Flirt ab-18Laurell K. Hamilton
( Anita Blake - 18 )
Laurell K. Hamilton
When Anita Blake meets with prospective client Tony Bennington, who is desperate to have her reanimate his recently deceased wife, she is full of sympathy for his loss. Anita knows something about love, and she knows everything there is to know about loss. But what she also knows, though Tony Bennington seems unwilling to be convinced, is that the thing she can do as a necromancer isn't the miracle he thinks he needs. The creature that Anita could coerce to step out of the late Mrs. Bennington's grave would not be the lovely Mrs. Bennington. Not really. And not for long.
Laurell K. Hamilton
Book 18 in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, 2010
This one’s for Daven and Wendi, friends who finally taught me
the fine art of flirting. Thanks for the inspiration.
For Jonathon, too, because he was there by my side when
inspiration struck. He has taught me that to be happy with
someone, first they must be my friend. Without that there can be
Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.
– Anaïs Nin
To Carri, who, with this book, saw the process from beginning to end for the very first time. Welcome aboard. Shawn, Semper Fi. I know you both have my back. Pili, thanks for the food and the friendship. To the rest of the crew who are still hanging in there: Mary, Sherry, and Teresa. To Jennie, for all the funny and the hard work. To my writing group: Tom Drennan, Deborah Millitello, Marella Sands, Sharon Shinn, and Mark Sumner.
No one has it who isn’t capable of genuinely liking others, at least at the actual moment of meeting and speaking. Charm is always genuine; it may be superficial but it isn’t false.
– P. D. James
How do I get my ideas? How do I know it’s enough for a book? How do I work?
I get these questions so often that when the idea for this book, Flirt, came to me, I decided to pay attention to the entire process from initial idea to finished product. You can read the novel and then read the nonfiction piece at the end of this book that tells the real-life event that inspired Flirt.
And once you’ve read the book and essay, you’ll get cartoons. No, really-cartoons from Jennie Breeden of “The Devil’s Panties.” The comics are her take on the event that inspired it all. If you read the essay or peek at the cartoons you will spoil some of the surprise of the novel. So, no peeking, okay? Think of it as a spoiler alert. You have been warned.
Now turn the page and enjoy spending some quality time with Anita Blake.
“I want you to raise my wife from the dead, Ms. Blake,” Tony Bennington said, in a voice that matched the expensive suit and the flash of the Rolex on his right wrist. It probably meant he was a lefty. Not that his handedness mattered, but you learn to notice primary hands when people try to kill you on a semiregular basis.
“My condolences,” I said automatically, because Bennington didn’t display any grief. His face was composed, almost blank, so that if he was handsome in that gray-haired, I’m-over-fifty-but-keep-in-good-shape way, the lack of expression took all the fun out of it. Maybe the blankness was his way of showing grief, but his gray eyes were steady and cold as they met mine. It was either some steely control of grief, or he didn’t feel anything about his wife’s death; that would be interesting. “Why do you want me to raise your wife from the dead, Mr. Bennington?”
“At the rates you charge, does it matter?” he asked.
I gave him a long blink and crossed my legs, smoothing the skirt over my thighs as automatically as I’d said my condolences. I gave him the edge of a smile that I knew didn’t reach my eyes. “It does, to me.”
An emotion filled his eyes then: anger. His voice held barely a hint of the emotion that turned his eyes a darker shade of gray. Maybe it was steely self-control after all. “It’s personal, and you don’t need to know it to raise her as a zombie.”
“This is my job, Mr. Bennington, not yours. You don’t know what I need to raise a zombie.”
“I did my research, Ms. Blake. My wife wasn’t murdered, so she won’t rise as a vengeful, flesh-eating monster. She wasn’t psychic, or a witch, and had never gone near any other religion that might make her more than a normal zombie. There’s nothing in her background that makes her a bad candidate for the ceremony.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I’m impressed; you did do your research.”
He nodded, once, manicured hands smoothing his tailored lapel. “Then you’ll do it?”
I shook my head. “Not without a reason.”
He frowned at me, that flash of anger back in his eyes. “What kind of reason do you want?”
“One good enough to make me disturb the dead.”
“I’m willing to pay your rather exorbitant fee, Ms. Blake; I would think that would inspire you.”
“Money isn’t everything, Mr. Bennington. Why do you want her raised from the dead? What do you hope to gain from it?”
“Gain,” he said. “I don’t know what you mean by that.”
“I don’t, either, but you keep not answering my original question; I thought maybe if I rephrased it you would.”
“I don’t want to answer either question,” he said.
“Then I won’t raise your wife. There are other animators at Animators Inc. who will be happy to take your money, and they don’t charge my rates.”
“Everyone says you are the best.”
I shrugged. I was never sure what to say to things like that, and found silence worked best.
“They say you are a true necromancer and have power over all types of undead.”
I kept my face blank, which I’d gotten better at over the years. He was right, but I didn’t think it was commonly known. “You’ll turn a girl’s head with talk like that.”
