Danse Macabre ab-14Laurell K. Hamilton
( Anita Blake - 14 )
Laurell K. Hamilton
Laurell K. Hamilton
To Jonathan, who comforts me while I weep; who holds me close while I scream; who understands why I rage. Because he knows how to weep, understands that pleasure can come in a scream, and has his own rage to battle. They say opposites attract, but not for me.
IT WAS THE middle of November. I was supposed to be out jogging, but instead I was sitting at my breakfast table talking about men, sex, werewolves, vampires, and that thing that most unmarried but sexually active women fear most of all—a missed period.
Veronica (Ronnie) Sims, best friend and private detective, sat across from me at my little four-seater breakfast table. The table sat on a little raised alcove in a bay window. I did breakfast most mornings looking at the view out onto the deck and the trees beyond. Today, the view wasn't pretty, because the inside of my head was too ugly to see it. Panic will do that to you.
"You're sure you missed October? You didn't just count wrong?" Ronnie asked.
I shook my head and stared into my coffee cup. "I'm two weeks overdue."
She reached across the table and patted my hand. "Two weeks—you had me scared. Two weeks could be anything, Anita. Stress will throw you off that much, and God knows you've had enough stress." She squeezed my hand. "That last serial killer case was only about two weeks ago." She squeezed my hand harder. "What I read in the paper and saw on the news was bad."
I'd stopped telling Ronnie all my bad stuff years ago, when my cases as a legal vampire executioner had gotten so much bloodier than her cases as a private eye. Now I was a federal marshal, along with most of the other legal vamp hunters in the United States. It meant that I had even more access to even more awful shit. Things that Ronnie, or any of my female friends, didn't want to know about. I didn't fault them. I'd rather not have had that many nightmares in my own head. No, I didn't fault Ronnie, but it meant that I couldn't share some of the most awful stuff with her. I was just glad we'd made up a long-standing grumpiness in time to have her here for this particular disaster. I was able to talk about the bad parts of my cases with some of the men in my life, but I couldn't have shared the missed period with any of them. It concerned one of them entirely too much.
She squeezed my hand hard and leaned back. Her gray eyes were all sympathy, and apology. She was still feeling guilty that she'd let her issues about commitment and men rain all over our friendship. She'd had a brief, disastrous marriage years before I met her. She'd come here today to cry on my shoulder about the fact that she was moving in with her boyfriend, Louie Fane—Dr. Louis Fane, thank you very much. He had his doctorate in biology and taught at Washington University. He also turned furry once a month, and was a lieutenant of the local wererat rodere— their word for pack.
"If Louie wasn't hiding what he was from his colleagues, we'd be going to the big party afterward," she said.
"He teaches people's kids, Ronnie; he can't afford to find out what they'd do if they found out he had lycanthropy."
"College isn't kids, it's definitely grown-up."
"Parents won't see it that way," I said. I looked at her, and finally said, "Are you changing the subject?"
"It's only two weeks, Anita, after one of the most violent cases you've ever had. I wouldn't even lose sleep over it."
"Yeah, but your period is erratic, mine's not. I've never been two weeks late before."
She pushed a strand of blond hair back behind her ear. The new haircut framed her face nicely, but it didn't stay out of her eyes, and she was always pushing it back. "Never?"
I shook my head, and sipped coffee. It was cold. I got up and went to dump it in the sink.
"What's the latest you've ever been?" she asked.
"Two days, I think five once, but I wasn't having sex with anyone, so it wasn't scary. I mean, unless there was a star in the east I was safe, just late." I poured coffee from the French press, which emptied it. I was so going to need more coffee.
Ronnie came to stand next to me while I put more hot water on the stove. She leaned her butt against the cabinets and drank her coffee, but she was watching me. "Let me run this back at you. You've never been two weeks late, ever, and you've never missed a whole month before?"
"Not since this whole mess started when I was fourteen, no."
"I always envied you the regular-as-clockwork schedule," she said.
