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

Narcissus jerked me those last few inches closer, so that he snarled in my face. "It's not your lion I've come to see."

I felt Dino loom up above the bed, before Narcissus's gaze rolled upward. "Be very careful what you do next, rat." His voice was low, growling, but very calm, each word enunciated carefully. I knew why he was controlling his voice so tightly, because if he lost control of even that much he wasn't sure what else he'd lose control of. I'd had moments like that, usually when I had a gun pointed at someone.

"Back off, Dino," I said, keeping my voice low and even. I stared into Narcissus's eyes from inches away, bathing in the heat of his beast, his grip almost painful on my arm. He wanted to lash out at someone, so badly.

"I don't think that's a good idea, Anita."

"I didn't ask your opinion; I gave you an order," I said, looking only at Narcissus. My hyena was awake and looked at him but didn't try to come closer. She was much more cautious than most of my beasts when they smelled a potential mate.

"Get out, Dino. Send someone in here who won't make things worse."

Narcissus looked at the big man. "You heard your mistress, and she does sign your paycheck." His words were calmer, some of the horrible tension easing.

In my head I thought, well technically I didn't sign the paychecks, but I decided not to quibble since things were improving. Dino did what we told him to do, and we were suddenly alone just inches from each other, naked, with his power spreading over me like a warm bath that was just this side of too hot.

"Thank you for helping to heal me," I said, voice still low and calm, as if I were afraid of spooking him.

He frowned, his eyes losing some of that angry edge. "You're welcome, but aren't you going to ask why Jean-Claude sent me in to sleep with you?" His voice was growing calmer, and his energy was easing down, more like a bath you'd enjoy relaxing in, and not one that would boil your flesh from your bones. He had so much power to offer, which was why he was Oba of the clan, and why the other leaders tolerated his ultimatums. They all respected power.

"To help heal me," I said, almost whispering.

"I am tired of games, Anita. Do you know what has happened, or don't you?"

"Do you mean the dickwad stupidity that Asher pulled with Kane?"

He gave the tiniest smile. "Dickwad, I haven't heard that since junior high."

"Would you prefer jackass, idiot, fucking bastard, asshole? Stop me when I get to an insult you like, I've got a million of them."

He smiled a little more. "Well, I do like assholes."

That made me smile. "So I'm told."

The energy eased down a little bit more, and he stopped squeezing my arm so tight. "I have called Asher every name I can think of today."

"How'd he take that?"

"I don't know, I haven't seen him yet."

"You mean you've cursed him in absentia?" I asked.

He smiled. "I like that, yes, I've cursed him in absentia. I was afraid of what I'd do to him if I saw him." He let go of my arm and just lay down on his side of the bed. I did the same so we lay on our sides, facing each other, but not touching.

"I told Kane you'd want to kill them both."

"I heard you spoke with him." He laughed, but it left his eyes bleak and starting to fill with anger again. "I heard you fed on him and left him on the floor to twitch, after threatening to make him your hyena to call and break his tie with Asher forever."

"I was pretty angry myself when he told me what they'd done."

"Would you really tie yourself to Kane for all eternity?"

"Nah, I don't do stupid, and he had to be stupid to not understand what it could mean for him to be Asher's animal to call."

"I am within my rights to kill him." His face was calm when he said it, his eyes looking down the bed as if he were thinking.

"If you'd seen him, or Asher, when you first found out, you might have."

He looked at me then, the anger flaring back. "His life is mine if I so will it."

"It is, but part of the reason you're in here with me is that you didn't kill him, or Asher."

He laughed then, a real laugh, and hugged me. "He is so stupid; how can I love someone who is this fucking stupid?"

I hugged him back and answered with my face in the bend of his neck. "I don't know, but Jean-Claude loves him, too, and so do I, or so did I."

He drew back enough to look into my face. "You don't love Asher anymore?"

"I don't think I do anymore."

"Teach me how to stop loving him."

"He's teaching you, just like he taught me, and Nathaniel. We love how he tops us in the bedroom and dungeon, but . . ."

Narcissus shivered happily. "He does have a talent for sex and pain." His eyes were a little unfocused when he said it, and that reaction was one of the reasons he put up with Asher.

