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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:18

"I'm not going to apologize for killing the Mother of All Darkness, Magda."

She looked genuinely puzzled. "I would not expect it; you do not apologize for conquering an enemy."

"All right, I'm not going to apologize that my victory cost you a way of life; how's that?"

"Again, I would not expect you to do any such thing. You do not apologize for winning a war."

"You should Google the Vietnam War and see how people can apologize for a war, though I guess we didn't win that one."

"I don't understand."

"Anita is referring to more recent American history, and Vietnamese history. I guess the French and Russians were involved, as well."

"I will look it up on the Internet," she said, and walked farther into the room.

Travis tensed. I turned to him. "If she needs to tone down the big bad energy, you need to man up and stop giving off prey energy."

His pale brown eyes darkened while I looked into them. He wasn't changing into his lion; he was angry, and it turned his eyes darker. I thought the anger was a good sign; it meant there was more fight in him than he was showing.

"I'm trying, don't you think I'm trying?" he said, and his voice was a little deeper, too.

"Just because he is a werelion doesn't mean he is not a lamb, Anita."

"I am not a lamb," Travis said, voice lower still, so that it sounded like he needed a wider chest to make that bass.

Magda ignored him, talking directly to me as if he didn't exist. "You cannot make a lamb into a wolf, Anita. Even if he has the skills to fight, he does not have the will to win."

I actually feared she was right, but I hoped she was wrong.

Travis's anger came off him like heat, and his beast rose with it. My skin prickled with the nearness of it. I looked at him and found dark orange lion eyes looking out of his face.

"Do you have such poor control of your beast, boy?"

The boy stood up, and I did not want to see her beat the shit out of him in front of me, nor did I want to get hurt again today trying to stop it.

"This is not restful," I said.

Travis startled. Magda looked at me.

"I have a limited amount of time to sleep before the FBI calls and I have to leave for work. I haven't slept in about twenty-four hours, so if you guys are going to fight, take it outside and I'll find some other bunkmates."

Magda dropped to one knee but kept her eyes on Travis the way you do in martial arts when you bow before a match. You bow, but your gaze stays on your opponent; otherwise he could kick your ass while you're not looking. The fact that Magda accorded Travis even that much attention either was a good sign for him, or meant that she was just always that cautious.

Travis knelt, too, though he got tangled in his towel, so it wasn't as smooth, but he did it. "I'm sorry, Anita."

"Forgive me, my dark queen," Magda said.

"First, don't call me dark queen. I'll forgive you both if you just stop squabbling and climb into bed, so I can sleep. You guys were not my first choice as a bed duo, and unless you shape up really quickly, you're going to be off my list of ever bunking over with me, for any reason."

Magda bowed her head, her eyes on me, but I knew somehow that she was still very aware of Travis. She was just that cautious; she didn't see him as a real threat. "I am ashamed that I put my own petty grievances ahead of your comfort, my queen."

"Me, too, Anita, I'm sorry."

"Fine, I'll accept the apologies on the understanding that we sleep now, quietly, with no more bickering." I lay down and slipped under the covers, hoping that would speed things along. I couldn't lie on my left side, so I had to lie with my back to the door. I couldn't do it. I sat up in the bed, and tried to think if either of the other two rooms had a bed that was oriented the other way. I didn't think so.

"Allow me to lie in front of you so that I block anyone who might come through the door to harm you," Magda said, and slipped her blue pajama top over her head to expose a pale but very fit upper body with high, full breasts, and just below those very nice breasts was a scar that traced below them like an angry red scythe, with a straight line running down from one end of the crescent to vanish below her waistband, as if someone had cut a proverbial death scythe on her body. The fact that it was red meant it was recent, and since she should have been able to heal almost anything, it shouldn't have been there. She could have had it as an old white scar, but not fresh. Muscles moved in her arms, chest, and stomach as she moved toward the bed. Her body was lean and athletic the way that J.J.'s was, though genetics had let her keep more breast, but other than that she reminded me of the ballet dancer who I enjoyed so much.

"You get front," Travis said, "because if it's a real fight all I can do right now is help delay them while you keep Anita safe." He let the towel fall to the floor and climbed onto the bed, totally unbothered by the fact that he was now nude as he clambered over my legs to get to the wall side of the bed.

