Blue Moon (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #8)(11)

by Laurell K. Hamilton

I nodded. "Sorry, you're right. You're absolutely right. It was too personal."

But it was interesting information. There had been a point where I'd pretty much begged Richard to stay the night. To have sex with me. He'd said no because it wouldn't be fair until I saw him change into werewolf form. I needed to be able to accept the whole package. I hadn't been able to do that once the package bled and writhed all over me. But now I wondered if part of his hesitation had been simply fear of hurting me. Maybe.

I shook my head. It didn't matter. Business. If I concentrated really hard, maybe I could stay on track. We were here to get him out of jail, not to worry about why we broke up.

"We could use a little help here with the luggage," Jason called.

He had two suitcases under each arm. Zane and Cherry were carrying one coffin. They looked like pallbearer bookends. Nathaniel was lying on his back on the other coffin. He'd taken off his shirt and unbound his hair. His hands were folded across his stomach, eyes closed. I didn't know whether he was playing dead or trying to get a tan.

"A little help here," Jason said, kicking his foot towards the rest of the luggage. Two suitcases and a huge trunk still sat unclaimed.

I walked towards them. "Jesus, only one of those suitcases is mine. Who's the clotheshorse?"

Zane and Cherry put the coffin gently on the Tarmac. "Just one suitcase is mine," Zane said.

"Three of them are mine," Cherry said. She sounded vaguely embarrassed.

"Who brought the trunk?"

"Jean-Claude sent it," Jason said. "Just in case we do meet with the local master. He wanted us to make a good show of it."

I frowned at the trunk. "Please tell me there's nothing in there that Jean-Claude plans on me wearing."

Jason grinned.

I shook my head. "I don't want to see it."

"Maybe you'll get lucky," Jason said. "Maybe they'll try to kill you instead."

I frowned at him. "You're just full of happy thoughts."

"My speciality," he said.

Nathaniel turned his head and looked at me, hands clasped across his bare stomach. "I can lift the coffin, but it's not balanced right for carrying. I need help."

"You certainly do," I said.

He blinked up at me, one hand raised to block the sun. I moved until my body blocked the sun and he could look at me without squinting. He smiled up at me.

"What's with the coffin sunbathing?" I asked.

The smile wilted around the edges, then faded completely. "It's the scene in the crypt," he said as if that explained everything. It didn't.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

He raised just his shoulders and head off the coffin like he was doing stomach crunches. His abs bunched nicely with the effort. "You really haven't watched my movies, have you?"

"Sorry," I said.

He sat up the rest of the way, smoothing his hair back with both hands in a practiced gesture. He slipped a silver clasp around the hair and flipped the tail of auburn hair behind his back.

"I thought silver jewelry burned when it touched a lycanthrope's skin," I said.

He wiggled his hair, settling the silver clasp securely against his neck. "It does," he said.

"A little pain makes the world go round, I guess."

He just stared at me with his strange eyes. He was only nineteen, but the look on his face was older, much older. There were no lines on that smooth skin, but there were shadows in those eyes that nothing would ever erase. Cosmetic surgery for the soul was what he needed. Something to take the terrible burden of knowledge that had made him what he was.

Jason limped over to us, loaded with suitcases. "One of his movies is about a vampire who falls in love with an innocent young human."

"You've seen it," I said.

He nodded.

I shook my head and picked up a suitcase. "You got a car for us?" I asked Jamil.

"A van," he said.

"Great. Pick up a suitcase, and show me the way."

"I don't do luggage."

"If we all help, we can load the van in half the time. I want to see Richard as soon as possible, so grab something and stop being such a freaking prima donna."

Jamil stared at me for a long, slow count, then said, "When Richard replaces you as lupa, I won't have to take shit from you."

"Fine, but until then, hop to it. Besides, this isn't giving you shit, Jamil. When I give you shit, you'll know it."

He gave a low chuckle. He slipped his jacket back on and picked up the trunk. It should have taken two strong men to lift it. He carried it like it weighed nothing. He walked off without a backward glance, leaving me to get the last suitcase. Zane and Cherry picked the coffin back up and walked after him. Jason shuffled after them.

"What about me?" Nathaniel said.

"Put your shirt back on and stay with the coffin. Wouldn't do to have someone make off with Damian."

"I know women who would pay me to take the shirt off," he said.

"Too bad I'm not one of them," I said.

"Yeah," he said, "too bad." He picked his shirt up off the ground. I left him sitting on the coffin in the middle of the Tarmac, shirt wadded in his hands. He looked sort of forlorn in a strange, macabre way. I felt very sorry for Nathaniel. He'd had a rough life. But it wasn't my fault. I was paying for his apartment so he didn't have to turn tricks to make ends meet, though I knew other strippers at Guilty Pleasures who managed to make ends meet on their salary. Maybe Nathaniel wasn't good with money. Big surprise there.

The van was large, black, and looked sinister. The sort of thing serial killers drive in made-for-TV movies. Serial killers did drive vans in real life, but they tended to be pale colors with rust spots.

Jamil drove. Cherry and I rode up front with him. The luggage and everyone else went in the back. I expected Cherry to ask me to sit in the middle because I was at least five inches shorter than she was, but she didn't. She just crawled into the van, in the middle, with those long legs tucked up in front of the dashboard.

The road was well paved, almost no potholes, and if you held your breath, two cars could pass each other without scraping paint. Trees hugged the road on either side. But on one side, you caught glimpses of an amazing drop-off, and on the other side, there was just rocky dirt. I preferred the dirt. The trees were thick enough that the illusion of safety was there, but the trees fell away like a great, green curtain, and you could suddenly see for miles. The illusion was gone, and you realized just how high up we were. Okay, it wasn't like Rocky Mountain high, but it would do the job if the van went over the edge. Falling from high places is one of my least favorite things to do. I don't clutch the upholstery like in the airplane, but I'm a flatlander at heart and would be glad to be in the lower valley.