Bite (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #8.5)(16)


by Laurell K. Hamilton

But she had been foolish to overlook the inevitable…that he would age and, someday, die. She had assumed her friend would be eternal, like her.

And now, she missed him dreadfully.

At the end, though she had begged, he had refused to let her turn him. “Yeah,” he’d croaked derisively, “this country needs an eighty-six-year-old vampire like I need another plate in my head. You think I want arthritis in my knees for all eternity? Don’t you touch me, young lady. You’re not too big to spank.” His raspy voice had softened as he looked into her dark eyes, took in her unlined face. He went on in French, their mother tongue. “You would not be doing it for me, anyway, yes? You’re just afraid to be alone. As old as you are, it’s time to learn. So don’t touch me. Let me go, Sophie.”

So she had acceded to his wish, and oh how bitter it was to watch him die, to see him buried in the cold earth. Worse than the steadily rising hunger was an even more basic need: she missed her friend.

Thomas, she noticed, was looking at her sideways. “Some of the guys were wondering.”

“Some of the guys are always wondering.”

“Yeah, but. Now that Ed’s dead. You know, we…they…were wondering if you were staying.”

“This is my home now,” she replied quietly. “It’s been my home for…for a long time.”

“Yeah, that’s what we think, too,” the child replied comfortably. “My dad says he was a kid when…I mean, we’re glad you’re staying.”

She glanced at the back of Thomas’s neck, tan and healthy and as wide as two pork loins placed side by side. Then she jerked her gaze elsewhere. That was no way to be thinking. She would not throw away everything she had made…. The town was curious, but a third-grader was out in the dark with her, and no one would question it, question him. Ed would be furious if she put that in jeopardy, and he would be right.

But she was a realist, and Ed’s death had presented special problems.

She sighed. She was old enough so it wasn’t a matter of urgency…yet. Meanwhile, there was Thomas’s cat. The work, the animals, the country, the people, those were always there, and worth staying for.

2

LIAM Thompson looked out his window and saw Sophie and the mechanic’s kid hurry by on the dirt road just outside his farm. Kid’s preggo cat must be having a hard time. Or the dog ate something out of the trash again.

Well, all right. That meant she’d probably go back to the office after she fixed whatever pet was sick. Sophie kept late hours, to put it mildly.

Liam looked around, but all the house cats were annoyingly healthy. So was his dog, Gladiator. The blue-eyed pup looked up at him as Liam prowled the house searching for sickness, his long tail making muted thumps on the hardwood floor.

“Well, shit,” Liam said in his deep radio announcer’s voice (not that he talked on the radio, but everyone in town told him he could). He went outside and checked the barn. No, all the barn cats looked perky, too, dammit. Cripes, how hard was it to get a sick cat when a guy needed one?

What was that?! One of the barn cats sneezed. Excellent! Could be a cold. Or pneumonia. Or cat flu. Or rabies. He scooped up the startled animal and hurried out of the barn.

WHEN Sophie returned to her office, she wasn’t surprised to see Liam Thompson waiting for her with what appeared to be a perfectly healthy cat. The cat’s ears were back and she looked resigned, as did all Liam’s pets when dragged to her examining room.

“What is it, Liam?” she asked, smiling. “Distemper? Swine flu? Mad cat disease?”

“She’s been sneezing and sneezing,” Liam told her. He was a fine-looking man, about six feet tall, with prematurely gray hair cut to Army regulation shortness and eyes the exact color of the faded blue jeans he wore. He appeared to have laugh lines, except no one in town could recall hearing him laugh, and his mouth was firm, his nose long and straight. His tan work shirt was rolled to the elbows, and, as always, he gave off the delightful scent of cotton and soap. She vastly enjoyed his company, even though he wasn’t much of a talker. That was all right. Neither was she.

“Well, bring her in,” Sophie said. “Let’s take a look.” It would be, she knew, a rather large waste of her time. Liam’s pets were hardly ever sick; she suspected he was a hypochondriac on their behalf. Still, it warmed her to see a man so concerned about animals. The few times one of his cats had been genuinely ill, she had caught it in plenty of time. The only thing Liam Thompson’s cats ever died of was old age.

“So…” Liam said.

“Yes,” Sophie replied. She quickly examined the cat, a pretty little mouse-colored shorthair, felis domestica, and found her to be in sound health, if…

“Well, you’re going to have kittens again.”

“Great,” he said. “I guess you’ll be around when her time comes, then.”

“I guess I will.” Liam always insisted she attend when his cats birthed. It wasn’t necessary, because one of the many things a cat could do well was have kittens, but he seemed to appreciate her presence. He always paid his bills promptly, too. He even paid them in person; he did not trust the mail.

“You know the drill,” she said. “I guess I will see you in about thirty days.”

“Yeah,” he replied, and scooped up the cat, and left.

“Good night,” she called after him, and he waved a blocky hand back in reply.

HE had to lean against the door of his truck for a minute before putting the cat inside and climbing in. God! God! God! She got prettier every time he saw her. Well, that wasn’t true; she looked exactly the same every time he saw her. Which was utterly, totally, completely beautiful.

Those velvety brown eyes! Those soft, red lips! Even the way she talked charmed the shit out of him. “You know zee drill.” And the way she said his name: “LEE-um.” Well, okay, everybody pronounced it like that, but Sophie gave it a special accented spin. He had been waiting twenty years—since he had become a legal adult—to declare his intentions, but he was as tongue-tied around her at thirty-eight as he had been when he was fifteen.

The thirty days stretched ahead of him like an endless tunnel.

He started the pickup and smiled down at the cat, which was busily grooming herself. “Good work,” he told her. “Thanks for getting knocked up.”

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