Authors: Laurell K. Hamilton
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Laurell K. Hamilton
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First edition (electronic): August 2001
This one's for Shawn Holsapple, brother-in-law, police officer, and kindred spirit.
TO MY HUSBAND
, Gary, who first took me into the hills of Tennessee.
To my writing group, the Alternate Historians: Tom Drennan, N. L. Drew, Deborah Millitello, Rett MacPherson, Marella Sands, Sharon Shinn, and Mark Sumner, and our newest member, W. Agustus Elliot, who missed the critique of this book by a few months. Here's to the best writing group I've ever been a part of.
Here is the correct address to get messages to me online: [email protected]. It was edited by an overzealous copyeditor in the acknowledgments of the last book.
of cool flesh and sheets the color of fresh blood. The phone shattered the dream, leaving only fragments, a glimpse of midnight blue eyes, hands gliding down my body, his hair flung across my face in a sweet, scented cloud. I woke in my own house, miles from Jean-Claude with the feel of his body clinging to me. I fumbled the phone from the bedside table and mumbled, “Hello.”
“Anita, is that you?” It was Daniel Zeeman, Richard's baby brother. Daniel was twenty-four and cute as a bug's ear. Baby didn't really cover it. Richard had been my fiancÃ© once upon a timeâuntil I chose Jean-Claude over him. Sleeping with the other man put a real crimp in our social plans. Not that I blamed Richard. No, I blamed myself. It was one of the few things Richard and I still shared.
I squinted at the glowing dial of the bedside clock. 3:10
. “Daniel, what's wrong?” No one calls at ten after the witching hour with good news.
He took a deep breath, as if preparing himself for the next line. “Richard's in jail.”
I sat up, sheets sliding in a bundle to my lap. “What did you say?” I was suddenly wide awake, heart thudding, adrenaline pumping.
“Richard is in jail,” he repeated.
I didn't make him say it again, though I wanted to. “What for?” I asked.
“Attempted rape,” he said.
“What?” I said.
Daniel repeated it. It didn't make any more sense the second time I heard it. “Richard is like the ultimate Boy Scout,” I said. “I'd believe murder before I'd believe rape.”
“I guess that's a compliment,” he said.
“You know what I meant, Daniel. Richard wouldn't do something like that.”
“I agree,” he said.
“Is he in Saint Louis?” I asked.
“No, he's still in Tennessee. He finished up his requirements for his master's degree and got arrested that night.”
“Tell me what happened.”
“I don't exactly know,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“They won't let me see him,” Daniel said.
“Mom got in to see him, but they wouldn't let all of us in.”
“Has he got a lawyer?” I asked.
“He says he doesn't need one. He says he didn't do it.”
“Prison is full of people who didn't do it, Daniel. He needs a lawyer. It's his word against the woman's. If she's local and he isn't, he's in trouble.”
“He's in trouble,” Daniel said.
“Shit,” I said.
“There's more bad news,” he said.
I threw the covers back and stood, clutching the phone. “Tell me.”
“There's going to be a blue moon this month.” He said it very quietly, no explanation, but I understood.
Richard was an alpha werewolf. He was head of the local pack. It was his only serious flaw. We'd broken up after I'd seen him eat somebody. What I'd seen had sent me running to Jean-Claude's arms. I'd run from the werewolf to the vampire. Jean-Claude was Master of the City of Saint Louis. He was definitely not the more human of the two. I know there isn't a lot to choose from between a bloodsucker and a flesh-eater, but at least after Jean-Claude finished feeding, there weren't chunks between his fangs. A small distinction but a real one.
A blue moon meant a second full moon this month. The moon doesn't actually turn blue most of the time, but it is where the old saying comes fromâonce in a blue moon. It happens about every three years or so. It was August, and the second full moon was only five days away. Richard's control was very good, but I'd never heard of any werewolf, even an Ulfric, a pack leader, who could fight the change on the night of the full moon. No
matter what flavor of animal you changed into, a lycanthrope was a lycanthrope. The full moon ruled them.
“We have to get him out of jail before the full moon,” Daniel said.
“Yeah,” I said. Richard was hiding what he was. He taught junior high science. If they found out he was a werewolf, he'd lose his job. It was illegal to discriminate on the basis of a disease, especially one as difficult to catch as lycanthropy, but they'd do it. No one wanted a monster teaching their kiddies. Not to mention that the only person in Richard's family who knew his secret was Daniel. Mom and Pop Zeeman didn't know.
“Give me a number to contact you at,” I said.
He did. “You'll come down then,” he said.
He sighed. “Thanks. Mom is raising hell, but it's not helping. We need someone here who understands the legal system.”
“I'll have a friend call you with the name of a good local lawyer before I get there. You may be able to arrange bail by the time I arrive.”
