BeautyLaurell K. Hamilton
Special preview from Kiss the Dead
About the author
Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Novels by Laurell K. Hamilton
Guilty Pleasures The Laughing Corpse Circus of the Damned The Lunatic Cafe Bloody Bones The Killing Dance Burnt Offerings Blue Moon
Obsidian Butterfly Narcissus in Chains Cerulean Sins Incubus Dreams Micah
Danse Macabre The Harlequin Blood Noir
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi--110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England This eSpecial is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are 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. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
A Berkley Book, published by arrangement with the author
Berkley eSpecial edition / May 2012
Copyright (c) 2012 by Laurell K. Hamilton.
Excerpt from Kiss the Dead copyright (c) 2012 by Laurell K. Hamilton. Cover design by Judith Lagerman. Cover image of woman (c) Dazo / Masterfile; metal plate (c) R-studio / Shutterstock.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
Berkley Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
BERKLEY(r) is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
The "B" design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Once upon a time I'd had no one to go home to after a crime scene, but that was back in the day when I'd done nothing but hunt bad guys and raise zombies. I'd been more a consultant for the police than an actual cop. I had been grandfathered into the U.S. Marshals service along with most of the legal vampire executioners in the country who could pass the weapons test. I had a real badge now, and was doing more time as a cop than as my original day job of raising the dead. It paid better than the police work, but people didn't usually die if I missed an appointment to raise a zombie for a historical society so they could question it on the accuracy of some battle information. People could die if I missed this job, but there were nights when I just needed to come home and wrap myself in my boyfriends' arms and forget about the blood and death I'd just seen. This was one of those nights, and according to the schedule, I was coming home to Jean-Claude, the master vampire of St. Louis, and one of my main squeezes. We'd been dating for seven years, sometimes on-again, off-again, but for the last few years it had been very on.
Yeah, I did see the irony that I wanted to forget about the death I'd just seen on the job by getting up close and personal with a vampire, but trust me when I say vampires aren't dead. They are undead, and that is way more lively than a lot of human men I've known. I've always had better luck dating the "monsters" than the humans. Some people say that's because I'm one of the monsters. Some days I think they're right, but other days I think they're just jealous whiner babies. A lot of the shit I got was because I was a petite, attractive woman who slept with a lot of men, not casually, but on a regular I-date-you-basis. If I'd been a man I honestly think a lot of the complaining wouldn't have happened. Some people, including other women, still think we should be waiting for Prince Charming so we can ride off into the sunset of happily-ever-after-land. This was one princess who could rescue her own damn self. I was fine with the prince fighting at my side, or, hell, I'd rescue him if he needed it. But I was so not the passive, wait-for-my-one-true-love type, and wonder of wonders, I'd found several men who loved me for being the stubborn, messy, violent, sexually-aggressive woman that I am. In fact, they totally encouraged that last part.
Normally I might have put on some lingerie, or let Jean-Claude get me out of my clothes, but after a crime scene, undressing was not usually part of foreplay. I never knew what I might have rubbed against, stepped in, or had sprayed on me. And even for a vampire, old blood and guts of someone I'd killed was not an aphrodisiac, and honestly it bothered me more than it bothered him. I just wanted the clothes off and put in the plastic bag I kept for such occasions. The weapons came off first, though, and most of them went in the gun safe that now stayed in the corner of his bedroom. We had too many people coming and going that weren't gun savvy now. Hell, we had some with toddlers. Toddlers and guns do not mix. So, we had gun safes, and I only kept the guns with me that could fit on me, or at hand with me. The guards did the same.
So, a mountain of guns, blades, and ammo, placed in the safe, among all the other dangerous toys. Then the clothes stripped off and put in the plastic garbage bag so they could be washed later, and I was naked, and down to only one handgun I'd carry with me into the bath. I could hear water running in the bathroom as Jean-Claude filled the big tub. It had a quick fill on it, and there was an extra hot water tank just for the tub. I'd learned that was the magic reason it never seemed to run out of hot water.
I walked naked and armed into the bathroom with just the Browning BDM in my hand. I was probably as safe as I'd been all day this far into the underground of the Circus of the Damned. If anyone got through all the bodyguards, the fourteen rounds in the Browning wouldn't really make that much difference, but that wasn't really the point. The point was that I was finally comfortable naked; being unarmed, that I still didn't like.
The bathroom was decorated in black marble with touches of charcoal gray, all the fixtures were shiny silver, and the double sinks had a large mirror that reflected half of the room. The mirror didn't reveal the stool with its half wall that hid it from the big bathtub, which had an edge of marble big enough not just for sitting, but for Jean-Claude to lie down full length on one side so we could make love. Mirrors surrounded the tub on three sides so it looked like one of those tubs in an expensive honeymoon suite. But what was waiting for me in the bathtub would have made it a honeymoon you'd never forget.
