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Incubus Dreams-2004
 
 
  
 


Книга в работе, планируется к изданию в октябре 2004 года.

Incubus Dreams - это, по обыкновению, заведение. Точнее - стрип-клуб. Но не вампирский, не гиенский, а самый обычный, человеческий.

Из Блога ЛКГ несколько подробностей о содержании - пишет сама Гамильтон, так что за спойлеры не считаем (фабула не раскрывается).

Книга будет длиннее предыдущих, длиннее даже рекордной "Обсидиановой Бабочки".

У Ронни 2 сцены - одна небольшая, и одна побольше.

У Ричарда на данный момент - тоже 2. В первой он ведет себя плохо, во второй - отчаянно пытается помочь Аните.

Натаниель по совету Аниты начинает проявлять больше доминантности.

Олаф, Эдуард - в наличии.

Порадуются так же поклонники Дамиана, которому не уделялось достаточно внимания со времен "Голубой луны".

В действие вводятся несколько новых вампиров и оборотней, которые будут появляться в дальнейшем.

Анита окажется на трех местах преступления (убийства).

В одной из сцен новый вервольф Грэхам везет Аниту в "Запретный плод", чтобы забрать оттуда Натаниеля. Анита не за рулем из-за слабости от большой потери крови. С ними еще один новый вампир, которого выбрал Жан-Клод ей в телохранители.

Мы впервые увидим выступление Натаниеля - как он танцует и перекидывается. Сразу после клуба Аните придется снова отправиться на место преступления.

Главный вопрос книги - можно ли любить и принимать другого, если не любишь и не признаешь себя?

Cara 05.02.04

Присоединяйтесь к обсуждению содержания на форуме "Лавки миров" в разделе "Запретный плод", куда можно зайти с главной страницы: http://lavka.lib.ru

Incubus Dreams
transcribed from the DVD
chapter1
it was an Oct. wedding. The bride was a witch that solved preternatural crimes. The groom raised the dead and slew vampires for a living. It sounded like a Halloween joke but it wasn"t.

The groom"s side wore traditional black tuxedos with orange bow ties and white shirts. The bride"s side wore orange formals. You don"t see Halloween orange prom dresses all that often. I"d been terrified that I was going to have to shell our $300 for one of the monstrosities. But, since I was on the groom"s side, I got to wear a tux.

Larry Kirkland, groom, co-worker, and friend had stuck to his guns. He had refused to make me wear a dress unless I wanted to wear one. HMMMMMM let me see $300 or more for a very orange formal that I would burn before I wore again or less than $100 to rent a tux that I could return. Wait let me think... I got the tux. I did have to buy a pair of black tie up shoes; the tux shop didn"t have any size 7 in women"s. Oh well. Even with the $70 shoes that I would probably never wear again I still counted myself very lucky.

As I watched the four bridesmaids in their very poofy orange dresses walk down the isle of the packed church their hair done up on their head"s with ringlets and more make-up than I had ever seen any of them wear. I was feeling very, very lucky. They had little round bouquets with orange and white flowers with black lace and orange and black ribbons trailing from the flowers. I just had to stand up at the front of the church my hand holding the wrist of the other arm. The wedding coordinator had seemed to believe that all the groomsmen would pick their nose or something equally embarassing if they didn"t keep their hands busy. So she informed them that they were to stand with hands clasped on opposite wrists, no hands in pockets, no crossed arms, no hands clasped over their groins

I arrived late to the rehearsal, big surprise. And the wedding coordinator had seemed to believe that I would be a civilizing influence on the men, just b/c I happened to be a girl. It didn"t take her long to figure out that I was as uncouth as the men.

Frankly, I thought we all behaved ourselves really well. She just didn"t seem really comfortable around men or around me. Maybe, it was the gun I was wearing. But none of the groomsmen, myself included had done anything for her to complain about. This was Larry"s day and none of us wanted to screw it up and oh it was Tammy"s day. The bride entered the church on her father"s arm. Her mother was already in the front pew dressed in a pale melon orange that actually looked good on her. She was beaming and crying and seemed to be both miserable and deliriously happy all at the same time. Mrs. Reynolds was the reason for the big wedding. Both Larry and Tammy would have been happy with something smaller but Tammy didn"t seem to be able to say NO to her mother and Larry was trying to get along with his future in-laws.
"Det. Tammy Reynolds was a vision in white complete with a veil that covered her face like a misty dream. She too was wearing more makeup than I had ever seen her in. But the drama of it suited the beaded neckline and full bell skirt. The dress looked like it could have walked down the isle on its own or at least stood on its own. They had done something with her hair so that it was smooth and completely back from her face. So you could see just how striking she was. I never really noticed that Det. Tammy was beautiful. I was standing at the end of the groomsmen, me and Larry"s 3 brothers, so I had to crane a little to see his face. It was worth the look. He was pale enough that his freckles stood up like ink spots. His blue eyes wide and he"d done something to his short red curls that they lay almost smooth. He looked good if he didn"t faint.

He gazed at Tammy as if he had been hit by a hammer between the eyes. Of course, if they had done 2 hours of makeup on Larry he might have been a vision too. But men don"t have to worry about it. The double standard is alive and well. The women are supposed to be beautiful on the wedding day and the groom is just suppposed to stand there and not embarrass himself or her. I leaned back in line and tried not to embarrass anyone. I tried my hair back while it was still wet so it lay flat smooth to my head. I wasn"t cutting my hair so it was the best I could do to look like a boy. There were other parts of my anatomy that didn"t help the boy look either. I am very curvy and even in a tux built for a man I was still curvy. No one complained. Bu the wedding coordinator had roled her eyes when she saw me. All she said was you need more makeup.

None of the other groomsmen are wearing makeup" I said.

Don"t you want to be pretty?" since I thought I was already looked pretty good there was only one reply "not paticularly."

that had been the last conversation the wedding lady and I had that she positiviely avoided me after that. I think she had been mean on purpose b/c I wasn"t helping her keep the other groomsmen in line. She seemed to believe since we both has ovaries instead of balls that we should have joined forces. Besides why should I worry about being pretty it was Tammy and Larry"s day not mine. If and that was a very big if I ever got married then I"d worry about it, until then screw it.

Besides I was already wearing more makeup than I normally did. Which for me meant any. My step mother Judith keeps telling me that when I hit 30 I"ll feel differently about all this girl stuff. I"ve got only 3 yrs to go until the big 3 0 so far panic has not set in.

