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

"You sound like you were asleep, Blake," Special Agent Manning said.

I snuggled back down on my left side, burying my face against Seamus's back. The smaller man in back snuggled in against me, too. I stopped worrying that I didn't know who it was and just let it feel comforting. "I had to work all night, so yeah I was asleep, sorry."

"You raised the dead all night?"

"Something like that, yeah. What's up?"

"You do remember that you requested to view the videos again?"

"By the time you get dressed and down here we should be ready for you."

"Ready for me? I just walk in and your partner does his computer magic and we watch the videos; just this time I use my psychic abilities to look for clues."

"The home office wanted another pair of eyes to help you look for clues."

"What does that mean?"

"We're flying another agent in to view the videos with you and Marshal Kirkland, remember?"

I'd forgotten all of it; it made my shoulders tighten and took some of the comfy out of my nest of bodies and covers. "Fine, I know not to argue with the home office."

"Can the sarcasm, Blake; just because you ride around like the Lone fucking Ranger doesn't mean the rest of us don't have superiors riding our ass. Working with you makes all the upper-management types nervous. I wonder why that would be?"

"I think that was sarcasm."

"I think you're right." She sounded unhappy, and I didn't think it was just at me.

"I know the upper muckety-mucks don't like me at the bureau. They think I'm a pain in the ass and don't follow orders well."

"Prove them wrong," she said.

"I can't, because I'm a pain in the ass, and I don't follow orders well."

She gave a small laugh then, and finally said, "Shit."

"What'd I do now?" I asked.

"Not you, the plane is delayed. Take your time, Blake, you've got two extra hours before the bird lands and we get our extra agent on the ground."

"Good to know, maybe I can eat something."

"You know what's on the videos; like I said last time, eating first would probably be a good idea." She hung up without saying good-bye.

THE MAN BEHIND me snuggled down so that his nose was buried against my back, but I knew from where the rest of his body was that it wasn't because he was that much shorter than me. He was just burying himself under the covers.

"Are the FBI always so abrupt on the phone?" the man asked.

I froze, because I did know that voice.

"Now you're all tense, Anita, why would that be?"

I turned over and actually had to pull the sheet up and off him to see Narcissus's face. He was smiling up at me, but it didn't reach his eyes. They were dark and glittering. He was holding a tight rein on it, but he was angry. I couldn't blame him after what Asher and Kane had done, but I also couldn't figure out what he was doing bunking over at the Circus. He rarely, if ever, left his club and home, Narcissus in Chains.

He rose on one elbow, still smiling at me. His short black hair was tousled from sleep, but I could admit that the slender triangular face was pretty. Remnants of black eyeliner had smeared around his large, brown eyes, as if he'd been crying, though I knew it was just from sleeping with eyeliner and mascara still on. Maybe he never took his eye makeup off, but I was betting he'd rushed to be here. He usually slept the day away and worked nights, just like me.

"You look like you've seen a ghost, dearie," he said, and there was a bitterness in his words to match the harshness in his eyes.

I swallowed hard, and finally managed to say, "I just didn't expect you to be here, Narcissus. The Oba of the hyena clan doesn't make house calls."

"We're supposed to work together, aren't we?" He scooted higher up in the bed, so that we were both lying there propped up on our elbows, and looking into each other's faces from inches away. It was too intimate for me with him, so I started to sit up.

He grabbed my arm, not hard, it didn't hurt, but I didn't like it. "If I say don't touch me, then you say, but I touched so much more of you while we slept. That about how it's going to go?"

He smiled, but again his eyes stayed glitteringly cold, or hot, but it was anger-hot, not sex, not anything positive. His hand on my arm was gentle, as if I could have jerked away easily. I didn't try, because if he fought me for it . . . it wasn't worth it, yet. Just by his being here I knew that Jean-Claude had done his best to fix the mess that Asher had made of things with the local hyenas. I was pretty sure that Narcissus helping to heal me like this was part of some compromise that kept Narcissus from declaring war, or demanding Asher's head on a pike, or just killing Kane--who was just one of his lower-level hyenas, and that meant in hyena society he lived or died at the whim of his king, his Oba, Narcissus.

"Yes, that's about how it would go," he said.

"Let's skip it, then," I said.

"I have to get dressed and go play cops and robbers."

"Leave us, Seamus," he said.

Seamus got out of bed. I turned so I could see him; he was well over six feet so I didn't have to turn my head that much. "I'm not sure us alone is a good idea."

Seamus hesitated, standing there looking down at both of us.

Heat and energy rose off Narcissus, as if I'd opened the door of an oven set to broil. I looked down at his hand and it almost burned against my skin. God, he was so powerful. I'd known that, felt it before, but not in a long time, and not like this.

"Either I am your king, or I am not!" He spat the words out. "If I am not, then stay, but if I am--get the fuck out of here!"

dropped to one knee, head bowed, but eyes up the way Magda had been earlier. "You are my king."

"But that bitch vampire, Jane, calls to the hyenas, all of them, like some fucking siren." His hand was tighter on my arm now. His beast rose like nearly visible flame around him. It called to the newest beast inside me. I'd been so careful to stay away from the hyenas up to now, so careful. Most of my animals to call had all been accidental, whoever was nearest me at the time that I had some major power-up metaphysically. I hadn't wanted to tie myself to any more people, and Jean-Claude had urged me to think carefully before I chose someone for political and personal reasons, since the animals to call could become part of our poly group.

Narcissus looked at me, a low animal noise sliding out of his thin, well-shaped mouth. He usually wore lipstick to make his lips fuller and pouty. Now they were just pink and I could trace the line of them. I realized two things: First, someone had turned on the light in the room so I could see the paleness of his skin, the deep brown of his eyes, and the pink of his natural lip color; second, I'd tried to move my hand to touch his mouth and trace the line of it.

He still had my arm, so I couldn't reach him, but my hand was raised trying to touch his face. We looked at each other.

"Get out," Narcissus said, and neither of us looked as Seamus went for the door, but someone else was in the room now. I could feel them, and Narcissus just had to raise his gaze and see them.

"All of you, get out!"

"I am not one of your hyenas, and you don't sign my paycheck." It was Dino. If I hadn't been inches from the most powerful wereanimal in the room, I'd have turned and looked for the big guy. I wondered how Seamus had even moved past him with both of them being so big, like two trucks getting stuck in a tunnel.

I almost smiled at my own joke, but staring into Narcissus's face, feeling his hand grip my arm ever tighter, I didn't think he'd get the joke. I was having trouble breathing this close to all that energy. He was heat, and sun, and . . . I smelled that dry grass, burned under the sun that I smelled when my lion came to me. I smelled the native land, or territory, of my beasts; I knew that, and I knew that hyenas and lions shared the same landscape, but it jarred me to smell the same land. It called my lion awake, as if the hyena smelled like home.