I started dismantling the French press, taking out the lid with its filter on a stick. "Well, the clock is broken right now."
"Shit," she said, softly.
"You can say that again."
"You need a pregnancy test," she said.
"No shit." I dumped the grounds into trie trash can, and shook my head. "I can't go shopping for one tonight."
"Can't you make a quick stop on the way to Jean-Claude's little tete-a-tete tonight? It's not like this is the main event."
Jean-Claude, Master Vampire of die City of St. Louis, and my sweetie, was throwing one of the biggest bashes of the year to welcome to town die first ever mosdy-vampire dance company. He was one of their patrons, and when you spend that much money, you apparendy get to spend more to dirow a party to celebrate that the money was helping the dance troupe earn rave reviews in their cross-country tour. There was going to be national and international media there tomorrow. It was like a Big Deal, and I, as his main squeeze, had to be on his arm, smiling and dressed up. But that was tomorrow. Tonight's little get-together was sort of a prelim to the main event. Without letting the media know, a couple of the visiting Masters of the City had snuck in early. Jean-Claude had callled them friends. Master vampires did not call other master vampires friends. Allies, partners—but not friends.
"Yeah, Ronnie, I'm riding in with Micah and Nathaniel. Even if I stop, Nathaniel will insist on going in whatever store with me, or wondering why I don't let him go. I don't want any of them to know until I've got the test and it's yes or no. Maybe it's just nerves, stress, and the test will say no. Then I won't have to tell anybody."
"Where are your two handsome housemates?"
"Jogging. I was supposed to go with them, but I told them you'd called and needed me to hold your hand about moving in with Louie."
"I did," she said, and sipped her coffee. "But suddenly me being nervous about sharing space with a man for the second time in my life doesn't seem like such a big deal. Louie is nothing like the asshole I married when I was young and stupid."
"Louie sees the real you, Ronnie. He's not looking for some trophy wife. He wants a partner."
"I hope you're right."
"I don't know much today, but I'm sure Louie wants a partner, not a Barbie doll."
She gave me a weak smile, dien frowned. "Thanks, but I'm supposed to be comforting you. Are you going to tell them?"
I leaned my hands against the sink, and looked at her through a curtain of my long dark hair. It had gotten too long for my tastes, but Micah had made me a deal: If I cut my hair, he'd cut his, because he preferred his hair shorter, too. So my hair was fast approaching my waist for the first time since junior
high, and it was really beginning to get on my nerves. Of course, today everything was getting on my nerves.
"Until I know for sure, I don't want them to know."
"Even if it's yes, Anita, you don't have to tell them. I'll close up my agency for a few days. We'll go away on a girls' retreat, and you can come back without a problem."
I pushed my hair back so I could see her clearly. I think my face showed what I was thinking, because she said, "What?"
"Are you honestly saying that I don't tell any of them? That I just go awa
y for a while and make sure that there's no baby to worry about?"
"It's your body," she said.
"Yeah, and I took my chances by having sex with this many men on a regular basis."
"You're on the pill," she said.
"Yeah, and if I'd wanted to be a hundred percent safe I'd have still used condoms, but I didn't. If I'm... pregnant, then I'll deal, but not like that."
"You can't mean you'd keep it."
I shook my head. "I'm not even sure I'm pregnant, but if I was, I couldn't not tell the father. I'm in a committed relationship with several of them. I'm not married, but we live together. We share a life. I couldn't just make this kind of choice without talking to them first."
She shook her head. "No man ever wants you to get an abortion if you're in a relationship. They always want you barefoot and pregnant."
"That's your mother's issues talking, not yours. Or at least not mine."
She looked away, wouldn't meet my eyes. "I can tell you what I'd do, and it wouldn't involve telling Louie."
I sighed and stared out the little window above the sink. A lot of things to say went through my head, none of them helpful. I finally settled for, "Well, it isn't you and Louie having this particular problem. It's me, and ..."
