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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:22

"Well, you weren't the only one who got hurt last time Asher threw a hissy fit. Remember, he bit my mouth so badly that I'd have needed stitches if I'd been human. Hell, I might have needed plastic surgery or lived with permanent scars on my lips."

He touched my cheek, then traced his fingers delicately across my lower lip. It brought my breath in a sigh. He caressed his finger over my mouth again, then said, "Later I want to do that again, but push my fingers and other things between your lips."

I shivered at the thought of it, which made him laugh, pleased with himself, but he'd earned it. He was as good as his promises in the bedroom.

"Now stop that, or we'll both get too distracted to go in and talk to Asher."

The laughter faded around the edges, leaving his eyes angry again. "I really hate Kane. I don't like Asher sometimes, but Kane is just . . ."

"Irritating as hell," I finished for him.

"I know, but you be careful as hell around both Asher and Kane. He doesn't practice as hard as the rest of our guards, but he's still been doing this longer than you have. If you get hurt I will never forgive myself, or you. But you have a right to be in on the group discussions, and you're right, Jean-Claude hasn't seen you in fight practice."

"Then be extra careful of him, because he knows how you move." I stepped away and offered him my left hand, and we went for the door. Cynric, I mean Sin, came with me smiling, happy to be included. I hoped he would be as happy afterward.

OF COURSE, IT wasn't that easy to get to Jean-Claude and the rest, because they were in the underground. The miles of stairs stretching downward meant there was no way to walk and be that quick. My phone buzzed at me. I fumbled it out of my pocket and saw a text from Nathaniel. "Jean-Claude is backing down. Need you."

Micah texted while I was still reading the first text. His text was shorter. "ETA?"

I showed Sin the texts. "Estimated time of arrival, what do you think?" I asked.

"At my speed, less than five minutes."

"You have to stay with me, not ahead of me," I said.

He grinned. "Well, then what's your mile time?"

He nodded, still grinning.

"Shit, it's less than two miles." I texted both of the men back using a group message, and typed, "On stairs, less than 10 ETA."

"It'll be a lot less," Sin said.

I put the phone back in my pocket and started down the stairs. I was a little afraid of trying my top speed on the stone steps, but the guys needed me now. Jean-Claude had only two weaknesses: me and Asher. I said a little prayer and let myself run, really run, down the steps. I was glad I'd worn jogging shoes to work today. Sin stayed with me in his less-stair-friendly boots. He could have gotten there sooner, but he stayed with me like I'd told him to; it helped me move faster knowing that I was slowing him down, and that Nathaniel and Micah needed me with them. I prayed that Jean-Claude wouldn't do anything too stupid before I got there, and I ran.

I GOT TO the bottom of the steps in a rushed breathlessness that left me stumbling. Sin caught me, or I might have fallen. I was breathing too hard to speak, my heart in my throat like a drum. Sin was looking down at me with a huge grin on his face, deep blue eyes sparkling happily. "You did good!" he said, voice excited, but completely even.

I wanted to ask how much faster he could have run it on his own but didn't have the air to waste on it. There were two guards on the door, which wasn't typical. One was new, but the other one was Clay, tall, blond, athletic-looking, but he'd been taken off security at Guilty Pleasures for letting underage people slip past him because one of the ladies was flirting with him and vouched for her friend. Not my favorite guard. But he led the rush toward me, asking, "What's wrong?"

Sin answered, because I still didn't have enough air to speak. "Micah wants Anita at the meeting."

"So do I," Clay said. The other guard just watched everything quietly, dark eyes taking in details. I saw him clock all my weapons, or most of them. He'd have had to pat me down to find some of them.

"How bad is it?" I managed to gasp.

"Bad enough." He touched his earpiece, which they didn't always wear, and said, "It's Anita."

The big door swung open, and I could hear raised voices before I saw that it was Dino at the door. "Glad you're here, Anita, but he can't come into the meeting. Jean-Claude's orders." He motioned at Sin.

Micah's voice: "Anita is on her way, Jean-Claude. I'd rather wait for her before any decisions are made."

"Why are you even here, king of cats?" Asher asked. "You're not in my bed, or Jean-Claude's."

"I am in Jean-Claude's bed a lot more than you are."

"You little bitch," Asher said.