“If he'll see the lawyer,” Daniel said.
“Is he being stupid?” I asked.
“He thinks that having the truth on his side is enough.”
It sounded like something Richard would say. There was more than one reason why we'd broken up. He clung to ideals that hadn't even worked when they were in vogue. Truth, justice, and the American way certainly didn't work within the legal system. Money, power, and luck were what worked. Or having someone on your side that was part of the system.
I was a vampire executioner. I was licensed to hunt and kill vampires once a court order of execution had been issued. I was licensed in three states. Tennessee was not one of them. But cops, as a general rule, would treat an executioner better than a civilian. We risked our lives and usually had a higher kill count than they did. Of course, the kills being vamps, some people didn't count them as real kills. Had to be human for it to count.
“When can you get here?” Daniel asked.
“I've got some things to clear up here, but I'll see you today before noon.”
“I hope you can talk some sense into Richard.”
I'd met their motherâmore than onceâso I said, “I'm surprised that Charlotte can't talk sense to him.”
“Where do you think he gets this âtruth will set you free' bit?” Daniel asked.
“Great,” I said. “I'll be there, Daniel.”
“I've got to go.” He hung up suddenly as if afraid of being caught. His mom had probably come into the room. The Zeemans had four sons and a daughter. The sons were all six feet or above. The daughter was five nine. They were all over twenty-one. And they were all scared of their mother. Not literally scared, but Charlotte Zeeman wore the pants in the family. One family dinner and I knew that.
I hung up the phone, turned on the lamp, and started to pack. It occurred to me while I was throwing things into a suitcase to wonder why the hell I was doing this. I could say that it was because Richard was the other third of a triumvirate of power that Jean-Claude had forged between the three of us. Master vampire, Ulfric, or wolf king, and necromancer. I was the necromancer. We were bound so tightly together that sometimes we invaded each other's dreams by accident. Sometimes not so accidentally.
But I wasn't riding to the rescue because Richard was our third. I could admit to myself, if to no one else, that I still loved Richard. Not the same way I loved Jean-Claude, but it was just as real. He was in trouble, and I would help him if I could. Simple. Complicated. Hurtful.
I wondered what Jean-Claude would think of me dropping everything to go rescue Richard. It didn't really matter. I was going, and that was that. But I did spare a thought for how that might make my vampire lover feel. His heart didn't always beat, but it could still break.
Love sucks. Sometimes it feels good. Sometimes it's just another way to bleed.
calls. My friend Catherine Maison-Gillette was an attorney. She'd been with me on more than one occasion when I had to make a statement to the police about a dead body that I helped make dead. So far, no jail time. Hell, no trial. How did I accomplish this? I lied.
Bob, Catherine's husband, answered on the fifth ring, voice so heavy with sleep it was almost unintelligible. Only the bass growl let me know which of them it was. Neither of them woke gracefully.
“Bob, this is Anita. I need to speak with Catherine. It's business.”
“You at a police station?” he asked. See, Bob knew me.
“No, I don't need a lawyer for me this time.”
He didn't ask questions. He just said, “Here's Catherine. If you think I have no curiosity at all, you're wrong, but Catherine will fill me in after you hang up.”
“Thanks, Bob,” I said.
“Anita, what's wrong?” Catherine's voice sounded normal. She was a criminal attorney with a private firm. She was wakened a lot at odd hours. She didn't like it, but she recovered well.
I told her the bad news. She knew Richard. Liked him a lot. Didn't understand why in hell I'd dumped him for Jean-Claude. Since I couldn't tell her about Richard being a werewolf, it was sort of hard to explain. Heck, even if I could have mentioned the werewolf part, it was hard to explain.
“Carl Belisarius,” she said when I was finished. “He's one of the best criminal attorneys in that state. I know him personally. He's not as careful about his clients as I am. He's got some clients that are known criminal figures, but he's good.”
“Can you contact him and get him started?” I asked.
“You need Richard's permission for this, Anita.”
“I can't talk Richard into taking on a new attorney until I see him. Time is always precious on a crime, Catherine. Can Belisarius at least start the wheels in motion?”
“Do you know if Richard has an attorney now?”
“Daniel mentioned something about him refusing to see his lawyer, so I assume so.”
“Give me Daniel's number, and I'll see what I can do,” she said.
“Thanks, Catherine, really.”
She sighed. “I know you'd go to this much trouble for any of your friends. You're just that loyal. But are you sure your motives are just friendly in this?”
“What are you asking me?”
“You still love him, don't you?”
“No comment,” I said.
Catherine gave a soft laugh. “No comment. You're not the one under suspicion here.”
“Says you,” I said.
“Fine, I'll do what I can on this end. Let me know when you get there.”
