The Killing Dance (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #6) - Chapter 29~30

29

"Take me to the coffin room," I said.

"Why?" Jean-Claude asked. There was something in the way he said that one word that made me stare at him.

"Because I asked."

"How would my flock feel if I allowed the Executioner to enter their private chamber while they slept helpless?"

"I'm not going to kill anybody today, not on purpose."

"I do not like the way you said that, ma petite."

"Uncontrolled power is unpredictable, Jean-Claude. All sorts of unpleasant things can happen. I need to see where the vampires will be resting. I want to try and put them back in a controlled manner."

"What sorts of unpleasant things?" Richard asked.

It was a good question. Since I was pretty much flying blind, I didn't have a good answer. "It takes less power to put back than it does to raise. If we just call it up wild and try to will them back..." I shook my head.

"You could extinguish their life force," Cassandra said.

I looked at her. "What did you say?"

"You're going to put them back in their coffins as you would a zombie, but with a zombie you will it to be dead again, correct?"

I hadn't really thought of it that way, but she was right.

"If you will the vampires back in their coffins, you're in effect willing them dead again like a zombie, right?"

"Yeah."

"But you don't want them permanently dead."

My head was beginning to hurt. "No, I don't want them permanently dead."

"How do you know so very much about necromancy, Cassandra?" Jean-Claude asked.

"I have a master's degree in magical theory."

"That must be useful on a resume," I said.

"Not in the least," she said, "but it might be useful now."

"Did you know your newest pack member was so well-educated, Richard?" Jean-Claude asked.

"Yes," he said, "it's one of the reasons I gave her permission to move here."

"Permission to move here?" I said. "Why did she need your permission?"

"A werewolf has to get the permission of the local pack leader before they can enter a new territory. If they don't, it's considered a challenge to his authority."

"Did she have to ask your permission or Marcus's?"

"Both," Cassandra said. "Most werewolves won't come near Saint Louis while this power struggle is going on."

"Why did you come, then, my wolf?" Jean-Claude asked.

"I liked what I heard about Richard. He's trying to bring the pack into the twentieth century."

"Did you come planning to be his lupa?" I asked. Yes, a little twinge of jealousy had reared its ugly head.

Cassandra smiled. "Maybe, but the job's filled. I came here to avoid fighting, not to start it."

"You have come to the wrong place, I fear," Jean-Claude said.

She shrugged. "If I waited until the battle was over and it was safe, I wouldn't be worth much, would I?"

"You came to fight at Monsieur Zeeman's side?"

"I came because I agree with what he's trying to do."

"You don't approve of killing?" I asked.

"Not really."

"Why, Richard, you have found a kindred spirit," Jean-Claude said, smiling, and far too pleased.

"Cassandra believes in the sanctity of life; a lot of people do," Richard said. He wouldn't look at me.

"If she's a better match for you than I am, I won't stand in your way."

He turned to me, a look of astonishment on his face. "Anita..." He shook his head. "I'm in love with you."

"You'd get over it," I said. My chest was tight with the offer, but I meant it. Richard and I had a basic fundamental difference of opinion. It wasn't going away. One of us was going to have to compromise, and it wasn't going to be me. I couldn't quite meet Richard's eyes, but I didn't take it back.

He stepped in front of me, and all I could see was his bare chest. There was a scratch just below his left nipple, blood drying on his skin in darkening strings. He touched my chin, raising my face until I met his eyes. He studied my face like he'd never seen it before.

"I would never get over losing you, Anita. Never."

"Never's a long time to tie yourself to a killer."

"You don't have to be a killer," he said.

I stepped away from him. "If you're hanging around me waiting for me to soften up and become this good little girl, you might as well leave now."

He grabbed my arms, pulling me against his body. "I want you, Anita, all of you." He kissed me, arms locked behind my back, raising me up against him.

I slid my hands behind his back, Firestar still in one hand. I pressed my body against his hard enough to know he was happy to see me.

We came up for air, and I pulled back, but not out of his arms, half-laughing. I caught a glimpse of Jean-Claude standing to one side. The look on his face wiped the smile from my lips. It wasn't jealousy. It was hunger. Desire. Watching us together had excited him.

