Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 51

"I have seen Ted with Anita when you're not around, Mom. They don't act like a couple, and they sure as hell don't interact the way she does with Micah and Nathaniel."

"They're engaged to each other; of course she acts differently with them."

Peter shook his head. "No, Mom, it's not that. She's not engaged to Nicky, but she treats him more like a boyfriend than she's ever treated Ted."

Dixie had caught on. "No, just no. You are not magically going to say there is no affair, so you can marry her now? That's just bullshit and more lies."

"If Anita had been a male friend from the Marshals Service, would you have suspected that Ted was having an affair with him?" Micah asked in a soothing voice, the kind of tone that you use to talk children back to sleep, or jumpers away from windows.

"You mean suspect Ted of being gay?" she asked.

"Yes."

She laughed as if it was too absurd to even think about. "Of course not."

"Are you saying that Anita's being a woman is the only reason you thought it was more than friendship?" Micah asked.

"No, of course not."

"Then what made you suspect?" he asked.

"He confides in Anita. He's always coming back from seeing her with every other sentence 'Anita this' and 'Anita that.' There's this look in his eyes when he talks about going out on a case with her that he doesn't get when he's home." Her voice grew soft at the end, as if she didn't like admitting that last part.

I knew that look in Edward's eyes wasn't about sexy time with me. It was about the fact that working with me usually meant it was going to be a tough job. Something that would challenge his skills, push his limits, allow him to use that part of him that enjoyed the action, the danger, and the violence. Sometimes that last part wasn't fun, but if we didn't enjoy it at some level, we'd have different jobs, or we wouldn't be good at the one we had. That was the real truth that Edward hadn't been able to explain to Donna.

"I told you that it wasn't Anita as a woman that made me act like that," Edward said.

"You told me it was the job, the action, the thrill of the chase, or some bullshit like that." The scorn in her voice was thick enough to walk on.

"Why didn't you believe him?" Micah asked quietly.

"Because it's too ridiculous. You put on a badge and a gun to protect people and put away the bad people, but the violence is a necessary evil, not the reason for it all."

I looked at Edward with renewed respect. "You really did try to tell her the truth."

He nodded. "I would never have asked you to tell such a complicated lie if I hadn't tried to tell Donna the truth first." His voice was still empty of accent, but now he sounded tired.

"He really did try, Anita," Peter said.

Donna and Dixie were looking at all of us. "What the hell is going on?" Dixie asked.

Edward ignored them both and talked to me. "Thank you for going along with the lie, Anita. I know it bothered you, and I know you thought it was ridiculous to confess to an affair we weren't having just so Donna would marry me."

"Ridiculous about covers it."

He smiled, but it left his eyes tired and unhappy.

"No," Dixie said. "You are not going to get out of the affair that easily."

"We can't get out of something we were never in to begin with," I said.

"But you are still involved with Anita in your work, Ted."

"I can't change my work, Donna."

"But on our wedding, Ted, to get involved in a case on our wedding."

"We're not involved yet; we're just being questioned like almost everyone in the hotel."

"But if they ask you to help with the case, you will. I know you will."

"I love you, Donna. I love that you wear your heart on your sleeve, but I hate that you let your feelings overwhelm you to this degree. I accept that it's two sides of the same coin, that maybe you can't be as open and caring unless your emotions rule you, but I've let you manipulate me into a no-win scenario. I win, Donna, I always win, except with you. I let you win a lot. I should have just stuck to the truth and kept on living together, but I had this stupid idea that I wanted to marry you. I wanted to be the legal father for Peter and Becca. I wanted the white picket fence with you, enough to lie, enough to pretend that I was something I wasn't. I would never have an affair, never cheat you and our family like that. But now it's about emotional cheating. I don't even know what to say to that, Donna. I gave in on the stupid affair thing, and now you think I'll give in if you just push hard enough. Well, I won't. I can't."

"Ted," Peter said, "don't, please don't." Peter looked on the verge of tears.

Edward gripped his arm. "I'm sorry, Peter, sorrier than I've ever been about anything."

"No," Donna said, and started to cry. "No, don't . . . I love you. I love our family. I love the life we have together."

Edward looked at her, his face still empty, as if he'd shoved all his emotions away so that no one could see them. If you control your outside demeanor, sometimes you can almost pretend that you control your inside feelings; almost.

"Oh, Ted, don't look at me like that," she said, and started to cry harder.

Edward started to let go of Peter's arm, but Peter put his bigger hand over Edward's and kept them touching. The first tear slid down his cheek, his face struggling to stay in control the way Edward was controlling his. Peter didn't want to be like his sobbing mother; he wanted to be like Edward, and that had been true almost from the first time I'd seen them all together.

"How do you want me to look at you?" Edward asked in a voice that was empty. I'd heard him hurt people with that emptiness in his voice. Donna flinched as if she'd never heard it before, and she probably hadn't. If she only knew that it wasn't an affair with me Ted was hiding, but something much more violent and dangerous.

"Like you still love me," she said in a voice that was choked with tears, "like we're still a family."

/>   Edward's eyes flinched then, because that was really it. He, Donna, Peter, and Becca were a family, and he wanted them to keep on being together. He'd wanted it so badly that he'd compromised who he was, and who we were, so that Donna would marry him. My chest was tight watching the three of them. I swallowed hard, because I would not cry here. This was their moment to cry, or not cry. I didn't want to take away from that by drawing attention to me.

"I want to be a family with you, all of you. I wanted it so much that I was willing to confess to an affair I wasn't having, because you wouldn't believe the truth. I love you and Peter and Becca, and those stupid fluffy dogs back home, so much that I convinced my best friend to confess to an affair she wasn't having either. But now you want us not to cheat emotionally. We're best friends. We have an emotional connection, Donna. That's what best friends means."

"Oh, Ted," she sobbed, and then wrapped her arms around him. He didn't hold her back, just let her hold him. Silent tears were running down Peter's face as he stood there watching them.

Nathaniel grabbed my hand. I glanced at him and watched a tear trail down his face. He'd spent more time with Donna and both kids than I had. He was Uncle Nathaniel to Becca. This would be a loss of more than just the wedding for a lot of us.

I squeezed his hand and then had to look away, because if I'd kept watching him tear up, I couldn't have stopped myself from joining him. I would not cry until it was done, for better or worse.

"I'm sorry that I'm insecure about Anita. I will do better, I swear, and if the police need you to help find that girl, of course you can help, of course."

Donna pressed her face harder into Edward's shoulder, the tears coming in huge, wracking sobs that seemed to be breaking her shoulders and back, she was shaking so hard from them. Slowly he raised one arm and wrapped it around her. It made her cry even harder, which I hadn't thought was possible, and she wrapped her arms tighter around his waist, as if holding on so that she didn't fall. Peter stepped into them and wrapped his arms around them both. Edward hugged him back and the three of them held one another. The only dry eyes were his, but he was holding them. I just wasn't sure if it was a good-bye hug or a sign of reconciliation from him.


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