Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 8

The tailor stood up, hesitating a little as if her knees were an issue. Nathaniel offered her a hand and she took it, smiling at him. "Thank you, young man."

He flashed her a watered-down version of the smile he used at Guilty Pleasures when he was dancing. She blushed. Nice to know Nathaniel had that effect on women of all ages. He offered me a hand down from the dais, though he knew I didn't need it. Once upon a time, not that long ago, I wouldn't have taken it, because I didn't need the help, but just as Edward could admit that Jean-Claude was pretty without it compromising his masculinity, I could let my fiance help me down a step without losing my independent-woman card.

He flashed me the smile that no one at his job got, the one that said love. I love you with just his eyes. I smiled back at him and knew that my eyes and the rest of my face showed just how much I loved him, too. We leaned toward each other for a kiss, because that's what you do when you love someone. His lips were soft, warm, gentle, because it was that kind of kiss.

"So just you and me, left out in the cold," Dixie said.

The bitterness of the comment made us both draw back from our kiss to look first at Dixie and then at Nicky, when we realized that was whom she was referring to. He looked back at her, face utterly calm. "I'm not out in the cold, Dixie. That's just you."

"Well, I don't see anyone kissing on you either."

"I'm working," he said.

"What does that mean?" she asked.

Edward answered in Ted's accent, but they were his words. "It means that Nicky is a professional bodyguard."

"So what?"

"So he's guarding Anita and Nathaniel right now. Kissing her would be a distraction and unprofessional."

"What he said," Nicky said.

"I don't believe it," she said. "You're all just teasing me."

"What part don't you believe, that I'm one of their bodyguards or that I'm one of Anita's lovers?" Nicky asked.

"Bodyguard I believe." She looked at Nathaniel. "Are you just going to let him claim your girl like that?"

Nathaniel smiled. "Anita's not my girl, she's my fiancee, and I like sharing with Nicky." He offered a fist and Nicky bumped it gently.

"The news says she's marrying Jean-Claude, so she can't be your fiancee."

"Actually, we found out that there's no law against how many fiances you can have; you just can't legally marry more than one of them," I said.

"Not yet," Nathaniel said.

I kissed him lightly and said, "You are being awfully optimistic about the government of our country. It was hard enough to get the United States to allow same-sex marriage. I don't see multiple partners being legal anytime soon."

"Are you saying you'd actually marry Nathaniel and Jean-Claude if it was legal?" Dixie asked.

"And Micah," Nathaniel and I said together. It made us grin at each other in that stupid-happy way.

"What about you?" she said, motioning at Nicky.

"What about me?"

"Doesn't it bother you that Anita just said she'd marry three men, but you're not on the list?"

"No," he said.

"Of course it bothers you. It would bother anyone to be left out like that," Dixie said.

"I don't feel left out."

"Don't lie. Just tell them they hurt your feelings and it was rude."

"My feelings aren't hurt and they aren't the ones being rude."

Edward said, "Go change out of the dress so you guys can make your plane." He kept the accent, but somehow the tone was colder than good ol' Ted usually sounded.

I didn't argue, because he was right. Nicky handed me a small pack that he'd had slung over one shoulder. I took it and went into the dressing room. The pack contained the two guns, extra ammunition, and knife that I'd get to carry onto the plane. I'd taken the training as a sky marshal, years before 9/11, and so far, it let me carry on a plane, though there was talk of that changing. But for today I was the only one of us who wouldn't have to put their weapons in luggage.

I could hear Dixie still trying to start some sort of jealousy issue between Nathaniel and Nicky. It wouldn't work. Nathaniel was the least jealous person I knew, and Nicky just didn't think like that.

Edward's voice cut in. "You almost dressed in there, Anita?"

"Almost." I was in my own black jeans, black boots, and red T-shirt, with a black suit jacket over it all to help hide the weapons. Just because I could carry legally didn't mean I wanted to flash my weapons at everyone. One, it made people nervous, and two, if it did turn into a fight, I didn't want the bad guys to know what I was carrying or where on me I was carrying it.

"Dixie, stop picking at Nathaniel and Nicky. I don't know what's wrong with you lately. You're supposed to be one of my best friends, Dixie. Why aren't you happy for me?"

"I've already told you why I'm not happy for you, Donna."

"If I believe Ted and Anita aren't having an affair, why can't you?"

I fussed to get my inner pants holster a little more comfortable, but really I was dressed. I just didn't want to walk out into the middle of this conversation. If I hid, would it be cowardice? Yes, damn it. I opened the door and said as cheerily as I could, "I'm dressed. Let's head for the airport."

