The Killing Dance (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #6) - Chapter 12~13

12

Edward was five foot eight, with blond hair cut very short and close to his head. He was blue-eyed and the epitome of WASP breeding. He was also the most dangerous man I'd ever met, living or dead.

He was amused as hell by the gathering of lycanthropes. The group broke up soon after his arrival, mainly because all the business had been taken care of. The meeting had mainly been a last-ditch effort to convince Richard to compromise his morals and kill someone. Barring that, for him to pick a lupa who would kill for him. We'd sort of killed two birds with one stone, pun intended. But I was very aware that I'd gotten lucky with Neal. If he'd had a background in any martial art, if he'd known anything about fighting, I'd have been toast.

Richard had boarded up the broken window and had a call in to a glass repair shop that was willing, for an exorbitant fee, to come out and repair the damage immediately. I'd offered to pay for the damages since I made them.

Edward, Richard, and I sat around the kitchen table. Edward and I sipped coffee. Richard drank tea. One of his few serious faults was a total dislike of coffee. Hard to trust a man who won't drink coffee.

"What have you found out?" I asked.

Edward sipped his coffee and shook his head. "Not much. The contract has been picked up."

"Even with the time limit?" I asked.

He nodded.

"When is the twenty-four hours up?" I asked.

"Let's say two o'clock. I got the offer about one o'clock last night, but we'd add an hour to be safe."

"To be safe," Richard said. I think it was sarcasm.

"What's wrong with you?" I asked.

"Am I the only one in this room who's worried?"

"Panicking won't help, Richard."

He stood up, emptying his mug in the sink and rinsing it automatically. He turned, leaning his butt against the cabinets, arms crossed over his chest. "You need a clear head to plan?"

I nodded. "Yeah."

He stared at us. I watched him thinking about something serious. He finally said, "I don't understand how the two of you can be calm. I'm shocked that someone has put a contract out on Anita. Neither of you is shocked."

I looked at Edward, and he looked back at me. We had one of those moments of perfect understanding, and I knew I couldn't explain it to Richard. I wasn't even sure I could explain it to myself. "I've stayed alive this long because I don't react the way most people react."

"You've stayed alive because you're willing to do things other people aren't."

I nodded. "That, too."

His face was very serious, like a little boy asking about the facts of life. "Let me ask one stupid question; then I'll shut up."

I shrugged. "Ask away."

"Anita says she doesn't enjoy killing. That she feels nothing when she kills."

I realized then that the question was going to be for Edward. I wasn't sure how that would go over.

"Do you enjoy killing?"

Edward sat very still in his chair, drinking his coffee quietly. His blue eyes were as neutral and unreadable as any vampire's, and in some ways just as dead. I wondered for the first time if my eyes ever looked like that. "Why do you want to know?"

"I agreed to kill Marcus," Richard said. "I've never killed anyone."

Edward stared up at him. He set his coffee down carefully and met Richard's eyes. "Yes."

"Yes, you enjoy killing?" Richard asked.

Edward nodded.

Richard was waiting for him to explain. You could see it in his face.

"He's answered your question, Richard."

"But does he enjoy the sensation of killing? Is it physical? Or is it the planning that he enjoys?"

Edward picked up his coffee.

"The question and answer session is over, Richard," I said.

A look halfway between stubbornness and frustration crossed Richard's face. "But 'yes,' doesn't tell me anything."

"After you kill Marcus," Edward said, "you can ask the question again."

"And you'll answer it?" Richard asked.

Edward gave the barest of nods.

For the first time, I realized that Edward liked Richard. Not as a friend, maybe, but he didn't think Richard was a complete waste of time.

Richard stared into Edward's face for a long time, then shook his head. "Okay." He sat back down. "No more questions. What's the plan?"

I smiled at him. "To keep the hitter from killing me."

"That's your entire plan?" Richard asked.

"And to take out the man with the money," Edward said. "As long as the money is out there, Anita won't be safe."

