Blue Moon (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #8)(9)


by Laurell K. Hamilton

"I'll go," Jason said. He sat down beside Cherry and laid his head on her shoulder, snuggling. Cherry moved away from him, cuddling closer to Nathaniel. It wasn't sex, exactly, it was that the wereanimals tended to get up close and personal with their own kind. It was considered something of a social gaffe to cuddle up to a different sort of animal. But Jason didn't care. Cherry was female, and he flirted with anything that was female. Nothing personal, just habit.

Jason wiggled his butt until Cherry was pressed between him and Nathaniel. "I've got a suit in my luggage. A nice, normal, blue suit. I'll even wear a tie."

Cherry growled at him. It sounded all wrong, coming from that pretty face. I am not one of those women who wants to redo other women. I don't care much for makeup or clothes. But Cherry made me want to give her hints. If she was pretty in the Bride of Frankenstein makeup, she'd have been a knockout in something that matched her skin tone.

I smiled. "Thanks, Jason. Now, give Cherry some breathing room."

He pressed himself even closer. "Zane gave me a kiss to make me move."

"Move, or I'll bite your nose off." She gave an expression that was half-snarl, half-smile, a threatening flash of teeth.

"I think she means it," I said.

Jason laughed and stood in one of those lightning-fast movements that they were all capable of. He went to stand behind my seat, leaning his forearms on it.

"I'll hide behind you until it's safe," he said.

"Get off the back of my seat," I said.

He moved his arms but stayed standing behind me. "Jean-Claude thought you might have to take some of us into police situations. We can't all look like college students and  p**n  stars."

The  p**n  star comment was sadly accurate for all three of the wereleopards. Another good idea of Gabriel's had been to star his people in  p**n o films. Gabriel did his own share of starring roles. He was never one to ask of his kitties what he wasn't willing -- nay, eager -- to do himself. He'd been a sick son of a bitch, and he'd made sure that his wereleopards were as sick as he was.

Nathaniel had given me a gift box of three of his movies. He suggested we watch them together. I said thanks, but no thanks. I kept the tapes mainly because I wasn't sure what to do with them. I mean, he'd given me a gift. I was raised not to be rude. They were way in the back of my video cabinet, hidden behind a stack of Disney tapes. And no, I had not watched them once I was alone.

The air slapped against the plane, making it shudder. Turbulence, just turbulence. "You're actually pale," Cherry said.

"Yeah," I said.

Jason kissed the top of my head. "You know you're actually cute when you're scared."

I turned very slowly in the seat and stared at him. I would have liked to say I stared at him until his smile faded away, but we didn't have that kind of time. Jason would grin on his way into hell. "Don't touch me."

The grin widened. His eyes sparkled with it. "Who me?"

I sighed and settled back into the seat. It was going to be a very long couple of days.

4

Portaby Airfield is small. I guess that's why it's called an airfield instead of an airport. There were two small runways and a cluster of buildings, if three could be called a cluster. But it was clean and neat as a pin, and the setting was postcard perfect. The airfield sat in the middle of a wide, green valley surrounded on three sides by the gentle slopes of the Smokey Mountains. On the fourth side, behind the buildings, was the rest of the valley. It sloped sharply down, letting us know that the valley we were standing in was still part of the mountains. The town of Myerton, Tennessee, stretched below us in air so clean it sparkled like someone had dusted the clouds with ground diamonds. Words came to mind like pristine, crystalline.

That was the main reason one of the last remaining wild bands of Lesser Smokey Mountain Trolls lived in the area. Richard was finishing up his master's degree in biology. He'd been studying the trolls every summer for four years between teaching full time. Takes longer to get your master's degree part time.

I took a deep breath of the clean, clean air. I could see why Richard would want to spend his summers here. It was exactly the kind of place he'd enjoy. He was into outdoorsy stuff in a big way. Rock climbing, hiking, fishing, camping, canoeing, bird-watching -- pretty much anything you could do outside was his idea of fun. Oh, caving, too. Though I guess, technically, you're not outside if you're inside a cave.

When I said that Richard was a Boy Scout, I didn't mean just his moral fiber.

A man walked towards us. He was almost perfectly round in the middle, wearing a pair of coveralls with oil on the knees. White hair stuck out from underneath a billed cap. His glasses were black-rimmed and square. He wiped his hands on a rag as he walked. The look on his face was polite, curious. His eyes flicked from me to the rest of the guys as they filed out of the plane. Then his eyes flicked to the coffins that were being unloaded from the storage compartment. Asher was in one. Damian was in the other.

Asher was the more powerful of the two, but he was several hundred years younger. Damian had been a Viking when he was alive, and I don't mean the football team. He'd been a card-carrying, sword-wielding, marauding raider. One night he'd raided the wrong castle, and she took him. If she had a name, I've never heard it. She was a master vampire and ruler of her lands, the equivalent to Master of the City when there is no city in a hundred miles. She took Damian on a summer night over a thousand years ago, and she kept him. A thousand years, and he felt no more powerful in my head than a vampire half his age. I'd underestimated his age by hundreds of years, because part of me just couldn't accept that you could exist that long and not be more powerful, scarier. Damian was scary but not a millennium worth of scary. He'd never be more than he was: a third or fourth banana for all eternity. Jean-Claude bargained for Damian's freedom when he came to be Master of the City. He ransomed Damian. I never knew what it cost Jean-Claude, but I knew that it hadn't been cheap. She had not wanted to give up her favorite whipping boy.

The man said, "I'd shake your hand, but I've been working on the planes. Mr. Niley's man is waiting in the building."

I frowned. "Mr. Niley?"

He frowned then. "Aren't you Mr. Niley's people? Milo said you'd be coming in today." He looked back, and a tall man stepped out of the building. His skin was the color of coffee, two creams. His hair was cut in a wedge, leaving his elegant, sculpted face bare and unadorned. He was wearing a suit that cost more than most cars. He stared at me, and even from a distance I felt the dead weight of his eyes. All he needed was a sign over his head that said Muscle.