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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:02

"Then be king," Micah said.

"Ma petite," he said, looking at me.

"When we raise the power again, touch us and see what happens. See if you can control it. See if you can control us."

"How could any man resist such a delicious challenge?"

"Don't resist," Dev said.

He gazed down at the man. "You must be very angry with Asher to suggest such revenge."

"Can't I just want to sleep with you?"

"Oui, but there is no one you could sleep with that would hurt Asher more than me."

The power was fading fast, but the flash of anger in Dev gave it one last boost, so that we were bathed in that invisible fire again. "You and Micah get more power than ever before, and Asher suffers the way he's made both of us suffer. It's a win-win."

"You cannot win such games with Asher, mon tigre, I know this for a sad fact. You can either be with him and tolerate him playing such games, or walk away; there is no middle ground with him."

"Besides, revenge sex is always a bad idea," I said.

Dev looked at me and put some of that heat into his eyes, so I got not just the power but a wave of his physical need. It made both Micah and me gasp. "I'll make it good for both of you, I promise."

He turned and looked at Jean-Claude. "For all three of you."

"You know, we might already have the power without needing to cement it with sex," I said.

Dev's hands gripped us so hard, it was just this side of hurting. "No, no, I won't be just tolerated on the edges of someone's life. We try, really try, and then if Micah can't deal with me that's one thing, but I won't be cast out without really trying first."

"You have tried very hard with Asher and it has not worked, mon ami."

"That's because it's Asher; he's like a rigged game, you can't really win it, can you?"

Jean-Claude reached out and touched his face, gently; the power curled over his skin and through all four of us, so that it suddenly blazed brighter again and left us all crying out with the rush of it. Jean-Claude drew back with a shaky laugh, his eyes ablaze with his own power, so that they looked like a midnight sky set with blue fire.

Dev swayed, even sitting down, and let us go. The moment we stopped touching, the power began to seep away. "I need food and rest, but after that I want a real chance at making this work."

"It will give us time to tell our other lovers that there may be a change of . . . menu," Jean-Claude said, voice still holding that edge of laughter he got when he was a little power drunk.

"If this works I won't just be food," Dev said.

"What are you saying?" I asked.

He held up his left hand and wiggled his fingers at me. "I want you to put a ring on it."

It was Micah who said, "If this works, you'll get your ring."

I looked at one of the loves of my life, who I knew wasn't comfortable around large athletic men, at all, and knew in that moment that the Coalition visits out of town had been dangerous. Dangerous enough that he was willing to tie himself to someone he could never love, someone that he would have to share me, Jean-Claude, and even Nathaniel with, and I knew he didn't want to do that. I hugged him hard, as if I couldn't press enough of him against me to be sure he was safe. He was startled, and didn't seem to know what to do as he hugged me back.

"Don't die on me; whatever it takes, don't die on me."

His arms tightened around me, holding me as tight as I held him. "Whatever it takes," he said.

"Whatever it takes," I whispered back.

"If there is anything this side of heaven and hell that I can do to come back safe, I will always come back home to you, Anita."

Suddenly having to tell Asher that we were borrowing his lover, or how it might mess up our domestic arrangements, didn't seem important; we'd deal, because the thought of how close I must have come to losing the man in my arms scared me more than anything else. Sex was not a fate worse than death, because with life there was always hope. Hope that the big breakup wasn't permanent. Hope that the issues that drove you apart might bring you back together again. Hope that you'd see their smile again, even if they were with someone else. Only death was final, and without hope; short of that, there were options. I buried my face in the sweet scent of Micah's neck, and I wanted those options more than anything else in the world.

ABOUT THAT TIME we got the text that dinner was ready; Micah and Dev went off to find fresh clothes. Jean-Claude went to explain why I needed a shower and clean clothes more than the men. I was never sure why the shapeshifter form that came out of the goopy stuff was always dry and clean, but it was, so both of the men just needed to wash off a few bits that I'd gotten on them, but they were pretty much clean. I, on the other hand, was covered in rapidly drying goop from nearly head to toe. Even my hair was stiff with it. It wasn't the first time I'd been slimed head to toe by having a wereanimal beside me, but every time was a new experience in needing to scrape it off in the shower.

