Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 56

I took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and said, "What kind of things?"

"That you and Daddy were . . . like, boyfriend and girlfriend, like, dating each other. That's not true, is it?" I was almost a hundred percent certain those hadn't been the words Dixie used, but I could work with them.

"No, Ted and I aren't dating."

"That's good, because he can only date Mom, right?" She stopped and turned to me in the hallway, still holding my hand, so that I had to stop, too. She stared up at me with those sincere brown eyes of hers, so direct, so convinced I'd tell her the truth. She hadn't changed all that much since she was six. "I mean, I know that you date Uncle Nathaniel and Uncle Micah and they date each other, but that's not what Mom and Dad do, right? They don't date other people, right?"

"That's right, they're monogamous."

"And you're poly-whatsit," she said.

I couldn't help but smile. "Polyamorous, yes."

"But Dad and Mom aren't polyamorous; they're the first one, they're monogamous."

"Yes."

"Then why did Mom's friend say that?"

"I'm not sure why Dixie did it."

"Is she crazy?"

I thought about the look on Dixie's face earlier. "Actually, I think she might be."

"I've never seen anyone that's crazy before. It was scary." She shivered a little.

I hugged her, pressing my cheek against the top of her hair. "Let's get you out of the bathing suit and into some street clothes," I said.

"Can I wear my pink dress?"

"Are you telling me you only brought one pink dress?" I said.

She pulled away from the hug enough to smile up at me. "One pink dress, but I have pink shorts, pink jeans, pink sandals, and my pink cowboy boots, plus pink shirts!"

I laughed. "Do you think that's enough pink for one trip?"

She smiled even broader, and shook her head hard enough that her hair fluttered around her face.

I laughed louder, and she joined me. We got to the door to their room, still shiny with laughter. I fished in my pocket for the key card. "Why don't you ever wear pink, Aunt Anita?"

"Not really my color," I said as I slid the key card into the lock and got a green light. I opened the door, and a deep voice called around the corner of the hallway nearest to us. "I would like to see you in pink, Anita."

I pushed Becca into the room, told her to change, and turned to face the corner as the owner of that voice came into view. At seven feet, his bald head nearly touching the ceiling, he'd kept the black Vandyke beard and mustache. It gave form and helped highlight his face, so that it wasn't just the black arch of his eyebrows that gave his face color. I could see that he might be considered handsome by some women, but I knew too much about the inside of his head and heart to ever see him that way. His eyes weren't just a dark brown that looked black like Detective Rankin's; they were black like Rodina's and Wyatt's. I wondered if there was Welsh ancestry in him somewhere. But his eyes were more disturbing, because they were set so deeply in his face that they were like twin caves.

"Olaf," I said, and the only thing that kept me from drawing my gun was that Becca was trying to come back out of the room.

"Anita," he said, watching me with a look that was almost hungry, like he was a lion and I was the gazelle. He was a werelion now, but I was no gazelle.

"Uncle Otto!" Becca cried out and managed to slip under my arm and run toward the big man.

"Uncle Otto?" I said, and it was all I could do not to say, When the hell did you become Uncle Otto? Becca flung herself into his arms as if he wasn't a sociopath or a serial killer. But as U.S. Marshal Otto Jeffries, he wasn't either of those things. I watched him swing the little girl up in the air, and the smile on his face seemed real enough. What the fuck was going on?

37

HE TRANSFERRED BECCA to his left arm, so his right was free. He'd seen me almost go for my gun. I still wasn't sure that it wasn't my best move, but if I didn't want to explain an affair with her father to Becca, I sure as hell didn't want to deal with her watching me shoot Uncle Otto to death in front of her when he hadn't done anything in front of her to warrant it. The things we do for children.

"What the . . . What are you doing here, Ol . . . Otto?"

"I was invited to the wedding," he said, smiling at Becca as she put her arms confidently around the smoothed muscled strength of his neck. I'd never seen him look so normal or so happy, but then I'd never seen him interact with Becca like this either. I was pretty sure it was cause and effect.

I was so taken by his act as he moved down the hallway that it took me a second to realize what he'd said. "Ted didn't tell me you were coming."

