Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 38

Edward just kept looking at me, not even really at any of the three men around me, as if our eye contact was all that mattered. I finally gave as good as I got on the eye to eye. We were staring at each other as if that long moment was everything, and for us, it was.

"Donna and all the other women are having a spa day, so you've got some time to rest in your room before dinner tonight."

"A nap sounds great," I said.

"Don't nap too hard," he said, glancing at Ru's neck, where a light imprint of my teeth was showing on his skin.

25

WE WENT BACK to the lobby and got Nicky and the bags, and then Nathaniel led us to our rooms. Bram and Nicky's room was beside ours, Ru and Rodina's across the hall from us. We'd filled Nicky in on the adventure by the pool. He hadn't seemed surprised. "All the master vampires with Brides fuck them, Anita. All the bloodlines, not just Belle Morte's line."

I turned in the hallway just short of our rooms and said, "How do you know that?"

"I started asking around when you brought these two back from Ireland."

"Asking who?"

"I asked the Harlequin; they served the old vampire council for thousands of years."

"You didn't ask us," Rodina said.

"How could I ask you about your own fate?"

"We knew once she owned us that we were her meat if she wished it, in any way she wished it," Rodina said.

"I don't want you as my meat, either of you."

"You didn't plan on wanting me either," Nicky said, and gave me a look.

"I hear someone coming; let's finish this talk in one of the rooms," Micah said.

We were actually opening the door to our room when Donna came down the hallway. I still wasn't used to her newly lightened hair. It had so many highlights in it that it was nearly blond, but it looked natural, as if she'd just been out in the sun a lot. The hair was new enough that I was distracted by it until she got close enough that even the large round sunglasses couldn't hide the fact that she was crying. I exchanged a look with Nathaniel. He'd held her hand through the wedding process more than I had, but one look and I knew that he didn't know what was wrong either.

"Anita, I need . . . We need to talk." Her voice held tears, but it also held anger, and the dreaded phrase we need to talk never ended well.

My pulse actually sped up as I said, "I thought you were with the other ladies getting your nails done."

"I don't give a damn about my nails, not now."

Oh shit.

Nathaniel tried to put his arm around her in a comforting way, but she shook him off. "No, no, I don't want another man to comfort me right now. I'm sorry, Nathaniel, it's not you, or about you. I'm just feeling like all men are fucking liars right now." I didn't think I'd ever heard her say fuck before.

On the plus side, she wasn't mad at me, because she was pissed at men and I wasn't one, so yay for me! On the downside, the comment didn't bode well for Edward--sorry, Ted. Had she found out more about the Batman side of his life this close to the actual wedding? That would suck, a lot.

"What's wrong, Donna?" I asked, because I felt I had to ask.

She grabbed my arm and started pulling me down the hallway. Apparently, we were going to have a girl talk. I looked back at the men. "We'll handle things here," Micah said.

Nathaniel gave me a very serious and sad look. He mouthed, Sorry. He knew I hated handling this kind of emotional upheaval, but a lot of people assumed that, being the woman, I'd be better at it than the men. Boy, did they have the wrong girl, um, person.

I'd do my best with Donna for Edward's sake, but she and I had never been friends, really, let alone the kind of girlfriends who could grab each other and drag each other down a hallway for an emotional heart-to-heart. I had no idea what had upset her this much and made her turn to me. She had two best friends here, plus her co-owner in her metaphysical shop, so why was I the one with the sobbing bride on my arm?

Nicky tried to follow like a good bodyguard, but Donna just pointed a finger at him wordlessly. Rodina tried next, but Donna said, "I'm sorry, but I don't know you. This is private."

"I'll be okay; everyone chill," I said.

"No," Nicky said, "you can't go anywhere without at least one of your bodyguards."

"No," Donna said, "I want to talk to Anita without an audience."

"Anita goes nowhere without a bodyguard."

Donna started to try to protest, but Rodina said, "We could use the little cafe area at the end of the hallway. The doors are glass and we can keep an eye on Anita without eavesdropping." She smiled as she said it, exuding helpfulness. I knew that unless people were shouting around us, any wereanimal would be able to hear at least some of the conversation, but I didn't tell Donna. We all need our illusions and I was pretty sure Nicky meant his ultimatum. He was my Bride: I could have just ordered him to let me go; same for Ru and Rodina, but Bram had free will, and I was pretty certain he'd use it to support his fellow guards.

Ru and Bram stayed with Nathaniel and Micah, herding them into our room. Nicky and Rodina went with us, him in front and her behind. I think if Donna hadn't been crying so much, she'd have put up more of an argument, but she was too distressed about something to marshal her forces, so in the end she let Nicky and Rodina go outside first, and when they gave their all clear, Donna pulled me through the double doors and into the brilliant Kirke Key sunshine. It was good that they'd already declared it a safe zone, because I nearly ran into the small chairs and tiny, nearly useless tables that had been crowded onto the balcony. I should have gotten my sunglasses out before we went through the door. I couldn't even remember when I'd taken my sunglasses off. Was it my imagination or was sunlight by the ocean just brighter than normal? I squinted, shielding my eyes with my other hand, because she had a death grip on my right arm. If bad guys had jumped us, I was blind in the sunshine and couldn't have gone for my gun. Perfect. Lucky for us I wasn't on the job today, so no bad guys, just hysterics.

