THE KISS GREW until he pressed me back to the bed, and his body grew eager against the front of me. Eager enough that I wrapped my legs around him, and the most intimate part of him was suddenly pressed tight against the most intimate part of me. He drew back with a shaky laugh.

We need a condom.

I closed my eyes and had a moment of embarrassment. Of course, we do, Im sorry I got carried away.

He leaned down and kissed me quick and hard, and let me see the delight on his face that I had forgotten myself that much with him. Jean-Claude gave me very few restrictions, but this was one. No unprotected sex. He kissed me again, then slid off the bed to hunt for condoms in the luggage.

I lay there thinking about the fact that I might have forgotten enough to have unprotected sex with Jason. I was on the pill, so technically, it wasnt exactly unprotected. Id been so careful since the pregnancy scare a few months back. How could I have been so careless? Irvings words came back to me, about how my caution hadnt worked, so maybe it was time to be reckless. Was that it? Was I just tired of my best efforts going so wrong, so why try? No, no, just carried away with a handsome man in my bed. Jesus, that didnt sound any better.

Jason came back with a little string of unopened condoms in his hand. I counted at least four. Arent we being ambitious.

He glanced down at the condoms, then laughed again. In case one gets put on inside out, or has a hole. I dont want to leave the bed to look for another one.

I had to smile at him, and that was one of the best things about being with Jason. He always made me smile. No strings, no love on the line, just good friends who had managed to be lovers and still be friends. It was good.

He put the condoms on the bedside table, then climbed onto the bed, still smiling. The smile changed as he moved closerhis eyes growing more serious, the smile sliding away to leave his face almost empty of expression except for the intensity of his eyes. His eyes were all blue skies, spring skies, but as he leaned in toward me the blue had deepened, so that his eyes were the color of summer, and nothing as soft as spring.

He hesitated, then half-leaned in for a kiss, his body still to the side of mine. The look on your face, Anita, he breathed.

What look? I asked.

He smiled, but it left his eyes that serious, deeper blue. He leaned in and answered with his mouth just above mine. That look.

He kissed me. Gentle at first, then it grew, and as the kiss grew, he let his body fall against the side of mine, so that the nude front of him was pressed against the long, bare line of my side. The sensation of his groin against my thigh made me thrust into the kiss with hands and arms and mouth. Either he understood, or his body simply responded, because he grew harder, and pushed against my thigh, while he thrust deep into my mouth and I thrust back. The kiss became another way of fucking, gaining its own rhythm as if we both knew what we were mimicking. Our bodies grew with the kiss, so thaTHE began to thrust against my thigh in time to our mouths.

He drew back, laughing breathlessly, pulling his body inches away so thaTHE was no longer touching my thigh. If we dont stop, Im going to go like this.

I had to try twice to find enough air to say, Then we have to stop, because thats not how I want you to go.

He propped himself up on one elbow, his other hand playing lightly over my bare stomach. If Id been just a little less metaphysically powerful Id have had some really serious scars for him to play with, but the weretiger that had tried to gut me hadnt left any mark at all.

Youve gone all serious on me, Jason said.

I was just thinking that if I were a little less powerful, thered be scars for you to play with on my stomach.

He touched my face. Dont think about what weve lost, Anita. Think about what we have.

I smiled at him, because he wanted me to. You mean dont think about the fight that would have gotten me the scars, and dont think about who died to save me.

His face went soft, serious, tender. Now youve done it.

I opened my mouth, and he touched a finger to my lips. He shook his head. If you keep this up, youre going to have to help me get back in the mood.

I smiled with his finger still against my mouth. He moved, so I could say, You still look in the mood to me.

Girls have such an unfair advantage, he said, you just look down and there we are.

I like that about boys, I said.

He gave a soft laugh. Ive noticed.

He leaned into me again, showing thaTHE was still erect, but not quite so hard. My moods gone a little soft, so no serious thinking. I want you thinking only about now, about me.