He stopped feet short of the door and set Becca down on the carpet. "Go change like Aunt Anita told you to, kleines Madchen." Thanks to my German grandmother, I knew he'd just called her little girl. His voice matched the smiling face, but the little girl couldn't see him now, so his eyes were all for me. There was nothing friendly, or uncle-ish, in that black gaze.

I was in front of the door, but Olaf stayed those awkward few feet farther from the door than social norm would have dictated. Whatever we were doing on this trip, he didn't want to spook me--yet.

Becca looked from one to the other of us. Olaf was still smiling and she couldn't see his eyes well enough from where she was standing, but either my face gave it away or she was sensing the tension between us. "Is everything all right?" she asked in an uncertain voice.

"Yeah," I said.

"Of course," he said smoothly and filled his eyes up with the smile that was still curling his lips so that he looked like a friendly giant.

"Go change, Becca, while Uncle Otto and I have a little talk."

"Are you going to fight?" she asked.

That seemed to startle both of us. "Of course not," I said, but not like I meant it.

Olaf said, "I will try not to make Aunt Anita angry with me."

Becca narrowed her eyes at us. "Promise you won't fight while I change?"

"I will promise if Anita promises."

I looked at him, but he was smiling down at the child and ignoring me. "I don't want to fight with Otto, so if he behaves himself, so will I."

"Aunt Anita," Becca said, stamping her bare foot, "that's not promising."

I sighed a little loudly and smiled through gritted teeth as I said, "I will do my best not to fight with Otto while you change clothes."

She gave me a look that reminded me of her mother when she was fed up with all the guy stuff. "All right, Aunt Anita, but you promised, no arguing."

"Do you ask your mom and dad not to argue like this?" I asked.

"Sometimes," she said, and with a last disapproving glance at both of us, she went into the room and closed the door behind her. The hallway seemed very quiet suddenly.

"Edward doesn't know you're here, does he?"

"My invitation came with a note from the bride."

"What kind of note?"

"That she wasn't sure why Ted and I had fallen out, but that she hoped we'd mend our friendship at the wedding."

Fuck, and this is what comes from having a secret identity. If you can't come out as Batman to your fiancee, then it's hard to explain that Uncle Otto is really the Joker, so maybe don't invite him to the wedding. I don't know what showed on my face, but it made him chuckle--a deep, rumbly, pleased sound that under other circumstances and coming from a totally different person might have been a sexy laugh. Honestly, I hadn't thought Olaf had that kind of laugh in him anywhere.

"Donna didn't know any better, but you did. You know that you and Edward aren't going to kiss and make up, so why did you come?"

"He's not the one I want to kiss."

"The last note I had from you said you were staying as far away from me as possible; you didn't want me to tame you the way I had Nicky."

"The note said I was staying away from you until I found my way as a werelion, so that your vampire wiles could not turn me into another pet

cat for your harem."

"I don't remember the note saying vampire wiles or harem," I said.

He smiled and it almost reached his eyes. "Perhaps not, but both were implied."

I took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and tried to be reasonable. Olaf was actually behaving himself admirably. He was doing his best not to scare me, or even be creepy, which was a big deal for him. I would behave if he would. Besides, if it came to a real fight, I wanted Edward and Bernardo with me, and they were both at the hospital.

I thought of something. "How long have you been in town?" I asked.

"Not long."

"Did you get here in time to see all the police?"

"I watched Edward drive off in the ambulance and Bernardo follow with Donna in the rental car. Why are the police so interested in all of your people?" He was looking at me very steadily as he said it.

My pulse started speeding up, so I breathed in slowly and evenly through my nose. If Olaf had still been purely human he might not have noticed, but as a werelion he'd know I was fighting to keep my heart rate down. He'd just admitted that he'd waited until all my backup was either gone or tied up with the police before he showed himself. He smiled, and this one wasn't safe for children. It was the kind of smile that says not only is a man undressing you, but he's thinking of what he'd do to you once you were naked.

"So, you watched Peter get hurt and didn't do anything to help?"

The smile faded. "I did not see the attack happen, or I would have helped him."


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