I used her own grip on my arm to turn her around to face me. "Donna, what's wrong?"

"Did you know Ted had been married before?"

I stared at her for a moment, and my face must have showed my surprise, because she suddenly collapsed into one of the little chairs as if saying it out loud had taken everything she had. Her hands had slid down my arm so that she was holding my hand loosely in hers, while her shoulders shook with her weeping. Jesus, what did I do now?

I patted her hand awkwardly and waited for the crying to pass, and then I realized she was trying to talk through the tears. It was hard to understand her, but I caught a word here and there. "You didn't . . . know either . . . Stupid . . . How could I . . . Deceive us . . . You know him better . . ."

I was finally getting a clue as to why she'd come to me with the news and not her other friends. They were her friends, but I was Ted's best friend, so by her reasoning I should feel betrayed, too. Best friends tell each other everything, right? Not exactly, at least not if your best friend was Edward. He loved keeping information to himself. Though I had to admit that this was a stupid thing not to have told Donna.

She'd taken us to one of the little seating areas that the hotel had scattered around where there were views to be had. I managed to hook one of the little chairs with my foot and pull it over so I could sit down while I tried to commiserate. "He's free to marry you, right?" If there was a mysterious first marriage, its being legally over seemed the most important fact to establish.

She nodded, which helped the tight feeling in my gut to loosen. I hadn't even known I was that tense until some of it eased away. "So he's divorced?"

She nodded again, her head almost touching her knees as she wept. I totally didn't understand why she was this upset, but maybe I had different criteria for keeping secrets. "How did you find out about it?"

She mumbled something mostly into her own lap. I hated to say it, but: "Sorry, Donna, but I didn't understand that last part."

She raised her head enough to say,

"Carol, Frankie's wife, said she was so happy that Ted's taste in women had gotten so much better than when he was eighteen."

"He was married at eighteen?" I asked. I couldn't picture Edward that young, let alone the kind of young guy who would marry just as he'd gotten into the military.

"Carol gave the ex-wife some insulting name. I really thought better of Carol than to make fun of someone's weight."

I worked with a lot of ex-military, and I was beginning to get a clue. "Did she call the woman a dependapotamus?"

Donna took a shaky breath and nodded. "That sounds right."

I smiled before I could stop myself.

She jerked her hand back from me. "It's not funny!"

"No, it's not, but dependapotamus is a nickname for a certain type of woman that hangs around the fringes of military bases and sort of preys on young military guys."

"What do you mean, preys on?"

"They are pretty and charming, but once they get the soldier to marry them, then the charm goes away and a lot of them seem to do nothing but stay home and spend the man's, or woman's, military benefits."

"Woman . . . You mean there are men that do the same to female soldiers?"

"It's less typical, but it happens."

"So you're saying that these women and men try to marry young soldiers so they can have their benefits?"

"Apparently," I said.

"But that's awful."

I nodded. "It can be. I've heard stories of men who have been deployed and their wives empty their bank accounts and file for divorce while the soldiers are still fighting for their country."

Donna looked suitably appalled. "Sending someone divorce papers while they're fighting for their lives . . ." She seemed to be having trouble finding a word to describe it.

"Some ex-military guys I know think the women do it on purpose sometimes, because if the soldier dies on active duty while they're still married, she'd get more money." Everything I was saying was true, but I was trying to give the details that would bother Donna right in her liberal, freedom-loving heart.

"That's monstrous!"

"It's hard to picture Ted that young and that naive, but even he had to start somewhere," I said.

"I've seen pictures of him when he was first in the military. He looks so young and unfinished, as if he's not Ted yet," she said. Her voice was clear, and somewhere in all the talking the tears had stopped. We were making progress.

"Think how embarrassed Ted would be to admit that he'd been tricked into marrying someone like that."

"He'd be mortified," she said.

"Young Ted would be, but Ted now, your Ted, would have put it on the list of things that just aren't important anymore."

"What do you mean list of things? Are you saying he has more things he's hiding from us?"

Oh shit, I had to be careful here or I'd open a can of worms that Edward might never forgive me for. "What I mean is that men like Ted compartmentalize; it's part of what helps them be good at their jobs. Something like a dependapotamus that got her hooks into Private Ted Forrester twenty years ago would be put in a compartment of things that didn't affect him or his life now. It just wouldn't be important except as a lesson learned."

She took the big sunglasses off and blinked at me. Her mascara and eyeliner had run in black tears down her cheeks. It made her look fragile, like someone to protect. "Is that how you do the job, Anita? You put things in separate compartments so that the emotional things don't interfere with the job?"


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