ID FORGOTTEN HOW much it hurt to have a shower with fresh claw marks. Or maybe Id just never had this many of them all at the same time. Id gotten cut up when someone was trying to kill me, but Id never had this many shallow ones done in the heat of the moment. They werent deep enough to kill or meant to maim, but they fucking hurt when the water hit them. I tried to see in the mirror what my back looked like, but it kept fogging up. What I could see was an impressive amount of damage, even for me. My back almost looked like someone had taken a whip to it. I had more marks on my arms, and a puncture wound on my ass. A memory came with that one. Crispin inside me in tiger form, his hands lifting my ass off the bed for a deeper angle. His claws sliding into my flesh at the moment of his release, and mine.
The memory jerked things low in my body, and made me stumble against the wall. God, what was wrong with me? The only one who could usually make sexual memories this potent was Asher. One of his gifts was thaTHE could make you have total recall of orgasm with him. Think too hard and it was dangerous to drive. But it wasnt supposed to work that way with anyone else.
There were more marks on my hips, the inside of my thighs. It was like I ignored them the best I could until the water hit them. Then they hurt and I couldnt pretend anymore. I was marked up enough that I could have gone into any hospital or police station in the country and they would have believed rape.
Trouble was that rape like this by lycanthropes was a potential killing offense. I didnt want anyone dead; I just wanted a morning-after pill as quick as I could get one. Id already taken the pill I missed. It was what they recommended if you missed one. If I wasnt pregnant, then I was safe again, at least from babies.
I knew the shampoo running down my body was going to hurt worse, and dont even talk about soap, but I had to get the smell of them off my skin. I had to not smell like strange men and sex. Even if it hurt, I needed it off me.
I ended up sitting in the bottom of the tub with the shower still running. I was clean, or as clean as I was going to get. I knew that my skin smelled like soap and me again, but I kept thinking I smelled them on my skin. I was pretty sure it was imaginary, but I still ended up sitting in the water, waiting to feel clean and safe and knowing I wasnt going to. I didnt blame the men, exactly; I blamed the Mother of All Darkness. Shed raped us all. It was even a killable offense in this country to use vampire mind powers to force sex. Magical rape could get a human witch or wizard in jail, and potentially on death row.
There was a soft knock on the door. I didnt say anything. The knock came again, with a voice. Anita, its Jason, are you all right?
I said the only thing I could think to say. No.
Can I come in?
I thought about that, too. I thought about Jason. He was my friend. He hadnt meant to hurt me. He hadnt meant to maybe get me pregnant. I started to cry again, softly; he probably wouldnt even be able to tell through the water from the shower.
Its okay, Anita, I understand you dont want to see me right now.
No, I said, no, its okay. Come in.
I could almost feel him hesitate on the other side of the door, and then I heard the door click open. I couldnt see it through the showers frosted door. I heard him walk, and then the door moved, but not to open. He must have sat down on the floor beside the shower, his body bumping part of the door.
Hey, Anita, he said.
Hey, I said, back.
Is it okay if I open the door a little?
I thought about that, too. Finally, I said, Yes.
He opened the back edge of the door, away from the water. I moved my head so I could see him. I was hugging my knees to my chest, my cheek resting on my knees. Hed put on one of the robes. I looked into his blue eyes; his silky yellow hair stood out around his head in an odd way. Id seen his version of bedhead, and his hair was too straight to stand up like that.
Whats wrong with your hair? I asked.
He almost smiled, then sort of grimaced, then said, There was something on my pillow, and then I ran my hand through my hair.
Something what on your pillow?
He gave me a long look.
Oh, I said, and looked away again. I no longer wanted to meet his eyes. Was it yours? I asked.
I dont know. I dont think so.
I huddled around myself in the hot water. If wed been home Id have used up all the hot water by now, but the hotel had more.
You need to clean up, I said.
Yeah, but it can wait.
Did the other man wake up yet?