"Any ideas how to accomplish this?" Richard asked.

Edward nodded and up-ended his coffee mug, finishing the last of it. He went to the counter and refilled it, like he was at home. He sat back down. Good ol' Edward, comfortable wherever he was.

I sat waiting, watching him quietly. He'd tell us when he was ready and not before. Richard was practically dancing in place. "What?" he finally asked.

Edward smiled, I think at Richard, or maybe at that eternal music that only he could hear. The rhythm that kept him self-contained and alive.

"The assassin might come here today, and we'll take precautions for that. A herd of shapeshifters was perfect. I'd have passed on the hit myself until they cleared out."

I glanced around the quiet kitchen. The spot between my shoulder blades was itching. "You think we're in danger now?"

"Maybe." He didn't seem too worried. "But I think they'll hit you tonight on your date with the Master of the City."

"How did you know I had a date tonight?"

Edward just smiled. "I know that the Master of the City is taking the Executioner to the opening of his dance club, Danse Macabre. I know that you'll be arriving in a limo."

"I didn't even know that," I said.

He shrugged. "It wasn't hard to find out, Anita."

"I was going to cancel my date tonight and hide out."

"If you stay here, the assassin will almost certainly come here."

I glanced at Richard. "Oh," I said.

"I can take care of myself," Richard said.

"Could you kill a human being?" I asked.

He blinked at me. "What do you mean?"

"I mean if someone came at you with a gun, could you kill them?"

"I said I'd kill to protect you."

"That's not what I asked, Richard, and you know it."

He stood up and paced a small circle in the kitchen. "If it was standard ammunition, it couldn't kill me."

"You wouldn't know whether it was silver ammo until it was too late," I said.

He hugged his arms, ran his hands through his long hair, and turned to me. "Once you decide to start killing, it never stops, does it?"

"No," I said.

"I don't know if I could kill a human being."

"Thanks for the honesty," I said.

"But that means you'll take an assassin into a club crowded with people'? You'll endanger all of them to keep me safe?"

"I would endanger almost anyone to keep you safe."

Edward made a small sound, almost a laugh. His face was pleasant and empty. He sipped coffee. "Which is why I don't want Richard in the line of fire. You'll be so busy worrying about him, it might make you careless."

"But all those people, you can't put them in danger," Richard said.

Edward looked at me and didn't say what he was thinking. I was grateful for that. "I think Edward has a plan for that, too, Richard."

"I think they'll hit you on the way home from the club. Why work in the middle of a crowd if they don't have to? Plant a bomb on the limo, or wait until you're alone on the drive back."

"Is that what you would do?" Richard asked.

Edward looked at him for a moment, then nodded. "Probably. Not the bomb, but I'd hit the limo."

"Why not the bomb?" Richard asked.

I didn't ask, because I knew the answer. Edward's eyes flicked to me. I shrugged.

"Because I like to kill up close and personal. With a bomb there's no personal risk."

Richard stared at him, studying his face. He finally said, "Thank you for answering the question."

Edward acknowledged him with a nod. Richard was gaining brownie points from both of us. But I knew that Richard had illusions. If Edward seemed to like him, Richard would assume Edward wouldn't kill him. I knew better. If the situation called for it, Edward could pull the trigger on anyone.

"Let's say you're right," I said. "I go on the date and let the hitter make his move. Then what?"

"We take him out."

"Wait a minute," Richard said. "You're betting that the two of you are better than a professional assassin. That you'll get to him before he gets to Anita."

We both nodded.

"What if you're not better?"

Edward looked at him like he'd said the sun wouldn't rise tomorrow.

"Edward will be better," I said.

"You'd bet your life on that?" Richard asked.

"I am betting my life on that," I said.

Richard looked a touch pale. He nodded. "I guess you are. What can I do to help?"

"You heard Edward," I said. "You stay here."

Richard shook his head. "I heard, but surely in a crowd of people even Superman will need a few more eyes and ears. The pack can help watch your back."