"The fact that you understand your limitations is the beginning of wisdom," Magda said, as she slid out of her pajama bottoms. She was even leaner below, as if whatever trick of genetics had let her keep more breast hadn't left room for much of a swell of hips, so they were very narrow, and her legs very long. She even moved more like a man than most women I knew, though I'd seen female martial artists who could take the sway out of their hips when they were fighting, or getting ready to fight. I wondered if it was her natural walk or just centuries of practice. I wondered how she'd gotten the big scar, and when.

I finally settled on my right side, snuggling up against Travis, with Magda wrapped around me from behind. Her arms were so long that she was really wrapped around both of us. Neither she nor Travis seemed to have any problem with her arm going across him and using his body to pull me tighter into the curve of hers. I had a moment of discomfort when her breasts pressed around my shoulders. I'd never slept this close to another woman with that much breast. I wasn't sure why it bothered me, but it did. If I could have slept on my other shoulder, I could have gone to sleep, and by the time I had to deal with someone else's breasts I'd have had hours of getting used to it before I noticed. Now, I was noticing.

"You are tense," she said.

"I don't like my back to the door," and that was part of it.

"If we get up I will remake the bed in moments and you can face the other way."

I felt stupid for not thinking of it, but that was what we did. Travis helped her remake the bed with the covers tucked under the opposite side and the pillows moved down. The bed had no footboard or headboard, so it worked fine. This time Travis cuddled me from behind and I was way more comfortable feeling his guy parts against my ass than I had been with Magda's breasts. I know, it's weird, but it was still how I felt.

I wrapped my arm around her waist, and because of the height difference my face was about midback to her once our hips were spooning as solidly as I was with Travis. He threw his arm across mine so he snuggled Magda, too. Again, neither one complained.

I thought it wouldn't work, that I'd lie awake and be all weird because I'd never slept with either of them before, but exhaustion makes strange bedfellows. I fell asleep to the sound of Travis's soft breathing, and I knew he was asleep. Magda wasn't, though her body was still and comfortable as if she were pretending to sleep, or just letting me sleep. Somehow I knew she'd stay awake, or at least alert. I might not like her, and she couldn't stop someone from coming through the door, that was the job of the guards outside, but I was betting good money that nothing would get to me until she had given her life to try and prevent it. You don't have to like someone to know that they'll lay down their life for you. You don't even have to like someone to do it for them. You just know what your duty is, and how much you're willing to sacrifice to do that duty. Magda had already lost one queen on her watch; I was betting my life she wouldn't want to lose another one.

I slept, and I dreamt of a gray sky with golden clouds that looked like puffy lions, and bears,

and all sorts of animals. The sky turned blue, the sun was warm, and there was the sound of an ocean on a beach just out of sight, over the hill. I walked toward that sound all night but could never find the sea.

THERE WAS MUSIC playing; it climbed into my dream and pulled me out. I came to with a vague memory of water and a boat, and zombies juggling kittens that slashed and clawed through the air. I woke, but snuggled down between the two men and tried to ignore the music. The music finally stopped, and I started to drift back to sleep, so warm in the darkened room. I snuggled against the man in front of me, putting my face against his bare back, and didn't know the smell of his skin.

My eyes opened, my body tensed, and I tried not to panic. I'd been asleep long enough that Magda and Travis had had to go do something else. I'd been through this before when I was injured, or exhausted, and slept so long that I needed shift changes for my bed buddies, but logic had nothing to do with it. The warm press of the two men, sandwiching me in the dim room, in the nest of sheets and bodies that had been so comforting a second before, now felt like I was trapped and couldn't move.

The music sounded again, and I realized it was my phone ringing. I didn't remember bringing my phone with me, so someone had put my stuff in here for me. People were taking care of me, so why was my stomach tight and all I wanted to do was fight my way free of covers and bodies and grab the phone? I started trying to sit up and realized I was lying on my left arm, which meant I was at least partially healed. I was also trapped under the covers because they were tangled around me and the men somehow.

The man in front propped up on his elbow and reached a long arm out from the bed. He was very dark-skinned, black in the room, though I wasn't sure if that was true color or just the very dim lighting. He came back with my phone in hand, and I still didn't recognize the short, almost shaved black hair and long, very tall body. I could feel that the man behind me was shorter and more delicate than the one in front of me, but I hadn't even bothered to look. I knew by just lying there that it wasn't anyone I was that familiar with . . . no one I had slept and woken up with.

I took the phone and finally recognized the glimpse of face of the tall man. It was Seamus, werehyena to call for the Harlequin Jane. I hit the button and said, "Yes, I'm here."