Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 76

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"Yes."

"Just like that, an unequivocal yes?"

I nodded. "If it wasn't an unequivocal yes, Captain Tyburn, I wouldn't be suggesting it."

"How does it work?" Dalton asked. She looked sad and a little pale, but she was doing her job and seemed to be tracking everything that was happening around her. Having been on the receiving end of Rankin's power, I was impressed. I wondered how long he'd been messing with her, but I left it for later. One problem at a time, and right now nothing was more important than finding Denny. Every minute that she was missing upped the chances of her ending up like Bettina. A relative stranger dead was one thing; having one of Donna's oldest and closest friends murdered would probably put a serious damper on the wedding, if we were still doing it tomorrow. There were so many reasons to postpone, or to skip it altogether, but that wasn't my call. Until Edward or Donna called it off, the wedding was still on. Peter wanted them to do it as scheduled even if the doctors wouldn't let him out of the hospital to attend it. We could have done that, but missing the maid of honor? I wasn't sure we could muscle past that, but one problem at a time. First we had to find Denny alive, and as well as possible. We'd worry about everything else after that, including the wedding.

Tyburn turned to Olaf. "So you and Marshal Blake have done this before?"

Olaf glanced at me and then back at Tyburn. "I was not the wereanimal that she used to track her victims down."

I wasn't sure I liked his phrasing about me, tracking my victims down, but since I'd killed the bad guys we tracked down, it was a little awkward to argue. "Marshal Jeffries wasn't a wereanimal at that time, and we weren't working together on the two cases."

"Are you going to use him now?" Dalton asked.

I thought, No, absolutely no, but wasn't sure how to say that without possibly offending Olaf. He surprised me by taking care of it for me.

"No, I am new at being a lycanthrope. I would rather trust this task to more experienced noses than mine, and Anita has more experienced shapeshifters with her."

"You mean Wyatt and Nathaniel?" Dalton asked. It was interesting that they were on a first-name basis already.

"And Micah, Morgan, or Nicky, or Bram, yeah," I said.

"They're civilians, Blake. I'm not sure how I feel about putting them in harm's way," Tyburn said.

"I'm not crazy about it either, but Nathaniel has done this for me before, and it worked."

"Nathaniel Graison is your fiance, right?" Tyburn asked.

"Right," I said.

"You saw what this thing did to the first victim, Blake. Do you really want to risk getting the man in your life close to that . . . monster?"

"No, and I really don't want it to be Nathaniel this time."

"What's different this time?" Tyburn asked.

In my head, I thought, Ireland, what happened in Ireland, but out loud I said, "I don't know what this creature is. I don't want to risk him with this many unknowns."

"Nathaniel will want to help," Edward said.

"I know. They're friends."

I wanted to keep Nathaniel safe, and instead I was about to take him monster hunting. It seemed like the harder I tried to keep him safe, the more risks he had to take. I knew there was a lesson in there somewhere; I just wasn't sure what the lesson was supposed to be, or maybe I didn't want to learn this particular lesson.

53

TYBURN OFFERED US a ride back to the hotel, but with Dalton in the car there wasn't room for all four of us. We started to divide up two and two, but Tyburn said, "We need to talk on the way back to the hotel, Marshals. The drive back to the hotel is probably the only privacy we'll get today."

"All right, who gets to sit in whose lap?" I asked. I'd meant it to be a joke, but the joke was on me, because Tyburn said, "I'm driving and Dalton doesn't know anyone else well enough to not leave the wrong impression, so that leaves you, Marshal Blake."

"Excuse me?"

"Anita, please just do it and don't argue. Tyburn and Dalton want to share information and Denny is running out of time," Edward said.

I looked at Dalton. "If this was you having to sit on one of your coworkers' laps, would the information be worth it?"

She looked startled, as if she hadn't expected me to ask that particular question, or maybe she just startled easy. She blinked at me, and for a second I thought I'd have to repeat the question, but she answered, "Yes, the information would be worth it, as long as sitting in his lap wouldn't enslave you to him for years." That last part was very bitter, and suddenly I was willing to sit in someone's lap if she'd tell us all about Rankin.

