hear it, or Magda had just come up and glared at the door guards until they let her knock.
Magda didn't peer around the door; she just walked in like she owned the room. She was tall for a woman, five-ten, which meant she'd have towered over people back in the day. Her hair was blond, cut so it fell below her ears but never touched her shoulders. The hair was blunt cut, which would have worked with straight hair, but she had waves to hers, so it was just messy like someone had started to style and cut her hair but stopped partway. Her vampire master had absolutely straight hair, as black as hers was yellow. Her eyes were blue-gray, changeable as the sky. They looked bluer now, because she was wearing blue satin pajamas. It had never occurred to me that Magda would own jammies, let alone pastel blue ones, and satin, just not what I'd pictured. Even dressed in something soft she filled the room not with height, but with attitude. She turned those human eyes on us, but it was like her lion was the one seeing out, and the lion thought everything it surveyed belonged to it. Not all the Harlequin were like that, but she was;
even the male lion Giacomo didn't have that air of command to him. It was like a constant slap in the face of any alpha around her, as if she knew she was the strongest, fastest, bestest in the room, unless you could persuade her you were better, but until then . . . it was her room. Magda made me tired, even when I wasn't. She was like a constant pissing contest waiting to happen. Part of that was a lion thing, but she had more than her share of it.
I was already remembering why I didn't spend much time with her and she hadn't been here five minutes yet. How was I ever going to sleep with her on the other side of me? It must have shown on my face, or maybe my scent changed; whatever the cause, Magda picked it up.
"You are not pleased with something I've done, and I've done nothing yet, not even spoken."
"Your energy is sort of . . . loud," I said.
Travis was sitting straighter beside me, not hugging anymore. He was tense; the question was, why?
"I don't know what you mean by that," she said.
Travis was watching her less like another lion and more like a gazelle. No wonder he had problems with the other lions, and no wonder Magda did, too. They just had opposite problems.
"Okay, I need to sleep and the two of you need to work together to make that possible," I said.
"We will sleep on either side of you and our lions will mingle with yours and help heal you," Magda said.
"Yes, but not if your energy makes me feel like I have to prove I'm dominant to you all over again."
A frown appeared between her yellow eyebrows. You didn't see a lot of natural yellow eyebrows, not even on blondes. It softened her eyes even more, I think, or maybe black eyebrows would have given them more color; who knew?
"I have done nothing to challenge you, Anita. I acknowledge you as Regina to our Rex, and have never said otherwise."
"You offered to sleep with Nicky," I said.
"It's customary when entering a new pride to offer yourself to the Rex."
Travis finally said, "No, it's not."
She narrowed her eyes at him, and they were suddenly gray as rain clouds. "It was once," she said, voice growing lower, as if the next sound she made would be a growl.
"That was then, this is now," I said.
She turned that unfriendly gaze to me. "I am more aware than you will ever be that this is a future unforeseen and very unlike the past I knew."