I woke to the phone ringing. I huddled in the sheets, trying not to hear it. God, I was tired. The bed moved, someone else rumbling for it. It wasn't until Jason's voice said, "Hello," softly, as if he were afraid of waking me, that I woke completely. Why was Jason in my bedroom?
That question was answered as soon as I opened my eyes. I wasn't in my bedroom, in fact, I didn't know where the hell I was. The bed was a king-size, but it was only pillows and a bed, no headboard, no footboard, only a bed, very modern, very normal. The only light was from a small door directly across from the foot of the bed, I could catch a glimpse of a bathtub, or shower. I followed the dim light out and found bare stone walls and knew I was still inside the Circus of the Damned, somewhere.
"She's sick," Jason said. He was quiet for a second. "She's asleep. I'd rather not wake her."
I tried to remember why I was here and came up with nothing, just a blank. I started to roll over, I think to ask who it was, when I realized I was naked. I pulled the sheets up over my breasts and turned over to see Jason.
He was laying on his side, his back to me, the sheet pulled down enough that I could see the top of his buttocks. What the fuck was I doing naked in a bed with Jason? Where was Jean-Claude? Okay, probably in his coffin, or his bed. I never shared the bed when he was stone cold. But why hadn't I gone home?
"I don't think she's going to be well enough to come out today."
I tried to sit up and found that the world wasn't quite steady. Maybe sitting up wasn't such a good idea. I stayed on my back, sheet clutched to my chest, and had to try twice to say, "I'm awake." My mouth was incredibly dry.
Jason turned towards me. The movement pooled the sheet into his lap and left the backside of his body bare. He covered the receiver with his hand. "How do you feel?"
"How did I get here? Why am I here?" I asked in a voice so hoarse it barely sounded like me.
"Do you remember anything?"
I frowned, and that hurt. My throat hurt. I raised a hand and found a large bandage on the right side of my neck. There was a vampire bite under the bandages, I knew that, and with that knowledge, I remembered.
I remembered everything, and it wasn't just my mind that remembered it. My body convulsed against the bed, my spine bowing, hands clawing at the sheets, a moan tore from my throat, before my body stole all the breath from me, and I bucked against the bed, caught in a sensory memory. It wasn't as good as the original, but damn it was close.
I dug my fists into the sheets, balling the cloth up, trying to find something to hold on to. Jason was suddenly beside me, he grabbed my upper arms, tried to hold me still. "Anita, what's wrong?"
My hands came up, automatically, grabbing his forearms, holding on. My eyes rolled back into my head, my body convulsed, and my hands tore down his forearms. I felt my nails sink into his flesh, felt his skin give under me.
Jason cried out, somewhere between a scream and a moan.
I lay back against the bed, panting, eyes unable to focus. I held onto Jason's arms, because it was the only solid thing I had.
"Anita," he said, his voice, strained, "are you alright?"
I tried to say yes, but finally was reduced to nodding. He pried my fingers from his arms, gently, folding my hands across the sheet and my stomach. I felt the bed move as he moved. I realized my eyes were shut. I didn't remember shutting them.
"What the hell was that?" he asked.
I started to say, I didn't know, but I did know. I remembered Asher sitting at a long banquet table with his hair in golden ringlets, dressed in gold and crimson. The wife of our host crushed her wine glass in her gloved hand, her mouth half-parted, her breath making the white mounds of her breasts rise and fall. A small sound escaped her, and when she could speak, she asked for her maid and to be helped to her room, for she was ill. She wasn't ill. Asher had seduced her the night before, on Belle's orders. He had complained to Jean-Claude that the woman simply lay there, eyes rolled back in her head, true, but with almost no other reaction. It had been most disappointing.
She'd experienced a flashback of the orgasm the night before at the dinner table, but she was a quiet sex partner, which meant that her flashbacks could be explained away in public. Sort of.
I lay there staring up at Jason, seeing him now instead of candlelit rooms long deserted and people long gone to dust. I found my voice, and it was more hoarse than before, as if the screaming had taken the rest of my voice.
"It was a flashback." I coughed.
"To what?" he asked.
He hopped off the bed and knelt by a small refrigerator next to the bed. He got out a small bottle of some athletic juicer. "It helps replace the electrolytes better than water."
"I don't like this shit."
"Trust me, you'll feel better if you drink it than if you drink water. Water can make you nauseous."
Suddenly the neon blue drink looked a whole lot better. He opened it and handed it to me. Blood had filled the scratches on his forearms and was slowly seeping down his skin in red rivulets.
"Jesus, Jason, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cut you up." I took a sip of the neon bright liquid. The taste was as bad as I remembered, but a few small sips, and I did feel a little better. When I talked, my voice didn't sound like I'd been in the desert for a month.
He held his arms up. "It's okay, though normally when I get this cut up it's because I did a wonderful job entertaining a friend." He smiled.
I shook my head, and I wasn't dizzy this time. Good.
"You said this was a flashback, a flashback to what?" he asked.
"To what happened with Jean-Claude and Asher."
He raised eyebrows at me. "You mean that was a flashback to what, the orgasm?"
