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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:19

"And that would be another reason you and I aren't buddies."

"And you have a reputation for being a ruthless murdering bitch, which I didn't see as a problem, but you were a woman and metaphysically powerful. I did not want you near my hyenas."

"You thought I'd take them over," I said.

"If I feed the ardeur on you, I'll feed off every werehyena that is tied to you metaphysically. Are you sure you really want to do that?"

"No, but I've seen you with Rafael's wererats. They feel more and more loyalty to you, but they still feel more to him. You have not stolen them away from him. You work with him, and he grows in power because of it."

"Rat isn't one of my inner beasts; hyena is."

"You think that will make a difference?" he asked.

"I'm saying it might. I just don't know for sure, and I don't want you to pop this cork and then find out the champagne costs you more than you'd planned on paying."

He smiled up at me. "I like the metaphor, but I don't really like champagne, or dry wine. I like sweet things, not bitter."

"I don't like dry wine or champagne either. Hell, I don't really like most wine. I drink it because Jean-Claude can taste it through me, and he misses good wine."

"So you blamed me for Chimera making Nathaniel suffer."

"And I avoided you, because I feared you'd do what the Harlequin bitch is trying to do."

"I didn't know that Jane was giving you a problem. You should have come to us and said something."

"Come to you and Jean-Claude and admit I wasn't king enough to handle one master vampire that could call hyena? No, so no. Kings do not go before kings from a position of weakness, Anita, not if they want to remain king."

"Then don't let Asher's stupidity make you do something you'll regret," I said.

"I'm not here out of a position of weakness, Anita. I'm here because the wolves and the leopards, and the lions, and the rats, and all of you motherfuckers haven't yet got enough new soldiers to be certain of defeating me."

I fought to keep my face blank but knew my pulse rate and breathing had probably betrayed me to him.

"Did you all think I would be oblivious to what you were doing, or why?" He sat up and snarled in my face, "I am Oba of my clan! I am not so besotted with Asher that I have ceased to watch all the rest of you bastards." His hyena flowed over him like heat and spilled over my skin. The power of it caught my breath.

He leaned in closer. "Tell me honestly, Anita, if you felt this much power from anyone else, wouldn't you have been in their bed by now?"

"You in my bed, maybe, but you like boys, and I'm not one."

"The ardeur can take a person's preference away and just make them want you, or Jean-Claude. You know that."

"Yeah, but if you use it to force someone to have sex with someone they don't want to have sex with, then it's rape, and neither of us is into that."

The heat of his beast was just gone, like a candle blown out. He lay back on the bed in the nest of sheets and just stared at me. He looked astonished. "You believe that; you really do."

"Yes, I really do. Why does that surprise you this much?"

"Asher has told me what Jean-Claude and he did at Belle Morte's court. Rape was one of her things, and Asher misses some of it."

"Jean-Claude doesn't," I said.

"Ask him, you're powerful enough, you'll be able to tell if he's lying." We looked at each other and there was just no sexual tension between us. I said, out loud, "This, this is why I never hunted you up for sex."

He frowned. "What is this?" He made a vague hand gesture.

"Neither of us is really attracted to the other. We are so not each other's type."

The look on his face was beyond cynicism, beyond jaded. He still looked young and just-woke-up handsome, but he also looked world weary, as if he'd seen everything, done everything, and I was being naive.

"Anita, oh, Anita, you make me feel old."

"I'm either older than you or about the same age."

"In years, maybe, but in experience . . ." He just shook his head.

"I've probably seen as much bad stuff as you have. I'm a cop, remember."

"But somehow emotionally you aren't like most of them. There is a freshness to how you view love and sex that is quite . . ." He sighed, shook his head, and finally said, "Sobering, as if there's no way to play with you. You taste of commitment and promises you intend to keep."

I shrugged. "I try to keep my promises. I think everyone should."

He smiled, but it left his eyes cynical and guarded. "I am a lying bastard if it suits my goals."

"Don't lie to me, or Jean-Claude, or anyone I care about."

I just looked at him.

"That look, so absolutely serious."

"Serious as a heart attack," I said.

He smiled, blinking so that I couldn't see what he was thinking. His brown eyes smiled up at me when he opened them, matching the smile. "Are you ready to play 'you show me yours, and I'll show you mine'?"

I don't know what I would have said, because the door opened and Jean-Claude came through the door wearing a blue robe, almost as dark a blue as his eyes. "Ma petite, Narcissus, I see that you haven't come to blows yet; that is better than I had feared."

