The Killing Dance (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #6) - Chapter 14

14

The name of the club, Danse Macabre, blazed in red neon letters nearly eight feet high. The letters were curved and flowed at an angle like some giant hand had just finished writing them. The club was housed in an old brewery warehouse. The place had stood on the Riverfront, boarded up and abandoned for years. It had been the only eyesore in a line of chic restaurants, dance clubs, and bars. Most of them were owned by vampires. The Riverfront was also known as The District, or Blood Square, though not in polite vampire company. For some reason, the nickname bugged them. Who knew why?

The crowd had spilled out from the sidewalk into the street, until the limo was stopped by the sheer weight of people. It was so bad that I spotted a uniformed cop trying to ease the people back enough for the cars to get through. I looked through the dark tinted windows at the press of people. Was the assassin out there? Was one of those well-dressed, smiling people waiting to kill me? I opened my purse and slipped the Seecamp out.

Jean-Claude eyed the little gun. "Nervous, ma petite?"

"Yes," I said.

He looked at me, head to one side. "Yes, you are nervous. Why does one human assassin unnerve you so much more than all the preternatural creatures you have faced?"

"Everyone else who's wanted to kill me, it was personal. I understand personal. Whoever this is wants to kill me because it's business. Just business."

"But why is that more frightening to you? You will be just as dead, regardless of your assailant's motives."

"Thanks a lot," I said.

He touched my hand, as it gripped the gun. "I am trying to understand, ma petite, that is all."

"I don't know exactly why it bothers me. It just does," I said. "I like to put a face on my enemies. If someone kills you, it shouldn't be only for money."

"So killing for hire offends your moral sensibilities?" he asked. His voice was very bland, too bland, as if he were laughing silently to himself.

"Yes, dammit, it does."

"Yet you are friends with Edward."

"I never said I was consistent, Jean-Claude."

"You are one of the most consistent people I have ever known, ma petite."

"How consistent can I be if I'm dating two men?"

"Do you think being unable to choose between us makes you frivolous?" He leaned towards me as he said it, hand smoothing up the sleeve of my jacket.

The trouble was I had almost chosen. I almost told him, but I didn't. First. I wasn't a hundred percent sure. Second, Jean-Claude had blackmailed me into dating him. Date him or he'd kill Richard. He wanted a chance to woo me away from Richard. Which meant really dating him. As he put it, "If you allow Richard to kiss you, but not me, it is not fair." Supposedly, if I chose Richard, Jean-Claude would merely step aside. I think he was egotist enough to mean it. The Master of the City couldn't imagine anyone not being won over, eventually. Not if you had access to his lovely body. He kept offering it. I kept refusing. If I chose Richard over him, would he really bow out gracefully, or would he take us all down in a bloodbath?

I stared into his deep blue eyes and didn't know. I'd known him for years. Dated him for months. But he was still a mystery to me. I just didn't know what he would do. I wasn't willing to push that button, not yet.

"What are you thinking about so seriously, ma petite? Do not say it is the assassin. I would not believe you."

I didn't know what to say, so I just shook my head.

His hand slid over my shoulders until I was resting in the curve of his arm. The feel of his body that close to mine made my stomach flutter. He bent forward as if to kiss me, and I stopped him, the back of my left hand against his chest. Since I was now touching bare skin, I wasn't sure this helped.

"You behaved yourself the entire drive up here. What gives now?" I asked.

"I am trying to comfort you, ma petite."

"Yeah, right," I said.

He wrapped his other arm around my waist, turning my upper body against him. The gun was still in my hand, but it began to seem awkward. I wasn't going to use it on Jean-Claude, and the assassin wasn't coming through the locked doors. That much violence in a crowd this large with cops directing traffic seemed a little bold even for a professional.

I slid my arm across his back, the gun still in my hand. "If you kiss me, I'll have to redo my lipstick."

He leaned his face close enough to kiss, lips so close to mine he could have breathed me in. He whispered just above my mouth. "We mustn't have that." He kissed my cheek, running his lips down the edge of my jaw.

I touched his face with the edge of the gun, moving his face where I could see it. His eyes had gone drowning blue. "No necking," I said. I meant that. I'd only volunteered once for blood donation and that was when he was dying. I did not share bodily fluids with the Master of the City.

