Belle glanced back once at Valentina and Bartolome as they stood in their shining white and gold clothes. That one glance back said worlds. I'd never be certain, but I think that Belle Morte felt guilty not just about Valentina, but about Bartolome. Valentina I understood because a vampire of Belle's making had done the unspeakable. But bringing Bartolome over as a child had been simply good business. I hadn't thought Belle Morte lost any sleep over good business. But she'd still condemned him to an eternity in a child's body. A child's body with a man's appetite forever. Belle let them stay, though the excuse was weak. Belle let them stay because guilt is a wonderful motivator even among the dead.
I woke in the dark with the comforting weight of bodies around me. I knew by the quality of darkness and the faint light from the nearby bathroom that I was in Jean-Claude's bed. I remembered Jean-Claude giving us the bed, because it was near dawn, and I don't think that either of us wanted a repeat of yesterday morning. Strangely, what had happened with Asher seemed to have sated my own ardeur.Or maybe I was just too tired. Once I would have assumed it meant I was gaining more control, but I'd stopped trying to second-guess the ardeur.I was wrong too often.
There really wasn't enough light to see clearly, but the tickle of curls along my cheek let me know it was Micah's face pressed into the hollow of my neck. His arm lay heavy and warm across my upper stomach, his leg entwined with my thigh. There was another arm across my hips, a second face pressed into my side, a second body curled into a tight ball against me. I didn't really need to touch the top of Nathaniel's head to know it was him.
The sliver of light from the bathroom showed a pale slender arm flung carelessly across Micah's one outstretched leg. The arm was all that was visible out of the covers. I knew the arm, and I knew somewhere under all the covers they'd stolen was Zane, and the rest of Cherry. I didn't mind sleeping in big warm piles, but I did mind sharing a large bed with such outrageous cover hogs. Cherry wasn't bad on her own, but put her with Zane, and you either fought for every inch of covers, which was not restful, or you gave up. I'd found that the silk sheets at Jean-Claude's were especially hard to keep track of in my sleep.
I wasn't sure what had awakened me, but I knew that the wereleopards had better hearing and better sense of smell than I did. If it hadn't alerted them, it was probably a dream.
Then I heard it, very, very faint. It was my phone, sounding like it was ringing from the bottom of a deep well. I tried to sit up, and couldn't. I was pinned by the two men.
There was a groan, and the slender arm across Micah's leg vanished under the dark bulk of sheet. The next moment there was a slithering sound, a thump, a curse, and the sound of clothes being pawed through. Cherry's voice was groggy as she said, "Yes."
Silence, then, "No, this isn't Anita, just a minute." Her other hand poked the dark bulk of the sheet at the foot of the bed. Zane's voice, "What!"
"Phone," she groaned.
His hand grabbed the phone, and before I could say anything, he said, "Hello."
Zane was quiet for a second, then, "Just a minute, she's here, hang on." A pale more masculine hand appeared out of the welter of sheets and handed the phone vaguely in my direction, but I was still pinned. The phone dangled just out of reach.
I finally had to push Micah's arm off me, and try and sit up. "Micah, move, I have to reach the phone."
He made a small inarticulate noise and rolled off me, to give me the long line of his back. Nathaniel took the phone from Zane's hand, before I could take it.
His voice was the most awake, "Whom may I say is calling?"
I was finally sitting up. "Give me the phone," I said.
Nathaniel handed me the phone with a, "It's Zerbrowski."
I hung my head for a second, sighed, and put the phone to my ear. "Yeah, Zerbrowski, what's up?"
"How many people you got in bed with you, Blake?"
"None of your business."
"One of them sounded like a girl. Didn't know you swung that way."
I pressed the button on my watch, so I could see the time on the light-up dial. "Zerbrowski, we've had about two hours of sleep. If you just called to check up on my sex life, I'm going back to sleep."
"No, no, sorry. It just," he laughed softly, "just caught me off guard. I'll try to keep the teasing to a minimum, but, damn, you don't usually give me this much ammunition. Can't blame me for getting distracted."
"Did I mention the two hours of sleep?"
"You did," he said, sounding depressingly wide awake. I was betting he'd had coffee.
"I'm counting to three, if you haven't said something interesting by the time I'm finished, I'm hanging up, and I'm turning off my cell phone."
"We've got a fresh murder scene."
I scooted up so my back was against the headboard. "I'm listening." Micah stayed curled on his side, back to me, but Nathaniel cuddled up close so he was still pressed around me. Cherry and Zane were motionless under the pile of sheets. I think they'd gone back to sleep.
"It's the shape-shifter ra**st again." The humor was leaking away from his voice, and he sounded tired. I wondered how much sleep he'd gotten last night.
I was wide awake now, my pulse fast in my throat. "When?"
"She was found just after dawn. We haven't been here long."
"I'll be there regardless, but is Dolph going to be there?"
"No," Zerbrowski said, "he's on leave." He lowered his voice, "Top brass told him he either takes voluntary leave with pay, or enforced leave without."
"Okay, where are you?"
It was Chesterfield again. "He's staying in a pretty small geographic area," I said.
"Yeah," Zerbrowski said, and that one word had so much tiredness.
I almost asked how he was holding up, but it's against the guy code. You're supposed to pretend you don't notice anything's wrong. Pretend, and it will go away. Sometimes, because I am a girl, I'll break the guy code, but today I let it stand. Zerbrowski had a long day ahead of him, and he was the man in charge. He couldn't afford to look at his feelings right now. It was more important that he held together than that he understood what he was feeling.
Zerbrowski started to give directions, and I had to tell him to wait until I had a pen and paper. There was no pen and paper anywhere in the room. I was finally reduced to writing directions in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. Zerbrowski was laughing his ass off by the time I found the lipstick and started drawing on the mirror.
He gasped a little, and finally managed to say, "Thanks, Blake, I so needed that."
"Glad I could brighten your day." I crawled back on the bed.
I thought about what Jason had said about a werewolf being able to follow the scent trail. I bounced the idea off of Zerbrowski.
He was dead silent for a minute. "There is no way I could get anyone to agree to letting another shape-shifter near this scene."
"You're the man in charge," I said.
"No, Anita, you bring another shifter around, and they're going to end up being questioned just like Schuyler did. Don't do it. This whole thing is going to turn into a witch hunt soon."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean they're starting to bring in all known shape-shifters for questioning."
"The ACLU is going to be up in arms," I said.
"Yeah, but not until they've held a few people over, and questioned them."
"It isn't one of the local lycanthropes, Zerbrowski."
"I can't tell the upper brass that our perp doesn't smell like the local werewolf pack, Anita. They'll say that of course the local wolves would say that, they don't want to be blamed for this shit."
"I believe Jason."
"Maybe I believe him, too, maybe I don't, but it doesn't matter, Anita. It really doesn't matter. People are f**king terrified. There's a rush bill in the state senate right now to declare varmint laws legal again in Missouri."
"Varmint laws, Jesus, Zerbrowski, you don't mean like some of the Western states still have on the books?"
"Yeah, kill it first, then if a blood test proves it's a lycanthrope, it's self-defense, not murder, and there's no trial."
"It'll never get into law," I said, and I was almost certain when I said it.
"Probably not right now, but Anita, we get a few more women torn up like this, and I don't know."