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Anita Blake 12 - Incubus Dreams, Page 2

Laurell K. Hamilton

  Jessica Arnet was a few inches taller than Nathaniel’s 5’6”, so she had to look down to meet that lavender gaze. No exaggeration on the color. His eyes weren’t blue, but truly a pale purple, lavender, spring lilacs. He wore a banded-collar shirt that was almost the same color as his eyes, so the lavender was even more vibrant; drowningly beautiful, those eyes.

  He offered his hand, but she hugged him. Hugged him, because I think for the first time she was in a public situation where no one would think it was strange. So she hugged him, because she could.

  There was a fraction of a moment’s hesitation, then he hugged her back, but he turned his head so he could look at me. His eyes said clearly, Help me.

  She hadn’t done that much yet, just a hug where a handshake would have done, but the look in Nathaniel’s eyes was much more serious than what she’d done. As if it bothered him more than it should have. Since in his day job he’s a stripper, you’d think he’d be used to women pawing him. Of course, maybe that was the point. He wasn’t at work.

  She stayed molded to his body, and he stayed holding, with only that mute look in his eyes to say he was unhappy. His body seemed happy and relaxed in the hug. He never showed Jessica Arnet his confused eyes.

  The hug had gone on longer than was polite, and I finally realized what part of the problem was. Nathaniel was the least dominant person I’d ever met. He wanted out of the hug, but he could not be the first one to pull back. Jessica had to let him go, and she was probably waiting for him to move away, and getting all the wrong signals from the fact that he wasn’t moving away. Shit. How do I end up with men in my life who have such interesting problems? Lucky, I guess.

  I held out my hand toward him, and the relief on his face was clear enough that anyone down the hall would have seen it, and understood it. He kept his face turned so Jessica never saw that look. It would have hurt her feelings, and Nathaniel didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Which meant that he didn’t see her shining face, all aglow with what she thought was mutual attraction. Truthfully, I’d thought Nathaniel liked her, at least a little, but his face said otherwise. To me, anyway.

  Nathaniel came to my hand like a scared child who’s just been saved from the neighborhood bully. I drew him into a hug, and he clung to me, pressing our bodies tighter than I would have liked in public, but I couldn’t blame him, not really. He wanted the comfort of physical contact, and I think he’d figured out that Jessica Arnet had gotten the wrong idea.

  I held him as close as I could, as close as I’d wanted to hold Micah. With Micah, it might have led to embarrassing things, but not with Nathaniel. With Nathaniel I could control myself. I wasn’t in love with him. I caressed the long braid of his auburn hair that fell nearly to his ankles. I played with the braid, as if it were other more intimate things, hoping that Jessica would take the hint. I should have known that a little extra hugging wouldn’t have done the job.

  I drew back from the hug first, and he kept his gaze on my face. I could study his face and understand what she saw there, so handsome, so amazingly beautiful. His shoulders had broadened in the last few months, from weight lifting, or just the fact that he was twenty and still filling out. He was luscious to look at, and I was almost certain he would be nearly as luscious in bed. But though he was living with me, cleaning my house, buying my groceries, running my errands, I still hadn’t had intercourse with him. I was really trying to avoid that, since I didn’t plan on keeping him. Someday Nathaniel would need to find a new place to live, a new life, because I wouldn’t always need him the way I did now.

  I was human, but just as I was the first human Nimir-Ra the leopards had ever had, I was also the first human servant of a master vampire to acquire certain… abilities. With those abilities came some downsides. One of those downsides was needing to feed the ardeur every twelve hours or so. Ardeur is French for flame, roughly translates to being consumed, being consumed by love. But it isn’t exactly love.

  I stared up into Nathaniel’s wide lilac eyes, cradled his face between my hands. I did the only thing I could think of that might keep Jessica Arnet from embarrassing them both at the reception to follow. I kissed him. I kissed him, because he needed me to do it. I kissed him because it was strangely the right thing to do. I kissed him because he was my pomme de sang, my apple of blood. I kissed him because he was my food, and I hated the fact that anyone was my food. I fed off Micah, too, but he was my partner, my boyfriend, and he was dominant enough to say no if he wanted to. Nathaniel wanted me to take him, wanted to belong to me, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Months from now the ardeur would be under control and I wouldn’t need a pomme de sang. What would Nathaniel do when I didn’t need him anymore?

