Bite, Page 2Laurell K. Hamilton
I explained the situation, and that I needed a little official muscle to flex. He said it was a slow night, and he'd be there.
"You owe me."
"On this one, yeah."
"Hmm," he said, "I know how you could pay me back." His voice had dropped low and mock seductive. It had been a game with us since we met.
"Be careful what you say next, Zerbrowski, or I'll tell Katie on you."
"My darling wife knows I'm a letch."
"Don't we all. Thanks again, Zerbrowski."
"I've got kids, don't mention it," he said, and he hung up.
I left Ms. Mackenzie in the capable hands of our nighttime secretary Craig, and I went out to see if I could save her daughter's life, and the "life" of the vampire that was a close enough personal friend to have bitten Amy twice on the very upper thigh.
THE vampire district in St. Louis was one of the hottest tourist areas in the country. Some people credit the undead with the boom we've experienced in the last five years since vampires were declared living citizens with all the rights and privileges that entailed, except voting. There was a bill floating around Washington that would give them the vote, and another bill floating around that would take away their new status and make it legal to kill them on sight again, just because they were vampires. To say that the United States was not exactly united in its attitude toward the undead was an understatement.
Danse Macabre was one of the newest of the vampire-run clubs. It was the hottest dance spot in St. Louis. We'd had actors fly from the West Coast to grace the club with their presence. It had become chic to hob-knob with vampires, especially the beautiful ones, and St. Louis did have more than its fair share of gorgeous corpses.
The most gorgeous corpse of them all was dancing on the main floor of his newest club. The floor was so crowded there was barely room to dance, but somehow my gaze found Jean-Claude, picked him out of the crowd.
When I first spotted him, his long pale hands were above his head, the graceful movement of those hands brought my gaze down to the whirl of his black curls as they slid over his shoulders. From the back with all that long hair the shirt was just scarlet, eye-catching but nothing too special, then he turned and I caught a glimpse of the front.
The red satin scooped over his bare shoulders as if someone had cut out the shoulders with scissors; the sleeves were long, tight to his wrists. The high red collar framed his face, made his skin, his hair, his dark eyes look brighter, more alive.
The music turned him away from me, and I got to watch him dance. He was always graceful, but the pounding beat of the music demanded movements that were not graceful but powerful, provocative.
I finally realized, as he took the woman into his arms, as she plastered herself against the front of him, that he had a partner. I was instantly jealous and hated it.
I'd worn the clothes I'd had on at the office, and I was glad that it was a fashionably short black skirt with a royal blue button-up shirt. A long black leather coat that was way too hot for the inside of the club and sensible black pumps completed the outfit, oh, and the shoulder holster with the Browning Hi-Power 9mm, which was why I was still wearing the coat. People tended to get nervous if you flashed a gun, and it would show up very nicely against the deep blue of the blouse.
To other people it must have seemed like I was trying to look cool, wearing all that leather. Nope, just trying not to scare the tourists. But nothing I was wearing compared to the sparkling, skintight dress and spike heels the woman had on; nope, I was woefully under-dressed.
It had been my choice to stay away from Jean-Claude for these last few months. I'd let him mark me as his human servant to save his life and the life of the other boyfriend I wasn't seeing, Richard Zeeman, Ulfric, wolf-king of the local pack. I'd done it to save them both, but it had bound me closer to them, and every sexual act made that mystical tie tighter. We could think each other's thoughts, visit each other's dreams. I'd fallen into Richard's dreams where he was in wolf form chasing human prey. I'd tasted blood underneath a woman's skin because Jean-Claude had been sitting beside me when he thought of it. It had been too much for me so I'd fled to a friendly psychic who was teaching me how to shield myself metaphysically from the boys. I did okay, as long as I stayed the hell away from both of them.
Watching Jean-Claude move like he was wed to the music, to the room, to the energy, anticipating not just the music but the movements of the woman who was in his arms made me want to run screaming, because what I really wanted to do was march over there and grab her by her long hair and punch her out. I didn't have that right, besides they were only dancing. Sure.