"It doesn't bother you to endanger them?"

"You said you'd risk almost anyone to keep me safe," Richard said. "I feel the same way."

"If they want to volunteer, that's one thing, but I don't want them ordered into it. People aren't good bodyguards if they resent doing it."

Richard laughed. "Very practical. For a second there, I thought you were really worried about my wolves."

"Practical will keep me alive, Richard, sentimentality won't."

"If we had some extra watchers, it'd free me up a little," Edward said.

I looked at him. "You'd trust monsters to watch my back?"

He smiled, and it wasn't pleasant. "Monsters make excellent cannon fodder."

"They aren't cannon fodder," Richard said.

"Everyone's cannon fodder," Edward said, "eventually."

"If I really thought we were endangering innocent bystanders, I wouldn't go to the club. You know that, Richard."

He stared at me for a second, then nodded. "I know that."

Edward made a small sound

low in his throat. "Innocent bystanders." He shook his head, smiling. "Let's get dressed," Edward said. "I bought some new toys for you to use tonight."

I looked at him. "Dangerous toys?" I asked.

"Is there any other kind?" We grinned at each other.

"You two are enjoying this," Richard said. It was almost accusatory.

"If we didn't enjoy it, we'd both do something else," Edward said.

"Anita doesn't kill people for money, and you do."

I watched the humor drain from Edward's eyes like the sun sinking behind clouds, leaving them pitiless and empty. "Think what you like, loverboy, but Anita could have chosen another line of work, one that wouldn't put her in harm's way. But she didn't. There's a reason for that."

"She's not like you."

Edward looked at me with empty eyes. "Closer than she used to be." His voice was soft, almost neutral, but it made me shiver.

I met his eyes, and for the first time in a long time, wondered what I'd given up to be able to pull the trigger. The same thing Edward had given up inside himself to be able to kill so easily? I looked up at Richard and wondered if he could do it. If, when the fur flew, he could really kill anyone. Some people couldn't. No shame in that. But if Richard backed out, he was dead. Not tonight or tomorrow, but eventually, because Marcus would see to it. Richard had beaten Marcus twice and refused the kill. I doubted Marcus would let him have another shot at it. They'd taken Stephen last night, knowing what Richard would do. If I hadn't been with him, he might he dead now. Shit.

All I had to do was kill the assassin before he or she killed me. Trust Richard not to let Marcus kill him. Keep Raina from killing me. And let's see, I was sure there was something else. Oh, yeah, decide whether I'm going to sleep with Richard, and if I did, what that would mean for Jean-Claude and myself. There were days when my life was too complicated even for me.

13

Finding dress-up clothes that you can hide a gun in is a bitch. I actually hadn't planned to carry a gun on my date with Jean-Claude. Of course, that was before the assassin. Now I wasn't going out without one. If I'd known I'd be needing a gun tonight, I'd have worn the little black dress yesterday and saved the pants suit. But who knew, and now all I'd packed besides jeans was the dress. It was a little black dress with just enough strap to allow a bra, if you were careful. I'd bought a black bra to be safe. Flashing a white bra strap in a black dress always looked so tacky. The jacket was a deep black velvet, a bolero cut that hit me at the waist. Black beading edged the collar and hem.

The jacket was hanging on the doorknob of Richard's closet. He was sitting forlornly on the bed, watching me put the last touches on my lipstick. I was leaning forward, peering at myself in the mirror on his dresser. The skirt was short enough that I decided to wear a black teddy under it, not for underwear but to go over my panty hose, so everything matched. Ronnie hadn't trusted me not to bend over at least once tonight. She was right. So even if I forgot, the teddy covered more than most bathing suits. I'd have never picked out something so short on my own. Ronnie was a bad influence on me. If she'd known I was planning to wear it for Jean-Claude, she'd have probably chosen something else. She called him fangface. Or worse. She liked Richard.

"Nice dress," Richard said.