I told Dino that Sin was with me, and he accepted it, because I think he was more worried about the meeting than obeying Jean-Claude's orders. I touched the drapes that were the walls to the living room, but Sin's long arm reached over me and held it for me. He stayed behind me, but he held the "door." I was okay with that.

I entered the room with "I think I'm the bitch here" to find that Micah and Nathaniel were sitting in the love seat by the door with Nicky, Dev, Bram, and Domino behind them as guards. I was glad to see Domino well enough to be back on duty. Nicky and Nathaniel were still in the suits they'd worn to Sin's awards ceremony.

"Well, you're certainly everyone's pussy," Kane said, from the big white couch across the room, with Asher at his side. The vampire's hair fell in glittering gold waves past his shoulders, and I mean gold, not yellow. I'd never seen hair that looked metallic, but his was; some mix of blond and brown had made magic, and then those eyes--a pale, icy blue so pure in color that it was a pale match to Jean-Claude's darkest of blues. Belle Morte, their originator, had collected beautiful blue-eyed men, and these two had been two of her greatest finds. Asher had spilled that shining hair over half his face to hide the burn scars, so that he peered out at us like some sort of feral angel, showing only the perfect half of his face to the room--the face that looked down from the painting above the fireplace where his perfect profile had made Belle commission him painted as Cupid to Jean-Claude's Psyche in the same picture. The painter had taken some liberties, as they do, but they really were that heartrendingly beautiful, or could be.

I looked around the room and nodded. "I am actually sleeping with almost everyone in this room, but I don't think my pussy belongs to everyone here; I see it more as, all the cocks belong to me."

"Who's your daddy, Kane?" I asked.

I shook my head. "Not in the locker room earlier today he wasn't."

He actually started to get up, but Asher pulled him back down and cuddled him closer to his side; he'd already put him on the far side against the couch arm so he wasn't in touching distance of Richard and Jean-Claude. I hadn't expected to see Richard here, especially not with his arm around Jean-Claude's shoulders. He'd put his arm across the back of the couch, but not actually around the other man's shoulders, especially not without me sitting with them. They looked as they usually did, like they didn't match: Jean-Claude in one of his white shirts with all the lace at the sleeves and collar and going down the V to midchest, black leather pants that looked like someone had sewn him into them with the stitching on the sides of his long legs, and a pair of boots that only went to his knees, conservative for his footwear. Richard in blue jeans and a plain white T-shirt that made his spring tan look even darker, with nice brown leather hiking boots that had begun to soften because he actually hiked in them. Jean-Claude's black curls that fell almost to his waist, Richard's shoulder-length brown waves. Jean-Claude's almost androgynous beauty, Richard's face so very masculine in its handsomeness. Richard was only an inch taller, but with the swell of his muscled arm across Jean-Claude's shoulders it made the other man seem fragile, though I knew he wasn't. Richard was one of those

big men who doesn't look that big most of the time, until he does.

Richard's main bodyguards were Shang-Da, the only six-foot-five Chinese man I'd ever met, and Jamil, who was darkly African American with cornrow hair to his waist. One was dressed in a black suit tailored big to hide the weapons I knew he was carrying, and the other was dressed in a white suit, red shirt, and tie to match the red beads in his hair. Jamil was the only man I'd ever known who could really pull off a white suit and not look silly. He made it look just right.

Sin took my hand and said, "I think I missed something, but it sounds good."

"I told you to stay away, Sin," Jean-Claude said.

"He's earned the right to be here, Jean-Claude."

"She defies you at every turn, Jean-Claude." Kane again.

"Even your young prince obeys her over you, mon amour," Asher said.

"The guards were all talking about how Anita handed you your ass in the locker room," Nicky said. "They found you flopping around on the floor. You couldn't even stand up."

Richard laughed, and once he did the guards joined him in a round of very masculine laughter. Micah joined them; only Nathaniel and Jean-Claude stayed somber. Nathaniel was watching Asher with a very solemn look as he sat holding hands with Micah. Jean-Claude's hand was playing with the lace on his shirt, which was something he did to calm himself, or when he was trying to calm himself. Richard had his other hand pinned against his thigh. I wasn't sure if they were holding hands, or if Richard had just pinned Jean-Claude's hand so it wouldn't keep petting his thigh, which was another nervous thing he did. It was usually my thigh, or Asher's, or occasionally Micah's.

"Did you hit him that hard?" Sin asked.