Home > Crimson Death

Crimson Death(Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #25)(15) by Laurell Kaye Hamilton

“MA PETITE, I do not believe that it is an outside force that has cost you time.”
“Then what was it?” I demanded, as I paced the room. We were back in his bedroom but had to sit in the chairs around the faux fireplace, because the bed where he usually liked to lounge had been reduced to nothing but the bed frame. The custom-made mattress and bed frame were ruined by the blood that Damian had shed. The cleanup crew that was made up of our own people wouldn’t guarantee that they could fix it. It would take weeks or even months to get a custom replacement.
He glanced at Nathaniel, who had curled up in front of the electric fire wearing nothing but a pair of silky black shorts and the long braid of his hair.
“Cats always find the warmest place in a room,” Jean-Claude said.
“I wish you would let the electric fire run when we sleep in here,” Nathaniel said.
“I cannot trust that it will not spark and catch fire while I am unable to save myself.”
“Modern electricity is a lot safer than it used to be,” Nathaniel said.
Jean-Claude nodded. “Logically, yes, but some worries are not about logic.”
“We have another big bad vampire attacking us and you’re worried about being warm while we sleep. If I were any warmer sleeping between you and Micah, I’d melt.”
“I’m usually on the end, so warmer would be good for me,” Nathaniel said.
“How can you be so calm?” I asked him.
He shrugged and stared at the flickering flames. “The ardeur was fed. We all feel better. Damian is even dead for the day. Nothing seems to be wrong; why aren’t you calmer?” He looked up at me as I paced.
“Our pussycat is right about one thing, ma petite. There seems to be no harm done.”
“This time, this time no harm is done, but one thing I’ve learned is that once one of these fuckers starts messing with us, they don’t stop until they get bored, or hurt us.”
“Do you agree, pussycat, that whoever did this will not stop until they are bored or hurt us?”
Nathaniel shook his head. “I don’t think they’ll get bored.”
I looked from one to the other of them, because I realized I was missing something. “What does everyone else in this room know that I don’t?”
They exchanged a look, and Jean-Claude gave a small wave of his hand toward the other man. “Do I have to?” Nathaniel asked.
“Yes, mon minet, you do.”
“What does Nathaniel have to do?” I asked.
“Tell you the truth.”
“About what?” I asked.
Nathaniel hugged his knees to his chest and looked at the floor rather than at me. That was never good. “It wasn’t a vampire that mind-rolled you.”
“Then what was it?”
He glanced up. “Don’t be mad. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know I could.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“You were conflicted about feeding on Damian for the ardeur. You were conflicted about the three of us being together like you always are.”
“I’m not conflicted.”
“I know that you’d love it if the three of us were a real threesome in a sexual way at least.”
“I don’t understand why you don’t see Damian as yummier than you do.”
“His conflicts and mine get in our way,” I said.
“Mine don’t get in my way.”
“You don’t have any conflicts about the three of us being closer,” I said.
I frowned at him.
“You must be more forthright with ma petite, Nathaniel. You know this.”
Nathaniel sighed. “The two of you were letting it all get away from us again, and I wanted it to work, so I made it work.”
I frowned harder. “I don’t understand.”
“It is not some outside force attacking us, ma petite, but those inside growing into their power.”
“I still don’t understand.” And then suddenly I did understand, or thought I did. “Wait. You mean that Nathaniel mind-rolled me.”
“I didn’t mean to do that part, but I wanted you and Damian to be with me, for us all to be together.”
“What did you do?” I asked, coming to stand in front of him.
He rounded his shoulders and hunched up. “You looming over me isn’t helping.”
“You’re taller than I am.”
“It is not about physical height, ma petite, and you know this.”
“Fine,” I said, and backed up so I wasn’t looming. I stood there, arms crossed under my breasts, trying not to scowl at him and probably failing.
“I wanted it to work between us.”
“Wait. I remember you saying something: I want this, you said.”
“Your eyes were glowing lavender, so it was your power, not some interloper’s, because then your eyes would have been the color of whoever was trying to take us over.”
