The Killing Dance (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #6) - Chapter 42

42

I rose out of the darkness slowly, dragging upwards like being awakened from deep sleep. I wasn't sure what woke me. I couldn't remember going to sleep. I tried to roll over and couldn't. I was suddenly very awake, eyes wide, body straining. I'd been tied up before; it was one of my least favorite things. I had a few moments of pure panic. I bucked against the ropes that tied me at the wrists and ankles. I fought, pulling until I realized that the knots were getting tighter as I struggled.

I forced myself to lie very still. My heart pounded in my ears so loudly that I couldn't hear anything else. My wrists were tied over my head at an angle sharp enough to squeeze my shoulder blades and put strain all the way down to my wrists. Even raising my head the little bit I needed to see my ankles was painful. My ankles were tied together to the foot of an unfamiliar bed. I rolled my head back and saw the rope that tied my wrists to the head of the bed. The rope was black and soft, and if I had to guess, I'd say it was woven silk. It looked like something Jean-Claude might have lying around in a closet somewhere. I considered it for only a split second, then reality stepped into the room, and my heart stopped for just a second.

Gabriel came to the foot of the bed. He was wearing black leather pants so tight they looked poured on, and high black boots that rode his thighs all the way up, with straps at the top to hold the soft leather in place. He was naked from the waist up, a silver ring through his left nipple and another through the edge of his belly button. More silver marched up his ears to the curve, glittering as he walked around the bed. His long, thick black hair fell across his face, framing his pale, storm grey eyes. He walked around behind the headboard, out of sight, then slowly back into frame.

My heart had started beating again. It was beating so hard I was going to choke on it. They'd taken the Browning and Firestar, holsters and all. The wrist sheaths were gone. I tensed my back and could still feel the back sheath. When I put my head back, I didn't feel the knife's handle. I guess I was grateful they hadn't stripped me to get the sheath. The way Gabriel was circling the bed, I was betting we'd get to that.

I tried to talk, couldn't, swallowed, and tried again. "What's going on?" My voice sounded amazingly calm. Even to me.

A woman's laugh, high and rich, filled the room. But of course, it wasn't a room. We were at the farm where they made dirty movies. The room I was tied in had only three walls. The lights hung above me were dead, not on yet.

Raina stalked into sight on high, spiked heels the color of blood. She was wearing what looked like a red leather teddy that left most of her long legs and hips bare. "Hello, Anita, you're looking well."

I took a deep breath in through my nose and let it out slowly. My heart slowed a bit. Good. "You should talk to Richard before you do anything drastic. The position of lupa just opened up today."

She cocked her head to one side, puzzled. "What are you talking about?"

"She slept with Jean-Claude." Cassandra came to stand on the edge of the fake room, back to the wall. She looked like she'd always looked. If she felt uncomfortable having betrayed me to Raina, it didn't show. I hated her a lot for that.

"Aren't you going to sleep with both of them?" Raina asked.

"Hadn't planned on it," I said. Every time I opened my mouth and nobody touched me, I got a little calmer. If Raina had done this to get me out of the way, then she didn't need to go any further. If it was revenge for Marcus, I was in deep shit.

Raina sat down on the end of the bed near my feet. I tensed when she did it; I couldn't help myself. She noticed and laughed. "Oh, you are going to be a lot of fun."

"You can be alpha female. I don't want the job," I said.

Raina sighed, running her hand along my leg, massaging the muscle in my upper thigh, almost absently like you'd pet a dog. "Richard doesn't want me, Anita. He thinks I'm corrupt. He wants you." She squeezed my thigh until I thought she was going to grow claws and tear out the muscle. She forced a small sound out of my throat before she stopped.

"What do you want?"

"Your pain." She smiled when she said it.

I turned my head to Cassandra. There had to be someone sane in this room. "Why are you helping them?"

"I am Sabin's wolf."

My eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about?"

Raina crawled up on the bed, lying beside me, insinuating her body against mine, one finger tracing over my stomach. It was an idle gesture, as if she wasn't really concentrating. I didn't want to be here when she started concentrating.

"Cassandra was a plant from the very beginning, weren't you dear?"

Cassandra nodded, coming to stand beside the bed. Her hazel eyes were calm, too calm. Whatever she was feeling was there behind that pretty face, carefully controlled. The trick was, was there anything behind that face that could help me?

"Dominic, Sabin, and I are a triumvirate. We are what you and Richard and Jean-Claude could have been."

I didn't like her using the past tense. "You're the woman he gave up fresh blood for?"