He rubbed his cheek against the gun. "I had something a bit lower in mind."

He ducked his head to my collarbone, licking down my skin. For a second I wondered how low he was planning on going, then I pushed him off of me.

"I don't think so," I said, half-laughing.

"Do you feel better now, ma petite?"

I stared at him for a heartbeat, then laughed. I did. "You are a devious son of a bitch, did you know that?"

"I've been told that before," he said, smiling.

The police had pushed the crowd back, and the limo moved forward. "You did that just to cheer me up." I sounded almost accusatory.

He widened his eyes. "Would I do such a thing?"

I stared at him and felt the smile slide from my face. I really looked at him for a moment, not just as the world's greatest lust object, but as him, Jean-Claude. The Master of the City was worried about my feelings. I shook my head. Was he becoming nicer, or was I just fooling myself?

"Why so solemn, ma petite?"

I shook my head. "The usual, trying to figure out how sincere you are."

His smile widened. "I am always sincere, ma petite, even when I lie."

"Which is what makes you so good at it," I said.

He nodded his head once, almost a bow. "Exactly."

He glanced ahead of us. "We are about to embark on a sea of media, ma petite. If you could put the gun up? I think the press would find it a bit much."

"Press?" I said. "You mean local media?"

"Local, yes."

"What aren't you telling me?"

"When the door opens, take my arm and smile, please, ma petite."

I frowned at him. "What is about to happen?"

"You are about to be introduced to the world."

"Jean-Claude, what are you up to?"

"This is not my doing, ma petite. I do not like the limelight quite this much. The vampire council has chosen me to be their representative to the media."

"I know you had to come out of the casket to the local vampires after you won your last challenge, but isn't it dangerous? I mean you've been pretending to be some mysterious master's number-one flunkie. It's kept you safe from outside challengers."

"Most masters use a stalking horse, ma petite. It cuts down on challenges and human assassins."

"I know all that, so why are you going public?"

"The council believes that skulking in the shadows gives ammunition to our detractors. Those of us who would make good media fodder have been ordered into the light, as it were."

I stared at him. "How into the light?"

"Put the gun away, ma petite. The doorman will open the door and there will be cameras." I glared at him, but I slid the Seecamp into my purse.

"What have you gotten me into, Jean-Claude?"

"Smile, ma petite, or at least do not frown." The door opened before I could say anything else. A man in a tux held the door. The flash of lightbulbs was blinding, and I knew it had to bother his eyes more than mine. He was smiling as he held a hand back for me. If he could stare that much light in the face without blinking, I could be gracious. We could always fight later.

I stepped out of the limo and was glad I was holding his hand. Flashbulbs were everywhere like tiny suns blasting off. The crowd surged forward, microphones shoved at us like knives. If he hadn't been holding my hand tight, I'd have crawled back into the limo. I moved closer to him, just to be able to keep my feet. Where the hell was crowd control?

A microphone nearly touched my face. A woman's voice yelled from far too close, "Is he good in bed? Or would that be coffin?"

"What?" I said.

"Is he good in bed?" There was a moment of near silence, while everyone waited for my answer. Before I could open my mouth and say something scathing, Jean-Claude moved in, graceful as always.

"We do not kiss and tell, do we, ma petite?" His French accent was the thickest I'd ever heard it.

"Ma petite¨Cis that your pet name for her?" a man's voice.

"Oui," he said.

I looked up at him, and he leaned down as if to kiss my cheek. He whispered, "Glare at me later, ma petite. There are cameras everywhere."

I wanted to say that I didn't give a damn, but I did. I mean, I think I did. I felt like a rabbit caught in headlights. If the assassin had jumped out with a gun at that moment, I'd have stood there and let him shoot me. That thought, more than anything else, brought me back to myself, helped me to think again. I started trying to see past the lights, the microphones, a few tape recorders, and video cameras. I caught at least two major network emblems on the cameras. Shit.

Jean-Claude was fielding questions like a pro, smiling, gracious, the perfect vampire cover boy. I smiled and leaned into him, standing on tiptoe, putting my lips so close to his ear that I could have licked it, but I was hoping the microphones wouldn't pick up what I was saying. I was sure it looked coy and girlish as hell, but hey, nothing was perfect. I whispered, "Get me out of here now, or I pull the gun and clear a path for myself."