"And who?" she said. "Who got you knocked up?"
"Thanks for putting it that way."
"I could ask, who's the father, but that's just creepy. If you are, then it's this little tiny, microscopic lump of cells. It's not a baby. It's not a person, not yet."
I shook my head. "We'll agree to disagree on that one."
"You're pro-choice," she said.
I nodded. "Yep, I am, but I also believe that abortion is taking a life. I agree women have the right to choose, but I also think that it's still taking a life."
"That's like saying you're pro-choice and pro-life. You can't be both."
"I'm pro-choice because I've never been a fourteen-year-old incest victim
pregnant by her father, or a woman who's going to die if the pregnancy con tinues, or a rape victim, or even a teenager who made a mistake. I want women to have choices, but I also believe that it's a life, especially once it's big enough to live outside the womb."
"Once a Catholic, always a Catholic," she said.
"Maybe, but you'd think being excommunicated would've cured me." The Pope had declared that all animators—zombie raisers—were excommunicated until they repented their evil ways and stopped doing it. What His Holiness didn't seem to grasp is that raising the dead was a psychic ability, and if we didn't raise zombies for money on a regular basis, we'd eventually raise the dead by accident. I had accidentally raised a deceased pet as a child, and a suicidal teacher in college. I'd always wondered if there had been others that never found me. Maybe some of the accidental zombies that occasionally show up are the result of someone's psychic abilities gone wrong, or untrained. All I knew was that if the Pope had ever woken up as a child with his dead dog curled up in bed with him, he'd want the power controlled. Or maybe he wouldn't. Maybe he'd believe that it was evil and he'd pray it into submission. My prayers just didn't have that kind of punch to them.
"You can't mean you'd actually have this... thing, baby, whatever."
I sighed. "I don't know, but I do know that I could never just go away, get an abortion, and never tell my boyfriends. Never tell them that one of them might have made a child with me. I just couldn't do it."
She was shaking her head so hard that her hair fell around her face, covered the upper half of it. She ran her hands through it sharply, like she was pulling on it. "I've tried to understand that you're happy living with not one, but two men. I've tried to understand that you love that vampire son of a bitch, somehow. I've tried, but if you actually breed... actually have a baby, I just don't get that. I won't be able to understand that."
"Then don't, then go. If you can't deal, then go."
"I didn't mean that. I just meant that I can't understand why you would complicate your life this way."
"Complicate, yeah, I guess that's one way of putting it."
She crossed her arms tight over her chest. She was tall, slender and leggy, and blond. Everything I'd wanted to be as a child. She was small-chested enough that she could fold her arms over her breasts instead of under them, something I couldn't have done. But her legs went on forever in a skirt, and mine did not. Oh, well.
"Okay, then if you're going to tell them, tell Micah and Nathaniel and get a test and test yourself."
"I told you, I don't want anyone to know until I know for sure."
She looked up at the ceiling, closed her eyes, and sighed. "Anita, you live with two of them. You sleep over with two more of them. You are never alone. When are you going to have time to run in and get a test, let alone have the privacy to use it?"
"I can pick one up at work on Monday."
She stared at me. "Monday! It's Thursday. I'd go fucking crazy if I had to wait that long. You'll go crazy. You can't wait nearly four days."
"Maybe my period will start. Maybe by Monday I won't need it."
"Anita, you wouldn't have told me if you weren't pretty sure you needed a pregnancy test."
"When Nathaniel and Micah get back, they'll jump in the shower, we'll get dressed up, and go straight to Jean-Claude's. There won't be time tonight."
"Friday, promise me that Friday you'll get one."
"I'll try, but..."
"Besides, when you start asking your lovers to use condoms, won't they figure something out?"
"Jesus," I said.
"Yeah, I heard you say if you'd used condoms you'd be safe. Don't tell me that you're not going to want to use them for a while. Could you really have unprotected sex right now, and enjoy it?"
I shook my head. "No."