I felt heat creep up my face. "Something like that," I muttered.
He laughed. "You're joking."
"I don't think so." I drank some more of the vile drink, and avoided looking at him.
"I've served as refreshment for Jean-Claude for years and I've never had any reaction like that."
"It's something Asher can do."
"What?" he asked.
"You're bleeding all over the place," I said.
"I'll doctor myself in a minute. First I want you to finish this explanation."
"You know, Asher's bite can be . . ."
"Orgasmic," he finished for me.
"Yeah," I said.
"I've experienced the mild version of it," Jason said. "So have you once in Tennessee when Asher was dying. He rolled your mind. If I remember right, you didn't like it much."
"It wasn't that I didn't like it, Jason, it was that I liked it maybe too much, so yeah, it scared me."
"Jean-Claude said that Asher always holds back unless he can keep the person, whatever that means."
I nodded, took a drink, nodded again. "I think, no, I know that Asher didn't hold back last night."
"How do you know?" he asked.
"I've got some of Jean-Claude's memories. I'm reacting like a woman that Belle had Asher seduce once."
"Acting how?" he asked, "Slicing people up?"
"I said I was sorry."
He sat down on the edge of the bed, one knee tucked up, the other down, so that he was pretty much flaunting himself at me. Generally I don't have trouble making eye contact with a man, but it was sort of eye catching.
"I'm just teasing, Anita." He seemed totally unaware of his nudity, like most of the shape-shifters I knew.
I handed him an edge of sheet. "Please cover up a little."
He grinned. "Why, we slept for," he glanced at the bedside clock, "four hours naked together. Why should I dress now?"
I frowned at him, and suddenly it was easy to have eye contact. It usually is when I glare.
"How are you acting like this other woman?" he asked.
"Echoes, flashbacks to the pleasure that happened when Asher took blood."
"Is that going to keep happening?" he asked.
I blushed again. "Off and on, fuck."
"What?" he asked.
"The woman I'm remembering was quiet in bed, she didn't jump around a lot, not according to Asher."
"She could hide it better than I can."
He laughed out loud. "Are you telling me that all this jumping around is normal for you?"
I glared at him. "You should know, you've seen me in bed once, you helped bring me, remember." I was blushing so hard my head was beginning to hurt.
His smile faded. It had taken me months to be comfortable around Jason after that. "The ardeurwas riding all of us," he said, "we were all a little jumpier than usual."
I shook my head, not looking at him, tucking my knees and the sheet to my chest. "Except for wanting to tear out your throat, that was about normal for me."
He coughed, laughed, and finally said, "No way."
I kept my eyes firmly on the sheets. "Fine, make fun."
He took the bottle from me. "I need a drink."
I hugged my knees to my chest, huddling in the sheet. "You are so not funny."
He slid to his knees beside the bed, so I'd see his face. "I'm sorry, really, but . . ." He gave a small shrug. "You can't blame me. You cannot tell me that you have these violent, amazing, orgasms, then expect me not to tease you. It's me, Anita, you know I can't really help it."
He looked so boyish, so innocent. It was all an act. By the time I'd met Jason he'd been ridden hard and put up wet, and his innocence had been long gone.
He handed the drink back to me. "Forgive me, okay, maybe it's just envy."
"Don't go there," I said.
"Not of you," he said, "but hell if Asher's bite is that good, why didn't I get the full treatment?"
I tried to frown at him, and only half-succeeded. "You said it yourself, you're not his pomme de sang,you're only a loaner."
"And you're Jean-Claude's human servant, not Asher's, so why do you rate the full orgasmic blowout?"
He had a point, a good point. I shrugged. "I think the ardeuroverrode things. I don't know. I guess I'll have to ask them when they wake up." Why would Asher do this to me? Had it been on purpose? I knew only Asher could do with the mere taking of blood what most men couldn't do with their whole bodies. Asher had done something to me that Jean-Claude alone couldn't duplicate. The memory of it tightened my body, and I had just enough time to shove the bottle at Jason before I threw myself back on the bed.
It wasn't as violent as the last time, and Jason made no move to try and touch me. I guess he'd had enough scratches. When I was done, panting on the bed, with the sheet down around my stomach, and my vision clearing, Jason asked from the far side of the bed, "Is it safe now?"
"Shut up," I managed.
He laughed and bounced back on the bed. He raised me up with one hand and offered the bottle with the other. "Lean against the pillows, drink this slowly, I'm going to put some bandages on my arms."
"Antiseptic cream, too," I said.
"I'm a werewolf, Anita, I don't get infections."
Oh. "Fine, then why bother with bandages at all?"
"I don't want to bleed all over my clothes, and I can't let the police see me like this."
"Police, why police?"
"That was who was on the phone when you woke up. That is who's been calling for about the last hour. Lieutenant Storr and Detective Zerbrowski have both called, and have requested your presence. The lieutenant made noises about coming to find you and drag you out of my bed."
"How did he know I was in your bed?"
He grinned at me in the door of the bathroom, opening it wide so the light framed his body. "I don't know, maybe he guessed."
