Page 66

Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:14

If Seamus hadn't been injured we'd have had to stay at the scene longer, but they let us take him to get patched up. I wasn't risking him in the ambulance; it was too close to the scenario with Ares in the chopper. No one argued with us. I think they thought the same thing. The EMTs put a dressing on his wound to keep him from bleeding all over the car and then let us go. We implied, though didn't state, that we were taking him to the hospital; we didn't. I called Claudia from the car and had some of the guards waiting to help take him upstairs. They'd help him shift form and if he went apeshit they'd kill him. If he was calm, they'd let him heal in animal form for a few hours.

We dropped Hatfield at the station for her to pick up her own car and drive home to clean up. The rest of us went to our rooms to shower with the industrial-strength cleaner that Edward and I had both started carrying in our go bags. It smelled like bad fake orange, but it was better than smelling like corpses. It was weird that zombies didn't smell as bad as plain dead people, but they almost never did. Metaphysics was weird that way.

Edward went to his room across the hall from Nicky and me. Lisandro had a room farther down the hall. The guards on hall duty informed me that Nathaniel was asleep in the room. I asked, 'And Micah?' but was told no, just Nathaniel. I had a moment to wonder how Micah and his family were doing and why Nathaniel wasn't plastered to his side, but then I wasn't plastered to Micah's side either and I was his 'fiancee.' I opened the door with his key card and tried to be as quiet as possible. The room was dark, the blackout curtains pulled except for that rim of sunlight. If they hadn't told me Nathaniel was in the bed, at first glance it would have looked like just a pile of covers. When he slept alone he cuddled down like he was making a nest. It was always impressive how invisible he could be in a bed by himself.

Nicky and I threaded our way through all the coffins and past the bed. I might have kissed him if I hadn't smelled like rotting corpse. I did not want the smell on the sheets. Nathaniel was a heavy sleeper, but to sleep through both the noise and the smell meant he was exhausted. I tried to remember if he and Micah had slept at all in the last twenty-four hours and couldn't remember, which probably meant, no.

Someone had tidied the bathroom since the last shower that Nicky and I had taken. We had fresh towels, but no soap or shampoo that the hotel had would take care of this smell. I got the bottle of the same all-around body cleanser that they used in morgues, which was actually where I'd first used it on my hands. We'd use Febreze on the body armor vests and bag the clothes and talk to the hotel about laundry. They wouldn't be happy with us if we let them put the clothes in with any other guest laundry. It was definitely a separate load for all five of our clothes. Of course, Seamus had bled all over his, so they might be a loss anyway.

Nicky and I made two separate piles of our weapons, then stripped. Much like last time, there was no teasing or foreplay, it was just strip as quickly as possible. He got the water as hot as we could stand it and then we did a quick cleanup with the heavy-duty orange-smelling stuff top to bottom. It was hell on my hair, but it was about the only thing that worked for certain occasions. When we both smelled like overdone orange something, I got the conditioners for my hair, because otherwise it would do its best imitation of a white-girl Afro, which was so not a good look for me. Nicky got his own shampoo and conditioner. His straight hair would be more forgiving except for the extreme triangle-cut one-sided bangs; it meant that he had to baby his hair more than he would have otherwise. If he didn't, the bangs didn't lie right over his eye.

We stood in the shower waiting for the conditioner to sit for a minute or two, and Nicky grinned at me.

'Do we have to go back and play detective after we get cleaned up?'

'Yeah, I need to make sure they don't vacate my warrant because they think the big bad vampire got burned up.'

'The body he was using probably did get fried,' Nicky said.

'Maybe, but we couldn't see the back door from the basement until after the house blew up. He was in a zombie body; he could move in daylight without frying in the light.'

'Shouldn't he have not been able to do that, take over a zombie body, I mean?'

'No, he shouldn't have,' I said.

He touched my face, turned me to look up at him. 'I didn't mean to make you look all serious.'

'It's a first for me, Nicky. This vampire is breaking all the rules.'

'When you and Edward don't know what's going on, it's bad, isn't it?'

I nodded. 'Yeah, it's bad.'

'So no time for more sex,' he said.

I smiled, then laughed. 'You aren't tired yet?'

'I'm a werelion, Anita. Natural lions can fuck every fifteen to thirty minutes for days.'

'Yeah, for about ten seconds at a shot. Your stamina is much greater, and the lions do nothing but sleep and fuck for days. We've been busier than that.'