“Will do,” I said. I hung up and called my main job. Vampire killing was only a sideline. I raised the dead for Animators Inc., the first animating firm in the country. We were also the most profitable. Part of that was due to our boss, Bert Vaughn. He could make a dollar sit up and sing. He didn't like that my helping the police on preternatural crimes was taking more and more of my time. He wouldn't like me going out of town for an indefinite period of time on personal business. I was glad it was the wee hours and he wouldn't be there to yell at me in person.
If Bert kept pushing me, I was going to have to quit, and I didn't want to. I had to raise zombies. It wasn't like a muscle that would wither if you didn't use it. It was an inate ability for me. If I didn't use it, the power would leak out on its own. In college there had been a professor who committed suicide. No one had found the body for the three days that it usually takes for the soul to leave the area. One night, the shambling corpse had come to my dorm room. My roommate got a room switch next day. She had no sense of adventure.
I would raise the dead, one way or another. I had no choice. But I had enough reputation that I could go freelance. I'd need a business manager, but it would work. Trouble is, I didn't want to leave. Some of the people who worked at Animators Inc. were among my best friends. Besides, I had had about as much change as I could handle for one year.
I, Anita Blake, scourge of the undeadâthe human with more vampire kills than any other vampire executioner in the countryâwas dating a vampire. It was almost poetically ironic.
The doorbell rang. The sound made my heart pulse in my throat. It was an ordinary sound, but not at 3:45 in the morning. I left my partially packed suitcase on the unmade bed and walked into the living room. My white furniture sat on top of a brilliant oriental rug. Cushions that caught the bright colors were placed casually on the couch and chair. The furniture was mine. The rug and cushions had been gifts from Jean-Claude. His sense of style would always be better than mine. Why argue?
The doorbell rang again. It made me jump for no good reason except it was insistent and it was an odd hour and I was already keyed up from the news about Richard. I went to the door with my favorite gun, a Browning Hi-Power 9mm, in hand, safety off, pointed at the floor. I was almost at the door when I realized I was wearing nothing but my nightgown. A gun, but no robe. I had my priorities in order.
I stood there, barefoot on the elegant rug, debating whether to go back for the robe or a pair of jeans. Something. If I'd been wearing one of my usual extra-large T-shirts, I'd have just answered the door. But I was wearing a black satin nightie with spaghetti straps. It hung almost to my knees. One size does not fit all. It covered everything but wasn't exactly answering-the-door attire. Screw it.
I called, “Who is it?” Bad guys usually didn't ring the doorbell.
“It is Jean-Claude,
My mouth dropped open. I couldn't have been more surprised if it had been a bad guy. What was he doing here?
I clicked the safety on the gun and opened the door. The satin nightie had been a gift from Jean-Claude. He'd seen me in less. We didn't need the robe.
I opened the door and there he was. It was like I was a magician and had thrown aside the curtain to show my lovely
assistant. The sight of him caught my breath in my throat.
His shirt was a conservative business cut with fastened cuffs and a simple collar. It was red with the collar and cuffs a solid almost satiny scarlet. The rest of the shirt was some sheer fabric so that his arms, chest, and waist were bare behind a sheen of red cloth. His black hair curled below his shoulders, darker, richer somehow against the red of the shirt. Even his midnight blue eyes seemed bluer framed by red. It was one of my favorite colors for him to wear, and he knew it. He'd threaded a red cord through the belt loops of his black jeans. The cord fell in knots down one side of his hip. The black boots came almost to the tops of his legs, encasing his long, slender legs in leather from toe to nearly groin.
When I was away from Jean-Claude, away from his body, his voice, I could be embarrassed, scratchy with discomfort that I was dating him. When I was away from him, I could talk myself out of himâalmost. But never when I was with him. When I was with him, my stomach dropped to my feet and I had to fight very hard not to say things like
I settled for “You look spectacular, as always. What are you doing here on a night that I told you not to come?” What I wanted to do was to throw myself around him like a coat and have him carry me over the threshold clinging to him like a monkey. But I wasn't going to do that. It lacked a certain dignity. Besides, it sort of scared me how much I wanted himâand how often. He was like a new drug. It wasn't vampire powers. It was good, old-fashioned lust. But it was still scary, so I had set up some parameters. Rules. He followed them most of the time.
He smiled, and it was the smile I'd grown to both love and dread. The smile said he was thinking wicked thoughts, things that two or more could do in darkened rooms, where the sheets smelled of expensive perfume, sweat, and other bodily fluids. The smile had never made me blush until we started having sex. Sometimes all he had to do was smile, and heat rushed up my skin like I was thirteen and he was my first crush. He thought it was charming. It embarrassed me.
“You son of bitch,” I said softly.
