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

by Laurell K. Hamilton

"We'll be on the ground soon," he said. The hand left my knee. He understood the rules. I let him touch me when he had no business doing it, but no long, lingering caresses. I was his touchstone when he was nervous, not his girlfriend.

"I know," I said.

He smiled. "But you don't believe me."

"Let's just say I'll relax when we actually land."

Cherry joined us. She was tall and slender, with straight, naturally blond hair cut very, very short and close to a strong, triangular face. The eye shadow was gray, the eyeliner so black it looked like crayon. The lipstick was black. The makeup wasn't the colors I'd have chosen for her, but it did match her clothes. Black fishnet stockings, vinyl miniskirt, black go-go boots, and a black lace bra underneath a fishnet shirt. She'd added the bra for my benefit. Left to her own devices, when she wasn't working as a nurse, she went pretty much topless. She'd been a nurse until they found out she was a wereleopard; then she'd been the victim of budget cuts. Maybe it was budget cuts, but then again, maybe it wasn't. It was illegal to discriminate against someone because they had a disease, but no one wants a wereanything treating the sick. People seem to think lycanthropes can't control themselves around freshly spilled blood. Some of the newer shapeshifters would be in trouble, but Cherry wasn't new. She'd been a good nurse, and now she'd never be a nurse again. She was bitter about it and had turned herself into the slut bride from Planet X, as if even in human form, she wanted people to know what she was now: different, other. Trouble was, she looked like a thousand other teens and early twenties who also wanted to be different and stand out.

"What happens once we land?" Cherry asked in a purring, contralto voice. I'd thought her voice had been the product of too much fur time, like Zane's teeth, but nope, Cherry just had this wonderful, deep, sexy voice. She'd have done good phone sex. She sat on the ground at our feet, knees out, ankles crossed, making the short skirt ride up enough to show the hose were thigh high but still managing to cover the rest. Though in a skirt that short, I was hoping she was wearing undies. I'd have never have been able to wear something that short and not flash.

"I contact Richard's brother and go to the jail," I said.

"What do you want us to do?" Zane asked.

"Jean-Claude said that he made arrangements for rooms, so you guys go to the rooms."

They exchanged a glance. It was more than an ordinary glance.

"What?" I asked.

"One of us will need to go with you," Zane said.

"No, I'm going to go in there flashing my executioner's license. I'm better off on my own."

"What if the master of this city has his people waiting for you in town?" Zane asked. "He'll know you're going to the jail today."

Cherry nodded. "It could be an ambush."

They had a point, but ... "Look, nothing personal, guys, but you look like the top half of an S and M wedding cake. Cops don't like people who look sort of ... " I wasn't sure how to say it without being insulting. Cops were meat-and-potatoes people. They weren't impressed by the exotic. They'd seen it all and cleaned up the mess. Most of the exotic that they saw were bad guys. After a while, policemen seem to think anything exotic is a bad guy; just saves time.

If I walked into the police station with Tweedle-punk and Tweedle-slut, it was going to raise the cop's antennae. They'd know I wasn't exactly what I was claiming to be, and that would complicate things. We needed to make things easier, not harder.

I was dressed in vampire executioner casual. New black jeans, not faded, crimson short-sleeved dress shirt, black suit jacket, black Nikes, black belt so the loops of my shoulder holster had something to hang on. The Browning Hi-Power sat under my left arm, a familiar tightness. I was carrying three blades. A silver knife in a wrist sheath on each arm and a blade in a sheath down my spine. The handle stuck up high enough that my hair had to hide it, but my hair was thick and dark enough to do the job. The last blade was like a small sword. I'd used it only once for real to pin a wereleopard through the heart. The tip had pushed out his back. A silver cross under the blouse for true emergencies, and I was packed for werebear, or almost anything else. I had a spare clip of normal bullets in my fanny pack just in case I met up with a rogue fairie. Silver didn't work against them.

"I'll go with you." Nathaniel slid in behind Cherry, pressing himself against the wall of the plane and my legs. One broad shoulder rested against my jeans in a nice, solid weight. There was actually no way for him to sit there and not touch me. He was always trying to touch me, and he was good enough at it that I couldn't always bitch about it, like now.

"I don't think so, Nathaniel," I said.

He hugged his knees to his chest and asked, "Why not?" He was dressed normally enough in jeans and a tucked-in T-shirt, but the rest of him ... His hair was a deep, nearly mahogany auburn. He'd tied it back in a loose ponytail, but the hair fell like silken water to his knees.

Nathaniel gazed up at me with eyes the pale purple of Easter egg grass. Even if he cut the hair, the eyes would have given him trouble. He was short for a man, and was also the youngest of us, nineteen. I suspected strongly that he was in the middle of a growth spurt. Someday, that short body was going to match his shoulders, which were broad and very masculine. He was a stripper at Guilty Pleasures, a wereleopard, and once he'd been a male prostitute. I'd put a stop to that. If you're going to be leopard queen, you might as well rule. The rule was that none of the leopards were whores. Gabriel, their old alpha, had pimped them out. Shapeshifters can take a lot of damage and survive. Gabriel had figured out a way to make that pay. He pimped his kitties out to the S and M set. People who liked to give pain had paid a lot of money for Nathaniel, once upon a time. The first time I'd ever seen him was in the hospital after a client had gotten carried away and nearly killed him. Admittedly, this was after Gabriel had been killed. The wereleopards had tried to keep up the client list without anyone to protect them from the clients.

Zane had tried to take Gabriel's place as pimp and bad-ass kitty, but he hadn't been strong enough to fill the bill. He'd let Nathaniel nearly die and hadn't been able to protect him.

Nathaniel could bench-press a grand piano, but he was a victim. He liked pain and wanted someone to be in charge of him. He wanted a master and was trying very hard for me to take the job. We might have worked something out, but being his master -- or mistress -- seemed to include sex, and that I was not up for.