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"I would say you are one of the most ruthlessly practical people I have ever met," Ru said.

"Do I say thank you or I'm sorry?"

"Neither. I am your Bride; you owe me no explanations."

"You say that, but you don't seem to mean it," Micah said.

"I do not know what you mean, my king."

"You say that Anita owes you nothing, but you want things from her and you want her to give them to you."

"What do I want from our new queen?"

"To belong," Micah said, looking into Ru's face from inches away.

"We belong to the Harlequin," Rodina said.

"But the Harlequin belong to Jean-Claude and Anita."

"Yes, which means so do we," Ru said.

"No," Rodina said, "we belong to each other, Little Brother." She was angry; it spilled around the edges of her words and began to trickle energy through the car.

"If you lose control and bring Anita's beasts, I will be pissed at you," Nicky said.

"I do not want to raise her beasts."

"Then control yourself."

"What's wrong, Rod . . . Morgan?" Nathaniel asked.

"Our Nimir-Raj is right; we wish to belong, truly belong. We are lost without our brother. He was my right hand, as Ru is my left. I feel amputated from the person I was, the life I thought we were living. I would give almost anything to have Rowan here in this car helping protect you all. I miss his smile, that look of evil mischief in his eyes."

"You are mourning someone I would have killed for what he did to Domino."

"We think that's partially why he sacrificed himself at the fight in Wicklow," Ru said.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"He was your Bride. We can feel what you are feeling most of the time. We all knew you meant to kill him when you had the chance. We all felt your hatred and loathing of what he had done to your tiger."

"He knew you would never let him leave Ireland alive. We all knew it," Rodina said.

"I won't apologize for wanting to avenge Domino."

"We are not asking that of you; we would never ask that of you," she said.

"Then what are you asking?" Micah said in a calm voice.

"Let us mourn our brother, and stop hating us for it."

"I don't hate you for mourning your brother," I said. "I hate you a little because you remind me of him, and, no, I can't forgive what he did to Domino and me."

"He's dead, Anita. He gave his life to save yours. As revenge goes it's quite complete," she said.

I turned in Micah's arms, so I could see her sitting there beside Nathaniel. "No, that's not revenge. Revenge would have been plunging a sword into his lungs and heart the way he did to Domino. Revenge would have been killing him myself!" I felt the first stirrings inside me of my beasts. It forced me to start doing my breathing exercises. I had to be more in control than this--I had to be--or the beasts inside me would rise to the bait of my rage and try to tear me apart.

Nathaniel reached out to me and I moved in Micah's arms so I could take his hand. If Rodrigo hadn't sacrificed himself, Nathaniel could have died in Ireland. I hated that the same person had done something so evil and something so good. It messed with my head and my heart. The moment Nathaniel touched me I felt calmer; the anger was still there, but it was muted. I was glad to be touching my two men, glad to be driving with them on our first-ever vacation together with the ocean spilling out on either side of the road like some impossibly beautiful postcard. I was happy for all that, so very happy, but I still regretted not having killed Rodrigo myself. Was that crazy, sociopathic, psychotic? Maybe? But it was still how I felt, and one thing I'd learned in therapy was that you had to own your feelings, all of them. You didn't have to act on them, but you had to acknowledge them. Buried feelings always found a way to uncover themselves. You could do it voluntarily and have some control over it, or you could stuff them down into the darkest part of your psyche and give your inner demons new ammunition to use against you. I was really trying not to do that anymore.

I said the truth out loud in a voice that was so strained and careful it almost didn't sound like me. "I hate that I owe Nathaniel's life to the same person who killed Domino. I hate that all I can see when I look at the two of you is him. I hate that I'm still so freaked-out about almost losing Nathaniel in Ireland. I hate that I can't seem to let go of it all and just move forward. It makes me feel weak and stupid."

"You are not weak, or stupid," Micah said, kissing my cheek while I glared at Rodina.

"I will honor your candor with my own, because Ru and I have not had so much truth aimed at us in centuries. It is most refreshing," she said, but the word refreshing had some bite to it, like an angry echo, as if I wasn't the only one holding my inner demons back.

"Sister," Ru began, but she waved him silent and he allowed it.

