Bite (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #8.5)(15)


by Laurell K. Hamilton

“Yes,” I said.

One-word answers never hurt.

BITING IN PLAIN SIGHT

MaryJanice Davidson

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thanks to my editor, Cindy Hwang, for asking me. Thanks also to Laurell K. Hamilton, who so kindly shared a book signing (not to mention, two anthologies and counting!) with me. Thanks are also due to Patrice Michelle for a great title and, as always, thanks to my family for their support, blah-blah-blah, why are you reading this when you could be reading the story? Not that I mind. In fact, I appreciate it…I didn’t think anyone read these things. So thanks. But seriously. You should check out the story.

AUTHOR’S NOTE

There is a town called Embarrass, Minnesota, but it’s not as close to Babbitt Lake as I made it seem. However, vampires love the water and have been known to buy houseboats and even cruise ships.

Prologue

THE town knew Sophie Tourneau was a creature of the night, but they were careful not to ask too many questions. Even the town gossips, who would rather speculate than eat, were careful to restrain themselves.

Embarrass, Minnesota, knew several things and, most important, knew there were some things best left unsaid. The town knew, for example, that Sophie Tourneau (called “Dr. Sophie” by everyone since time out of mind) had come to live among them sometime in the middle of the last century. Some of the old-timers were sure she had come in the spring of 1965; others swore up and down that she hadn’t shown her pretty face until 1967.

They knew she lived in a houseboat down on Babbitt Lake, puttering to various islands on her days off, and her houseboat, The Hymenoptera, whatever the heck that meant, was often tied up on one of Babbitt’s many sand beaches. They knew she carried a cell phone and would instantly return to land to tend to her work if called.

They knew she was short, about five feet, two inches tall, and sweetly rounded in all the right places. They knew her hair was as black as blacktop and as straight as the path to hell, and that her eyes were a soft, velvety brown. They knew she was pale, and never had a tan, or even a sunburn, not even on the hottest nights. She didn’t get sweaty on the hottest nights, either.

And they knew, argue about her year of coming until they were blue, that she had been among them for at least four decades, and had not aged a day in all that time. Dr. Sophie still looked twenty-five years old. Children who had been in kindergarten the year she came were now grown, with children, and in some cases grandchildren, of their own. They were covering their gray or letting it all hang out, while Dr. Sophie still got carded if she tried to buy wine in the Cities.

Oh, and the town knew one more thing…she was extraordinary with animals. In a farming community like Embarrass, that counted for a lot. There wasn’t a dog with hay fever, a cow with mastitis, a cat with distemper, a horse with twins, that Dr. Sophie couldn’t manage, couldn’t gentle down and help.

Of course, she couldn’t help all of them. But she helped a damn goodly number of them. They never bit her, never fought. The town knew if you took your kid’s puppy to Dr. Sophie, you were likely to be able to put off the old “Scooter went to live on a farm with lots of other dogs” speech, often for years.

There were, of course, theories. Most of them were advanced by each generation’s crop of little boys. There were the usual dares, but they fell flat when Dr. Sophie caught them sneaking up to her houseboat (she always caught them; the woman had eyes in the back of her head and the ears of a bobcat) and invited them aboard for cookies. The children always came back, and with stories no more fantastic than, “She served us chocolate chip.”

But children did not disappear. Dr. Sophie was never spotted baying at the moon in the nude. She would come out at any time of the night, any night, to tend to an ailing animal, be it wild fox or prize bull. There were no cryptic messages left in blood, anywhere. If she didn’t keep daylight hours, well, that’s what they had Dr. Hayward for. If she didn’t go to church, well, who could blame her? In Embarrass you had your choice: you could be a Presbyterian or a lapsed Presbyterian. Plenty of people—well, some people—didn’t go to church. And if she wasn’t a regular goer, she always contributed to the fund-raisers or made baked goods when the occasion called for it.

Of course, there was something wrong about Dr. Sophie. No question. A beautiful, exotic woman who, even after all this time retained a slight French accent, a beautiful woman who did not age, who picked some tinpot little town to live in…or hide in. That was wrong. She was wrong. But nobody asked questions. Nobody showed up with pitchforks. She was the best veterinarian in the tri-state area; maybe even the country. Wrong or not, vampire or witch or gypsy queen or whatever she was, nobody wanted her to leave.

One person in particular.

1

“DR. Sophie?” An urgent rap on the screen door of her houseboat. She recognized the voice. Thomas “Don’t-call-me-Tommy” Carlson, the mechanic’s son. “Dr. Sophie, can I come in?”

“Come on in, Thomas.” She was checking her bag, having a good idea what the problem was. “Is Misty having trouble?”

In the manner of eight-year-old boys, Thomas slammed the screen door aside and jumped into the boat before it could rebound closed. The sound was not unlike rocks rolling across a parking lot. “She can’t get started, doc. She tries and tries, and she’s licking herself, like, all the time down there, yuck! But the kittens won’t come.”

“We’d better go give her a hand, then,” Sophie replied. “Lead the way.”

She followed the boy silently; the mechanic’s family lived on an old farm just down the road; it was a brisk ten-minute walk. She wondered idly why he hadn’t called her cell phone and saved himself a trip, then she remembered the indefatigable energy of children. She hadn’t realized how lost in thought she was until the child spoke again. “You’re missing Ed, are’ncha?”

“I—yes.”

“Well, he was old,” Thomas said in a tone that was both heartless and comforting.

“You,” Sophie said, smiling. “You think you’ll be eight forever.”

The truth was, she missed Ed dreadfully. She had known him since she was a child in Paris, and after she had been turned, he had come with her to America. She had bought him, a former banker trapped in the city his entire life, the home of his dreams; an enormous farm and all the livestock he could play with. In return, he had let her feed whenever she wished. Theirs was a comfortable relationship, one based on mutual need and friendship. She supposed he had been her sheep, but she despised that vampiric term. It denoted a relationship that was not equal, when, in fact, Ed called the shots. If anything, she had been his sheep.

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