“You have the highest number of executions of any member of the U.S. Marshals preternatural branch. Most of them were rogue vampires, but some of them were wereanimals.”
I shrugged. “That’s a matter of record, so yeah, but it has no bearing on what you want from me, Mr. Bennington.”
“I suppose it has as little to do with my request as your reputation as a sort of female Casanova.”
“My love life really has nothing to do with my ability to raise the dead.”
“If you can truly control all manner of undead, then it might explain how you can slay vampires and still date them.”
Jean-Claude, one of the vampires in question, was a little iffy on who wore the pants in our relationship sometimes because of my powers; just as I was iffy on how much of our relationship was my idea because of his vampire powers over me. We had a sort of metaphysical detente. “Jean-Claude and I were in the papers recently, so that didn’t take much research.”
“One of St. Louis ’s hottest couples, I believe was mentioned in the article.”
I tried not to squirm with embarrassment, and managed it. “Jean-Claude is pretty enough that anyone on his arm looks hot.”
“That much modesty doesn’t become a woman,” Bennington said.
I blinked at him, frowning. “Sorry, I don’t know what you mean by that.”
He studied my face, then said, “You really don’t, do you?”
“I just said that.” I felt like I had missed something, and didn’t like it. “I am sorry for your pain, but you’re not winning me over.”
“I need to know if your reputation is real, or just talk, like so many of the tall tales about you.”
“I’ve earned my reputation, but if you really did your
research on me then you also know that I don’t raise zombies for kicks, or thrill seekers, or tormented relatives unless they have a plan.”
“A plan. What kind of plan?”
“You tell me. Why-do-you-want-your-wife-raised-as-a-zombie?”
“I understood the question, Ms. Blake; you don’t have to say it slowly.”
“Then answer the question, or this interview is over.”
He glared at me, that anger darkening his eyes to a nice storm-cloud gray. His hands made fists on the chair arms, and a muscle in his jaw flexed as he ground his teeth in frustration. Iron self-control it was.
I stood up, smoothing my skirt down in back, out of habit. I’d been polite because I knew how much money he’d paid just to talk to me, and since I was going to refuse I wanted him to feel he’d gotten something for his money, but I’d had enough.
“I need you because there isn’t much left of her body. Most animators need a nearly intact body to do the job; I don’t have an intact body to work with.” He wouldn’t look at me as he said it, and there was a flinching around his mouth, a tension to those eyes he was hiding from me. Here was the pain.
I sat back down and my voice was gentler. “How did she die?”
“It was an explosion. Our vacation home had a gas leak. She’d gone up ahead of me. I was going to join her the next day, but that night…” His fists tightened, mottling the skin, and that muscle in his jaw bulged as if he were trying to bite through something hard and bitter. “I loved my wife, Ms. Blake.” He sounded like the words choked him. His dark gray eyes gleamed when he raised them back to me. He held on to his unshed tears the way he held on to everything else: tightly.
“I believe you, and I really am sorry for your loss, but I need to know what you think you’ll get out of raising her like this. She will be a zombie. Mine look very human, Mr. Bennington, very human, but they aren’t. I don’t want you to believe that I can raise her up and you can keep her with you, because you can’t.”
“Why can’t I?”
I made my voice soft as I told him the truth. “Because eventually she’ll start to rot, and you don’t want that to be your last visual of your wife.”
“I heard you raise zombies that don’t even know they’re dead.”
“Not at first,” I said, “but eventually the magic wears off, and it’s… not pretty, Mr. Bennington.”
“Please,” he said, “no one else can do this but you.”
“If I could raise her from the dead for real for you, maybe I would. I won’t debate the whole religious/philosophical problem with you, but the truth is that even I can’t do what you want. I raise zombies, Mr. Bennington, and that is not the same thing as resurrection of the dead. I’m good, maybe the best there is in the business, but I’m not that good. No one is.”
A tear began to slide down each cheek, and I knew from my own hatred of crying that the tears were hot, and his throat hurt with holding it all in. “I don’t beg, Ms. Blake-ever-but I’ll beg you now. I’ll double your fee. I’ll do whatever it takes for you to do this for me.”
That he was willing to double my fee meant he had as much money as he seemed to have; a lot of people who wore designer suits and Rolex watches were wearing their money. I stood again. “I am sorry, but I don’t have the ability to do what you want. No one on this earth can bring your wife back from the dead in the way you want.”
“It’s too late for her to be a vampire, then?”
“First, she’d have to have been bitten before she died to have any chance of raising her as a vampire. Second, you say she died in an explosion.”
He nodded, his face ignoring the tears, except for the pain in his eyes and the hard line of his jaw.
“Fire is one of the few things that destroy everything, even the preternatural.”
“One of the reasons I’m here, Ms. Blake, is that most animators have trouble raising the dead when there’re just burned bits left. I thought that was because of how little they had to work with, but is it because of the fire itself?”
