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

It was there flowing from his skin to mine. I pushed myself out of his lap to fall on the grass and crawl away from his reaching hands. "NO!"

I lay there between the two men, one trying to drain my life away and the other willing to give his. I turned on my side and told Domino, "Change, damn you!"

He stared at me, eyes wide, face starting to change colors the way you do when you're choking. I knew it hurt as much to breathe as it sounded, as he lay on the ground and gasped his life away.

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I knew how to call someone's beast. Richard had taught me, and as if thinking about him was enough I smelled forest, thick with evergreens that didn't grow anywhere near this cemetery. I heard Richard whisper in my head, "Anita."

"Help me bring his beast." I said my part out loud, because it was too hard to think inside my head, in that moment. I expected him to argue with me, because we always argued, but he didn't. I don't know if Jean-Claude had contacted him, or if he saw what was happening, but he just reached down that long metaphysical line and poured the warmth of his energy into me. I smelled the musk of wolf, and saw him, the morning sunlight shining through his shoulder-length brown waves with lines of gold and red, all framing that permanently tanned face with its almost heartbreakingly handsome lines. The moment I met his brown eyes they changed to wolf amber and the rush of energy danced along my skin in a warm surge of power. I rolled over and pressed my hand to Domino's shoulder. This time he didn't drag me down into his pain; I shoved power into him, and didn't care that it wasn't gentle, we were out of time for gentle. I slammed it into him the way you'd hit someone's heart with electricity and adrenaline to restart it.

Domino's body reacted as if I'd hit him with real electricity, spine bowing, limbs straining, blood pouring out of his mouth as the ribs ripped through more of his lungs, and then his pale skin rippled like silk over water one moment, and then the next his body exploded in a wave of hot liquid that poured over me, so that I was blind until I used my other hand to wipe my eyes.

A white tiger lay on its side, black stripes crisp and clean in the light, like it had been newly made right this moment. It lay dry and somehow unreal in the middle of the wet grass. It was a white tiger twice the size of a natural one, which made it the size of a horse. I didn't see my lovers in their pure animal form much; sometimes I forgot just how massive they were in this form.

I felt that warm pulse of energy again, and the scent of wolf and evergreen was strong. Richard thought at me, "Is Domino okay?"

I looked at that huge, furred side and waited for it to breathe. I didn't realize that I was holding my own breath waiting for it until the tiger breathed, and I let my own out, and had to take another quick breath to sort of catch up.

Nicky took its pulse inside the leg, near the armpit, the way you do on dogs. He nodded. "He's unconscious, but pulse is good."

"Thank you, Richard, thank you so much."

"I'm glad I could help. Domino is a nice guy. I'll look forward to hearing how he got hurt tonight after the meeting."

"Rafael and Micah called a meeting of the local leaders. I'll be over after my last class."

"I've got to run, hitting the gym before my first class."

"Thank you again, Richard."

He smiled and it was a good smile, if not quite the one that used to melt me into my socks and out of my clothes. "You'd have figured it out."

"But maybe not in time."

"This is part of what the triumvirate is supposed to be for, Anita. I'm sorry that I didn't understand that for so long."

I heard someone say, "Oh my God, it's beautiful."

"Company," I said, "gotta go."

"Tonight," I said, and cut the connection at the same time he did, so it was almost disorienting. It felt odd to be on the grass, covered in wereanimal goop again, and not standing in Richard's driveway--though I was left wondering about tonight, and exactly what he might expect. We hadn't seen each other much lately. Which probably meant he was dating someone seriously, and I had plenty to keep me busy.

Susannah was standing gazing down at the gigantic tiger with a look of awe on her face. She started to drop to her knees and reach out, but Nicky interfered. "Not a good idea; when he wakes up he may not know where he is for a few seconds. You don't want to startle him."

She looked at Nicky, blinking, uncomprehending.

I said, "Think of him as a combat vet; they don't startle awake well."

She nodded, looking serious, because I knew that one of her ex-boyfriends had let his post-traumatic stress disorder ruin their relationship and his life. I'd heard too much about that failed relationship, too, come to think of it. There was a reason that Susannah and I had never gotten together for drinks and girl talk; I didn't want to know more about her love life than I already did.