In fact, the men in my life had requested that I not use any of the showers in the main bedrooms, because the stuff clogged up the plumbing. The group showers were large enough to satisfy any gym, and had mainly been created for the guards so they could clean up after hitting our specialized gym area that could accommodate the extra strength and speed of a lycanthrope. If I stopped up a drain in there, there were a dozen more showers that still worked in the line--though the people in charge of maintenance had given us little plastic signs to hang on any shower that had been used for tough cleanups; that way they knew where the potential problem might be and didn't get surprised.

Domino tried to follow me as a bodyguard, but I'd finally convinced everyone that if I needed guards down here in our inner sanctum we had other problems, so I got to walk to the showers alone. It was a relief in a way. I loved the men in my life, but sometimes a little quiet and solitude wasn't a bad thing.

There were two guards outside the locker room area leading to the showers. I recognized one of them, but not the other. "Hey, Benito."

Benito was tall, dark, and dangerous-looking. He dressed in nice, tailored suits most of the time, and the body underneath was in good shape, but he never managed to make me think handsome--sinister maybe, but not handsome. His dark brown eyes smiled at me, though, and softened his face. He'd moved up the ranks until he was the main bodyguard for Rafael the rat king.

"I'm assuming that Rafael is in the showers if you're here," I said.

"Yeah, he said he didn't want to be disturbed."

I sort of motioned at the mess of my clothes and hair. "Any way to get an exception?"

"You, Jean-Claude, Micah, and Richard are the exceptions. Rafael says that we can't keep the kings, or queen, out of their own stuff."

"Nathaniel isn't on the list?" I said.

Benito grinned, flashing white, nearly perfect teeth. My dad paid good money for my half-sister to have that kind of smile. Benito's face was pockmarked and rough; it always made me wonder if he was just one of those people who had a naturally perfect smile. I never asked, because I couldn't figure out how to ask about the nice smile without insulting the rest of him.

"He's a prince, not a king; no insult meant."

"None taken, so I can go clean up?"

He motioned me through the open doorway. The other guard just watched me with eyes so brown they were nearly black, but he said nothing. If Benito said it was okay, then it was.

There were small dressing areas with curtains if I'd wanted to undress in absolute privacy, but the locker room was empty and no one was getting in the door that I wasn't already sleeping with thanks to Rafael's men, so I stripped off in front of the lockers. I put my weapons in a locker, but the clothes had to go on the floor and stay there. Whoever did the laundry for us had complained that the clear junk could ruin certain fabrics, so please put it in with the other body-fluid wash. I grabbed a towel from the shelf, and the conditioners that Jean-Claude had made me keep d

own here for my hair, and went into the shower area.

I heard the water running and knew it had to be Rafael. If he'd just been one of the guards I'd have avoided him and showered around the corner, but he was a great deal more than that. What was protocol if you happened to know a king was in the showers? Did you avoid him, acknowledge him, say hi? He wasn't my king, anyway, but he was my friend, and occasionally my food. Since the way I fed on him was through sex, it meant we were a little closer than typical friends. He was probably the closest thing I had to a true fuck buddy. You know, you're in town, they're in town, and you hook up. I hated the phrase, but for Rafael and me, it wasn't inaccurate.

I stood there for a minute in the showers debating, and then I heard a small sound. It was a pain sound. I'd seen Rafael after bad guys had flayed the skin from his back. He didn't make sounds like that for nothing. My hands were full of hair stuff, so I kept the extra-long towel over one shoulder, where it nearly dragged on the ground. I was mostly covered, and that would have to be good enough for whatever was happening. The small, involuntary noises stopped as I looked around the open shower area. He wasn't in sight, but I could hear a shower still running, so it had to be one of the three private stalls that had shower curtains. I admit that I used them a lot when other people were showering after workouts. Shapeshifters don't have a problem with nudity, but I wasn't the only woman who didn't want to strip down completely with the guys in the shower, so we had the stalls.

I debated on whether to ask if he was all right, but if he was having a moment in the showers, he was entitled. The guy rule was that even if you were crying, the other men ignored it unless you said something to draw attention to it, but quiet crying, especially when you'd tried to get privacy for it, meant you left it alone. Women usually want you to seek them out and ask what's wrong; men don't, as a general rule. There are men who want you to ask, and women who don't, but the rule was true for most people I knew, so I left Rafael to fight his private battle and turned on one of the showers in the middle of the room. I could see if he opened the curtain and wanted to share, but otherwise he had his privacy.