"Then what are you going to tell the boys about this sudden need for condoms? Hell, Micah had a vasectomy before you even met him. He's like super-safe."
I sighed again. "You're right, damn it, but you are."
"So pick up the test on the way to the thing tonight."
"No. I'm not going to rain all over Jean-Claude's meeting. He's planned this for months."
"You didn't mention it to me."
"I didn't plan it, he did. The ballet isn't really my thing." Truthfully, he hadn't mentioned it to me until they were coming to St. Louis, but I kept that part to myself. It would just give Ronnie another reason to say that Jean-Claude was keeping secrets from me. He'd finally admitted that the Masters of the City all coming here had been something he hadn't planned, at least not from the beginning. He'd just negotiated it so the vampire dancers could cross many different vamp territories without problems. Jean-Claude agreed the meet was a good idea, but he was also nervous about it. It would be the largest gathering of Masters of the City in American history.
And you don't bring that many big fish together without worrying about shark attacks.
"And how will Mr. Fang-Face feel about being a father?"
"Don't call him that."
"Sorry, how will Jean-Claude feel about being a daddy?"
"It's probably not his."
She looked at me. "You're having sex with him, a lot. Why isn't it his?"
"Because he's more dian four hundred years old and when vampires get that old, they aren't very fertile. That goes for Asher and Damian, too."
"Oh, God," she said. "I'd forgotten that you had sex with Damian."
"Yeah," I said.
She covered her eyes with her hands. "I'm sorry, Anita. I'm sorry that it's weirding me out that my uptight monogamous friend is suddenly sleeping with not one, but three vampires."
"I didn't plan it that way."
"I know that." She hugged me, and I stayed stiff against her. She wasn't being comforting enough for me to relax in her arms. She hugged me tighter. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm being a jerk. But if it's not the vampires then who else but your houseboys."
I pulled away from her. "Don't call them my houseboys. They
have names, and just because I like living with someone, and you don't, don't make that my problem."
"Fine, that leaves Micah and Nathaniel."
"Micah is fixed, remember? So it can't be him."
Her eyes went wide. "That leaves Nathaniel. Jesus, Anita, Nathaniel as the father-to-be."
A moment ago I might have agreed with her, but now it pissed me off. It wasn't her place to disparage my boyfriends. "What's wrong with Nathaniel?" I said, and my voice was not entirely happy.
She put her hands on her hips and gave me a look. "He's twenty and a stripper. Twenty-year-old strippers are the entertainment at your bache-lorette party. You don't have babies with them."
I let the anger seep into my eyes. "Nathaniel told me you didn't see him as real, as a person. I told him he was wrong. I told him you were my friend, and you wouldn't disrespect him like that. I guess /was wrong."
She didn't back down or apologize. She was angry and staying that way. "Last time I checked, Nathaniel was supposed to be food, just food, not the love of your life."
"I didn't say he was the love of my life, and yeah, he started out as my pomme de sang, but that doesn't..."
But she interrupted me. "Your apple of blood, right, that's what pomme de sang means?"
"If you were a vampire you'd be taking blood from your little stripper, but thanks to that bloodsucking son of a bitch you have to feed off sex. Sex, for God's sake! First that bastard made you his blood whore, and now you're just a—" She stopped abruptly, a startled, almost-frightened look on her face, as if she knew she'd gone too far.
I gave her a flat, cold look. The look that says my anger has moved from hot to cold. It's never a good sign. "Go on, Ronnie, say it."
"I didn't mean it," she whispered.
"Yeah," I said, "you did. Now I'm just a whore." My voice sounded as cold as my eyes felt. Too angry and too hurt to be anything but cold. Hot anger can feel good, but the cold will protect you better.
She started to cry. I just stared at her, speechless. What the hell was going on? We were fighting—she wasn't allowed to cry in the middle of it. Especially not when she was the one being a cruel bastard. I could count on one hand the times I'd seen Ronnie cry and still have fingers left over.