  I drew back from the kiss and watched Nathaniel’s face shine at me the way Jessica Arnet’s face had shone at him. I wasn’t in love with Nathaniel, but staring up into that happy, handsome face, I was afraid that I couldn’t say the same for him. I was using him. Not for sex, but for food. He was food, just food, but even as I thought it, I knew it was partly a lie. You don’t fall in love with your steak, because it can’t hold you, can’t press warm lips in the bend of your neck, and whisper, “Thank you,” as it glides down the hallway in the charcoal gray slacks that fit its ass like a second skin and spill roomy over the thighs that you happen to know are even lovelier out of the pants than in. When I turned to the next smiling person in line, I caught Detective Jessica Arnet giving me a look. It wasn’t an entirely friendly look. Great, just great.


  « ^ »

  The Halloween Theme continued into the reception hall. Orange and black crepe paper streamers dangled everywhere; cardboard skeletons, rubber bats, and paper ghosts floated overhead. There was a fake spiderweb against one wall big enough to hang someone from. The table centerpieces were realistic looking jack-o-lanterns with flickering electric grins. The fake skeletons were long enough to be a hazard to anyone much taller than I was. Which meant most guests were having the tops of their hair brushed by little cardboard skeleton toes. Unfortunately, Tammy was 5’8” without heels, with heels she got her veil tangled with the decorations. The bridesmaids finally got Tammy’s veil unhooked from the skeletal toes, but it ruined the entrance for the bride and groom. If Tammy had wanted the decorations safe for the tall people, she shouldn’t have left it to Larry and his brothers. There wasn’t a one of them over 5’6”. Don’t blame me. Groomsman or not, I hadn’t helped decorate the hall. It was not my fault.

  There were other things that I was going to get blamed for, but they weren’t my fault either. Well, mostly not my fault.

  I’d escorted Jessica Arnet into the room. She hadn’t smiled at me as I led her into the room. She’d looked way too serious. When Tammy’s veil was safely secure once more, Jessica had gone to the table where Micah and Nathaniel were sitting. She’d leaned into Nathaniel, and when I say leaned, I mean it. Like leaned on him, so that the line of her body touched his shoulder and arm. It was bold and discreet at the same time. If I hadn’t been watching for it, I might not have realized what she was doing. She spoke quietly to him. He finally shook his head, and she turned and wove her way through the small tables full of guests. She took the last empty seat at the long table where the wedding party was trapped. The last empty chair was beside me. We got to sit down in the order we’d entered. Goody.

  In the middle of the toasts, after Larry’s brother had made the groom blush, but before the parents had had their turns, Jessica leaned over close enough that her perfume was sweet and a little too much.

  She whispered, “Does Nathaniel really live with you?”

  I’d been afraid the question would be hard. This one was easy. “Yes,” I said.

  “I asked if he was your boyfriend, and he said that he slept in your bed. I thought that was an odd way to answer.” She turned her head so I was suddenly way too close to her face, those wide-searching hazel eyes. I was struck again by how lovely she was, and felt stupid for not noticing s
ooner. But I didn’t notice girls, I noticed boys. So sue me, I was heterosexual. It wasn’t her beauty that struck me, but the demand, the intelligence, in her eyes. She searched my face, and I realized that no matter how pretty she was, she was still a cop, and she was trying to smell the lie here. Because she had smelled one.

  She hadn’t asked me a question, so I didn’t answer. I rarely got in trouble by keeping my mouth shut.

  She gave a small frown. “Is he your boyfriend? If he is, then I’ll leave it alone. But you could have told me sooner, so I wouldn’t have made a fool of myself.”

  I wanted to say, You didn’t make a fool of yourself, but I didn’t. I was too busy trying to think of an answer that would be honest and not get Nathaniel and me in more trouble. I settled for the evasion he’d used. “Yes, he sleeps in my bed.”

  She gave a small shake to her head, a stubborn look coming over her face. “That isn’t what I asked, Anita. You’re lying. You’re both lying. I can smell it.” She frowned. “Just tell me the truth. If you have a prior claim, say so, now.”

  I sighed. “Yeah, I have a prior claim, apparently.”

