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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:05

Some of the local police were like Yancey from SWAT and accepted me as one of them because I'd held my shit together under fire, but others ... were very busy trying to blame me for what Ares had done. They needed to blame someone, and I'd killed the only other person they wanted to hate, so they hated me.

Dev and Nicky had driven with me to the station. We'd meet up with Edward/Ted and get introduced to Marshal Hatfield and the rest. There were witness statements to read, crime scene photos to look at, and the pictures of the missing, some of whom had turned up as the walking dead of one flavor or another. I hated to waste darkness on doing stuff I could do in daylight, but the vampires in custody were safe behind their lawyer for tonight. Maybe by the time I got to question them tomorrow night I'd have a better handle from reading up on the case. That was what I told myself to keep the frustration down. We had two perfectly good suspects who had seen the big bad vampire that was the real danger, and we couldn't ask them a damn thing.

The plan was for the men with me to wait out in the public area until I was done, or until they were relieved of duty by the next pair of bodyguards. They knew the drill. They also had carry permits for their guns with them, and they were willing to give their guns up to a lockbox if the local PD demanded it. What we weren't prepared for was Detective Ricky Rickman to be passing through the check-in desk. One of the things people fear most about shapeshifters is that they look just like everybody else, because they are everybody else. It's just a disease, and short of a blood test or a change of form, you can pass for straight human. I wasn't trying to sneak them past anybody; I just didn't think about it.

'Get your animals out of here, Blake!' Rickman yelled it; he wasn't that angry, he just wanted everyone within earshot to hear. He was full of an I-told-you-so self-satisfaction. It masqueraded as righteous fury, but he was too pleased with himself for that.

'They aren't animals, Rickman,' I said, my voice calm.

One of the uniform officers said, 'Are they wereanimals?'

'Yeah, all of them are,' Rickman said.

'How can you tell?' the officer asked. His eyes were a little wide, which made him look even younger than he was. Perfect.

'I can just tell,' Rickman said.

I whispered to Dev and Nicky, 'Whatever happens, stay out of it. Don't do anything that feeds this.'

Nicky gave a small nod. Dev said, 'Okay, boss.'

'If you want to whisper sweet nothings to your fur-bangers, do it somewhere else,' Rickman shouted; he was moving up on us, on me, trying to use his height to intimidate.

I was calm but made sure my voice carried. 'First, bullshit, Rickman, you know they're lycanthropes because I told you. Second, they aren't animals, they're people.'

'Your last pet killed Baker and tore Billings's fucking hand off!' Rickman towered over me, shouting into my face.

We had a crowd gathering around us. There were mutterings of, 'They don't get to come in here.' 'Get them out of here.' 'Animals.' 'They're monsters.'

'First, he wasn't my pet, he was a Marine. Second, he was bespelled by a vampire just like some of the other officers,' I said.

'He wasn't an officer' - Rickman spat it in my face - 'he was a fucking animal!'

I wiped the spittle off my face as I smiled up at Rickman. I didn't want to smile. It was an involuntary expression, one that usually preceded me doing something unpleasant and usually violent. I was angry. I controlled it, but the smile most unpleasantly showed it.

'What the hell are you smiling at, Blake?' he yelled.

I have no excuse for what I did next; I deliberately stepped into Rickman. I didn't hurt him; I even kept my hands at my sides, so that the body armor under our shirts was all that barely brushed against each other, but I understood violence and men. That one small movement was an escalation. I'd touched a man who was leaning over me, spitting his rage in my face; the lightest touch can tip that into something physical. A lot of women don't understand the rules, that most fights among men start like dogfights with trash talk and body language and that one delicate brush against him went through his adrenaline-pumped body like a jolt of electricity, sharp, nearly painful. To his anger, his body, I might as well have hit him.

We were too close for him to swing at me, so he pushed me hard enough that I stumbled back from him. I thought about falling on purpose, but I debated too long and lost the chance to make him look like a bully, but when someone is that angry you get other chances.

I said, 'You fight like a girl.'

He swung at me, and no matter how stupid he seemed, he was a cop and had been one long enough to make detective, which meant he knew how to fight. I was still fast enough and good enough to block the blow, but I was also fast enough and good enough to take the hit. I needed to show Rickman for what he was.

His fist connected solid on my cheek, and I went down. Rickman was just human, but he was six feet of in-shape human, and he was a cop; they know how to hit, because sometimes their lives depend on putting someone down and making sure they stay there. I ended up on my ass on the floor, my head ringing with the blow. I staggered to my feet before my head had cleared, because one rule in a fight is that you get to your feet as soon as you can. The only thing I could have done from the floor was dislocate his knee with a kick. I wanted more options than crippling him, so I got to my feet and faced him hands up, already in a stance, weight springy and even, slightly on the balls of my feet so I could move.

