The Killing Dance (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #6) - Chapter 10

10

Richard's bedroom was painted pale green, a vibrant rug thrown in front of the bed like a piece of stained glass. The bed was a heavy four-poster, and even hurt, he'd made the bed, pulling the solid red spread up over it. He had three solid spreads that he rotated on the bed; green, blue, and red. Each color picked up a different color in the rug and the painting over the bed. The painting was of wolves in a winter scene. The wolves were looking directly out of the picture as if you'd just come around a tree and surprised them. There was a deer bleeding on the snow, its throat torn out. It was an odd choice for a bedroom, but it fit somehow. Besides, I liked it. It had that quality that all fine paintings do, as if when you leave the room the painting will move, life suspended and captured on canvas. The green spread emphasized the evergreens, the blue spread caught the washed blue of the sky and the bluish shadows, the red caught the stain of blood on the snow.

Richard lay on his stomach across the crimson cloth. He was totally nude, his jeans thrown on the corner of the bed. His tanned skin looked dark and smooth and incredibly touchable against the red cloth. I felt heat rise up my face as my eyes followed the curve of his body, over the smooth expanse of his buttocks. Lillian had just finished sewing up a curve of claw that had spilled down from his buttocks. I looked away.

I'd seen Richard nude once when I first met him, but never since. We hadn't even been thinking about dating then. I had to look away, mainly because I wanted to look. I wanted to see him like that, and it was too embarrassing for words. I studied the contents of the built-in shelves on his bedroom wall like I'd memorize them. Bits of quartz, a small bird's nest. There was a lump of fossilized coral as big as my hand, a dark rich gold in color with streaks of white quartz. I'd found it on a camping trip and given it to him because he collected bits and pieces, and I didn't. I touched the bit of coral, and didn't want to turn around.

"You said you wanted to talk, then talk," Richard said.

I glanced back. Lillian snipped the black thread she was using to close his skin. "There," she said. "You shouldn't even have a scar."

Richard folded his arms on the bed, resting his chin on his forearms. His hair spread around his face, foaming and touchable. I knew it was as soft as it looked.

Lillian glanced from one to the other of us. "I believe I'll leave you two alone." She began putting things into her bag, which was brown leather and looked more like a fishing tackle box than anything else. She looked at Richard and back to me. "Take a piece of advice from an old lady. Don't screw up."

She left with Richard and me both staring after her.

"You can get dressed now," I said.

He glanced at his crumpled jeans, moving only his dark eyes. His eyes came back to me, and they were as angry as I'd ever seen them. "Why?"

I concentrated on meeting those angry eyes and tried not to stare at his body. It was harder than I would have admitted out loud. "Because its hard to fight with you when you're naked."

He raised up on his elbows, hair falling down into his eyes, until he stared at me through a curtain of brown gold hair. It reminded me of Gabriel, and that was unnerving as hell.

"I know you want me, Anita. I can smell it."

Oh, that made me feel better. I blushed for the second time in five minutes. "So, you're gorgeous. So what? What the hell does that have to do with anything?"

He raised up on all fours, knees, and hands. I looked away so fast it made me dizzy. "Please put on your jeans."

I heard him slide off the bed. "You can't even look at me, can you?"

There was something about the way he said it that made me want to see his face, but I couldn't turn around. I just couldn't. If this was the last fight we ever had, I didn't want the memory of his body imprinted on my mind. It would be too cruel.

I felt him standing behind me. "What do you want from me, Richard?"

"Look at me."

I shook my head.

He touched my shoulder, and I jerked away.

"You can't even stand for me to touch you, can you?" For the first time. I heard pain in his voice, raw and hurting.

I turned then. I had to see his face. His eyes glittered with unshed tears, eyes wide so they wouldn't fall. He'd pushed his hair back from his face, but it was already spilling forward. My eyes traveled down his muscular chest, and I wanted to run my hands over his nipples, down his slender waist, and lower. I drew my eyes back up to his face with force of will alone, my face pale now, rather than blushing. I was having trouble breathing. My heart was beating so hard, it was hard to hear.

"I love it when you touch me," I said.