Jean-Claude was sitting against the far side of the bath, so that he had the best view of me walking through the door. His arms were stretched along the back of the tub, and hi
s skin looked incredibly white against all that black marble. He'd pushed his hair behind him so that it pooled behind his shoulders; it was hard to tell where his curls ended and the marble began. His hair was truly black, like mine; no brunette for us, no matter how dark. The water was still below his upper chest and his nipples showed a little less pale, and the cross-shaped burn scar sat on one side of his pectoral, somewhere between the nipple and his heart. Some centuries ago a vampire hunter had shoved a glowing cross into his chest. I knew that Jean-Claude had killed the person who did it, just like I'd killed the people who branded me with my own cross-shaped burn scar on my arm. Mine was a brand, not a holy object reacting to vampire skin, but they looked the same. The vampire wannabes that branded me had thought it was funny to mark me up like a vampire; they'd thought it was funny right up until they died. So who was I to throw stones that Jean-Claude had killed the person who branded him? Fair is fair.
I finally let myself look at that face, and I felt like I had from almost the first moment I'd seen him: that he was simply one of the most beautiful men I'd ever seen. The black curls touched the edge of his face, as if bringing attention to the curve of his mouth, the line of his cheek, and those eyes. They always looked blue, but they were so dark. Midnight blue with their double edge of black eyelashes like dark lace to frame the deepest blue I'd ever seen in anyone's eyes. His eyes were a blue like deep ocean water, where it runs cold and will eventually spill down into something warm and mysterious, where creatures the light has never seen live and thrive. Those gorgeous eyes looked at me, and there was love in them, but the second he saw me in the doorway, walking toward him, there was lust, desire, and just a heat that brought a blush to my face and an answering heat to my own eyes. Six years after we'd first started dating I was still a little amazed that this most lovely of men still wanted me so badly. They talked about burning for each other, and we still did. I never seemed to get over the surprise of turning around and seeing him there. You'd think I'd get used to seeing such a beautiful man and knowing he was mine, but it never grew old, as if his beauty and the fact that he was mine, and I was his, would forever surprise me.
I walked toward him like I had a purpose, because I did. I smiled, and because the mirror was behind him I could see it, and it was a confident, possessive smile. The look on my face echoed his with its sheer lust, wanting, desire--I wanted him and he wanted me; still. I found that amazing, too, as if I'd thought we'd grow bored of each other, or he'd grow bored of me. If I was honest with myself, that was it. How could small-town, middle-class me keep the interest of this man, this centuries-old vampire, who had seduced his way across Europe and at least half of America? And yet, I had.
I heard his voice in my mind, like a breath. "How can you doubt your beauty even now?"
I looked at him in the tub, and frowned. I had to raise my voice over the still-spilling water. "You shouldn't be able to read my mind without me lowering my shields, or at least knowing you're in my head."
"I did not read your mind, ma petite. I read your face, your body language. I saw that shadow of doubt cross over you."
I stopped moving forward and looked at him, one hand going to my hip by habit. I'd found when I was nude I still had to do something with my hands. The gun took care of only one of them.
He laughed, and it was that touchable, hold it in your hand and let it melt into your skin sound that made me shiver. "So cheating," I said.
"It would only be cheating if I was using it to seduce you. You want to be here with me. I do not have to use tricks."
It was hard to argue, though part of me wanted to out of habit. I finally let it go, shook my head, and smiled. "Fine, yes, you don't have to seduce me anymore, I'm pretty much as seduced as I can get."
"That cynical expression, even now, it is very you, ma petite."
I glanced up in the mirrors and saw that cynical look staring back at me. It made me smile, hand on hip, gun in hand, naked. I looked like the proverbial tough girl from some naughty movie. It made me laugh, and I had a sudden flash from Jean-Claude. The emotion was joy. He loved that I was standing there nude and laughing. I caught glimpses of him remembering how I had been when we first met. How uncomfortable with nudity, with him, with sex, with . . . so much. I felt his happiness that I stood there so bold, so comfortable with him. It made me come to the very edge of the tub, so I could look down at him in the water. I saw what he saw as he gazed up at me. He thought I was beautiful, and that always surprised me, too. I'd had so many people tell me I wasn't when I was growing up, that not being tall, Nordic, blonde, and blue-eyed made me like some small, dark blot on the family tree.
