WHILE WED BEEN having our heart-to-heart, so had the women. Lisa was crying on the couch with all the women hovering around her. J. J. left the group and came to us.

Were so sorry, Anita, she said. We behaved badly.

Lisa sobbed and talked at the same time. Please, dont be mad, Anita, please She came to us, a little unsteady on her feet. Trish stayed at her side like a spotter. Lisa clutched at my arm, swaying gently on her high heels. The little black dress and heels that she was wearing made her look pale now that all the makeup had vanished from crying.

I tensed my arm under her hands to give her something more solid to hold on to, because without it shed have fallen.

She tried to focus on my face, and looked like it was hard work. Im so sorry, Anita. I was so awful to you.

Its okay, Lisa, I said. She had that feel to her of one of those depressed drunks who might dissolve into tears or hysterics if I didnt just forgive her. Frankly, I blamed Jason more than anyone, so I wasnt mad at her. He hadnt set the rules, nor had I. If the couple doesnt set the boundaries, then you cant blame strangers for not knowing what those boundaries are.

She staggered toward me, I think to see my face better. I was beginning to wonder if it was more than drink. Did she need glasses and wasnt wearing them? She leaned into my face, peering close enough that it was too intimate in the suddenly silent room. She studied my eyes from inches away, clinging to my arm. She was nearsighted, Id have bet money on it, because closer, she seemed to see me better. If I could use her guilt for two things, I would. Try to sober her up, and have someone find her damn glasses.

She overbalanced on her heels and fell into me. I let go of Jasons hand and grabbed her. I found out two things about Lisa Bromwell. One, she was drunk enough she couldnt right herself; in fact her knees started to go. Two, she wasnt wearing a damn thing under the little black dress. Howd I find out that last bit? I grabbed her at the lower waist and inadvertently raised the short skirt enough to bare most of her ass to the room. If I hadnt been worried about flashing the room, I could have just picked her up. She weighed maybe a hundred pounds. But I couldnt figure out how to lift her and not let the men in the room see the entire show. One of those moments when you just go, Huh, no idea what to do.

Jason and J. J. saved me. They both came in and took an arm apiece, which let me shift her dress back down. I watched her eyes roll back into her head. J. J. had time to say, Lisa

I moved to catch her. I didnt mean to move faster than human-normal, but I suddenly found one arm across her back and one arm under her thighs. Jason saw the movement and let go of the arm he was holding. J. J. was left clinging to one of Lisas arms, eyes a little wide. I stood there holding Lisa and being looked at very seriously by everyone in the room. The women were just surprised; the bodyguards had that lookthat if-things-go-bad-we-shoot-her-first look.

Shit. I wasnt used to being faster than a speeding bullet. Okay, not that fast, but I was almost as quick as a real lycanthrope. My reaction times had become bloody spectacular. I had spent most of my life struggling with the best I could offer being barely good enough physically, and nownow just catching one drunk woman had startled a room full of armed men. Crap.

Jason kissed me on the cheek, softly. Its okay, he whispered. J. J. let go of Lisas arm and gave me full wide eyes. That was like magic. One second she was falling, and then you just had her in your arms. Are you that fast, or did you fuck with my mind?

Yes, Shadwell said, from where he was standing away from the wall, hand a little hovery over his weapon, which is it, Marshal? Speed, or did you mind-fuck the entire room like some kind of vampire?

Its speed, Jason said.

Are you a shapeshifter? Shadwell asked.

I shook my head. No, not exactly.

What does not exactly mean? he asked.

I gave him an unfriendly look and said, You like your secrets; you tell me what I want to know, and Ill share. Until then, you arent cleared for this information. I admit, that last part was said in a voice with an edge to it. Was I teasing him, or just pissed at the situation in general? Both.

Trish recovered first and came over with a light jacket that someone had taken off. She draped it across Lisas lower body. I guess she was right. The dress was short enough that nothing I could do holding her in my arms would keep her from flashing the room. Thats what underwear is for, girls, so if an emergency happens you only show your cookies to the people you love.

Lets put Lisa on the couch, Trish said.

I started walking toward the couch with the woman in my arms. Trish said, Isnt she heavy?