Yes, he said.
Who is he?
Hes a reporter.
Dont worry, hes deep in the closet and doesnt want to be outed. This is one story he cant afford to report.
Name? His, I mean.
Short for Alexander?
Jason made a movement as if he wanted to ask something, but just said, According to his drivers license, yeah.
You wondered why I cared what the name was short for, didnt you?
Just seems like I should at least know a mans full name if I just spent the last two days fucking his brains out.
Dont try to make me feel better about it, Jason.
Thats why I came in here.
I turned so I could see him again. I missed a pill while we were trapped in here. The pill.
He did a long blink, but his face remained neutral. His reaction told me it wasnt a surprise. We couldnt help overhearing some of what you said to Richard before the water turned on. You were sort of yelling.
So the tigers know, too.
I closed my eyes. How did they take it?
Crispin was thrilled.
That made me open my eyes. What?
Apparently, its the duty of every good little weretiger to make more little weretigers. Every woman is expected to have at least one child, and two is preferable.
So hes happy about this.
He says it would bring great honor to his clan if you were his wife and bore a white tiger child.
I sat up a little. Did you say wife?
Yep, Jason said.
I frowned at him. Not that I dont appreciate the sentiment, but Crispin didnt strike me as the type to marry a girl just because he knocked her up.
If youre with child, hes honor-bound to marry you and bring you and the child into his clan.
I stared at him. Seriously?
Seriously, Jason said.
Fuck, I said.
Yeah, thats about what Richard said, though he used lots more words.
What did this Alex Pinn say?
Apparently, hes spent most of his adult life trying to avoid being a member of the red tiger clan. He broke with them years ago, but if he got you pregnant hes willing to give you the chance to be taken back to his clan and introduced to them. He says if the child is truly his, it will need the other weretigers around it as it grows to make sure it gets all the training it needs.
You know how none of the other wereanimals can carry a baby to full term because of the violence of the change?
Apparently, the tigers do it routinely. Theyve just never shared that bit of knowledge with the rest of us. We all assumed they were keeping their women free of the lycanthropy until after they bred a couple of times, then bringing them into full weretiger. But thats not it. Apparently, they do what Crispin did for you. They put a male, or several males, with a female so she wont shift until the baby is born.
But the baby will still be human, right?
If its one of their children it will show signs of their clan at birth. Eye color, hair color that matches their tiger shape. They dont usually shift until puberty, but there have been cases where they shifted as early as nine. Thats why Alex feels that the baby would need the clan for the first few years. Also, the baby would be with other children just like he, or she, is.
If its so great, then why did he leave his clan?
Its a little, no, a lot restrictive. Its almost like a religious cult. They homeschool the kids. They marry within the clan. Its only been in the last few years that theyve been allowed to marry outsiders to bring in fresh blood. Modern genetics has let them realize that a pure clan is a sickly clan.
He nodded. I know. He started to say more, then stopped. He looked away from me.
What, what is it?
There is a way to avoid the whole tiger clan mess.
Yeah, a morning-after pill.
He gave a quick flash of smile. Yeah, Richard mentioned you were planning that. The reporter, Pinn, is fine with that. Its your body. But Crispin says no. He hasnt bred before, so if its his child, then according to clan rules you cant get rid of it.
What do you mean, cant?
Apparently, the white tiger clan, and Max the Master of the City of Las Vegas, would take a very dim view of you destroying a potential weretiger of their bloodline.
They dont have a choice. Its my choice.
Yes, it is, but Max is pretty freaked, Anita. He made some vague talk about going to war with Jean-Claude.
Its just talk, Jason. The vampire council declared that no Master of the City could battle another because it might fuck up the whole vampires-being-legal thing. Besides, you only fight about territories that border your own. Its about expanding so your lands touch. Vegas is too far away from St. Louis.