It wasn't me who argued; it was Olaf. "You are the groom-to-be. You cannot drive up to the hotel with another woman on your lap without it getting back to your bride. Do you want a second fight with Donna in one day, during a murder investigation?"

"You know I hate to say it, but I agree with the big guy," Bernardo said.

"Her maid of honor and best friend is missing. Surely even Donna would let things slide until we get Denny back?" I said.

The three men looked at me. Edward's and Bernardo's looks were eloquent. Olaf's look was almost blank behind his sunglasses. He rarely showed much emotion around the three of us, because he didn't have to pretend around us. We already knew he lacked a full set of socially acceptable emotions.

"Well, shit," I said.

"I'm hurt," Bernardo said. "There are plenty of women who would love to have an excuse to sit in my lap." He even managed a weak version of his usual panty-dropping smile. I smiled back, partly because I was just happy to see him starting to rebuild himself after the breakdown.

"No," Olaf said.

"What do you mean, no?" I asked.

He looked at me and again I could feel the weight of his gaze even through the glasses that hid his eyes. "It means that I will not let you sit on his lap."

"You don't have the right to tell me who I can and can't sit with."

"That may be true at this time, but I will only concede ground to . . . Ted and the men already in your life. I will not concede ground to Bernardo."

I fought not to look at Tyburn or Dalton, because I had no way to explain what was happening that didn't make us all look like romantic idiots. I said, "Give us a little privacy, please."

They looked confused, but they moved off so I could turn to Olaf and quietly hiss, "I am not sitting on your lap."

"Then you will be the cause of more fighting and more delays after Donna hears about you and her Ted."

"Are you really willing to risk Denny's life just because I sit on Bernardo's lap and not yours?"

"I don't have the attachment to her that the rest of you do, but there's another question you need to ask."

"What?" I said, and as ridiculous as it sounds, I got closer to him, trying to be "up in his face." With the height difference it probably looked even sillier than it felt, but I was too mad to care.

"Ask Bernardo if he is willing to fight me for the privilege of you on his lap in the car."

"You are not going to fight each other here and now," Edward said, like he was certain.

"No, but there will be later," Olaf said.

"Jesus, Otto, you are a fucking piece of work," Bernardo said.

"Does that mean you will fight me later?"

"No, or not over this. Nothing personal, Anita, but just having you sit in my lap isn't worth fighting him for real."

"No offense. I agree that it's not worth it."

"Fuck," Edward said softly.

"It's just a ride in the car, and we get to know all about how bad Rankin has been to Dalton," I said.

Edward lowered his glasses so I could see his baby blues. "It's never just a ride in the car with him and you, Anita."

"Fine, fine, but we're potentially wasting Denny's life by arguing about it."

"Damn it!" Edward said, setting his glasses back in place and going up to Olaf. "You are going to keep pushing on this until I push back."

"I look forward to it

," Olaf said.

"Understand that when he pushes back, so do I, so it won't just be one of us; it'll be both," I said.

It was hard to tell behind the glasses, but I think he blinked first. "I'd always planned on killing you separately if it had to be done."

"You fucking psycho," Bernardo said, "you don't tell people you're going to do stuff like that. You just do it. You don't warn people first."

"That's your only objection?" I asked.

Bernardo shrugged, as if to say, What did you expect? The answer was, yeah, that was his only objection, but I let it go.

"Well, Otto, I'd always planned on killing you as sort of a group project," I said.

He smiled. "I never expected you to fight me alone, Anita. You are too practical for that."

"If you do anything in the car that is out of line, we will finish this discussion after Denny is safe," Edward said.

"I will be the perfect gentleman."

"Fine, then let's do this." Edward said it in the tone he usually reserved for life-threatening moments, but we had all threatened one another's lives in the last fifteen minutes, so I guess it counted.


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