Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 9

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That was news to me. I looked at Nathaniel, and he shrugged. "When it was just us girls"--he made quote marks around the last word--"Dixie tried to make it a bitching session about our significant others, like she tried to get Nicky to admit he felt left out of the kissing earlier."

"You never mentioned that to me."

"You've met Dixie before this. Are you really surprised?"

I thought about it for a second and then shook my head. "I guess not."

Nicky said, "Ten minutes, and then we have to leave."

"Dixie compares her husband, Ray, to any man she's around. 'Why can't you be in shape like Nathaniel? I bet he can lift more than you in the gym.' That kind of thing," Nathaniel said.

"You're almost the age of her oldest son. Ray can't compete with a younger version of himself," Donna said.

"She told him that Peter can lift more in the gym than he can now."

"I told her that was totally unfair, that it would be like comparing us to nineteen-year-old girls," Donna said.

Nathaniel smiled. "That did shut her up for a while."

"You'd kick her out of the wedding," Edward said.

The smile left Nathaniel's face as he answered, "Part of Dixie's bitchiness is because she's not the matron of honor. If you kick her out of the wedding completely, then the friendship is over. I wish I had any family or friends that had been in my life for twenty years. I won't be the deciding vote that ends a relationship that's lasted that long."

Donna hugged him and said, "And that is why you are the best bridesmaid ever."

Edward was looking at Nathaniel as if he wanted to say something to him.

"Time's up, or we're going to miss the flight," Nicky said.

And we had to leave it there, because Nathaniel was right: It had to be Donna's decision because Dixie was her friend, but she didn't have much time to decide. The wedding was in a week.


THE HOUR LAYOVER in Minneapolis turned into three because our first plane never got off the ground due to mechanical trouble. Hey, at least the issue happened while we were still on the ground and not in the air. I'd had mechanical issues happen in midflight before; it was one of the things that had contributed to my fear of flying. Five hours later we were almost home but got stuck in traffic out in front of the Circus of the Damned. Even though it was late, people were still lined up on the sidewalk to get into the remodeled warehouse that housed the Circus, and other people were driving by trying to find a parking place now that the customer lot was full. We were stuck in the traffic, inching along in front of the building. The huge fanged clowns still rotated endlessly on the roof, and large, lurid posters still covered the front of the building, though some of the acts had changed over the years. One poster showed a wolfman with blue eyes: Hear Professor Wolf Read from His Latest Book of Poetry. Zeke, like Micah, had been punished by the same sadistic ex-leader, forced into beast form until they couldn't come back completely. Micah had gotten lucky just losing his human eyes. Zeke had started the poetry as therapy to deal with all that he had lost, and then his wife suggested he put a video up of him reading his own poetry. He'd become an Internet sensation, and then there'd been that late-night show appearance, and suddenly Professor Wolf was one of our star attractions. Another poster showed a truly nightmarish image that looked as if it had been skinned alive: Come See the Nuckelavee, Fairy's Most Frightening Monster. I knew some other creatures of fairy that might argue the "most frightening" title, but nothing in our country could top him. We were almost at the end of the front of the warehouse when a poster proclaimed, The Lamia, Half Snake, Half Woman. The poster didn't really do Melanie justice: As a woman she was more beautiful, and her serpent half more sinuous. She'd tried to kill me when she first got to town years ago, but when we killed the ancient vampire who was controlling her, she stopped being on his side. Jean-Claude had offered her a job, and she'd been a big hit with the customers.

"Sorry that we hit traffic. If I'd been thinking it was Saturday night I would have avoided the front of the Circus," Millington said from the driver's seat.

"It's okay, Millie," Nicky said. "I didn't think about it being the weekend either."

"Thank you, sir," he said.

"Millie, I'm not a sir."

"Thanks, Nicky."

"Not a problem."

The SUV finally made the corner and started to leave the bright lights of the front behind us as I had an idea. Melanie only became a snake from the waist down, and she'd been born that way; as a lamia she was a partial shapeshifter, and it was inherited just like that of the snake shapeshifters in Florida Micah was trying to help. Why hadn't I thought of Melanie when Micah showed me the photos? Hell, why hadn't Micah thought of her? Though I wasn't sure that he'd ever met her in person, and the posters were purposely done in a rougher style, like an old-fashioned traveling carnival, so they looked half fake.

"What's wrong, Anita?" Nathaniel asked from beside me.

"Nothing's wrong; she's happy," Nicky said from the other side of him. The other bodyguards were in the front seats acting as chauffeur and riding shotgun.

"Her heart rate and breathing are up; that could mean something is wrong."

"I can feel that she's happy, not scared. If the two of you would drop more of your psychic shielding you'd be able to feel that, too."

"We like to keep a little more mystery in our romance," I said.

"I'm your Bride, Anita. You can't lie to me. I know that's not why you all still shield from each other."

"Let it go, Nicky."

"We do fine with a closer psychic connection. I don't know why the idea bothers you with Nathani

el and the others."

"I don't have a choice with a Bride. I have a choice with the others."

"I know, but what I don't know is why you choose to keep each other at the limits of your psychic connection."

"Drop it, Nicky, and by drop it, I mean stop talking about this."

"Whatever you say."

"Besides, I can lie to you. You'll just be able to tell I'm lying," I said.

"Not always. Sometimes it just feels like you're unhappy or cranky when you're lying."

"When has Anita lied to you?" Nathaniel asked.

"She hasn't, but she lies to other people when I'm with her sometimes."

"Stop talking about me like I'm not here."

"Sorry," they said together.


The back of the Circus was dark and quiet, with only a few streetlights illuminating the employee parking lot here and there. There were a couple of our guards on either side of the entrance. They waved us through, but if they hadn't recognized the car they would have stopped it and made sure it was an employee and not just a customer trying to find parking. Business was good, but we still weren't willing to give up part of the rear parking for customers. We were looking at buying a secondary lot and shuttling the crowds from there to here, but until we got that set up, the customers were parking anywhere they could. We parked in a spot near the door beside my Jeep.

If we hadn't had extra guards with us, I'd have just opened my own door, but they get testy if their protectees open their own doors, especially outside in open areas like parking lots. We were all equally well armed now, so why did I let Custer stand in front of my door on alert for me? Because it was his job and there were people who wanted me dead, and if that happened on his watch, I was pretty sure Jean-Claude would kill him. So, since my life and theirs might be on the line, I let Custer and Millie look around the darkened parking lot and decide it was safe before Custer opened my door for me and Millie stood on the other side of the door blocking me from the rest of the angles they could control. You can't control every angle in the open, you just can't, but good bodyguards can control most of them. Nathaniel got out on the other side when Nicky opened the door for him. We'd already discussed that he was in charge of Nathaniel's safety until we were inside. I wasn't completely comfortable with me having two guards on my side of the car and Nathaniel having only one, but three wasn't an even number of guards, so there had to be some unevenness on the coverage.

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