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Jason (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 23) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:58:17

"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," 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."

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."

"We're just friends with benefits," I said.

Jason nodded, and sipped his coffee.

"Richard is your wolf king; is he making your life hard in the pack?"

"Talk to me," I said.

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"I'll never be high in the pack hierarchy, Anita, but that's because I'm more a lover than a fighter." He grinned, trying to make a joke of it.

"Is Richard taking his feelings out on you?"

"Not really. I can fight enough to hold my own and not be picked on in the pack, but I'll never be good enough to rise much, and honestly I don't want to be in charge."

"I know you're more dominant than you let on, but that you truly don't want to be in charge of the other werewolves," I said.

"Not even a little bit," he said, and took another sip of coffee.

"So, you're all saying that Richard sees Nathaniel, Micah, and even Jason as not worthy to have won the fair maiden," Envy said.

"Something like that," I said.

"I don't think it's in the front of his head," Nathaniel said, and squeezed my hand.

"How he feels about Nathaniel and me is," Jason said. "We are literally further down in the structure of our animal groups, and he's the Ulfric, the leader. Among the wolves, that means that anything he wants is pretty much his, and he knows that he could kick our asses, but here we sit, happier and more a part of Anita's life than he is, and that is what he has trouble accepting."

"But Micah is Nimir-Raj, leopard king, and the head of the Coalition, so he's becoming like the leader for all the animal groups in town, and even across the country. Why does Richard have an issue with him?"

"Because Micah is five-three and Richard is six-one," Jason said.

"You know how most women walk into a room and assess the beauty in the room to see where they rate, and who might give them a run for their money?" Jason asked.