"I believe in the sanctity of life. I thought I valued that above all. Watching Sabin's golden beauty rot away has convinced me otherwise. I will do anything, anythingto help him recover." Something like pain crossed her eyes and she looked away. When she looked back, her face was forcibly blank, the effort trembling down her hands. She noticed and hugged her hands to her arms. She smiled, but it wasn't a happy smile. "I have to make it up to him, Anita. I am sorry that you and yours have become entangled in our problems."

"How am I caught up in it?"

Raina slid her arm over my stomach, putting her face very near mine. "Dominic has a spell to cure Sabin of the rotting disease. A transfer of magical essence, you might say. All he needed was exactly the right donor." She leaned in so close that only my turning my head kept our lips from touching. She whispered against my skin, breath warm, "A perfect donor. A vampire who shares Sabin's powers exactly, a perfect match, and a servant, either alpha werewolf, or necromancer, bound to that same vampire."

I turned and looked at her. I couldn't help it. She kissed me, pressing her mouth against mine, trying to force her tongue inside. I bit her lip hard enough that I tasted blood.

She jerked back with a startled scream. She put her hand to her mouth and stared down at me. "That is going to cost you dearly."

I spit her blood at her. It spattered along my chin. It was a stupid thing to have done. Making her angrier was not helpful, but watching the blood drip down her lovely face had almost been worth it.

"Gabriel, entertain Ms. Blake."

That got my attention. Gabriel slid onto the bed, folding himself against me as Raina had done on the other side. He was taller, six feet, so he didn't fit quite as well, but what he lacked in matching size he made up for in technique. He straddled my body and leaned over me in a sort of push-up, bringing his mouth close and closer. He licked my bloody chin, one quick flick of his tongue. I jerked my head away.

He grabbed my chin with one hand, forcing me to look at him. He held my chin like a vise, fingers digging in when I struggled. The strength in his fingers was enough to crush my jaw if he squeezed. He licked the blood off my chin and lips in slow, lingering licks.

I screamed, then mentally cursed myself. This was what they wanted. Panic would not help. Panic would not help. I kept repeating it over and over until I stopped pulling at the ropes. I would not lose it, not yet, not yet.

Cassandra crawled up on the bed. I could only see her white dress out of the corner of my eye. Gabriel still held me immobile.

"Let go of her face so she can look at me."

Gabriel glanced at her and hissed.

A low, rolling growl trickled out from behind her lips. "I'm in the mood for a fight tonight, kitty, don't make it easy for me."

"Aren't you expected at the ceremony?" Raina said. "Doesn't Dominic need you there for it to work?"

Cassandra reared back, and the voice that came was low and fell from her human lips with effort. "I will speak with Anita before I go, or I will not go."

Raina came to stand on the other side of the bed. "You'll never find another master vampire who matches your master as perfectly as Jean-Claude. Never. You'd jeopardize his one chance at a cure?"

"I will do as I wish on this one thing, Raina, for I am alpha. When Richard is gone, I will lead the pack. Do not forget that."

"That wasn't our bargain."

"Our bargain was that you would kill the Executioner before we arrived in town. You failed."

"Marcus hired the best. Who knew she would be so hard to kill?"

"I did, the first time I met her. You are always

underestimating other women, Raina; it is one of your weaknesses." Cassandra leaned towards Raina. "You tried to kill Richard before Dominic could use him in the spell."

"He was going to kill Marcus."

Cassandra shook her head. "You panicked, Raina. You and Marcus. Now Marcus is dead, and you can't hold the pack. Too many of them hate you. And many of them love Richard, or at least admire him."

I wanted to ask where Jean-Claude and Richard were, but I was afraid I knew. A ceremony, sacrifice, but they needed Cassandra to make it work. I didn't want her to rush off.

"You were Dominic's alibi," I said. "Not that I'm complaining, but why am I still alive?"

Cassandra looked down at me. "Gabriel and Raina want you on film. If you would give me your word that you would seek no revenge against any of us for the deaths of your two men, then I would fight to see you go free."

I started to open my mouth and promise.

She waved a finger in front of my mouth. "No lies, Anita, not between us."

"Too late for that," I said.

Cassandra nodded. "True, and that grieves me. Under other circumstances, we might have been friends."

"Yeah." Of course, that made it hurt all the more. Nothing rubs salt in the wounds like betrayal. Richard could probably compare notes with me right now.

"Where are Richard and Jean-Claude?"

She stared down at me. "Even now you think you can save them, don't you?"

I would have shrugged, but I couldn't. "It was a thought."