Normally, youd be right, but apparently, Max isnt doing the challenge by vampire law. Hes called up some obscure weretiger law. Apparently, they think theyre within their rights to block you from doing anything to a potential baby, and you need to be with the clan during the pregnancy so you dont lose the baby.
I moved back out of the water so I could see his face more clearly. This isnt about weretigers, is it?
My opinion? Jason asked.
I think Max knows that Jean-Claude hasnt given you the fourth mark. Which means, Anita, that if hes powerful enough to break the marks that Jean-Claude has on you, and he gets to the fourth mark first, he thinks he can keep you as his human servant. Youre the first true necromancer in centuries. Any vampire who can truly control you will be unstoppable. Jason shrugged. Thats my theory.
How did he know I dont have the fourth mark?
There are enough people who know, Anita. Its hard to keep a secret once enough people know.
He was right. Damn it, buTHE was. Shit, Jason, would Max really start a war with Jean-Claude over this?
I think he might.
Just because I want to make sure Im not pregnant.
Apparently so. Frankly, I think its an excuse to make a play for your power, but I could be wrong. Hes married to the queen tiger of Vegas. She might be pressing him. She might truly be more interested in the child than in you.
Dont call it a child. I may not be pregnant at all.
Sorry, he said.
I couldnt think of it as a child, because if I did, Id start second-guessing myself. I couldnt afford to hesitate right now. I needed a doctor and a prescription today.
There may be a way around the tigers, Jason said.
I looked at him. He looked away again. What could be so bad that you keep looking away?
Im afraid youll be mad at me.
I sighed. Its too late to be mad, Jason. If theres a way to avoid a war between St. Louis and Vegas, just tell me. I am like all ears.
If there is a baby, it could just as easily be mine. That would make it human, or to the tigers, lukoi. Theyd have no interest in the child of a werewolf.
I was back to thinking again. If Jason hadnt told me all the weird and bad news about the weretigers I might have been mad, or at least upset.
You told me all the shit about the weretigers first so this would seem like better news.
Yes, Jason said, still not looking at me.
If we can convince the tigers its your problem and mine, then can I get a morning-after pill?
Your body, your choice.
How do we convince them its mostly yours?
You cant lie to wereanimals; they smell a lie.
Youre so upset today that you smell like shock and fear already. Even your heart rate is up and down. They wont be able to read you right now.
Whats the lie?
That we had an accident with a condom before we left. Hell, Anita, we could bring in the fact that you had sex with Nathaniel just before we came here. Hes a wereleopard; they wouldnt want a leopard any more than a wolf.
I thought about it. Okay, wait, can you lie well enough to fool two wereanimals?
Five, he said.
We cant bring Richard, Jamil, and Shang-Da in here to tell them the plan. We have to lie to everyone in the room about this, or it wont work.
Richard willbe I couldnt even finish the thought.
Pissed, Jason offered.
Hell be pissed I didnt tell him we had an accident with the condom.
Yes, but if it gets the tigers off our backs then hell forgive us when we have a chance to explain. But Richard and Shang-Da dont lie well enough for this.
Jamil does? I asked.
Jamil lies like butter wouldnt melt in his mouth; he can even control his pulse.
Nifty, I said.
Can you control all that, too? I asked.
Then it wont work, I said.
Anita, I got mind-fucked too. Im a little shocky myself. But more than that, I am worried that its mine. I mean, how do I tell my best friend in the world that I took the love of his life off for a weekend and got her knocked up? I mean, Micah will be pissed, but its Nathaniel I cant face. Trust me, Anita, Ive got enough emotion about this to hide any lie in all the truth.
I reached out and touched his shoulder. He leaned his face against my hand. I should have protected you better. Im so sorry, Anita.
You couldnt have protected me against this, Jason.
He looked at me, his eyes haunted. We go out there and lie our asses off, Anita. We get you to a pharmacy and we undo what we can. I cant undo it all, but we can do this much.
He took my hand in his and it wasnt scary or bad. He was my friend, and we both needed the touch of someones hand.