But if anyone would be able to tell me who was about to bring Amy Mackenzie over to be the undead, it would be Jean-Claude. I needed to be here. I needed the information, but it was dangerous, dangerous in so many ways.
The music stopped for a few seconds, then a new song came on, just as fast, just as demanding. Jean-Claude kissed the woman's hand and tried to leave the dance floor.
She took his arm, obviously trying to persuade him to have another dance. He shook his head, kissed her cheek and managed to extract himself, leaving her smiling. But as she watched him walk toward me, the look was not friendly. There was something familiar about her, as if I should have known her, but I was almost certain I didn't know her. It took me a second or two to realize she was an actress, and if I ever went to movies I would have known her name. A photographer knelt in front of her, and she instantly went from unpleasant to a perfect smile, posing, choosing another partner. A second photographer followed after Jean-Claude, not taking pictures, but alert for a photo opportunity. Shit.
I had two choices. I could either stand there and let him take pictures of Jean-Claude and myself, or I could flee to the back office and privacy. I wasn't news, but Jean-Claude was the vampire cover boy. The press had been amused that the woman the other vamps called the Executioner, because she had more vamp kills than any other vampire hunter in the country, had been dating the Master of the City. Even I could admit it was nicely ironic, but being followed around by paparazzi had gotten old very fast. Especially when they tried to take pictures of me while I was working on preternatural murders for the police. For the American media if you stood next to the gruesome remains they wouldn't air the pictures, or print them, but European papers would. Some of the European media makes American media look downright polite.
When I stopped dating Jean-Claude, they drifted away. I was not nearly as photogenic, or as friendly. I didn't have to worry about winning the press over; there wasn't a bill in Washington that was trying to get me killed. The vamps needed the good press, and Jean-Claude was tagged as the one to get it for them.
I decided not to watch Jean-Claude walk toward me because I'd seen what my face looked like when I did--in color on the front of the tabloids. I'd looked like some small prey animal, watching the tiger stalk toward it; that explained the fear, but the fearful fascination, the open...lust, that had been harder to see in print. So I kept my eyes on the circling photographer and tried not to watch Jean-Claude glide toward me, as I leaned against the far wall, right next to the door that would lead into the hallway that led to his office.
I could have fled and avoided the press, but it would have meant I would be alone with Jean-Claude, and I didn't want that. All right, truth, I did want that, and that was the problem. It wasn't Jean-Claude I didn't trust, it was me.
I'd been concentrating so hard on not watching him come toward me that it was almost a surprise when I realized I was staring into the red satin of his shirt. I looked up to meet his eyes. Most people couldn't meet the gaze of a vampire, let alone a master one, but I could. I was a necromancer and that gave me partial immunity to vampire powers, and I was Jean-Claude's human servant whether I wanted to be, or whether I didn't, and that gave me even more immunity. I wasn't vampire-proof by any means, but I was shut up pretty tight to most of their tricks.
wasn't vampire powers that made it hard to meet those midnight blue eyes. No, nothing that...simple.
He said something, and I couldn't hear him over the beat of the music. I shook my head, and he stepped closer, close enough that the red of his shirt filled my vision, but it was better than meeting that swimming blue gaze. He leaned over me, and I felt him like a line of heat, close enough to kiss, close enough for so many things. I was already flat against the wall; there was nowhere else to go.
He had to lean his mouth next to my face, a fall of his long hair moving against my mouth, as he said, "Ma petite, it has been too long." His voice, even over the noise, caressed down my skin as if he'd touched me. He could do things with his voice that most men couldn't do with their hands.
I could smell his cologne, spicy, exotic, a hint of musk. I could almost taste his skin on my tongue. It took me two tries to say, "Not nearly long enough."
He laid his cheek against my hair, very lightly, "You are happy to see me, ma petite, I can feel your heart trembling."
