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Shutdown (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22.6) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:56:16

“How do you know what kind of sex I enjoy?” She looked at Richard.

“I didn’t say anything about our sex life to anyone,” he said.

“I’m assuming some things from your reaction, Ellen, that’s all. I hope I’m wrong for your sake and Richard’s.”

“Wrong about what?” she asked.

She squirmed in her seat, and wouldn’t meet anyone’s eyes. “It’s none of your business.”

That was it for me. “You sit there and demand that we tell you intimate things about our sex life, our relationships, but you share nothing. You get all embarrassed, why can’t we be embarrassed, too?”

She looked startled. “I just thought . . .”

“Thought what, that because we like kinky sex we can’t be embarrassed?”

She glanced at Richard, then back at me. “I guess I assumed that if you were this open it didn’t bother you to talk about it.”

“It doesn’t bother me to talk to my sweeties, but to someone who I’ve just met and who is judging every word I say, yeah, it bothers me.”

“I’m not judging you,” she said.

Micah hugged me a little harder. “It’s okay,” he said.

“No,” I said, “it’s not.” I looked at Richard. We had a moment of looking deep into each other’s brown eyes, but it wasn’t a love look, it was a soul-searching one. The look you give someone that you know well, or did at one time, as you’re wondering what the hell they’re doing to their lives. Richard had finally worked through his issues so it was nice to have him in our lives again, and part of me wondered if Ellen was his new way of denying himself. It was a nice way of setting himself up to withdraw from the bondage and the rough sex without admitting that he was conflicted. He wouldn’t be conflicted, he’d be giving it all up so he could be married and have that white picket fence dream. Was it possible to lie to yourself so well that you didn’t realize you were doing it? Hell, yes. I’d done it myself for years.

“There,” she said, “that look, how can I not feel threatened when the two of you have such a strong connection?”

“We weren’t looking lovingly into each other’s eyes, trust me on that,” I said and cuddled in against Micah. I just wanted to leave. I was so done with this conversation.

“Then what did that look mean?”

Richard answered, “Anita is wondering why I want someone who is so uncomfortable with so much of my life, right?”

“Yes,” I said and looked at them both.

“It’s just sex, not his whole life,” she said.

I gave Richard very direct eye contact, and raised an eyebrow at him.

“What?” she asked, “What is that look you’re giving each other?”

“If you believe that sex isn’t that important to you, that’s your choice, but . . .” I stopped without finishing the sentence.

“But what?” she asked.

“Just say it, Anita,” he said.

I sighed, Micah squeezed my hand. “But if you believe that sex isn’t important to Richard . . . that would be a mistake and not true.”

“I don’t understand,” she said.

Richard took her hand in his, and gazed into her eyes. “I love you, I want to spend my life with you and have children with you. I want to go to PTA meetings and Boy Scout meetings, and do all of it with you.”

She wrapped her smaller hands around his. “Oh, Richard, I want that too, so much.”

“But to have all that with you, and be happy, I need certain things that you don’t want to do.”

“Why is it wrong that I don’t want you to tie me up and hurt me?”

“It’s not wrong,” he said, “but it’s also not wrong that I want and need to do that with someone.”

“I don’t understand that,” she said.

“I know you don’t, honey, but can you accept that it’s true for me?”

“You’re asking me to let you have sex with Anita and then come home to me as if it’s all normal.”

“Yes, that’s what I’m asking.”

“You selfish bastard,” she said, and she was crying again. She took her hands out of his and this time he let her do it. She stood up and gave him a look of rage and disgust that must have been like a knife through his heart. “Are you honestly saying, that if I don’t say yes to all this perverted sex that you won’t marry me?”

The tables near us were beginning to notice the show, and trying to act as if they hadn’t heard that oh, so, provocative sentence.

We had Richard’s face in profile. He swallowed hard enough that we heard it, and then he said, “I’ve worked too hard to accept who I really am. Ellen, I can’t go back to hiding. I can’t go back to lying to myself.”

“So you are choosing her over me,” Ellen said.

“No, I’m choosing myself,” he said.

She aimed that rage at me. “You must be incredible in bed for him to throw everything away. I guess I can’t compete with a fur banging, blood whore.”

Micah pressed his arm against my shoulders, holding me in my chair, because I had started to stand. “No,” he said.

He was right, because if I stood up I wasn’t sure what I was going to do -- nothing good.

Richard stood up. “That was an ugly thing to say.”

“It’s the truth, isn’t it?”

“If she’s Jean-Claude’s blood whore, then so am I,” he said.

Ellen stared at him; her face didn’t seem to know what expression it wanted to have, as if so many thoughts were chasing around her mind that she didn’t know what to do.

“You don’t have sex with him. You told me you don’t have sex with either of the vampires.”

He leaned in and spoke low, so the other people around wouldn’t hear. Some of the people at the nearest tables were trying not to stare; others were openly watching. He bent closer to her, and said, “Just because no one sticks their dicks in each other doesn’t mean it’s not sex.”

She slapped him, hard enough for it to echo in the suddenly silent restaurant. Everyone was looking now; it was too good a show to look away. Richard hadn’t done anything to protect himself, he’d just let her hit him. If a man had done the same thing to a woman someone would have been calling the police.

Richard stood up straighter, taking his face out of her reach. “I love you, Ellen.”

“I hate you, Richard Zeeman, I hate you for making me love you, and for this . . .” she gestured at me and Micah, though I think we were just representative of the problem.

She started to sob, put her hands over her face and then ran towards the archway and the door beyond. I honestly expected Richard to follow her, but he just stood there with his cheek reddened from her slap. She was outside in the sunlight now, hesitating on the sidewalk, looking behind her. She kept looking back, and I realized she was expecting him to run after her. When he didn’t appear there, she turned toward the window. Richard didn’t turn around. He didn’t see her on the sidewalk. He didn’t see her look in through the windows at him. Ellen had expected him to follow her. I think she’d seen running out as an escalation, but not an end, and if he’d gone after her, she’d have been right. The look on her face as she realized he wasn’t going to follow was one of raw pain.

Micah touched my arm, which made me look at him. He looked at me and I knew the look. I was supposed to do something.

I said, “Richard, if you don’t follow her . . .”

“It’s over,” Richard said.

“I know,” Richard said.

I looked at his very straight, very still back, and then turned to the window. Ellen was looking at him, as if willing him to turn around, but he didn’t. She walked out of sight, fresh tears streaming down her face. Richard didn’t follow her.