Rickman was faster than he looked, because he had another fist headed my way. This time I blocked it with my forearm and hit him with my other fist in the side of the body. I pivoted on my feet, throwing my weight into the blow and twisting my fist at the end just like you do when you work the heavy bag. I did what I'd trained to do, but it had been years since I'd fought a normal human. Rickman had hit me full out, and I returned the favor, but I forgot that I was stronger than any human being of my size and sex. I forgot that I carried multiple strains of lycanthropy and had metaphysical ties to vampires. I just hit him and forgot everything but making the blow count.

I felt his ribs give, heard a low-pitched crack as something broke, and knew it wasn't anything on me. Then there was a wall of men in uniform separating us, pushing us back from each other.

I stood in a little bubble of isolation even with Bush and others touching me, holding me back as if I were fighting to get free. I wasn't struggling to get to Rickman. The fight was over as far as I was concerned. The only reason there'd been a fight at all had been my emotions about losing Ares. Motherfucking son of a bitch, I knew better than this.

Bush grinned down at me. 'You pack quite a punch, Marshal Blake.'

'Hey, you were going all vampire-controlled on us, I had to do something.'

'Not me,' he said, 'the detective. They're saying you broke one of his ribs.'

'It's only a floating rib,' I said, 'they bust up easier than the ones higher up.'

A plainclothes officer with a head full of unruly black hair said, 'How's your hand, Marshal?'

I flexed my right hand and nothing hurt. 'I'm fine.'

He smiled, flashing a dimple to one side of a nice mouth. His eyes were a nice, solid brown, not too dark, not too pale. 'You're going to need ice on your face, though.'

It had hurt when Rickman hit me, but it wasn't until the new detective said something that it started to ache. The fact that it hurt this much with my healing abilities meant Rickman had intended to hurt me badly. I felt less bad about the rib thing.

'I'm MacAllister, Detective Robert MacAllister; friends call me Bobby.'

I wanted to ask if we were friends, but comments like that were taken as either hostile or flirting, so I took it for what it was. 'Glad to meet you, Detective, Bobby. I'm Anita.' I said it on automatic, my attention on the cluster of men I could see through Bush's and MacAllister's chests. I felt separate from it all, distant and almost floating. Fuck, I was in shock. How could I be in shock from a puny fight like this?

Dev was at my side. He touched my face, gently, turning so he could see the mark. 'If you keep ordering us to stay out of the fights, all the other bodyguards are going to make fun of us.'

That made me smile, which was probably his goal. 'I'll bear that in mind.'

Nicky moved up beside us. 'You did just get out of the hospital.'

I turned to look at him. What I could see of his face through the fall of his hair was set in bored, stoic lines, but I realized that I'd ordered him to stay out of the fight no matter what. Would he have been forced to watch someone hurt me badly, try to kill me, and been helpless to help me, because I'd given him a direct order? I wasn't sure, and I should have thought of that before I spoke. I felt off my game.

I reached my left hand out to him and he wrapped his bigger hand around mine. I didn't normally hold hands with my lovers when they were being bodyguards, but it was the best I could do to apologize for making it impossible for him to do his job, maybe, by not thinking my words through. I should have been able to know if what I said had crippled his ability to guard me that much, but I couldn't seem to think my way through the maze in my head. His hand was warm and real in mine. It helped.

He smiled, and that was enough to make me happy that I held his hand even in front of the cops.

Bush said, 'Hey, Nicky, does the marshal ever let you guys actually protect her?'

Nicky grinned at him. 'Every once in a while.'

'Naw,' Dev said, 'she's usually protecting us.'

Bush looked up at the taller man, as if waiting for the joke, but something in Dev's face stopped him and made him frown instead. He might have asked if we were kidding, but someone came up behind us who made Bush stand at the cop's version of attention. MacAllister was suddenly all serious. The other officers cleared out around us as if we were all suddenly contagious. Whoever was behind me was someone in charge. They weren't in charge of me, but I was in their house, and that meant ...

'Marshal Blake, Detective Rickman, I need to see you both in my office, now.'

With a serious face, MacAllister leaned over and whispered, 'Called into the captain's office first time you step inside; fast work.'

'About par for me,' I said, and then turned with a professional face, but a hand going up to the blossoming bruise on my cheek. I'd let Rickman hit me so that everyone wouldn't get all hysterical about Dev and Nicky being wereanimals, because nothing undercuts someone's accusations like being made to look unprofessional and a bully. It had worked, but a sympathy bruise is a sympathy bruise, and I was going to see if this one could be multipurpose. I was going to milk it, just in case the captain was upset about me breaking one of his detectives.