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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:03

Dr Cross, the vampire, was tall and thin, with dark hair that most people would have called black, but I had my hair and Jean-Claude's to compare it to. The vampire laughed enough to show dainty fangs. 'Yes, I know, a vampire called Dr Cross, it is rather ironic, but I was Dr Cross before I became undead.'

'So just a coincidence?' I said.

He nodded happily, unwound his stethoscope from his neck, and began to listen to my heart. The front bangs were thicker on one side, so they fell forward as he bent over, almost falling into his eyes, but not quite. I had a sudden urge to reach up and smooth his hair back from his face. It wasn't like me to want to touch strangers.

I heard the shower start in my bathroom, which meant Micah was in there all naked and soapy. Joining him seemed like such a good idea.

Dr Cross was over six feet and not as comfortable with his height as most of the people in my life, so he stayed bent over me too much, and his hair spilled forward as he opened the neck of my hospital gown enough to reach in and touch the stethoscope to my chest. He kept his hand down the front of my gown as he glanced back at Edward.

'I'm going to have to look at the wound site, Marshal Forrester; I think a little privacy might be in order.'

'I'm fine,' Edward said, watching us.

'A little privacy would be nice,' I said, frowning at him.

He shook his head. 'I don't think so.'

'I won't eat her, promise,' Dr Cross said with a smile, but his hand was still down my gown, the stethoscope held motionless between my breasts. He should have moved his hand out as soon as he was done, but he hadn't. I wondered if he realized he was doing it. My heartbeat was speeding up. What was happening to me? I had better control than this.

'I'm not worried that you'll eat her,' Edward said, smiling back.

I frowned harder at him, and he smiled like all the angels were tap-dancing at his side. I wanted to tell him to leave, at the same time that I knew Dr Cross and I weren't trustworthy on our own. Part of me didn't care.

Cross looked back at me. His eyes were brown with an irregular circle of gray around the pupil. I wondered if he thought his eyes were brown or hazel.

'Dr Cross.' Edward said it sharply.

The vampire startled, as if he hadn't realized he'd been motionlessly bent over me staring into my eyes. 'Sorry, I must be more tired than I knew.' He got very brisk, putting back his stethoscope around his neck, pushing down the sheet, and rolling up my gown. The gown was huge on me, as most of them always were, so it was a lot of cloth to get out of the way until he could see my lower side. 'It might have been quicker to go from the top,' he joked.

'One size does not fit all,' Edward said.

The doctor glanced back at him smiling, his hands wound in the cloth of my gown. He was frowning as he gazed at my bare side. He put his back to Edward so he didn't flash my nakedness under the gown to the other man. I appreciated his concern for my modesty. His bangs swung out from his face just above me so that I could actually not see his eyes for the fall of hair. It bugged me. I wanted to see his eyes.

Dr Cross touched my side. 'Remarkable; the scar looks weeks, months old.'

I looked at where his hand was pointing. There was a new white scar tracing the edge of my hip. It looked like it had hit just under my body armor. 'If it hadn't been a silver bullet I'm not sure there'd be a scar,' I said.

He looked up at me, smiling. 'Really? I know theoretically that nonsilver bullets don't hurt you, or me, but I've never tested the theory.' He laughed at the thought of being bulletproof.

'I haven't been shot by a nonsilver bullet in a while. I don't honestly know.' I could see the gray around his pupils again. It made the brown of his eyes seem paler, or maybe they were just that light a brown.

'Dr Cross,' Edward said, his voice a little sharp.

The doctor startled, blinked, and turned to look at Edward. 'Yes, Marshal Forrester?'

'Can Marshal Blake be released?'

He looked at my hip, and the gown spilled back to block his view, so it was just natural for him to move back more of the gown until he bared most of my lower body. His fingers traced the scar, and then his fingertips traced the line where my leg met my groin. He hadn't touched anything he shouldn't yet, and normally I would have been pissed, but his hair had fallen down across his face again. I wanted, needed to see his eyes.