He laughed. 'I love that you research the animal side of us.'

'Hey, biology degree; once I thought I'd be a field biologist specializing in preternatural creatures. Some of the stuff I knew going in, but yeah, I research my guys, um, people.'

'It still weirds you out that Jade is a girl.'

I shrugged. 'Yeah, but when I'm around her I like her; I just never saw myself with a girlfriend.'

'The ardeur overwhelms you as much as your people sometimes,' he said.

'Yeah, let's get the conditioner out and get changed.'

He suddenly wrapped me in his arms. 'I'm sorry I keep bringing up things that take your smile away.'

I hugged him back, and even naked in the shower it was more comfort than anything else. It felt incredibly good to simply hold him and be held as close in return. He laid his cheek on top of my head, and I snuggled in against him. That was enough to make his body begin to respond.

I laughed. 'We need to get the conditioner out, remember.'

'Anything you say,' and he backed us into the water still holding each other. It made me laugh, and that may have been his main goal all along. We finished our hair and then used Febreze on all the clothes, even the ones that were going to be laundered. It helped. Febreze was actually invented for stuff like body armor that got really smelly but couldn't be traditionally cleaned.

The big hotel towel was so long it covered me from armpits to mid-calves. Nicky just dried off and didn't bother with wrapping himself in the towel. Micah was the most body-modest wereanimal I'd ever met, and he wasn't that modest. Nicky was like most of them, totally comfortable nude. I was more comfortable than I'd ever been, but I still covered up more than I didn't.

I looked down at the weapons. Without the MOLLE straps to hold all the weapons, there was really no way to carry them all except piled in my arms like firewood, which made them useless as actual weapons, so I left most of them in the bathroom and just kept my Browning. Yes, I was in a room with Nicky, surrounded by our bodyguards, but there was still a window and this vampire had broken every rule so far. Sometimes I felt paranoid, sometimes I just felt careful.

Nicky slung his AR over one shoulder on its tactical strap. I felt less paranoid, and it was an interesting look with him buck naked. It made me smile.

'I was feeling paranoid until I saw you were toting your AR.'

'You said it yourself: This vampire is breaking all the rules. I like to be prepared.'

I started to ask if he'd ever been a Boy Scout, but then realized I'd never been one and I liked to be prepared, too.

Nicky made me let him open the bathroom door and check the room. 'There are guards in the hallway,' I said.

'There's still a window,' he said.

Since I'd already thought the same thing it was hard to bitch about it, so I didn't.

He opened the door quietly, and when he'd looked around the room enough he moved to one side and held the door for me as if we were in public and he was on guard. I walked out into the hush of the room, and the pile of covers moved on the bed.

Nathaniel's voice came thick with sleep. 'Hey, was it as bad as it smelled?'

'Almost,' Nicky said.

'Hey, Nicky,' Nathaniel said.

'Hey,' he said with a smile.

I smiled; I couldn't help it and went to the bed, where I still couldn't see any of Nathaniel, just his voice from the nest of covers. I started to sit down on the edge of the bed, and he wiggled enough to make room. One arm came out of the covers first, and then his face peered up at me. He blinked at me, his face haloed by the sheets; it made him look younger than he was, like a glimpse into some little boy who must still be in there somewhere. He leaned upward, the covers spilling down to reveal the muscled shoulders and upper chest, the illusion of childhood vanished as the very adult body sat up to kiss me.

He was unbelievably warm straight from his nest of blankets as he stretched to kiss me, his hand on the side of my face, tracing the edge of my wet hair. He murmured as he pulled back from the kiss, 'Come take a nap with me.'

'Is this the first sleep you've had in what, twenty-four hours?' I asked.

'Yes,' he said, and wrapped his arms around me, trying to drag me under the covers.

I moved so he couldn't do it, and he lay back against the bed, pouting at me. His hair in its thick braid curled around him like an auburn-haired Rapunzel. He kept my hand. 'Come to bed.'

'I have to get dressed and go be a cop,' I said. 'We only came back to shower and change.'

Nicky was already rummaging in his own luggage, getting clothes.

'You can both come take a nap,' he said.

'No, we have to catch bad guys,' I said.

'I have to follow her around and pretend I'm not the bad guy,' Nicky said.

'Then you have to eat solid food, before you go back to work,' Nathaniel said.

'There's no time for food,' I said.

