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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:08

"People have mentioned it before," Nicky said, face totally serious. It had taken me a little while to realize that Nicky being very serious and pretending not to get Zerbrowski's jokes was actually his way of teasing the man back. The fact that Zerbrowski hadn't quite figured out that Nicky was teasing him was part of the joke. I'd never seen anyone else get the better of him when it came to that kind of teasing. That it was Nicky who had figured it out was interesting, and had totally surprised me. I sort of liked that he could surprise me that much.

He surprised me again by leaning over for a kiss. I didn't do that in front of the police much; it ruined my image as one of the guys. I debated on letting him know it wasn't okay, but it just seemed wrong to lean away from someone you were in love with, so I kissed him back.

"Well, la-di-da, does Count Dracula know?"

"And this is why I don't kiss my boyfriends in front of the other cops," I said, with my hand still on the swell of Nicky's arm.

"It's just Zerbrowski," Nicky said, "he doesn't count."

Zerbrowski stared up at him openmouthed for a second, then burst out laughing.

Nicky finally let himself smile at the other man, because just that one dry comment had ruined the deadpan joke. Zerbrowski knew he'd been had and was enjoying the hell out of it.

I asked Nicky if he thought he and Domino could help the grave diggers move the tombstone. He said, "Sure."

"You're a man of few words, Muscles, but I like you."

"I don't hate you either," Nicky said, and turned before Zerbrowski could see the smile that went with the words. That set Zerbrowski back on another laughing jag.

The extermination team came up in their shiny silver suits with their hoods under their arms. "Hey, Eddie, Susannah," I said.

Eddie asked, "What's so funny?"

For some reason that made Zerbrowski laugh even harder. "Ignore him," I said. "Thanks for coming down on short notice."

Eddie smiled. He was broader than when I'd met them six, seven years ago. He was also completely bald now, the gray butch cut gone. "Hey, it beats the heck out of hunting possible wererat infestations in the walls of some family's house in the city."

"You know that wererats are the size of large dogs and won't fit inside a normal wall, right?"

"I know that, and you know that, but the people who get all freaked out and call us for it don't."

"We try to tell them the truth, but they never believe us, and their money spends," Susannah said. She was Eddie's daughter and must have looked like her mom, because she was a little taller than me, still short, a little more muscled and less thin than when we'd met on her very first night on the job. She'd put on muscle so she could handle the equipment better, and because she'd asked me what I did to make the men respect me more. Easy answer is hit the gym and make sure you can handle yourself physically. Nothing screams weak like not being able to pull your weight on the job.

I smiled back. "I hear that."

Eddie excused himself to go talk to the grave diggers about what would need to happen if they had to use the flamethrowers. They used what amounted to napalm, so that it burned and kept burning. You really didn't want to take collateral damage.

Now that her dad was gone, Susannah's eyes flicked up Nicky in that long sweep that goes from the feet to the top of the head like you're wondering what the person would be like out of their clothes. She hadn't seen him bend down for the kiss or she wouldn't have done it. I'm not saying she wouldn't have speculated, but she would have been polite enough not to let me see her doing it. It's okay to look at someone's boyfriend and wonder; you just keep it to yourself and don't act on it, ever.

Once upon a time, I'd hidden how many men were in my life, partially out of embarrassment and a lack of comfort with my own lifestyle. The other part had been because cops treat women who sleep around differently than they treat those who don't--unfair, but true. But my hiding my love life too well had led to Detective Jessica Arnett having a serious crush on Nathaniel and feeling like I'd let her make a fool of herself over my boyfriend. I didn't work with Susannah all that often, but I still didn't want a repeat of the issue.

I took Nicky's hand and said, "Did Nicky introduce himself?"

She glanced down at the hand holding. "Got his name, and that he was with you, but not that he was 'with' you." She made little quotes around with.

"Just wanted to make sure you don't waste energy in Nicky's direction, that's all."

"Good to know." Then she frowned. "But I thought you were engaged to Jean-Claude?"

She looked at Nicky and then back at me, raising both her eyebrows in a question.

"Jean-Claude knows all about Nicky."

"And he's okay with it?"

"Very understanding fiance you have there," she said.

"I'm one of Jean-Claude's blood donors," Nicky said.

I fought to keep my face blank and pleasant, because he'd just lied. He had a very serious rule that he didn't donate body fluids to anyone. He fed the ardeur for me and only me, period. So why had he told Susannah otherwise?

"Ah," she said, and you could just see her interest fade. His being my lover hadn't really dimmed her speculation, but find out he gave blood to Jean-Claude and she was done. Again, why? I felt like I'd missed something important in the last few minutes, but I'd have to wait for alone time with Nicky to have him explain it to me. Weird having to have a sociopath explain social interaction, but I was lost and he wasn't. He'd gotten the results he wanted out of the exchange, and I had no idea why, or what, but the way he stood next to me, hand in mine, let me know that he was satisfied with what had just happened. Nice someone was.

I held his hand and smiled and vowed to ask him later.

Domino motioned from near the grave. Nicky kissed me and then went off to help move the grave marker.

"Thanks for letting me not waste my time, Anita; I appreciate it."

She smiled then. "But if you know anyone else who's built along the same lines and isn't involved, let me know."

"Aww, I'm not your type," Zerbrowski said, making a fake pouty face exaggerated

enough to show in the dim light.

"Sorry, Sergeant, but I don't go for middle-age leches who are happily married."

"Ouch, it's the middle-aged comment that hurts; the rest of it is just true." He grinned at her.

"I'll keep my eyes peeled for anyone who looks like Nicky but isn't taken," I said.

"Thanks, you seem to have the best luck finding men who will commit and share. Most of us can't even find one who isn't a bastard."

"I've had some men who were pretty rotten to me, but usually it's as much me as them when it all goes to hell."

She gave me the look that other women had given me before when I opted out of doing the "all my exes suck and I have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that my love life sucks" thing. I'd found that most relationships worked because everyone worked at it; it was a group effort even if only two people were involved.

"Either you've never had anyone hurt you that badly, or you are a saint."

"Anita's had her share of bad ones," Zerbrowski said.

"She confides in you?"

He put his arm across my shoulders and did a brotherly hug. "We share all our girly secrets," he said.

Manny had to walk away trying to turn his laugh into a cough.

I realized that Zerbrowski was trying to help me out of another social minefield, which meant he didn't think I could get out on my own, which might be true. Also he didn't entirely like Susannah. That I hadn't known. I filed it under I'll ask them later and said, "All our girly secrets."

Susannah laughed. "I don't even believe you have girly secrets, Anita."

I shrugged, smiled, and bumped the fist that Zerbrowski offered. Then he looked past me and something made his eyes widen, made him look surprised. I pushed away from the hug, bringing the shotgun around, thinking I'd let myself get distracted from the business at hand, and . . . there wasn't anything to shoot. The ground was still untouched. They'd even turned off the backhoe so we could hear the distant sound of late-season crickets, so what had surprised my partner?

They'd managed to get the tall obelisk gravestone out of the ground where it had been placed centuries ago. I think the two grave diggers and my guys had been walking it back, but Nicky had gotten impatient. He had it in his arms like he was hugging it, except he had one hand clasped over the other wrist, which let me know it was even heavier than it looked. He'd taken off his jacket so that his weapons were visible, and so were the muscles in his arms as he walked away from the grave with the stone.