Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 27

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"Thank you for understanding," Micah said.

"We'd understand better if we'd seen the pictures, too," Rodina said.

"It's a need-to-know basis," Micah said.

"And we don't need to know," she said.

"No."

"Nicky and Bram have seen them, Sis," Ru said.

"And we just have to trust them to share information with us if it's needed?" she said.

"Yes," he said, and he seemed at peace with the division of labor.

She sighed but let it go.

"Be happy you didn't have to see the pictures," Nathaniel said.

Micah and I both hugged him at the same time, and only long practice at group hugs kept us from getting in one another's way. "I'm sorry that I had to bring more horrors into your life," Micah said.

"It's for a good cause," Nathaniel said, and then leaned back enough so he could see Micah's face. "But that doesn't change the fact that I don't want you to get dragged into work if it won't help or it won't change anything." He looked serious now; not sad, but determined.

"I will do my best."

Nathaniel looked suspicious.

"I need this vacation, too," Micah said.

"All right, but I'm serious, Micah, and you, too," he said, looking at me.

"What did I do?" I asked.

"Nothing yet, but you're as bad as he is about work." Nathaniel gave me a look that I guess every spouse sees eventually. It's the I-know-you-too-well-so-don't-even-try-to-tell-me-I'm-wrong look. We weren't married yet, but we'd been living together for five years. Some things don't need a wedding ring, just time.

"I won't apologize for my work," I said.

"I don't want you to, but I do want this trip to be about the wedding and just enjoying ourselves."

"Micah's work will be harder to avoid, but I'll do my best unless bodies start dropping."

"Is this where someone says, 'It's quiet, too quiet'?" Nicky asked. I looked at him, but he was still scanning the crowd, as if he hadn't spoken.

"Or 'I have a bad feeling about this'?" Bram said, and he was still looking at the milling crowd, too.

"Don't you start, too," I said.

"Who's supposed to pick us up?" Micah asked.

"I'm not sure."

"Donna said that whoever was free would be here. It wouldn't be her or Ted," Nathaniel said.

"God, I hope it's not Dixie," I said.

"Would I do that to you?" a man's voice said, and then I could finally see Bernardo Spotted-Horse through the crowd.

17

HE WAS TALL, dark, and handsome, with those perfect cheekbones that only certain ethnicities would give you. His was Native American. A red tank top looked great against the perfect brown of his skin. The shirt was loose over a pair of blue jean shorts. The body that showed around the tank top and the shorts was muscular and spoke to a lot of gym work. He'd have looked even better if he had tucked the shirt into his shorts, but then the gun in the waistband of his shorts would show. How did I know he had a gun in his waistband? Because the tank top showed too much skin for a shoulder holster and the shorts showed clearly that he wasn't wearing an ankle holster. How did I know he had a gun on him? Because it was the only explanation for the shirt being loose instead of skintight, and it was Bernardo. Also, the only way Jean-Claude had agreed to us traveling with so few bodyguards was the fact that Bernardo, Edward, and other law enforcement officers were going to be nearby for the visit. Almost all the groomsmen were either cops or military, so if anything happened, we had backup, or something like that.

The moment I realized I wasn't the only one in our group with a gun, a tension I hadn't known I was carrying eased. Nicky and Bram were both great hand to hand, but one silver bullet from a distance and none of that mattered. I was really glad to see Bernardo and know that we had at least two guns.

I may have wasted more smile on him than normal because of it.

Nathaniel got to him first, shaking hands and then hugging at the same time, in that one-sided guy hug that seemed to scream We are not gay! as if any physical contact between friends was potentially questionable. I wasn't a guy, so I could have given him a normal hug, but that wasn't really the kind of friendship Bernardo and I had. We were more work friends, so I offered my hand. He shook it, wrapping his much larger hand around mine, and then he drew me into the same one-armed, awkward guy hug that he'd given Nathaniel. Except that I was five inches shorter, so my face was buried against the firmness of his chest, so it was even more awkward, but he moved me to the side like a dance move, so that awkward turned into graceful.

I drew back and said, "We're not on the clock; you could have just had a hug."

"Now you tell me," he said, and laughed. I noticed some of our fellow passengers eyeing him covertly, or not so covertly. He was Hunger to Edward's Death and my War. Why Hunger? Because he was so handsome that he made people hungry for him, but he couldn't satisfy them all, so he left them wanting. I thought it was stretching the metaphor for him to be Hunger, but he had the fourth-highest kill count among the preternatural marshals, so he got to be one of the horsemen. Bernardo acted like he didn't notice the people looking at him, but I knew he saw it; he always saw it, but he never got obnoxious about it. He was a good-looking man, he knew it, and there was nothing wrong with owning that and enjoying it. My own issues about beauty would never allow me to be that relaxed, but, hey, that was me.

Nicky and he just shook hands and then he introduced Bram to Bernardo. I'd forgotten that they'd never met. Sometimes I forget that all the people in my various friend groups don't know one another.

"Bernardo, this is Micah," I said, smiling, because again it

seemed like they should have met by now.

Bernardo shook his hand, saying, "I see you in my news feed so often, it feels like we've already met." He smiled as he said it.

Micah smiled back. "And I've heard so many stories about you, it feels like we should know each other."

Bernardo looked at Rodina and Ru, who were still watching the crowd. "But these two are new."

"Bernardo, this is Rosemary and Rue Erwin." Those were the names on the passports they'd used at the airport. All the Harlequin had legal identities, though after a few hundred years, legal and real weren't the same thing. It wasn't like they could produce birth certificates from when they were born. Nobody was doing birth certificates before the fall of Rome.

Rodina smiled and rolled her eyes as she held out a hand to him. "I know, terrible names, aren't they, but Mom was seriously into gardening." Her accent was perfect midwestern American. Her word choices were suddenly late teen, early twenty-something. She was going to play the younger side of her apparent age. I don't know why that bugged me, but it did.

"Hey, at least she didn't stick you with a boy's name the way she stuck me with a girl's," Rue said. The quiet, almost shy boy-man was gone, and he was a much more forceful teenage boy. I wondered if they'd pop in and out of character the way Edward did with Ted.

Bernardo looked at me. "Babysitting, or did you bring friends for Peter?"

I didn't know what to say, because I sucked at subterfuge. They hadn't done anything but use the other names until that moment, so it had caught me off guard.

"We've made you unhappy again," Rue said.

"What do you want us to be?" Rodina asked.

"Older," I said.

Nathaniel said, "You need to be old enough to get into a bar or a club."

"Fine," she said and put all the teenage angst into that one word. She turned and smiled at Bernardo, and she was just suddenly older. It was subtle, but it was like a different person inhabiting her skin. It was a little disturbing.

"Morgan Erwin, Dr. Erwin, but I say it second, so people won't think I'm a medical doctor."

Bernardo shook her hand, looking a little bemused, but he'd been friends with Edward long enough to go with it. "What are you a doctor of, if not medicine?"


Tags: Laurell K. Hamilton Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Horror
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