"Thanks." I turned in front of the mirror to check the way the skirt hung. It was just full enough to swing when I moved. The black knife sheaths on my forearms actually matched the dress. The knives made a nice touch of silver. The wrist sheaths almost covered the scars on my arms. Only the mound of scar tissue at my left elbow was visible. A vampire had torn up my arm once upon a time. The same vamp had bitten through my collarbone. The scars were normal for me, but every once in a while I'd be out enjoying myself and catch someone looking, staring. They'd look hurriedly away, or meet my eyes. It wasn't that the scars were awful to look at. They weren't that bad--really. But they told a story of pain and something out of the ordinary. They said I'd been places that most people hadn't, and I'd survived. Worth a stare or two, I guess.

The black straps that held the new knife down along my spine showed a little at the shoulders, but more across the back. The hilt was hidden under my hair, but I wouldn't be taking the jacket off.

"Why didn't you wear this last night?" Richard asked.

"The pants suit seemed more appropriate."

He stared at me, eyes roving over my body more than my face. He shook his head. "For seeing someone you're not going to sleep with, that is a very sexy outfit."

I had never planned on Richard seeing the dress, at least not on the night I wore it for Jean-Claude. I wasn't sure what to say, but I'd try. "I trust myself with Jean-Claude more than I trust myself with you, so he gets the short skirt and you don't." That was the truth.

"You're saying I don't get the sexy outfit because I'm so irresistible?"

"Something like that."

"If I ran my hands up your legs, would I find panty hose or garters?" He looked so solemn, hurt. With everything else going down, I shouldn't have had to worry about my boyfriend's hurt feelings, but there it was. Life goes on, even if you're ass deep in alligators.

"Panty hose," I said.

"Will Jean-Claude find out what kind of hose you're wearing?"

"He could ask, like you did," I said.

"You know that's not what I meant," he said.

I sighed. "I don't know how to make this easier on you, Richard. If there's anything that would make you feel more secure about this, ask."

To his credit, he didn't ask me not to go. I think he knew he wouldn't like the answer. "Come here," he said and held out his hand to me.

I walked over to him and took his outstretched hand. He sat me on his lap, legs sideways like you'd sit on Santa. He encircled me with one arm, then laid his other hand on my thigh. "Promise me you won't sleep with him tonight."

"With assassins ready to jump out of the woodwork, I think that's a safe bet," I said.

"Don't joke, Anita, please."

I smoothed my hand through his hair. He looked so serious, so hurt. "I've said no for a very long time, Richard. Why should you be worried about tonight?"

"The dress," he said.

"I admit it's short, but..."

He smoothed his hand up my thigh until it vanished under the skirt. He rested his hand just below the lace of the teddy. "You're wearing lingerie, for Gods sake; you never wear lingerie."

I would have explained about everything matching, but somehow I didn't think that would be comforting. "Okay, I won't sleep with him tonight. I hadn't planned on it to begin with."

"Promise me you'll come back and sleep with me." He smiled when he said it.

I smiled back and slid off his lap. "You'd have to shift first. I'd have to see your beast. Or so you keep telling me."

"I could shift when you get back."

"Could you take human form again quickly enough to do us any good tonight?"

He smiled. "I'm strong enough to be Ulfric, Anita. One of the things I can do is change form almost at will. I don't pass out when I change back to human form like most shapeshifters."

"Handy," I said.

He smiled. "Come back tonight, and I'll change for you. Sylvie's right. I have to accept what I am."

"Part of that is trying it out on me, huh?"

He nodded. "I think so."

Staring into his solemn eyes, I knew that if he changed for me tonight and I couldn't deal with it, it would destroy something inside of him. I hoped I was up to it. "When I come back tonight, I'll watch you shift."

He looked grim as if he expected that I'd run screaming. "Kiss me, and get out of here," he said.

I kissed him, and he licked his lips. "Lipstick." He kissed me again. "But underneath I can still taste you."