“Damian’s eyes glowed his color, and yours glowed to your power. It was all us, just us.”
I shook my head. “So why don’t I remember?”
“This was his first time being in charge of your metaphysical union, ma petite. I believe he used more power than was needed, but he did not realize that until you had no memory of it.”
“Did we all have unprotected sex? I mean, did you think to grab a condom for Damian?”
Nathaniel looked miserable. “No, I got carried away with it all. I’m sorry, truly sorry about that part.”
“Normally I would be more angry about that,” Jean-Claude said, “but ma petite is on birth control other than condoms. Damian is also older than even I am, so it is unlikely that he would be fertile. If you had to make that mistake with anyone, he is a good choice.”
“Thank you for not being angry,” Nathaniel said.
“He’s not angry, but I am.”
“I didn’t know I could be in charge of us all. You both simply said yes to what I wanted. I asked for permission several times and you both said yes.”
“Yes to what?” I asked.
“Let’s just say that I hope Damian either remembers saying yes to me or doesn’t remember anything at all.”
I shook my head. “What did you do to our heterosexual vampire boy?”
“I didn’t do anything to him, exactly.”
“Then what exactly did you do to him?”
He turned his head to one side, and finally moved his braid to one side to expose more neat fang marks in the side of his neck. “He wanted to have sex again.”
“So you supplied the blood for the next go-round,” I said.
He let his braid fall back over it. “For round two, yes.”
“How many rounds were there?” I asked suspiciously.
He grinned, but the look that went with it said he was far too pleased with himself.
“How many, Nathaniel?”
He opened his knees and moved his shorts out of the way to show another neat bite on his inner thigh.
I reached down toward my leg. “I didn’t notice one when I got dressed.”
“You were pretty upset when you dressed,” he said, giving a small smile. He was trying not to look happy, but failing. I appreciated the effort not to piss me off more. It wasn’t working, but I appreciated the effort.
“Four times, really? Four times with no condom—that’s upping the odds a little too much, Nathaniel,” I said. I let the frown go to the scowl I’d been wanting to have for the last fifteen minutes.
“It didn’t up your chances four times, and I don’t have to worry about getting pregnant.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
Jean-Claude laughed, loud and long, head back, mouth so wide open that he was flashing not just his fangs but almost every sparkling tooth in his head.
I turned the scowl on him. “What is so fucking funny?”
“Ma petite, Nathaniel was gallant enough to use his body to protect yours.”
“What?” I asked.
“You and Damian kept saying yes. How was I supposed to know that you weren’t sober enough to give permission?”
I’d been slow on the uptake, because I was angry and it was easier to just be angry instead of listening, but Nathaniel deserved better than that from me. I loved him, was in love with him, would have married him if I could have married more than just one man.
I took in a deep breath and let it out slow, counting my breaths, calming my body to calm the rest of me. Anger and blaming everyone else were easy. It had kept me emotionally safe for years, and emotionally isolated. I’d made the choice that I didn’t want to do that anymore, which meant I had to choose something else to do. I’d decided what didn’t work in my life; I was still working at what to put in its place that did work.
“Are you well, ma petite?”
I nodded. “I’m trying to be.” I went to Nathaniel and offered him my hand. He looked up at me, then took my hand.
“I’m really sorry, Anita. I swear to you that I thought you and Damian were enjoying everything as much as I was.”
“I believe you.”
He smiled and squeezed my hand. “I love you.”
“I love you more.”
“I love you most,” he said.
“I love you mostest,” I said, smiling. Usually Micah was there to help us finish the litany, but it worked for just the two of us.
“I don’t know what Damian will think when he wakes up for the night, but I’m okay.”
“I think, ma petite, mon minet, it will depend on whether Damian received or gave attention.”
“I received,” Nathaniel said. “A lot of heterosexual men are willing to do it, but being on the other side of things weirds them out more. I didn’t push.”
“It can be difficult to tell the difference between normal persuasion and vampiric powers at first,” Jean-Claude said.
“I didn’t expect to have vampiric powers,” Nathaniel said. “I thought only Anita and Damian had ‘powers.’” He made air quotes with his free hand when he said powers.