Dixie kept talking as if I hadn't said anything. She was looking at Donna with an intensity that made the rest of us irrelevant. "I don't believe him because no man would admit to an affair he wasn't having. It's hard enough to get them to admit to ones they are having."

I sighed and said what I was thinking. "It was pretty stupid."

Everyone looked at me.

"Having an affair is pretty stupid," Dixie said.

I shook my head. "There is no affair, never was, never will be, but Dixie's right on one thing--it was stupid of Ted to confess to something he wasn't doing. It was stupid of me to let him talk me into going along with the lie. It was convoluted thinking beyond anything I've ever thought for him to use a false confession to have time to talk to Donna and their couples therapist while the wedding plans went ahead."

"You went along with it," Ted said, but not in his friendliest tone.

"I didn't say I was the brightest bulb in the box when it came to relationships either."

That got smiles and laughs from everyone but Dixie. "I can't take this anymore. I'm done."

"What do you mean 'done'?" Donna asked. "You don't mean the wedding . . ."

Dixie moved her gaze from Donna to Ted. She stared at him like she personally hated him. I'd only seen genuine bad guys stare at him like that. It was strangely more unnerving coming from a supposed friend.

"If you are going to marry him, I'll be there, and when she finds out you are a cheating son of a bitch, I'll be there to hold her hand, just like I did after Frank died." And with that, she left.

5

SOME SILENCES ARE louder than noise. This was one of those silences. None of us knew what to say to fill that awkward moment, or rather, I knew what I wanted to say, which was some variation of "Kick Dixie out of the wedding," but it wasn't my place to say it. It was Edward's.

"Donna, we need to talk about Dixie and the wedding," Edward said.

"She's one of my oldest and dearest friends, Ted. She was my maid of honor the first time, and I was her matron of honor."

"I know that, honeybunch," he said, sliding back into Ted's accent, "and I know you were close when her sons and Peter were younger, but now that all the boys are college age, it's changed."

Donna nodded. "The last time Dixie and I had a shopping trip, just us girls, we took Becca with us. Dixie said she wished they'd had a little girl. Someone close to Becca's age so we'd all be doing dance classes and theater together, the way we used to do sports with the boys."

"Peter was in martial arts with their youngest son, but we didn't do what they did. They spent every weekend and most evenings at one sporting event or another with their two boys."

"Peter did all the sports that the other boys did," she said.

He smiled at her with a

look that was all warm and happy, and a little something that I couldn't define. "Peter didn't like team sports. We didn't force him to stay in everything the way that they did with Benji."

"It was just that their oldest was like Ray and Dixie; he loved all the team sports and was good at them."

"Benji was good at a lot of them; he just hated playing," Edward said.

"We're going to have to leave soon for the airport," Nicky said. "If you need to discuss the wedding and Dixie with Nathaniel or Anita, you need to do it soon."

Donna started to try to get a little offended, but Edward said, "Nicky is doing his job, honeybunch. Do you want Nathaniel to help us decide about Dixie?" I didn't mind that he dropped me off the list of people to consult. He knew what my vote would be.

She looked up at Edward. "Are you actually asking me to kick Dixie out of the wedding?"

"Dixie said it, that since she doesn't have a daughter Becca's age we don't do as much with them as we used to, so she hasn't had a chance to call me a cheating bastard in front of Becca, but once we get to Florida we are on a small island. We are going to be in each other's pockets, honeybunch. Do you really think she can control herself in front of the kids and our other friends?"

"She wouldn't say things like that in front of Becca. She helped me shop for Becca's flower girl dress and the three of us had a wonderful time. Dixie said it was like the old days when the boys were little."

"Donna," Nathaniel said.

She turned and looked at him.

He was very serious as he asked, "Do you really want my opinion on this?"

She smiled at him. "I know you stepped in because Dixie wasn't helping me the way she should have, and I will always be grateful for that."

He smiled back at her. "But I'm not one of your oldest friends, and you don't want my opinion on this."

She moved away from Edward so she could grip Nathaniel's arm. "No, that's not what I meant. I've come to value your opinion on so many things, Nathaniel. I admit that I invited you to be part of the wedding party with the idea that with you around Ted wouldn't be so tempted with Anita, but you turned into the best bridesmaid I've ever had."

He grinned at her. "Thank you. I've really enjoyed most of it."

Her own smile faded around the edges. "I'm sorry that Dixie kept trying to get you to complain about Anita."


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