The Killing Dance (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #6) - Chapter 40~41

40

I woke surrounded by bloodred sheets, naked, and alone. Jean-Claude had kissed me good-bye and gone to his coffin. I didn't argue. If I'd awakened to him cold and dead beside me... Let's just say I'd had all the shock I could handle from my boyfriends for awhile.

Boyfriend. That was a word for someone who walked you to your class. It didn't seem the right word after last night. I lay there, clutching the raw silk sheets to my chest. I could smell Jean-Claude's cologne on the sheets, on my skin, but more than that, I could smell him. I cuddled that scent to me, rolled in it. He said he loved me and for a time last night, I believed him. In the light of day, I wasn't so sure. How stupid was it to half-believe the vampire loved me? Not nearly as stupid as half-loving him. But I still loved Richard. One night of great sex didn't change that. I think I had hoped it would. Lust may die that easily, but love doesn't. True love is a much harder beast to kill.

There was a soft knock on the door. I had to reach under two red pillows before I came out with the Firestar. I held it at my side and said, "Come in."

A man entered the room. He was tall, muscular, with hair shaved on either side, the back left in a long ponytail.

I pointed the gun at him and clutched the sheets to my chest. "I don't know you."

His eyes went wide; his voice shook, "I'm Ernie, I'm supposed to ask if you want breakfast."

"No," I said. "Now, get out."

He nodded, eyes on the gun. He hesitated in the doorway, even staring down the barrel of a gun. I made a guess.

"What did Jean-Claude tell you to do?" It was amazing how many people were more afraid of Jean-Claude than of me. I pointed the gun at the ceiling.

"He said I was to be at your disposal, anything you want. He said I was to make that very clear to you."

"It's clear. Now, get out."

He still hesitated.

I'd had enough. "Ernie, I am sitting here naked in a bed, and I don't know you. Get out or I'm going to shoot you on principle." I aimed the gun at him for dramatic emphasis.

Ernie ran for it, leaving the door open. Great. Now I had the choice of walking to the door naked and closing it, or draping a king-size sheet around me and stumbling to the door and closing it. Sheet. I was sitting on the edge of the bed, with the sheet in front of me and most of my backside not covered, gun still clutched in one hand, when Richard appeared in the doorway.

He was dressed in jeans, white T-shirt, jeans jacket, and white tennis shoes. His hair foamed around his face in a mass of golden brown waves. A claw had caught him across the face, leaving angry red welts that chased across the entire left side of his face. The injury looked days old. It had to have happened after I left last night.

He had my leather coat in one hand and the Browning in the other. He just stood there in the doorway.

I sat on the bed. Neither of us said anything. I wasn't slick and sophisticated enough for this. What do you say to boyfriend A when he finds you naked in the bed of boyfriend B? Especially if boyfriend A turned into a monster the night before and ate someone. I bet Miss Manners didn't cover this at all.

"You slept with him, didn't you?" His voice was low, almost soft, as if he was trying very hard not to yell.

My gut tightened. I was not ready for this fight. I was armed, but I was naked. I would have traded the gun for clothes in a hot second.

"I would say it's not what it looks like, but it is." My attempt at humor did not work.

He strode into the room like an approaching storm, his anger riding before him in a crackling wave. The power poured over me and I wanted to scream.

"Stop leaking all over me."

It stopped him, almost literally in midmotion. "What are you talking about?"

"Your power, aura, it's raining all over me. Stop it."

"Why? Does it feel good? Until you panicked last night, it felt good, didn't it?"

I shoved the Firestar under the pillow and stood, clutching the sheet to me. "Yeah, it felt good until you shapeshifted on top of me. I was covered in that clear gunk, thick with it." The memory was new enough that I shuddered and looked away from him.

"So you fucked Jean-Claude. Oh, that makes perfect sense."

I looked at him and felt an answering anger. If he wanted to fight, he'd come to the right place. I held up my right hand. It was covered in a wonderful multicolored bruise. "You did this when you knocked my gun away."

"There'd been enough killing, Anita. No one else had to die."

"Do you really think that Raina is just going to let you take over? No way. She'll see you dead first."