I searched his face. His body was happy, but his mood was more serious than normal. I guess I should have expected that, but Jason was my cheerful lay. The sex, at least, was uncomplicated. The pillow talk afterward could get downright therapy-deep, but the sex, never.

Thats a serious face again, he chided.

I was doing what you asked, thinking about you.

Why so serious then? he asked, frowning a little.

I slid my hand through the short silk of his hair, just at the base of his neck, ran my hands up through the utter softness of it, and drew him down toward me at the same time. You have the softest hair of anyone Ive ever touched.

Softer than Nathaniels?

Yes, I said. I tried to bring him down for a kiss.

Fibber, he said, and pushed against my hand so he didnt come closer.

Fibber? I said.

Ive had sex with the two of you, remember. His hair is like fur on the skin.

Yeah, but its not as purely soft. Its a different texture than yours.

Jean-Claudes hair is soft.

I frowned at him. Yes, but not as soft as yours. Curly hair is never as soft as straight hair can be.

Ashers hair is like foam.

I frowned harder, and took back my hand, so I was just looking up at him. I give you one compliment and you have to pick at it?

Im sorry, but I just suddenly didnt believe you.

I dont lie during sex, Jason. I dont say things I dont mean, and I dont fake anything.

He lowered his face, so I had only his profile. It was a nice profile. Im sorry, Anita, this isnt your issue, its mine. He looked at me, and his eyes had begun to fade back to his normal, paler blue.

What issue? I asked.

Youve met my folks now. Ive spent my life not being the person anyone wanted in their life. My dad wanted a different son, Anita. Do you know what it feels like to know that your dad is always wanting some other kind of son?

Not the son part, I said.

His eyes intensified, getting that look of interesTHE got. Did your dad want you to be a boy, or something?

I smiled. No, he was happy with me. I was still his hunting buddy, and we did all sorts of the guy stuff together.

Your stepmother, Judith, he said.

You are a little too smart sometimes.


They married when I was ten, and from the moment she came I was not good enough. Not blond enough, not girly enough, not nice enough, not cooperative enough, not the daughter she wanted.

Shes got a girl your age, right?

Yeah, Adriana. Shes the perfect daughter for Judith.

Whats she do?

Shes a lawyer, engaged to another lawyer.

Wow, a lawyer, and engaged to be married before thirty. Hard to compete with that, Jason said.

I figured out somewhere in my midteens that I couldnt compete, so I stopped trying. You acted out your way, I had my own version.

Like what? He lay down on his stomach, with his arms cradling his head, his face alive with attention. He wanted the sex, yes, buTHE wanted to learn more.

I became the ultimate tomboy. I refused to wear a dress. I refused to play the game with Judith.

Did you do the whole black T-shirt and gloom?

Was I Goth?

He nodded, head still cradled on his arms.

Yeah, I guess so, but not really because it pleased me, more because it didnt please her. I found the most offensive T-shirts I could get away with, and most of them came in black. But my friends in high school were the nice girls, not the death poetry writing crowd. I found themtiresome.


Because Id had real death in my life, and I thought most of them were pretenders.

You dont have much patience with pretending, do you?


But you could always tell yourself that Judith is the wicked stepmother.

Yeah, but Grandma Blake, who raised me for the two years before my father found Judith, well, thats a different problem.

What sort of problem?

Remember, I saw ghosts in elementary school; by my early teens Id accidentally started raising roadkill. I raised my dead spaniel from the grave at fourteen. My dad took me to see my mothers mother, Grandma Flores, so I could learn to control it. But Grandma Blake didnt want me to learn to control it. She was convinced that if we prayed hard enough, the evil would just go away.

Jason looked at me, eyes a little wide. She really believes that, even now?

I think so. I know she prays for my soul. I know she believes that raising the dead is evil. I know she believes that sleeping with vampires is a mortal sin.

How does she feel about shapeshifters?

Oh, youre damned, too.

Does she know youre living with two of them?


He grinned at me. Saving the news for a moment when it will bother her the most?

No, I plan to never tell my family.