"I'm here on business," I said, but my voice was breathy. I was usually better than this around him, but three months of celibacy, three months of nothing, and being around him was worse. Damn it, why did it have to be worse?
"Of course, you are."
I'd had enough. I put a hand on that satin-covered chest and pushed. Vampires can bench-press small trucks, so he didn't have to let me shove him, but he did. He gave me some room, then his mouth moved, as if he were saying something, but I couldn't hear him over the music and crowd noise.
I shook my head and sighed. We were going to have to go back into the office so I could hear him. Being alone with him was not the best idea, but I wanted to find Amy Mackenzie and the vampire she was going to get executed. I opened the door without looking at him. The photographer took pictures as we went through the door. He had to have been taking pictures when Jean-Claude had me practically pinned to the wall, I just hadn't noticed.
Jean-Claude shut the door behind us. The hallway was white with harsher lighting than anywhere else in the club. He'd told me once that he had made the hallway plain, ordinary so if a customer opened the door they'd know instantly that it wasn't part of the entertainment.
A group of waiters, vampires all, came out of the left hand door, wearing vinyl short-shorts and no shirts. They'd spilled out of the door in a cloud of excited talk; it stopped abruptly when they saw us. One of them started to say something, and Jean-Claude said, "Go."
They fled out the door without a backward glance, almost as if they were scared. I'd have liked to think it was Jean-Claude that they were afraid of, but I was the Executioner, their version of the electric chair, so it might have been me.
"Shall we retire to my office, ma petite?"
I sighed, and in the silence of the hallway with the music only a distant thrum, my sigh sounded loud. "Sure."
He led the way down the hallway, gliding ahead of me. The pants were black satin and looked as if they'd been sewn on his body, tight as a second skin. A pair of black boots graced his legs. The boots laced up the back from ankle to upper thigh. I'd seen the boots before; they were really nice boots. Nice enough that I watched the way his legs moved in them rather than the way the satin fit across his butt. Very nice boots, indeed.
He started to hold the door for me, then smiled, almost laughed, and just walked through. It had taken me awhile to break him of opening doors for me, but I'd finally managed to teach a very old dog a new trick.
The office was done in an Oriental motif complete with framed fans around a framed kimono. The colors in all three ran high to reds and blues. A red lacquer screen had a black castle sitting atop a black mountain. The desk was carved wood that looked like ebony and probably was. He leaned against that desk, long legs out in front of him, ankles crossed, hands in his lap, his eyes watching me as I shut the door.
"Please, be seated, ma petite." He motioned to a black and silver chair sitting in front of the desk.
"I'm fine where I am." I leaned against the wall; my arms crossed under my breasts, which put my hand comfortably close to the gun under my arm. I wouldn't really shoot Jean-Claude, but the gun being close made me feel better. It was like a small, lumpy security blanket. Besides, I never went anywhere after dark unarmed.
His smile was amused and condescending. "I do not think the wall will fall down if you cease to lean against it."
"We need to figure out who the vamp is that's been doing Amy Mackenzie."
"You said you had pictures of the girl. May I see them?" The smile had faded round the edges, but his eyes still held that amusement, faint and condescending, which he used as a mask to hide things.
I sighed and reached into the pocket of my leather coat. I held the two pictures out toward him. He held his hand out for them but made no move to come to me.
"I won't bite, ma petite."
"Only because I won't let you," I said.
He gave that graceful shrug that meant everything and nothing. "True, but still I will not ravish you because you stand a few feet in front of me."
He was right. I was being silly, but I could taste my pulse in my throat as I walked toward him, the new leather coat sighing around me, the way new leather always does. It was a replacement coat for one that a vampire had ripped off of me. I held the pictures out to him, and he had to lean forward to take them from me. I even sat down in the chair in front of the desk while he looked at them. We could be civilized about this. Of course we could. But I couldn't stop looking at the way his bare shoulders gleamed against the scarlet cloth, the way the high collar made his hair a pure blackness almost as dark as mine. His lips looked redder than I remembered them, as if he were wearing a light lipstick, and I wouldn't have put it past him. But he didn't need makeup to be beautiful; he just simply was.