Tammy"s father placed her hand on Larry"s. Tammy was 3 inches taller than Larry, in heels she was more. I was standing close enough to the groom to see the look that Tammy"s father gave to Larry, it was not a friendly look. Tammy was 3 months almost 4 months pregnant and it was all Larry"s fault or rather it was Tammy"s and Larry"s fault, but I don"t think that"s how her father viewed it. No, Mr. Nathan Reynolds definitely seemed to blame Larry, as if Tammy had been snatched virgin from her bed and brought back deflowered and pregnant. Mr. Reynolds raised Tammy"s blusher on her veil to reveal all that carefully made up beauty. He kissed her solomnly on the cheeck threw one last dark look at Larry and turned smiling and pleasant to join his wife in the front pew. The fact that he"d gone from a look that dark to pleasant and smiling when he knew the church would see his face bothered me. I didn"t like that Larry"s new father in law was capable of lying that well. Made me wonder what he did for a living. But, I was naturally suspicious, comes from working too closely with the police for to long. Cinicism is so contagious.

We all turned towards the altar and the familiar ceremony began. I"d been to dozens of weddings over the years almost all of them Christian, almost all of them standard denomination. So the words were strangely familiar, funny how you don"t think you"ve memorized something until you hear it out loud. Dearly beloved we are gathered her today to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony. It wasn"t a Catholic or Episcopalian wedding so we didn"t have to kneel or do much of anything. We wouldn"t even be getting communion during the ceremony. I have to admit that my mind began to wonder a bit. I"ve never been a big fan of weddings. I understand they are necessary but I was never one of those girls that fantasized what my wedding would be like someday. I don"t remember ever thinking about it until I got engaged in college and when that fell through I went back to not thinking about it. I"d been engaged briefly to Richard Zeeman - Jr. High science teacher and local Ulfric - wolf king. But he"d dumped me b/c I was more at home with the monsters than he was. Now I"d pretty much settled on the idea that I"d never marry and have the words spoken over me and my honeybun. A tiny part of me that I"d never admit to out loud was sad about that. Not the wedding part I think I would hate my own wedding just as much as anyone else"s but not having one single person to call my own.

I"d been raised middle class, middle America , small town and that meant the fact that I was dating a minimum of 3 people maybe 4 depending on how you looked at it still made me squirm with something painfully close to embarassment. I was working on not being uncomfortable about it but there were issues that needed to be worked out. For instance, who do you bring as your date to a wedding? The wedding was in a church, complete with holy items so 2 of the men were out! Vampires didn"t do well around holy items. Watching J-C and Asher burst into flame as they came through the door would probably put a damper on the festivities. That left me with one official boyfriend Micah Callahan and one friend who happened to be a boy, Nathaniel Grayson. They"d come to the point where rings were exchanged, which meant the best man and the maid of honor had something to do. The woman got to hold Tammy"s huge spill of white flowers and the man got to hand over the jewelry. It all seemed so terribly sexist, just once I"d like to see the man hold the flowers and the woman fork over the jewelry. I"d been told by a friend that I was too liberated for my own good. Maybe... All I knew was if I ever did get engaged again either both of us got an engagement ring or neither of us did. OF course, again the not being married part meant the engagement was probably off the board too. Oh well!
At last they were man and wife we all turned, the Reverand preceded to the church as Mr. and Mrs. Laurence Kirkland, though I knew for a fact that Tammy was keeping her maiden name, so really it should have been Mr. Laurence Kirkland and Ms. Tammy Reynolds. We all fell into 2 lines. I got to offer my arm to Det. Jessica Arnet. She took the arm and with her heels I was about 5 inches shorter than she was. She smiled at me. I noticed she was pretty about a month ago b/c she was flirting with Nathaniel, but it wasn"t until that moment that I noticed she could be beautiful. Her dark hair was pulled completely back from her face, so that the delicate triangle of her cheeks and chin wereall you saw. The make up had widened her eyes, added color to her cheeks and carved pouty lips out of her thin ones. I realized that the orange that made most of the bridesmaids look wan brought our rich highlights in her skin and hair, made her eyes shine. So few people looked good in orange. It"s one of the reasons they use it in so many prisons. Like an extra punishment. But, Det. Arnet looked wonderful in it. It almost made me wish I"d let the wedding lady talk me into the extra make-up.... Almost. .. I must have stared b/c she frowned and only then did I start forward and take my place in line.

We filed out like good little party members. We had already endured the photographer for group shots. He"d been hunting the bride and groom for candid moments, cutting the cake, throwing the bouquet, removing the garter. Once we were through the receiving line I could fade into the backround and no one would care. We all stood in line as we had been drilled, bride and groom in front of the line b/c lets face it that"s who everyone is really here to see. The rest of us strung out behind them along the wall waiting to shake hands with mostly strangers. Tammy"s family was local but I"d never met any of them. Larry"s family was all out of towners. I knew policemen that had been invited, other than that it was nod and smile, nod and smile, shake a hand or 2, nod and smile. I must have been concentrating really hard on the people I was meeting b/c it surprised me when Micah Callahan my official date was suddenly in front of me. He was exactly my height. Short for a man or a woman, his rich brown hair was nearly as curly as mine and today his hair fell around his shoulders loose. He"d done that for me. He didn"t like his hair loose. And I understood why. He was always so delicate looking for a man with all that hair framing his face his face was almost as delicate a triangle as Det. Arnet"s. His lower lip fuller than his upper lip which gave him a perpetual pout. And though wider than a woman"s mouth it didn"t really help. But the body under the black tailored suit, THAT HELPED! Wide shoulders, slendor waist and hips, a swimmer"s body, though swimming wasn"t his sport. From the neck down you"d never mistake him for a girl. It was just the face and the hair. He"d left his shirt open at the neck so that it framed the hollow in his throat. I could see myself reflected darkly in his sunglasses. It was actually a little dim in the hallway so why the sunglasses? His eyes werekitty cat eyes, leopard to be exact. They were yellow and green all at the same time. The color predominant between the 2 depended on the color he wore, his mood, the lighting. Today, b/c of the shirt they"d be very green, but with a hint of yellow like dappled light in a forest. He was a wereleopard Nimar - Raj of the local pard by rights he should have been able to pass for human, but if you spend too much time in animal form, sometimes you don"t come all the way back. He didn"t want to sweep the mundane so he"s wear the glasses today. His hand was very warm in mine and that one small touch was enough, enough to bring some of the careful shielding sown. The shielding kept me from sensing him all through the ceremony, like a second heart beat. He was Nimar - Raj to my Nimar - Ra, leopard king and queen. Though my idea of the arangement was closer to queen and consort. Partners but I reserve presidential veto. I"m a control freak, what can I say?

I was the first human Nimar-Ra in the were leopards long history. Since I raise the dead for a living and am a legal vampire executioner there are people who argue the human part. They"re just jealous. I started to pull him in against me for a hug, but he gave a small shake of his head. He was right. He was right. If just holding his hand sped my pulse like candy on my tongue. Then a hug would be bad. Through a series of mediphysical accidents I held something close to the beast that lived in Micah. That beast and Micah"s beast knew each other. Knew each other in the way of old lovers. That part of us that was not human, knew each other better than our human halves.

