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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:23

That got everyone's attention. "You told me you didn't like guys," Dev said.

"I don't, but the bitch who raised me made me sort of anti-girls for a few years. If I were a little less of a raging heterosexual, and had a different therapist, I'd probably still be hooking up with guys."

"I guess I'm just not pretty enough," Dev said. "You shut me down in the shower with Anita pretty fast."

"The only thing I looked for in a guy when I was a teenager was good hygiene, good at giving blow jobs, and a willingness to take anal sex."

"Hey, I'm all of those things," and Dev pretended to pout at him.

Nicky smiled, shook his head hard enough for the triangular fall of hair to swing, and said, "If I were still into guys, I'd totally do you."

"Empty words, Rex, because you know you'll never have to do it," Kane said.

"You know that I don't like you, right, Kane?" Nicky said.

"You don't like Dev any more than you like me."

"I like Dev a hell of a lot more than I like you."

"But not enough to fuck him, even naked in the shower with him."

"You and I were naked in the showers, and I didn't want to fuck you," I said.

"And I don't do stupid, so we're both safe."

Kane stood up. Asher tried to pull him back, but this time he stood his ground and kept his feet. I stood up. Richard didn't try to hold me on the couch. I stood there facing Kane. He had his hands in fists. Mine were loose, cupped, and waiting for me to decide whether I was fighting.

"I already proved that I can beat you, Kane. Do you really want an audience for it this time?"

"You cheated in the locker room."

"You're almost a foot taller than me, with an arm and leg reach that's almost twice mine, you're a man, and you're a werehyena; there is no such thing as a fair fight between us."

"So you admit you cheated."

"Talk like that is for amateurs, Kane."

"I am not an amateur," he said.

"Okay," I said, and half-turned away from him, so that I could plant my foot, turn my shoulder, make a fist, cock my arm, and turn back around with everything I had, so that my whole body acted like a spring to power the punch into his solar plexus. He doubled over, unable to breathe for a second, and his face was low enough for me to put a knee into it, so I did. In rapid succession, holding the back of his head so I could drive my knee into his face with all the force I had, four times. I backed up from him, giving him room in case he recovered enough to try to grab me. I did not want those long arms and stronger body grappling with me.

If he'd been human the fight might have been over, but he wasn't human. He came at me with a roaring growl that danced over my skin in goose bumps, but he gave me time to get set for a kick. I still had my hands up guarding my face, elbows tucked in over as much of my torso as I could cover, but I didn't plan on him getting that close. He was so angry that he just forgot all his training and simply ran at me. I kicked him in the solar plexus, which stopped him. He fought not to double over as much and guarded his face better than last time, so I didn't go for his head. I kicked him in the side of the knee, and he fell to the floor with a scream. He didn't try to get up, just stayed on his hands and one knee, the other leg held out to the side the way a dog will when it's hurt.

"It's not broken. I didn't even hear that meaty pop, so I didn't even dislocate it. One shape-change and you'll be good as new."

"You bitch, you sucker-punched me, you cheated again."

"And that's why you're an amateur," I said.

"What the fuck does that mean?"

"Did you expect rules? A referee or a judge to step in and give a list of the do's and don'ts for the fight?"

He just glared at me, and said, "Bitch."

I smiled and said, "Pussy."

Heat poured off him, and his brown eyes turned paler, golden brown--hyena brown. The Browning was just in my hand; muscle memory took over before I could even decide. I was already aiming at his head, right above his eyes. It was my best kill shot from the angle I had.

"Don't shift, Kane, not here, not now," I said; my voice was low and careful, because my finger was already on the trigger. No matter what gun you have, once your finger crosses that point, you treat all guns as if they have hair triggers, and be damned sure that if you pull, you want whatever you're aiming at dead.

The heat spread through the room like someone had left the tap open on a really hot bath, and we were about to drown in it. "Silver bullets, Kane, you won't heal a head shot."

There was movement to my left. "No one move," I said.

"Anita," Asher said, "please," and I felt him coming closer.

"Freeze where you are, Asher, or I swear to God I will shoot Kane and then turn on you."

"No, Jean-Claude, not this time. If Kane shifts I will shoot him. If Asher interferes, I will shoot him. That is the difference between amateurs and professionals. Amateurs whine about rules, fairness, and plead for mercy. Professionals know that there is only one rule--survival--violence is not fair, and there is no mercy."

"Anita," Nicky said, "if you kill Kane, fine, kill Asher, I'm fine with that, too, but you won't be."

I kept staring at Kane's forehead, and that spot where the bullet would go. I'd shot people up close like this before. I knew the mechanics of it, and exactly what would happen. It was just a different face staring back at me.

"Don't." That was Micah. "Let Nicky talk to her." Hearing Micah's voice helped me listen better to something outside the calm in my head. I fe

lt nothing, staring down the barrel of my gun at Kane; nothing.

"You're not alone out in the field, Anita," Nicky said. "We got this regardless of what Kane does. You don't have to kill him. If you wanted to kill him, I'd be okay with that, you know that."

I whispered, "I know."

"But I can feel what you're feeling, and you don't want to kill him. You've just gone quiet in your head, but your emotions are waiting outside that quiet. You don't want the emotional fallout if you killed Asher, Anita. I think he's a manipulative shit, but you love him, and Jean-Claude loves him more."

"So not worth it," I said, each word enunciated carefully between almost gritted teeth. I wasn't really looking at Kane anymore, just at that point on his head where the bullet would go if I finished this.

"No, he's not," Nicky said, voice soft, and closer to me, but his closeness didn't make me want to turn the gun on him and protect myself. Asher I didn't trust not to do something stupid, but Nicky--he wouldn't be stupid. He might be violent, but it would be on purpose, with a better reason than not thinking things through.

I drew back from the empty quiet in my head, and the pinpoint concentration that had narrowed down to the aim of my gun and my target, and realized that the energy that had been rolling off Kane was gone. I blinked and saw his brown eyes staring up at me. He'd pushed his beast back in its box. He was still holding his damaged leg, but he was trying to be as still as the injury would let him be, as if he were afraid to move too much, afraid of what I'd do if he did.

"Good," I said, softly, "very good."

"What's good?" Nicky asked.

I eased my finger off the trigger and raised the gun toward the ceiling. I kept looking at Kane's face, though. "Did you see your death in my face, Kane?"

"I thought you were going to kill me."

"So did I," I said. I put the Browning back in its holster at my side. I felt light and empty, not bad, but it was odd. I didn't usually get to this point and not shoot someone. I felt weird, as if the process were incomplete. I'd tried to explain to friends the difference between what I did and what other cops did, and that was it. Most cops go whole careers and never draw their gun, or if they do, they still think more about saving lives than taking them, but I didn't. When I drew my gun I almost always got to use it, and using it, for me, meant someone was dead. Legally, lawfully, no review board, no questions asked--dead. I was the Executioner long before I was Jean-Claude's ma petite.