Now it wasn't a problem. Micah's reputation and mine combined meant that animal groups that wanted to try to take over other cities stayed the fuck away from St. Louis. There were easier ways to die than coming here, and no, I didn't feel bad about that. I'd seen too many people die because of territorial disputes between animal groups, or even vampires. We'd put a big sign over our territory saying, Nothing here is worth dying over, but if you insist, we will fucking kill you.
Harsh, maybe, but a scary reputation was about what you needed in the lycanthropy community--vampires, too. Publicly, we were all civilized; privately, not so much, or not always.
Domino walked in with his black-and-white curls still damp from the shower. The hair showed his mixed heritage, black tiger clan and white, but his eyes were pure black tiger, the color of fire: orange, red, bright, hot tiger eyes that couldn't pass for human. They were such a startling color that it took a minute to see that he was handsome in his own right, and not just his bicolored hair and fire-colored eyes. He was five-ten, five-eleven, and was decked out in what had become the unofficial bodyguard uniform: black T-shirt, black pants, black shoes (usually boots), and weapons. Since we were in the house and didn't have to worry about strangers, his shoulder holster complete with .45, extra ammo, and even his backup gun were all visible, if slightly camouflaged in black on black, like dangerous chameleons trying not to be seen in the bright, sunny kitchen.
He came over to me and gave me a kiss, because the rule was if we were sleeping together we could do the usual kiss as a greeting. The fact that we'd woken up together and already had sex, with Nathaniel joining in, meant we could have skipped the greeting, but I knew Domino wouldn't. He didn't get enough time with me to suit him, so he'd take all the attention he could get, and give. I didn't hold it against him. I didn't even blame him, but part of me felt the pressure from Domino and some of my other weretigers. A near-constant push to have more of me, more time, more love, more sex, and there just wasn't any more of me to give to anyone. The sex was great, but I couldn't be the emotional caretaker of this many people, which was why I'd encouraged some of them to find other partners to date-date. Domino hadn't dated anyone else yet.
He turned from me and stared down at Envy. "Please, move," he said.
"Why?" she asked, and took a sip of her tea as if to prove how cozy she was.
"Because until someone enters this room who is more intimate with Anita than I am, I get to sit on the other side of her, that's what we worked out."
"I know she's the Queen of Tigers, even I feel the draw of her power, but really, you would all think she's the only pussy"--and she put a little too much pause between--"cat in the world, the way all of you chase after her."
"You're in my seat," Domino said, quietly.
"This can't be your seat; you're not over here much more often than I am." Her voice was bland, but the point was sharp, because since it was her first time staying over here, it implied that Domino was even less in my life than was true, which was little enough.
He stiffened, his whole body coming to a sort of involuntary attention.
I leaned around Domino so that I could look Envy in the face and said, "You're in his seat. Move."
She frowned, that beautiful face going all petulant on me.
Jason said, "I thought you and Domino were friends."
"Friendly," she said.
"Then be friendly," Jason said.
Envy sighed heavily and rolled those pretty blue eyes, but she got up so that Domino could sit beside me. I expected her to take the seat beside Jason, but she didn't. She walked all the way around the table and put that extra sway into her walk like Nathaniel had done. She wasn't a stripper or dancer of any kind, but she was a wereanimal, and they knew how to move so that any man, or woman, would wonder if those swaying hips would be as good in reality as they were in the advertisement.
I had enough memories, thanks to being metaphysically linked to so many men, to appreciate that sway as the white T-shirt fluttered just below her ass, so that you could almost see something, but not quite. If I'd had the penis that my memories required, I might even have been interested, but girls as sex objects puzzled me, and though I could admire Envy's physical beauty, it didn't move me, or make me want to explore it.
She finally sat down, then had to have Jason pass her the tea mug she'd abandoned. She took another sip of her mint tea and watched Domino slide his arm across my shoulders with a look that matched her name. In that moment I knew she had a crush on Domino, or was at least looking for him to supplement once she dumped Richard. Did Domino know, or was he oblivious, or had he already turned her down? Did that explain her overemphasis on the "friendly," that she'd wanted to be more than friends, but he'd said no?
I rubbed my free hand across my forehead. Trying to manage this many people was a pain in the ass, but it usually hit me as a headache when I started overthinking it. They were adults, for the love of God; they should be able to handle this, right?
Nathaniel leaned in and kissed my cheek. "You okay?"
"Sure," but I was tense as I tried to lean into Domino's arm over my chair back. I suddenly didn't want him touching me, felt suffocated by so much attention. What you'll enjoy from someone you're in love with just hits you as clingy from someone you think of more as a sex buddy. Jason was my friend with benefits for real, because he was one of my best friends and the sex didn't seem to mess that part up, or make us want to have more from each other emotionally. He was probably the least complicated lover I had in some ways; in other ways he was just a different kind of complicated, but then weren't we all.
