Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 34

Listen Audio

"Because you were both working," I said.

"Yes," Bram said, leading us down a sidewalk with huge tropical plantings on either side.

"It was a business trip; Nathaniel knew that. It was even his idea to come with me on it." Micah sounded irritated.

"But this isn't a business trip and he's back at the pool by himself," I said.

Micah sort of marched through all the pretty landscaping like he wasn't seeing any of it. It made me jiggle his hand in mine to make him glance at me. "If you go out there angry, this will be a fight. Is that what you want?"

He stopped walking so abruptly that Bernardo almost ran into us. "Do you need some privacy?" he asked.

Bram just stopped on the path like a good bodyguard. The really good ones could make you forget they were there.

Micah shook his head and looked at me. His jaw was set in that determined line that could be anger or just stubbornness. Sometimes it helped get things done; sometimes it didn't. His stubbornness was like mine, part asset and part deficit, depending on the situation and what side of it you were standing on.

I watched the tension ease in his face, felt it ease in his hand. "No, I don't want to fight with Nathaniel."

"Good, me either."

"I couldn't have just left Andy at the bar to lose everything. It's my job to help people like him."

"It's not your job to be a taxi service for drunk strangers who are being self-destructive," I said.

"So you agree with Nathaniel that I should have just left Andy to his issues?"

"No, because if his secret comes out, then it endangers everyone else on the island, so I'm okay with helping him out this once."

"Didn't his wife say that she'd called other people and they refused to go get him this time?" Bernardo asked.

Micah looked up at him, and even through the sunglasses it wasn't entirely friendly.

"Sorry if it's not my business."

"Since you came to help us ride to the rescue, I'm okay with it," I said.

Micah let out a sharp breath of air. "What's your point, Bernardo?"

"The wife, Christy, called friends and family first, right?"

"I suppose," Micah said.

"People who would lose the most from the whole snake thing coming out, right?"

Micah nodded.

"But they were willing to let him hang in the wind. Ask yourself, how many times have they gone and gotten his ass? How many times have they cleaned him up and brought him home?"

"A lot, probably," Micah said.

"Not probably, Micah. They were willing to let the family secret out, to risk all of them, rather than go get Andy one more time. You only get to that point after years of this shit."

"Are you speaking from experience?" I asked.

"Not me, but my mom. It's why I ended up in foster care and why I stayed there until I was eighteen and could join the military."

"I'm sorry, I didn't know," Micah said.

"No one knows. I don't talk about it, but Nathaniel is up front about being an addict when he was on the streets. On one of his trips out to New Mexico for the wedding we talked. He has no sympathy for addicts that won't get help, especially ones that have a family and people depending on them."

Micah sighed and hugged me. "Was I wrong to help Andy?"

"I didn't say you were wrong," Bernardo said.

I pulled back enough from the hug so I could see Micah's face. "It's not about right and wrong sometimes; it's about seeing everyone's point of view."

"I'll add one thing for both of you," Bernardo said.

We looked up at him, and there was a seriousness to his face that I'd never seen before, or not about this kind of stuff. "Sure," I said.

"You are both serious white knights and serious sheepdogs, but you need to learn that there will always be people that need saving."

"I know that," I said.

"Then do you know that if you find a little happiness, people to love, that you should put them ahead of saving strangers? Not all the time--you both have your jobs--but from Nathaniel's point of view, this isn't a work trip, and this wasn't a work emergency. No one's life was in danger. There was no murder. This was an addict doing self-destructive shit, and last I checked that's not in either of your job descriptions."

We stared at Bernardo and then at each other and then back at him. "Have you been saving this up?" I asked.

"Like I said, Nathaniel and I talked."

Micah looked at Bram, who was standing just down the path like he heard nothing. "Do you want to weigh in on this?"

"Absolutely not."

"I think that's Bram-speak for don't drag me into this," I said.

Bram nodded. "Yes, ma'am."