I touched his hair. He raised his head to meet my gaze. I swept his hair back from his face. His eyes widened, lips half opened. He looked startled, almost frightened.

'Anita!' Edward's voice made me startle. I dropped my hands away from the doctor.

Dr Cross stood up abruptly and pulled down my gown over my body. 'I'm sorry,' he said, 'what was I saying?'

'You were saying that Marshal Blake looks good.'

'Well, yes, she does, very good, I mean, she's quite beautiful ...' The doctor frowned as if trying to gather his thoughts and failing. He knew he was being inappropriate, but he couldn't seem to help it.

'I meant her wound looks good, as in healed,' Edward said.

'It does, of course, that is what I meant.' He tried for brisk again. 'I would like an X-ray just to make a hundred percent certain that the pelvis crack is healed completely. Bones can take longer to heal even with shapeshifters.'

'What would it entail to get her X-rayed?'

'I'm not sure I understand,' Dr Cross said.

'I mean, would she have to be on a stretcher or in a wheelchair?'

'Wheelchair should be sufficient.'

'Who would normally take her to get an X-ray?' Edward asked.

'A technician would come to get her. He would take her down and bring her back when it was done.'

'Why don't you go set that up,' Edward said.

'Ah, yes, good plan,' Dr Cross said. He got tangled in the curtain on his way to the door, fumbling at it. 'So sorry, I seem to be clumsy today.' He finally got free of the curtain and out the door.

'I'll bet twenty dollars that he comes back with the wheelchair and the idea that he'll take you to X-ray personally,' Edward said.

I frowned at him, but I could feel the texture of Dr Cross's hair on my fingertips. The sound of the shower stopped. Micah would be out soon, but if I had a cracked pelvis sex seemed like a bad idea.

'I forgot to ask about getting the IV taken out.'

'You forgot a lot of things,' he said.

I sighed. 'It wasn't on purpose.'

'You captured him at least twice with your gaze, Anita. You vamped the vampire.'

'Not possible,' I said.

'Yeah, neither is you healing a silver bullet in a little over twenty-four hours.'

We looked at each other.

The door opened, letting out a puff of steam and the sweet smell of clean skin and water. I turned to see Micah standing in fresh jeans and T-shirt. His hair was almost black when it was this wet, and straighter, so you could see that it reached midback on him, instead of the inches shorter it would be when the curl contracted it all up. The unbound wet hair I liked; the clothes ... I was disappointed. I'd really wanted him to come out naked and wet, and the moment I realized that I knew I was in trouble, because that would have been completely inappropriate in front of Edward.

'I need to feed soon,' I said.

'Did the doctor say you could have solid food?'

Edward answered. 'That he wants an X-ray to make sure the crack in her pelvis healed along with the bullet wound. He's supposed to send a technician to wheel her down.'

'But he wouldn't take the IV out?'

'She forgot to ask,' Edward said, 'and he forgot to offer.'

Micah frowned from one to the other of us. 'What did I miss?'

'She captured the vampire doctor at least twice with her gaze. He damn near groped her.'

'Was he inappropriate?' Micah asked as he moved to the couch and the overnight case.

'Not as inappropriate as the ardeur wanted him to be,' Edward said.

Micah looked at me. 'Anita, is he right?'

I sighed and slumped down on the pillow. 'Yes, I think so.'

'We've got a twenty-dollar bet that Dr Cross decides to wheel her to X-ray personally.'

'I didn't take the bet,' I said.

'Because you know he's coming back through that door for you, and you also know that you cannot be alone with him.'

Micah sat down on the couch to put on socks and a pair of ankle-high boots. 'She's not usually drawn to vampires without a connection to Jean-Claude.'

'I can only tell you what I saw,' Edward said.

