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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:10

There are moments when undressing isn't sexy; being covered in dried blood, guts, and brains is one of those moments. Weapons first and there were a few bits of dried zombie on them, too. We'd clean them later. Our body armor had left a clean spot on our shirts underneath. The vests were all going to need cleaning, and since mine was a custom-fit job I didn't have a backup vest. Men's vests didn't fit right on women, though I could borrow a man's vest and because it was really too big for me it didn't crush my breasts the way it did on women who were bigger through the shoulders and rib cage. But holding up the vest and looking at some of the stains on it, I thought a second vest might not be a bad idea.

The three of us paid attention to our weapons and body armor, and it was sexless. Shirts first, and Nicky looked at my bra, all right, he looked at my breasts, they just happened to be in a black satin bra.

'I like that about you,' Nicky said.

He grinned. 'Those, too, but you don't bitch if I stare at your breasts.'

'I'm wearing a push-up bra; if I didn't want people to look at my breasts I should probably wear something else.'

'Yeah, but I know that Nathaniel packed for you, which means it's all going to be push-up, satin, or lace.'

I smiled and shook my head. 'I'm not sure I own anything else.'

'I like that about you, too,' he said. He took off his shirt in one movement. I heard the cloth stick on one shoulder as it came off, but at least the vest meant the whole shirt hadn't been covered in gunk; bad for the vests, but good for our peace of mind and a lower ick factor. I concentrated on the muscled expanse of his chest and shoulders; they almost distracted me from the flat plains of his stomach.

'Hmm ... an eight-pack.'

He grinned. 'Some of the other guards are pissed, because they can only do a six-pack, if they work their asses off.'

'Eight is genetic; not everyone can do more than a six-pack no matter how hard they work out,' I said.

'Yeah,' he said, and he looked pleased with himself.

There was a small sound in the room, the kind that makes you look up and try to locate the source, and depending on who was making the sound, you'd either pretend you hadn't heard or comfort the person making the noise. Dev had his belt unbuckled, but his shirt was only partially untucked. He held his hands sort of awkwardly away from his body, as if he didn't want to touch something or already had touched something and didn't want to transfer it from his hands to his clothes.

Nicky and I looked at each other and, without a word, went to Dev. 'Let me help you out of those clothes,' I said, trying to put teasing and sexiness in the words.

Dev looked at me, eyes too big, face sort of slack with the edge of panic he was fighting. He held his hands out to me like he was five and had hurt himself. There was no mark on his hands; they looked clean to me, but sometimes you have a sort of Lady Macbeth moment, and even after washing away the blood, it's like you can still see it, feel it, ingrained on your skin.

I reached out to touch his hands, but he jerked back. 'I've got ... stuff on me.'

'Me, too,' I said, my voice soft.

His eyes fluttered and flashed white like a horse about to bolt.

'It's okay, Dev, it's okay.'

'You said you thought you'd never get me out of my clothes, and you haven't even said how cute I look,' Nicky said.

That got a smile from Dev; it was weak, and a little uncertain, but it was better than I'd gotten out of him. He looked at Nicky then, really looked at the other man. He looked at his bare, muscled chest, the way Nicky had looked at my breasts. There were some men in my life who, even as comfortable as they were sharing a bed with me and other men all at the same time, they wouldn't have taken that look from Dev without it being a fight, or at least severely uncomfortable, but Nicky took it in stride.

'That's better,' Nicky said.

Dev put his head to one side and said, 'You don't like men, so why do you care if I admire the view?'

Nicky shrugged as much as his shoulder muscles would let him. 'I like knowing that you're not just kidding about it.'

'You like knowing that I'd do you if you'd let me, and you're still going to get in the shower with me. Most straight men would be totally creeped by it.'

'I'm secure in my masculinity.'

'Well, that's the truth,' I said.

Nicky smiled at me, and I smiled back.

'But you wouldn't be doing me; I don't bottom to anyone,' Nicky said.

'That works for me,' Dev said.

I was no longer certain we were joking.

Dev pouted at him, and if you've never seen a handsome, athletic, six-foot-three man pout and be able to make it totally work for him, then I'm sorry, because it was way fun to watch.

Nicky laughed. 'Let's get naked and wet.'

The look on Dev's face at such a bold comment from the other man ruined the pout and stripped his face to something uncertain and hopeful. I hadn't known that Dev thought Nicky was cute, but Nicky's maneuvering of the other man let me know that my werelion had known. Was I that blind, or was Nicky just that observant?

Dev stripped off his shirt in one fast motion and threw it on the floor as if he didn't want to touch it any longer than he had to, but he unzipped his pants and stripped them off to join his socks and boots, which were already on the floor beside him. He was suddenly totally nude and beautiful, but he wasn't looking defiantly at me, he was looking at the other man. It was almost as if he thought Nicky would chicken out and have a moment of heterosexual panic, but I knew better. If it was a test of nerves, my money was on Nicky.

He didn't disappoint me. He just unfastened his pants and stripped them off - okay, he had to peel them off due to some fluid that had dried on one leg, but he got them off and let them fall on top of his own boots and socks. He stood there naked and yummy and stared at Dev like he was daring him to say something.

Dev opened his mouth, closed it, and then laughed, head back, eyes closed, totally delighted. Nicky looked at me and smiled. I decided then and there that I would never try to bluff Nicky, because he was out of my league. I could lie, but I couldn't manipulate like that, not even for a good cause.

Nicky held his hand out to me, and I went to him. 'You have too many clothes on,' he said.

'We can fix that,' I said.

'Yes,' Dev said, his voice still holding an edge of laughter, 'we can.'