He stared down at me, his eyes filled with pain. I think I preferred the anger. "I used to admire you for saying no to Jean-Claude. I know you want him, and you keep refusing. I thought it was very moral of you." He shook his head, one tear slid from the corner of his eye, trailing in slow motion down his cheek.

I brushed the tear from his face with my fingertip. He caught my hand in his, holding it a little too hard, but not hurting, only surprising. It was also my right hand, and drawing the gun left-handed was going to be a bitch. Not that I really thought I'd need the gun, but he was acting so strangely.

Richard spoke, staring down at me. "But Jean-Claude's a monster and you don't sleep with monsters. You just kill them." Tears slid from both of his eyes and I let them fall. "You don't sleep with me, either, because I'm a monster, too. But you can kill us, can't you, Anita? You just can't fuck us."

I jerked away from him, and he let me. He could have bench pressed the heavy cherry wood bed, so he let me go. I didn't like that much. "That was an ugly thing to say."

"But it's true," he said.

"I want you, Richard, you know that."

"You want Jean-Claude, too, so that's not very flattering. You tell me to kill Marcus, like it would be easy. Do you think it wouldn't bother me to kill him because he's a monster, or because I am?"

"Richard," I said. This was an argument I hadn't seen coming. I didn't know what to say, but I had to say something. He was standing there with tears drying on his face. Even nude and gorgeous, he looked lost.

"I know it would bother you to kill Marcus. I never said it wouldn't," I said.

"Then how can you urge me to do it?"

"I think it's necessary," I said.

"Could you do it? Could you just kill him?"

I thought about that for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, I could."

"And that wouldn't bother you?"

he asked.

I stared straight at him, looked him right in his pain-filled eyes, and said, "No."

"If you really mean that, it makes you a bigger monster than I am."

"Yeah, I guess it does."

He shook his head. "It doesn't bother you, does it, knowing that you could take a human life?" He laughed, and it was bitter. "Or don't you consider Marcus human?"

"The man I killed last night was human," I said.

Richard stared at me, fresh horror growing in his eyes. "And you slept just fine didn't you?"

I nodded. "Pretty good, considering you sent Stephen to my bed."

A strange look passed through his eyes, and for a split second, I saw him wonder.

"Sweet Jesus, you know me better than that."

He looked down. "I know. It's just that I want you so badly, and you keep saying, no. It makes me doubt everything."

"Shit. I am not going to stroke your ego in the middle of a fight. You sent Stephen to me because you were mad. Said I could protect him. Had it occurred to you that I'd never slept--just slept--in the same bed with a man before?"

"What about your fiance in college?"

"I had sex with him, but I didn't sleep over," I said. "The first time I woke up in the morning with a man curled around me, I wanted it to be you."

"I'm sorry, Anita. I didn't know. I..."

"You didn't think. Great. Now, what's with the no clothes? What's going on, Richard?"

"You saw the fight last night. You saw what I did, what I can do."

"Some of it, yeah."

He shook his head. "You want to know why I don't kill? Why I always stop just short of it?" The look in his eyes was almost desperate, wild.

"Tell me," I said, softly.

"I enjoy it, Anita. I love the feel of my hands, my claws ripping into flesh." He hugged himself. "The taste of fresh, warm blood in my mouth is exciting." He shook his head harder, as if he could erase the sensation. "I wanted to rip Sebastian apart last night. I could feel it, like an ache in my shoulders, in my arms. My body wanted to kill him, the way I want you." He stared at me, still hugging himself, but his body was speaking for him. The thought of killing Sebastian did excite him, really excite him.

I swallowed hard. "You're afraid that if you let go and killed, that you'd like that, too?"

He stared at me, and that was the horror in his eyes: the fear that he was a monster, the fear that I was right not to touch him, not to let him touch me. You don't fuck the monsters, you just kill them.

"Do you enjoy killing?" he asked.

I had to think about that for a second or two. Finally, I shook my head. "No, I don't enjoy it."

"What does it feel like?" he asked.

"Like nothing. I don't feel anything."

"You have to feel something."

I shrugged. "Relief that it wasn't me. Triumph that I was faster, meaner." I shrugged again. "It doesn't bother me to kill people, Richard. It just doesn't."

"Did it once?"

"Yes, it used to bother me."

"When did it stop bothering you?"