“Richard is stronger for being a part of our triumvirate,” Jean-Claude said.
“He’s the leader of the local werewolves. He started stronger,” Nathaniel said.
“Do not underestimate yourself, Nathaniel. There are different kinds of power. You have done something that Richard has never managed to do.”
“He’s tried to bespell me before,” I said.
“But never successfully, and this was very successful,” Jean-Claude said.
“I hope that Damian agrees with the successful part when he wakes up,” Nathaniel said.
“One problem at a time, pussycat.”
My phone rang and it was Edward’s ringtone.
Nathaniel squeezed my hand and said, “It’s Edward. Take it.”
I pulled out my phone and said, “I’m here . . . Ted.”
“We don’t have to pretend right now,” he said.
“Okay, what’s up, Edward?”
“I told the police you had a vampire that knows the older vampires here.”
“If you bring him to help us talk to them, the police would agree to you coming in to consult.”
“I can’t agree to Damian coming back into Ireland, Edward. He feels like he barely escaped the first time.”
“This time we know the vampires are here and real. Damian can come in with the full protection of the police.”
“You don’t know what you’re asking, Edward.”
“I know people are dying, Anita. I know more are going to die if we don’t figure out how to stop this.”
“It’s just a bunch of vampires, Edward. You know how to kill vampires. Kill them and get out of there.”
“The local police aren’t letting me off leash much.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means that the Irish are having trouble deciding how to deal with the vampires.”
“Have you found the vampires that are doing this?”
“Not yet, but when we do the Irish still don’t have a death penalty.”
“Wait. Are you seriously telling me that when you finally trace these bastards down, the locals aren’t going to kill them?”
“You know better than I do that vampires can become good little citizens, Anita.”
“Not if they’re doing this kind of shit, Edward.”
“I’ll bet if you ask your fiancé what he did when he first rose from the grave it won’t be any worse than this.”
Jean-Claude had heard both ends of the conversation, of course. He said, “When the bloodlust first rises we all do horrible things, unless our masters lock us away for those first nights.”
I looked at him while I said to Edward, “No one’s innocent, I guess, but whoever is doing this in Ireland is killing people now, not hundreds of years ago.”
“I guess that does make it worse,” he said, his voice very dry.
“I can’t ask Damian to go back to Ireland.”
“Anita, his old master was so scary that she spooked you, but just a few years later she’s lost enough power that she can’t control a bunch of new vampires. What changed?”
“Damian won’t know the answer to that.”
“No, but he will know more about the local vampires than anyone else here, because he was one of them.”
“I can’t promise that he’ll agree to come, Edward.”
“Aren’t you his master?”
“I won’t force him, Edward.”
“I don’t ask for help often, Anita, but I’m asking now.”
“Has something else happened, Edward?”
“Two more bodies.”
“You’ve seen dead bodies before, Edward.”
“I’d rather stop seeing them here, Anita.”
“What aren’t you telling me, Edward?”
“Are kid vampires more likely to attack other children?”
“Sometimes. It’s easier for them to subdue them physically. Even modern kids who are warned against pedophiles trust other kids. Crap, the last two victims were kids.”
“Kids are always hard.”
“You don’t have kids of your own yet, Anita; once you do you’ll understand.”
“I’m not planning to ever have kids, Edward.”
“Neither was I.”
“I think I can avoid dating people who already have a family,” I said.
“That’s what I thought, too.”
“I’ll talk to Damian when he wakes up for the night, but don’t hold your breath.”
“I can send you the latest pictures, Anita. It might change his mind.”
“I doubt it.”
“It might change yours.”
“Me coming was always on the table.”
“I’ve been trying to find the older vamps, Anita. It’s like they aren’t here.”
“They’re there, Edward. I promise you that.”
“Then help me find them.”
“Damian won’t be awake for hours yet.”
“Let me know when he wakes up. Maybe I can help persuade him.”
“Have you and Damian ever had a conversation?”
“Then what makes you think you can be more persuasive than I can?”
“You don’t get desperate easily, Edward; what aren’t you telling me?”
