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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:14

MANNY THANKED ME for trying to include him in the investigation. "De nada, Manny, you'd be a lot more help than Larry will."

"You know that I did things when I was with Dominga that I would undo if I could."

"I'm just glad that Rosita found me and made me leave all that behind before the Senora talked me into having a child with her."

"What?" I asked, and glanced away from the road long enough to stare at him.

"Red light, Anita," Nicky said.

I had to brake hard not to run the light. "Okay, explain that last comment, Manny."

"The Senora wanted us to have a child together; she hoped it would be even more powerful than we were, or than she was; she made no bones about the fact that I was strong, but not as strong as she. One of the reasons you intrigued her was that she sensed a power that could rival hers."

"Yeah, she made it clear that her interest in me was strictly magical, in that 'join me in my evil plot to take over the world' kind of way."

"She didn't want to take over the world, Anita. She just wanted your help to find ways to make a profit from raising zombies. She enjoyed that people were afraid of her, but she was a very practical woman, the Senora, and she thought you could help her find new ways to expand the business."

"Like sex slave zombies; I remember, Manny." I shuddered, which made passing cars in traffic a little challenging, but I managed.

"She saw you as a way to forge a dynasty of undead."

"What does that even mean?" I asked.

"She wanted you to have a baby with her nephew."

"The one you described as not right?"

"No, not Artie, his brother, Max. He was always a polite boy, good student, a gentleman to his brother's bad boy."

"Artie and Max; Arturo and what?"

"That's a new one to me."

"You have the Latino genetics, but not the culture. It's actually a fairly popular name right now."

"Not so much," he said, smiling.

"So if I had agreed to work with her she'd have tried to set me up with her nephew?"

I shook my head. "It's just weird to think that she wanted me to breed with her family."

"Why is it weird?" Nicky asked.

I glanced in the rearview mirror. "It just is."

"It's how we breed a good working horse, or hunting dog."

"I'm not a horse, or a dog," I said.

"Yeah, but it's still the same principle, Anita. Most of the horses that have won the Triple Crown are from bloodlines that have other champions in their pedigree. We don't like to admit that people are just smart animals, but you see the star athlete marry the athletic cheerleader or gymnast, and most of their kids are great at sports, because it's in their genes. Why can't necromancy be the same?"

"I didn't say it couldn't work, Nicky, I said it was creepy."

"You said it was weird that she wanted you to breed with her family, but it's actually really logical if you want to get some uber-necromancer out of it."

I glanced back at the next light and found his face calm, peaceful, because it was all about logic. I'm not saying all sociopaths are logical, but not having to deal with many emotions seemed to help Nicky be very clear about things that bothered me more.

"I wonder if having a vampire father would help your child be a more powerful necromancer?" Manny asked.

"Don't you start," I said.

"I think it'll be about Jean-Claude's original human genetics, so it shouldn't matter to Anita's magic," Nicky said.

"I'm not planning to have a baby with Jean-Claude, we're just getting married."

"You don't want children, ever?" Nicky asked.

"I know you think it wouldn't work with your job."

"It wouldn't," I said.

"But you're actually not having sex with anyone who's psychically gifted. We're all just vamps, or shapeshifters, but the preternatural stuff isn't native gifts; it's add-on parts."

"Why are we having this discussion again?" I asked.

"Because I said Dominga wanted you to breed with her nephew."

I glared at Manny. "All right, I know what started it, but I'm just saying, I'm done with this conversation."

"Tell me to stop talking about it, and I have to do what you say," Nicky said.

I glared at him in the rearview mirror. He knew that I didn't like telling him not to talk about things, because once I did he actually couldn't bring the topic back up unless I told him it was okay, and I kept forgetting what I'd told him to drop as a topic. Nathaniel and Cynric had actually come to me with a list of things that Nicky couldn't discuss with me, because of offhand comments during everyday conversations. Do you know how many times a person tells someone to drop something, or don't talk about it anymore? A lot, right? Now imagine that the person you said that to could never, ever bring the topic up again. I'd started being very careful about using certain phrases around Nicky.

"Damn you, you know I won't."

He smiled at me, so pleased with himself that I could see his eyes crinkle even around the sunglasses and the long triangular fall of his hair. "Your dad is blue-eyed and blond, right?"

"Yeah." I said it all suspicious-like.

"Then you carry the gene for both, so if you pick someone who's blond and blue-eyed on both sides of their family you might end up with a baby that is, too."

He shook his head. "My mother is a diagnosed psychopath, and I'm a diagnosed sociopath; I don't think my genetics is what you want to mix with yours. I'm just saying, you could pick and choose some of it, because of how many men you have in your life; that's all."

"Why, because you agree that babies would be a bad idea with me, or that my family tree is such shit?"

"That your mother was an evil bitch, I think."

He smiled. "It's a shame that Jean-Claude doesn't have parents to be your in-laws."

The change of topics was too fast for me. "What? Why?"

"You'd be a blunt hell on wheels as a daughter-in-law."

Manny gave a loud, surprised laugh. "Oh my God, she would be! She so would be!"

"Micah's parents like me," I said.

Nicky and Manny were laughing so hard I don't think they heard me. Nicky finally managed to say, "Ye

ah, but you did save his father's life, and the whole damn city, maybe the country, from being overrun by killer zombies."

"Oh," Manny said, "no other daughter-in-law, or son-in-law for that matter, can ever compete with that. 'What does your wife do? Oh, she saved the world from murderous zombies; what does your spouse do?'" They started laughing again, and I just gave up and let them have it. Ending the night with laughter was better than the alternatives. Domino was still passed out in the very back of the SUV. The doctor on call would meet us at the Circus of the Damned. I let the men laugh at my expense, because laughter was so much better than tears.

WE GOT TO the Circus of the Damned with the light still soft and yellow, letting you know from the color and feel of it just how early it was. We'd caught the beginnings of rush hour traffic after we dropped Manny at his car in front of Animators Inc. and headed north on 270, but you could make it from Olive/270 to the Circus in record time this early. The air was still soft, and the white yellow that lets you know that kids aren't in class yet, and people are still rushing for coffee and breakfast but not quite at their desks. I used to hate this time of day, because it meant I'd worked far too many hours the night before and it made me grumpy, but when death had come so close the light was a victory. We'd survived the night. After a night when I wasn't sure everyone would survive, morning did not suck, and dawn was a blessing.

I had a key to the back door of the Circus, but I didn't have to use it today. The door opened and a medical team dressed in street clothes came to swarm around Nicky. They checked Domino, but they didn't immediately take the unconscious man from his arms. I'd learned that doctors are very hesitant to move people until they know that moving them won't make things worse. They were dressed in street clothes because we just assumed we were under surveillance from somebody; whether it was a rival group, cops, or government, it was just better to be cautious. Having a full medical team come swarming out might start to look even more suspicious than carrying an unconscious nude man inside. We could at least explain that part as a lycanthrope doing the typical pass-out when they first hit human form after hours of being furry. Most of the people in my inner circle didn't pass out like that, but strangely, Domino did, which meant he was less powerful than most of my inner circle; maybe that was why he'd almost died from the beating.