"I want to hate you for what you did to the three of us. I blame you for my brother's death and I want to hate you for that, too. I want to hate you, Anita Blake, but I cannot. Your magic prevents it. Instead of being able to hate you, I am forced to care about your feelings. It causes me physical pain when you are unhappy, especially if that unhappiness is with Ru and me. You have bound us to you for eternity, or until we die saving you, or you kill us as a whim."

"I'm not very whimsical."

She made a sound that was part laughter and part exasperation. "Well, that is the naked truth. Seldom have I met anyone less full of whimsy than you, our would-be queen."

"So you're both safe," Nathaniel said, and he hugged Rodina, just a quick, friendly hug, but I felt my eyes narrow.

Micah hugged me and turned me to kiss him; maybe he noticed my reaction to their hug. "You and I are the two least whimsical people I have ever met."

"I have to be whimsical enough for all three of us," Nathaniel said, smiling.

We reached out over the back of the seat and he had to stop hugging Rodina so that he could hold both our hands. The three of us rode like that, awkwardly holding hands over the seat, as the ocean stretched out on either side of the highway, and I wished that we were heading to our wedding instead of Edward's. If we could have gotten Jean-Claude down here to stand in the sunlight with us, a wedding by the ocean sounded perfect.


THE HIGHWAY DROPPED low enough that the trees blocked the view and the water actually lapped the edges of the road, in the roots of the mangroves and other trees that I didn't know the names of. It bothered me that I didn't know what all the plants and trees were called. I'd have to get a plant identification book, just so I'd know what I was looking at. Yes, we had eventually stopped gazing into one another's eyes and started looking at the scenery again.

"You guys didn't tell me how beautiful it was here," I said as the highway started to rise again over one of the many bridges that spanned from one island to another. I'd known theoretically that the Keys were a series of islands, but I hadn't expected that they would seem like islands. I think I'd thought each one would be bigger, or maybe I'd just never been anywhere that the ocean was so present.

"We figured it would be more fun to just bring you, since we knew the wedding was coming up," Micah said. He raised my hand to kiss the back of it.

"You already feel more relaxed, and we just got here," Nathaniel said.

I turned around so I could see the smile I heard in his voice. It was worth turning around for. With the dark glasses hiding his eyes, it helped me see just how great a smile it was, though his hair had escaped the ponytail again and was falling around his face. The bright sunlight brought out more of the red in his auburn hair. I fought to just enjoy how great he looked in that moment, and not think about why his hair was short. Why couldn't I let that go?

He touched his hair, putting it behind his ear; he'd felt some of what I was feeling in that moment, what I was thinking. We all worked to stay behind our metaphysical shields with one another, but some of it leaked over. He was my moitie bete, my leopard to call, which meant we were clos

er than just lovers. I felt that he was sad, not because his hair was short, but because it made me sad.

"I'm sorry that it bothers me this much," I said.

He reached out to touch my face. "I love that I know what you're feeling, Anita; never apologize for that."

"And the rest of us don't have any idea what you were thinking, only that you were sad about it," Rodina said, her tone somewhere between disdainful and fighting not to be angry.

I looked into her dark eyes and said, "And I can't feel what you're feeling at all."

"No, because we are only your Brides; we feel your emotions, your desires, your needs, but you know nothing of our internal landscape."

"You're right, we just have to muddle through like every other person on the planet and actually talk to each other about what we're thinking and feeling."

The car slowed down. I looked back to the road because I thought we were stopping. When we kept creeping forward I looked for a car accident or something else to take us from sixty to about thirty miles per hour.

Bernardo answered before any of us could ask. "It's the Key deer sanctuary. You have to drive very slowly through here or the cops will give you a ticket."

"What's so special about deer in the Keys?" I asked.

"They're a different species, or subspecies," Bernardo said.

"They're really tiny," Nathaniel said.

I turned to look at him. "How tiny?"

"Look to the right," Micah said.

I looked where he pointed and there were two deer beside the road. Nathaniel was right; they were tiny compared to any deer I'd ever seen. They couldn't have been any bigger than a German shepherd, maybe half the size of a white-tailed deer. I turned as the car crept past them. They were watching the traffic with big, dark eyes, their ears twitching back and forth.