“I have that feeling, Anita. That feeling that says things are going to get worse.”
It wasn’t like him to be this spooked. “Guard your ass.”
“Don’t I always?”
“Yeah, you do, but I feel like you’re leaving stuff out.”
“Don’t I always?” he said.
“Yeah, you do.” I sighed.
“Call me with Damian’s answer,” he said. He hung up.
“Fuck,” I said to the phone.
“What’s wrong?” Nathaniel asked.
“More dead in Ireland. Apparently one of the vampires has a taste for kids.”
“I didn’t think vampires attacked children that often,” Nathaniel said.
“We do not,” Jean-Claude said.
“Their throats are so tiny that a good bite can close down the blood supply, so why attack them?” I asked.
“Ask Edward to send you photos of the new victims. If their throats are intact and the bites dainty enough, then the new Irish vampires may be breaking one of our few strict taboos.”
“You mean they’re making new child vampires,” I said.
Jean-Claude gave a small nod. He didn’t try to hide the anger on his face. “I am only king of America, but if they are doing this, then they must be stopped. It is forbidden to bring children over for a reason.”
“As king of America you have no authority outside this country, right?”
“The only authority in Ireland was Damian’s old master. If she cannot police her country’s newest members better than this, then something has gone very wrong.”
“What could have damaged her power this badly in just a few years?” I asked.
“You have felt her power from a distance, ma petite, Nathaniel. I have felt her power in person. I can conceive of nothing that could leave her toothless and powerless before any foe, save for the Mother herself.”
“This feels like new monsters, not old ones,” I said.
“Agreed, ma petite, but powerful new ones.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s old power or new,” Nathaniel said. “We need to stop whoever is doing this.”
“Yeah, we do,” I said.
“We are agreed,” Jean-Claude said.
We were all agreed, and that was great, but what we needed was a plan. Edward was asking for help. He almost never asked for help. One of the scariest vampires around seemed powerless in the face of whatever was happening in her country, or maybe she just didn’t care.
I asked Jean-Claude, “Could She-Who-Made-Damian just not give a damn?”
“What do you mean, ma petite?”
“Could she just not care enough to police the new vampires?”
“Do you mean, has she given up?”
“I mean, is she old enough that she just isn’t moving with the times? Some of them do that, right? They just refuse to accept change and sort of hide from it all.”
“It has happened, but in the past the council did not allow it to disrupt business as usual.”
“You mean that the Mother of All Darkness would send the Harlequin out to see what was wrong and fix it.”
“Oui, that is what I mean.”
“We killed the Mother of All Darkness, and most of the Harlequin work for us now.”
“That is true, ma petite.”
Nathaniel looked from one to the other of us. “Were they doing something that we aren’t doing now?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Jean-Claude is in charge of the new power structure, but it’s not like the old one. It’s mostly just us here in America. The old council ran things differently, right?” Nathaniel said.
“They were concerned with more of the world than we are,” Jean-Claude said.
“Have we dropped a ball here, Jean-Claude? Were the Mother and the Harlequin or the old council doing things to keep Ireland moving safely along, and now that we’ve destroyed their power did we cause this somehow?” I said.
He went very still. I knew it meant he was either thinking, or hiding what he was thinking. “I do not believe so, but if we wish to know what the council was doing to maintain the status quo in Ireland, we have people here to ask.”
“The Harlequin,” I said.
“Our guards now,” he said.
“Wouldn’t the Harlequin have told you if there was something important that needed to keep being done?” Nathaniel asked.
“All the Harlequin are older than I am, and there is something about being a certain age that gives you a longer view of things.”
“Which means what?” I asked.
“They might not see it as important enough to share until it became a problem.”
“Even if it cost lives?” I asked.
“The vampires of the Harlequin are thousands of years old, ma petite. They may not consider human life as valuable as we do.”
“Then their attitude needs to change,” I said.
“I would settle for their sharing any important secrets before they become an issue.”
“We don’t know that they hid anything about Ireland,” I said.
“No, that is true, but the old council is disbanded. Their power is destroyed and incorporated into our power base, and suddenly a country that has run seamlessly for thousands of years is in turmoil. At the very least, we should question the coincidence.”
