Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 28

"History."

"Do you teach?"

"No, I was a curator of antiquities at one point."

"At a museum?" he asked.

"Something like that." She smiled sweetly as she said it but kept a certain world-weariness in her expression that helped her look older than twenty.

Bernardo turned to Ru, held out his hand, and said, "I can't wait to hear who you are."

Ru gave a wider smile than I'd ever seen on him. "Dr. Wyatt Erwin, but I'm not a medical doctor either."

"History?" Bernardo asked.

"No, literature."

"Which means he's spent his postcollege years asking people if they want fries with that," Rodina said.

Bernardo looked from one to the other of them, and then at the rest of us. "I can't wait to hear all about what's new in your life, Anita."

"I can't wait to tell you."

"The luggage is starting to come through," Nicky said.

"Great," I said, and I meant it. Luggage I understood. The last few minutes with our newest bodyguards, not so much.

18

WE HAD ALL the other suitcases in tow before we went to the room with the sign above it that read Luggage Claim. We showed our IDs and claimed our locked bags from the man in the room. Micah only had one gun in a lockbox with extra ammo, but the rest of us had at least one large equipment bag that was almost as long as I was tall. It took less time to get our weapons than to get our regular luggage.

I let Nicky take one of my equipment bags so I could sling the other across one shoulder and still keep my hand free for my gun. Until we had a chance for everyone else to rearm in the parking lot or the car, Bernardo and I were still the only ones armed. As we stepped out into the blaze of sunshine outside the airport doors, it bothered me more than normal that we weren't all armed like a platoon. At least I'd remembered to put my sunglasses on this time.

It was just a short crosswalk to the parking lot. Apparently, Bernardo had rented an SUV just before we landed so he could chauffeur us around. "Who dropped you off?" Micah asked.

"The hotel has a car and a driver that you can use if no one else has reserved it. They had an opening to drop me at the airport, but then they were booked for the return trip," he said as he led the way through the open parking area and underneath a large covered area. He went directly to a white SUV without having to double-check the numbers on the parking slots. He'd scouted it before we landed.

"Do you want to just load up the luggage and I'll drive you to the boat?" he asked as he opened the back of the SUV.

"Boat?" I said.

"Didn't anyone tell you Kirke Key is an island off the coast?"

"Crap, they did. I just didn't put it together."

He flashed a white smile in that dark face of his. "It's not like you to miss something that obvious, Anita."

"It's been a hard year." I tried to make it light, but it didn't come out that way.

"I'm sorry about Domino."

I realized that he had met Domino on at least one case. "Thanks," I said. I didn't know what else to say, so I got very interested in loading the suitcase with my clothes into the open back of the SUV. He took the hint and let it go. Guy rules meant that unless I opened up, he wouldn't push. Sometimes guy rules were exactly what I wanted.

Nicky put his equipment bag up next to my suitcase and started unlocking it. Bram moved so the view was blocked. Rodina and Ru got the hint and helped hide the fact that Nicky was getting his handgun and belt holster out. The three of them kept looking out at the empty parking structure while Nicky armed himself. Micah moved behind the wall of bodies and let them hide him while he opened his own lockbox and got his gun out. He had an inner pants holster, because his shirt wasn't as loose as Bernardo's or as patterned as Nicky's. Legally we could have armed ourselves in plain sight of the entire airport, but just because it's legal doesn't mean that people don't freak out about it, so it was just polite to be circumspect about it.

Everyone but Nathaniel put on at least one gun. Everyone but Micah and Bram added knives. Yeah, that counted me. Guns could run out of ammo, but a sharp blade was always ready.

When we were armed, we locked the cases back up, stowed everything in the back, and could have gotten in and driven away, except I was finally ready to talk to the newest members of our merry band.

"What's with the pretending to be someone or something you're not?"

Rodina and Ru looked first at each other and then at me. "We spent most of the last thousand years as spies. It's automatic to have a part to play," Rodina said.

"That won't work this trip. You are bodyguards, period. Don't overcomplicate it."

"How do we explain that we look like teenagers but you trust us enough to guard your back?"

