ONCE THE DOOR shut behind us, I wanted to run to Richard and be held. I wanted to demand to know what was wrong with Jean-Claude. But we had a stranger in the room. A stranger whom I really couldnt afford to kick out, not until I knew what the weretiger inside me was going to do. That much I remembered from last night.
I looked at Richard. He was wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses. His hair was piled up under the hat so he looked like he had short hair. He was wearing a bulky jacket. He had come, buTHE was still hiding. His day job was as a junior high science teacher. Parents dont like the monsters around their children. Too many fairy tales about the big bad wolf, maybe. So he hid to keep the job he loved, but it was like Clark Kent trying not to be Superman. In real life its harder to pull off.
This is Crispin, I said. Hes one of the Las Vegas tigers.
What are you doing in town, Crispin? Richard said, and his voice wasnt quite as friendly as it had been in the hallway.
I was flown in for a bachelorette party upstairs. Then I felt the little queen call, and I had to answer.
Richard lowered his glasses enough so I could see the dark, perfect brown of his eyes. The look in them was not friendly either. Hes already calling you pet names.
Ulfric, Jamil said, business, please.
Richard sighed, deep enough that it made his broad shoulders rise and fall. He took off the jacket, revealing a plain white T-shirt. It set off his summer tan nicely.
Youre right, Jamil. Business first. He looked at the weretiger. We need to talk in private and there is no place in this room far enough away that you wont hear us.
Im not sure its safe for him to leave, Richard. The weretiger went very, very strange last night. I dont know what would have happened if Crispin hadnt been nearby.
Whos this? Shang-Da asked. He was looking down at the now-naked man on the floor at the foot of the bed. Apparently, my stranger had shifted back. He was still unconscious, buTHE wasnt furry anymore.
Hes another weretiger.
Why did you need two? Richard asked.
Crispin is a white tiger, but this one is red and black. I remember enough to know that it was like the tiger inside me needed a variety. One tiger didnt fix what was wrong.
We couldnt talk in front of Crispin because he belonged to Max of Las Vegas. We couldnt afford for another Master of the City to find out that something was wrong with our power structure. But I was afraid to have Crispin leave, too.
I finally said, Okay, we cant talk in front of Crispin freely, but tell me this, is Jean-Claude all right? I had to know at least that.
Hes fine, Richard said, honest, hes fine.
I must have looked like I didnt believe him, because he repeated it. A tightness in my stomach loosened, and I felt tears press at the back of my eyes. God, why was I about to cry?
There was a sound from the bed. We all turned to it. Jason moved just his head enough to see us all. God, what happened? His voice sounded choked, and thick with either old screams or long disuse. It occurred to me to ask what time it was.
Theres a better question, Richard said, softly.
Whats that supposed to mean? I asked.
What day is it? His voice was gentle.
I stared at him. No, no way.
Its not the next morning, Anita. Its the day after.
Jesus, Crispin said, my boss is going to be pissed.
Jean-Claude has been in contact with Max in Vegas.
I started to go to the bed and sit down, but there was a naked stranger by the bed. Shit, Richard, what happened? What the hell happened?
What weve told Max is that you seem to carry a variety of beasts inside you. That youre a panwere. But being Jean-Claudes human servant prevents the beasts from manifesting completely.
I almost said out loud, Is that really the truth? but I let it go. Richard had very carefully said, This is what were telling Max, the Master of the City of Las Vegas. The ultimate master of the weretiger Id borrowed for two days.
A panwere, Crispin said, thats like not possible. I mean its legend, but
Ive seen it for real, I said, softly. He was one of the most frighteninghe was evil, and I dont use the E-word lightly.
Jasons voice, still thick with sleep, or whatever, said, Little queen isnt a pet name, Ulfric. Its what the tigers call dominant females that could be powerful enough to break off and form their own group, if the main queen allows it.
I nodded. I remember part of that conversation before everything went dark.
We need to talk, Anita, and we cant talk freely in front of him. Richard pointed at Crispin.
I dont know if I have a room to go to, Crispin said. He frowned. Why didnt Lucian come and find me?
Lucian is the vampire who came to strip with him at the party, I explained.
Truthfully, I half-expected to find him here with you, Richard said.
I gave him the look the comment deserved. Thanks, Richard, you always know just what to say.
He sighed. Yeah, to piss you off.
I nodded. Dont knock it, Richard, you have a real gift for it.
Wouldnt it be good to know who this one belongs to? Jamil said. He was standing over the last unconscious man.
Check his wallet, Crispin said, its got to be on the floor somewhere.
It was a good idea. It made me think better of him. I dont know about Richard. It would take a lot more than one good suggestion for him to like a strange man who had had sex with me for two days in a hotel room. Then I had a thought, a really bad thought.
I went for the bathroom and my travel kit. The one that had things in it like toothbrushes, razors, birth-control pills. I knew what Id find. Knew it. But I had to look, had to make sure.
I put the gun on the back of the toilet while I got out the little round of pills. There was an extra pill. Well, fuck.
Richard was in the doorway. Whats wrong?
I just held up the pills. Guess.
He looked stricken, like someone had hit him in the gut. Mother of God.
I nodded. I had sex with three men for two days and Ive missed a pill.
You didnt use condoms? he asked.
My body chose that minute to remind me that what goes in, comes out. I shook my head. We were all metaphysically mind-fucked, so no, we didnt take precautions. I need some privacy.
I need to clean up, Richard, okay? I fought not to cry, or scream at him. I wasnt mad at him. I was too confused to be angry with anyone.
This isnt your fault, he said.
The ardeur went crazy, why? I asked.
He stepped in, and whispered, It had help going wrong.
I stared up at him. What are you talking about?
We need privacy to talk.
Shut the door, Ill turn on the shower. I need some answers, Richard. Hell, I need a morning-after pill.
Doesnt that tread a little too close to abortion? he said.
Could you watch me be pregnant with some strangers baby? Could you help me raise a strangers baby?
He opened his mouth, shut it. I dontno.
No, I said. I shook my head. Micah and Nathaniel were willing to help me when we thought I was pregnant from someone we knew, one of my lovers, our friends. But this is a stranger. God, Richard, God!
He came to me then, wrapped his arms around me. I stayed stiff in his arms for a moment, and then I collapsed into his body. I clung to him. I let his strength and his nearness hold me. I let him hold me while I wept and screamed and wailed. I lost it completely, and Richard held me while I did it.