I still knew almost nothing about him really, even though we lived together. On a metaphysical level we were bound tighter than any ceremony or peice of paper could make us. In real everyday life I was wondering what to do with him. He was the perfect partner, my other half. The missing peice. He complimented me in almost every way. When he was standing this close it all seemed so right. Give me a little distance and I was beginning to wonder when the other shoe would drop and he would stop being wonderful. I"d never had a man in my life yet that didn"t spoil it, somehow. Why should Micah be different?

He didn"t so much kiss me as lay the feel of his breath against my cheek, he breathed into "Later." That one light touch made me shiver so violently that he had to steady me with a touch on my arm. He smiled at me that knowing smile that a man gives when he understands just how much his touch affects a woman. I didn"t like that smile. It made me feel like he took his time with me for granted. The moment I thought it I knew it wasn"t true. It wasn"t even fair. So why had I thought it at all? B/c I am a master of screwing up my own love life. If something works to well I have to poke at it, prod it "til it breaks or bites me. I was trying not to do that anymore but old habits, especially bad ones die hard. Micah moved off down the line and Det. Arnet gave me a questioning look out of her heavily painted, but lovely eyes. She opened her mouth as if to ask am I all right? The next person on line distracted her. Nathaniel was distracting no doubt about that. Jessica Arnet was a few inches taller than Nathaniel"s 5"6. So she had to look down to meet that lavender gaze. No exaggeration on the color, his eyes weren"t blue but truly pale purple, lavendor, spring lilacs. He wore a banded collar shirt that was almost the same color as his eyes. So that the lavendor was even more vibrant, drowning and beautiful those eyes. He offered his hand, but she hugged him. Hugged him b/c I think for the first time she was in a public situation where no one would think it was strange. So she hugged him b/c she could. There was a fraction of a moment"s hesitation then he hugged her back. But, he turned his head so he could look at me. His eyes said clearly, "Help Me." She hadn"t done that much yet, just hug or a handshake would have done. But, the look in Nathaniel"s eyes were much more serious than she"d done, as if it bothered him more than it should have. Since in his day job he is a stripper you"d think that he"d be used to women pawing him. Of course, maybe that was the point, he wasn"t at work. She stayed molded to his body and he stayed holding, with only that mute look in his eyes to say he was unhappy. His body seemed happy and relaxed in the hug. He never showed Jessica Arnet his confused eyes. The hug had gone on longer than was polite. And I finally realized what part of the problem was. Nathaniel was the least dominant person I"d ever met. He wanted out of the hug but he could not be the first one to pull back. Jessica had to let him go and she was probably waiting for him to move away and getting all the wrong signals from the fact he wasn"t moving away.
"SH*T!"
How do I end up with men that have such interesting problems? Lucky I guess. I held up my hand towards him and the relief on his face was clear enough, that anyone down the hall would have seen it and understood it. He kept his face turned so Jessica never saw that look. It would have hurt her feelings and Nathaniel didn"t want to hurt anyone"s feelings. Which meant that he didn"t see her shining face all aglow from what she thought was mutual attraction. Truthfully, I thought Nathaniel liked her, at least a little. But his face said otherwise, to me anyway.

Nathaniel came to my hand like a scared child, that"s just been saved from the neighborhood bully. I drew him into a hug and he clung to me, pressing our bodies closer than I would have liked in public. But I couldn"t blame him not really. He wanted the comfort of physical contact. I think he"d figured out that Jessica Arnet had gotten the wrong idea. I held him as close as I could, as close as I"d wanted to hold Micah. But, with Micah it might have led to embarrassing things, but not with Nathaniel. With Nathaniel I could control myself. I wasn"t in love with him. I caressed the long braid of his auburn hair that fell nearly to his ankles. I played with the braid as if it were more intimate things. Hoping that Jessica would take the hint. I should have known that a little extra hugging wouldn"t have done the job. I drew back from the hug first and he kept his gaze on my face. I could study his face and understood what she saw there, so handsome, so amazingly beautiful. His shoulders had broadened in the last few months, weight lifting or just the fact he was 20 and still filling out. He was luscious to look at and I was nearly as certain that he would be as luscious in bed as he was to look at. But though he was living with me, cleaning my house, buying my groceries, running my errands, I still hadn"t had intercourse with him. I was really trying to avoid that. , since I didn"t plan on keeping him. Someday Nathaniel would have to find a new place to live, a new life b/c I wouldn"t always need him the way I did now. I was human. But just I was the first human Nimir-Ra the leopards had ever had I was also the first human servant of a master vampire to aquire certain abilities. With those abilities came some down sides. One of those down sides was the needing to feed the arduer every 12 hrs or so. The ardeur is French for flame, roughly translated to being consumed, being consumed by love. But it isn"t exactly love. I started up into Nathaniel"s wide lilac eyes, cradled his face between my hands. I did the only thing I could think of that might keep Jessica Arnet from embarrassing them both at the reception to follow. I kissed him. I kissed him b/c he needed me to do it. I kissed him b/c it was strangely the right thing to do. I kissed him b/c he was my pomme de sang, my apple of blood. I kissed him b/c he was my food and I hated the fact that anyone was my food. I fed off of Micah too but he was my partner, my bf and dominant enough to say no if he wanted to. Nathaniel wanted me to take him, wanted to belong to me and I didn"t know what to do about it. Months from now when the ardeur would be under control and I wouldn"t need a pomme de sang. What would Nathaniel do when I didn"t need him anymore? I drew back from the kiss and watched Nathaniel"s face shine at me the way Jessica Arnet"s face had shined at him. I wasn"t in love with Nathaniel but staring up into that happy handsome face I was afraid that I couldn"t say the same for him. I was using him not for sex but for food. He was food, just food. But even as I thought it I knew it was partly a lie. You don"t fall in love with your steak. B/c it can"t hold you can"t press warm lips in the bend of your neck and whisper, thank you. As it glides down the hallway in the charcoal grey slacks that fit its ass like a second ski. It spilled roomy over the thighs that you happen to know are more lovely out of the paints than in. when I turned to the next smiling person on line I caught Det. Jessica Arnet giving me a look. It wasn"t an entirely friendly look. Great, just great.

End chapter 1!
Chapter 2

The Halloween theme continued into the reception hall. Orange and black cray paper streamers dangled everywhere, card board skeletons, rubber bats and paper ghosts floated over head. There was a fake spider web against one wall big enough to hang someone from. The table center pieces were realistic looking jack-o-lanterns with flickering electric grins. The fake skeletons were long enough to be a hazard to anyone much taller than I was, which meant most guests were having the tops of their hair brushed by little card board skeletons toes. Unfortunately, Tammy was 5"8 without heels, with heels she got her veil tangled in the decorations. The bride"s maids finally got Tammy"s veil unhooked from the skeletal toes, but it ruined the entrance of for the bride and groom. If Tammy had wanted the decorations safe for the tall people she shouldn"t have left it to Larry and his brothers. There was no one of them that was over 5"6. Don"t blame me groomsmen or not, I did not decorate the hall. It was not my fault. There were other things I was going to get blamed for but they weren"t my fault either, well mostly not my fault.

