Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 58

I didn't try to keep the surprise off my face. "You certainly had me fooled. I thought you were just the biggest misogynist I'd ever met, and hated my guts because I dared try to be one of the men."

"All that was true, but I hated you more because I wanted you and I knew that Edward would kill me for it."

We stood there looking at each other. I debated letting the silence stretch, asking what I wanted to ask, or checking on Becca. Most people would interrupt before I had time to decide, but Olaf would let me be quiet as long as I wanted to. I could think and he could enjoy a woman who didn't talk much. It was a win-win.

"I can ask what I actually want to ask, or I can check on Becca."

"Ask," he said.

"So only Edward's threat kept you from trying to kill me the first time we met?"

"Yes."

"And now?"

"I read Sherlock Holmes."

The change of topic startled me, so that I couldn't think why it was important, and then I did remember. An offhand comment that I'd made and he'd taken way more seriously than I'd meant it.

"What did you think of the stories?" I asked.

"I enjoyed them, and I liked Holmes's attitude toward women."

"I thought you would like that part but wasn't sure how you'd feel about the stories themselves."

"You are the woman for me, Anita. No other has made me want to modify my urges so that I did not hurt them."

"I'm flattered," I said, and I meant it. Anything that kept Olaf from trying to kidnap, rape, and torture me to death was a good thing. My understanding from Edward was that before me, that had been his endgame with any woman he "dated."

"Once you would have been angry or horrified," he said.

"I've grown as a person," I said, trying to make it a joke, but he didn't take it that way.

"So have I."

"I appreciate that," I said, "but I better check on Becca. She should have been changed and out by now."

"You are my Irene Adler," he said, and he seemed serious.

"So, what, I call you Sherlock?"

"I would like that. Couples usually have private names for each other."

I kept my face turned away from his gaze by getting the key card out of my pocket. By the time I looked up I had my face under control, or hoped I did. I tried to make a joke of it. "Would you prefer Sherlock, or Holmes?"

"Either. Would you prefer Irene or Adler?"

I used the key on the door and pushed it open as I said, "I'm not sure; can I think about it?"

"Of course. I will wait here in case the child is still dressing."

"Thanks," I said, and made sure that I didn't turn my back on him or lose sight of him as I went through the door and shut it behind me. I set the safety bar on just like they tell people to do, but I knew it wouldn't hold if Olaf wanted inside. He wanted us to have pet names for each other. Sweet Jesus on a stick, what was I supposed to do with a semi-tame serial killer? I had no idea. Okay, where was Becca? I'd start with that. Surely an eleven-year-old girl would be easier to manage. Yeah, yeah, everyone out there who's a parent, laugh it up.

38

BECCA HAD TAKEN a shower, carefully braided her hair in a complicated style that I could never have managed, and then gotten into her mother's makeup. It wasn't that the makeup looked bad on her. It was more that she looked like a sexy twenty-five-year-old from the chin up and a gangly eleven-year-old from there down. The pink dress with its white applique daisies was definitely a little girl's dress. I think she'd even had a similar one in yellow when she was six.

The makeup let me see the preview of what she might look like in a few years. She would be gorgeous. Watching her make the duck-lip pout at the bathroom mirror, I was suddenly a little worried about how grown-up she would be when the rest of her matched the makeup job. She saw me in the mirror then and her brown eyes went wide inside the thick eyeliner. She suddenly looked years younger, even with the makeup.

I found makeup remover in the expensive debris scattered across the sink area and we started trying to get all of it off. She didn't argue with me about taking it off, but she did ask me to take a picture of her with the makeup on. We compromised. I took the picture with my phone, not hers, and I'd keep it until Donna and Edward said it was okay for her to have it.

"What do you want the picture for?" I'd asked as I started to scrub her face.

"To put up online, of course." She said it with a tone that implied, heavily, What a stupid question.

That led into me having to lecture her on how a picture like that would attract boys much older than she was, and pedophiles as well. She gave me rolled eyes as if she'd heard this lecture before. I was so going to be talking to Edward about Becca's web access at home and on her phone. What surprised me the most, I think, was that she wasn't like other little girls her age. She had been kidnapped at six and tortured. They'd broken some of her fingers. They'd healed and her hand seemed fine, but she knew "the great bad thing" was real. Becca knew that there were bad people out there who would hurt children. They hadn't touched her sexually, but I'd been tied up by bad guys and hurt. It had left a lasting impression on me. I looked into Becca's eyes and didn't see the caution that I expected. Was that why she was fine and Peter wasn't? Was she that untouched by it? Did she even remember?

She stared up at me with half her face smeared clean and the other still showing that disturbing adultness. "What's wrong?" she asked me, and she looked older again, more serious. It was like another shadow of things to come, except this one was intelligent and perceptive. I suddenly wondered if she'd been as oblivious about what was happening out in the hallway as I'd thought.

