Home > Crimson Death (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #25)(4)

Crimson Death (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #25)(4)
Author: Laurell K. Hamilton


   Micah and I moved as quietly as we could toward the door, leaving our shared boy asleep and our shared master sleeping the sleep of the dead. We probably didn’t have to move all that quietly, but it was just polite. Micah stopped me at the door and made motions for me to fluff my curls into place. I raised an eyebrow at him, and he mouthed, Jean-Claude. Which meant my vampy fiancé had requested that Micah remind me not to go out without tidying my hair a little. Since I was technically going to be queen of all the vampires once I married Jean-Claude, I guess a little decorum was called for, but it still irked me.

   Micah actually finger-tamed his own curls, too, so at least it was evenhanded silliness. Jean-Claude had said that our appearance reflected on him, and vampires, especially the very old ones, could be exceedingly vain. It had been everything I could do not to say, Vampires vain, you’re joking, but I didn’t, since he rarely went anywhere when he wasn’t perfect top to bottom. I didn’t think of it as vanity, more just him, just Jean-Claude, and I loved him, so I did what men had done for centuries when they waited for their beauties to get ready for the night—waited patiently for the perfection that was worth waiting for. It had never occurred to me that he might start wanting me to do more perfection on myself as the wedding got closer. It was a trend I wasn’t really enjoying, but I was letting it ride. One thing I’d learned was to pick my battles. I’d already lost on the size of the wedding; I was still hoping to win on the wedding dresses for the women, mine included.

   Micah opened the outer door and the two guards went to attention, backs ramrod straight, shoulders back, arms at their sides as if they were still wearing a uniform that had a crease or stripe to follow.

   I said, “At ease, guys. You’re not in the Army anymore.”

   “I wasn’t in the Army, Marshal Blake,” the taller one said. His hair was still so short that I could see scalp through his nearly white-blond hair.

   “It was a line of an old song, Milligan; I remember that it’s ‘Anchors Aweigh’ for you.”

   The slightly shorter man, who was letting his brown hair grow out from the high and tight, gave a crooked smile and said, “Millie doesn’t like the classics much.”

   I smiled back. “You need to broaden his horizons, Custer.”

   “Every time Pud tries to broaden my horizons, my wife gets mad,” Milligan said, smiling. I knew that Pud was the first syllable of Pudding, because they’d started calling Custer Custard as a nickname, but in that mysterious way of nicknames it had changed into Pudding and then Pud. How did I know? I asked.

   Micah chuckled and shook his head. “Your wife made me promise that I wouldn’t let Custer lead you astray when we traveled out of town.”

   “I know she talked to you, sir.”

   “It’s just Micah, or Mr. Callahan—no sir needed.”

   “Are you serious? Your wife talked to Micah about me?” Custer asked.

   Milligan nodded. “That last weekend trip, you almost cost me my marriage.”

   “I thought you were joking about that,” Custer said.

   His friend shook his head.

   “Well, fuck, man, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.” Custer actually looked serious, which wasn’t typical for him.

   Milligan and Custer were part of a SEAL unit that had been attacked by a group of insurgents that thought being wereanimals made them a match for the SEALs. They’d been wrong, but the six-man unit had lost one of their own and the surviving five had all tested positive for lycanthropy, which meant an automatic medical discharge. We had other former military for similar reasons. One of them had brought the unit to our attention, and we’d offered them jobs.

   Some of the private contractor firms would take shapeshifters, but they were all new enough shifters that full moons meant they were either in secure areas or with older, more experienced lycanthropes who babysat them as they learned to control their inner beasts. Until they got complete control of themselves they couldn’t work for any of the private contractor firms, because their rule was that you had to be a lycanthrope for at least two years before you could apply. Some companies insisted on four years, and not all countries would allow lycanthropes across their borders. The former SEALs had less than a year of turning furry. When the time was over they might decide to go to the other firms, because the money was better, for some assignments a lot better, but the money here wasn’t bad and the level of life-threatening danger was much lower. Either way, they had good jobs with benefits for them and their families while they were deciding what to do next with a set of skills that was impressive as hell but of limited use in the civilian sector. So far their biggest complaint, and only from Custer and one other, was that there hadn’t been enough excitement on the job.

   Micah and I started down the hallway hand in hand. It meant one of us had to compromise a gun hand, but since we didn’t expect to be attacked in our own inner sanctum, I figured we were safe. I even let him have my gun hand, even though I had better scores on the range. Custer said, “I’m not sure how this works, but we’re on duty here to protect everyone in the room behind us, including the two of you.”

   “I’ll go with them. You stay on the door,” Milligan said.

   Custer eased back to his post beside the door without an argument. You could always tell who outranked whom in the newly ex-military, because of moments like that. We’d only had one person at a time from a unit before this, never most of a group that had worked together for years and then lost their careers in the same fight. They were still very much together as a unit. In fact, Claudia, who was in charge of our guards overall but especially here at the Circus, had talked to me about whether we wanted to separate them for work. They needed to learn to work with the rest of our people and not just with each other, but so far it hadn’t been an issue that anyone had complained about.

   I honestly didn’t think we needed a bodyguard here in the underground of the Circus, but I’d learned not to try to argue with some of the guards about where their duty lay. It just made me tired and didn’t gain me much. I could have played the “I’m your boss” card, but I was also one of their protectees, so it was a gray area. If I was their boss, then I could tell them to take a flying leap and they had to listen, but if something happened and I got hurt on their watch . . . Like I said, it was a gray area, so Milligan trailed us toward the computer room. Though Jean-Claude had totally embraced the new technology, he didn’t like everyone living on their phones and electronic devices instead of actually looking at and talking with the people around them, so he’d limited everything but smartphones to the one room. I happened to know that the other reason he’d done it was that some of the older vampires were a little intimidated by all the new tech. Besides, having to bring the wires and cables down this far through the rock hadn’t been easy, and keeping the computers in one place helped make it just a little bit easier.

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