I"d escorted Jessica Arnet into the room. She hadn"t smiled at me as I led her into the room. She looked way too serious. When Tammy"s veil was safely secure once more, Jessica had gone to the table where Micah and Nathaniel were sitting. She"d leaned into Nathanial and when I said leaned, I meant it. She like leaned on him so that the line of her body touch his shoulder and arm. It was bold and discreet at the same time. If I hadn"t been watching for it I might not have realized what she was doing. She spoke quietly to him. He finally shook his head and she turned and wove her way through the small tables full of guests. She took the last empty seat at the long table, where the wedding party was trapped. The last empty chair was beside me. We got to sit down in the order we got to enter, Goody!

In the middle of the toast, after Larry"s brother had made the groom blush, but before the parent"s had had their turn, Jessica leaned into me close enough that her perfume was sweet and a little to close.

She whispered, "Does Nathaniel really live with you?"

I"d been afraid that the question would be hard. This one was easy. "Yes," I said.

"I asked if he was your boyfriend and he said he slept in your bed. I thought that was an odd way to answer." She turned her head so that I was suddenly way to close to her face. Those wide searching eyes. I was struck again by how lovely she was and felt stupid for not noticing sooner, but I didn"t notice girls. I noticed boys, so sue me. I was heterosexual. It wasn"t her beauty that struck me, but the demand, the intellegence in her eyes as she searched my face. And I realized that no matter how pretty she was, she was still a cop. and was trying to smell the lie here. B/c she had smelled one. She hadn"t asked me a question, so I didn"t answer. I rarely got into trouble by keeping my mouth shut.

She gave a small frown. "Is he your boyfriend? If he is then I"ll leave it alone, but you could have told me sooner so I wouldn"t have made a fool of myself."

I wanted to say that you didn"t make a fool of yourself. But, I didn"t. I was too busy trying think of an answer that would be honest and not get Nathaniel and me in more trouble. I settled for the evasion he had used. "Yes, he sleeps in my bed."

She gave a small shake of her head, a stubborn look closing up over her face. "That wasn"t what I asked Anita. You"re lying. You"re both lying. I can smell it." She frowned. "Just tell me the truth. If you have a prior claim, say so now."

I sighed, "Yeah, I have a prior claim, apparently."

The frown deapened, putting frown lines between the pretty eyes. "Apparently, what does that mean? Either he is your boyfriend or he is not."

"Maybe Boyfriend isn"t the right word." I said. I tried to think of a word that did not include pomme de sang. The police didn"t really know how deeply involved with the monsters I was. They suspected, but they didn"t know. Knowing is different from suspicion. Knowing will hold up in court. Suspision won"t even get you a search warrant.

"Then what is the right word?" she whispered. But it held an edge of hiss as if she was fighting not to yell, are you lovers?

What was I supposed to say? If I said yes then Nathaniel would be free of Jessica"s unwanted attentions, but it also meant that everyone on the St. Louis police force would know that Nathaniel was my lover. It wasn"t my reputation I was worried about, that was pretty much trashed. A girl can"t be coffin bait for the master of the city and be a good girl. Most people feel that if a woman would do a vampire, she"ll do anything. Not true, but there you go. Not my reputation at stake but Nathaniel"s. If it got out that he was my lover, then no other woman would make a play for him. If he didn"t want to date Jessica fine, but he did need to date someone. Someone besides me. If I wasn"t going to keep Nathaniel forever, like almost death do you part ever, then I needed a bigger social circle he needed a real girlfriend.

So I hesitated weighing a dozen words and not finding a single one that would help the situation.

My cell phone went off and as I fumbled for it to stop the soft incessant ringing. I was too relieved to be irritated. It could have been a wrong number at that moment and I still would have felt I owed them flowers.

It wasn"t a wrong number. It was Lt. Rudolph Storr, head of the Regional Preternatual Investigation team. He had opted to be on duty during the wedding, so that other people could attend. He"d asked Tammy if she was inviting any non-humans. And when she"d said yes, she didn"t like that term, but if he meant lycanthropes, the answer was yes. Dolph had suddenly decided he"d be on duty and not come to the wedding. He was having a personal problem with the monsters. His son was about to marry a vampire. And that vampire was trying to persuade Dolph"s son to join her in eternal life. To say that Dolph was not taking it well was an understatement. He"d trashed an interrogation room, manhandled me and damn near got himself brought up on charges.

I"d arranged a dinner with Dolph, his wife Lucille, her son and future daughter in law. I"d persuaded the son to put off the decision to join the undead; it was a little late for the bride. The wedding was still on, but it was a start. His son still being among the living had helped Dolph deal with his life crisis of faith. Deal with it enough that he was talking to me again. Deal with it enough that he would call me in on a case again. His voice was brisk almost normal, "Anita."

"Yeah I whispered," cupping the phone with my hand.

It wasn"t as if every cop in the place, which was most of the guests wasn"t wondering who I was talking to and why.

"I got a body for you to look at."

"now?" I made it a question.

"The ceremony is over right? I didn"t call in the middle of it?"

"It"s over I"m in the reception."

"Then I need you here."

"where"s here?" I asked, he told me.
He told me.

I know the strip club area across the river but I"m not familiar with the club name.

You won"t be able to miss it. He said. It will be the only club with a police escort.

It took me a second to realize that he had made a joke. Dolph didn"t make jokes at murder scenes. Ever. I opened my mouth to remark on it but the phone was dead in my hand. Dolph never had been much for goodbye.

Det. Arnet leaned in and asked, "Was that Lt. Storr?"

"Yeah," I whispered, "Murder scene, gotta run."

She opened her mouth as if she was going to say something else, but I was already moving up the table, I was going to give my apologizes to Larry and Tammy, then I got to go look at a body. I was sorry to miss the rest of the reception and all, but I had a murder scene to go to. Not only would I get away from Arnet"s questions but I wouldn"t have to dance with Micah or Nathaniel or anybody. The night was looking up. I felt a little guilty but I was glad somebody was dead.

END CHAPTER 2!!!!!!
Chapter 3

Staring down at the dead woman it was impossible to be glad. Guilty maybe, but not glad. Guilty, that even for a second I found the idea of someone"s death an escape from an uncomfortable social situation. I wasn"t a child. Surely to God, I could have handled Jessica Arnet and her questions without hiding behind a murder. The fact that I was more comfortable here staring down at a corpse than at the head table at a wedding, said something about me and my life. I wasn"t sure exactly what it said or meant. Probably something i didn"t want to look at too closely though. But wait! We had a body to look at a crime to solve. ALl the stincky personal stuff could wait. Had to wait yeah sure.

