"So why haven't you?" I asked.
"Jade and I both believe that if we find other people, you'll see it as delegating us to them. You won't feel you have to date us, because we'll be dating other people. We've seen you do it with others, Crispin included."
I thought about that for a moment. Was that true? Was my encouraging them to find other lovers a way of getting them out of my bed, if not my life?
"I hadn't realized I was doing that, but no one person, not even me, can truly date this many people. I can fuck, but I can't do the emotional stuff, the cute stuff, the things that really make it a relationship; there just isn't enough of me to go around like that. I'm feeling pressured by everyone to take care of them, and I've reached a limit. I can't take care of this many people as intimately as most of you want me to, I just don't know how to do that. I asked Jean-Claude and even he didn't know how to have real relationships with this many people, and he's been a ladies' man, and a gentlemen's man, for centuries."
"I hadn't really thought about it from that perspective. I don't think . . . no, I know I couldn't date this many people, but they're all metaphysically tied to you and Jean-Claude and Micah, and there's no untying those bindings except by death," Envy said.
"Anita cut the tie between Jade and her first vampire master," Domino said.
"Yes, but Anita is the Mother of the Dawn, the Queen of Tigers; she breaks servant from master the way that the old Queen of All Darkness did. Even the Queen never broke bonds between herself and any of her own servants," she said.
"So short of death or a metaphysical miracle, the bonds between Anita and all of us are immobile, unbreakable," Jason said.
"I'm saying here out loud today that I can't cope with this many people, not and do a good job of dating them, caring for all their needs. Hell, if I hadn't been metaphysically screwed over, I wouldn't have chosen most of the people I'm having sex with, not that it's not great sex," I said, kissing Domino on the cheek, "but it's like I'm suddenly insanely attracted to people I don't have much in common with, so the sex is mind-blowing, but the conversation in between not so much."
"The ardeur is like a date-rape drug that doesn't go away," Envy said.
"Not my favorite analogy, but yeah," I said.
"But this drug affects both parties," Jason said.
"Not always. I talked about it with Jean-Claude, and the originator of the ardeur as a vampire ability, Belle Morte, was never affected by it; she was more like a contagion."
"Beautiful Death," I said, "making people sick with desire."
"More like addicts," Jason said.
Nathaniel and I nodded. "Addicted to love isn't just a song lyric," I said.
I turned to Domino. "Do you crave me like that? I mean, do the others who have found other lovers jones after sex with me like a junkie?"
I felt terrible then.
"Wait, but Anita doesn't crave them the same way, or she wouldn't have to ask that question."
"When the ardeur first came for me I had almost no control over it, so I was bound as tight as the people I fed on, but I got more control of it and I could protect myself from falling in love."
"I got here too late," Domino said, and kissed me again to take some of the sting out of the words.
Nathaniel leaned in from the other side and kissed my cheek. "I'm glad I got here early."
"It's not just the ardeur, Anita. I've known you longer than Nathaniel, and I was around when the ardeur rose, but we're not in love, or addicted to each other," Jason said.
"You were terrified of being consumed by love, and when you became my wolf to call, I sort of incorporated that into the mix, so we were both more free of the emotional stuff, or that's what Jean-Claude thinks made the difference."
Jason nodded. "Makes sense. You get some personality traits that seem to switch bodies when you make someone your wereanimal or vampire to call. Jean-Claude has talked about that; he's more ruthless since he merged with you, and Richard got your anger for a while, so I'm glad you learned to take that back. Our wolf king would have killed someone if he hadn't learned to give up the fits of rage."
"I got Jean-Claude's ardeur, his ability and need to feed off lust, and Richard's craving for flesh, and both their cravings for blood."
Envy shuddered. "You don't get to pick and choose, do you?"
"Not at all," I said.
She shivered again. "That could go so badly."
"I've thought of that. It's one of the reasons that I've decided my dance card is full. We've been lucky so far, but eventually I could get a piece of somebody who is really bad and then our happy little poly tribe could go to hell in a big way."
"Is it a happy poly tribe? Are you happy?" Domino asked.
I turned and looked up into those eyes the color of fires and spectacular sunsets. "Yes. Yes, I am happy, happier than I've ever been before."
He smiled a little. "Good, I'm glad."
"I won't ask if you're happy, because I know you want more of me than I have to give, and I'm sorry for that, Domino. I would set you free if I could."
"If he were just addicted to the ardeur, you could, or he could sort of detox the way Requiem did, but I know what it's like to be your wolf to call, and he's your tiger, and we're yours forever. Even if we move across the country you can still call us to your side," Jason said.
"Are you thinking about moving across the country?" I asked.
He gave a little shrug. "If J.J. and Freda and I could work things out, maybe, and if Jean-Claude and you would allow it."
"I don't like the 'allow' part," I said.
"Jean-Claude is the vampire king of the United States," Envy said. "Jason is his pomme de sang, his apple of blood, and he's your wolf to call; he has to have permission from both of you to move. Anyway, who is Freda?"
"Jean-Claude has enough wereanimals to donate blood now. It's not like in the old days when him having this little werewolf to feed off of was important for his power base. And Freda is J.J.'s girlfriend."
"So if you, J.J., and Freda can work this out, you'll move to New York?"
"Maybe. I mean, she's in one of the top dance troupes in the country; I can't force her to give that up."
"I love that you're willing to relocate for your girlfriend," Envy said. "Most men expect the woman to do the career compromising."
"I'm an exotic dancer, it's not a career."
"You're very good at your job," I said, "and you manage the club most of the time."
"J.J. is talking to the dance company she's in about Jason maybe trying out for them," Nathaniel said.
I looked from one to the other. "Wow, Jason, just wow, that's awesome; would you be the first lycanthrope allowed in an all-human dance company?"
"That would really help lycanthropes be more accepted," Envy said.
"It's a great opportunity," I said. "I'll miss you like hell, but I've never seen you as happy as you are with J.J., so what can I do to help?"
He smiled at me, not his usual teasing smile, but the one that was just him, just our friendship. "First, we all think if you maybe had more experience with women, or could talk to someone about having female lovers, you might be able to help Jade feel more a part of things."
I raised eyebrows and looked across the table at Envy. "Are you volunteering to mentor me?"
"Me, no," Envy said, shaking her blond hair hard.
"Then why are you here today? Domino is the only other black tiger in our group, so he and Jade are pals, but you're golden tiger, which makes you a totally different clan."