He spoke without looking up from the pictures. "I do not recognize her, but then she could come here occasionally and I would have no reason to." He looked up meeting my eyes, catching me staring at his bare shoulders. The look in those eyes said he knew exactly what I'd been looking at. The look was enough to make me blush, and I hated that.
My voice came out angry, and I was pleased. Anger is better than embarrassment any day. "You said on the phone that you could help."
He laid the pictures on his desk and clasped his hands back in his lap. The placement of his hands was utterly polite, but they also framed a certain area of anatomy, and the satin was very tight, and I could tell that other things were tight as well.
It made me blush again, and it made me angrier, just like old times. I'd have liked to be a smart alec and say something like, that looked uncomfortable, but I didn't want to admit that I'd noticed, so out of options that were polite, I stood up and turned away.
"None of my vampires would dare bring over anyone without my permission," he said.
That made me turn around. "What do you mean?"
"I have ordered a...how will you say...hiring freeze on, until that nasty bill in Washington is defeated."
"Hiring freeze," I said, "you mean none of your vamps can make more of you until Senator Brewster's law goes down in flames?"
"So you're sure that none of your vamps is doing this?" I said.
"They would not risk the punishment."
"So you can't help me. Damn it, Jean-Claude, you could have told me that over the phone."
"I called Malcolm while you were en route," he said.
Malcolm was the head of the Church of Eternal Life, the vampire church. It was the only church I'd ever been in that had no holy objects displayed whatsoever, even the stain glass was abstract art. "Because if it's not one of your vamps, then it's one of his," I said.
Truthfully, I had just assumed it was one of Jean-Claude's vampires because the church was very strict on when you brought your human followers over to the dead side, and the church also checked backgrounds thoroughly. "The girl's friend said she'd met the vampire
at a club."
"Can you not go to church and go to a club on the weekends?"
I nodded. "Okay, you've made your point. What did Malcolm say?"
"That he would contact all his followers and give strict orders that this vampire and the girl are to be found."
"They'll need the picture," I said. My beeper went off, and I jumped. Shit. I checked the number and it was Ronnie's cell phone.
"Can I use your phone?"
"Whatever I have is yours, ma petite." He looked at the black phone sitting on the black desk and stood to one side so I could walk around the desk without him leaning over me. Considerate of him, which probably meant he was going to do something else even more irritating.
Ronnie answered on the first ring. "Anita?"
"It's me, what's up?"
She lowered her voice to a whisper. "Your detective friend convinced Barbara that if Amy got herself killed she'd be charged with conspiracy to commit murder."
"I don't think Zerbrowski could make that stick."
"Barbara thinks he can."
"What did she tell you?"
"The vampire's name is Bill Stucker." She spelled the last name for me.
"A vamp with a last name. He has to be really new," I said. The only other vamp I'd ever met with a last name had been dead less than a month.
"Don't know if he's old or new, just his name."
"She have an address for him?"
"No, and Zerbrowski pushed her pretty hard. She says she's never been there and I believe her."
"Okay, tell Zerbrowski thanks, I'll see you Saturday at the gym."
"Wouldn't miss it," she said.
"Oh, and thanks to you, too, Ronnie."
"Always happy to save someone from the monsters, which reminds me, are you with you know who?"
"If you mean Jean-Claude, yes, I am."
"Get out of there as soon as you can," she said.
"You're not my mother, Ronnie."
"No, just your friend."
"Good night, Ronnie."
"Don't stay," she said.
I hung up. Ronnie was one of my very bestest friends, but her attitude toward Jean-Claude was beginning to get on my nerves, mainly because I agreed with her. I always hated being in the wrong.