The body was a pale glimpse of flesh betwn 2 dumpsters in the parking lot. There was something almost ghost like about that shiny bit of flesh. As if i blinked it would vanish into the October night. Maybe it was the time of year, or the wedding decor i just left. But, there was something unnerving about the way she had been left. They had stuffed the body behind the dumpsters to hide it. then the black wool coat she wore had been opened her mostly naked body. So you caught that gleam of pale flesh in the bright halogen lights of the parking lot. why hide her then do somthing to draw such atttention to her? it made no sense. Of course, it may have made perfect sense to the people who killed her. Maybe.

I stood there huddling my leather jacket around me. I t wasn"t that cold. Cold enough for the jacket, but not enough to put the lining in. My hands plunged into the pockets the zipper all the way up, my shoulders hunched. But, leather couldn"t hold against the cold i was fighting. I stared at that pale glimpse of death and felt nothing, nothing, not pity, not sickness, nothing. Somehow, that bothered me more than the woman being dead. and of course that bothered me too.

i made myself move forward, made myself go to see what there was to see and leave my moral decay for another time. Business, business first.

I had to come to the far end of the righthand dumpster to see the spill of her yellow hair, like a bright exclamation point on the black pavement. Staring down at her i could see how tiny she was, my size or smaller. She lay on her back the coat spread under her still securely on her arms. but the cloth had been spread wide, folded under her side nearest the parked cars. To give that pale glimpse as a customer walked out to his car. Her hair to had been pulled back, combed out. If she"d been taller that to would have been visable from the parking lot. Just a peak of bright yellow from around the dumpster, if she"d been taller.

I looked down the line of her body and found the reason someone had thought she was taller, clear plastic stilletos, at least 5 inches. Standing she"d been taller, lying down she lost the height.

Her head had been pressed to right exposing the long line of neck.

On that exposed flesh were bite marks, vampire bite marks. On the mound of her small breast was another pair of bite marks. Two thin lines of blood trickled from that bite. There was no blood at the neck wound.

i was going to have to move the dumpster to get back there. I was also going to have to move the body around to look for more bite marks , more signs of violence.

there had been a time when the police only called me in after all the other experts had finished with the scene. But, that was years ago. I had to make sure i didn"t f*Ck up the scene by messing with it, which meant i had to find the man in charge.

Lt. Rudolph Storr wasn"t hard to spot. He"s 6"8 and built like a pro-wrestlers used to be built before they all started looking like Arnold Schuatzinagger (sp???). Dolph was in shape but he didn"t go for the weight lifting, he didn"t have time, too many crimes to solve. His blsck hair was cut so short it left his ears exposed and somehow stranded on the sides of his head, which always meant he"d gotten a hair cut recently. He always had it cut shorter than he liked it so it would be longer inbetween hair cuts. His tan trench-coat was perfectly pressed, his shoes shined in the halogen lights. He didn"t care what he looked like as long as it was neat and tidy. Dolph was all about the neat and tidy. i think it was one of the reasons that murder pissed him off. It was always so messy.

i nodded to the uniform policeman, who"s only job seemed to be watching the body and making sure it didn"t get messed with by anyone who wasn"t allowed to touch it. He nodded back and went back to staring at the corpse. Something about his eyes, how wide they were made me wonder if this was his first vampire kill. Was he worried that the victim would rise and try to munch on him? i could have calmed his fears because this one would never rise. SHe"d been drained to death by a group of vamps, that won"t make you one of them. In fact, it"s garunteed to give the vamps their fun and not make you, the vic, one of them. I"d seen this once before, i hoped like hell it wasn"t another master vampire gone rogue. The last one had purposely left vics were we would find them, trying to get the new laws that gave vampires legal rights repealed. Mr. Oliver had believed that vampires were monsters and if they were given legal rights they"d spread too fast and eventually they"d turn the human race into vampires and then who would everybody feed off of.

Yeah, it would take hundredes of years for vampirism to spread to that degree but the really old vampires take the long view. They can afford to, they"ve got the time.

I knew it wasn"t Mr. Oliver again because i"d killed him. i"d crushed his heart and no matter how many times Dracula may rise in old movies, Oliver was well and truly dead. I could garuntee it which meant we had a new group of nuts on our hands and they could have an entirely new motive for killing the woman. Hell, maybe it was personal. Vampires were legal citizens now. It meant they could have grudges just like humans. But, somehow it didn"t feel personal, don"t ask me to explain it but it didn"t.

Dolph saw me coming towards him, he didn"t smile or say hi b/c one it was Dolph and two he wasn"t completely happy with me. He wasn"t happy with the monsters lately and i was way to intimate with the monsters. Me, convincing his son mot to become a vampire had earned me brownie points. The fact that Dolph had just gotten of leave without pay, with an informal warning that if he didn"t shape up, the next thing was suspention had also mellowed him out. Frankly, i take whatever i can get.

Dolph and i were friends or I thought we were. We were both a little unsure of where we stood right now.

"I need to move the dumpsters to look at the body. I also need to move the body around to look for more bite marks or whatever. Can I do that without screwing the crime scene up?"

He looked at me and there was something in his face that said clearly he was not happy to have me here. He started to say something, glanced around at the other detectives, the uniforms, the crime scene techs and beyond that to the waiting ambulance, shook his head and motioned me off to the one side. I could feel peoples gazes follow us as we moved away.

All the detective here knew that Dolph had dragged me up a flight of stairs at a crime scene. When i say manhandled, i wasn"t exagerating. G-d knows what the story said now. Probably that he"d hit me, which he hadn"t. But, what he"d done had been bad enough. Bad enough, that i could have pressed charges and won.

He leaned over and spoke low. "I don"t like you being here."

"You called me," I said. G-d, I did not want to fight with him tonight.

He nodded. "I called. But, I need to know that you don"t have a conflict of interest here."

I frowned up at him. "What do you mean conflict of interest?"

"If it"s a vamp kill then it was someone that belongs to your boyfriend."

"It"s nice that you said IF it"s a vamp kill. But, if you mean Jean-Claude then it may not be his people at all."

"Oh, that"s right you"ve got two vampire boyfriends now." His voice was ugly when he said it.

"You want to fight each other or fight crime. your choice." I said.

He made a visable effort to control himself, hands in fists at his side, eyes closed, deep breaths. He"d been forced to have anger management training. I watched him use most of his new found skills. Then he opened his eyes cold cop eyes and said, " your defending the vamps already?"

"I"m not saying it"s not a vamp kill, all i said was it might not be Jean-Claude"s people, that"s all."

"But your defending your boyfriend and his people already. You haven"t even looked at the vic completely and already it can"t be your lover boy."

I felt my own eyes go cold and said, "I"m not saying it couldn"t have been Jean-Claude"s vampires. I"m saying it"s unlikely. Thanks to the Church of Eternal Life, St. Louis has a lot of blood sucker that don"t owe allegence to the master of the city."

