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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:00:56

Dino looked at both of us. "That was Anita's explanation out of your mouth, right?"

Nathaniel nodded. "Yes."

"It's that couple thing again," he said.

"What couple thing?" I asked.

"Couples start using each other's sayings, speech patterns, jokes, and specialized information after a while, because you hear it repeated over and over."

"Coworkers and military units do it, too," Nicky said.

"Yeah, but that's usually more narrowly centered. Couples can go all over the board. I'd like to know someone that well someday."

"Are you saying you've never been part of a couple?" I asked.

"I've dated, but no, not really."

"This is my first real couple," Nicky said.

"What do you mean, real?" I asked.

"I was told to seduce people for work sometimes, or go undercover. People are less suspicious of you if you have a romantic partner. They thought we were dating, and I went along with what they thought that should be, but it was all pretend for maintaining my cover or gaining information from them."

"How long was the longest you dated someone like that?" I asked.

"That's a long time," Nathaniel said. "And you didn't care about her at all?"

I looked up at one of the men I was in love with and couldn't wrap my head around it. "And if the sex hadn't been good?" I asked.

"She was cover, so I'd have found someone who was better in bed."

"What happened to her?" Nathaniel asked.

Nicky looked at him as if he'd asked a dumb question or one that he'd never thought of before. "I don't know."

"Did anything you do bring her into harm's way?" I asked.

He thought about it for a second and then made a little waffling motion with his head. "I don't know."

"How can you not know?" I asked.

"I completed my assignment and then I ditched the cell phone and walked away. It was the only number she had for me, so if anything happened, she had no way to contact me. She didn't know my real name, background, nothing. The person she dated for six months didn't exist."

"Not once you left," I said.

He shook his head. "No, Anita, that person never existed. I was undercover as a social, charming extrovert with lots of friends, with a new party, or show, or something almost every night."

"You hate going to parties and shit," I said.

"Yeah, but socializing was the best way to gather information and to move around without arousing suspicion. The more friends I made, the closer I got to the inner circle I wanted to break into, so I could get close to my target."

"So you didn't just lie to the girl, you lied to every friend you made," Nathaniel said.

"If you want to call it that, yeah."

"What else do you call it?" he asked.

"You scare me sometimes," Dino said, "just so you know."

"I know," Nicky said.

We all looked at him and he gave perfect blank face back.

"But you also give me hope," Dino said.

Nicky narrowed his eyes at him then. "I give you hope?"

"If you can fall in love and make a family for yourself, then I have to have a shot at it, because I'm way more charming than you are."

Nicky grinned. "You haven't seen me try to be charming."

"Yeah, I have," Dino said.

"No, you haven't," Nicky said with a smile.

"No, you really haven't."

"Anita knew what I was from the moment she met me; so did Nathaniel and Micah, Jean-Claude, all of them. I never had to pretend that I was someone else, something else. I didn't even have to pretend I was this big, tough crazy guy who would do anything, so don't mess with me."

"So even that was pretend," I said.

"People don't fuck with you as much when they think you're crazy. It scares them more than calm."

"When I met you, I thought you enjoyed the violence, or the threat of it," I said.

"Only in the bedroom. When I'm working, I'm working. It's not personal."

"Oh, come on, sometimes it feels good to hit someone as hard as you want, no holding back," Dino said.

Nicky grinned suddenly, but it was more a baring of teeth, closer to a snarl as if his lion were peeking out. "Okay, yeah, just the physicality of it, yeah."

"Yeah," Dino said, and gave a low, very male chuckle.

Nicky joined him with his own version of it.

Nathaniel and I looked at each other. "You understand this moment of male bonding?" I asked him.

He shook his head. "Nope, I've spent most of my life not understanding the 'hit 'em as hard as you can' kind of guy. Whatever it means to be a man, I'm not that kind."

"But you don't have a problem with me being that kind of man," Nicky said.

"No," Nathaniel said.

"I make a lot of guys nervous."

"And me being bisexual makes a lot of guys nervous."

Nicky grinned. "I'm secure."

Nathaniel grinned back. "Me, too."

Nicky raised his fist and Nathaniel bumped it softly.

Dino shook his head. "You guys are just fun to see and I like it, but I don't think I'm that secure."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I'm not as pretty as either of these two. Nicky beats me in the gym, and from what I hear the two of them are both great in bed. They both cook, and we won't even get into Jean-Claude and Micah. One is the prettiest man I've ever seen, and the other one is, well, Micah. He's this tiny guy, but he walks into a room like he owns it, and like everyone should know that."

"Anita does the same thing," Nicky said.

"Yeah, she makes us all feel a little less like 'the man.'"

"Not me," Nicky said.

"Me, either," Nathaniel said.

"We're all pretty secure," I said.

Nathaniel's phone rang, and it was his ring tone for Micah. "Hey, baby," he said, and then something Micah said made his face go serious, and he walked a little away from us.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

He shook his head and spoke to Micah. "Okay, but I'm not sure how it's going to go on our end."

"Nathaniel, what's wrong?" I asked.

He turned with a face as serious as any I'd seen, which sort of scared me. "Is Micah all right, is everyone all right?"

"There's a . . . mixer set up for you to meet the weretigers."

"A mixer, what the hell does that mean?"

"It means there wasn't time to plan a formal dinner, or a cocktail party, but they're putting something together so that all the weretigers Jean-Claude and Micah like for us, and who are interested in the position, can be in one place at one time, and we can interact with them."

"Is this the tigers bitching about not being included in the commitment ceremony?" Nicky asked.

"Anita agreed to look at more weretigers, including female."

Dino whistled softly, grinning.

I pointed a finger at Dino. "You stay out of this."

He pressed his lips tight together but couldn't quite stop looking like he was about to laugh.

To Nicky I said, "Say something."

"When did you agree to do all this?"

"On the drive here," Nathaniel said.

Nicky looked at him, not even trying to keep the surprise off his face. "What the hell did you say to her to get her to agree to date more women?"

"I just brought it up, I swear."

Nicky turned and gave me a very narrow eye, nearly suspicious. "It's not like you to agree that easy, Anita."

"C an't I just be reasonable for once?"

"No," he said, and Dino had to walk away from us all because he burst out laughing and

didn't want me to yell at him for it.

"We have time to get to the Circus and change before it starts," Nathaniel said.

"You and Anita, you mean."

"You live with us, too," Nathaniel said.

"He's right; whoever we bring in will change our domestic arrangement, so you should at least be there to wave off anyone you hate."

"What does it matter? I won't be sleeping with any of them."