He laughed, and it flowed down my skin like fur, warm, and ticklish, and vaguely obscene. The reporters ooohed and aahed. I wondered if Jean-Claude's laugh worked off a recorder, or on video. That was a frightening thought.

"Oh, ma petite, you naughty girl."

I whispered, "Don't ever call me that again."

"My apologies." He smiled, waved, and began escorting me through the press of reporters. Two vampire doormen had come out to help clear our path. They were both large and muscular, and neither of them had been dead long. They looked rosy-cheeked and almost alive. They'd fed on someone tonight. But then, so had Jean-Claude. It was getting harder and harder for me to throw stones at the monsters.

The door opened, and we slipped inside. The silence was wonderful. I turned on him. "How dare you drag me into that kind of media coverage."

"It does not endanger you, ma petite."

"Had it occurred to you that if I chose Richard over you, that I might not want everybody in the world to know I was dating a vampire?"

He gave a slight smile. "Good enough to date, but not good enough to go public with?"

"We've gone to everything from the symphony to the ballet together. I'm not ashamed of you."

"Really?" The smile was gone, replaced by something else, not anger exactly, but close. "Then why are you angry, ma petite?"

I opened my mouth, then closed it. Truth was that I would rather not have gone quite this public, because I guess I didn't really believe I could choose Jean-Claude. He was a vampire, a dead man. In that one moment I realized how prejudiced I still was. He was good enough to date. Good enough to hold hands with, and maybe a bit more. But there was a limit. Always a point where I knew I'd say stop because he was a corpse. A beautiful corpse, but a vampire is a vampire. You couldn't really fall in love with one. You couldn't have sex with one. No way. I'd broken Jean-Claude's one rule for dating both of the boys. I'd never really given Jean-Claude the same chance that I'd given Richard. And now, with national television coverage, the bat was out of the bag. It embarrassed me that anyone would think I might actually date him. That I might actually care for a walking dead man.

The anger washed away in the knowledge that I was a hypocrite. I don't know how much of it showed on my face, but Jean-Claude cocked his head to one side. "Thoughts are flying across your face, ma petite, but what thoughts?"

I stared up at him. "I think I owe you an apology."

His eyes widened. "Then this is a truly historic occasion. What are you apologizing for?"

I wasn't sure how to put it into words. "You're right; I'm wrong."

He put his fingers to his chest, face wide with mock surprise. "You admit that you have treated me like some guilty secret, hidden away. Exiled from your true feelings while you cuddle with Richard and his living flesh."

I frowned at him. "Enough already. See if I ever give you another apology for anything."

"A dance would suffice," he said.

"I don't dance. You know that."

"This is the grand opening of my dance club, ma petite. You are my date. Are you truly going to deny me even one dance?"

Put that way it sounded petty. "One dance."

He smiled, wicked, enticing. The smile that the serpent must have given Eve. "I think we will dance well together, ma petite."

"I doubt it."

"I think we would do many things well together."

"Give you one dance and you want the whole package. Pushy bastard."

He gave a small bow, smiling, eyes shining.

A female vamp strode towards us. She was inches taller than Jean-Claude, which made her at least six feet tall. She was blond and blue-eyed, and if she'd looked any more Nordic, she'd have been a poster girl for the master race. She was wearing a violet blue body suit with strategic holes cut out. The body that showed through was broad-shouldered, muscular, and still managed to be full-breasted. Leather boots in the exact same color rode her long, muscular legs all the way up to her thighs.

"Anita Blake, this is Liv."

"Let me guess," I said. "Jean-Claude chose the outfit."

Liv looked at me from her considerable height as if simply being tall made her intimidating. When I didn't flinch, she smiled. "He is the boss."

I stared up at her. I almost asked why. I could feel her age pressing down on me like a weight. She was six hundred years old. Twice Jean-Claude's age or more. So why wasn't she the boss? I could feel the answer along my skin like a cool wind. Not enough power. She wasn't a master vampire, and no amount of age would change that.

"What are you staring at?" she asked. She looked me right in the eyes and shook her head. "She really is immune to our gaze."

"To your gaze," I said.

She put her hands on her hips. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means you don't have enough juice to do me," I said.

She took a step forward. "How about I just pick you up and squeeze some juice out of you?"