"Hmmm," I said. I stared down at him and almost didn't want to go. Almost. The doorbell rang, and I jumped. Richard didn't, as if he'd heard it before I had.

"Be careful. I wish I could be with you."

"There'll be media all over the place," I said. "Wouldn't do to get your picture taken with a bunch of monsters. It might blow your cover."

"I'd blow my cover if it would keep you safe."

He loved teaching, yet I believed him. He'd come out of the closet for me. "Thanks, but Edward's right. I'd be so worried about keeping you alive, I wouldn't be taking good care of myself."

"You don't worry about Jean-Claude?"

I shrugged. "He can take care of himself. Besides, he's already dead."

Richard shook his head. "You don't really believe that anymore."

"No, he's dead, Richard. That I know. Whatever keeps him alive is a form of necromancy, different than my own powers, but still magic."

"You can say it, but in your heart you don't believe it."

I shrugged again. "Maybe not, but it's still the truth."

There was a knock on the door. Richard said, "Your date's here."

"I'm coming. Now I have to fix my lipstick all over again."

He wiped fingers across his mouth, coming away with crimson stains. "At least I'll be able to tell if you've been kissing him. This stuff will show up like blood on his white shirt."

I didn't argue. Jean-Claude always wore black and white. I'd only seen him in one shirt that wasn't white. It had been black. I reapplied the lipstick and put it in the beaded black purse on the dresser. The purse was too small even for the Firestar. I did have a Derringer, but except at close quarters, it was pretty worthless. With an assassin I might not want to get that close. Edward had a solution. He'd loaned me his Seecamps .32 autoloader. It was about the same size as a small .25, only a little wider than my own hand, and I had a small hand. It was a very nice gun, and for the caliber and the size, I'd never seen better. I wanted one. Edward informed me that he'd had to wait nearly a year for the gun to come in. It was pretty much a custom order. Otherwise, he'd have made it a gift. Fine, I'd order my own--if I survived the night. If I didn't, well, I wouldn't be ordering anything.

I'd managed not to think too much about that. I'd concentrated on dressing, putting the weapons in place, Richard, anything but that I was putting myself out as bait for someone good enough to earn 500,000 dollars a pop. I was having to trust that Edward would keep me alive. Because though Edward would have stopped the limo and fired only when he could see my face, most hit men wouldn't. Most professionals prefer to take you out from a nice, safe distance. A high-powered rifle could be yards or

even miles away. Not much I, or even Edward, could do about that. I knew nothing about explosives. I was going to have to depend on Edward to take care of any bombs. I was putting myself in Edward's hands tonight, trusting him like I'd never trusted anyone before. Scary thought, that.

I checked the purse again; ID, lipstick, money, gun. I'd have normally carried a small travel hairbrush, but there wasn't room. I could live with messy hair for one night.

The thought made me check my hair in the mirror and run a brush through it one last time. I had to admit that it looked great. It was one of my best features. Even Ronnie couldn't improve on it. It was all natural curl. Even tonight I'd shoved hair goop in it after my shower and let it dry naturally. I'd had a woman get angry with me once in California because I wouldn't tell her where I'd gotten my hair permed. She wouldn't believe it was natural.

I slipped the purse over my shoulders so the thin strap went across my chest. It blended with the dress well enough that it looked almost as good with it as without. But the purse rode at my ribs, just a little lower than my shoulder holster. I tried drawing the gun a couple of times, and it wasn't too bad. Not as good as a holster, but what was? I slipped the jacket on and checked myself in the mirror for the umpteenth time. Neither the knives nor the gun showed. Great. I slipped my cross on last. I made sure the cross was inside the dress, then put a small piece of masking tape over it. This way I kept my cross, but it didn't spill out of my clothes and glow at Jean-Claude. I picked up the brush again and put it down without using it.

I was stalling. It wasn't just the assassin I was afraid of. I was dreading the moment Richard and Jean-Claude met tonight. I wasn't sure how they were going to react, and I wasn't up to an emotional confrontation. I rarely was.