  The frown deepened, putting lines between the pretty eyes. “Apparently? What does that mean? Either he’s your boyfriend, or he’s not.”

  “Maybe boyfriend isn’t the right word,” I said, and tried to think of an explanation that didn’t include the words pomme de sang. The police didn’t really know how deeply involved with the monsters I was. They suspected, but they didn’t know. Knowing is different from suspicion. Knowing will hold up in court; suspicion won’t even get you a search warrant.

  “Then what is the right word?” she whispered, but it held an edge of hiss, as if she were fighting not to yell. “Are you lovers?”

  What was I supposed to say? If I said, yes, Nathaniel would be free of Jessica’s unwanted attentions, but it would also mean that everyone on the St. Louis police force would know that Nathaniel was my lover. It wasn’t my reputation I was worried about, that was pretty much trashed. A girl can’t be coffin-bait for the Master of the City and be a good girl. Most people feel that if a woman will do a vampire, she’ll do anything. Not true, but there you go. No, not my reputation at stake, but Nathaniel’s. If it got out that he was my lover, then no other woman would make a play for him. If he didn’t want to date Jessica, fine, but he needed to date someone. Someone besides me. If I wasn’t going to keep Nathaniel forever, like almost death-do-you-part ever, then he needed a bigger social circle. He needed a real girlfriend.

  So I hesitated, weighing a dozen words, and not finding a single one that would help the situation. My cell phone went off, as I fumbled for it, to stop the soft, incessant ringing, I was too relieved to be irritated. It could have been a wrong number at that moment, and I still would have felt I owed them flowers.

  It wasn’t a wrong number. It was Lieutenant Rudolph Storr, head of the Regional Preternatural Investigation Team. He had opted to be on duty during the wedding so that other people could attend. He’d asked Tammy if she was inviting any nonhumans, and when she’d said she didn’t like that term, but if he meant lycanthropes, the answer was yes, Dolph had suddenly decided he’d be on duty and not come to the wedding. He was having a personal problem with the monsters. His son was about to marry a vampire, and that vampire was trying to persuade Dolph’s son to join her in eternal life. To say that Dolph was not taking it well was an understatement. He’d trashed an interrogation room, manhandled me, and damn near gotten himself brought up on charges. I’d arranged a dinner with Dolph, his wife, Lucille, their son, Darrin, and future daughter-in-law. I’d persuaded Darrin to put off the decision to join the undead. The wedding was still on, but it was a start. His son still being among the living had helped Dolph deal with his crisis of faith. Deal with it enough that he was talking to me again. Deal with it enough that he called me in on a case again.

  His voice was brisk, almost normal, “Anita?”

  “Yeah,” I whispered, cupping the phone with my hand. It wasn’t like every cop in the place, which was most of the guests, wasn’t wondering who I was talking to, and why.

  “Got a body for you to look at.”

  “Now?” I made it a question.

  “The ceremony is over, right? I didn’t call in the middle of it.”

  “It’s over. I’m at the reception.”

  “Then I need you here.”

  “Where’s here?” I asked.

  He told me.

  “I know the strip club area across the river, but I’m not familiar with the club name.”

  “You won’t be able to miss it,” he said, “it’ll be the only club with its own police escort.”

  It took me a second to realize that he had made a joke. Dolph didn’t make jokes at murder scenes, ever. I opened my mouth to remark on it, but the phone was dead in my hand. Dolph never had been much for good-byes.

  Detective Arnet leaned in, and asked, “Was that Lieutenant Storr?”

  “Yeah,” I whispered, “murder scene, gotta run.”

  She opened her mouth, as if she was going to say something else, but I was already moving up the table. I was going to give my apologies to Larry and Tammy, then go look at a body. I was sorry to miss the rest of the reception and all, but I had a murder scene to go to. Not only would I get away from Arnet’s questions, but I wouldn’t have to dance with Micah, or Nathaniel, or anybody. The night was looking up. I felt a little guilty, but I was glad somebody was dead.


