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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:53:52

Juliet pulled into the parking lot with Nicky in the second SUV like a shadow behind hers. 'See,' Dev said, 'you didn't lose Nicky.'

'No one likes an I-told-you-so,' she said, and began to drive up and down the lanes looking for a parking spot. She passed a lot of police cars of every flavor in the parking lot. 'My job just got easier. What's with all the police?' Dev asked.

Juliet pulled into a parking space with a county sheriff car on one side. Nicky had to drive past us. There were no other parking spots as far as the eye could see. 'One of their own is inside,' I said. 'We always come like this.' I unbuckled my seat belt.

Dev turned in his seat, belt free, and said, 'I understand his friends and coworkers, but some of these marked cars are from towns away. There's even one from Wyoming.'

'Dad's been the county sheriff for a long time,' Micah said. 'He knows a lot of people.'

But it was Nathaniel who said the truth. 'There'll be officers here who don't know Sheriff Callahan, but once the word goes out that there's an officer down for any reason, they come to make sure the family has everything they need and that the officer is never alone. They do vigil.'

Juliet turned in her seat so she could see Nathaniel. 'How do you know that? Your dad a cop, too?'

'No, but I've been with Anita for years. I've been at the hospital when she was hurt and visited when other officers were injured.'

'And they accept you as family?' Juliet asked.

'Most of the local police do.'

'They're sort of used to my domestic arrangements,' I said.

Juliet shook her head hard enough to make her curls bounce. 'Well, I don't know about the other cops, but our family is probably going to be embarrassing the hell out of us about your domestic arrangements. I'll just apologize now and get it over with.'

'Appreciated,' I said. Micah squeezed my hand. I gave him a smile. 'If I kiss you, you'll be having to wipe lipstick off.'

'I'll risk it, if we're careful,' he said, and smiled.

We kissed gently, and it left a stripe of scarlet in the middle of his lips. Nathaniel said, 'Share the go-faster stripe, because I may not be able to kiss you for a while.'

Micah turned to him in the narrowness of the backseat. 'I'm sorry.'

'It's okay. We can't kiss in public in a lot of places. I know you love me even when we can't kiss.'

Micah leaned into the other man, and Nathaniel was just taller enough in the upper body to have to bend down a little. It was as gentle a kiss as we'd done, but then Micah slid his arms around Nathaniel's waist, up underneath his jacket so he could run his hands up the muscled warmth of his back with only the thin dress shirt between him and the other man's skin. I loved that pocket of heat just underneath the jacket myself, so I knew what Micah was doing.

Nathaniel responded, sliding his own arms around Micah, and the kiss grew. I knew I had a big, happy smile on my face. I loved watching them together.

Juliet said, 'You really don't mind, do you?'

It took me a moment to realize she was talking to me. I glanced at her, not really wanting to stop looking at my two men. 'Not mind? I love them, and I love seeing them together.'

'I guess I thought you tolerated it, but the look on your face just now ... You looked so happy.'

I frowned at her. Micah drew back from the kiss, and Nathaniel just sort of wrapped himself around the other man, putting his head on one of Micah's shoulders, so his face was buried against him and he wasn't looking at Juliet.

'I was happy,' I said.

'Why wouldn't Anita be happy to watch us kiss?' Micah said, holding the other man easily, familiarly.

Juliet had the grace to look embarrassed. 'I don't know; I guess I'd be jealous, or ... I wouldn't want to see two men together.'

'It made you uncomfortable,' Micah said, his voice quiet and almost neutral.

'I'm sorry, but yeah, a little. I didn't know you liked guys.'

'I don't, not really, but I love Nathaniel.'

'Trust me,' Dev said, 'there is a trail of brokenhearted boys back home who wish so much our luscious Micah liked men better than he does. Sadly, where men are concerned he's a one-man boy.' He gave a pouting face as if he were five, and then that slow grin spread across his face. I wanted to frown at him, but that damn Cheshire grin did me in every time. How could someone so big, so grown up, do mischief so well?

Micah looked at Dev. 'There are one or two men back home besides Nathaniel that I notice.' His voice was utterly mild.

Dev's grin faded around the edges, and his eyes were thinking way too hard. You could almost see him reviewing every interaction he'd seen between Micah and the men back home. It was why Micah had said it: to bedevil our devil.