“If it is a coincidence,” I said.
“Do not borrow trouble, ma petite. Not everything that goes wrong in the world is our doing.”
“True, but if we’re only in charge of American vampires, who’s in charge of Europe now?”
“If I try to spread our power over the rest of the world, we will have more battles on our hands. One of the reasons it has gone so smoothly is that I have not fought to rule the world, as it were.”
“I don’t want the equivalent of a vampire world war, but someone needs to be in charge of you guys.”
“We have been in charge of ourselves longer than humans have known there was a world to rule.”
“But all that time the Mother of All Darkness was in charge of all of you, right?”
“Now she’s not, because we killed her.”
“You are wondering what the vampiric mice are doing now that the cat is dead—is that it, ma petite?”
“Yeah, that,” I said.
“They’re doing what the mice always do when the cat’s gone,” Nathaniel said.
We looked at him.
“And that would be what, our pussycat?”
“Destroy everything they can before a new cat comes along.”
“And we’re the new cat,” I said.
“Perhaps, ma petite, mon minet, or perhaps we need to find another cat to rule Europe.”
“Who?” I asked.
“I do not know, but I know that I do not wish to rule the world. America is enough for me.”
“Have we let the monsters loose in Ireland, Jean-Claude?”
“Let us ask the Harlequin that we trust most. If there is a secret to Ireland’s vampire past, they will know it.”
“Who do we ask first?”
“Magda,” Nathaniel said.
We looked at him.
“She’s one of our lovers and she’s so blunt, it’s painful. If there’s something she knows, she’ll share it. If we ask her without Giacomo at her side.”
“Are you saying she would obey her vampire master before her vampire king?” Jean-Claude asked.
“Let’s not make her choose,” Nathaniel said. “Let’s just ask her now while she’s awake and her master is still dead to the world.”
“You are growing craftier, mon minet.”
“I had to get smarter sometime,” he said.
“No, sadly, some people live for centuries and never become wiser.”
I was pretty sure we were all thinking about the same person, but none of us said his name. Asher had been Jean-Claude’s on-again, off-again love of his afterlife for centuries. They’d loved and lost the same woman, Asher’s human servant Julianna, and neither of them had stopped mourning her. They say love heals all wounds, but if Jean-Claude and Asher were any judge, maybe not. Asher’s jealousy issues had led him to make some seriously bad political choices that had almost started a war here in St. Louis between us and the local werehyenas. That final stupidity had been enough even for Jean-Claude and all of us to dump him. Asher, our golden-haired and sadistic beauty, was now trying to be monogamous with the one lover he had left, Kane. None of us liked Kane, and he returned the sentiment. We all missed parts of Asher when he was behaving himself, but none of us missed those parts enough to forgive this last near-disastrous choice. A war among the preternatural set here in St. Louis just as Jean-Claude was being the very public face for vampires as good citizens could have lost the vampires so much, like the new voting rights that grandfathered in all vampires regardless of how long they’d been dead. Less than fifteen years ago a vampire could be killed on sight just for being a vampire, no questions asked. There were still laws in some Western states that allowed lycanthropes to be killed like varmint coyotes, or rats. You could kill someone and as long as their blood tests came back positive for lycanthropy you were justified. One of the things that the Coalition was trying to get changed was laws like that. We were so not free and clear in this country, or anywhere in the world. Asher had risked so much more than just us when he’d made his last bad decisions. In the end, that level of carelessness was what we couldn’t forgive.
Nathaniel sighed. “I’ll admit it, if neither of you will.”
“Admit what?” I asked.
“I miss Asher topping me in the dungeon. I even miss sex with him.”
“If I did not miss sex with mon chardonneret, my goldfinch, I would have been done with him centuries sooner.”
“Fine, fine. I miss him in the bedroom and the dungeon.”
“What we miss is that we can’t find anyone else who tops us like he does,” Nathaniel said.
Since I was still working through my issues about the whole bondage and submission being an ongoing part of my sexuality, I wasn’t sure what to say to that.