"That is a damn big cat," Zerbrowski said.

I nodded. Nicky offered me a hand up and I took it, though I was shaking gunk off my hands and scraping it off my clothes again. Jesus, I was going to need another shower. Nicky was almost untouched except for the knee of one pant leg where he'd knelt to check Domino's pulse.

"How come you're clean and I'm covered in it?"

"I was almost two feet farther away," he said.

"Far enough, I guess," I said as I flung the goopy stuff from my hand onto the grass.

Zerbrowski was grinning at me.

"Oh, just say it, before you bust trying to keep it in," I said.

"This has got to be a fetish, it's like clear bukkake."

I gave him a dirty look. "It's thicker, lasts longer, and doesn't break down as quickly." I scraped more of it off my arms and onto the grass.

"Wow," he said, still grinning so hard it looked like he'd hurt himself.

"Do you need help getting him into your SUV?" Manny asked, gazing down at the tiger.

The air flexed, almost like heat over a summer highway, and then the enormous tiger seemed to shrink in upon itself, and Domino's human body appeared like an insect melting out of an ice cube, until the only thing left was him.

"Wow," Susannah said, and she wasn't remarking on the stuff I was scraping off my face. She was looking down at the still-unconscious Domino almost the same way she'd looked at his beast, like it was one of the most beautiful things she'd ever seen, except this time there was good old-fashioned lust mixed in with the nature-admiring awe.

It was a bad sign that he'd shifted back so quickly and been unconscious through both changes; it meant he was very hurt. Nicky and I exchanged a look between us. We were the only ones standing there who knew it was a bad sign. But two of the people with us knew my face well enough to know it was bad.

"He going to be all right?" Zerbrowski asked.

Manny just studied my face and Nicky's.

I nodded. "Eventually."

"He's easier to carry like this," Nicky said, as he knelt down and picked up the unconscious man. Domino's long legs trailed over his arms, but the rest of him was tucked in close to Nicky's chest, the way you'd carry a child.

"You really are as strong as you look," Susannah said.

"Stronger," he said, and turned to me. "We ready to go?"

I nodded. "Yeah, I'm past ready to get out of this cemetery."

Manny helped me pack my bag up and carried it for me so I wouldn't get gunk all over the nice leather

. I carried two of the long guns, and Zerbrowski carried the second shotgun. Eddie told me that he had a call in to the company that ran this and several other cemeteries in the area.

"Hopefully we'll get a contract for the ghouls, before nightfall," he said.

I nodded. "Yeah, we can hope."

Susannah kept looking at Domino, still very nude in Nicky's arms. She'd catch herself staring and then look away, but her gaze kept going back to him. It was a nice sight, but it was still a little rude. I started to tell her to keep her eyes in her head, but then I remembered Domino asking if I'd be all right if he dated Susannah, so I kept my mouth shut. If they dated, she'd be doing more than just looking at him nude. It wasn't my business, really, honestly, it wasn't, so why did her staring at him like it was a peep show bother me so much? That was the question, wasn't it? Damn.

THE THREE OF us that were conscious put on sunglasses against all the morning sunlight. I called Special Agent Manning from the car; let's hear it for Bluetooth actually working. "You want to watch the videos using your ability with the dead, is that what you said?" she asked.

"Didn't you use your expertise with the dead the first time?"

"My expertise, but not my ability."

"Explain the difference to me."

"I looked at the videos like a cop who can raise the dead. Now, I want to watch them with my psychic ability actually active, to see if I can pick up any clues I couldn't see with just my eyes; does that make sense?"

"I'd like to include a second animator for this second viewing, Manny Rodriguez."

"He's the animator who trained you originally; we're familiar with him." She said it like the words meant more, like she'd checked into him in a more than typical way. I let it go with him sitting in the car with me, since I hadn't mentioned that I was making the call on the Bluetooth so that everyone in the car could hear it. I would ask later, though.

"Can he be my second set of eyes on the viewing?"

"No, Marshal Blake, he can't be."

"If I asked why not, would you answer me?"

"You know that he was an intimate of Dominga Salvador, whom you've described as one of the most evil people you've ever met."

It was hard not to look at Manny, but I managed. "I'm aware of Manny's past."

"Then you can understand why we don't want him involved on this case."