"Oh, I don't enjoy hitting girls, but boys, I'm always up for hitting bad little boys," he said, rolling over on his back and looking more lascivious than he had the whole time we'd been alone. "Do you want to be my bad little boy again, Jean-Claude?"

"Cut the shit, Narcissus," I said. "You were actually behaving like a reasonable human being until Jean-Claude stepped into the room. Don't go back to being all creepy-sexy."

He aimed that sexy, predatory smile at me. "You think I'm sexy? Really?" He writhed under the covers, stretching his body like a cat, except cats weren't self-aware. Cats weren't trying to draw your gaze to their groin, wiggling their hips as if they should have been onstage at Guilty Pleasures.

"I've never said you did not move well, Narcissus," Jean-Claude said as he came to take my hand and look down at the man in the bed.

"And yet you don't want to play with me anymore," Narcissus said, pretending to pout.

"I do not enjoy your idea of play, Narcissus."

"You got here just in time for a little 'show me yours and I'll show you mine,'" Narcissus said. "Of course, you've seen mine, and I've seen yours. It's only Anita and I who need a show-and-tell, isn't it, ma petite?"

"Never, ever, call me that again. Only Jean-Claude gets to call me that."

"Oooh, we get pet names special just to us; I like it."

I sighed. "There was someone in this bed I could actually talk to, and then Jean-Claude comes into the room and you go back to being a caricature, hiding behind the flirting and the irritating shit. Why?"

"Why what?" he asked, but he stopped wriggling under the covers and looked at me.

"Why do you put on a show when he comes into the room?"

He blinked and I knew now that meant he was hiding whatever was in his eyes. "I don't know what you mean, darling."

I let it go, because either he didn't want to address it, or even he didn't know why he acted weird around Jean-Claude. "Fine, just get this over with, I have to go meet the FBI soon. And don't call me darling."

Narcissus looked up at me, but his eyes slid to one side and looked at Jean-Claude as he said, "But if it's a show you want, pumpkin, I can give you a show."

"Don't call me pumpkin."

"Well, if you insist, snickerdoodle."

I put my head against Jean-Claude's shoulder. The robe was satin, which meant it was soft and cuddly, and he was in the robe, which made it even cuddlier. He wrapped his arms around me, and I sank in against his body, letting him hold me, letting go of all of it for a minute.

"I hate you both, just a little, right now."

We broke apart enough to loo

k at him, but stayed in each other's arms. "Why do you hate us, mon ami?"

"I thought I had someone to hold me, and I woke up this morning to find that it had all been a lie. I'm going to hate any happy lovers for a while."

"We all woke to find one of our lovers had betrayed our trust," Jean-Claude said.

"But you have other lovers, Jean-Claude; I do not."

"Bullshit," I said. "You are not monogamous any more than we are."

"True, I have other lovers, and other play partners, but none of them are putting a ring on my finger. Asher was going to do that."

We both stared at him. "He promised to marry you?" I asked.

He stared up at us with those big brown eyes, with the black tears of his smeared eyeliner framing them. The white sheets had swirled around his upper body like rumpled wings fallen to earth. If angels could have mornings after full of regret, they might look like that.

Of course, angels probably didn't cry black tears; that would probably be the other guys, if either angels or demons cried physical tears. If the real angel I'd seen cried anything, it would have been tears of fire. I guess the demon might have cried physical tears, but I'd been too busy quoting Bible verses at him to ask.

"Oh, mon ami, I am so sorry."

"Don't pity me, Jean-Claude, help me make him sorry."

"What would you have of us?"

"You talked me out of killing either of them. I wouldn't miss Kane."

"But Asher would not let his death stand, and we would miss him," Jean-Claude said.

"Eventually," Narcissus said.

Jean-Claude wisely let that go. "You do not wish to tie yourself to us for the sake of revenge, Narcissus."

"I would tie myself to you, Jean-Claude, but you don't want to play 'tie me up, tie me down' anymore."

Narcissus looked at me. "Asher says you like rough trade, snickerdoodle, do you want to come play?"

"Don't call me that, and I've heard your idea of rough trade and I don't play that rough."

"Asher says you do, snookums."

I just looked at him, all irritating and disheveled in the bed. "Don't call me that, either. I'm pretty sure you and I wouldn't match any better in the dungeon than we do in the bedroom."

"Maybe, or maybe we could both learn a few new tricks, cupcake." He sounded tired as he said it, so the teasing was softened.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. "Okay, angel, show me a new trick."

"A fallen one, maybe," I said.

He smiled, sudden and happy. "Say it."

"Your nickname for me."

"Angel?" I made it a question.