“The only one I have ever known as talented with such things as Asher is Belle Morte,” Jean-Claude said.
“I know she tried to contact you and come here after the vampire council fell and she had to flee France,” I said.
“She seemed most confused that I would not allow her sanctuary in my lands.”
“She thought you’d take her back,” Nathaniel said.
“She offered that the three of us could be together as of old.”
“You, Asher, and her?” Nathaniel asked.
“Yes.” He looked out into the room, but I was pretty sure he wasn’t seeing anything in front of him.
I moved to make sure I blocked his line of sight. He looked up at me; his blue eyes looked as black as his hair and the robe he was wearing in the dim light, so that only the paleness of his face and that triangle of chest relieved the darkness of him.
I held my hand down and he took it lightly with just his long, slender fingers. “I never asked you at the time: were you tempted?”
His lips moved, and it wasn’t quite a smile, more like he thought about smiling. “What she offered was a lie, ma petite, as it was always a lie.”
“You and Asher were her main boys for centuries.”
“We were her favorite pawns, or perhaps tools. Yes, we were her favorite tools, or weapons to be aimed at whoever she wished us to seduce, or embarrass, or help her manipulate for her schemes. Belle almost ruled all of Europe once, the true power behind many thrones. The two of us helped her seduce a great deal of the nobility, church officials, anyone in a position of power that she wished to control.”
“I’ve been inside your head when you have memories of those days, Jean-Claude; you loved her. You were in love with her.”
“I was, but she was never in love with me, or Asher. If she was ever able to love anyone, it was not us.”
“So you weren’t tempted?”
“For a moment, perhaps, but it is like being tempted by a dream. It is not real.”
“But while you’re dreaming it, it can feel real,” I said.
“She kept us all like addicts, ma petite. We were addicted to her charms. We competed for her love, but as you have said before of others in our lives, it is a rigged game. There is only one winner in any game involving Belle Morte, and that is Belle Morte.”
Nathaniel unfolded from beside the fire and walked on two legs, but there was something about the way he moved that was very catlike, as if his human body were remembering a lighter grace and it was all there as he came to take my other hand and look down at Jean-Claude.
“We are a game you can win,” he said.
Jean-Claude smiled then, and offered his other hand to him. Nathaniel took it, smiling back. “Oh pussycat, pussycat, you are right, because all of us are willing to talk about what is true and what we need, or want, or cannot live without. We do not—what is the phrase?—game each other.”
“You don’t game the people you love,” I said.
He sat up very straight in the chair, still holding our hands, while we held each other’s. “You are quite right, ma petite. Now, let us follow the recommendation of our clever cat and find Magda before her master wakes for the day and she becomes more clever.”
“She’s not stupid,” Nathaniel said.
“No, but she is not a deep thinker either.”
“Her body awareness and physical intelligence are amazing,” I said.
“That makes her an excellent warrior,” Jean-Claude said.
“And a really physical lover,” Nathaniel said.
I felt the first heat of the blush that was creeping up my face. I didn’t blush as often anymore, but occasionally . . . Jean-Claude laughed and kissed my hand. “Oh, ma petite, you never grow jaded. It is one of your many charms.”
“Dating women is new, okay?”
“We don’t date Magda,” Nathaniel said. “She’s more a bodyguard with benefits.”
I drew him into a hug and put my arm across Jean-Claude’s shoulders, bringing us into a sort of group huddle. “I’m dating as many people as I can do justice to; ‘with benefits’ is okay.”
We all agreed with that; though I hated the concept of “with benefits,” sometimes it was all I had to offer. If someone didn’t think that was enough, they were free to stop being part of our poly group. I’d finally realized that I didn’t have unlimited time and energy to date this many people. We were looking at closing our circle and making it closed poly, which meant eventually we’d start saying no. The trick was to figure out who was a yes before the door of possibilities closed, but right now, we needed to figure out what had gone wrong with the vampires in Ireland. Once I’d thought that Damian’s master was so powerful and evil that she should be destroyed, and now I was worried about why she wasn’t powerful enough to protect her turf. Sometimes evil was in the eye of the beholder, right along with beauty.