No, I said, and she wouldnt have been even before I got stronger than the average human, but then I could still bench-press my own body weight, and I weighed more than Lisa did. Which was why I could carry her across the room and lay her on the couch. There was plenty of room to lay her down because the women had scattered like pigeons when a child runs through them. None of them seemed to want to meet my eyes, or be too close to me. Prejudiced bitches.

I laid her gently down and made sure the jacket stayed over her. Is she out for the night? I asked no one in particular.

Jason said, Guys, I told you that I was a werewolf, and you were okay with cuddling on the couch. Now youre treating Anita like shes scary just because she kept Lisa from hitting the floor.

J. J. said, Jasons right. Were being stupid. She offered me her hand again, but this time there was no flirting, just a very direct look from those blue eyes.

I took the hand.

She said, Thank you for catching my friend. Im sorry it startled us. She gave an unfriendly look to all the others around the couch. We are going to behave ourselves better than this toward our friends girlfriend, arent we, girls? It was phrased as a question, but it was said as an order.

Some of the other women glanced at each other, but it was Jen who walked over and offered me her hand. The mother of two was dressed in the only pantsuit of the bunch. It was a nice pantsuit, though, and showed off the new baby curves to advantage. Her shoulder-length hair formed a yellow frame to all that pale skin and blue eyes. Her makeup was understated, and almost invisible.

She gave me a good solid handshake, and even better eye contact. Shed been one of the few who hadnt hung all over Jason. I guess it was that whole married thing. Monogamy at its best.

First we disrespected you by climbing all over your steady boyfriend, then we react like schoolkids when you save our friend from a fall. I dont know what you must think of us, Anitaplease, give us another chance.

I nodded, and was more nervous or pissed or whatever than I knew, because I said what I was thinking. You didnt do anything inappropriate with Jason, Jen. So no harm done. And a lot of people are spooked by the preternatural stuff.

I guess that was aimed at the rest of us, Jenna said. She came forward in her own version of the little black dress. It was heavier material and not quite as short as Lisas had been, but it was still the proverbial black dress, just the clubbing version. There is a little black dress for business, funerals (those can be the same dress), and parties. The latter are usually shorter and show more cleavage. Jennas dress was no exception to the rule.

Her hair was almost the same white blond that Lisas was. She even had her hair back in a ponytail, too. They looked like Barbie clones, or maybe Paris Hilton clones. Eek.

Jenna offered a perfectly manicured hand with nails painted black to match the dress. She was a little unsteady on her heels, but her voice was firm and didnt sound the least bit drunk. I promise we will do better than this.

I had to smile for some reason. I believe you, I said.

She smiled back, and the others came up one by one to shake my hand and apologize. Kris, who was a wee bit more drunk than everyone but Lisa, hugged me clumsily. Pawing your guy right in front of you, Im so sorry.

I patted her bare back awkwardly. I didnt like strangers hugging me. Why bare back? Because the back of her little white dress was nothing but straps. But most of the group had small enough breasts to carry off a dress where a bra was out of the question.

Kris got a little teary. Ive been a bitch.

I patted her and looked for someone to rescue me from the drunken blonde. J. J. took her off my hands and led her away to the end of the couch.

I looked at Jason, waiting for him to tell his friends the truth. That we werent really that close a couple and he could date them if they wanted. Jason was studying us all, and didnt seem about to raise the topic. Id be damned if Id do it.

There was a knock at the door. Shadwell nodded and Sanchez and the silent Price went for the door. Sanchez called back, Its Chuck and the entertainment. He said both Chuck and entertainment like they were bad words.

I looked at the women, most of them already a little drunk and overly emotional. I really didnt want to see what the group would do around strippers. I went to Jason and whispered, Can we go now?

It was Ashley, who had the most elaborate hairdo of the bunch, like shed gone to a beauty shop and had help, who said, Dont go, Anita. Please, you have to stay. We want to be your friends. If you go now, youll think were terrible.

Kris raised a tear-streaked face. Stay, Anita, stay and enjoy the party with us. Please.

I leaned in and whispered to Jason, through gritted teeth. I am not staying here alone.

He put an arm around my waist and kissed me. Wouldnt dream of leaving you alone. He gave me that look at the end of the sentence. I realized that if Id asked him to leave with me, he would have, but Id in effect asked him to stay with me. Was it too late to do a take-back?