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

"She ate his anger," Nicky said. "I hear that leaves you pretty messed up afterward, Kane." He stared at Kane; it was a speculative look, somewhere between sizing someone up on the practice mat and watching someone you were thinking about fucking, or maybe just about tearing their throat out and eating them. It was an incredibly predatory look, the kind a serial killer might give his victims, all violence, sex, and cannibalistic speculation.

"Not as messed up as being her fucking Bride makes you." Kane said it with an unpleasant smile.

Nicky smiled back, but it was a pleased smile, an anticipatory smile.

Kane's smile wilted around the edges. He knew something was wrong, but not quite what. He might have been intelligent, I'd give Asher the benefit of the doubt that he didn't fuck stupid, but one thing was for sure; Kane was not wise.

"I say again, why are you even here, Micah?" Of course, Asher wasn't the wisest cookie in the jar either.

"I'm here because I have a relationship with more people in this room than you do, and I represent the interests of all the shapeshifters in Jean-Claude's immediate territory and beyond."

"Tell that to Narcissus, whom you have imprisoned," Asher said.

"He wanted to kill you both, when he learned what you had done." Jean-Claude's voice was as empty as his face, as if he couldn't bear to show any emotion.

"I know you bargained for our lives, mon amour, and I am grateful," Asher said.

"Then act like you're grateful," Micah said.

"Was it you who made Jean-Claude deny me my own bodyguards, as due me?"

"Due you? Nothing is due you, Asher."

"I am a master vampire and my animal to call is the most powerful shapeshifter group in this city." His eyes flared to icy blue fire for a second, then calmed.

"Was," I said, "your animal to call was the most powerful shapeshifter group in the city. Past tense." I wanted to sit down, but I didn't want to sit that close to Kane, or Asher, and I sure as hell didn't want to take Sin closer. I could sit beside Nathaniel and Micah, but if I did then it might bother Jean-Claude, and Kane would certainly remark on it; that would not go well.

"I know you've been plotting behind my king's back," Kane said.

"It was Narcissus who tried to persuade Asher to overthrow Jean-Claude and take over the city," I said.

Kane frowned. "No, that's not true. He lied to you about my Oba." He pointed at Micah, rather dramatically I thought.

I looked at Asher. "He doesn't know, does he?"

Kane looked at Asher. "What don't I know?"

"Narcissus did try urging me to help him in a bit of kingmaking, but I refused like a loyal second-in-command should." Asher gave a little bow toward Jean-Claude, but sitting on the couch made it a halfhearted gesture at best.

"Yes, Asher, technically you are still my temoin, my second-in-command."

"Jean-Claude, what do you mean, technically?" He reached out as if to bridge the space before him and touch the other man.

Richard drew Jean-Claude in tighter against him and moved his other hand so that it was free, leaving room to wonder what he'd do if Asher tried to touch Jean-Claude. It was the kind of thing you do when someone is touching your girlfriend too much in a bar, and Richard gave him the challenging look that went with it. It was a way of saying, Mine, stop touching it, without having to say anything. Unless the other man was drunk, they usually backed off, and Asher wasn't drunk.

It startled him enough that he moved his head and let the hair spill back from all of his face so he could look at Richard and Jean-Claude together. The scars on his face were white and didn't cover much of the right cheek at all; the full, kissable mouth was untouched, as if even his torturers hadn't been able to bear the thought of ruining that pout.

I knew what Asher was wondering: Had Richard and Jean-Claude crossed those last inches and become lovers for real? I was betting good money they hadn't, but part of the BDSM relationship that Asher had with Richard was that the Ulfric liked figuring out what the vampire wanted most, and denying him that. Richard's body was one denial, but to imply that Jean-Claude was getting what Asher wanted but had never had, that was sadistic denial and domination of Asher's very thoughts and emotions. It was brilliant, because it would freaking torment Asher. One thing I think we all agreed on was that he'd earned some torment.

Jean-Claude settled more securely in the circle of Richard's arms and gave Asher a look that was all cat that ate the canary. That alone let me know just how angry Jean-Claude was with him, because Asher's jealousy was legendary and this was guaranteed to raise it, but there comes a point where you just want to hurt the other person, logic and common sense be damned.

Sin's hand tensed in mine. He knew this was a bad idea, too, but we weren't the ones pulling the green-eyed monster's tail.

Jean-Claude said, "You didn't consult me at all before you made Kane your hyena to call. What kind of temoin enrages the leader of one of the largest animal groups in the city without telling his master first?"

"One that doesn't give a damn about his master, or his territory," Richard said, and turned more toward the other men, ostensibly so they could look at each other while they talked more easily, but it also meant that Jean-Claude was now leaning his back completely against the other man; with a little encouragement he was lounging against Richard, who put both those strong arms around the other man. Jean-Claude wrapped his own hands around those muscled arms. It was a display of familiarity that I'd never seen from them. It would have been more exciting in so many ways if I hadn't seen the cruelty in both their eyes. I wasn't sure I'd ever seen both of them this angry with Asher at the same time. I guess we were all that angry with him, though strangely their anger was helping me let go of some of my own. I was usually the hothead, but if they got pissy, someone needed to remain calm.

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"I did not mean to cause such disarray," Asher said, and used his hair to hide the scars again, so that he was all golden hair and angelic face peeking out. The pale blue shirt made his eyes seem even bluer, like a startling sky that could look back at you. The shirt left a small V of his chest bare, and was bigger than it needed to be so the color complemented, but the size left him looking lost in it, like he'd borrowed the shirt, though I knew better. The black vinyl pants with thei

r slashes of matching blue, on the other hand, were like all good vinyl and looked like a second skin. The black boots barely came over his ankles so they left his long legs looking even longer. The shirt looked careless, almost sloppy, but I knew how hard it was to get into vinyl; he hadn't done that casually. He'd been Jean-Claude's lover for hundreds of years, which meant he knew what the other man liked to see him in, and though it didn't make sense to me, Jean-Claude watched him in the clothes. He held on to his anger, but even wrapped in Richard's arms he watched Asher in that way he did sometimes--hell, the way I did, and Nathaniel did sometimes, and the way Dev almost always watched him.

I squeezed Sin's hand and told him, "Sit with Micah and Nathaniel."

He kissed me, light and chaste, and did what I asked. I went to Jean-Claude, which meant going to Richard, too, but the days when I went to him for anything but occasional rough sex were long past. He was still handsome, and great in bed, but that wasn't enough to get me past the temper tantrums. Asher and he had taken turns making Jean-Claude and me miserable.

I ended up having to sit in front of Jean-Claude so that the three of us were sitting spooned in each other's laps on one end of the couch. Jean-Claude wrapped his arms around me and I put my hands around his arms like he'd been sitting with Richard before I sat down. Then Richard's long, tanned arms came around on either side of us and held us, and his legs settled more firmly on either side of us. It was another reminder of just what a big guy he was, in every way. He'd sacrificed some of his weight-lifting time to hit fight practice more seriously. I'd seen what the length of his arms and legs could do when he sparred; now they made a nest for the two of us. There'd been a time when I'd have given almost anything for this closeness to be as real as what we were advertising, but my reality was sitting on the other side of the room.

"Anita didn't mean that Narcissus has lost power, Asher, she meant that you had," Richard said.

"I don't understand what you mean; nothing has changed for me. I can still call and command the hyenas."

"If you had made Narcissus your animal to call, then you could have commanded the werehyenas, but now you have Kane, just Kane," Richard said.