"You were a lure and a hostage for the two men," Cassandra said.

Gabriel had settled on top of me, body pressing along the length of my body. He was heavy. You never noticed how heavy a man was when you were enjoying yourself. He had sunk down, so that his feet trailed off the bed, and he could fold his arms across my chest. His chin rested on his arms, and he stared at me like that, like he knew he had all day, all night, all the time in the world.

"I am very surprised that you broke up with Richard today, Anita," Raina said. "We sent him a lock of your hair with a note saying we'd send a hand next. He came alone and told no one, as we had said to do. He really is a fool."

It sounded like something Richard would do, but it surprised me, anyway. "You didn't get Jean-Claude to hand himself over for a lock of my hair."

Raina moved where I could see her better and smiled down. Her lip was already beginning to heal. "Very true; we didn't even try. Jean-Claude would have known we meant to kill you, regardless. He'd have come with all his vampires, all the wolves that are loyal to him. It would have been a bloodbath."

"How did you get him then?"

"Cassandra betrayed him. Didn't you, Cassandra?"

Cassandra just looked at us. "If Richard hadn't broken with you, you might have been able to cure Sabin. Seeking your aid was originally only an excuse to enter Jean-Claude's territory, but you were more powerful than Dominic first thought. You surprised us by bearing none of the vampire's marks. You were supposed to be part of the sacrifice, but without at least the first mark, it will not work."

Hurrah for me. "You saw me heal Damian's cut and the zombie. I can heal Sabin. You know I can, Cassandra. You saw it."

She shook her head. "The sickness has moved inside Sabin. His brain is going. If you had cured him today, it would be moot. But he must be sane for the spell to work. Even one more day might be too late."

"If you kill Richard and Jean-Claude, I won't have the power to heal Sabin. If Dominic came here planning to sacrifice all three of us, then the spell must need all three of us to work."

Something flickered across her face. I was right. "Dominic's not sure it will work without a human servant in the loop, is he?"

Cassandra shook her head. "It has to be tonight."

"If you kill them both and it doesn't cure Sabin, you've destroyed the only real chance he has. Our triumvirate can cure him. You know it can."

"I know no such thing. You would promise me the moon itself if you thought it would save you all."

"That's true, but I still think we can cure him. If you kill Richard and Jean-Claude, the chance is gone. Let us at least try. If it doesn't work, you can sacrifice them tomorrow. I'll let Jean-Claude give me the first mark. We'll either cure Sabin tomorrow or we'll be the perfect sacrifice for Dominic's spell." I willed her to listen to me. To believe me.

"Will Sabin be able to read his part of the spell tomorrow night?" Raina asked. She moved in very close to Cassandra. "Once his brain is rotted away, there will be nothing left to do but lock him in a box with crosses on it. Hide him away."

Cassandra's hands balled into fists. A fine trembling ran through her body. Raw fear showed on her face.

Raina turned to me almost conversationally. "Sabin won't die, you understand. He'll melt down into a little puddle of slime, but he won't die. Will he, Cassandra?"

"No," Cassandra almost shouted. "No, he won't die. He'll just go insane. He'll still have all the powers of the triumvirate, but he'll be mad. We'll have to lock him away and pray that Dominic's spells can hold his power in check. If we can't hold his powers prisoner, the council will force us to burn him alive. Only that would be sure death."

"But if you do that," Raina said, "you and Dominic will die, as well. All those vampire marks dragging you down to hell with him."

"Yes," Cassandra said, "yes." She stared at me, anger and helplessness in her face.

"Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?" I asked.

"No, Anita, you're just supposed to die," she said.

I swallowed hard and tried to think of something useful. It was hard to do with Gabriel lying on top of me, but if I didn't think of something, we were all dead.

Cassandra startled as if someone had touched her. A prickle of energy swept over my body from her, raising goose bumps where it touched. Gabriel ran his fingertips over the skin of my arms, making the gooseflesh stay just a little longer.

"I must go," Cassandra said. "Before the night is over, you may wish you were being sacrificed." She looked from Gabriel to Raina. "A slit throat would be quicker."

I agreed with her, but I wasn't sure what to say. We were discussing different ways to kill me. None of them seemed particularly good choices.

Cassandra stared down at me. "I am sorry."

"If you're really sorry," I said, "untie me and give me a weapon."

She smiled wistfully. "Sabin has ordered me not to."

"You always do what you're told?" I asked.

"On this one thing, yes. If you'd watched Jean-Claude's beauty rot before you, you'd do anything to help him."