Here was where not having a gun in a holster was going to get me killed. I could get one of the knives out, but unless I was willing for her to come very close, it wouldn't help. I could slip my hand in the purse; most people didn't expect a gun to come out of a purse so small. Of course, if Liv caught me going for the gun, she could get to me before I could draw it. With a holster I'd have tried it. From a purse hanging from a strap, I didn't think so. Vampires are just that fast.

"How many vampire kills do you have now, Anita?" Jean-Claude asked.

The question surprised me, and my answer surprised me more. "Over twenty legal kills."

"How many kills altogether, ma petite?"

"I don't know," I said. It had to be over thirty now, but truthfully, I didn't remember anymore. I didn't know how many lives I'd taken. A bad sign, that.

"Liv is mine, ma petite. You may speak freely in front of her."

I shook my head. "Never admit to murder in front of strangers, Jean-Claude. Just a rule."

Liv looked at me. She didn't seem to like what she saw. "So this is the Executioner." She shook her head. "She's a little on the small side, isn't she?" She stalked around me like I was a horse for sale. When she was at my back, I opened the purse. By the time she came around again, I had the gun out, behind the purse, unobtrusive, though in a pinch I guess I could have shot through the purse. But why, if I didn't have to?

Liv shook her head. "She's pretty, but she's not very impressive." She stood behind Jean-Claude, running her strong hands over his shoulders, his arms. She ended with her hands around his waist, fingers kneading his body.

I was getting very tired of Liv.

"I can do things that no human can do for you, Jean-Claude."

"You are being rude to Anita. I will not remind you of it again." There was a cold, even threat in his voice.

Liv unwrapped herself from him and stood between us, hands on hips. "The great Jean-Claude driven to celibacy by a human. People are laughing behind

your back."

"Celibacy?" I asked.

Jean-Claude glanced at me, then sighed. "Until you give up your nunnish ways, ma petite, I am playing monk."

My eyes widened. I couldn't help it. I knew that Richard and I had each had one lover and chosen celibacy afterwards. But I'd never thought about Jean-Claude and what he might be doing to satisfy his needs. Abstinence would not have been one of my choices for him.

"You seem surprised, ma petite."

"I guess anyone who exudes sex the way you do... I just never thought about it."

"Yet if you discovered that I had been sleeping with another female, alive or dead, while we were dating, what would you do?"

"Drop you in a hot minute."

"Exactly."

Liv laughed, a loud, unattractive bray of sound. "Even your human doesn't believe you."

Jean-Claude turned to her, his eyes a blaze of sapphire flame. "You say they laugh behind my back."

She nodded, still laughing.

"But only you are laughing to my face."

Her laughter died abruptly like a turned switch. She stared at him.

"A little more submissiveness, Liv, or is this a challenge to my authority?"

She looked startled. "No, I mean... I never meant..."

He just looked at her. "Then you had best ask my forgiveness, had you not?"

She dropped to one knee. She didn't look afraid, more as if she'd done some huge social gaffe and now had to make amends. "I beg your forgiveness, Master. I forgot myself."

"Yes, you did, Liv. Do not make it a habit."

Liv got to her feet, all smiles, all forgiven. Just like that. The political maneuvering was thick in the air. "It's only that she doesn't look nearly as dangerous as you painted her."

"Anita," Jean-Claude said, "show her what you have in your hand."

I moved the purse to one side, flashing the gun.

"I could have your throat in my hands before you could point that toy," Liv said.

"No," I said, "you couldn't."

"Is that a challenge?" she asked.

"Six hundred years of life, plus or minus a decade," I said. "Don't throw it away for a little grandstanding."

"How did you know my age?"

I smiled. "I am really not in the mood to bluff tonight, Liv. Don't try me."

She stared at me, her extraordinary eyes narrowing. "You are a necromancer, not just a corpse-raiser. I can feel you inside my head, almost like another vampire." She looked at Jean-Claude. "Why couldn't I feel her before?"

"Her power flares when she feels threatened," he said.

This was news to me. To my knowledge, I wasn't using any power right now. But I didn't say it out loud. Now was not the time to ask stupid questions or even smart ones.

Liv stepped to one side, almost as if she was afraid. "We're opening in an hour. I've got work to do." She moved towards the door, never taking her eyes from me.

I watched her move, happy with her reaction but not understanding it.