"Let's go to the pool and talk to our shared boy."

Micah nodded. "Let's."

Bram led the way down the sidewalk, having to push some of the plantings away with his hand or get hit in the face. Micah and I were short enough to go under all of it, but I heard Bernardo moving the big leaves overhead as he came behind us. Being short wasn't always bad.


THE POOL WAS crowded enough that I couldn't see any of our people at first. I finally spotted Rodina sitting at a table under an umbrella. She was still dressed in street clothes, probably because it's nearly impossible to hide weapons in a woman's bathing suit. There were far too many drinks at the table for just her, but where was everyone else?

It was Bernardo who said, "There's Ted."

I didn't recognize Edward at first glance, first because his short blond hair looked different wet, and second because he was wearing swimming trunks. I don't think I'd ever seen him with so much skin showing. I'd seen him shirtless years ago, but I didn't remember him being in this good a shape. He had a six-pack, which takes a hell of a lot of work and nutrition. He was forty, but watching him walk to the edge of the pool, I'd have put him in his early thirties, tops. I knew he'd started worrying a little about his age, because fighting monsters was all about being physically fit whether you were running away from them or chasing them down. Apparently, he'd taken that worry and hit the gym and nutrition even harder than in the past.

Micah leaned in and whispered, "Most of the exotic dancers at Guilty Pleasures don't have abs that nice."

"Yeah, who knew?"

"You didn't know Edward looked that good out of his clothes?"

I shrugged. "I've never seen him out of his clothes."

A second man, whom I didn't recognize, came to stand beside Edward at the edge of the pool. The man had dark hair shaved close to his head, but not like military close, more like he was going bald, so he'd decided to shave it down rather than have that monkish fringe of hair. He wasn't fat by any means--he wasn't even exactly heavy--but he had enough body fat that he looked soft beside Edward's fierce leanness.

Someone else I didn't know called out, "Go!"

Edward leapt smoothly into the water. The dark-haired man followed a second later, not nearly as smoothly. Edward surfaced and started making for the opposite end of the pool in a strong Australian crawl, breathing easily with his strokes. I'd never truly mastered the stroke because I could never quite get my breathing in rhythm with my arms, so I ended up pretty much drowning myself when I tried it. I know, I know, it's supposed to be the easy stroke that everyone can do. The dark-haired man surfaced, gulping for air before he started doing a breaststroke that was surprisingly fast, closing in on Edward's lead rapidly. A dark-haired woman in a pink bikini was jumping up and down yelling, "Go, Paul, go!" Other women and some men who were already wet from the pool were yelling for Paul, too. Call it a hunch, but I was betting that the man racing Edward was named Paul.

We had people yelling for Edward--well, Ted--too. Bernardo joined in the yelling of "Go, Ted!" I felt silly but added my voice to theirs.

Paul didn't pass Edward, but he got within a body length before Edward reached the wall and a blond woman who looked like she was in her teens but was wearing a T-shirt over her bikini

that had Bride on it declared Edward the winner. It hadn't actually been that close. I mean, we could see from where we were standing at the halfway point that he'd won, but it was still gracious of her to declare him over Paul, who turned out to be her groom.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"You left the men unsupervised too long, Anita," Rodina said from the umbrella-covered table. I realized there were umbrellas in some of the drinks on the table, too.

"What does that mean, I left them alone too long?'

"You and Donna and the rest of the wives/girlfriends. You weren't here to be a civilizing influence and now they've challenged all the young studs to a swim meet."

I raised my eyebrows at that. "A swim meet--really?"

Edward came up to us, drying off his hair and upper body as he moved. Up close I could see a scar on his upper chest. I didn't normally notice it, but maybe the scar talk in New Mexico with Donna had made me notice it. I didn't know about any other scars, but I'd been with him when he took a wooden stake through the chest from a booby trap while we were trying to get a much younger Peter and Becca to safety. It had been the trip where I met them and Donna for the very first time.

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