I took a deep breath and went for the door. Richard followed me. It was his house. I couldn't ask him to hide in the bedroom.

Jean-Claude stood by the television, peering at the shelves of videos, as if studying the titles. He was tall and slender, though not as tall as Richard. He wore black pants and a short black jacket, cut just at the waist like my own. He had on high, leather boots that covered nearly his entire leg, the soft leather tops were held in place by black straps with small silver buckles. His black hair spilled over his shoulders, inches longer than when I first met him.

He turned at last, as if he hadn't known we were standing there. I made a small involuntary gasp as he faced me. His shirt was red, a pure, clear crimson that blazed inside his open jacket. The collar was high, held in place by three antique jet beads. The shirt gaped open below the collar, showing a large oval of his chest. The cross-shaped burn scar on his chest showed in the circle of red cloth as if it were framed for viewing. The circle of bare skin ended just above the black pants, where the shirt was safely tucked away.

The shirt looked splendiferous against his pale skin, the black wavy hair, his midnight blue eyes. I closed my gaping mouth, and said, "Spiffy, very spiffy."

He smiled. "Ah, ma petite, always the perfect thing to say." He glided across the carpet in his nifty boots, and I found myself wanting him to take the jacket off. I wanted to see his hair spill over that shirt, black over red. I knew it would look wonderful.

Richard came up behind me. He didn't touch me, but I could feel him standing there. A warm, unhappy presence at my back. I couldn't blame him. Jean-Claude looked like an advertisement for Wet Dreams "R" Us. I couldn't blame anyone for being jealous.

Jean-Claude stood in front of me, close enough that I could have reached out and touched him. I stood between the two of them, and the symbolism wasn't lost on any of us.

"Where's Edward?" I managed to ask. My voice sounded almost normal. Good for me.

"He is checking the car. I believe for incendiary devices," Jean-Claude said with a small smile.

My stomach clenched tight. Someone really wanted me dead by midnight tonight. Edward was sweeping the car for bombs. Even for me, it didn't seem quite real.

"Ma petite, are you well?" Jean-Claude took my hand in his. "Your hand is cold."

"Nice complaint, coming from you," Richard said.

Jean-Claude looked over my shoulder at Richard. "It was not a complaint but an observation."

His hand was warm, and I knew that he had stolen that warmth from someone. Oh, they'd been willing enough. There were always people willing to donate to the Master of the City. But still, he was a blood sucking corpse, no matter what he looked like. Staring up at him, I realized part of me didn't buy that anymore. Or maybe I just didn't care anymore. Damn.

He raised my hand slowly to his lips, eyes watching not me but Richard. I drew my hand out of his. He looked at me. "If you want to kiss my hand, fine, but don't do it just to get on Richard's nerves."

"My apologies, ma petite. You are quite right." He looked past me to Richard. "My apologies to you as well, Monsieur Zeeman. We are in a... ticklish position. It would be childish to make it worse with game playing."

I didn't have to see Richard's face to know he was frowning.

Edward came in and saved us. We could all shut up and leave. Hopefully.

"The car's clean," he said.

"Glad to hear it," I said.

Edward was dressed for the evening. A brown leather coat hung to his ankles and moved like something alive as he came into the room. The coat hung strangely heavy in places. He'd shown me some of his toys that were positioned here and there. I knew there was a garotte hidden in the stiff white collar of his shirt. A garotte was a little too up-and-close even for me.

His eyes flicked to the two men in my life, but all he said was, "I'll follow the limo. Don't look around for me tonight, Anita. I'll be there, but we don't want the hitter alerted to the fact that you've got a bodyguard."

"A second bodyguard," Jean-Claude said. "Your, how do you say, hitter will know I will be by her side."

Edward nodded. "Yeah, if they hit the limo, you'll be there. They'll have to plan on taking you out, too, which means it's got to be serious firepower."

"I am both a deterrent and an invitation to up the stakes, is that it?" Jean-Claude asked.