He looked at me. Youre never going home for the holidays and taking anyone with you?

I sighed. Who would I take?

He seemed to think about that. The vampires are out, I guess.

I nodded.

Wait, you dont want to go back home for the holidays, so living with two shapeshifters means you dont have to go back, because your family would never understand.

I thought about what hed said for a few seconds. Maybe, but Nathaniel and Micah arent an excuse to not visit my family. I love them, and Ive finally got a domestic arrangement that suits me.

He nodded. Ive known you longer than either of them, and Ive never seen you this relaxed, or this happy.

I smiled. All right, now that weve analyzed me, is it your turn?

He actually looked a little embarrassed. Im sorry.

If I didnt want to talk about it, Id have just said no.

True, why did you confess so much?

Because Ive seen your family, and I thought youd earned the right to know a little more about mine.

You did it to try to make me feel better, he said.

Maybe. Did it work?

I watched the thoughts trace over his face, and then he nodded. Yes, it did. I guess I needed to know that Im not the only one whos the stranger at every holiday meal.

Yeah, I said, that sums it up. Everyone else goes home for nostalgia, and happy memories. I end up feeling like I never fit in with the family as a child, and being older hasnt changed that. When I was little I thought Id been left by gypsies, or switched at the hospital, except I had my mothers pictures to look at. I look too much like her not to be her daughter.

She was from Mexico, right?

Her family was, she was first-generation American.

You dont look very Hispanic.

I smiled. The skin color is my fathers, but the hair, eyes, and bone structure are more my moms. My fathers cheekbones have given me less of that nice high, ethnic line, but I am the ghost at the banquet, Jason. The older I got, the more I reminded Dad of the wife he lost, and Judith of the woman she replaced.

Is that your issue, or theirs?

A little of both, I think. Remember, my mother was Dads first love, maybe his first lover, I dont know, but a lot of firsts. Thats a lot of baggage to overcome. Then you have that whole dying-young-and-tragically thing, it tends to put a romantic haze around everything.

Hard for Judith to compete with a dead saint? he said.

Something like that.

Are you projecting, or do you know for certain that wicked stepmom felt this way?

I dont know, Jason. I know thats how I feel, and how they seemed to feel, but I was a kid, and now I cant see them clearly. Theres too much baggage in the way.

I hear that, he said, and his face was back to being all serious, and unhappy. I wanted to drown in the sex and not think, but here we are doing the whole therapy thing that you hate.

I touched his shoulder. Youve earned some talk.

Why, because my fathers a bastard and dying?

Yeah, and youre my friend, and Im supposed to be here to give you what you need. If you need talk more than sex, then we can do that.

You need to feed the ardeur, he said.

Yeah, but if worse comes to worst, I can just release the ardeur and it will take away all our doubts.

The ardeur is great, and it can take the place of a lot of foreplay, but its not what I want right now.

What do you want, then? I asked.

He looked at me, and his face was that serious, almost strangers face, as if the things hed seen today had changed him. Or maybe the things that had happened today had allowed him to show me a part of himself hed kept hidden. Or maybe the stroll down my own tortured memory lane was just making everything seem more serious. I couldnt tell anymore, and I didnt have Nathaniel or Micah here to help me work it out. The only other man who could usually help me see through the maze of confusion was lying beside me on the bed, lost in his own problems.

I want you, he said, simply.

I frowned at him.

He gave a gentle smile that left his eyes untouched. To that question in your eyes, Ill clarify.

You know me that well?

In bed, yes. You stop trying to control your face once the clothes come off. Dressed, youre almost as hard to read as Jean-Claude sometimes.

I thought about that for a second. I guess I feel like I dont get naked with people I dont trust.

He smiled. Yeah.

I settled back against the pillows and said, So, clarify.

I can find women to sleep with, or fuck. Im a stripper. Theyre always trying to give me their numbers, persuade me to go beyond whats legal. Im Jean-Claudes pomme de sang; a lot of women want to sleep with me just for that. To get close to the vampires. The whole werewolf thing gets you a different type of groupie. Then he flashed me that grin that filled his eyes with sparkle for a moment. It made me smile to see it. And, I get my share of women who dont know any of that, and probably could be persuaded.

