Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 7

Nathaniel raised the dresses in his arms like he was gesturing with them. "Now let's find you another dress, so you never have to wear that one again."

"Yes, please," I said, and started moving toward the dressing rooms. I tripped over some piece of the dress that had fallen out of my arms. I caught myself on a clothes rack or I'd have hit the floor.

"I could carry you," Nicky said, voice deadpan, but with an edge of teasing he wasn't really trying to hide.

"No."

"I am your bodyguard and I think that dress is a danger to you." His voice was even flatter and more serious.

I glanced back at him. His face matched the voice except for the twinkle in his eye that let me know there was laughter struggling to get out.

"I think I can walk a few yards to the dressing rooms without injuring myself."

"If you say so," he said.

Nathaniel said, "I'd pay to see the looks on the other bridesmaids' faces if we show up with Nicky carrying you. I could undo my hair, shake it out, and make my clothes look messy like we'd been fooling around."

"I know you're teasing me, because you value their good opinion as much as, or more than, I do."

"True, but I'd still do it, just to see Dixie's face."

"How do you know she's back with the other bridesmaids and not still having a heart-to-heart with Donna?"

"We heard them walking back," Nicky said.

I looked from one to the other of them and knew he meant it. I hadn't heard anything except us and the air-conditioning struggling against the New Mexico heat. I said, "Let's just go back and get this over with."

We were within sight of the rest of the bridal party and the tailor when I tripped again and flashed them all. Maybe I should have let Nicky carry me.

4

LESS THAN AN hour later I was standing on a small raised dais surrounded by mirrors. Donna and Dixie had given their thumbs-up and -down on the many dresses I'd tried on, until we all found, if not the One, then at least the It'll Do. I'd have thought Dixie might have stayed angry, but she was better behaved and even seemed calmer. Maybe having her BFF put her on the ground had put things in perspective for Dixie, or maybe she was one of those people who responded better to bad treatment than good. If I'd known getting physical with her would have fixed the problem, I'd have done it sooner, or asked Donna to do it.

The seamstress was putting the last pin in the skirt so she could hem it later. Other than being too long, which everything was, the dress didn't need any other tailoring. It was a vast improvement on the first dress. This one was black with a much more modest V neckline. My chest still filled the available space nicely, but I wasn't in danger of flashing anyone. I didn't even mind the teal sash that tied into a neat bow in the back. I normally hated bows, but the teal matched the bridesmaids' dresses perfectly and was a nice splash of color in all the black.

"It's getting late, Anita," Nicky said.

I started to look toward the windows to judge the amount of daylight left. "Don't move!" the seamstress said.

"Sorry," I said to her, then glanced at Nicky. "It doesn't feel that close to sunset yet."

"What do you mean it doesn't 'feel' close to sunset?" Dixie asked.

Donna chimed in with a voice that was a little too cheerful. "They've got a plane to catch back to St. Louis tonight."

"We either need to make this flight or be in Santa Fe, but either way, we have to be out of Albuquerque before sunset," Nicky said.

Nathaniel said, "My phone says we still have two hours."

"Making your flight I get, but what's wrong with being in Albuquerque after dark?" Dixie asked.

Nicky, Nathaniel, Donna, and I all exchanged glances with one another. It was Donna who said, "Obsidian Butterfly, Albuquerque's Master of the City, has some . . . issues with Anita."

"What, did Anita try to kill Albuquerque's Master of the City, like she does to most of the vampires she meets?" Dixie's voice had that cruel undertone that was almost her usual tone. Apparently, whatever nice she'd gotten from the "talk" with Donna had been used up and she was now back to her usual bitchy self.

I hadn't tried to kill Obsidian Butterfly. She thought she was an Aztec deity, and since she had been worshipped as one once, who could blame her for the delusion? She was powerful enough that the old vampire council had declared Albuquerque off-limits for other vampires. Their Master of the City was powerful enough to frighten the other monsters, which meant that she was powerful enough that both Edward and I tried to leave her the fuck alone. My first case in New Mexico, we had needed the goddess's help. That was also the case where I'd first met Bernardo Spotted-Horse and Otto Jeffries, fellow U.S. Marshals now. We were nicknamed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, because individually and together, we had the most kills of any of the other marshals. Bernardo was going to be at the altar as one of Edward's groomsmen. Otto hadn't been invited to the wedding.

I didn't owe Dixie that much history. "There are a lot of vampires in my life who would disagree with that statement, including Jean-Claude," I said. I didn't even f

eel defensive about it. She was too wrong for it to be offensive.

"Your fiance, Jean-Claude, is like a male version of Snow White. Did you take one look at him asleep in his coffin and just couldn't put a stake through his heart?"

Ted Forrester's good ol' boy drawl came from behind us. "Jean-Claude sure is pretty; that's for sure." He pronounced pretty like "purdy." When Edward was in full Ted mode he sounded like you think southern cowboys talk, if there was such a thing as a southern cowboy.

I started to look over my shoulder but remembered not to move just in time and just used the mirrors to watch him. The big smile on his face that made his blue eyes sparkle was all Ted, as were the white cowboy hat, the white short-sleeved dress shirt, and the cowboy boots. But the undershirt that showed at the neck was black, tucked into the black jeans, and the cowboy boots were black, too. It was as if he could pull off the white dress shirt and be in all black in an instant like Clark Kent changing into Superman.

He took off the hat, and his short blond hair was tight to his head because he'd worn Ted's beloved Stetson all day. Edward didn't wear hats, and if he had it wouldn't have been a white cowboy hat.

"I didn't know you thought he was pretty, Ted," Dixie said, and just her tone let you know that the next thing out of her mouth was going to be something unpleasant.

"Everyone thinks he's pretty, Dixie. I'm just secure enough in my manliness to admit it." The accent helped make it a teasing statement. He stepped around the seamstress and me so he could kiss Donna.

She wrapped her arms around him and turned the kiss into a little bit more than just a normal hello. It made me smile and I caught Nathaniel's glance, so we smiled together. We were like most happy couples; we enjoyed seeing other people happy, too. Nicky's face was impassive in the mirror.

"God, Donna, stop acting like a teenager in public. It's embarrassing at our age."

Donna pulled back from the kiss, but Edward wouldn't let her step out of the embrace. "What does it matter what anyone thinks but us?" There was less Ted and more of Edward's middle-of-nowhere, middle-of-America nothing accent in the question. For him to lose his accent in public like that meant he was upset.

Donna smiled up at him as if he were her whole world and then leaned in so they could kiss again. Good for them.


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