It was a good question, an intelligent question, but I didn’t have a good answer to give back to him. “I’m honestly not sure. I know that most animators need a nearly complete body to raise from the dead, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an article on whether death by fire impedes the process.” I stood up and walked around the desk to offer him my hand. “I am sorry that I can’t help you, Mr. Bennington, but trust me that what I could do for you, you don’t really want.”
He didn’t stand up, just looked at me. “You’re the girlfriend of the Master Vampire of St. Louis. Isn’t he powerful enough to overcome all that and raise her as a vampire?”
I was a lot more than just Jean-Claude’s girlfriend. I was his human servant, but we tried to keep that out of the media. The police that I worked with as a U.S. Marshal already mistrusted me because I was having sex with a vampire; if they were certain of our mystical connection they’d like it even less.
I lowered my hand and tried to explain. “I’m sorry, truly, but the Master of the City is still bound by some of the same laws of metaphysics as all vampires. Your wife would have to have been bitten several times before death, and the explosion would have destroyed her even if she had been a vampire.”
I put my hand back out and hoped he’d take it this time.
He stood up then, and shook my hand. He held on to my hand and gave me serious eye contact. “You could raise her as a zombie that wouldn’t know it was dead, and wouldn’t look dead.”
I didn’t pull my hand back, but let him hold it, though I didn’t like it. I never liked being touched by strangers. “I could, but in a few days she’d begin to deteriorate. If her mind went first then she’d just stop being your wife, but if the body began to rot before the mind went, then she’d be trapped in a decaying body, and she’d know it.” I put my hand over both of ours. “You don’t want that for her, or for yourself.”
He let go of my hand then, and stepped back. His eyes were lost rather than angry. “But a few days to say good-bye, a few days to be with her, might be worth it.”
I almost asked if by “be with her” he meant sex, but I did not want to know. I didn’t need to know because I wasn’t raising this zombie. There had been cases of other animators raising deceased spouses and having that happen, which is why most of us make the client understand that the zombie goes back in the grave the same night it comes out. It avoided a whole host of problems if you just put the dead person back in its grave immediately. Problems that made me have to fight off visuals I did not need in my head. I’d seen way too many zombies to think sex was ever a good idea with the shambling dead.
I walked him to the door, and he came, no longer arguing with me. I wasn’t sure I’d actually won the argument. In fact, I would bet he’d try to find someone else to raise his wife from the dead. There were a couple of animators in the United States who could do it, but they would probably refuse on the same grounds I had. The creep factor was entirely too high.
The door opened and he went through. Normally, that would have meant I could close the door and be done with him, but I caught a glimpse of someone who made me smile in spite of my client’s grief. But then again, I’d learned a long time ago that if I bled for every broken heart in my office, I’d have bled to death from other people’s wounds long ago.
Nathaniel had his back to us, and in the overlarge tank top with those boy-cut sleeves, a lot of muscle showed. His auburn hair was tied in a thick braid that traced down almost every inch of his five-foot, seven-inch frame. The braid trailed over wide, muscular shoulders down that back, to the narrow waist, and the tight rise of his ass, to fall down the muscled length of his thighs, calves, until the end of his braid stopped just short of his ankles. He had the longest hair of anyone I’d ever dated. His hair was darker than normal, still damp from the shower that he’d caught between dance class and picking me up for lunch. I tried to look reasonably intelligent before he turned around, because if just s
eeing him from behind made me stupid-faced, the front view was better.
It was Jason who peeked out from around Nathaniel’s wider shoulders to grin at me. He had that look in his eyes, that mischievous look that said he was going to push his luck in some way. There was no malice to Jason, just an overly developed sense of fun. I gave him the frown that should have told him, Don’t do anything that I’ll regret. It did no good to say he would regret it, because he wouldn’t.
He was handsome, too, but he, like me, was not the prettiest person in the room with Nathaniel standing there. He was Nathaniel’s best friend, and I lived with the prettiest boy in the room, so we were used to it. What made Jason appealing was not the packaging-the blue eyes; the yellow-blond hair, now long enough that he’d started having Nathaniel French-braid it for dance class; the almost-not-there tank tops and shorts, which showed off his own muscular and very nice body, all packed into a nice five-foot, four-inch frame-it was that grin and that light of mischief that made his eyes bright with thinking naughty thoughts. Not sex, though that was in there, but just a host of things he knew he shouldn’t do, but so wanted to do.
To forestall whatever he had planned, I said, “I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Bennington, and sorry I can’t help you more.”
Jason’s a good guy at heart, and his face sobered, and I knew he’d take the hint. Nathaniel turned at the sound of my voice, but his face was sober, too. He knew what kind of work I did, and knew that I dealt with more grieving relatives than most police.
I had a moment to see those huge violet eyes, like an Easter surprise in a face that was somewhere between beautiful and handsome. I could never decide if it was the eyes or all that hair, then he’d pull the hair back so you could see his face. I’d gazed at him sleeping often enough to know that he was just that beautiful.