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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:00:50

"She is my human servant; only death will free us of each other."

"Irene has met our Black Jade; her master is still alive, but his tiger to call now answers to me." I whispered it into her face from inches away, as if I meant to kiss her.

She swallowed hard, and I could see her pulse beating against the side of her thin neck like a trapped bird in a net. One of them was afraid of me.

"Only the Mother of All Darkness was able to break such bonds." But his voice didn't sound so sure of itself now.

"And who killed her, Melchior?"

I smiled a little wider, and it was still unpleasant. I held Irene a little closer to me, straightening up, so I wasn't having to bend my back at quite the odd angle. "And what weapon did he use to kill the night herself?"

He stared at me, the fear spilling through more of those brown eyes. "You," he whispered.

"If Irene wishes to be free of you, we can make that happen."

"It is forbidden," he said.

"I don't like slavery. I think it's so 1800. If I think that Irene is just a slave for you, then I'll see that as breaking the law, Melchior."

"Breaking what law?" he asked, and started trying to push Irene's thin hands against my chest. He couldn't use her hands right, as if even now he couldn't really feel her body. When Jean-Claude and I shared like this we got every sensation, but then we never did the whole puppet thing; maybe that's what made the difference. We shared emotions, and physical sensations, not this possession.

"Slavery has been illegal here since 1865," I said.

"That is human law, not vampire law."

"But we are now subject to human law, Melchior," Jean-Claude said.

The vampire pushed at me clumsily with Irene's hands. "This is not what the new laws mean. It is one of our greatest taboos to interfere with another master's human servant."

"I had not thought of servants as slaves before, but you see, that is one of Anita's gifts, to see things from the point of an officer of the law. If she says that you are treating Irene as a slave, and it's illegal, then I'm sure a case could be made for it."

"You would not dare," he said, pushing at me like some girl in a horror movie who'd been told to struggle, but not too much.

"Do you love Irene?" Jean-Claude asked.

"You heard him; do you love her?"

"I . . . I love her art. I love her creations."

"Do you love her?" Jean-Claude and I asked at the same time.

Those brown eyes stared up into my brown eyes, but mine burned brighter. Her face went a little slack. "I love the way her eyes glitter as she looks at the jewels and metal, and begins to create in her head. I love her long, thin fingers, so delicate when she sets the jewels in my metal. I love that I can begin engraving a line and she can finish it with a flourish or two that I didn't see. I love that she adds to my vision, and she still loves watching me work in metal, even as she aids me."

"You love her," I said, softly.

He looked puzzled, and then slowly, as if each word were drawn against his will, he said, "I think I . . . I think . . . I do. I don't know what I would do without her at my side. I would be lost without her quick fingers and her bright eyes. Her smile is the first to greet me at night and the last I see as dawn comes. I did not realize that she was so important to me."

"You love Irene," Jean-Claude said.

Irene's face didn't turn toward him this time, but continued to stare up into mine. "I love her, don't I?"

"Yes," I said, "you love Irene."

"I love Irene," he said.

"I love Irene," he repeated.

"Put her back on her feet, ma petite."

I put Irene's body solidly upright, hands still steadying her. The face turned to Jean-Claude. "You have bewitched me, Jean-Claude."

"Non, mon ami, we have shown you the truth."

"Are you saying I loved Irene before this?"

"I suspect it was love that made you want to make her your human servant in the first place, mon ami."

He shook Irene's head as if a fly were buzzing in his ear. "I am not certain that is true."

"We felt her need, and we looked into your heart, Melchior, and found an answering need."

"I didn't need to love her."

"No, you already did," I said.

"I am not certain . . . I mean . . ." He turned and looked at me with Irene's face. He looked confused.

"You love Irene, and you can't wait to tell her that," I said.

He frowned at me. "I . . . tell her that."

"Some of the most glorious art in the world has been created because of love, Melchior; think what you and Irene may create with your love and art intertwined," Jean-Claude said.

"Yes," he said, "yes, we will craft you such rings, and a crown worthy of our first queen in centuries."

I wanted to argue that whole queen part, but we were winning, so I kept my mouth shut. "Let Irene be present, Melchior, and we will talk of your creations," Jean-Claude said.

"No, no, we must begin again. I did not understand love before; my designs are too cold. You need something warmer, hotter, more . . . loved."

"As you think best, Melchior."

"My king." He bowed to Jean-Claude, and then he turned to me. "My queen." He had never addressed me like that, let alone included me in the bowing.

"Go now, let Irene back," Jean-Claude said.

"As you wish, my king." And from one blink to the next Irene was there. It was the weirdest thing, because it was the same body, but you just knew it was her again. The expression, the body language, all of it went back to just Irene.

She smiled at us. "Now, where were we?"

I studied her face, and so did Jean-Claude, and then we looked at each other. I raised an eyebrow. "Do you remember anything from the last few minutes, Irene?"

She smiled at both of us, raising her eyebrows, and gave a little shrug. "I'm assuming my master has been present. I am but his vessel to fill as he sees fit."

"And that doesn't bother you?" I asked.

"He has allowed me to live for centuries beyond my mortal span, and to learn more of metal and jewels than I ever dreamt possible. He is my master not just as servant and vampire, but master jeweler. We have traveled the world and the centuries in search of art and beauty, and raw stuff of our craft drawn from the earth itself, or sometimes wicked people."

"It sounds very adventurous," Jean-Claude said.

She nodded, happily. "It is, my lord."

"If he loved you as much as he loves your art, would that not be a glorious thing?"

She lowered her eyes and blushed. "Oh, my lord, you tease me."

"I think you underestimate your worth to your master, Irene."

"Should we tell her?" I asked.

"Tell me what?" she asked, looking up.

"Your master has some new ideas to discuss with you," Jean-Claude said.