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Crimson Death(Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #25)(11) by Laurell Kaye Hamilton

11
 
THE SHOWER IN our room was big enough for all three of us with room to spare. It had multiple showerheads; in fact, water came from so many directions that if I was in it alone I only turned on part of them. Okay, I turned on one of them, but Nathaniel had a very different view of the shower. He liked all the showerheads and as much pounding, pouring water as possible. He opened the hinged glass door and walked inside so he could start turning on the water. He hadn’t even bothered to take off his shorts. He adjusted the temperature dial a little cooler, then stood to one side so the initial cold burst of water wouldn’t hit him. He let the water run while he came back out to us.
 
“We all have too many clothes on,” he said.
 
“I think you’re the only exhibitionist in the room,” I said.
 
He shook his head. “Anita, this isn’t about being an exhibitionist. It’s just the three of us. It’s okay if we see each other nude.”
 
Damian’s voice was soft and sort of sad as he said, “We haven’t seen each other nude since the first night Anita bound us to her as her servants.”
 
“That doesn’t seem true,” I said.
 
“You’ve seen Nathaniel nude a lot,” Damian said, then smiled. “We’ve all seen him nude just walking around here.”
 
“I’m a wereanimal; none of us like clothes.”
 
“Micah wears clothes when he’s outside the bedroom,” I said.
 
“That’s just polite,” Nathaniel said with a smile and an eyebrow waggle.
 
I laughed, partially from his delivery and partly out of something close to happy embarrassment.
 
“The rest of us appreciate his consideration,” Damian said.
 
I looked at him, expecting to see a smile, but he looked serious.
 
“Micah’s well endowed, but he’s not scary big.”
 
Damian raised one pale eyebrow.
 
“Oh, come on,” I said.
 
“Anita, if you don’t think Micah is scary big, then the rumor about you liking really well-endowed men has to be true.”
 
“Oh, it’s not a rumor,” Nathaniel said, smiling.
 
Damian nodded. “I figured as much.” He looked way more unhappy than he should have from the news.
 
“I am not just a size queen,” I said. “Skill counts, too.”
 
“Yes, yes, it does,” Nathaniel said, wrapping his arms around me so that our faces were almost close enough to kiss. It would have been more romantic if we hadn’t both still been covered in blood, but staring into his eyes from inches away it didn’t matter as much as it might have. He smiled that certain smile that said he was thinking of naughty things to do with and to me. It made me smile back and give my own version of the look.
 
“I am sorry that I didn’t measure up, Anita,” Damian said.
 
It startled us both, and we turned to stare at him with our arms still around each other. “What do you mean?” I asked.
 
Nathaniel said, “If you mean you don’t measure up to Micah, then none of us do, except maybe Richard.”
 
“Trust me, Damian, there’s more to what I like in the bedroom than just size.”
 
He looked at the floor then and said, “Then I’m even sorrier that I disappointed you in other ways.”
 
Nathaniel and I exchanged looks; he gave a little shrug and let me go, so I could move to stand in front of Damian. I touched his arm, and he flinched, as if I’d hurt him. “Damian, are you . . .” I tried to think how to say it, because if I was misunderstanding and said the wrong thing, then I could give him a complex where he hadn’t had one.
 
Nathaniel helped me by saying, “Do you think the reason Anita hasn’t been back for more sex is that she wasn’t happy with you?”
 
Damian sort of nodded, still not making eye contact. His green eyes rolled up just enough to see my face, and whatever he saw there made him look at me a little harder. I must have looked as astonished as I felt. I finally found some words and said, “Damian, I swear to you that your skills, or lack, or anything about you was not why I didn’t pursue you as a lover.”
 
“She didn’t mean you lack skills,” Nathaniel added for me.
 
I glanced at him and then back to the vampire in front of me. “No, of course not.”
 
“Then why did you cut me out of that part of your life after that?”
 
“I don’t know, except it was pretty overwhelming finding out that I had a vampire servant, which was supposed to be impossible, and an animal to call, which should only work if I were a vampire.”
 
“She didn’t have sex with me at all that night, remember,” Nathaniel said.
 
“You weren’t my lover for months after that,” I said.
 
“Almost a year,” he said.
 
Damian looked shocked. “But you’d been living with Anita for months by then.”
 
“In retrospect it seems silly, but I was determined not to make Nathaniel my boyfriend.”
 
“Why?” Damian asked.
 
“It’s hard to explain,” I said, “but it made sense to me at the time.”
 
“The fact that she let me move in and be part of her life without sex helped me start valuing myself as a person. Before Anita I thought that all I had to offer anyone was my skills in the bedroom and my beauty.”
 
“Are you saying not having sex was a good thing?” Damian asked.
 
Nathaniel smiled. “At the time it drove me nuts, but in the long run, yes, because I could see that Anita valued me, cared for me without sex. It made me start to realize that maybe there was more to me than just sex and looking good when I took my clothes off.”
 
Damian looked at me. “Okay, I’ll ask what I’ve been afraid to ask: Why am I the only man you had sex with once and then never wanted it again?”
 
“You’re not. I fed the ardeur on Byron just once!”
 
“Okay, why am I the only man who prefers women you’ve slept with just once?”
 
I tried to think what the answer was, because I didn’t really have one. “I don’t know.”
 
Damian’s face showed that he didn’t believe me. “Every woman knows why she doesn’t want a man.”
 
