Page 71

Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:13

"Susannah is cute," he said.

"I guess she is," I said.

"You want to save the underwear?" Nicky asked.

I reached back to one side of his body, Nicky echoed me, and we eased the underwear down, baring his ass, but that wasn't the tricky bit. Tricky was easing it off the front of him with him partially erect. Normally, it wouldn't have bothered me that much, but we had just broken up; it seemed weird to be undressing him after having THE fight, like it was a breach of some breakup law somewhere. A last chance at sex I understood, but just undressing him seemed odd.

"Could I date her?" He asked it about the time the underwear spilled off him and he was just there, embarrassingly prominent, but still beautiful. There was no one in my bed who didn't make me pause for at least a second and go, Pretty. Of course, Domino wasn't in my bed anymore, so . . . fuck it, I went back to helping Nicky get him out of his clothes.

"Sure, though I think your last speech to her may have queered the deal."

"Would it bother you if I dated her?"

"You mean because she's almost a friend, or because you're with another woman, besides me and Jade?"

"The last part," he said, as we eased his pants down his legs. He was taking more weight on one of his arms than the other. I didn't think his hands were hurt; it was more that one side of his ribs hurt more than the other.

I thought about it and then said the truth. "No, it wouldn't bother me."

"Thanks, that's what I needed to know."

"Remember, Domino, it doesn't bother her when Jean-Claude is with Envy, either," Nicky said.

I frowned at him. "You're not helping."

"It's just that your being okay with your men being with other women, or other men, doesn't prove you don't care."

I looked at him and let him feel that I wasn't happy with him. I was rid of one person in my bed; I did not want to make this fight up. I wanted to be done with someone, and the moment I thought it, I said, "Shit."

He smiled. "I didn't say tonight, I said later. A few days from now is still later."

I didn't know what to say to that, so I didn't try. I could be taught.

"I feel like I just missed a whole conversation," Domino said.

"Nicky reminded me that I'm a little overwhelmed personally right now, and feeling pressured by all the tigers and your prophecy."

"You don't have to apologize for that, Domino. I'm not sure anyone owes me an apology for it, but when we broke up I felt relieved."

He looked sad, even through the pain. It made me touch his bare thigh and say, "I thought, one tiger down, a few more to go. That's not a good enough reason to dump someone."

"So are we broken up, or not? I'm confused."

"You aren't the only one who's confused," I said.

Nicky started unlacing one of Domino's boots, and I did the other. He was right; we couldn't finish taking off his pants with the boots still on him. Shoes were always the sticking point when you stripped in real life; the trick was to take the shoes off early in the process if you're wearing real pants. Most professional strippers wear pants meant to rip away with Velcro and be put back together for next time. In movies, it's all distraction and stopping the scene a dozen times to change the clothes, so that some scenes it's like five different outfits that look like a single strip scene; it's all illusion. In real life, take the shoes off first.

"What does that mean?" he asked.

Nicky surprised me by answering, "It means that Anita can't be your girlfriend; there isn't enough time or energy for anyone to be a girlfriend to this many people, but she still needs to feed the ardeur and Jean-Claude still needs to feed on blood."

"Neither you nor I let the vampires feed on us."

"I'm going to try it with Jean-Claude."

We both looked at Nicky. "You were very clear on not being food for the vamps," I said.

He nodded as we got the last of Domino's clothes off him. He leaned on the grass, totally nude and a little less excited to be there, but then it had been painful and Domino didn't mix pain with sex.

"I've decided to try it," Nicky said.

"Because you are going to have to cut your list down, especially if you add another tiger. Keeping lovers who will also feed Jean-Claude is practical, and you can be surprisingly practical in this area."

I was in love with this man, and he thought I might jettison him because I was overwhelmed. I wasn't sure what that said about me; for Nicky it was just part of being a sociopath. If you're not meeting enough needs, why do I need you?

"I don't think I can be with Jean-Claude like that. I've seen him take blood and it's too close to sex," Domino said.

"True, but Jean-Claude respects limits."

"Why not get rid of people that she only sees every once in a while, like Rafael, or the swan king?"

"They're too powerful as allies, and the feeding of the ardeur is part of what keeps them our allies, and it is an amazing power feed when she takes either of them," Nicky said.

"Yeah," Domino said, buck naked on the grass, "it's a rush, like a drug rush."

"We undressed you so you could change form, not so you could discuss my feeding schedule."

"If Jade liked you better, would you be okay with just her?" Nicky asked.

He nodded, winced, got very still, and said, "I would love her if she'd let me, but she's so afraid of men, it makes me one of the bad guys to her, just because I'm attracted to her."

"She's a mess," I said.

"That's not fair," he said, and motioned at me, as if he meant to point, but the moment he did fresh blood spilled out of his mouth, and he began to gasp, as if he couldn't breathe.

"Your lung just collapsed," Nicky said.

"Shapeshift," I said.

Domino collapsed slowly to his side, his breathing so harsh it hurt to hear it. His skin was already darkening around the edges as he fought to breathe.

"Why doesn't he change?" I asked.

"He'll pass out and then he'll change, right?"

He shook his head. "No, if he passes out he could die."

"Vampires don't need to breathe; we do."

"Fuck!" I touched his face and the moment skin touched skin I couldn't breathe. My chest was on fire, and there was one sharp point that just fucking hurt. I was on the ground still touching him; our eyes locked. I stared into those orange and yellow eyes and thought, We're dying.

NICKY JERKED MY hand off Domino, and I could breathe again. It still hurt, but it was distant, dull, aching, as if my chest were sore from a days-old beating. Nicky pulled me into his lap and I lay there watching Domino writhe, gasping for air. He reached out to me, and Nicky grabbed my hand, kept me from touching again.

"Change form, Domino," Nicky said.

Jean-Claude's voice was loud in my head as he said, "Ma petite, what is happening?"

I didn't bother talking, just let him "see" what I was seeing. "Shield from him, Anita." He almost never used my real name. "Shield, or he will drag you down with him. I will shield as many of the others as I can."

And he was gone, doing what he'd urged me to do, shielding hard and complete like the walls of a castle newly made, perfect and unassailable. My shields hadn't had six hundred years of practice, and they weren't as perfect as his; I could still feel Domino through my shields, and it was hard to ignore him while he was right in front of me dying. I could feel Nathaniel and Damian the strongest, because they were the first animal to call I'd ever found and my vampire servant. Damian was supposed to be to me what I was to Jean-Claude. I felt the others I was tied to, but Jean-Claude had done his best to shield them from me. I felt them all offering their energy down the leash tha

t held them to me, but there was other power even closer. I looked up at Nicky while he held me. I'd accidentally drained him to death once, and I wasn't joking about the "death" part. The doctor had to restart his heart twice, and no one had been nearly this badly hurt. If he'd been my lion to call I would have been able to feel him giving up his energy, but he was my Bride, which meant the energy flow was one way, and much more subtle. I had to fight through the aches, the fear, worries, all of it, to find a quiet place in my head where I could feel the flow from him to me.