"Who're you trying to convince, me or you?"

She swayed slightly, and I felt the roll of power out of her body and along mine. Gabriel licked my arm.

"I must go. The circle will be closed soon." She stared down at me, at Gabriel running his tongue up my arm. "I am truly sorry, Anita."

"If you're looking for forgiveness, pray. God may forgive you; I won't."

Cassandra stared down at me for another heartbeat. "So be it. Good-bye, Anita." She ran in a blur of white, like a fast-forward ghost.

"Good," Raina said, "now we can set up the lights and make some test shots." The lights sprang into a dazzling brightness.

I closed my eyes against the glare.

Gabriel moved up my body, and I opened my eyes. "We were going to strip you naked and tie you spread-eagled, but Cassandra wouldn't let us. But now she's too busy with the spell."

He put a hand on either side of my head, pinning some of my hair. "We did makeup on your face while you were out. We can make the body makeup part of the show. What do you think?"

I tried to think of anything useful. Anything at all. Nothing came to mind. He leaned over me, bringing his face close and closer. He opened his mouth enough to show fangs. Not vampire fangs but small leopard fangs. Richard had told me once that Gabriel spent too much time in animal form so he didn't come completely back anymore. Great.

Gabriel kissed me, lightly, then harder, forcing his tongue in my mouth. He drew back from me. "Bite me." He kissed me, then raised his lips back just enough to whisper, "Bite me."

Pain excited Gabriel. I didn't want him more excited, but with his tongue halfway down my throat, it was hard not to give him what he wanted. He ran his hand over my breasts, squeezing hard enough to make me gasp. "Bite me, and I'll stop."

I bit his lip. I bit him until he pulled back, the

flesh straining between us. Blood poured from his mouth to mine. I let go and spit blood into his face. He was close enough that it splattered in a red rain.

He laughed, wiping his fingers on the bloody lip, putting them in his mouth, sucking the blood off of them.

"Do you know how I became a wereleopard?" he asked.

I looked at him.

He slapped me lightly, casually. Starbursts exploded across my vision. "Answer me, Anita."

When I could focus, I asked, "What was the question?"

"Do you know how I became a wereleopard?"

I didn't want to play this game. I didn't want to participate in Gabriel's idea of pillow talk, but I didn't want to be hit again, either. It wouldn't take much for him to knock me unconscious. If I ever woke up again, I would be in worse shape than I was now. Hard to believe, but true.

"No," I said.

"I've always liked pain, even when I was human. I met Elizabeth. She was a wereleopard. We fucked, but I wanted her to change while we did it. She said she was afraid she'd kill me." He leaned over me. Blood dripped from his lip in slow, heavy drops.

I blinked, turning my face, trying to keep the blood out of my eyes.

"I almost died."

I had turned my head completely to the side, while his blood dropped on the side of my face. "Was the sex worth it?"

He leaned down and began to lick the blood oft my face. "Best sex I ever had."

A scream started in my throat. I swallowed it, and it hurt going down. There had to be a way out of this. There had to he.

A man's voice said, "Lie on top of her like you're going to do for the shot, and let's get some light readings."

I realized that there was a crew here. A director, a cameraman, a dozen people scurrying around, not helping me.

Gabriel drew a knife out of his high, black boot. The hilt was black, but the blade had a high silver sheen. I watched that knife, couldn't help myself. I'd been scared before, but not like this. The fear burned at the back of my throat, threatened to spill out in screams. It wasn't the sight of the blade that frightened me. A moment ago I'd have done anything to have him cut the ropes. Now I would have given anything for him not to cut the ropes.

Gabriel put his hand on my stomach and slid one knee between my tied legs. There wasn't a lot of give. I was grateful. He twisted his upper body and reached downward with the knife. I knew what he was going to do before I felt the ropes give at my ankles. He cut my feet loose and collapsed his lower body against me at almost the same time. No time to struggle, no time to take advantage. He'd done this before.

He wiggled his hips against me, spreading my legs wide enough that I could feel him against me through the jeans. I didn't scream, I whimpered and hated it. My face was pressed into his naked chest just above his pierced nipple. His chest hair was coarse, scratchy against my cheek. His body covered me almost completely. They couldn't have seen much more than my hands and my legs from the camera.

I had a very strange idea. "You're too tall," I said.

Gabriel had to raise up a little to look down at my face. "What?"

"The camera will never see anything but your backside. You're too tall."

He crawled backwards, raising himself in a little push-up position. He looked thoughtful. He turned around without getting off of me. "Frank, can you see her at all?"

