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Danse Macabre (Vampire Hunter 14) - Page 60


I stared up at him, scared, and not liking it. I could be scared, or I could get angry. Guess which I picked. "The beast blocks the necromancy. Once I give in to one hunger that completely, the others go away."

"Are you a hundred percent sure of that?" he asked.

I opened my mouth to say yes, then hesitated.

Micah answered for me, patting my arm as he did so, "No."

No was truthful, but... "So what do we do?"

"You have to have at least one shapeshifter with you at all times, someone powerful enough to handle the emergency."

"Handle how?" I asked.

"Keep you from hurting anyone too badly."

"Who's on the list of powerful enough?" I asked.

"Me, Claudia, Fredo, Lisandro, Socrates, Brontes, Bobby Lee, Mickey, Ixion. A lot of the wererats are ex-military and mercs. But some of them are better at killing than minimizing the damage." He shrugged. "Claudia and Bobby Lee will be in charge of the list, but I know that you won't be left with just Graham and Clay again. Maybe one of them, but they'll need to be paired up with someone with more real-world experience."

"Real-life experience?" I made it a question.

"Ex-military, merc, ex-cop, professional bodyguard. Raphael recruits from some very hardcore places."

"Narcissus doesn't?" I asked.

Remus shrugged again. "He does now. He lost nearly three hundred men when Chimera took them over. They slaughtered them. Narcissus had a lot of muscle and athletes, but he didn't have many real fighters. One of the reasons that the werehyenas got taken over by such a small force was that they weren't the real deal. Narcissus found out that martial arts training doesn't stand up to true warriors. War ain't an Olympic event; it's no place for amateurs."

"And you are not an amateur," Jean-Claude said in that pleasant, empty voice.

"No, sir," Remus said, "I am not."

25

I WENT TO the bathroom for a few minutes and came back out to find that Jean-Claude wasn't the only vampire in the bedroom. Elinore stood near the bed. She was dressed in a white gown with a high lacy collar and a cream robe that managed to look graceful, and not like jammies at all. Her long blond hair fell in a pale wave around her body, like a second robe, so long. She was a vision in pale delicate colors, then she looked at me. Her eyes were a pale icy blue, the wrong color of blue for that delicate face. Her face was a near-perfect oval, dainty and unreal, as if someone had carved her from some white, pure rock, and breathed life into her. Unless she worked at it, hers was a cold beauty. If her eyes had been a brighter blue, I think it would have made her look warmer. The eyes gave the lie to the rest of her. The eyes were serious, careful, watchful. Hidden under all those clothes was a round, curvy body, soft. She didn't believe in weight lifting, too unladylike. But she had a body that was as lovely and desirable as the face, if a little soft for my tastes. She had the blond Nordic beauty that I'd craved as a child. Craved so I'd fit in with my blond, blue-eyed father and his new family.

I'd tried to hate her, just on principle. I'd failed, why? Under that ladylike exterior she was tough, fair, and harder than a box of nails. She just hid it much better than I did. We got along. Besides, all the male vamps were prettier than me, why shouldn't some of the female vamps be prettier, too?

"Elinore," I said, "what..." I checked my wristwatch. "What are you doing awake before noon?"

"That is what I was asking Jean-Claude," she said in that silky voice that matched all the lace and cream satin.

Jean-Claude looked at me from where he sat on the edge of the bed. He was in his black brocade robe with all the fur on it. They looked like opposite ends of a dream; one so pale, the other so dark.

"All our people have gained from what we did last night, ma petite." He motioned toward Elinore. "This is proof of just how much they may have gained."

I started walking around the end of the bed toward them. "Is this the earliest you've woken as a vampire?"

She nodded.

"How do you feel?" I asked.

She seemed to take the question seriously. She screwed that pretty little face up in a look of concentration. I was never sure if Elinore really had that many cute mannerisms or whether she'd spent so many centuries using them as camouflage that she couldn't get rid of them now. Whatever, she was always doing things that made me think, little girl, doll-like, cute. Until she decided not to be cute; then she was positively frightening. I wondered how many enemies had been lured in by that softness only to find the steel dagger inside all that silk. If I'd been willing to play to my packaging, I might have pulled it off, but it just wasn't in me to try.

"I feel fine," she said at last.

"Have you fed?" I asked.

"Can you not tell?" she asked, giving me a very direct blue gaze.

"You always look a little ethereal to me, so no. I can't tell with you."

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She gave a small smile. "Quite a compliment that the Executioner cannot tell whether I've fed."

"Do you feel the thirst?" Jean-Claude asked.

She thought about that for a second, making the pretty little face. "No. I could feed, but I do not have to."

I felt a stab of triumph from Jean-Claude. Triumph, and right on its heels, fear. Then he closed the leak in his shields tight.

"Why afraid? Why triumphant? Why both?" I asked.

"Jean-Claude fed the ardeur well and truly last night, and it is sustaining me. That is very impressive," Elinore said.

"Yeah, I get that, but..." I tried to think how to form the question. "Why are you both so pleased?"

"If we wished to travel as a group in countries where we are illegal, only one of us would need to feed. It would mean Jean-Claude could take quite a large group of his own vampires into another territory without leaving much evidence behind. Certainly we could hide from the human authorities."

"But we're not going to invade anyone's territory."

"No," Jean-Claude said, "but it is always good to have options, ma petite.'"

"Where's your sweetie? Your knight?"

"He did not wake with me," and there was just a hint of sadness to that.

"So are you the only one who gained--" There was a knock on the door.

"Yes, Remus," Jean-Claude called.

Remus opened the door and closed it behind him. "Requiem is out here."

"Requiem," Elinore said, "interesting."

"Send him in, Remus," Jean-Claude said.

He held Jean-Claude's gaze for a moment, then looked down, and did his talking to the side of the face. "All right, but if anyone else shows up early like this, I will have to insist that you let two of the guards inside the room. So whatever secret shit you're discussing, discuss fast."

"You really think there's going to be that many more vamps waking up this early?" I asked.

"Yeah, I think there will be."

"We will discuss whether guards come back inside when someone else comes to my door," Jean-Claude said. "Let Requiem pass, Remus."

Remus's face struggled; he didn't like it. "I am caught between masters here. Claudia says don't leave you guys alone. You say I can't stay. We need a chain of command here."

"Too many generals," I said.

He gave me a quick, direct glance. "Yes."

"I am sorry, Remus," Jean-Claude said, "but Elinore's arrival has changed things."

"Fine, but Requiem is the last, or I'm calling Claudia and telling her I can't guard you, because you won't let me."

"As you see fit, Remus."

He gave another angry look around the room, then opened the door. A moment later Requiem glided through the door. He had his black, hooded cloak close around his body, so that the only thing that showed was the spill of his Vandyke beard framing the curve of his lips.

"How badly are you hurt, mon ami?" Jean-Claude asked.

Requiem shrugged back the hood without using his hands, the way you'd flip long hair behind your back. The hood slid down and the right side of his face was a mass of deep-purple bruises. One of his eyes was almost swollen shut, just a glimpse of that startling bright blue that had made Belle Morte try to buy Requiem from his original master. Belle had wanted to have a matching set of blue-eyed men. Asher's were the palest blue; Jean-Claude's the darkest; Requiem's the brightest. His master had refused, and they had fled France.

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