  « ^ »

  Staring down at the dead woman, it was impossible to be glad. Guilty, maybe, but not glad. Guilty that even for a second I’d found the idea of someone’s death an escape from an uncomfortable social situation. I wasn’t a child. Surely, to God, I could have handled Jessica Arnet and her questions without hiding behind a murder. The fact that I was more comfortable here staring down at a corpse than at the head table at a wedding said something about me and my life. I wasn’t sure exactly what it said, or meant. Something I probably didn’t want to look at too closely, though. But, wait, we had a body to look at, a crime to solve, all the sticky personal stuff could wait. Had to wait. Yeah, sure.

  The body was a pale glimpse of flesh between two Dumpsters in the parking lot. There was something almost ghostlike about that shining bit of flesh, like, if I blinked, it would vanish into the October night. Maybe it was the time of year, or the wedding scene I’d just left, but there was something unnerving about the way she’d been left. They’d stuffed the body behind the Dumpsters to hide it, then the black wool coat she wore had been opened around her almost naked body, so that you caught that gleam of pale flesh in the bright halogen lights of the parking lot. Why hide her, then do something to draw such attention to her? It made no sense. Of course, it may have made perfect sense to the people who killed her. Maybe.

  I stood there, tugging my leather jacket around me. It wasn’t that cold. Cold enough for the jacket, but not enough to put the lining in it. I had my hands plunged into the pockets, the zipper all the way up, my shoulders hunched. But leather couldn’t help against the cold I was fighting. I stared at that pallid glimpse of death, and felt nothing. Nothing. Not pity. Not sickness. Nothing. Somehow that bothered me more than the woman being dead.

  I made myself move forward. Made myself go see what there was to see and leave my worries about my moral decay for another time. Business, first.

  I had to come to the far end of the right-hand Dumpster to see the spill of her yellow hair, like a bright exclamation point on the black pavement. Staring down at her, I could see how tiny she was. My size, or smaller. She lay on her back, the coat spread under her, still securely on her arms. But the cloth had been spread wide, folded under on the side nearest the parked cars, so that she could be seen by a customer walking out to his car. Her hair, too, had been pulled back, combed out. If she’d been taller, that, too, would have been visible from the parking lot—just a peek of bright yellow around the Dumpster. I looked down the line o
f her body and found the reason that someone had thought she was taller—clear plastic stilettos, at least five inches high. Lying down she lost the height. Her head had been pressed to the right, exposing bite marks on her long neck. Vampire bite marks.

  On the mound of her small breast was another pair of bite marks, with two thin lines of blood trickling from them. There was no blood at the neck wound. I was going to have to move the Dumpsters to get back there. I was also going to have to move the body around to look for more bite marks, more signs of violence. There’d been a time when the police only called me in after all the other experts had finished with a scene, but that was a while ago. I had to make sure I didn’t fuck up the scene. Which meant I needed to find the man in charge.

  Lt. Rudolph Storr wasn’t hard to spot. He’s 6’8” and built like pro wrestlers used to be built before they all started looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Dolph was in shape, but he didn’t go for the weight lifting. He didn’t have time. Too many crimes to solve. His black hair was cut so short it left his ears exposed and somehow stranded on the sides of his head. Which always meant he’d gotten a haircut, recently. He always had it cut shorter than he liked it, so it would be longer between haircuts. His tan trench coat was perfectly pressed. His shoes shined in the parking lot lights. He didn’t care what he looked like, as long as he was neat and tidy. Dolph was all about the neat and tidy. I think it was one of the reasons that murder pissed him off, it was always so messy.

  I nodded at the uniformed policeman whose only job seemed to be watching the body and making sure it didn’t get messed with by anyone that wasn’t allowed to touch it. He nodded back and went back to staring at the corpse. Something about how wide his eyes were made me wonder if this was his first vampire kill. Was he worried that the victim would rise and try to munch on him? I could have calmed his fears, because I knew this one would never rise. She’d been drained to death by a group of vamps. That won’t make you one of them. In fact, the act is guaranteed to give the vamps their fun and not to make the vic one of them. I’d seen this once before. I hoped like hell it wasn’t another master vampire gone rogue. The last one had purposely left vics where we could find them, in an attempt to get the new laws that gave vampires legal rights repealed. Mr. Oliver had believed that vampires were monsters, and if they were given legal rights, they’d spread too fast, eventually turning the entire human race into vampires. Then who would everybody feed off of? Yeah, it would take hundreds of years for vampirism to spread to that degree, but the really old vampires take the long view. They can afford to, they’ve got the time.