I drew back from Richard and found blood on my hands. It was hard to tell on the navy blue shirt but there were wet spots where I'd pressed myself against the bloody scratches. Some of the wounds were deep enough that they were still seeping blood.

Richard was looking at Jean-Claude, too, now. I stepped away from Richard, holding up the bloody hand. I walked towards the vampire, and his eyes stayed on the fresh blood, not on me. I stopped less than a foot from him, my hand held out in front of his face.

"Which would you rather have right now, sex or blood?"

His eyes flicked to my face, back to my hand, then to my face. I watched the effort it took for him to keep eye contact. "Ask Richard which he would rather have just after he changes into a wolf, sex or fresh meat?"

I glanced back at Richard. "What's your choice?"

"Just after the change, meat." He said it like I should have known the answer.

I turned back to the vampire. I slid the Firestar into the front of my pants, and moved the bloody hand towards his lips.

Jean-Claude grabbed my wrist. "Do not tease me, ma petite. My control is not boundless." A tremor ran through his arm and down his hand. He looked away, eyes closed.

I touched his face with my right hand, turning him back to face me. "Who says I'm teasing?" I said softly. "Take us to the coffin room."

Jean-Claude searched my face. "What do you offer me, ma petite?"

/> "Blood," I said.

"And sex?" he asked.

"Which would you rather have, right this minute?" I stared at him, willing the truth in his face.

He gave a shaky laugh. "Blood."

I smiled, and pulled my wrist away. "Remember, it was your choice."

A look passed over his face that was a mixture of surprise and irony. "Touche, ma petite, but I am beginning to have hopes that this will not be the last time I am given the choice." There was a heat to his voice, his eyes, just standing this close to his body, that made me shiver.

I glanced back at Richard. He was watching us. I expected to see jealousy or anger, but all I could read in his eyes was need. Lust. I was pretty sure that Richard's choice right this minute would be sex, but the thought of a little blood thrown in didn't seem to worry him. In fact, it seemed to excite him. I was beginning to wonder if the werewolf and vampire shared similar tastes in foreplay. The thought should have scared me, but it didn't. That was a very, very bad sign.

30

The last time I'd been in the coffin room under Circus of the Damned, I'd come to slay the current Master of the City. I'd come to slay every vampire in the place. My, how things had changed.

Track lighting in solid white fixtures clung to the walls, casting soft halos of light on each of seven coffins. Three of the coffins were empty, their lids propped open. All of the coffins were modern, new, roomy. They were all a rich varnished oak, stained nearly black. Silver handles graced the wood. The satin linings of the open coffins were different colors; white, blue, red. The coffin with the red interior held a sword in a specially made side sheath: a freaking two-handed sword as long as I was tall. A pair of the ugliest fuzzy dice I'd ever seen were suspended from the white satin coffin. It had to be Willie's. The blue satin held a small extra pillow. Standing over the coffin, the smell of herbs rose musty, vaguely sweet. I touched the small pillow and found it filled with dried herbs. "Herbs for sweet dreams," I said to no one in particular.

"Is there some purpose to you handling their personal belongings, ma petite?"

I looked at him. "What keepsakes do you have in your coffin?"

He just smiled.

"Why all the same coffins?"

"If you came in here to kill us, where would you start?"

I looked around at the identical coffins. "I don't know. If someone comes in, they can't tell who's the oldest or who's the Master of the City. It covers your ass but endangers the rest."

"If someone comes to kill us, ma petite, it is to everyone's benefit if the oldest are not killed first. There is always a chance that one of the older ones could awaken in time to save the rest."

I nodded. "Why the extra-wide, extra-high interiors?"

"Would you want to spend eternity on your back, ma petite?" He smiled and came to stand beside me, leaning his butt against the open coffin, arms crossed over his chest. "There are so many other more comfortable positions."

I felt heat rise up my face.

Richard joined us. "Are you two going to exchange witty repartee or are we going to do this?" He leaned on the closed end of the coffin, forearms resting on it. There was a bloody scratch on his right upper arm. He seemed at home. Jason, still furry and big enough to ride, padded over the stone floor, nails clicking. The wolf's head was high enough that it licked Richard's bloody arm while still on all fours. There were moments when I felt Richard was too normal to fit into my life. This wasn't one of them.