"Come, Anita," Jean-Claude said, "I want to show you my club."

I let him lead me into the main area of the club. They had gutted the warehouse until it rose three stories straight up with railings around each floor. The main dance floor was huge, shining and slick, gleaming in the subdued light. Track lighting was hidden away so it was hard to tell where the light was coming from.

Things hung from the ceiling. At first glance I thought they were bodies, but they were mannequins, life-size rubber dolls, crash-test dummies. Some were naked, one wrapped in cellophane, some in black leather or vinyl. One rubber doll wore a metal bikini. They were hung from chains at different levels. It was a mobile.

"That's different," I said.

"A promising new artist did it especially for the club."

I shook my head. "It does make a statement." I slipped the gun back into my purse but kept the purse open. That way I was able to get to the gun surprisingly quickly. Besides, I couldn't walk around all night with a loaded gun in my hand. Eventually, your hand starts cramping, no matter how small the gun is.

Jean-Claude glided across the dance floor, and I followed. "Liv was afraid of me. Why?"

He turned gracefully, smiling. "You are the Executioner."

I shook my head. "She said she could feel me in her head like another vamp. What did she mean?"

He sighed. "You are a necromancer, ma petite, and your power grows with use."

"Why would that scare a six-hundred-year-old vampire?"

"You are relentless, ma petite."

"It's one of my best things."

"If I answer your question, will you enjoy my club with me, be my date until the assassin shows up?"

"Thanks for reminding me."

"You had not forgotten."

"No, I hadn't. So, yeah, answer my question and I'll play date."

"Play?"

"Stop stalling and answer the question." I thought of one other question I wanted answered. "Two questions."

He raised his eyebrows, but nodded. "Vampires are given powers in folklore and popular myth that we do not possess: controlling weather, shapeshifting into animals. Necromancers are supposedly able to control all types of undead."

"Control? You don't mean just zombies, do you?"

"No, ma petite."

"So Liv's afraid I'll take her over?"

"Something like that."

"But that's crazy. I can't order vampires around." The moment I said it, I wished I hadn't. It wasn't true. I had raised a vampire once. Once. Once had been enough.

Something must have shown on my face, because Jean-Claude touched my cheek.

"What is it, ma petite? What fills your eyes with such... horror?"

I opened my mouth and lied. "If I could order vampires around, Serephina wouldn't have cleaned my clock two months ago."

His face softened. "She is dead, ma petite. Well and truly dead. You saw to that." He leaned forward and kissed my forehead. His lips were silken soft. He brushed his lips across my forehead, moving his body in closer, comforting me.

It made me feel guilty as hell. I did still have nightmares about Serephina, that much was true. Just saying her name out loud made my stomach clench. Of all the vampires I'd faced, she'd come the closest to getting me. Not killing me, that would happen sooner or later. No, she had nearly made me one of them. Nearly made me want to be one of them. She had offered me something more precious than sex or power. She'd offered me peace. It had been a lie, but as lies go, it had been a good one.

Why not tell Jean-Claude the truth? Well, it was none of his damn business. Frankly, what I'd done frightened me. I didn't want to deal with it. Didn't want to think about it. Didn't want to know what the philosophical ramifications of raising a vampire during daylight hours might be. I was very good at ignoring things I didn't want to deal with.

"Ma petite, you are trembling." He pushed me back from him to search my face.

I shook my head. "There's an assassin out to kill me, and you ask why I'm trembling."

"I know you too well, ma petite. That is not why you tremble."

"I don't like you using me like some kind of bogeyman for vampires. I'm not that scary."

"No, but I have encouraged the illusion."

I pushed away from him. "You mean, you've been telling other vamps that I could control vampires?"

"A hint or two." He smiled, and in that one simple expression, you just knew he was thinking wicked thoughts.

"Why, for heaven's sake?"

"I have taken a lesson from our diplomatic Richard. He has won over many wolves by simply promising to treat them well, not to force them to do things they do not want to do."

"So?" I said.

"I have invited vampires to join my flock with the promise not of fear and intimidation but of safety."

"Like Liv?" He nodded.

"How do you make sure they don't stage a palace revolt?" I asked.

"There are ways."

"Like threatening them with a necromancer," I said.

He smiled. "Indeed."

"Not everyone will believe it."

"I know I don't," a voice said.