"The church members are more straight laced than the right wing Christians," he said.

I shrugged. "They do come off as sanctamonious. I"ll grant you that. Most true believers do, but that"s not why I say them. THEM are strangers to the vampires i know best."

"why then?" he asked.

My only excuse for telling the absolute truth is that i was pissed and tired of Dolph being mad at me. "Because if any of JC"s people did this, they"re dead. either he"ll turn them into the law himself or make me do it or they"ll just be killed."

"You"re admitting that your boyfriend is a murderer?"

I took in a deep breath. Let it out slow. "You know Dolph, this is getting old. Yeah, I"m *ucking a vampire too, get over it.

He looked away. "I don"t know how."

"Then learn," I said. "But stop letting your personal *hit rain all over the crime scenes. we are wasting time arguing when i could be looking at the body. I want these people caught.

"People, plural?" He made it a question.
"i"ve only seen 2 bite marks, but they both have slightly different pattern to them. the one on the chest is smaller, less space between the fangs. so, yeah at least 2. but i"m betting more."

"why?" he asked.

"because they bled her out. there is almost no blood anywhere. 2 vamps couldn"t drain an adult human being without leaving a mess. they"d need more mouths to hold that much blood."

"maybe she was killed elsewhere."

i frowned at him. "it"s october. she"s out wearing 5-inch plastic stilettos, an inexpensive wool coat and not much else." i motioned to the strip club behind us. "we"re in the parking lot of a strip club. HMMMMM, let me see; 5-inch plastic stilettos, naked woman, could this be a clue that means she works here? Stepped out for a smoke or something?"

he reached in his pocket and got out his ever present notebook. She"s been identified as one Charlene Moorsey, 22, works as a stripper, worked at (haven"t named the club at this time in the DVD but i think it is now called Incubus Dreams, but i"m not sure!). "yeah, she did smoke but the techs have found so many partially smoked cigarette butts that there is no way to tell if one of them is hers until they do DNA testing. She told one of the other girls that she was going for a quick smoke. so i don"t think the particular cig she was smoking will tell us much.

"we know that she probably didn"t know the vamps."

"how so?"

"she came out to smoke not to visit."

He nodded and made a note.

"there"s no sign of a struggle yet. it"s like she came out here to smoke and just walked over with them. she wouldn"t do that with strangers. if she was under mind control she would. so one of our vamps is an old one."

Dolph was still making notes.

"not necessarily old but powerful and that usually means old." i thought about it. "Someone with good mind control powers. but i"m not sure of age." i shrugged. "i don"t know. i don"t know, yet."

He was still writing notes.

"now, can i move the dumpster and move the body around or do you still need the techies to get back in there and do their thing first?"

"i had them wait for you," he said without looking up from his notebook.

i looked at him, tried to learn anything from his face. but, he was still all concentration and business. It was a step up that he"d had the techs wait for me. or that he"d called me at all. before, his time off he"d tried to get me barred from crime scenes. it was a step-up so why was i still wondering if Dolph was capable of letting his personal life go long enough to solve this case? because once you"ve seen someone you trusted loose it completely you never truly trust them again, not completely.
END OF CHAPTER 3

Chapter 4

There was a matching set of bite marks on the other side of her neck. They were so close to the same size as the one"s on the left hand side that i wondered if the same vamp had bitten twice. i didn"t have my ruler with me. Hell, i didn"t have most of my equipment with me. I"d been planning for a wedding tonight, not a crime scene.

I asked if anyone had something to measure bite radius. One of the techies offered to measure for me. Fine with me. She had a pair of calipers. i"d never used a pair of them before. measurements do not lie it wasn"t the same vamp. Nor was it the same vamp at each of her inner thighs. counting the bite mark on her chest that made 5, 5 vampires. enough to drain an adult human being dry and leave very little blood behind.

There was no evidence of sexual assault, according to Ms. Susan Cooper. Glad to hear it. i did not bother explaining that the bite can be orgasmic for both the vic and the killer. Not always but often, especially if the vampire is good at fogging the mind. a vampire with enough juice can make someone enjoy being killed; scary, but true.

when i"d seen every inch of the dead woman, when i knew that her pale flesh might dance through my dreams in her plastic shoes dolph wanted to talk to me he said.

I knew what he wanted. Five vamps, one has to be good enough at mind control to have made the vic enjoy what was happening or at least not to mind. Someone would have heard her screams otherwise.

"Have you walked into the club?" He asked.

"No."

"Music is loud. A lot of people inside," he said.

"So they might not have heard her even if she did scream."

He nodded.

I sighed. "There"s no sign of a struggle. They"ll look at her nails, but there won"t be any sign of a fight. The vic didn"t even know what was happening or at least no until it was way too late."

"you"re sure of that."

i thought for a second or two. "No i"m not sure. It"s my best educated guess. But, maybe she"s one of those people that doesn"t fight back. Maybe once 5 vamps surrounded her she just gave up. i don"t know. What kind of person was Charlene Morrisey? Was she a fighter?"

"Don"t know yet," Dolph said.

"If she was a fighter, then it was vampire mind tricks. If she wasn"t, if she was real docile, then maybe not. Maybe were looking for a bunch of young vamps." I shook my head. "But i"d say not. I"d say at least one, maybe more were old and good at doing this."

"they hid the body," he said.

i finished the thought for him, "and then exposed it so that someone would find it."

He nodded. "that"s been bothering me too. if they had just closed her coat over her body , not messed with her hair, nobody would have found her tonight."

"They"d have missed her in the club, or was she done for the night?"

" She wasn"t done and yeah they would have missed her."

I glanced back at the body. "but would they have found her?"

"maybe," he said. "but not this quick."

"yeah, she"s still fresh, cool to the touch, but not long gone."

He checked his notes. "Less then 2 hours since she was on stage."

I looked around us at the bright halogen lights. There was no good place to hide in this parking lot, except maybe behind the dumpsters.

"Did they do her behind the dumpsters?"

"or a car," he said.

"or a van," i said.

"the serial killer"s best friend," he said.

i looked at him, trying to read behind those cop eyes. "serial killer, what are you talking about? this is the first kill to my knowledge."

he nodded, "yeah." he started to turn away.

i caught his sleeve lightly. you had to be careful of how you touched him lately. He took so many things as aggression.

"Cops do not use the phrase serial killer unless they have to. One, you don"t want it to be true. Two, the reporters will get hold of it and report it like it"s truth."

He looked down at me and i let go of his sleeve. "There aren"t any reporters her Anita it"s just another dead stripper."

"then why say it?"

"Maybe i"m psychic."

"Dolph," i said. He almost smiled.

"I"ve got a bad feeling, that"s all. This is either the first kill or the first kill we"ve found. It was awful dam* neat for a first kill."

"Someone meant for us to find her, Dolph, and find her tonight."

"Yeah, but who was it the killer or killers? or was it someone else?"