I waited for him to continue, but had to watch the shine fade from his eyes, and the grin fade. His face was caught between his usual charm and this new, serious side.

But, I finally prompted him.

He took a breath and said, But only you will tell me the truth. Only you will tell me exactly what you want, or dont want. You said it yourself, you dont fake anything here. You dont protect my ego. Either Im good, or Im not. You dont want to trap me into anything. You dont have an agenda beyond the pleasure. You arent worried about what were going to do afterward, or what we did a moment before. You are completely and utterly into the sex, almost from the moment you touch a man. Its relaxing, you dont know how relaxing.

Doesnt everyone do it that way?

He smiled and shook his head. No, no, they dont. Most people let their day get in their head and in the way of the sex. A lot of women just cant turn off their heads long enough to relax to even begin to enjoy themselves.

Ive known some men that way, too, I said.

He smiled, again. Me being one of them.

Not usually, but sometimes. You usually save the analyzing for after the sex, as if the sex clears the way for you to have the big heart-to-heart.

He grinned. Thats not it. I want the sex more than I want the talking.

But not tonight, I said, softly.

His eyes held onto the humor a little longer, but his face began to slide toward that more serious, older version that I realized was probably going to start peeking through more and more as the years went by. Maybe we were all growing up, even Jason.

No, not tonight. But Im done with the talk. I want to touch you, and I want you to touch me. I want to drown in the scent of your skin, the taste of your body. Sex has been my addiction since I was a kid, and its still my escape of choice.

Actually addicted to sex? I asked.

Therapy-speak again? he said.

I had to smile. You know, Nathaniel is in therapy.

I know thaTHE is diagnosed as a sex addict, or was, if thats what you mean?

Then you know how bad it got for him?

I know, Jason said, and no, if youre really going to make me give a definition, then no, Im not a sex addict. I was close in high school, and really close in college. But Raina nearly killing me during sex sort of cured me of the risky behavior, better than any therapy could have.

Through a metaphysical accident Id shared that memory with him once. It had been horrible, because Id been in Rainas head, and I knew for a fact that the ex-lupa of our werewolf pack hadnt given a damn whether Jason lived or died. Hed agreed to be tied up and have her change on top of him, and have that as his way of being brought over to the pack. WhaTHE hadnt understood was that she would slice him up with no care. It had been about violence more than sex for her, true serial killer mentality. I think the only thing that had kept her from having a higher body count was that the lycanthropy saved her victims lives. Though, in honesty, I couldnt find anyone else shed brought over as violently as Jason. I pushed the thought away. I was still able to channel her, sometimes, and this was not the time.

So, because you could stop the behavior through a shock, you werent a true addict?

Something like that, though it depends on what therapist youre talking to, I guess.

We were left looking at each other, both too serious for being in bed naked. Both of us thinking too hard for what we were supposed to be doing. I wondered how to get us past this and into something else, or whether it was time to put the clothes back on.

I love watching you think, he said.

I frowned. What does that mean?

It means that even in the middle of sex, sometimes something will happen and Ill watch you think. Not about your day, or about something extraneous, but about the sex, about the man youre with, about what youre doing.

How can you be sure thats what I was thinking?

Fine, what are you thinking?

I tried not to smile, and failed. Wondering how to get you from this to sex.


What are you thinking, right now, Mr. Serious-Face?

He smiled. That I want to watch your face while you stare up at me while we make love.

So you get to be on top? I asked, and tried to make a joke of it. The joke fell flat in the face of his serious eyes.


Eventually, huh.

He leaned in toward me, and that smile crossed his face, the one that if the customers at Guilty Pleasures could see it, theyd empty their bank accounts. Yes.

I started to ask whaTHE wanted to do first, buTHE kissed me, his hands slid over my body, and I didnt have to ask whaTHE wanted to do first. He showed me.