He pulled the jeans' straight legs down over the boots so that his legs were one nice, long line, or as long a line as our inseams could get. He stood up, smoothing down the jeans, checking his belt with its silver buckle. He'd tucked the forest-green T-shirt into the jeans. The shirt made his eyes much greener, sinking the gold into the background. The green-gold of his eyes was like some humans with gray-blue or green-blue eyes, the color changing with mood, clothes, so that one minute the eyes were one color and the next the other, and sometimes all at once. I wondered if the gray in Dr Cross's eyes would do that in the right shirt?

'Wow,' I said out loud.

'What?' Micah asked, as he walked toward the bed.

'I just wondered if Dr Cross's eyes would change to more gray if he wore a gray shirt the way the green makes your eyes greener, and not as gold. I just met the man; I shouldn't be thinking about dressing him to match his eyes.'

'No,' Micah said, 'you shouldn't.' He was at the bedside now.

I reached for his hand and he gave it to me. The moment our hands touched, heat leapt from me to him, a flare of power that marched down our bodies in a wash of goose bumps.

Micah jerked his hand out of mine. 'Shit!'

'I didn't do it on purpose,' I said, but my voice was breathless with the rush of power. I wanted to pull his shirt out of his pants. I wanted him to climb into the bed with me and let his wet hair spill across my body.

'Stop it, Anita, stop projecting your need!' He backed away from the bed. I could see his pulse in his throat like a trapped thing. I wanted to set it free.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slow, counting as I did so. I did it a few times, and when I felt steady I opened my eyes. Micah was watching me from the couch.

'You weren't just thinking sex, were you?' he asked in a quiet, serious voice.

'What else is there to the ardeur?' Edward asked.

We both looked at him and then back at each other.

'He's your friend, maybe one of your best friends. I don't know what he knows and what he doesn't.'

It was funny to hear Micah call Edward one of my best friends. By girl standards he wasn't. We'd never shop together, or talk about men, or ... but we did talk about our relationships, which was somehow different from talking about guys. We trusted each other with our lives, and ... so many things.

'When Micah pulled away just now I could see the pulse in his neck, and I thought about setting it free.'

'What does "setting it free" mean?' Edward asked.

'I didn't think it all the way through, but I was really thinking about tearing his throat open enough so the pulse could escape, so the blood could escape.'

'Is that the vampire marks talking, or your ties to all the wereanimals?' he asked.

'A little of both, I think,' I said.

Edward looked past me to Micah. 'If you had just given in to the sex, would she have gone to thinking about blood and violence?'

'Not as likely,' Micah said, 'but violence gets sort of mixed up with sex for shapeshifters sometimes. But if she feeds the ardeur soon, then she's not going to tear someone's throat out.'

'And if she doesn't feed the ardeur soon?'

'If she were a true shapeshifter, then she'd lose control of her beast and shift, unexpectedly, maybe.'

'But she can't change shape,' Edward said.

Edward looked at me. 'So how long a window do we have before you lose control?'

'Define lose control,' I said.

'That soon, huh?' he said.

'I did almost roll the vampire doctor. I could feel that I could mind-fuck him and then fuck him. He feels like food.'

'You're almost entirely immune to vampire gaze, but you've never been able to bespell a vampire yourself,' Micah said.

'Tell that to Damian. I rolled him pretty completely when I made him my vampire servant.'

Micah seemed to think about that for a second or two. 'Interesting; you're right, your ability to control the undead has been growing stronger the whole time.'

'This is a vampire that I have no connection to, Micah; always before it's been one that I've interacted with, or one that was bound to Jean-Claude. This doctor has no connection to any of us.'

'Jean-Claude is the new king of all the vampires in this country, Anita. We've had masters from all over the country come to St Louis and blood oath themselves to Jean-Claude. If Dr Cross's master gave up power to us, then he's our vampire whether you've ever met him or not.'

I digested that bit of information. 'So, every vampire I meet is potentially already sort of predisposed to be connected to me?'

'Potentially, yes,' Micah said.

'Potentially problematic, yes.'

'Unless she uses them as food,' Edward said.

'You really think it's a good idea for me to fuck Dr Cross?' I asked.