"But," I said, "he's also teaching all of us that he values other people more than us, and after a while if you have any self-respect you finally get tired of the shit and start to move on."

"You have more people to move on with," he said.

"You slept with, or topped, almost all your werehyenas--once. You had built yourself a harem of hundreds."

"That was before Chimera took us over and I learned the difference between muscle men and real fighters. I fixed it by finding other men who were the real deal so that no one could ever hurt us like that again." His eyes looked haunted, and angry, and things I couldn't understand. He'd been captured and used as a hostage to get the rest of the werehyenas to do what Chimera wanted. I still remembered the torture room where he'd hung some of the werehyenas after he cut limbs off them, because they'd grow a new one eventually, so he'd made a forest of them to hang from the ceiling of the room. I'd hidden in the dark among the bleeding and the few that hadn't survived the torture.

Narcissus touched my face, brought me out of my memories and looking at him again. "I don't think I ever thanked you for killing him and saving my hyenas from that evil piece of shit."

I smiled, but I knew my eyes were still as haunted as his. I took his hand from my face and held it over the covers like we were five and one of us had had a bad dream. "It was my pleasure to put him out of his misery."

"You know that I enjoyed what he did to me at first."

"I know you are a serious pain slut."

He grinned. "Yes, yes I am." His eyes went bleak again. "He didn't like how much pain I could enjoy, because that meant he wasn't really hurting me. He wanted to hurt me, wanted to find things that even I didn't enjoy. He was an almost pure sadist; causing pain was his aphrodisiac. Until Chimera I thought I enjoyed causing pain, but I have limits that I don't want to cross outside of fantasy. I don't want to destroy my lovers until they are useless and broken, but that was exactly what Chimera wanted."

I squeezed his hand. "But he didn't break you; you're still here, still Oba of the clan, and he's dead."

He smiled, but his eyes stayed sad. "He didn't break me, but he put a few new cracks in where I thought I was safe."

"I'm sorry, Narcissus."

"What are you sorry about?"

"That I didn't kill him sooner."

He smiled. "I am grateful, but not grateful enough to let this insult go."

"You can't let it go; it makes you look weak in front of your hyenas."

"You understand," he said, studying my face.

"Hyenas and lions are both very much about the strongest, most powerful wins, more even than most wereanimal groups."

"Yes," he said, softly, but not like it made him happy.

I looked at this delicate-seeming man and knew there was more to him physically than I had ever seen, because he had fought his way to the top of one of the most violent animal groups. Hyena society wasn't for sissies, but that was exactly what Narcissus was; he was as likely to wear a nice evening dress to his club as a well-tailored suit. He usually wore more eye makeup than I did, and he was cheerfully gay, but he was still Oba,

still king. It had hurt my head a little the first time I'd met him.

"I demanded Asher's head, and when Jean-Claude said no, I said I'd kill Kane and if the death of Asher's animal to call killed him, too, so be it."

"Jean-Claude talked you out of it."

"He did, now ask me how, or rather what he said to me that made me willing to spare the two idiots."

"I think I can ballpark it. He offered you a closer connection to the throne."

"Yes." He looked surprised. "I didn't expect you to be this calm about it."

I frowned a little. "Okay, I thought you sleeping in here was part of it, I mean literally closer to me, to him, but now I think you should just tell me. I feel like I'm missing something."

"You have no hyena to call, yet. There is no more fitting match for a queen than a king."

I frowned harder. "Last I talked to you, you told me to stay away from your hyenas because I'm a girl and hyenas are instinctively matriarchal. You were worried I'd take over your clan."

"I've had to let women in just to keep all the new straights happy." He rolled his eyes.

"So you've got women in the clan now, but you're still king."

"I'm not just king, I'm truly queen, and apparently I'm girl enough for everyone's inner beast."

Narcissus looked like a man, but apparently he had girl parts, too. In fact, both functioned well enough that he'd gotten pregnant from Chimera raping him. He'd lost the baby and I couldn't say I was sorry for that; Chimera did not need to breed more monsters like him, and Narcissus hadn't seemed the most stable cookie in the box, but I knew that Narcissus had wanted the baby.

"So, since you're woman enough, you've decided I'm not such a threat?"

"That, and Seamus's mistress Jane."

"You described her as a siren to Seamus just now."