"We could tell the truth," Nicky said.

"No," Rodina said.

"No," Ru said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"If you wish to tell people that we are older than we look, that's fine, but we have lived in subterfuge for lifetimes, Anita. We are not ready to be completely open with strangers." She was as serious as I'd seen her since she arrived in America.

"What do you think, Ru?" I asked.

"Use the names on our passports and we will be your bodyguards." He was as serious as his sister.

"Is it that uncomfortable for the two of you to be out as bodyguards?" Micah asked.

"If you let us be part of your group but not obviously guarding you, then if we are attacked they will see we are delicate, young, and assume inexperienced. It would give us a few minutes' advantage while they underestimate Ru and me."

"So the whole 'let's pretend to be doctors' wasn't just to be irritating and difficult?" I said.

"We weren't pretending on the doctor part," she said.

"What do you mean?"

"We were in one city for a very long time," Rodina said.

"We both have several academic degrees," Ru added.

"Really?"

They both nodded.

"Is it really history and literature?" I asked.

They nodded again.

"Were you really a curator of antiquities?" I asked.

"Yes."

"At what museum?" Micah asked.

"The vampire council's collection."

We stared at her then. "I didn't know they had a museum," I said.

"It wasn't a formal one, but vampires collect things. We keep souvenirs to remind us of the life we had, or might have had, or even souvenirs in the way that modern serial killers do."

"You said we, but you're not a vampire," Bernardo said.

She gave him the full weight of those black eyes. "Not in the way you mean, no, but then neither is Anita."

"She's human and you're not that either."

"You are the marshal the other officers have named Famine or Hunger." It wasn't exactly a question, but he answered it with a nod.

"Do you really believe that Anita, who the marshals named War, is human?"

"Yes," he said.

"Completely human?" Rodina made it a question with the uplift of her voice.

"I'm not sure what that means anymore," Bernardo said.

She smiled, and her face finally held that teasing, almost cruel edge that was her usual expression. "That is either a diplomatic answer or an honest one."

"It smells like the truth," Ru said.

The two of them looked at me in unison, which was an unnerving habit I'd almost broken them of, because it unnerved me and it bothered them that I didn't like it. But sometimes they couldn't help it--the habit was too ingrained.

"We are sorry to make you uncomfortable," Rodina said.

"But we must find our place among you," Ru said, finishing his sister's thought.

I looked at the two of them. "I guess it has been a big change for you coming to us in America."

"If you make us behave as Nicky and Bram do, then when we are attacked they will try to take the four of us out first," Rodina said.

"But if you let us hide," Ru said, "then they may leave us unharmed long enough for us to kill them and save the three of you."

"You're twins, aren't you?" Bernardo said.

They turned their heads to look at him as if there was one brain moving both of them. "No, we aren't twins," Ru said.

"We were triplets until Ireland," Rodina said.

"We had a brother," Ru said.

"What happened to your brother?" Bernardo asked.

"He died," she said.

"He sacrificed himself to save Anita," Ru said.

"He took a shotgun blast to the chest," I said.

"Rodrigo saved Anita and me," Nathaniel said.

Bernardo looked at him, at me, and then at what remained of the triplets. "So, you lost your brother, your triplet."

They nodded.

"That's hard."

"Yes," Rodina said.

"We miss him," Ru said, and then he looked at me. "I'm sorry that makes you feel bad, Anita, but the grief over Rowan's death deadens my ability to feel your pain."

I almost asked who Rowan was, but Rodina said, "Rosemary, Rowan, and Rue Erwin were our names."

She didn't want me to use Rodrigo's name any more than her real one. He was dead and she still wanted to help him hide his identity. It was a level of hiding in plain sight that I would never understand, but I didn't have to understand it, not really.

"We'll need a cover story that makes more sense than either of the ones you told Bernardo in the airport," I said.

Rodina smiled at me and then Ru echoed it. "Thank you, our queen."

"First of all, you can't call me that on this trip. It'll give everything away."

"As our queen wishes," Ru said. For a second I thought he might be joking, but he wasn't.


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