"Now that the gang's all here, why are we here? Jason mentioned something about the rough sex being part of the reason for this informal meeting. Can you elaborate on that, Jason?"
"Let's go with Domino and Envy's agenda item first," he said, and gave a half smile with it.
"There's an agenda with line items?" I said.
He laughed. "You should see your face, so woebegone."
"I hate meetings." I brought both my hands up to raise my coffee to my mouth. I didn't want to touch anyone right that minute. I felt like they were ganging up on me, managing me, and I didn't like it.
Nathaniel put his hand on my thigh underneath the table, rubbing gently on it through the silk of my robe. I fought the urge to push his hand away. I wanted him to touch me, but I didn't like realizing that everyone at this table knew the topic of conversation except me.
Domino began to rub my shoulders, fingers finding the bare skin of my neck underneath my hair, kneading the suddenly tense muscles, then moving upward just past the hairline so he could snake his fingers up to knead, and press, and let me feel the strength in his hand in that sweet spot where neck and skull merge. It damn near rolled my eyes back into my head, and did make me close my eyes.
Nathaniel's hand pressed harder, proving that there was strength in his fingers that he didn't normally use, but it was still there. They both tightened their grip at the same time and I had to fight not to react more to it than was polite at breakfast. Someone took my coffee cup out of my hand, or I'd probably have dropped it.
Nathaniel loosened his grip on my thigh and then Domino moved his hand back to just hugging the back of my shoulders. This time I slumped into the curve of his arm, snuggling against his body. I could snuggle tighter because he hadn't put his body armor on; most of the guards didn't bother unless they were going to work with me. He lowered his grip so that he was actually partially supporting me, or I might have slithered out of the chair and into the floor; silk is slippery when your muscles go all liquid.
"Wow," Envy said, "that was . . . wow."
I tried to look at her, but my eyes still weren't focusing just right. I started to try to fight free of that warm, afterglow sensation, but Nathaniel stroked my thigh, gently, and said, "It's okay, Anita, just relax into it."
I started to do what my beloved pussycat's voice told me, and
then Envy kept talking and I needed to pay attention. I fought my way through to the surface of all that relaxation, and yummy reminders of earlier this morning, and just . . . They'd hit two of my happy trigger spots, and with the right people, under the right circumstances, it unmanned me, or would that be unwomaned me?
"Can you actually hear me?" she asked, and lowered her face down to peer at me.
I was still snuggled into the corner of Domino's body, his grip across my shoulders holding me in place. The press of his shoulder holster and extra ammo on his belt wasn't uncomfortable; it was actually sort of reassuring. When you hang around with as many dangerous people as I do, the guns and stuff are just part of it all. I wrapped my arms around his waist to help hold myself up, and wrapping my arms around his waist wasn't a bad thing. It helped continue to ease that tension that had tried to assert itself and make me start tearing at everything, and everyone, around me. Rage had been almost my only emotion once, and it was still comforting in that dysfunctional way in which people will prefer something unpleasant, but familiar, to something pleasant, but unfamiliar. Sometimes I thought I'd been pushed so far outside my comfort zone that I'd break, and other times I realized that comfort zones were more like prison bars; they protected you, but they also trapped you. I didn't want to be trapped, not even by myself.
"Yes," I said, voice a little thick and almost sleepy sounding. I cleared my throat and tried again. "I hear you, Envy."
"If Richard put his hand back there and pulled your hair, would you enjoy it?"
I blinked at her, studying the intelligence in her gaze, the force of will that was in there. Those were the things that made Envy work for Jean-Claude and for Richard; passive wasn't something either of them enjoyed.
"Under the right circumstances, yes," I said.
She shook her head, raised her tea as if to drink it, and then put it back down untouched. "It just hurts when he does it to me."
"Then he shouldn't do it," I said.
"It's like he needs to do it to someone, or with someone."
That made me frown and have to straighten up from the extreme cuddle position I was in, as if I couldn't think as deeply sitting like that. I patted Domino's thigh, letting him know that I wasn't mad, just needed to sit up. I took Nathaniel's hand off my thigh and into my hand, letting him know, too, that I was all right, and that I wasn't going to let my discomfort get out of hand and make me lash out again; that was childish, and I wasn't a child anymore.
"Can I take this one?" Jason asked.
"Be my guest," I said.
"Enjoying pain with your pleasure is something either you get, or you don't. If you get it, then you don't really need it explained, because you know how good it feels, and if you don't get it, then no amount of talking is going to convince you it makes sense."
"Sounds like you've practiced that speech," I said.
He frowned, and it seemed to dim his light all the way through. "I've been trying to explain it to J.J."
"Not going well, I take it?"