The smile widened. “Our dream was interrupted,
“I knew it wasn't an accident that you were in my dreams,” I said. It came out hostile, and I was pleased. Because the hot
summer wind was blowing the scent of his cologne against my face. Exotic, with an undercurrent of flowers and spice. I almost hated to wash my sheets for fear of losing the scent of him sometimes.
“I asked you to wear my gift so I could dream of you. You knew what I meant to do. If you say other, then you are lying. May I come in?”
He'd been invited in often enough that he could have crossed my threshold without the invitation, but it had become a game with him. A formal acknowledgment every time he crossed that I wanted him. It irritated me and pleased me, like so much about Jean-Claude.
“You might as well come in.”
He walked past me. I noticed the black boots were laced up the back from heel to top. The back of his black jeans fit smooth and tight so there was no need to guess what he wasn't wearing under them.
He spoke without turning around. “Do not sound so grumpy,
You have the ability to bar me from your dreams.” He turned then, and his eyes were full of a dark light that had nothing to do with vampire powers. “You welcomed me with more than open arms.”
I blushed for the second time in less than five minutes. “Richard is in jail in Tennessee,” I said.
“I know,” he said.
“You know?” I said. “How?”
“The local Master of the City called to tell me. He was very much afraid that I would think it was his doing. His way of destroying our triumvirate.”
“If he was going to destroy us, it would be a murder charge, not attempted rape,” I said.
“True,” Jean-Claude said, then laughed. The laughter trailed over my bare skin like a small, private wind. “Whoever framed our Richard did not know him well. I would believe murder of Richard before rape.”
It was almost exactly what I'd said. Why was that unnerving? “Are you going down to Tennessee?”
“The master, Colin, has forbidden me to enter his lands. To do so now would be an act of aggression, if not outright war.”
“Why should he care?” I asked.
“He fears my power,
He fears our power, which
is why he has made you persona non grata in his territory as well.”
I stared at him. “You are kidding, I hope. He's forbidden either of us to help Richard?”
“And he expects us to believe it's not his doing?” I said.
“I believe him,
“You could tell he wasn't lying over the phone?” I asked.
“Some master vampires can lie to other master vampires, though I do not think Colin is such a power. But that is not why I believe him.”
“The last time you and I traveled to another vampire's lands, we slew her.”
“She was trying to kill us,” I said.
“Technically,” he said, “she had set all of us free save you. You she wished to make a vampire.”
“Like I said, she was trying to kill me.”
He smiled. “Oh,
you wound me.”
“Cut the crap. This Colin can't really believe that we are just going to leave Richard to rot.”
“He has the right to deny us safe passage,” Jean-Claude said.
“Because we killed another master in her own territory?” I asked.
“He doesn't need grounds for his refusal,
He merely has to refuse.”
“How do you vampires get anything accomplished?”
“Slowly,” Jean-Claude said. “But remember,
we have the time to be patient.”
“Well, I don't, and Richard doesn't.”
“You could have eternity if you would both accept the fourth mark,” he said, voice quiet, neutral.
I shook my head. “Richard and I both value what little is left of our humanity. Besides, eternity my ass, the fourth mark wouldn't make us immortal. It just means that we live as long as you do. You're harder to kill than we are, but not that much harder.”
He sat down on the couch, folding his legs under him. It wasn't an easy position, wearing that much leather. Maybe the boots were softer than they looked. Naw.
He rested his elbows on the couch arm, leaning his chest
outward. The sheer red cloth covered his chest completely and left nothing to the imagination. His nipples pressed against the thin fabric. The red haze of cloth made the cross-shaped burn scar look almost bloody.
He raised himself upward with his hands propped on the couch arm like a mermaid on a rock. I expected him to tease or say something sexual. Instead, he said, “I came to tell you of Richard's imprisonment in person.” He watched my face very closely. “I thought it might upset you.”
“Of course it upsets me. This Colin guy, vampire, whatever the hell he is, is crazy if he thinks he's going to keep us from helping Richard.”
Jean-Claude smiled. “Asher is negotiating even as we speak to try and allow you to enter Colin's territory.”
Asher was his second banana, his vampire lieutenant. I frowned. “Why me and not you?”
“Because you are much better with police matters than I am.” He threw one long, leather-clad leg over the couch arm and slithered over it to his feet. It was like watching a lap dance without a lap. To my knowledge, Jean-Claude had never stripped at Guilty Pleasures, the vampire strip club he owned, but he could have. He had a way of making even the smallest movement sexual and vaguely obscene. You always felt like he was thinking wicked thoughts, things you couldn't say in mixed company.
“Why didn't you just call and tell me all this?” I said. I knew the answer, or at least part of it. He seemed to be as enamored of my body as I was of his. Good sex cuts both ways. The seducer can become the seduced, with the right victim.