Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 60

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"Yeah," he said, and I heard him talking to the doctor before the phone cut off.

I put the phone in my back pocket, stood up a little straighter, squared my shoulders, and went out to face Olaf and Becca. I opened the door to hear my chosen niece say, "I don't know if Aunt Anita is dating Uncle Bernardo. Neither one of them is monogamous, so they could be."

Olaf looked at me, and there was a lot of rage in those dark, cavernous eyes. So much rage that his power trickled through the hallway like a breath of wind off the scalding fields of hell. Fuck. I should have known that with the level of control he had this quickly he'd be a powerful motherfucker. Like he hadn't been dangerous enough before he became a werelion. And I so did not need a jealousy issue between him and Bernardo.

"I am not dating Bernardo. The doctor had some questions about Peter's injuries. The ones he got when Otto and Peter were helping me in St. Louis." I gave Olaf a look and tried to convey with my eyes that I needed him to think, not get all pissy.

He looked confused for a minute.

"Why couldn't I hear about that?" Becca asked. "I've seen his scars. It's why he wears a T-shirt in the pool all the time now."

I remembered that he'd had a wet T-shirt on when he carried Dixie to us, but I hadn't thought about it. I'd work on his comfort level with his scars later. "Bernardo needed to ask some questions from someone who was there when Peter got hurt."

"But why?" she asked.

"Yes, why?" Olaf asked.

I just looked at him and said, "Later."

He glanced down at Becca, who was watching me far too closely for comfort.

"We will talk later."

"Yes," I said, relieved he was letting it drop.

"About many things," he said.

So much for my being relieved.

40

THERE WERE SECURITY cameras in the elevator and there usually weren't on the stairs, so the three of us were waiting for the elevator. Becca had my left hand in her right, and Olaf's right hand in her left, and was swinging our hands back and forth as she twisted on the balls of her feet to make the skirt of the pink dress swish back and forth. I realized there was some sort of slip or something underneath the skirt part that was making it billow out and make a sound like a different type of cloth was underneath, something that made that swish, swish sound as she twisted back and forth. She'd done the same kind of thing at six. She was suddenly back to being a little girl again. It was comforting, and at the same time I knew it wouldn't last. She was a little girl, but the teenager was in there peeking out more and more.

I glanced at Olaf. His face showed nothing. It didn't bother him that we were standing there holding on to Becca while she twirled, but it didn't seem to make him happy either. I turned back to look at the shiny doors of the elevator and realized that my expression was about the same as his. I guess I should stop throwing stones at Olaf unless I was willing to have them thrown back at me. We waited stoically for the elevator doors to open while Becca half danced between us.

The elevator doors opened and Rufous was standing there. His face was grim and almost angry, and then he was smiling. He looked so pleased to see us that I'd almost have thought I'd been wrong about the grim expression before, but I knew what I'd seen.

"There you are, Jeffries. I was just saying earlier today that we were missing one of the Four Horsemen, and here you are," Rufous said, and ushered us onto the elevator.

I started to get on, leading Becca. Olaf hung back a second, and since he still had Becca's other hand in his, I couldn't get on the elevator without letting go of her. Olaf said, "Weren't you getting off at this floor, Martinez?"

"Actually, I was sent to check on Anita and Becca. Marisol was wondering what took so long for the little one here to change into a pretty dress," he said, smiling at the little girl.

She let go of our hands, put her arms up gracefully above her head, and did a complete pirouette so that the skirt flew out around her and I got a glimpse of the crinkly chiffon underneath. She came down to first position, her feet in their white sandals at that odd and artificial angle that is the beginning of all ballet.

"A very pretty dress, indeed," Rufous said, beaming at her.

She beamed right back at him.

The elevator started to make a high-pitched buzzing sound. Rufous must have hit the button to make the doors stay open, and now the elevator was protesting. I put a hand on Becca's shoulder and got us both in the elevator beside Rufous. He'd seemed really tall earlier by the pool. Now I didn't feel nearly as short beside him. Something about standing next to someone who really is seven feet tall makes everyone else seem smaller.

Olaf followed us into the elevator and it suddenly seemed more claustrophobic, as if there wasn't room for Olaf and Rufous in the same small space. They were both really big men; it was just that some of Rufous's size was wide, not tall. Looking at them standing there in front of me, I could suddenly see that Rufous was at least twice as wide through the shoulders as Olaf. That wasn't middle-aged spread; that was just being a really big guy. I realized that Rufous had moved slightly in front of me and Becca. It was subtle, but he'd never done a thing to make me think he felt protective of me before. He thought Olaf was Marshal Otto Jeffries, officer in good standing, so why the change in behavior?

Olaf noticed it, of course, and he looked down at Rufous in that way that really tall men can do when they want to emphasize to another man that they're bigger. Most women miss it, but I worked with too many men not to notice.