I turned away to hide my own grin.

Juliet said, 'You tease like friends.'

'We are that,' Micah said, his voice still quiet and mild.

'Close friends,' she said, with a little too much emphasis on close.

'Dev is bisexual, cheerfully so, but I've already told you we aren't lovers.' He stroked Nathaniel's hair with the other man still entwined around him. 'If we were, I wouldn't hide it.'

She looked at what she could see of Nathaniel. 'I guess not.'

'It bothered you to see us kiss,' Micah said.

She looked down, frowning, then back up, and nodded. 'I'm sorry, but it did. I was all open-minded about it, until ...'

'It's why we kissed in the car, because you are open-minded compared to some of our family. But it's not just our family; it's the other police, it's everyone. As men we have to be more cautious, or we can end up with other men up in our face.'

'Yeah, I'd rather not have to guard you against a cop. That could be legally ... awkward,' Dev said, at last.

'You'd be up on assault charges,' I said.

'So what do you want me to do? The police are like a lot of manly men; they react badly to gay.'

'But you're bisexual,' Juliet said, and it was brave of her to make the distinction.

'You're either straight or gay to most people,' Dev said, 'and if a guy touches another guy he's gay, period.'

Nathaniel drew away from Micah enough to say, 'Just like a lot of the gay community thinks a man who touches a woman isn't gay enough. They think bisexual means you haven't made up your mind or won't admit the truth.'

'Really?' Juliet said.

He nodded. 'The gay community can be just as narrow-minded as the straight community.'

Dev said, 'Nicky is almost here.'

I looked out toward the parked cars and the electric glowing darkness but couldn't see him. 'Am I too short to see him from the backseat?'

'I can see him,' Juliet said, 'but I hadn't seen him until your bodyguard said something.'

'Once Nicky gets here,' Dev said, 'if there's still no one in the parking lot, I'll get out first, and when I give you the signal Anita gets out next.'

Juliet looked at the other man. 'You were looking at the parking lot this whole time?'

'Most of it,' he said, and reached for his door handle.

'Why does Anita get out next?'

'Because she's the next best with weapons after me.'

'I'm better with edged weapons,' I said.

He grinned back over his shoulder. 'Yeah, but I make my own edged weapons.' Dev slid out of the car and looked around with the door still open around him.

'What did he mean by making his own edged weapons?' Juliet asked.

'He's a weretiger,' I said.

Nicky was on my side of the car. He glanced down long enough to give me a small smile, then went back to gazing around the parking lot. They were bodyguards first tonight, friends and lovers second. Dev was in charge of the passenger side of the car and Nathaniel. Nicky was taking my side of the car and me. Micah, being in the middle, could get out on either side, and whichever side he used, that guard would have him to keep safe, too. Nicky opened my door, which meant I could finally get out without either guard yelling at us.

'I don't understand; how does being a weretiger mean he makes his own knives?' Juliet said.

'Not knives, claws,' Micah said.

Nicky offered me his hand to get out of the car, which he almost never did. Because it was rare, I took it, though I was perfectly capable of getting out without his hand in mine, but as his hand closed over mine it felt good. He drew me to my feet, and I left Micah to explain our reality to his cousin. I had a moment to look up into Nicky's face; most of the right side was covered by the triangular fall of hair, but the one blue eye that I could see smiled down at me, echoing the smile that curled his lips. I started to go up on my tiptoes to kiss that smile, but his head moved and his expression went very serious. 'Police,' he whispered.

He let go of my hand so I could join Micah and Nathaniel on the other side of the car. Nicky took up his post with Dev at our backs, as Micah reached for my left hand and pulled me forward like a safety net as he and Juliet said hi to three different flavors of uniform. It was reunion time, and thanks to his father being a sheriff, a lot of the members of that reunion would be wearing a badge. The fact that I hadn't realized we'd be wading through police officers at the hospital had been stupid of me. It just showed how much I'd been thrown by his mother's phone call. I'd been thinking I'd have kept Ares and Bram with us. They smelled like military, and being ex-military would have given them clout with the cops. Nicky and Dev were just going to set off their bad-guy sensors, and nothing about the two handsome, physically imposing, armed men was going to endear them to the cops. Crap.