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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:09

It was an hour past dawn; all the vampires were tucked in their coffins. Lisandro and Emmanuel took Goran with them; I wasn't sure if he was going to be in the duty rotation, or if Claudia was going to give him the third degree, because I'd taken Lisandro to the side and told him about Mischa hitting Goran and about Nilda's anger and panic at the plane in St Louis that had gotten her kicked off the detail. I wanted to know if others of the Harlequin vampires were abusing their animals to call, and how bad the abuse was, because it wasn't okay in my book.

Nicky and Dev were with me, and the three of us were still covered in drying bits of zombie. I'd learned years ago that no matter how tired you are you never go to sleep without showering first, so ... 'We've all got to shower,' I said.

Dev grinned at me. 'You said you'd help me clean up.'

'I didn't agree to giving up shower sex,' Nicky said.

Dev looked at him. 'Hey, I've been traumatized.'

'Just because you got your combat cherry popped doesn't mean you get to have shower sex with Anita and I don't.'

'You keep this up and I'm showering alone,' I said.

They both looked at me as if I'd spoken in tongues.

'You love shower sex,' Dev said.

'You love sex,' Nicky said.

'I'm tired, I'm cranky, and you're arguing over who gets to have sex with me in the shower without asking me if I have a preference. I'm standing right here, guys.'

They looked at each other, and then Dev looked embarrassed, and Nicky gave me a very direct look, as if he were trying to read more than just my expression. He probably was. 'Who do you want to shower with?' he asked.

'Right now, neither of you,' I said, and it sounded cranky even to me. I wasn't even sure why I was saying it. They were both wonderful lovers. It was easier to get the dried crud off with someone to spot and help.

'So, what, Nicky helps me get the stuff out of my hair?' Dev asked, and the look on his face was almost funny.

'Not my job to be your shower boy,' Nicky said, but he was looking at me.

My phone rang; I would have ignored it, but it was Edward's ring tone. I hit the button and said, 'Yeah, Ed ... Ted, what's up?'

'Don't fuck this up,' he said.

'What? Fuck what up?'

'Dev and Nicky, to start with,' he said.

'You warned me in the elevator, I remember.'

'You remember, but you still sound pissed. I know that tone. It means you're being hostile and bitchy and are going to say, or do, something that you'll regret.'

'Did you even take time to shower before you called to give me advice on my personal life?' I asked, and I sounded angry. I was angry, but I was also confused. 'Since when did you start giving me advice about men?'

'I just got out of the shower, but I figured if I waited to dress you'd have started a fight with one or both of them. And we've been criticizing or giving each other advice on our personal lives almost from the moment we met, which was sort of weird if you think about it,' he said.

That stopped me, because he was right. 'Your advice used to be that I complicated my life and I should just find someone to fuck.'

'I didn't understand you, or me, back then; now I'm telling you to not take your mood out on Nicky and Dev. Nicky's a good guy, and Dev stayed in the fight and cleanup afterward until it was pretty much over, when he was probably scared shitless and overwhelmed. Don't sell either of them short and don't aim your bad mood at them.'

'Well, aren't you just a wellspring of dating advice?'

'If you think it's bad advice, then don't take it,' he said.

'I didn't say it was bad.'

'Then don't pick a fight with them. Remember, you love one of them and like the other one a hell of a lot.'

'Yes, sir,' I said, but it sounded petulant, even pouty.

'You can do what you want to do, Anita, but in the mood you're in, sleeping alone may not be the best idea.'

'I used to sleep alone all the time.'

'Yeah, and you were miserable. I may not understand how your life works with everyone in it, but this is the happiest I've ever seen you. I'm not sure how much of that happiness is due to Nicky, or Dev, but some of it is, so keep that in mind in the next few minutes. I'm getting sleep before someone with a badge calls with another emergency.' He hung up.

I was left standing there with the silent phone and the two men. Dev was looking a question at me. Nicky was trying to be all neutral, and he was, except the very emptiness of his face and body screamed just how not neutral he was feeling.

I sighed and looked at them. Finally I said, 'I'm sorry.'

They looked at each other, then back to me. Nicky said, 'For what?'

'For being pissy and taking my bad mood out on both of you.'

'It's okay; I'm your Bride, you can treat me the way you want.'

'Do you know how much I hate that you mean that?'

'Yeah, but it's still true, and, Anita, if you hadn't made me into your Bride I would have killed you and helped my pride kill Jason, Micah, and Nathaniel. I was, and am, a very bad person. I am a bad guy, or would be if your sense of moral outrage didn't control me.'

'I know, I know, I'm your Jiminy Cricket.'

'No, you're more than that,' he said, and took a step closer to me. 'You said you loved me tonight. I felt that you meant it.'

'I did mean it,' I said.

He held out his hand, and I took his hand in mine.

'That's okay,' Dev said. 'You guys have fun. I'll find another room.'

Nicky and I looked at each other. I raised my eyebrows at him.

'He doesn't have to go on my account,' Nicky said.

Dev looked at us both. 'You just said you loved each other for the first time. You should have a night to yourselves.'

'Because you love each other,' Dev said, as if that made perfect sense.

'Anita saying she loves me doesn't change everything,' Nicky said.

'But shouldn't it?' Dev asked.

Dev looked to me then. 'You explain it to him.'

'Explain what? I agree with Nicky.'

'Shouldn't you want a night alone to sort of celebrate the love thing?'

I squeezed Nicky's hand and smiled at him. 'One of the reasons I love Nicky is that he's okay with sharing me with Nathaniel and Micah, and Cynric, and Jean-Claude, and Asher, and' - I shrugged - 'all the people in my life.'

'It doesn't bother you to share her?' Dev asked, and I knew he was asking Nicky.

'Nathaniel says you share better than I do, so why are we having this discussion again?'

Dev smiled, shook his head, and said, 'Because I keep getting hung up on the clan tiger idea that eventually you fall in love and become monogamous, and when Asher comes back I'm going to try to be monogamous, so ... I guess it's how I'm thinking. Honestly, I don't know, but somehow love should change everything, shouldn't it?'

'If you're doing it right, love makes you more of who you are, not less,' I said.

'What does that mean?' Dev asked.

'It means if we were a happy little polyamorous group before I said I loved Nicky, why should saying it and meaning it change that?'

Dev seemed to think about it, nodded, rolled his lower lip under, and then nodded again. 'Okay, your logic beats out my sentimental whatever. Now what?'

'Shower isn't going to be big enough for all three of us,' Nicky said.

'Regular hotel shower would fit me, Nathaniel, and Micah, but not the two of you. Your shoulders alone won't fit.'

Dev grinned suddenly, the serious mood gone so that his blue tiger eyes sparkled with it. 'The shower is one of the biggest I've ever seen in a hotel, almost as big as the one that Jean-Claude had put in at the Circus.'

'So we clean up and then we see about shower sex for all of us,' Nicky said.

'Sounds good,' I said.

Dev laughed. 'Sounds better than good, sounds amazing. I never thought I'd get you out of your clothes.'

'I don't think he's referring to me,' I said.

Nicky sort of hung his head and sighed, and then he laughed. 'If you hadn't said anything, you could have groped me and said you misunderstood.'

'I've seen you hit a heavy bag; I don't want any misunderstandings between us,' Dev said, smiling.

Nicky laughed again. 'Fair enough; we're sharing Anita, not each other.'

'You okay with accidental touching?'

Dev's smile blossomed back into that grin of his, the one that was part mischief, part sex, and all charm. 'Cool.'