"Like who?" i asked.

"another customer that couldn"t afford to let his wife know where he"d been?"

" So he opens her coat draws out her hair, tries to make her more visable."

Dolph gave one small nod down.

"i don"t buy it a normal person couldn"t touch a dead body; not enough to open the coat, mess with the hair. besides that flash of pale flesh was done by someone who knew that it would be as visible as it is. a normal person might drag her out from behind the dumpster maybe. but they wouldn"t mess with her, not like that."

"You keep saying normal, Anita. Don"t you know yet there is no normal. There"s just victims and predators."

He looked away when he said the last as if he didn"t want me to see whatever was in his face. i let him look away. Let him keep that moment to himself. Because Dolph and i were trying to rebuild a friendship. And sometimes you need your friends to pry and sometimes you need them to leave you the *uck alone.

THE END!!!!!!










Chapter Thirty-Eight

The club was dark except for a single soft spotlight in the middle of the stage. In that soft, white light Jean-Claude stood. The light hit only his shoulders and face, the rest of him was lost to darkness. It gave the illusion that his body formed from the darkness itself, to rise to the shining paleness of his face, the gleaming white of his cravat, the tiny colored spark of the sapphire winking only when he moved. His hair looked as if the darkness had been drawn out into some dark thread and formed into curls. The only color was the drowning blue of his eyes, and the crimson smear of lipstick across his face. It wasn't my lipstick, or at least not most of it.

His voice floated through the darkened room. 'Who will taste my kiss?' Taste left a sweetness on my tongue, as if I'd licked a piece of candy. Kiss gave a ghost of lips brushing my cheek. 'Who will embrace me?' Embrace made me feel faintly warm, as if I'd been given a really good hug, by someone I cared about.

Jean-Claude's voice had always been good, but not this good. Not this good. With my partial immunity, I probably wasn't getting all of it. I had no idea how much more the audience was getting. It took a force of will to look away from him in that shining circle of light. I made myself look out into the audience. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dark, but when I could see, nearly every face was turned to him. They gazed up at him in the dark as if he were the rising sun and they had never seen anything so bright before. Only a handful of faces weren't turned toward the stage. A few women were shaking their heads and looking confused. A little psychic talent of the right kind or with the right practice, and it helped. Marianne had proven to me that you didn't have to be a necromancer to have some immunity to vampire mind tricks.

One of the few men was standing up, and the woman with him was tugging on his arm, trying to get him to sit back down. He was shaking his head adamantly. No, no he wouldn't sit in the dark and let that voice wash over him. He didn't understand that it wasn't a matter of sexual orientation. It was Jean-Claude. His power was seduction and it nothing--and everything--to do with sex.

Two of the waiters were escorting a woman up on stage. She was tall and almost anorexically thin, which meant she'd been waving more money than anybody else. Jean-Claude preferred more curves on his women. As he'd pointed out to me, the beauties of his day in the French courts were today's size 20. Most of the old vamps liked short women with curves. Most of us were living in so the wrong century.

The lights around the stage had been growing bright so gradually that if you'd been gazing at the stage the entire time, you might not have noticed. The light was just barely bright enough so the audience could see more of their bodies. From the waist up, you could see Jean-Claude's pale hands sliding over the woman's body. Nothing dйclassй, but he got more out of simply touching her back, shoulder, waist, than some men got out of breast and groin. Sometimes it's not what you touch but how you touch it.

He pressed her against the front of his body so there was no space between them, so that her thin frame seemed almost to mold itself to his body. He lifted her face up to meet his, using one pale hand to cradle her face so that he would control the kiss. His arm slid around her waist, and tightened. Tightened enough to bow her neck, and make her mouth open in a surprised little 'O'. One of the women before this one had groped him, so he'd made sure there wasn't enough daylight between the front of their bodies for anyone's hands to wander too far. The women seemed to take closer frontal contact as a sign of favor. I knew it wasn't. It was a sign of control, and damn near displeasure.

But when he bowed his head to her mouth, and locked their lips together in a kiss, there was no displeasure. He kissed her as if he were trying to breathe her down his mouth. He fed from her lips almost as of he were feeding from her neck. And in a way, he was, feeding at least.

He fed from their mouths in a way that the Dragon's presence in my head had told me about. Except she knew how to eat the essence of the dead, and make the undead, really, truly dead. Jean-Claude was not doing that, but it was eerily similar. He was feeding, feeding the arduer, from a kiss.

'Nikolaos would never let him feed like that,' a quiet voice said from behind me. I turned to find buzz right behind me. I hadn't heard him, or sensed him, which meant I'd been more caught up in the show than I'd realized.

'What do you mean?' I asked. 'Nikolaos knew that he was feeding off the audience without ever touching them, so she forbade him to touch any of the customers.' His eyes went past me to the stage. 'I think she had some clue what he could have been, and she did everything she could to make sure he didn't come into that power.'

'She's been dead almost three years. You make it sound like tonight is the first time you've seen this show.'

He looked at me. 'It is.' I gave him wide eyes. 'Nikolaos was dead, she couldn't stop him.'

'But you could,' he said.

'What do you mean?'

'Do you really think three years ago you would have dated him after you saw this?

I glanced back at the stage. I watched him kissing a strange woman as if she were his deepest love, or at least deepest lust. Would I have tolerated this three years ago? No. Would I have used it as an excuse to dump his ass? Oh, yeah.

The woman swooned in his arms. Her mouth falling away from his as she seemed to half-faint, as if the kiss alone were so intense that she couldn't stay conscious. I would have thought she was play-acting, or exaggerating, but I had to believe it, as the waiters carried her off stage, and gave her back to her friends at her table.

Jean-Claude gazed out at the audience with fresh crimson lipstick smeared across his entire lower jaw. It looked eerily like blood, and I knew him well enough to that the resemblance was not accidental. His blue eyes had bled to solid blue light, as if a summer's dusk could burn his eyes. 'Who will be next?' And it was as if he whispered along my skin, as if he were standing just behind me. The illusion was so strong that I had to fight not to turn around and look. I was supposed to be immune to this crap. If this is how I was feeling, what must all those eager faces be feeling?

I lowered my shields just enough to see Jean-Claude shining with power. This was what he was meant to be. This wasn't just feeling the arduer. This wasn't a substitute for a blood feed. This was an end in itself. This was something I'd never seen, not in Jean-Claude, not in anyone. It was akin to all his other abilities, but more, somehow this was more.

I turned back to Buzz. 'Him feeding like this is what saved me.'

He looked puzzled, vampires under twenty years dead have so many more human facial expressions. 'Saved you from what?'

'If he hadn't fed, then I'd have had to feed for him. That's one of the things a human is servant for. We feed when the vamps can't. I would still be trapped backstage *ucking my metaphysical brains out.' I shook my head. 'No, thank you.'

'So you're not disappointed when he's doing it to strangers?'

