Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 66

He gave a little eye roll and the barest raise of his shoulders.

"Oh, come on."

"Well, since I hit my growth spurt in my teens."

"And that's exactly what I mean," Micah said.

"What? Because I've been suave and debonair for most of my life, I can't be part of the inner circle?"

"That can't be why, or Jean-Claude would be excluded," Rodina said.

"See?" Bernardo said.

Nathaniel checked his phone as if the text sound wouldn't have clued him. How long would it take Lucy to get to the room? Nathaniel spoke without taking his eyes from the phone screen. "Do you really want to be part of our poly group?"

"Maybe?"

"Then you'll have to come across," Nathaniel said.

"I've been trying to get Anita to do that since we met," he said, aiming that smile he had that had made more women drop their panties than Elvis in his heyday.

"Not Anita, Bernardo," Nathaniel said, and he did look up then, meeting the taller man's gaze square on with his own big lavender eyes.

"Sorry, bro, but I don't swing at boys."

"And that's why you can't be in our poly group."

"I thought Nicky didn't like men either."

"I like men better than you do," Nicky said, which made Bernardo stare at the other man.

"And just how well do you like men?"

"I don't like them as well as Nathaniel does."

"Only I like men as well as Nathaniel does," I said.

"Actually, Anita, you like them more than I do, and I don't get to say that about many women." Nathaniel grinned as he said it, just in case I took it wrong.

I didn't, and I had a smart-ass comeback all ready, but Ru said, "Would I have to sleep with Nathaniel to be part of your poly group?"

"No," I said.

Nathaniel said, "I don't force myself on anyone."

Nathaniel's phone rang. Denny wasn't in her room. Her bed was still made. Her clothes and suitcases were still there. Her room key was on the bedside table; her purse was beside it. Her bathing suit was laid out on the bed as if she'd started to change to meet everyone at the pool before Peter and Dixie had their incident. That had been nearly five hours ago. If she was truly missing and not just off having a triggered gestalt moment on the beach somewhere, then either the same bad guy had taken them both--Bettina and Denny--at almost the same time, or we had two bad guys abducting women from the same hotel on the same day, at almost the same time. Vegas wouldn't have taken the odds on either, but I knew real cases where both scenarios had happened.

I went to tell Edward. Bernardo headed back to the hotel. The other three stayed with me, because whatever Rankin was, we were stronger together. He'd been hot and heavy after Nathaniel before; this wouldn't make him change his mind. There was more connection between Nathaniel and Denny. Hell, all of us had more of a connection to Denny, except maybe Bernardo. To my knowledge he hadn't slept with Denny. I hesitated as I started to knock on the door of Peter's room. Bernardo visited Edward more than I did because they lived closer to each other. I really didn't know how well he knew Denny. I pushed the thought away and knocked. One complication at a time.

44

DONNA STAYED WITH Peter, but the rest of us headed to the hotel. I'd have left Nathaniel, Micah, and Bram there to help calm them, but they wouldn't stay. "This isn't a case, Anita. You don't get to leave us behind that easily," Micah said.

"I know Denny a lot better than you do. I want to help search for her," Nathaniel said.

Ru had shrugged and said, "I don't know her at all, but I know that in animal form all of us could track her through the hotel."

"I've done that for you when you were on a case," Nathaniel said.

"Those were special circumstances," I said.

"Less special than this?" Micah asked.

"We're rolling out," Edward said. "Debate in the car on the way to the hotel." We all piled into our rental cars and continued to debate.

"I don't really like Nathaniel being near Rankin again," I said.

"Then you should have said that instead of trying to get me to stay with Donna and Peter," Nathaniel said.

"All right, I'd rather you wait at the hospital with Donna and Peter so we can keep you farther away from Rankin."

"Who's Rankin?" Edward asked, and I realized that he'd been at the hospital since the detective showed up.

It was easy to explain that Detective Terry Rankin was the lead on Bettina's disappearance. What wasn't easy to explain was the fact that we were all sure he wasn't human, or at least not straight-up vanilla-or chocolate-flavored human. He was definitely something exotic, like rocky road or Chunky Monkey.

"Explain to me how you know Detective Rankin isn't human."

"I love the fact that you just accepted that if we said he wasn't human, he wasn't," Nathaniel said.

"Nothing personal, Nathaniel. You're Uncle Nathaniel to the kids, but I accepted it because Anita said he wasn't human."

"I know that, but I enjoy the fact that you just rolled with it. No questions asked."

"She's earned that level of no questions asked from me."

"Thanks, Edward," I said, smiling.

Edward scowled at all of us. The look was enough. I knew the next thing out of his mouth would be on point. He'd had enough emotional bonding for one day. "So, explain to me about the detective. What did he do that made you peg him as not human?"

I did my best to explain, but like a lot of mystical stuff, it didn't translate well. "If I said you had to be there, would you understand?"

"If I had been there, would I have sensed anything?" he asked.

I had to think about that one, and look at the other men in the car. They basically all shrugged and turned it back to me.

"You spend the most time with him. Would he have sensed anything?" Micah asked, finally.

"Even I've never sensed anything quite like this," I said.

"The question isn't would Edward know what Rankin was doing, or even what he was, but would he have sensed any of the hocus-pocus?"

"I don't know. Edward isn't head-blind to psychic stuff, but he's not psychic either."

"Everyone in the car needs to start calling me Ted again, because we're almost to the hotel."

"Good point, Ted," I said.

"I've spent more time calling you Ted than Edward lately. I think I'll remember, Ted," Nathaniel said.

Edward actually smiled his real smile for that. "If I haven't said it before, Nathaniel, I really appreciate all the help you've been with Donna and the wedding."

"I enjoyed most of it. I wish we could have a beach wedding."

"We could have one, if that's what you really want," Micah said.

"Let me survive walking on the beach in bedazzled flip-flops and a formal-length dress first, then ask me again," I said. That earned me some laughter; then we pulled up in front of the hotel. Police were everywhere, as if someone had emptied out a bag of them in front of the building like toys, but there was never anything playful about having this many police at a scene.

Rankin was standing outside under the covered parking area. He seemed to be searching the crowd, as if he was waiting for someone and they were late. We pointed him out to Edward. "He looks like one of your men here."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Not too tall, slender but fit, good-looking but sort of androgynous. He's not as pretty as most of your men, but if you dropped him into the crowd, he wouldn't stand out."

I looked at Rankin as if I hadn't really seen him before. "I can see some of that, but he doesn't really float my boat."

"He floats mine," Nathaniel said.

Micah and I looked at him. "I don't think you've ever remarked on another man in front of me," Micah said.

"He looks like you," Nathaniel said.

I looked from Micah back to Rankin where he was still scanning the crowd, as we waited for the traffic to clear out enough for us to park. I tried to see what Nathaniel

was talking about. The hair was too short, the color too dark, not nearly as curly. He was slender built like Micah, but he had a longer torso, and something about that made them look less alike to me. I wasn't even going to try with the facial features, because Rankin just lost out there, at least to me.

"I'm having trouble seeing it."

"There's some superficial resemblance, I suppose," Micah said.

"Am I the only one who thinks he looks like Micah?" Nathaniel asked.

"Yes," Ru and Rodina said in unison.

"It's like Edward said: Rankin looks like he could be part of the team, but I don't think he looks like Micah," Nicky said.

Nathaniel was looking at the detective--no, not just looking, staring almost . . . longingly. He was mooning over him; that's what my grandmother would have called it. I touched his shoulder and he didn't react. I gripped his shoulder and gave him a little shake. He blinked and looked at me.

"Are you all right?" I asked.

He frowned. "I think so."


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