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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:21

"Do we, Gillingham? I mean, did I pass your little psychic test?"

She smiled and nodded, looking fresh and happy, as if she hadn't been watching the same films. Larry had come back in, looking green around the edges. Gillingham might look like a lamb, but there was something a lot scarier in there, or at least a lot stronger than she looked.

"Now we wait," Brent said.

"Is there anything else we can do?" I asked.

"We have a file of stills for the man in the corner."

"Anything useful?" I asked.

"He has a tattoo on his left lower arm. It shows in two videos where his sleeves are uncuffed and rolled back enough for us to glimpse it."

"What is it a tattoo of?" I asked.

"Bring up the pictures, Brent. Maybe you can tell us."

Brent did his magic with the keyboard and two images showed side by side. It was faded and that bluish ink that some tattoos seem to fade into after a few years. We had one image of a smeared circle and another with a line through the circle. Larry and I both turned our heads trying to decipher it.

"I have no idea what that is," Larry said, at last.

"There's a birthmark with a mole near it on one of the main leading men in the films, but other than that, no distinguishing marks," Manning said.

"That's not a lot to go on," I said.

"The corner man is dark complected. He could be Hispanic," Manning said.

"Or Greek, or southern Italian, or part Indian of either ethnic group," Brent said.

"The report is as helpful as they can make it from the information we have," she said. She seemed to feel like she needed to defend the FBI to us, or maybe she wasn't happy with them either.

"It looks like I'm going to be here until after the live feed, at least," Gillingham said. "So what do you do for fun in this town?" She gave me a look out of those brown eyes that didn't match the conservative clothes at all.

"I go home to spend time with my fiance," I said.

Her lower lip did a slight pout that I was betting would have been more pronounced if she hadn't been surrounded by other FBI agents.

"And boyfriends," I said.

She raised eyebrows at me. "Fiance, boyfriends, and girlfriend, if the rumors are true?" She smiled.

"Yeah, the rumors are true," I said.

Her smile brightened. "Sounds like fun."

I laughed. "I'm going home now; everybody be good while I'm gone."

Manning was watching me and Gillingham with narrowed eyes as I went for the door. Larry was telling her how great the St. Louis Zoo was, and the Arch was a great view. I agreed about the zoo, but I was pretty sure that wasn't the kind of wildlife Gillingham was wanting to see. I kept walking and didn't look back. I had all the fun I could stand, and then some, waiting for me at the Circus of the Damned.

I DROVE BACK home in the dark. All the little vampires were awake and starting their night. The Circus of the Damned had been just one more huge warehouse in the district when Jean-Claude had found it for the then Master of St. Louis, but the idea behind making it a permanent "traveling carnival" and one-ring circus catering to vampires, wereanimals, and other preternatural acts and businesses had been all his idea. There was a line stretching in front of the Circus past all the brightly colored posters announcing the acts and wonders inside, and down around the edge of the warehouse. It was Friday night; the weekend was always big. There were jugglers and street magicians entertaining the line to help the crowd pass the time. I caught a family with two small kids laughing at a clown, and a magician giving a paper flower to the female half of a couple as I drove past. There were also a few of our guards hovering around, just in case, though I doubted many of the laughing crowd noticed them. Our security measures weren't just for us, but for our customers. After all, nothing chases away your customers like getting mugged in line. This had been a bad section of town before the Circus moved in and brought in money, which attracted other businesses. The area had been gentrified not because of some government interference, but by good old-fashioned capitalism, which was one of Jean-Claude's favorite things.

I drove around to the employee parking lot in back and found it packed. We even had a roped-off section for valet parking, which meant our valet lot had filled up and they were moving cars back here. That didn't happen all the time, so it was a busy night indeed.

There was a man pacing in front of the back door; I thought at first it was more security, but as I parked in one of the reserved spots near the door I realized it was Cynric. His shoulders were hunched with tension, movements jerky with anger. Crap. My stomach sank to my knees, then tightened like an aching fist. I did not want to have a fight about my not being able to make the senior awards ceremony.

By the time I got out of my car I was ready to have a fight. If he couldn't understand that my job had to come before a lot of things, then he wasn't the right person for my life. I'd been hurt so badly that if I'd been just vanilla human I'd probably have needed surgery to fix some tendons or lose the use of my left arm. That was what had cost me the time to go to his school thing, and why the hell was he wanting our first public outing as a couple to be a school thing anyway? It was guaranteed to hit every issue I had.

He stopped pacing as he watched me walk toward him, and when I was close enough he said, "Good, you're as pissed at Asher as I am."

I actually said, "If you can't understand . . ." Lucky for both of us I stopped there and did an almost painful reverse in my head. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"

"You've got a serious mad on, and I just thought it was about Asher. Was I wrong?" He looked at me more closely. "Did I do something wrong?"

I laughed, smiled, and said, "No, no, it's just been . . . a day."

He offered his hand and I took it. His hands had gotten even larger since he moved to St. Louis, or maybe I just hadn't let myself see the spread of his fingers that did such a great job of holding and throwing a football. He drew me in for a kiss, and I went up on tiptoe to meet him partway, and let his lips touch mine. The kiss was gentle, his arms felt good, but the tension I'd seen when I drove up was still under there thrumming away.

I opened my eyes after the kiss, his arms still around me, and asked, "What has Asher done now?" I sounded more tired than mad.

"Nothing, Jean-Claude and the others are talk

ing to him now." That sullen look that had almost gone away crossed his handsome face and made him look younger, and not in a good way.

"Then what's wrong?" I asked.

"He sent me out of the room."

"Yeah, he ordered me out of the room while they talk to Asher."

"The last time Asher had a fit . . ." I started to say.

"I know, I know, he hit me once and I was down for the count."

I hugged him tighter around the waist. "He could have broken your neck, and that can work the same as decapitation, so dead."

"Jean-Claude reminded me, and Asher stood there smirking with Kane right beside him, holding his hand." He looked down at me, face so earnest, and I realized that it was a good word for him, too. "You know how hard I've been working out in fight practice."

I hugged him and rested my chin on his chest, so I gazed up the line of his body as he looked down at me. "I know you have."

"Jean-Claude doesn't work out with us, he doesn't know how much better I am now." It was the complaint of a child wanting to be a man, no, wanting to be treated like a man. I'd spent years having the other cops treat me like the "girl" until I proved myself; even now I still had to convince officers who hadn't worked with me before that I wasn't just a zombie-raising slut fucking her way to power through the preternatural community. You think I'm being harsh? I wish. I stared up at Cynric. I could feel the extra muscle that gym work and fight practice had given him. Genetics had put him over six feet tall; in the boots he was wearing he was two inches taller than that, so that my chin rested at his diaphragm. I'd held enough men in my arms to understand the potential in his body not just for sex, but for violence, and that last included protecting himself. People treat learning to fight as if it's all about hurting people, but a lot of it is about making sure no one can hurt you, or those you love.

"Anita, please, tonight of all nights, call me by my name."

I took in a deep breath and said, "Sin."

He smiled, bright and happy. "Thank you, I know you don't like it."

"At least you started spelling it S-i-n, and not C-y-n."

He laughed. "No one could spell it or pronounce it the other way. I got tired of being called Cyndi, or Kenny."

"Well, Sin, let's go inside and see how Asher and Jean-Claude are holding up."

His eyes went a little wide. "Jean-Claude was very adamant about it. He even offered to have me escorted out by the guards."