Edward looked at him like the vampire had finally done something interesting. Edward didn't meet his eyes though. I was the only human I knew that could meet the Master's eyes and not be bespelled. Being a necromancer had its uses. "Exactly." He said it like he hadn't expected the vampire to grasp the situation. But if there was one thing Jean-Claude was good at, it was surviving.

"Shall we go then, ma petite? The party awaits us." He made a sweeping motion with his arms, directing me towards the door but not taking my hand. He glanced at Richard, then at me. He was behaving himself terribly well. Jean-Claude was a world-class pain in the ass. It wasn't like him to be a good boy.

I glanced at Richard. "Go on. If we kiss good-bye, it'll smear your lipstick again."

"You are wearing quite enough of her lipstick already, Richard," Jean-Claude said. For the first time tonight, I heard that warm edge of jealousy.

Richard took two steps forward, and the tension level in the room soared. "I could kiss her good night again, if that would make you happy."

"Stop it, both of you," I said.

"By all means," Jean-Claude said. "She is mine for the rest of the evening. I can afford to be generous."

Richard's hands balled into fists. The first trickle of power oozed through the room.

"I'm leaving now." I made for the door and didn't look back. Jean-Claude caught up with me before I reached the door. He reached for the doorknob first. and then released it, letting me get it.

"I do forget your penchant for doors," he said.

"I don't," Richard said softly.

I turned and looked at him standing there in his jeans, his T-shirt molded to the muscles of his arms and chest. He was still barefoot, his hair a wavy mass around his face. If I'd been staying here, we could have cuddled on the couch in front of one of his favorite movies. We were beginning to have our favorite movies, songs, sayings that were ours. Maybe a moonlight walk. His night vision was almost as good as my own. Maybe later we could finish what we'd started before the meeting.

Jean-Claude slid his fingers through mine, drawing my attention to him. I stared up into those blue, blue eyes like a sky before a storm, or seawater where the rocks lie deep and cold. I could touch those three black buttons and see if they were really antique beads. My gaze traveled downward to the pale glimpse of his chest. I knew that the cross-shaped burn scar was a rough slickness to the touch. Looking at him made my chest tight. He was so beautiful. Would my body always feel the pull of him, like a sunflower turning towards the light? Maybe. But standing there holding his hand, I realized it wasn't enough.

Jean-Claude and I could have had a glorious affair, but I could see spending my life with Richard. Was love enough? Even if Richard killed for self-preservation, could he really accept my body count? Could I accept his beast, or would I be as horrified by it as he was himself? Jean-Claude accepted me lock, stock, and gun. But I didn't accept him. Just because we both looked at the world through dark glasses, didn't mean I liked it.

I sighed, and it wasn't a happy sound. If this was the last time I ever saw Richard, I should have jumped his body and given him a kiss he would never forget, but I couldn't do it. Holding Jean-Claude's hand, I couldn't do it. It would have been cruel to all of us.

"Bye, Richard," I said.

"Be careful," he said. He sounded so alone.

"Louie and you are going to the movies tonight, right?" I asked.

He nodded. "He should be here soon."

"Good." I opened my mouth to say more, but didn't. There was nothing to say. I was going with Jean-Claude. Nothing I said would change that.

"I'll wait up for you," Richard said.

"I wish you wouldn't."

"I know."

I left, walking a little too fast out to the waiting limo. It was white. "Well, isn't this shiny and bright," I said.

"I thought black looked too much like a hearse," Jean-Claude said.

Edward had come out also. He closed the door behind us. "I'll be there when you need me, Anita."

I met his eyes. "I know you will."

He gave the briefest of smiles. "But just in case, watch your back like a son of a bitch."

I smiled. "Don't I always?"

He glanced at the vampire standing by the open limo door. "Not as well as I thought you did." Edward walked into the darkness towards his waiting car before I could think of a reply. It was just as well. He was right. The monsters had finally gotten me. Seducing me was almost as good as killing me, and nearly as crippling.