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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:00

Dev's breath came out in a sharp hiss, and he swayed a little, letting the other men keep him on his knees. I'd been safe behind my shields for the most part, but I held my hand out.

She looked at me. "You want the knife?"

Dr. Lillian looked at me. "Why do you want it?"

"I'm going to give it back to Thorn."

"Don't do anything foolish."

"Just making a point," I said, and after a moment's hesitation she let me take the bloody knife from her hand.

I went to where Fortune and Echo still had Thorn on his knees with his arms damn near dislocated. At six feet plus he was tall enough, or I was short enough, that with him kneeling we had good eye contact. "Did you forget that stabbing Dev would hurt me, too?"

He hesitated, and the women made him hurt a little more, so he answered, "Yes."

"So you forgot that he was my animal to call, just having touched the power we share?"

He looked sullen. "I didn't think."

"That is part of your problem, Thorn, you don't think. You react, you let your temper best you, but you don't think. I'm going to make a point that I hope helps you think more clearly in the future before doing something stupid."

His eyes flicked to the blade in my hand.

"Nice knife, good balance," I said, as I tested the hilt in my hand.

"Thanks," he said, but he didn't sound certain now. Good.

I plunged the blade into his side; I didn't hit a rib, so it went in nice and fast, all the way to the hilt, the way he'd planned on hurting Dev. Echo and Fortune eased down on his arms so he could react to it. I got close to his surprised face and said, "If you ever forget again what is mine, and harm Dev, or any of my animals to call, outside a practice ring, I will give you your blade again, but it will go in a little higher and more to the center, are we clear on that?"

His voice came out between gritted teeth, breathy in a I-will-not-scream way. "Yes."

"Yes, what?" Echo said.

"Try again," she said.

"Yes . . . my queen."

"That's better," Echo said.

I nodded. "Yeah, that's better." I pulled the knife out hard and fast. He whimpered for me.

I stared down at him with his blood staining the blade and mingling with Dev's. "There won't be a second warning, Thorn, do you understand that?"

He swallowed, nodded, stopped like it hurt, and finally said, "Yes, I understand."

"Take him out of my sight for a while, before I decide to give him his blade again."

They forced him to his feet and Echo said, "I like you."

I smiled and shook my head. "I don't dislike you, but I don't know if I like you yet."

She smiled at me. "Oh, now I know I like you."

"Aren't you going to let the doctor look at me?" Thorn asked.

"You'll heal," I said. "Get him out of here."

Fortune said, "As our queen wishes."

"Whatever she desires," Echo said.

I raised an eyebrow at her. "Violence do it for you, or was it the ruthlessness?"

"Both," she said, and gave me a look that I was more used to seeing on a man's face. Once it would have freaked me out, but standing there with the bloody knife in my hand I knew that a little girl-on-girl flirting was so not that big a deal. I cleaned the blade off on a clean part of Dev's shirt and offered him the blade hilt-first.

He looked at it and then up at me.

"Think of it as a present from your cousin Thorn."

"He won't like you giving me one of his favorite knives."

"I want him to see you carrying it. I want it to remind him that if he pulls this shit again I will end him now and forever."

Dev took the blade from me, nodding. "I'm healing already, Anita."

"You know how you growled at him, 'Mine'?"

I put my hand on the back of Dev's neck, just under the hair where the skin was so warm, and brought him down so our foreheads touched. "Mine."

He smiled then, and moved in for a kiss, which I gave him. "Yours," he said, as he pulled back.

ONCE A WEEK we tried to eat dinner like a family at the Circus of the Damned. The small table that Jean-Claude had put into Nathaniel's dream kitchen wasn't big enough for everyone. We'd tried to do it in the formal dining room that Jean-Claude kept for more serious occasions like visiting master vampires, but that was too far away from the kitchen for the cooks, so we turned one of the smaller bedrooms nearby into a bigger but still-cozy dining room. Tonight hadn't been planned for one of the meals, but Nathaniel had said, "We all need to give Dev energy to heal, and that takes fuel. Food is the easiest way to fuel up. Give us thirty minutes and it'll all be ready."

"It wasn't silver, he'll be healed in minutes," Doc Lillian said.

"Anita could heal me and give me extra energy besides," Dev said, his arms sliding a little more solidly around me, our bodies suddenly pressed tighter together. I was about to say, You're hurt, but others spoke for me.

"What would Asher say about that, mon ami?" Jean-Claude asked.

"I'm allowed to be food in emergencies."

"What would Kane say?" Nathaniel asked.

Dev scowled and rested his face against the top of my head.

I moved him enough so I could look up into his face. "Why does Kane have more say over you than Asher does?"

Dev sighed and hugged me tighter, not in a sexy way, but just holding on for comfort. "It's complicated," he said finally in a voice that let me know that complicated translated to sad and frustrating.

"Explain it to Anita while we get dinner ready," Nathaniel said.

Micah came to stand near us. "How long will it take to fix?"

"Thirty minutes tops; the chicken is already marinated and we're just steaming veggies."

"Please tell me there's a carb of some kind," Domino said.

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Nicky answered, "No, if you want carbohydrates have them at lunch."

"It's not my fault that your metabolism can't digest potatoes," he said, frowning a little, but smiling to take the edge off it.

"Have potatoes at lunch," Crispin said. "Most of us have to take our clothes off onstage. No carbs at dinner."

"Nicky doesn't strip," Domino protested.

"Nathaniel does," Nicky said.

"What's that got to do with you?"

Nicky gave Domino a flat, unfriendly look.

"I'm the main cook," Nathaniel said. "If you want different food, you plan the week's menu, do the grocery shopping, and prep the meals."

Domino held his hands up. "You win; I am so not that domestically talented. I can't even sous chef the way Nicky and Cynric can."

Micah slid his arm across my shoulders. Dev moved his arm enough so they could both touch me without touching each other. For some of the men it was a sign that they didn't touch other men, but for others it was a sign of respect. Since Dev was cheerfully bisexual, he moved because he knew Micah didn't touch other men casually, and Micah was their leader. If the leader wants to hug his fiancee, then you move so he can, even if you are one of her lovers. Poly isn't about being completely fair for most people. There are some who run it with a near perfect equality, but for most of us there are primary relationships, there are secondary, and even ones less serious than that. If we'd been touching Dev and Asher came, I'd have made room for him, because Dev was one of his primary relationships, but he was a tertiary for me, at best.

"Before dinner, Anita, Jean-Claude, and I need to talk with some of the weretigers."

I glanced at him and so did Dev. "Did I do something wrong?" he asked.

Micah smiled. "No, Dev, you didn't do anything wrong, but you are included in the talk."

"Weretigers that are connected to us already, or new ones?" I asked.

"No new ones, not yet."

"You have but to ask, mon chat," Jean-Claude said.

Micah picked the tigers he wanted, and we all trusted him enough to believe he'd explain when we had some privacy. There was a time in my life when I wouldn't have trusted anyone that much, but Micah had earned it from me, from Jean-Claude, from all of us. The fact that no one argued or even questioned the request proved that. We just all trooped off to his office here in the underground. It was newer than even the dining room remodel, but it was the only room that had a table with enough chairs for everyone, besides the dining rooms. Before the office was put in, most group meetings had been in Jean-Claude's bedroom, and you sat either on the floor or on the bed once the two chairs by the fireplace were taken.

But now we all got to sit around the oval table in the conference room area off the office. It had a desk that Micah actually used sometimes, but I found him most often sitting at the far end of the big table with papers spread out in front of him, or with a bunch of other shapeshifters talking Coalition business. The desk was beautiful, but it was almost untouched. The table was the office for Micah.