I felt my face go sort of unfriendly. 'You sound disappointed that I'm not upset about this, why?' He raised his hands, making his big arms flex, I think by accident. He meant it to be a harmless gesture, but he was too muscle bound for it to look anything but impressive, or scary, depending on how you looked at it.

'It just seems like a fast turn around, that's all.'

I sighed. 'The last time Jean-Claude asked me if I could feed off the audience, I didn't really understand what he was asking.' I smiled, but not like I was happy. 'Besides, I wasn't *ucking strangers to feed the vampiric powers then. Strangely, that's changed my mind about a lot of things.'

He looked way too serious for my tastes.

I didn't know what was up with Buzz, so I decided to change topics. 'Primo all tucked away in the spare coffin?'

'We put him in while you were cleaning up.'

I nodded. I'd been told about it, but I'd also laid hands on the coffin, and felt Primo trapped inside, behind silver chains and a holy item. It wasn't that I didn't trust everybody, it was just good business to be cautious. Buzz's odd behavior hadn't changed my mind about that, not one little bit.

'Lisandro told me that you ordered him to babysit the coffin.'

I nodded. 'Yes, I did.'

'Primo is in a cross-wrapped coffin, Anita. He's not getting out.'

I shrugged. Lisandro was tall, dark, handsome, with the longest hair that any of the new security had. He was also the only one with a gun tucked into the small of his back under the black t-shirt. Once I spotted the gun, I pegged him for a wererat, and I'd been right. I told him if Primo started to tear out of the coffin, to kill him. Jean-Claude would probably have agreed with me, but he'd been busy on stage, so I made the call for both of us. I was happy with the call, and I didn't like that Buzz wasn't.

'Let's just say I feel better going off to raise the dead, knowing that Lisandro is sitting by that coffin with silver ammo, and a willingness to shoot.'

'I'm head of security here, Anita. You should have cleared it by me.'

I sighed. 'You're right. You're right, I should have. I'm sorry.'

He just blinked at me like a deer caught in headlights. I think he'd expected an argument. But I was tired, and late, and feeing squeegie about having had sex with Byron and Requiem.

'I've got to go, Buzz.'

'Your security detail is waiting at the door,' He said, and nodded towards the door in question.

Requiem was by the door in his black cloak with a fresh pair of pants that he'd borrowed from someone underneath it. The new pants were leather, so he'd probably borrowed them from another dancer. But we had a new addition, and that was the dark haired werewolf that had fallen on top of Clay and me when Primo was fighting everyone. His name was Graham, and his body had that width of shoulder and impressive swell of arm that only a semi-serious weight lifting can get you. His black hair was cut in a longish layer on top so that it fell like a silken fringe over his ears, but underneath the hair was shaved close to his head and upper neck. It seemed an odd haircut to me, but it wasn't my hair.

His face was exotic, in the way that people can be when some ancestor didn't come from northern or southern Europe. The straight black hair, the ever so slight up-tilt to the edge of his eyes made me bet on something much farther east.

I'd argued that I didn't need or want guards, but just a I'd made the call about Primo and Lisandro, so Jean-Claude had given his orders before he got carried away on stage. I was to go nowhere without someone with me. He wasn't sure the Dragon was done with us for the night, and it would be a shame if something went horribly wrong. What he hadn't told the security detail, vampire or otherwise, was about what happened earlier in my office. That had nothing to do with the dragon and everything to do with my own metaphysical sh!t. Well. Mine, and Jean-Claude's.

Jean-Claude had even left a list of people he thought were appropriate to the job. Byron had not been on the list, nor had Clay. It had been a damn short list, actually, basically Requiem and Graham. The last thing I wanted to do was be trapped in a car with Requiem, but I didn't have time to argue. I'd gone from having plenty of time, to having to call my clients and tell them to hold fast in the cemetery, I really was on my way.

I was wearing Byron's leather jacket to take the place of my bloodied suit jacket. His was the only one that came close to fitting me, and not making me look like I was wearing the upper half of a gorilla. It smelled faintly of his cologne.

Buzz's eyes left me and went to the audience. The man who had been arguing with his date was still standing, but now so was the woman and she was starting to make a scene.

'Sorry, gotta catch that.'

'Be my guest,' I said.

Nathaniel seemed to appear from nowhere. He escorted me towards the outer door. He was smiling, and seemed terribly at ease, more so than I'd seen him in a long time, maybe ever. It seemed an odd night to be happy. 'You promised to be back in time to see some of my act,' he said, smiling.

'I've got two clients stuck in cemeteries,' I said.

He gave me the look, that was half-pout, and half-he-knew-he'd-already won the argument.

'You promised.'

'Can't we just *uck at home later?' I asked.

He gave me a frown. 'I'll be furry, you don't do furry.'

I had an idea, an awful idea. 'I promised to mark your neck tonight. Oh, no, you so are not planning on me doing it in front of an audience?'

He smiled, and there was something in that smile I hadn't seen before. Something of confidence, of security that hadn't been there before. He'd watched me have sex with two near strangers and now he felt more secure. Go figure.

'You little exhibitionist, you,' I said, 'you like the idea of me marking you for the first time in front of all these people.'

He gave an aw-gee-shucks shrug, which was all act, because his eyes were bright with the answer. 'I like a lot of things, Anita.'

I tried to frown at him, but couldn't keep it up. 'You got me to promise I'd mark you, and now you're taking advantage of it.'

'You're running late,' he said, 'clients waiting in the cemetery.' He looked solemn excerpt for the glint of humor in his eyes, which spoiled the effect.

I shook my head, smiling. 'I've got to go.'

'I know,' he said.

'Would it ruin the illusion if I kissed you good-bye?'

'I'll risk it,' he said.

I kissed him. It was chaste, a touch of lips, a little pressure, barely any body language. I drew back with a suspicious look on my face. It made him laugh, and push me towards the door. 'You're late, remember.'

I went, but I went out into the October dark, even more certain that I knew absolutely nothing about men. Alright, to be fair, that I knew absolutely nothing about the men in my life. I glanced back to see Jean-Claude on stage with another woman, kissing her as if he were trying to find her tonsils without his hands. Most people looked disturbing or awkward when they kissed that deep, he didn't. He made it all seem suave, erotic, and perfect. I realized I'd kissed Nathaniel good-bye, but not Jean-Claude. Didn't want to interrupt, but didn't want him to feel left out either. I blew him a kiss as his arms emptied of the woman. He returned the gesture with one pale hand. The lower half of his face was smeared bright red with crimson lipstick. It didn't really look like blood, not if you had seen enough of the real deal, but it was still a less comforting image to take away into the night. One of the other men in my life was smiling at the door, looking forward to having me do foreplay in front of an audience. Sometimes the parts of my life that are weirdest to me aren't the parts dealing with vampires and werewolves and zombies. Even vampire politics didn't confuse me as much as my own love life.
 
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