"Yeah, we're going to do it," I said.

Richard stood, running his fingers through his thick hair, getting it out of his face, and showing his chest off to good advantage. For the first time, I wondered if he'd done it on purpose. I searched his face for that edge of teasing that Jean-Claude had, that knowledge that even that simple movement touched me. There was nothing. Richard's face was guileless, handsome, empty of ulterior motives.

I exchanged glances with Jean-Claude. He shrugged. "If you do not understand him, do not look to me. I am not in love with him."

Richard looked puzzled. "Did I miss something?" He stroked under the wolf's throat, pressing the head against his chest. The wolf made a high whimpering sound of pleasure. Glad to be back in the pack leader's good graces, I guess.

I shook my head. "Not really."

"Why are we here?" Stephen asked. He was as close to the door as he could get and not be outside the room. His shoulders were hunched. He was scared, but of what?

Cassandra stood near Stephen, inside the room, closer to us. Her face was bland, unreadable except for a certain wariness around the eyes. They both wore jeans with oversized shirts. Stephen's was a man's pale blue dress shirt. Cassandra had an oversized T-shirt a dull pine green with a wolf's head done large with huge, yellow eyes.

"What's wrong, Stephen?" Richard asked.

Stephen blinked and shook his head.

"We all heard Anita tell Jean-Claude she'd need more blood, fresh blood," Cassandra said. She looked at me while she finished the thought. "I think Stephen's worried where the fresh blood's coming from."

"I'm not into human sacrifice," I said.

"Some people don't consider a lycanthrope human," Cassandra said.

"I do," I said.

She looked at me, judging my words. Some lycanthropes could tell if you were lying. I was betting she was one of them. "Then where are you going to get the blood?"

It was a good question. I wasn't sure I had a good answer. "I don't know, but it won't take a death."

"Are you sure?" she asked.

I shrugged. "If it takes a death to put them back, they're dead. I'm not going to kill anybody else to bring them back." I looked at the three waiting vampires after I said it. Liv, Willie, and surprisingly, Damian. Raising the vampires was impressive enough, raising one as powerful as Damian was downright scary. He wasn't a master vampire, never would be, but he'd have frightened me in a fair fight. Now he stood dressed only in the green lycra pants and the pirate sash. His upper body gleamed like muscled marble under the glow of the lights. His green eyes stared at me with a patient waiting that only the truly dead can manage.

"You are shivering, ma petite."

"We raise the power again, then we need blood." I looked at Jean-Claude and Richard. "If Richard has to fight Marcus tonight, I'm not sure he should be the one who supplies this round of blood."

Jean-Claude cocked his head to one side. I expected him to say something irritating, but he didn't. Maybe even a very old dog could learn new

tricks.

"He is not sinking fangs into you," Richard said. Anger made his brown eyes dark and sparkling, he was lovely when he was angry. That aura of energy flared around him, close enough to creep down my bare skin.

"You can't donate twice this close together, with Marcus waiting for you," I said.

Richard grabbed me by the upper arms. "You don't understand, Anita. Feeding is like sex to him."

Again, I half-expected Jean-Claude to chime in, but he didn't. I had to say it. Damn. "It won't be the first time he's done it, Richard."

Richard's fingers dug into my arms. "I know that. I saw the fang marks on your wrist. But remember, you weren't under any mind control that time."

"I remember," I said. "It hurt like hell."

Richard drew me to him with his hands still holding only my upper arms, drew me to tiptoe as if he'd drag me to his face. "Without mind control, it's like rape, not the real thing. It'll be real this time."

"You're hurting me, Richard." My voice was calm, steady, but the look on his face scared me. The intensity in his hands, his face, his body, was unnerving.

He eased down, but didn't take his hands away. "Take blood from Jason or Cassandra."

I shook my head. "That might work or it might not. If the blood comes from one of us, I know it'll work. Besides, should you be offering up other people's blood without asking them first?"

