Bite (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #8.5)(3)

by Laurell K. Hamilton

“You did good bringing both pictures, Ms. Mackenzie, most people wouldn’t have thought of it.”

She looked up at that, almost managed a smile. “She looks so different depending on what she wears.”

“Most of us do,” I said.

She nodded, not like she was agreeing, but as if it were polite.

“How old is Barbara, her friend?”

“Eighteen, why?”

“I’ll send my friend, the private investigator over to talk to her, maybe meet me at the clubs.”

“Barbara won’t tell us who it is that’s been…” She couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence.

“My friend can be very persuasive, but if you think Barbara will be a problem I might know someone who could help us out.”

“She’s very stubborn, just like my Amy.”

I nodded and reached for the phone. I called Veronica (Ronnie) Sims, private detective and good friend first. Ms. Mackenzie gave me Barbara’s address, which I gave to Ronnie over the phone. Ronnie said she’d page me when she had any news, or when she arrived at the club district.

I dialed Zerbrowski next. He was a police detective and really had no reason to get involved, but he had two kids and he didn’t like the monsters, and he was my friend. He was actually at work, since he belonged to the Regional Preternatural Investigation Team and worked a lot of nights.

I explained the situation, and that I needed a little official muscle to flex. He said it was a slow night, and he’d be there.

“Thanks, Zerbrowski.”

“You owe me.”

“On this one, yeah.”

“Hmm,” he said, “I know how you could pay me back.” His voice had dropped low and mock seductive. It had been a game with us since we met.

“Be careful what you say next, Zerbrowski, or I’ll tell Katie on you.”

“My darling wife knows I’m a letch.”

“Don’t we all. Thanks again, Zerbrowski.”

“I’ve got kids, don’t mention it,” he said, and he hung up.

I left Ms. Mackenzie in the capable hands of our nighttime secretary Craig, and I went out to see if I could save her daughter’s life, and the “life” of the vampire that was a close enough personal friend to have bitten Amy twice on the very upper thigh.

THE vampire district in St. Louis was one of the hottest tourist areas in the country. Some people credit the undead with the boom we’ve experienced in the last five years since vampires were declared living citizens with all the rights and privileges that entailed, except voting. There was a bill floating around Washington that would give them the vote, and another bill floating around that would take away their new status and make it legal to kill them on sight again, just because they were vampires. To say that the United States was not exactly united in its attitude toward the undead was an understatement.

Danse Macabre was one of the newest of the vampire-run clubs. It was the hottest dance spot in St. Louis. We’d had actors fly from the West Coast to grace the club with their presence. It had become chic to hob-knob with vampires, especially the beautiful ones, and St. Louis did have more than its fair share of gorgeous corpses.

The most gorgeous corpse of them all was dancing on the main floor of his newest club. The floor was so crowded there was barely room to dance, but somehow my gaze found Jean-Claude, picked him out of the crowd.

When I first spotted him, his long pale hands were above his head, the graceful movement of those hands brought my gaze down to the whirl of his black curls as they slid over his shoulders. From the back with all that long hair the shirt was just scarlet, eye-catching but nothing too special, then he turned and I caught a glimpse of the front.

The red satin scooped over his bare shoulders as if someone had cut out the shoulders with scissors; the sleeves were long, tight to his wrists. The high red collar framed his face, made his skin, his hair, his dark eyes look brighter, more alive.

The music turned him away from me, and I got to watch him dance. He was always graceful, but the pounding beat of the music demanded movements that were not graceful but powerful, provocative.

I finally realized, as he took the woman into his arms, as she plastered herself against the front of him, that he had a partner. I was instantly jealous and hated it.

I’d worn the clothes I’d had on at the office, and I was glad that it was a fashionably short black skirt with a royal blue button-up shirt. A long black leather coat that was way too hot for the inside of the club and sensible black pumps completed the outfit, oh, and the shoulder holster with the Browning Hi-Power 9mm, which was why I was still wearing the coat. People tended to get nervous if you flashed a gun, and it would show up very nicely against the deep blue of the blouse.

To other people it must have seemed like I was trying to look cool, wearing all that leather. Nope, just trying not to scare the tourists. But nothing I was wearing compared to the sparkling, skintight dress and spike heels the woman had on; nope, I was woefully under-dressed.

It had been my choice to stay away from Jean-Claude for these last few months. I’d let him mark me as his human servant to save his life and the life of the other boyfriend I wasn’t seeing, Richard Zeeman, Ulfric, wolf-king of the local pack. I’d done it to save them both, but it had bound me closer to them, and every sexual act made that mystical tie tighter. We could think each other’s thoughts, visit each other’s dreams. I’d fallen into Richard’s dreams where he was in wolf form chasing human prey. I’d tasted blood underneath a woman’s skin because Jean-Claude had been sitting beside me when he thought of it. It had been too much for me so I’d fled to a friendly psychic who was teaching me how to shield myself metaphysically from the boys. I did okay, as long as I stayed the hell away from both of them.

Watching Jean-Claude move like he was wed to the music, to the room, to the energy, anticipating not just the music but the movements of the woman who was in his arms made me want to run screaming, because what I really wanted to do was march over there and grab her by her long hair and punch her out. I didn’t have that right, besides they were only dancing. Sure.

But if anyone would be able to tell me who was about to bring Amy Mackenzie over to be the undead, it would be Jean-Claude. I needed to be here. I needed the information, but it was dangerous, dangerous in so many ways.

The music stopped for a few seconds, then a new song came on, just as fast, just as demanding. Jean-Claude kissed the woman’s hand and tried to leave the dance floor.

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