Page 36

Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:00:59

"You may go with them, Dino," Jean-Claude said.

"Go on, Lita may need someone to comfort her," I said.

He grinned at me. "You are the best wingman ever, Anita." He let the drapes fall shut behind him, whistling softly under his breath.

"I feel I have missed much today," Jean-Claude said.

"Dino and Lita have a fuck-buddy date after work tonight," I said.

"Fuck buddy, I dislike the term," Jean-Claude said.

"Me, too, but fuck date sounds worse," I said.

We both looked at him. "What?" I asked.

"You two, the great incubus and succubus eating the souls of little vampires and wereanimals out through their dicks, and you both think the term fuck buddy is crass."

We both frowned at him.

"Oh, come on, that's funny."

Jean-Claude started laughing first and eventually so did I. It was funny, but the fact that Jean-Claude's powers of seduction were growing wasn't. How was that going to work with the weretigers tonight? Hell, how would it work with the rest of us? That thought was so not funny I stopped laughing. Jean-Claude even sexier than before? We were all so screwed, maybe literally.

LEFT TO HIS own devices Jean-Claude would have made the small get-together with the weretigers something formal, with more jewelry; left to my own devices it probably would have been a backyard barbecue. So we compromised. We didn't dress up, or add jewelry, unless we wanted to, and most of us were in our work clothes. Everyone at the mixer tonight had met everyone else, so we'd seen each other in work clothes, fancy clothes, and a lot of us had worked out in the gym together; some of us had even had sex together, so it wasn't your typical matchmaking scenario. Most of the clan tigers and all the Harlequin vampires and their animals to call worked for us as guards, which meant most of the people in the room were armed and on our side. The only extra guards were the ones who routinely went with Jean-Claude, Micah, and me. Nathaniel was mingling with the tigers he didn't know as well, with Nicky just following along behind him both as a guard and to help scout prospective housemates.

I wasn't sure if that made things more awkward or less, because it was all so casual; maybe it just made it different. By the time we all settled around the living room on the two couches, the love seat, and the two big comfy chairs, I was regretting agreeing to it. I'd fought through some of my earlier panic when I realized that I was blaming Cynric for things that weren't his fault. Now I just felt stupid for running from the truth into a supernatural dating game. I needed to call Marianne, my magical mentor and accidental therapist. She was a witch and the wise woman for her werewolf pack in Tennessee. She'd helped me learn control of a lot of my metaphysical abilities, and turned into my counselor in a lot of other areas. But I'd agreed to this, whatever this was, and now I felt like I had to at least pretend to go through with it. Besides, Nathaniel's point about trying to add someone who could date people besides me in our poly group was logical. I just forgot for a moment that sex and romance aren't about logic; they're about feelings, and that is one of the least logical things of all.

I startled and turned to Jean-Claude, who was draped artfully beside me on the couch. I was curled up on the couch beside him; I didn't really sit artfully on couches, my legs were usually too short for the graceful slouch he could manage.

"I'm sorry, I wasn't . . . I'm sorry, what were you saying?"

The woman sitting beside me raised an eyebrow that went perfectly with the cynical expression in her blue-gray eyes. "I don't think you really care what I was saying."

I turned more fully toward her, my back resting in the crook of Jean-Claude's arm. "I really am sorry, but I was thinking about a case at work. Sometimes I have trouble leaving it at the office."

She pushed a strand of her short, pale blue hair back behind her ear and studied my face, as if she didn't believe me. Her hair was very short, just barely below her ears, but with strands of it tracing the strong oval of her jawline. The pale blue color was natural, not dyed, and the blue-gray eyes were tiger eyes in her human face. Fortune was the last female of the blue tiger clan left on earth as far as we knew. She was five-ten, which meant when she first hit her height as a young adult she must have been a giant among the men, let alone the women. People just hadn't been that tall over a few thousand years ago. Okay, I didn't know for certain how old she was, but necromancy let me know how old her master was, and if her master was over two thousand, then she had to be pushing the same.

"You really don't want to be doing this, so why did you agree to it?" she asked.

I didn't owe her the truth, so . . . "According to the prophecy that the clan tigers have been keeping, if I don't marry one of you, then the Mother of All Darkness could come back to life. I don't really want that to happen, do you?"

Her eyes narrowed, and I realized that even her eyelashes were a pale powder blue. Cynric's eyelashes were black, weren't they? Could they possibly be a dark navy blue so that I'd only assumed they were black? It made me want to get him and make him stand with the light behind so I could double-check.

"Do you believe that part of the prophecy?"

"A lot of it has come true recently; don't you believe in it?"

She smiled and it was an age-weary smile, as if she'd seen everything and been impressed by none of it. "Answering the question with a question means I can't smell if you're lying."

I shrugged, and smiled back at her. "I really was thinking about work."

"Zombies or police work?"

"Both, actually; the police came to me for my expertise."

I shook my head. "Sorry, but it's an ongoing investigation. I can't discuss details."

"I can't tell if you're lying; your heart rate doesn't change, even your scent stayed the same. It takes a very experienced wereanimal to lie with the smell of their skin."

"Since I'm technically not a wereanimal, maybe I'm just telling the truth?"

A brunette vampire who was only a couple of inches taller than me, five-six at best, came to stand in front of us. Her smile was cynical, too, but there was a shine of humor in the rich blue of her cornflower eyes. "Fortune and I think you just agreed to meet with female tigers to stop your men from complaining when you add another male to your harem."

I laughed and glanced at the woman beside me, then back to her vampire master. "Really, so why did you both agree to come if yo

u thought it was pointless?"

Jean-Claude stroked my shoulder with the hand across my shoulders. I wasn't sure if he was trying to soothe me or himself. I hadn't even done anything that rude yet.

"When the king requests your presence, you don't disappoint him," she said.

"Even if you think it's a waste of time," I said.

She grinned wide enough to flash one delicate fang and show that she had a dimple in one cheek. Her blond hair was wavy enough that it was like big, loose curls to her shoulders. "Most things that kings want are a waste of time." She did a low sweeping bow to Jean-Claude, but the dimpled grin never wavered.

"I do not believe that I have known as many kings as you have, Echo, but I cannot disagree with your statement. I swear to you that I believed ma petite was in earnest or I would not have called you in from your tasks."

"You do not need to ask for permission to sit next to your own tiger, and lover."

She flopped down on the other side of Fortune hard enough that the couch bounced a little. "You are very even-handed for your age and your sex."

"I understand that older vampires are often set in their ways, but what does my being male have to do with it?"

"Jean-Claude, do not play games; you know what men have thought of women through most of the centuries you've lived. We have been second class at best, evil temptresses, or little better than breeding animals to many very learned and powerful men."

"Do you hate men, then?"

"I don't hate sex with them, but relationships with them, yes." She went up on one knee so she could put an arm across the other woman's shoulders. Fortune entwined her fingers with hers. Echo said, "I prefer to give my heart to more reliable hands than a man's."

Jean-Claude laughed and pulled me in closer to his body. "And I have found that men and women are equally heartbreaking."

"I would ask Anita, but she's only been with two women; that hardly counts."

Fortune said, "Most American women do that much in college when they experiment. Is Jade your experiment?"

"No, not that that's any of your business."

Jean-Claude hugged me to him and let me know I'd tensed up.