He shook his head, his face set in stubborn lines. "I am Ulfric now. I'm in

control. She'll do what I say."

"Nobody bosses Raina; not for long. Has she offered to fuck you yet?"

"Yes," he said.

The way he said it stopped me, brought my breath up short. "Did you, after I left?"

"It would serve you right if I had."

I couldn't meet his eyes on that one. "If you make her lupa, she'll let it go. She just doesn't want to lose her power base." I forced myself to look up, to meet his eyes.

"I don't want Raina." Something passed over his face so raw, that it brought tears to my eyes. "I want you."

"You can't want me now, not after last night."

"Is that why you slept with Jean-Claude? Did you think it would keep you safe from me?"

"I wasn't thinking that clearly," I said.

He laid the coat and the gun on the bed. He gripped the end of the bed. The wood groaned under the strength of his hands. He jerked back from it as if he hadn't meant to do it. "You slept with him in this bed. Right here." He put his hand over his eyes as if he was trying to erase an image inside his head.

He screamed wordlessly.

I took a step towards him, hand out, and stopped. How could I comfort him? What could I say to make this better? Not a damn thing.

He jerked at the bottom sheet, tugging it until it came loose. He grabbed the top mattress and pulled it off the bed. He grabbed the bottom of the bed and lifted.

I screamed, "Richard!"

The bed was antique solid oak, and he tossed it on its side like it was a toy. He pulled the bottom sheet off. The silk tore with a sound like skin peeling back. He was on his knees with the butchered silk in his hands. He held his hands out to me and the sheets fell away like blood.

Richard got to his feet, a little unsteady. He caught himself against the bed and took a step towards me. The Firestar and the Browning were somewhere on the floor in the welter of red silk and tossed mattress.

I backed away until I hit the corner, and I had nowhere else to go. I was still clutching the sheet around me like it was some kind of protection.

I held out a hand towards Richard, as if that would help. "What do you want from me, Richard? What do you want me to say? I'm sorry. I am sorry that I hurt you. I'm sorry that I can't handle what I saw last night. I'm sorry."

He stalked towards me, not saying anything, hands balled into fists. I realized that I was afraid of Richard. That I wasn't sure what he'd do when he reached me, and I wasn't armed. Part of me felt like I deserved to be hit at least once, that I owed that to him. But after seeing what he'd done to the bed, I wasn't sure I'd survive it.

Richard grabbed the front of the sheet, balling it in his fist, jerking me against him. He used the sheet to raise me to tiptoe. He kissed me. For a second I froze. Hitting, yelling, that I'd expected, but not this.

His mouth bruised against my lips, forcing my mouth open. The moment I felt his tongue, I jerked my head back.

Richard put a hand on the back of my head like he'd force me to kiss him. The rage in his face was frightening.

"Not good enough to kiss now?"

"I saw you eat Marcus last night."

He let me go so suddenly I fell to the floor, stumbling over the sheet. I tried to get to my knees, but my legs had tangled. The sheet slipped over one breast. I struggled to cover myself. Embarrassed at last.

"Two nights ago, you let me touch them, suck them. Now I can't even see them."

"Don't do this, Richard."

He went to all fours in front of me, so we'd be on eye level. "Don't do what? Don't be mad that you let the vampire fuck you?" He crawled forward until our faces were almost touching. "You fucked a corpse last night, Anita. Did it feel good?"

I stared at him from inches away, not embarrassed anymore. Instead, I was getting pissed. "Yeah, it did."

He jerked back from me like I'd hit him. His face crumpled, and his eyes searched the room frantically. "I love you." He looked up suddenly, eyes wide and pain-filled. "I love you."

I kept my eyes very wide so the tears in them wouldn't fall out and run down my cheeks. "I know, and I'm sorry."

He turned away from me, still kneeling. He slapped his hands against the floor. He pounded his hands into the floor over and over until blood smeared on the white carpet.

I got to my feet. I hovered over him, afraid to touch him. "Richard, Richard, don't, please don't." The tears fell and I couldn't stop them.