"I don't know. Not the first death, or the second, but when it gets to the point that you can't keep track of them all... It either stops bothering you or you find another line of work."

"I want it to bother me, Anita. Killing should mean something other than blood, and excitement, or even survival. If it doesn't, then I'm wrong, and we are just animals." His body reacted to the thought, too. And he did not find it exciting. He looked vulnerable and afraid. I wanted to tell him to get dressed, but I didn't. He'd chosen to be naked very deliberately, as if to prove once and for all that I didn't want him, or that I did.

I didn't much like tests, but it was hard to bitch with the fear in his eyes. He'd walked away to stand in front of the bed. He rubbed one hand up and down the opposite arm as if he were cold. It was May in Saint Louis. He wasn't cold, at least not that kind of cold.

"You aren't animals, Richard."

"How do you know what I am?" And I knew that he was asking the question more of himself than of me.

I walked over to him. I took the Firestar out of the front of my pants and laid it on the night stand beside his cut glass lamp. He watched me do it, eyes wary. Almost like he expected me to hurt him. I was going to try very hard not to do that.

I touched his arm, gently, where he was rubbing it. He froze under my touch. "You are one of the most moral people I have ever met. You can kill Marcus and not become a ravening beast. I know that, because I know you."

"Gabriel and Raina kill and look what they are."

"You aren't like them, Richard. Trust me on that."

"What if I kill Sebastian or Marcus, and I enjoy it." His handsome face was raw with terror at the thought.

"Maybe it will feel good." I gripped his arm tighter. "But if it does, there's no shame in that. You are what you are. You didn't choose it. It chose you."

"How can you say there's no shame in enjoying killing something. I've hunted deer and I love it. I love the chase, and the kill, and eating the warm meat." As before, the thought excited him. I kept my eyes on his face as much as possible, but it was distracting.

"Everyone has different things that flip their switch, Richard. I've heard worse. Hell, I've seen worse."

He stared down at me like he wanted to believe me and was afraid to. "Worse than this." He lifted his right hand from its grip on his arm, he held his hand in front of my face. His power prickled over my hand, down my arm, until I gasped. It was force of will alone that kept my hand on his arm.

His fingers elongated, stretching impossibly long and thin. The nails grew into heavy claws. It wasn't a wolf hand, rather his own grown into a claw. Nothing else had changed that I could see. Only that one hand.

I was having trouble breathing, for different reasons than before. I stared at the clawed hand and realized for the first time that he was right. Watching the bones in his hand stretch and pop sickened me, scared me.

I kept my hand on his arm, but I was shaking. I found my voice, and it shook, too. "I saw Raina do that once. I thought it wasn't a common ability."

"Only Raina, Marcus, and I can do it within our pack. We can partially change at will."

"That's how you stabbed Sebastian last night."

He nodded, eyes searching my face. I was fighting to keep it blank, but what he saw

there wasn't reassuring enough. He turned away from me, and I didn't have to see his eyes to feel the pain.

I grabbed his hand and wrapped my fingers around those long, thin bones. I felt muscles under my hands that had never been in Richard's hand before. It took everything I had to hold that hand. To touch him like that. Everything. The effort left me shaking and unable to meet his eyes. I didn't trust what he'd see in them.

He touched my chin with his other hand and turned me slowly to face him. He stared down at me. "I can taste your fear, and I like it. Do you understand? I like it."

I had to clear my throat to talk. "I noticed," I said.

He had the grace to blush. He bent slowly to kiss me. I didn't try to stop him, but I didn't help, either. I usually rose on tiptoe to meet him halfway. I stood there, too scared to move, forcing his tall body to bend at the shoulders, to fold down towards me. The long, thin-fingered hand that I was holding convulsed around me, the claws playing lightly on my bare forearm.

I tensed, and his power poured over me. I held onto his hand while the muscles and bones slid back into place. I held on with both hands while his hand re-formed under mine. My skin shuddered with the spill of power.

His lips brushed mine, and I kissed him back, almost swaying. I let go of his hand, my fingers brushed his bare chest, playing over his hardened nipples. His hands slid around my waist, fingers kneading upward, over my ribs, along my spine. He whispered into my mouth, "You're not wearing anything under this T-shirt."