“I fought not to sleep with anyone, remember? Not Jean-Claude, or Richard, or Nathaniel. I guess the only two men I’ve ever slept with the first time I met them and then continued to have sex with have been Micah and Nicky.”
 
“You slept with Sin the first time you met him,” Nathaniel said.
 
I shook my head. “That’s different. The Mother of All Darkness mind-fucked us both and used him like the rest of the weretigers she chose as a sort of distraction to keep me from messing with her plans.” Damian had asked me why I’d finally gone into real therapy; I hadn’t wanted to answer, because I’d had all sorts of issues with Cynric—Sin. I’d thought it was his age, which had been sixteen when we met, and eighteen when he moved in with us, but I’d finally realized it wasn’t the age difference. It was that I saw our first night together as rape. All the weretigers that had been part of that night were reminders that the Mother of All Darkness had basically raped us all. She’d used other bodies to do it, but it hadn’t been consensual for any of us. Crispin and Domino were within a few years of my own age—one younger and the other older—but I hadn’t made them part of my main lovers either. I’d fed the ardeur on them occasionally, but in the end they’d been painted with the same issue-heavy brush that Sin had been coated with; they all reminded me of that night. They reminded me of the loss of control, the lack of choice, of waking up the next morning in bed with strangers whose names I barely knew and realizing we’d had an orgy. Domino and Crispin had both found other interests, but Sin hadn’t. He’d been the only one who persisted in trying to make his life with me even though I found reason after reason to reject him. He’d been sixteen and a virgin when Mommy Darkest had mind-fucked us both and used my body to be his first time. That gave me more issues than I knew what to do with about Cynric, and then he decided he would go by the nickname Sin. It was like rubbing salt in the wound.
 
“Whatever you’re thinking can’t be good,” Damian said.
 
“You’ve been really honest with me, Damian, so I’ll try to be the same. You asked why I finally got into therapy. The truth is that it was Cynric—Sin. I still see our first night together as rape. Our bodies were there, but it was like the Mother of All Darkness used both of us. One of the reasons I’ve managed to stay less attached to him, or keep breaking the attachment we have to each other, is that he reminds me of that night.”
 
Damian opened his mouth as if to say something, closed it, and finally said, “That was honest.”
 
“Too much honesty for you?”
 
“No, no, just I’m really sorry that you feel . . . victimized by that night. I didn’t realize you saw it as . . . like that.”
 
“You can say the word, Damian. You didn’t realize I saw it as rape.”
 
“I’m a man and I was a Viking when I was alive. I really can’t throw that word around, Anita.”
 
“I get the man part, but I hadn’t thought about the other. I guess you didn’t see it as wrong back then.”
 
“I’m not sure right or wrong applies, but culturally we were raiders. We didn’t just rape; we kidnapped them and brought them home with us, or sold them as slaves to other people, so other people could keep raping them. One of the hardest things about living in this century is looking back at some of the things I did hundreds of years ago and living with what I did.”
 
“You didn’t think it was wrong?”
 
“Not while I was doing it, no, and if you ask me to explain it, you won’t like any of the answers. I know Cardinale didn’t.”
 
“I’m not her.”
 
“No, but you’re a modern woman who sees her body as hers. You don’t see yourself as belonging to anybody but yourself, and certainly not to any man. You just can’t understand how different most cultures were toward women a thousand years ago.”
 
“I have some of Jean-Claude’s memories from hundreds of years ago.”
 
“But he was raised by his mother and sisters, and then a noblewoman chose him to come be a companion to her son and heir. He was part of Belle Morte’s court for hundreds of years. She was very much her own woman. He spent centuries surrounded by strong women; I didn’t, not until She-Who-Made-Me took me. She’s evil and makes jealousy into a horror show, but she is ruler of everything around her.”
 
“You’re saying that Jean-Claude wasn’t truly part of the prevailing attitude toward women, so he can’t share it with me.”
 
“Exactly.”
 
“We’re wasting all the hot water,” Nathaniel said.
 
We looked at him, as if we’d forgotten where the hot steam was coming from.
 
“If we’re going to keep talking, I’ll turn it off and save it for actually getting clean,” he said.
 
“We all need to clean up,” I said.
 
“The two of you can clean up in here. I’ll go back to my room.” He actually started to walk past us, but I caught his arm.
 
“Don’t go, Damian.”
 
He looked down at me, at my hand on his arm, then at my face. “Tell me why I should stay, Anita.”
 
“Jean-Claude thinks that me keeping you at arm’s length is why you’re sick. That our triumvirate needs more up-close-and-personal time to be whole.”
 
“It’s like Kaazim said: sex is the power from Jean-Claude’s bloodline,” Nathaniel said.
 
Damian looked at him. “We might have to negotiate exactly what sex for the three of us means.”
 
Nathaniel flashed a grin that was part mischief and just a little touch something more. “Then let’s negotiate while we shower the blood off. I’d like to use some of the hot water for the sex part.”
 
Damian and I looked at each other. He looked a question at me from those green eyes set in their mask of blood. I shrugged. “It sounds like a plan.”
 
He smiled. “You smooth-talking devil, you.”
 
I frowned at him. “What does that mean?”
 
He squeezed my hand. “It means yes.”
 
I took the yes and left the rest alone. One relationship hurdle at a time; if you try to jump them all at once you fall flat on your face and it all falls apart. We got into the shower together, all three of us trying very hard for it not to fall apart.