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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:00:54

He kissed me firmly, but not with a lot of lip movement, because he knew I'd be mad if he sent me to the clients with my lipstick smeared like clown makeup. That one long fall of hair brushed the side of my face as we kissed. His mouth stayed firm but almost chaste against mine, but he breathed out against my skin, opening his lips just enough to let a long, low growl slide out against my mouth. I opened for it as if I could drink in the sound of him. It made me shiver in his arms, and I dropped the hiking boot and just wrapped my arms around his neck.

He put an arm under my ass and lifted me up, crawling into the back of the car with me half in his arms. I fought free of the kiss, and said, "Work, work, work, I'm at work, damn it."

He spoke with his face just above mine, the weight of him half pinning me. "It's dark and they're human, they can't see what we're doing."

I felt the car rock slightly as Nathaniel crawled into the back with us. He was on all fours on the other side of me, and I had a moment of staring up at both of them in the small, dark space of the car. The possibilities of the three of us together caught my breath in my throat and tightened things low in my body. They'd smell that I wanted them, but I couldn't help that. I pushed my way to sitting and said, "No, absolutely no."

"Absolutely no, what?" Nathaniel said, his smile faint in the darkness of the car.

I rolled my eyes at him and then began to crawl out of the car. It was actually a little hard to crawl past Nicky's shoulders. He fixed that by lifting me up and sitting me gently on the edge of the open hatch area, where I'd started. He even got out and picked up the boot I'd dropped.

I took it from him, frowning, and not looking at his face much. I was going to ignore him as much as possible. I was going to ignore them both, damn it. "Work," I repeated, and yes, I did know it was a case of the lady protesting too much. Throwing caution to the wind and having fun in the car like a flashback to high school sounded a lot more fun than raising the dead right now, but then if the men in my life weren't more fun than work, I guess they wouldn't be in my life.

"Don't the coveralls need to go on before the hiking boots?" Nicky asked.

"I was going to walk over and make sure they'd read the handouts I sent home with them, or give them a refresher on what to expect. People never listen in the office and then sometimes they freak out during the zombie-raising, and I hate that. The coveralls are hot, even in spring, so I'll talk to the clients and then get changed."

"And the boots are so you can walk on the gravel," he said.

"Good plan, because I came to tell you that your clients did read the literature you sent home with them, and one of them is having an attack of conscience."

I frowned at him. "An attack of conscience, what about, disturbing the dead?"

"No," he said, with a slight smile.

"Are they upset about the whole voodoo angle? If they read the handouts they know it's not black magic."

He grinned, shook his head, and said, "It's the cow."

TWENTY MINUTES LATER I still didn't have the coveralls on, because I hadn't been able to convince our reluctant client that killing the cow was a necessary part of raising the zombie for them. I finally had someone to aim my anger at, except that I wasn't angry anymore thanks to Nicky and Nathaniel. Some nights you just can't hold on to the mad long enough to use it.

"Yes, Mrs. Willis, the cow does have to die so I can raise the zombie for you," I said.

She peered up at me, which wasn't something that most people had to do. She was tiny, less than five feet, but somehow didn't seem that small; attitude can make up for inches. Her eyes swam behind some of the thickest prescription glasses I'd seen in years. Her eyes glinted behind them in the moonlight. The moon was only two days past full, so there was plenty of light for my night vision. Nathaniel, Nicky, and Dino probably didn't even think it was dark, because wereanimals had a heck of a lot better night vision than I did, even in human form. We hadn't advertised the fact that the only full humans here tonight were the clients. They seemed nervous enough without that. One of the younger men with them kept gazing around the cemetery as if he expected something to jump out and eat him. Some people just weren't comfortable in cemeteries after dark; go figure.

"I was fine in theory, but now that the animal is standing in front of me, it seems wrong to slaughter it because we want to do historical research."

"Do you want the zombie raised, or not?" I asked.

"Of course we do." Mr. Owen MacDougal came up behind her, much taller, much broader, not fat, but solid like an old-time linebacker gone a little heavy around the middle. He looked like an older version of my other bodyguard, Dino, except Dino was darkly Hispanic and MacDougal was Middle America white bread. I knew Dino was six-two, so MacDougal was at least that tall, maybe an inch or so more. Neither of them was as broad through the shoulders as Nicky, but then I knew Dino didn't go for bulk as much as he did, and MacDougal obviously hadn't been keeping up with the gym, but he was still a big, solid guy.

"Of course we do," he repeated. "Ethel, it's a cow. You eat steak."

"I eat meat out of the grocery store," she said. "I don't watch the poor animals slaughtered in front of me." She motioned at the brown-and-white Guernsey tied to a nearby tree. It was munching the fresh grass and chewing whatever cows chew contentedly. If it knew why it was here tonight it seemed calm about it, but it was a cow. They puzzle me. I've never looked at one and thought, I know what it's thinking. Cows aren't like dogs, or cats, or even certain birds. Cows are mysterious things when it comes to motives, and this one was no different as she grazed among the weathered tombstones.

Nathaniel had surprised me by being nervous of the cow. All he would say was, he'd had a bad experience with a cow once. He was standing well away from it by the clients' cars, while we talked business.

nk my way past the PETA-esque attack of conscience, and finally said, "Mrs. Willis, I have other appointments tonight"--which was a lie, because raising something this old would exhaust any animator powerful enough to do it, but Ethel Willis didn't know that--"so you need to decide if we're raising this zombie within the next fifteen minutes or I'm calling it, and you can figure out what to do with the live cow."

"What?" she asked, and MacDougal echoed her.

"I mean I've made arrangements with a disposal company to come get the cow carcass. It'll be made into pet food since humans aren't allowed to eat anything killed in a religious ritual, but the disposal company does not deal in live animals, so if we leave here and the cow is still alive, then it's your problem."

I heard Dino chuckle behind me, and try to turn it into a cough.

"But I don't know anything about cows," Mrs. Willis said. "Whatever would I do with it?"

"Don't know, don't care. You paid for the animal to be sacrificed when you agreed to the price for the zombie, so in effect it's your cow. If you don't want me to kill it and raise the zombie, fine, but it's still your cow dead or alive. I'll dispose of its corpse, but if it's still alive when I leave here tonight it's no longer my problem, it's yours." I glanced behind me at the narrow road that ran through the graveyard. "The biggest car I see over there is a Cadillac. It's a big car. You could probably get a goat in the backseat, but I don't know about a cow, especially not a full-grown Guernsey. They're a big animal. I don't think it'll fit, and this municipality doesn't let you keep cows except as short term for blood sacrifices or other religious observances, so no just letting the cow loose, because that would be breaking the law and when the police contact Animators Inc. asking why a cow that we purchased is roaming loose, I'll tell them it's your cow."

"How would they know whose cow it was?" Willis asked.

"They have serial numbers like license plates. The number tells you the cow's entire history including that it's now your cow, and unless I kill it here and now, you have a very big, very not-house-trained pet." The cow chose that moment to lift its tail and prove just how not-house-trained it was. I think that was the selling point for Mrs. Willis. The nice animal had done something messy and disgusting, and very real. I think it was all a little too real for the older lady. She went to sit in the Cadillac and left the rest of us to get all messy and real.