"Nope."

"Shit," Gabriel said. He stared down at me, then smiled. "Don't go anywhere. I'll be right back." He slid off me.

With my feet free, I could sit up. My hands were still above my head, but I could huddle against the headboard. It was an immense improvement.

Gabriel, Raina, and two men in scruffy clothes were talking in a huddled group. I caught snatches of the conversation. "Maybe if we hang her from the ceiling?" "We'll have to change the room setup for that."

I had bought some time, but time for what? There was a long table near the room. My weapons were on it, laid in neat lines like props. Everything I needed was right there, but how could I get to it? Raina wasn't going to hand me a knife so I could cut myself loose. No, Raina wouldn't, but maybe Gabriel would.

He walked towards the bed, moving as if he had more muscles, more something, than a human did. He moved like a cat, if a cat could walk on two legs.

He knelt on the bed and started untying the rope from the headboard, but leaving my wrists bound.

"Why not cut the rope?" I asked.

"Frank got pissed that I cut the first one. This is real silk. It's expensive."

"Nice to know that Frank's fiscally responsible."

Gabriel grabbed my face, forcing me to meet his eyes. "We're going to change the room and tie you standing up. I'm going to fuck you until you go with me inside you, then I'm going to change and I'll rip you apart. You may even survive like I survived."

I swallowed and spoke very carefully. "Is that really your fantasy, Gabriel?"

"Yes."

"Not your best fantasy," I said.

"What?"

"Raping me while I'm helpless isn't your idea of hot sex."

He grinned, flashing fangs. "Oh, yes it is."

Don't panic. Don't panic. Don't panic. I leaned into him, and he released my face so I could do it, but he jerked the rope up tight, making sure my hands stayed in sight. He had definitely done this before.

I forced myself to lean into his naked chest, my tied hands pressed against his skin. I leaned my face towards him and whispered, "Don't you want a blade inside you while you do it?" I touched the silver ring in his nipple, pulled on it until the flesh bowed outward and he gave a little gasp.

"Don't you want the feel of silver burning up inside you while you're shoving yourself inside of me?" I went up on my knees so our faces would be closer together. "Don't you want to know I'm trying to kill you while you fuck me? Your blood pouring over my body while you fuck me, isn't that your fantasy?" I whispered the last against his lips.

Gabriel had gone very, very still. I could see the pulse in his throat thudding against the skin. His heart beat fast and hard against my hands. I jerked the ring out of his nipple and he let out a low moan. Blood trickled down his chest. I raised the ring, and he let the rope go so I could move my hands. I raised the bloody ring between our lips, almost as if we'd both kiss it.

"You'll only have one chance to fuck me, Gabriel. One way or another, Rainy will see me dead tonight. You'll never get another chance at me."

The tip of his tongue curled out and caught the ring, licking it from my fingers. He rolled it in his mouth and brought it back out, clean and free of blood. He held it out to me on the tip of his tongue. I picked the ring off and wrapped my fingers around it.

"You just want me to give you a knife," he said.

"I want to shove a silver blade so deep inside you that the hilt bruises your flesh."

He shuddered, breath escaping in a long sigh.

"You'll never find anyone else like me, Gabriel. Play with me, Gabriel, and I'll be the best sex you ever had."

"You'll try and kill me," he said.

I slid my fingers along the top of his leather pants. "Oh, yeah, but have you ever really been in danger of dying since that first time with Elizabeth? Since she shapeshifted underneath you, have you ever feared for your life during sex? Did you ever ride that thin, shining line between pleasure and death again?"

He turned away from me, not meeting my eyes. I touched his face with my bound hands, turned him back to me. "Raina hasn't let you, has she? Just like she won't let you tonight. You're alpha, Gabriel, I can feel it. Don't let her steal this from you. Don't let her steal mefrom you."

Gabriel stared at me, our bodies touching, faces close enough to kiss. "You'll kill me."

"Maybe, or you'll kill me."

"You might survive," he said, "I did."

"Are you still fucking Elizabeth, now that you survived?" I kissed him softly, running my teeth along his skin.

"Elizabeth bores me."

"Would you bore me, Gabriel? If I survive, would you be boring?"

"No," he whispered. I knew I had him, just like that. I either had the beginnings of a brilliant plan, or I'd bought myself some time, some options. It was an improvement. The real question was how much time did Jean-Claude and Richard have? How long until Dominic cut them open? If I couldn't get there in time, I didn't want to get there at all. If they both died, I almost wanted Gabriel to finish me. Almost.