Rufous smiled up at him with that good ol' boy smile that he usually wore, but I realized that he had his sidearm on and I was pretty sure he had his ASP, a collapsible baton, in one pocket of his shorts. I knew he had something in that pocket. A lot of police never go completely unarmed if they can help it, but Rufous wasn't usually this obvious about it. What the hell was going on?

Olaf frowned slightly, turning his head as if he was trying to see Rufous better. It wasn't aggressive, but puzzled. Olaf didn't know why Rufous had come to find us armed and ready for trouble either. Usually I like not being the only one who doesn't know what's going on, but there are only a small number of things that will make a man behave like this, and none of them were true for Rufous and me. Maybe he was protecting Becca from Uncle Otto? What had changed?

I thought of it about the same time that Olaf did. He smiled, but it was a superior smile, condescending. "I did not think my having lycanthropy would bother you this much, Martinez. I had hoped better of you."

"I don't think that's it," I said. "Rufous is cool around Micah and Nathaniel."

"If the Marshals Service sees fit to keep you on, Jeffries, then that's good enough for me. I got no problem with you failing your blood test. I was sorry to hear that you caught it on the job."

Olaf frowned harder, looking almost angry. He and I did share anger as our go-to emotion unless we worked at it. "Then why are you here?"

"I'm staying in the hotel for the wedding," Rufous said, smiling.

"As am I."

"Are you mad at each other?" Becca asked, and that meant she was picking up way more of the social context than I would have at her age.

Rufous started to look behind him at her but stopped himself and kept his attention on the other man. Even if Olaf hadn't been a werelion with more than human speed, the elevator was too small for drawing guns or batons or even blades. What most people don't realize is how fast an unarmed person can close with you. In an elevator there wouldn't be time to draw weapons, and Rufous might have been a big guy and a football player once, but he was no match for Olaf, even fully human, but now . . . A lycanthrope in an elevator is going to win unless you have your gun out and aimed and are willing to shoot them before they get a chance to move. Hell, a human with good reflexes is going to close with you, and then you get to wrestle for your gun. Not good odds. I knew logically that Olaf wouldn't want to be caught on security video behaving badly, but the little moving box was feeling awfully claustrophobic

about now.

"No, honey, we're not mad, are we, Jeffries?"

"I am not," he said in that careful voice of his. I realized that it was his version of Edward's voice going empty. I hadn't realized that I knew Olaf's voice that well.

The elevator doors opened at last. Rufous pushed the door-open button and said, "Ladies first."

I gave Becca a little push toward the door. She reached back for my hand. "You come with me." She had that stubborn set to her face that reminded me of Peter. I gave her my left hand and let her lead me toward the doors, but I wasn't leaving without Rufous and Olaf. I wasn't sure what was going on, but I wasn't letting the doors close behind me with them still inside--mainly because I didn't know why Rufous had ridden to the rescue. It wasn't like him, at least not around me.

I stopped in the doorway, putting a hand on one side of the doors just in case. "Everyone out," I said, smiling.

Olaf got out first, and then Rufous followed, but neither one of them looked away from the other completely. Rufous had started it, but Olaf was too aware of violent possibilities not to add his paranoia to the other man's. I'd have done the same thing.

One of the hotel employees came from behind the desk to ask us to please stop holding up the elevator. Rufous smiled and said, "Sorry about that."

The four of us stood in a little group. Becca still had my hand and was looking from one man to the other as people walked past us in the lobby. There was a uniformed officer at the main desk talking to the manager. There was absolutely nothing wrong, and yet Rufous was still tense. He could smile all the down-home smiles, but his body language still showed the subtle signs of a big man who was ready for trouble.

I felt a warm trickle of energy from behind us. It made me turn, with Becca's hand still in mine, so that I could glance behind me and keep an eye on Olaf.

It was Nicky moving toward us, not hurrying exactly, but moving like he had a purpose. Something tight and tense loosened in my chest. I had backup I trusted now, backup that really could go up against Olaf and have a chance.

Rufous was a cop, but he was only human, and an out-of-shape human at that.

I wanted to touch Nicky so badly when he came to stand beside me, but I acted as professional as he did.

He said in a low, tight voice, "Otto."

"Nicky," Olaf said.

Becca moved a little closer to me, as if she was picking up on the tension.

"Where is everyone else?" I asked

Nicky said, "The police are still questioning them."

"Why would they let you go and keep the others?" Olaf asked.

"Murdock is the only one who never met the missing girl," Rufous said.

"They would have let Bram go, too, but he was arguing with the cops that he was going to wait for Micah."

"He's Micah's bodyguard," I said.

"There are more useful things than arguing with cops." He looked at Olaf, who smiled.

"No arguments," I said.

"I could hear Morgan and Wyatt. It seemed like they were both winding down."

"How did you hear them?" Rufous asked.


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