He moved through the water, holding his hand out to me. I sat down on the edge of the black marble. The water was hot--not too hot, just right--but then Jean-Claude knew what temperature I liked the water. The tub was one of our favorite places for foreplay, though actual sex was on the edge, or in the bed. I took his hand and let him guide me through the water. I held the gun up out of the water. I put it on the towels on the side near where he liked to sit, like I usually did.
He drew me in against his body. To have this amazingly lovely man tell me I was beautiful, and mean it, was like some kind of miracle, or karmic balance for all the people who had made me feel less than beautiful, as if I'd done my time in ugly-duckling hell and woke up to realize I was truly that graceful swan after all.
The water was deep enough that I was half floating as I put my hands on his shoulders to steady myself and leaned in for a kiss. His hands were loose at my back, but we only touched each other with our hands for that first kiss. It was a thing of gentle lips, with the steam from the water touching his lips with moisture, so that it was almost like drinking to touch his lips.
He wrapped his arms around me, hugging me, but the movement drew me in to him, so that our upper bodies caressed against each other, my breasts rubbing his chest in a happy shivering movement. It was only natural for my arms to encircle his shoulders, all that long, dark hair brushing my skin as I hugged myself closer to him.
We kissed again, but this time there was more movement to it, our mouths found each other in that long-practiced sweetness. I'd mastered the art of French kissing vampires years ago, and I proved it now, as our hands grew more eager, pressing us closer together with the water swirling between us as I wrapped my legs around his waist. Our height difference meant that though my naughty bits were pressed against him, his were still inches below mine, so that it was intimate, but not as intimate as it would be.
We both heard a noise on the other side of the closed door. I reached for my gun, other arm and legs still wrapped around Jean-Claude. He rotated in the water so that I had the gun pointed at the door when it opened.
Asher hesitated in the doorway, his blue silk top hat in one hand and the other hand on the doorknob, frozen unmoving as only a vampire can be, as if there is just a stop, no breathing, no pulse or beat of life, like a statue coming through the door. Only his shoulder-length golden hair moved slightly in the air of the ventilation system. The hair hid most of his face, giving only a glimpse of pale, ice blue eyes and that most handsome of profiles, the kissable mouth.
"Knocking would be good," I said, voice low and careful as I raised the Browning skyward and Jean-Claude rotated in the water so that I could put the gun back on the towels.
Asher blinked, and just like that he moved, and it was as if magic had breathed life into some beautiful statue. He came forward in his painted-on blue satin pants tucked into knee-high boots. The cutaway tailcoat was blue, too, and all of it made his palest of blue eyes bluer still, like early spring skies instead of winter blue. His eyes were as pale a blue as Jean-Claude's were dark.
Asher left the door open behind him and, hat literally in hand, said, "My deepest apologies, Anita, I should have knocked, because you are always armed." He smiled then, and it was that particular smile of his that said part of him had enjoyed barging through the door just to see what would happen. He
pushed his luck, did our Asher. I had some of Jean-Claude's memories, so I knew that Asher had pushed his luck like that for hundreds of years. He just couldn't seem to help himself.
"If only you were truly sorry," I said, and cuddled closer to Jean-Claude.
He smiled then, wide enough that it was almost a grin, rare for him. It made me smile, and I felt some tension ease out of Jean-Claude, as if he'd held his proverbial breath, though he wasn't actually breathing at the moment. Now that I'd noticed it, I had to put my hand over his chest to see if I could feel his heart beat; sometimes it did, sometimes it didn't.
He pressed my palm to his chest and I felt the slow, thick rhythm of his heart. "It beats for the two of you, both of you," he said, smiling. The last time he'd been able to say that about Asher and another woman had been over two hundred years ago with their beloved Julianna. She'd been Asher's human servant, where I was Jean-Claude's, but she had loved them both, and they'd been a happy threesome for over twenty years. She'd been executed by the Church as a witch because she consorted with vampires. Jean-Claude had been in time to save Asher's life, but too late to save the woman they loved.
Now, they were together again with me, and it was the happiest I'd seen either of them since her death, because again I had memories of the three of them together. I remembered seeing her sitting by the fire, knitting, that quiet, happy smile on her face, and I remembered loving her, and on the end of that thought was the sorrow of losing her.
"You knew I was coming to join you in the bath, or the bed, after work, Anita, so really I didn't surprise you." He laid his hat down on the counter by the sink and started untying the blue silk tie, unsnapping the button of his white tux shirt, and smiled down at us in the bath.
"I just wasn't sure how soon you'd be coming, that's all."
"Oh, I'll be coming, but not too soon." He undid the cuffs of his shirt.
It took me a moment to get the double entendre, and when I did I blushed, which made me hide my face against Jean-Claude's neck--not out of embarrassment, but because I hated that I still blushed so easily.