Doubt slid behind his eyes, and he let me go. His long hair fell forward, hiding his face. "You say you've chosen me. That you're in love with me. That you don't want to have sex with him. Now, you tell me you want him to feed off of you. That's as bad as sex." He stalked the room, pacing around the waiting vampires, swinging back in an agitated stride that filled the room with a warm, creeping power.

"I didn't say I wanted to feed him," I said.

He stopped in the middle of the room, staring at me. "But you do, don't you?"

"No," I said, and it was true. "I've never been interested in that."

"She speaks the truth," Jean-Claude said at last.

"You stay out of this," Richard said, pointing a finger at him.

Jean-Claude gave a small bow and fell silent. He was behaving himself far too well. Made me nervous. Of course, Richard was having enough of a fit for both of them.

"Then let me feed him again."

"Isn't it sexual for you, too?" I asked.

Richard shook his head. "It was you I was looking at, Anita, not him. A little pain is fine."

It was my turn to shake my head. "Are you truly saying that letting him sink fangs into my body would bother you as much as sinking..." I let the thought die unspoken. "I see donating blood as the lesser evil, Richard. Don't you?"

"Yes," he hissed. His power was filling the room like warm, electric water. I could almost reach out and grab it.

"Then what are you bitching about?" I said. "We wouldn't have done it the first time, but you wanted me to do it. You wanted us to do it." I stalked towards him, finally angry myself. "You don't want to kill Marcus, fine, but this is the price. You want enough power to cow the rest of the pack without losing your humanity, great, but that kind of power isn't free." I stood in front of him, so close that his power danced over my skin like fine needles, like sex that rode that edge between pleasure and pain.

"It's too late to back out now. We are not going to strand Willie and the others because you're getting cold feet." I took that last step, putting our bodies so close together that a deep breath would have made them touch. I lowered my voice to a whisper, though I knew everything in the room would still hear me. "It isn't the blood that bothers you. What bothers you is that you enjoyed it." I lowered my voice until it was almost a movement of lips with only a breath of sound. "Jean-Claude isn't just seducing me, he's seducing us."

Richard stared down at me, and the look in his true brown eyes was lost, hopeless. A little boy who's discovered the monster under the bed is actually real, and it's screwing Mommy.

Jean-Claude's power eased through the room, mingling with Richard's electric warmth like a cool wind from the grave. We both turned and looked at the vampire. He was smiling ever so slightly. He undid his robe and let it fall to the floor. He glided towards us, wearing nothing but his silk pajamas and a knowing smile. His own power making his long hair flare round his face like a small wind.

Richard touched my shoulders and even that chaste touch sent a line of warm, shivering energy along my skin. The power was there for the calling, just below the surface. We didn't need all the sexual charades.

Jean-Claude reached a pale hand out towards me. I met his hand with mine, and that one touch was enough. That cool, burning power flowed over me, through me, into Richard. I heard Richard gasp. Jean-Claude started to move forward, like he'd press his body against mine. I held him away from me with the hand that was entwined in his, straight-arming him. "It's here, Jean-Claude, can't you feel it?"

He nodded. "Your power calls to me, ma petite."

Richard's hands slid over my shoulders, his face brushing my hair. "Now what?"

"We ride the power this time, it doesn't ride us."

"How?" Richard whispered.

Jean-Claude looked at me with eyes that were deep as any ocean and as full of secrets. "I believe ma petitehas a plan."

"Yeah," I said, "I have a plan." I looked from one to the other of them. "I'm going to call Dominic Dumare and see if he knows how to put vampires back in their coffins." Dominic had been cleared of Robert's murder. He had an airtight alibi. He'd been with a woman. Even if he hadn't been, I might have asked for his help. I wanted to save Willie more than I wanted to revenge Robert.

A strange expression crossed Jean-Claude's face. "You, asking for help, ma petite? That is unusual."

I drew away from both of them. We could get the power back, I was pretty certain of that. I looked at Willie's empty face and the fuzzy dice hanging from his coffin. "If I make a mistake, Willie's gone. I want him back."

There were times when I thought that it wasn't Jean-Claude who had convinced me that vampires weren't always monsters. It was Willie and Dead Dave, ex-cop and bar owner. It was a host of lesser vampires that seemed, occasionally, like nice guys. Jean-Claude was a lot of things; nice was not one of them.