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Flirt, Page 2

Laurell K. Hamilton

  "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 seeing 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.

Bennington stopped right outside the door, looking at the two men. "Aren't you going to introduce me?" He was climbing back into his blank face, all that anger and disappointment shoved down behind the iron of his will.

  I wasn't, actually. "Maybe they're not mine to introduce," I said.

  Bennington looked back at Nathaniel and Jason. "You're dancers at Guilty Pleasures. The website says you're a wereleopard and a werewolf. My wife went on a shapeshifter night. She said it was extraordinary watching you slip your skin and change shape. "

  I sighed and said, "Mr. Bennington, this is Brandon and