"Nothing," I said automatically.

She gave me a scathing look. "Why does everyone lie to kids?"

"Because we think it's something the kid doesn't need to know." I gave her my own look back.

She crossed her slender arms over her chest and I realized there was muscle under the tanned skin. She'd been in dance since she was tiny, and I suddenly thought of Nathaniel's body and some of the professional dancers, including ballet dancers, I knew. Becca wasn't just going to be beautiful; she was going to be fiercely in shape. I was suddenly conflicted about that.

"Do you still want to be a ballerina when you grow up?"

"Yes." But she said it like she didn't mean it, or she didn't want to answer the question.

"You don't sound very convincing about it," I said as I went back to cleaning her face.

"It's just that when I say I want to be a ballerina, people think I'm like all the other little girls who say it. I'm working so hard, and every time I tell an adult, they pat me on the head and say, 'Isn't that nice,' or smile like I'm still six. I've started saying I want to be a professional dancer because I'm tired of people treating me like I'm playing dress-up and spinning around the living room to classical records."

"I can understand that," I said.

"But now they ask if I want to be on Dancing with the Stars, or America's Got Talent, and that's not what I'm giving up nearly every single afternoon and weekend for. I want to be a dancer, a real one. I want to do pointe when I'm old enough. My teacher says I have the lines for it and that I'm going to be tall enough."

"That's great, Becca. I took just enough ballet as a kid to know that I didn't want to do pointe, and I was too short to be a prima ballerina anyway."

She grinned up at me. "It would be hard to find you a partner the same size as you, and you need to match for the ballet."

"I have a guy friend who's my size and he's a professional dancer."

Now I had her attention. "What kind of dancer is he?"

"Ballet," I said.

"Where does he dance?"

I told her what company he was with, and from that point on she asked questions I couldn't answer, but I promised to ask my friend some of her questions next time I spoke with him. She was excited and chattering about ballet and dance and performance and a lot of details that were frankly over

my head. I'd been younger than Becca when I stopped taking ballet.

It did give me an opening to call the men. I started with Micah, but I ended up in voice mail. I left a cheerful message that Becca and I were up in the room and Otto Jeffries had arrived for the wedding, with his invitation coming directly from the bride. I called Nathaniel next and left a similar message, adding that Otto was waiting for us in the hallway. I called Nicky and left a message about Otto being a surprise. I didn't want the message to be that a serial killer was up here scaring me when I couldn't prove anything. I started to call Ru and Rodina but realized they didn't know who Olaf was, so I couldn't think of a good generic message for their phones. No one got back to me. Why were the cops questioning all of them this long? Then I realized I'd been slow, or stupid.

Bettina Gonzales was a short, dark-haired woman, which made her exactly fit Olaf's preferred victim profile. I had only his word that he'd just arrived. Maybe he'd been here for days watching all of us, waiting for a chance to see me alone. Did that sound paranoid? Maybe, but the difference between paranoia and caution is one simple thing: Are they really out to get you? Olaf had already made it clear that he wanted to be more than friends. Edward was afraid that if I totally turned him down, he'd move me from potential girlfriend to potential victim. I was worried about that, too. Was I going to have to have cocktails with Olaf, a coffee date? I already knew I didn't want to date him; the preliminaries weren't really necessary. What do you do with a serial killer who's offering to behave himself if only you'll date him? Hell if I knew.

39

I MADE ONE MORE phone call before we went back out to visit with Uncle Otto. I called Bernardo. I would have called Edward, but I didn't want to make him feel like he had to choose between being at Peter's side and being at mine. I was a big girl; I could take care of myself. I was a U.S. Marshal, too. Hell, I'd been a vampire executioner longer than Bernardo--long before we got grandfathered into the Marshals Service. So why did I feel the need to call for backup when Olaf hadn't done anything to threaten me yet? Because he scared me--there, that was the irritating truth. I hated that he made me want a man by my side, even if that man was Edward. I could take care of myself, damn it! I believed that, I really did, but . . . I called Bernardo just in case. Just in case what, I tried hard not to think about.

I went to his voice mail just like everyone else's, but while I was in the middle of leaving my message he picked up. "Anita, the text of your voice mail mentioned a fellow marshal." He was trying to play it cool, which meant Edward or Donna had to be close by. I heard voices and knew the rhythm of Edward's voice enough to know it was him. I couldn't understand anything he was saying, but I knew it was him talking.

Bernardo lowered his voice and said, "Is Olaf, Otto, really there?"

"Why would I make that up? Of course he's here."

"Sorry, I . . . Jesus."

"Yeah," I said, "how is Peter doing?"

"Still in surgery, but once they got the bleeding stopped the surgeon came out to ask some questions."


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