"I know," I said.

His hands slid under the shirt, caressing my back, pressing our bodies together. His naked body touched me, and even through my jeans, it made me shudder. I wanted to feel his naked flesh against mine so badly, I could feel it like a hunger in my skin. I slipped the T-shirt off, and he made a sound of surprise.

He stared down at my bare breasts, and he wasn't the only one excited. He ran his hands over my breasts, and when I didn't stop him, he dropped to his knees in front of me. He looked up at me, his brown eyes filled with a dark light.

I kissed him while he knelt in front of me, as if I'd eat him from the mouth down. The feel of him against my naked flesh was almost too much.

He broke from the kiss and ran his mouth over my breasts. It brought a surprised moan from my throat.

There was a knock at the door. We froze. A woman's voice that I didn't recognize said, "I didn't come all this way to listen to you make out, Richard. I'd like to remind you that all of us have incredibly good hearing."

"Not to mention sense of smell." That was Jason.

"Damn," he said softly, head buried against me.

I leaned my head over him, burying my face in his hair. "I think I'll just climb out the window."

He hugged me around the waist and stood, passing his hands over my breasts one last time. "I can't tell you how long I've wanted to do that."

He reached for his jeans and underpants still lying on the bed. I touched his arm, bringing his attention back to me.

"I want you, Richard. I love you. I want you to believe that."

He stared at me, his face grew strange and solemn. "You haven't seen me change into a wolf yet. You need to see that before we go any further."

The thought did not excite me, and I was glad I was the girl, so it didn't show. "You're right, though if you'd played your cards right, we might have had sex first."

"It wouldn't be fair to you."

"So you're saying even if we'd been alone you'd have stopped and shapeshifted."

He nodded.

"Because it wouldn't be fair to sleep with me until I'd seen the whole package?"

"Exactly."

"You are such a boy scout, Richard."

"I think I just lost one of my merit badges," he said. The look on his face brought a rush of heat up my neck.

He grinned and slipped on his pants. He wore briefs. He pulled on his jeans and was careful zipping them up. I watched him get dressed with a proprietary air. An air of anticipation.

I picked the T-shirt up from the floor and pulled it back on. Richard came up behind me, sliding his hands under the shirt, cupping a hand around each breast, kneading them. I leaned back against him. He was the one who stopped, hugging me around the waist, picking me an inch off the floor. He turned me around and gave me a quick kiss. "When you make up your mind to do something, you really make up your mind, don't you?"

"Always," I said.

He took in a deep breath through his nose and out through his mouth. "I'd try to make it a quick meeting, but..."

"Edward should be here soon, so it doesn't matter."

He nodded, his face falling. "I almost forgot that someone was trying to kill you." He cupped my face in his hands and kissed me, eyes searching my face. "Be careful."

I touched the bandage on his shoulder. "You, too."

He pulled a black T-shirt from a drawer and slipped it on. He tucked it into his jeans, and I made myself stay away from him while he fumbled with his zipper. "Join us after you get dressed."

I nodded. "Sure." He left, closing the door behind him. I sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. Damn. I didn't want to lose Richard. I really didn't. I wanted to sleep with him. I wasn't sure how I felt about seeing him change into full animal form. The hand thing had bothered me enough. What if I couldn't take it? What if it was too gross? Dear God, I hoped not. I hoped I was a better person than that. A stronger person than that.

Richard was afraid that if he started to kill, he'd just keep killing. It wasn't a completely unreasonable fear. I hugged myself tight. The feel of his body against mine clung to my skin. The feel of his mouth on me... I shivered, and it wasn't fear. It was stupid to love Richard. Having sex with him would make it worse. He was going to be dead soon if he didn't kill Marcus. Simple as that. Jean-Claude would never have endangered himself like that. Never. You could always trust Jean-Claude to survive. It was one of his talents. I was almost sure it wasn't one of Richard's. Last night should have proved to me beyond any doubt that I should dump him. Or that he should dump me. You could agree to disagree on politics, or even religion sometimes, but you either killed people or you didn't. Homicide was not something you could be neutral on.

Jean-Claude didn't mind killing people. Once upon a time, I'd thought that made him monstrous. Now I agreed with him. Will the real monster please stand up?