He sat up enough so that the covers pooled into his lap. 'Make time, Anita; the reason I had to leave Micah at the hospital is that you're draining energy from me. Dev started getting tired, too. You can't ignore your physical body without affecting all of your animals to call, and Damian your vampire servant.'

'I'm sorry, you're right. How is Micah holding up?'

'He won't let himself cry. He's just holding it inside. He holds my hand, lets me hold him, but he's trying to be strong for his family and me. Sometimes it's hard to take care of the two of you.'

'I'm sorry we're difficult,' I said, 'and doubly sorry I'm a pain in the ass.'

'Want me to order room service?' Nicky asked.

'Go tell Edward we're getting food and see if he wants anything.'

'Have one of the other guards order the food and have it delivered to the conference room on this floor,' Nathaniel said.

'Conference room?' I said.

'Yeah, it's got this huge oval table almost big enough for all of us to eat at once.'

'How did you have time to see the conference room?' I asked.

'I knew you hadn't eaten, so I asked where we could have food set out.'

'Why didn't Micah come back with you?' I asked.

'He won't leave the hospital.'

I held Nathaniel's hand. 'I'm so sorry I had to leave you and Micah to deal with it all.'

'You saved Henry; that's what Micah wanted you to do.'

Nicky pulled on jeans. 'What do you want for food?'

'Get protein,' Nathaniel said.

'I always get protein,' I said.

He smiled. 'That's true. I'm the salad eater.'

'You take your clothes off for a living, you have to watch your girlish figure,' I said, and kissed him again.

'Food order,' Nicky said.

I ordered a burger, fries, and a Coke. Nathaniel surprised the hell out of me by ordering the same thing, except for the Coke. 'I don't have to watch my figure for a day or two, and I need the protein,' he said.

'I drain that much energy from you?' I asked, and now I was worried. He almost never ate a burger; lean steaks, but not hamburger.

'Not yet, but you should feed the ardeur before you go back to work.'

'If I'm already draining energy from you, I think feeding the ardeur would be bad.'

'Feed on Nicky, have sex with both of us.'

'I like the way he thinks,' Nicky said from the door.

'I thought you would,' Nathaniel said with a grin.

'It's a fancy hotel and we have the whole floor; they'll be fast on the food service. Thirty minutes tops,' Nicky said.

'Then you should write down what we all want for food, hand it to someone, and get into bed,' Nathaniel said.

Nicky grinned at him, then got the bedside pad of paper and wrote down our orders and his. Then he strode to the door with the AR still on his shoulder. He left the door slightly ajar. I heard him knock on Edward's door. There was a murmur of voices, and then Nicky was back in our room, closing the door firmly behind him.

'Who's ordering the food?' I asked.

'Edward is,' he said, and walked around to the far side of the bed, the one closest to the window. He laid the AR on the floor.

'That was really quick. What did you tell him?' I asked.

'That we were going to have sex and to text you when the food arrives.' He unfastened his jeans and started peeling them down his hips, a little more carefully around the front, because his body was already partially erect, anticipating the sex.

I wanted to say, You did not just tell Edward that, but I knew Nicky had. It was Nicky; he didn't see anything wrong with being honest. Nothing much embarrassed him so he didn't always understand it might embarrass someone else, or maybe he didn't care.

Nathaniel put my hand with the gun still in it on the bedside table. 'We're not that dangerous. I don't think you need to be armed.'

I laid the gun on the table.

'I am that dangerous, just not to you,' Nicky said, as he pulled the covers out from the tangle Nathaniel had made of them.

Nathaniel raised up the covers, like an invitation. 'You don't need the towel either.'

I dropped the towel to the floor and crawled into the warm nest of the covers and Nathaniel's body. 'You sure you don't need to sleep more than you need sex?'

'Sex energizes me; you should know that by now.'

Nicky loomed over both of us, propped up on one shoulder. 'I vote you as an honorary lion.'

'High praise,' Nathaniel said.

Nicky nodded hard enough that his bangs swung back and forth with the movement. 'It is high praise; now let's fuck.'

Nathaniel and I both laughed, high and delighted. 'You sweet-talking bastard, you,' Nathaniel said.

'Thirty minutes, or less, tick-tock,' Nicky said.

'Don't get spoiled by quickies,' I said.

'Never,' Nathaniel said, and rolled me over his body so I was in the middle. I liked being in the middle.