'No, or I would have just stepped out of the room and let nature takes its course.'

'Then what are you saying, Ed ... Ted?'

'You're in the hospital, and Micah's family lives here, plus other cops are just outside this room. You can't afford to go all predator on the good doctor, but for later why not feed on what's at hand?'

'I don't do casual sex, you know that.'

'I've never understood why it bothers you. It's a need like eating.'

'Said the man who's monogamous and the father of two.'

'Sex with Donna isn't casual, but I don't remember us talking about my state of monogamy, or lack of it.'

I stared at him. 'Are you saying you cheat on Donna?'

'I'm saying that if I'm away from her as Edward, sex isn't out of the question. Ted is a one-woman man; Edward not so much.'

'You do realize that you talked about yourself twice in third person?' Micah said.

'He does that sometimes - creepy, isn't it?' I asked.

'A little bit,' Micah said.

'Why does it bother you that I might have other lovers when you're sleeping with about twenty people?'

'All my lovers know that they aren't the only one. I haven't lied to anyone, not even by omission.'

'We're polyamorous,' Micah said, 'which means everyone knows what everyone is doing. If we were human and could catch sexually transmitted diseases, then the honesty would be part of protecting everyone's health.'

'If that was a reminder that I need to be careful, I have never had unprotected sex since I've been with Donna. I would never endanger her and our family.'

'I don't know why, but it bugs me to think you could cheat on Donna.'

'You don't even like her that much,' he said.

'I don't dislike her, but I don't understand her in your life. I do understand that she makes you happier than I've ever seen you, and that's good enough for me.'

'Same about you and some of your men,' he said.

'I guess that's my point - why would you risk your happiness and your family for extracurricular sex? It seems like a lot to risk.'

'You're that sure Donna wouldn't forgive it?'

'She was jealous of me when we met. She guarded her territory all over you. That is not a woman who would share well.'

'She still doesn't understand you and me,' Edward said.

'Most men and women can't be friends without sex,' Micah said.

'And you can't be friends once you have sex,' I said. 'You can be in love, or be lovers, but not just friends.'

'Jason is one of your best friends and you have sex with him,' Micah said.

I grinned, thinking of the blond werewolf manager and dancer at Guilty Pleasures. 'Jason is different. He's ... Jason, and he was Nathaniel's best friend before I ever had sex with either of them.'

'That smile is not just a friend smile,' Edward said.

'Jason is the only man I've had sex with where it didn't change the friendship.'

'Why do you think that is?'

I shrugged. 'I'm not sure. I think it's just Jason. His attitude toward it, I guess.'

'Donna told me that it was okay that I was sleeping with you.'

'She assumed that we were having sex when we worked together.'

'We both told her that we didn't,' I said.

'She sees how close we are, and in her mind men and women can't be this close without sex.'

'So she's assumed we were lovers the whole time and just lying to her?'

'I thought she liked me.'

I frowned at him. 'She assumed you and I were lovers and lying to her the whole time you've been together. She should hate me.'

'She thinks you've respected our bond, respected her, and she sees that you care about the kids and us being a family.'

'How do you know that much detail about what she thinks?' Micah asked. I wouldn't have thought to ask that, but that's why he was the head of the Coalition and I was mostly muscle.

'She told me that she forgives me for you. That she sees that it doesn't change anything between her and me and that you belong to that other part of my life, the part where the violence stays. She told me that she will be Ted's wife, and she understands that Edward can never marry.'

'She's still seeing that therapist?' I asked.

'Yeah, and yes, it probably is something she and her therapist worked out between them.'

'So both you and Donna think of Ted and Edward as separate?' Micah asked.

He nodded. 'Seems so.'

'How did that make you feel?' I asked.

'Like Donna gets me more than most.'

'So you think Donna will overlook Edward sleeping with other women, because she's okay with you sleeping with Anita?'

'Something like that.'

'But we aren't sleeping together,' I said.

