I still had to walk the circle backwards and uncast it. Normally, I don't have an audience for that part. The zombie goes back in the grave, everyone leaves. But Conroy of Fidelis Insurance was arguing with the judge, who was threatening to cite him for contempt. And Mrs. Bennington was not in a condition to walk yet.
The police were standing around watching the show. Lieutenant Nicols looked at me and shook his head, smiling. He walked over to me as the circle went down, and I began to clean my new wound with antiseptic wipes.
He lowered his voice so the truly grieving widow wouldn't hear him. "You could not pay me enough to let that thing suck my blood."
I half-shrugged, holding gauze over my finger so it would stop bleeding. "You'd be surprised what people pay for this kind of work."
"It ain't enough," he said, an unlit cigarette already in his hand.
I started to give some flip answer, when I felt the presence of a vampire, like a chill across my skin. Out there in the dark, someone was waiting. There was a gust of wind, and there was no wind tonight. I looked up, and no one else did, because humans never look up, never expect death to fall upon them from the sky.
I had seconds to say, "Don't shoot, he's a friend," before Asher appeared in our midst, very close to me, his long hair streaming behind him, his booted feet touching down. He was forced to make a half running step to catch the momentum of his flight, which brought him to my side.
I turned and put myself in front of his body. He was too tall for me to cover all of him, but I did my best, moving us so that if anyone shot at him they'd risk hitting me. Every policeman, every bodyguard had drawn a gun, and every barrel was pointed at Asher, and at me.
I stared at the half circle of guns, trying to keep an eye on everyone at once and failing, because there were too many of them. I kept my hands out from my body, fingers spread, universal sign for I'm harmless.I didn't want anyone thinking I was going for my own gun, that would be bad.
"He's a friend," I said, voice a little high, but otherwise calm.
"Whose friend?" Nicols asked.
"Mine," I said.
"Well, he ain't my friend," one of the uniforms said.
"He's not a threat," I said, pressing my body back enough that I could feel Asher in a long line against me.
He said something in French, everybody gripped their guns a little tighter. "English, Asher, English."
He took a deep shuddering breath. "It was not my intent to frighten anyone."
Not too long ago, the police were allowed to shoot a vampire on sight, just for being a vampire. It had only been five years since Addison V. Clark had made vamps "alive" again, at least to the law. They were citizens with rights now, and shooting them without just cause was murder. But it still happened now and then.
"If you shoot with me in the way, you can all kiss your badges good-bye."
"I don't have a badge to lose." It was Balfour, of course, being tough, but he had a big gun to go with his big talk.
I looked at him. "If you shoot, you better kill me, because you won't get a second chance."
"Nobody's shooting anybody," Nicols said, and I was close enough to hear him mutter, "damn it," under his breath.
He'd moved his gun to point at the bodyguards. "Put the guns down, now." The other policemen followed his lead, and suddenly the circle of guns was pointed away from me, and at Balfour and Rex. I let out a breath I hadn't realized I was holding, and sagged a little against Asher.
He knew better than to have surprised a bunch of humans, especially policemen, by flying into their midst. Nothing freaked people out like seeing vampires do things that were impossible. He'd also spoken in French, which meant he was scared enough, or angry enough, to have forgotten his English. Something was very wrong, but I couldn't question him, not yet. First, get out of the line of fire, then fix the rest.
We were standing so close together that his wavy golden hair brushed against my own black curls. He put his hands on my shoulders, and I could feel the tension. He was scared. What had happened?
The police had convinced the bodyguards to put their guns away. The uniforms divided up and walked the two interested parties back to their respective cars. It left Nicols, the judge, and the court reporter standing near us. At least the court reporter wasn't still typing.
Nicols turned to me, his gun pointed downward, tapping a little against the leg of his slacks. He frowned, eyes flicking to Asher, then to me. He knew enough not to risk staring the vampire in the eyes. They could bespell you with their eyes, if they wanted to. I was immune because I was the human servant of the Master Vampire of the City. Through Jean-Claude I was safe from most of what Asher could do. Not all, but most.
Nicols was obviously unhappy. "Okay, what was so damned urgent that he had to fly in here like that?"
Damn, he was too good a cop. Even though he'd probably dealt very little with vampires, he'd made the logic jump that only an emergency would make Asher appear as he had.
His eyes flicked up to Asher again, then down to my face. "It's a good way to get yourself shot, Mr. . . ."
"Asher," I answered for him.
"I didn't ask you, Ms. Blake. I asked him."
"I am Asher," he said in a voice that fell on the air like a caress. He was using vampire powers to make himself more acceptable. If Nicols figured out what he was doing, it would backfire. But it didn't.
"What's wrong, Mr. Asher?"
"Just Asher," and the voice glided across my skin so soothing. I had some immunity to the voice, but Nicols didn't.
He blinked, then frowned, puzzled. "Fine, Asher, what the hell is the rush?"
Asher's fingers tightened minutely on my shoulders, and I felt him take a breath. I had a second to hope that he wasn't going to try an Obi-Wan on Lieutenant Nicols. You know, these are not the droids you're looking for.Nicols was stronger willed than that.
"Musette has been gravely injured. I came to take Anita to her side."
I felt the color drain from my face, my breath caught in my throat. Musette was one of Belle Morte's lieutenants. Belle Morte was the fountainhead, le sourdre de sangof Jean-Claude and Asher's bloodline. She was also a member of the Council of Vampires that had a home base somewhere in Europe. Every time council members had visited us, people had died. Some of them ours, some of them theirs. But Belle Morte had never sent anyone, until now. There had been some careful negotiations about Musette coming over for a visit. She was due three months from now, just after Thanksgiving. So what the hell was she doing in town a month and some change before Halloween? I didn't for a minute believe Musette was hurt. That was Asher's sneaky way of telling me how bad things were in front of witnesses.
I didn't have to pretend to be shocked, or scared. My face must have looked like someone who'd just gotten bad news. Nicols nodded, as if satisfied. "You close to this Musette?"
"Lieutenant, can we please go? I want to get there as soon as possible." I was already looking around for my gym bag. I was glad it was already packed. My skin was cold with the thought of what Musette might be doing right now to people I cared about. The very mention of her name had always been enough to make Jean-Claude and Asher go pale.
Nicols nodded again, putting up his gun. "Yeah, go on. I hope . . . your friend is okay."
I looked up at him, and didn't try to hide the confusion in my eyes. "I hope so, too." I wasn't thinking of Musette, I was thinking of everyone else. So many people she could hurt if she had the blessing of the council, or at least the blessing of Belle Morte. I'd learned that council politics meant that having one member as an enemy didn't mean that the others hated you. In fact, many of the council seemed to believe the old Sicilian adage, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
The judge murmured his thanks, and hopes for speedy recovery of my friend. The court reporter didn't say anything--she was gazing at Asher as if mesmerized. I didn't think he'd bespelled her, more like she'd never seen anything so beautiful. Maybe she hadn't.
His hair in the reflected glow of the headlights was truly gold, a curtain of nearly metallic waves flowing like a shining sea across the right side of his face. The hair looked even more gold against the dark brown of his silk shirt. The shirt was long-sleeved and untucked over blue jeans and brown boots. He looked like he'd dressed in haste, but I knew that was how he usually dressed. He made sure that the left side of his face, that most perfect of profiles was what showed to the light. Asher was a master at using light and shadow to highlight what he wished seen, and hide what he did not. The one eye that was visible was a clear, pale blue like the eyes of a Siberian husky dog. Human beings just didn't have eyes like that. Even in life he must have been extraordinary.