I knelt beside him. "You're hurting yourself. Stop it!" I grabbed his wrists, held his bleeding hands in mine. He stared at me, and the look on his face was raw, human.

I touched his face, gently

tracing the claw marks. He leaned into me, tears spilling down his cheeks. The look in his eyes held me immobile. His lips brushed mine, soft. I didn't flinch, but I didn't kiss him back, either.

He moved back from me, just enough to see my face clearly. "Good-bye, Anita." He got to his feet.

I wanted to say so much, but none of it would help. Nothing would make it better. Nothing would erase what I'd seen last night or how it had made me feel. "Richard... I... I'm sorry."

"So am I." He walked to the door. He hesitated with his hand on the doorknob. "I'll always love you."

I opened my mouth, but no sound came. There was nothing left to say but, "I love you, Richard, and I am sorrier than I know how to say."

He opened the door and stepped through it without looking back. When the door closed behind him, I sat on the floor, huddled in the silk sheet. I could smell Jean-Claude's cologne on the silk, but I could smell Richard now, too. His aftershave clung to the sheets, to my mouth.

How could I let him go like this? How could I call him back? I sat on the floor and did nothing, because I didn't know what to do.

41

I called Edward's answering service and left a message. I couldn't stay where I was. I couldn't stay here staring at the wrecked bedroom and remembering Richard's wounded eyes. I had to get out. I had to call Dominic and tell him I wasn't coming. The triad of power didn't work without at least two of us on the spot. Jean-Claude was in his coffin and Richard was out of the picture. I wasn't sure what would happen with our little triumvirate now. I didn't see Richard standing around watching me grope Jean-Claude, if I wasn't groping him, too. I couldn't blame him on that.

Strangely, the thought of him sleeping with Raina still made me see green. I had no right to be jealous of him now, but I was. Go figure.

I dressed in black jeans, a black, short-sleeved blouse, and a black blazer. I had to work tonight, and Bert would kick a fit about me wearing black. He thought it gave the wrong image. Screw him. Tonight, black fit my mood.

The Browning in its shoulder holster, Firestar in the Uncle Mike's sidekick holster, a knife on each arm, and a knife down my spine. I was ready for work.

I was going to give Edward ten more minutes, and then I was out of there. If there was still an assassin lurking around, I'd almost have welcomed him or her.

There was a knock on the door. I sighed. "Who is it?"

"Cassandra."

"Come in."

She opened the door, caught one sight of the wrecked bed, and grinned. "I've heard of rough sex, but this is ridiculous." She was wearing a long, white dress that fell nearly to her ankles. White hose and white canvas flats completed the outfit. She looked light and summery with her long hair trailing down her back.

I shook my head. "Richard did it."

The smile left her face. "He found out you slept with Jean-Claude?"

"Does everyone know?" I asked.

"Not everyone." She walked into the room, shutting the door behind her. She shook her head. "Did he hurt you?"

"He didn't hit me, if that's what you mean, but I feel pretty shitty."

Cassandra walked to the bed, staring up at it. She grabbed the edge of the frame. She pulled with one hand and steadied with the other. She pulled several hundred pounds of wood and metal around like it was nothing. She settled the bed gently to the carpet.

I raised an eyebrow. "That was impressive."

She smiled, almost shyly. "One of the fringe benefits of being a lycanthrope is that you can pretty much lift anything you want."

"I see the appeal of that."

"I knew you would," she said. She started picking up the pillows and ripped sheets. I joined her. "We should probably put the mattress back first," she said.

"Okay. You need help?"

She laughed. "I can lift it, but it's awkward."

"Sure." I grabbed the other side of the mattress.

Cassandra came up beside me, lifting the mattress with her left hand. A look passed over her face. "I am sorry."

"I meant what I said about you and Richard earlier. I want him to be happy," I said.

"That's very flattering. I like you, Anita. I like you a lot. I wish I didn't."

I had time to frown at her, then her delicate fist came out of nowhere, a blur of speed that smashed into my face. I felt myself fall backwards. I smashed into the floor and couldn't save my head from that extra smack against the carpet. It didn't hurt. I didn't feel a damn thing when blackness closed over me.