'When I tried to tell her that, she got mad at me and told me that if she could be brave enough to let us have our relationship, the least I could do was admit it.'

Edward looked at Micah. 'What do you think I said?'

I looked at Micah. He was looking at the other man as he said, 'You said, Yes, dear.'

Edward smiled and nodded. 'Exactly.'

'You told Donna we were having sex?'

'No, I didn't argue with her when she said we were having sex.'

'That's the same thing.'

'No,' both men said together, 'it's not.'

'Oh, and now that she's worked all that out, she accepted my proposal and we're setting a date,' Edward said.

It took me a second to process what he'd said. 'You and Donna are finally getting married for real?'

'Yes,' he said, and he smiled. It was a real smile. He was pleased.

Micah said, 'Congratulations.' He was smiling, too.

'When can you clear your calendar?' he asked.

'Me? Why? I mean, I'll be there with bells on, but we'll all work around your schedule.'

'Good, because I want you to be my best man.'

'I would love to be, but won't the whole Donna-thinking-I'm-your-lover be a problem?'

I tried to wrap my head around it. 'You know, if you just hadn't told me that Donna thought that, then I wouldn't have felt weird about this, but now ... wow, awkward.'

Edward laughed, and it was a good, wholehearted laugh, the one that Donna had helped him find. It made me smile. For that laugh I could handle the weirdness, couldn't I? 'I would be honored to stand as your best man,' I said, because in the end, really, what else was I going to say?

'Donna has made one request.'

'That one of your men be on her side of the aisle.'

'She's never met any of the men in my life,' I said.

He shrugged. 'I think she believes that if you have a lover in town with you, that will cut down on our time together.'

'So she trusts us, but not really.'

'She never said she trusted us. She said she forgave us, and she understood what we were to each other; she never said she trusted us.'

'That's just weird. Sorry, I know you love her, and everything, but that makes no sense,' I said.

'It's girl logic,' he said.

'I'm a girl,' I said.

'You're too much guy to be this much girl,' he said.

'That doesn't make sense,' I said.

'Yeah,' Micah said, 'actually it does.'

I looked from one to the other of them, trying to decide if I'd been complimented or insulted.

'Do you feel suitably distracted from ardeurs and blood lusts?' Edward asked.

'I've noticed that giving you an emergency to handle or a problem to solve helps you ignore all the metaphysical stuff, so have I confused and puzzled you enough for you to get an X-ray without eating the doctor?'

I thought about it, and then I laughed. 'Damn you, but yes, I'm going to be puzzling and puzzling till my puzzler is sore about the convoluted logic of it all.'

The door opened, and Dr Cross came through with the nurse at his side. He was smiling. 'I thought I'd take you to X-ray myself.'

Edward gave me a look. 'Should have taken that bet.'

'It was a sucker bet and we both knew it,' I said.

'And you were never a sucker,' he said.

'Not if I can help it,' I said.

We smiled at each other.

'What bet?' Dr Cross asked, still smiling, but obviously feeling he'd missed something.

'Don't ask,' Micah said. 'They've been best friends for years. Sometimes you just nod and let them have their guy moment.'

Dr Cross frowned harder. 'I don't understand.'

'I'm the wife,' Micah said, 'she's the husband, and he's the husband's best friend. Does that explain it?'

Dr Cross frowned and then said, 'Oddly, yes.'

The fact that it made sense to him made me like him better, which was both good and bad. Good, because liking people is always better than disliking people. Bad, because I was more likely to feed on people I liked.

'You go check on Nathaniel and your dad; I'll play chaperone,' Edward said.

'Thank you,' Micah said.

'Does Donna really not have a preference on which of my guys stands on her side?' I asked.

'Who's Donna?' Dr Cross asked.

'My fiancee,' Edward said.

'Thank you; we're starting to decide who's in the wedding party.'

'That's always fun,' Dr Cross said, and seemed to mean it.

And just like that, this particular vampire was safe from me trying to eat him. I could never eat someone who thought planning a wedding was fun.