"Jason, you did not tease Dolph, please tell me you didn't."
He put a hand to his chest. "Me, tease someone?"
"Sweet Jesus, you did."
"I'd call him back ASAP, if I were you. I'd hate to have the SWAT team crash our little party."
"We are not having a party."
"I don't think your lieutenant friend will believe that if he finds us naked in the bedroom together." He held his arms up. "Especially if he sees this."
"He's not going to see your arms, or any other part of you. Just give me my clothes and I'll get out of your hair."
"And if you have another flashback while you're driving, what then? And let me just add that I've been donating blood to vampires a lot longer than you have. I know how hard it can be when you lose as much as you lost. You may feel fine, but if you overdo it, you'll get dizzy again, and nauseous. That wouldn't be good at a crime scene, would it?"
"Dolph does not let civilians at his crime scenes."
"I'll sit in the Jeep, but I can't let you drive yourself around today."
"Call Micah, or Nathaniel, they'll come pick me up."
He shook his head. "Nathaniel passed out at the club last night."
"Micah thinks that feeding the ardeurat least once a day for three months has taken its toil on Nathaniel."
"Is he alright?"
"He just needs a day off. Jean-Claude only takes blood from me every other day, usually."
"I switch off with Micah and Jean-Claude for the ardeur," I said.
"Yeah, but Jean-Claude only needs to feed once a day, you need to feed twice a day. Let's face it, Anita, you need a larger stable of pomme de sangs."
"What, you volunteering?"
An expression of delight crossed his face. "Oh, hell yes, I'd love to be on the receiving end of one of those spine cracking orgasms."
"Jason," I said, and the one word was warning enough.
"Fine, be that way, but who else are you going to put in Nathaniel's place while he recovers?"
I sighed. "Damn it."
"See, you don't know, do you?"
"I can feed on Asher now."
"Yes, but he's not going to wake up for hours and hours. You need some more day-walking donors, Anita. It doesn't have to be me, but it has to be somebody. Think about it. But today I am your escort, because you can't go out alone, not with the blood loss, and whatever the hell Asher did to you. You could call Micah, but by the time he drove out here, and the two of you drove out to wherever the police want to be, I think your police friends would be having fits."
"Fine, you've made your point."
"Have I? It's always so hard to tell with you. Sometimes I think I've won the argument, then you get a second wind and beat me all to hell with it."
"Just go, Jason, put some bandages on the scrapes."
"Scrapes hell, if I were human, you'd be taking me to the emergency room. Remember, Anita, you have some of the strength of both a vampire and a werewolf. We can punch our finger through someone's ribs."
"Are you really hurt?" I asked, all joking aside, I didn't want him hurt.
"Not permanently, but it'll heal almost human slow."
"I'm sorry, Jason." I remembered enough to say, "And thanks for taking care of me."
His grin faded, and something close to a serious look spilled through his eyes, then it was gone, hidden behind another smile. "All in a day's work, ma'am." He tipped an imaginary hat and started to shut the door. "I'd turn on the lamp before I close the door, it's damn dark without windows."
I reached over and switched on a small lamp beside the clock, on top of the little refrigerator. The glow seemed unnaturally bright.
"Your cell phone is on the floor on my side of the bed. I dropped it when you started convulsing."
"I was not convulsing," I said.
"Oh, sorry, I dropped it when you had your raging, overwhelming, screaming orgasm. Was that better? It sounded better didn't it?"
"Go clean up," I said, sounding grumpy when I said it.
He was laughing as he closed the door.
I was left alone with the little lamp, the big bed, and no clothes in sight. I was about to debate on whether to try and find some clothes before hunting up my phone, when it rang again. I scrambled across the bed, jerking the sheets off so they wouldn't tangle me. I half slid, half fell to the floor and found my phone by sitting on it.
It was Dolph, and he wasn't happy. While he'd been waiting for me, there had been a second call, to a second crime scene. He was pissed with Jason's antics on the phone, with both crime scenes, and especially, it seemed, with me.
The first crime scene was in Wildwood, that new bastion of money and social climbing. The hot addresses used to be Ladue, Clayton, Creve Coeur, but they've all become passe. Nope, the hot new place to be is Wildwood. The fact that it's in the middle of freaking nowhere doesn't seem to dissuade the nouveau riche, or wanna-be rich. Personally, the only reason I lived in the middle of nowhere, at a much less fashionable address, was the fact that I didn't want to get my neighbors shot up.
By the time Jason had driven through all the windy roads that led to the murder scene, we'd found out several things. First, my eyes were light sensitive, so my sunglasses were my friends. Second, my stomach didn't like the twisting roads. We hadn't had to stop so I could throw up, which was good, since unless we pulled into someone's drive, there was no shoulder to the road. It was bordered by woods, hills, tame wilderness, where real wolves no longer roam and even the black bears have found deeper holes to hide in.
Normally I love a drive through the country. Today all the bright greens meant was that when my vision swirled, it did it in Technicolor green like a frog smeared across my vision, which actually made the nausea worse.
"How can you endure this?" I asked.
"If you'd slept the day away like a normal pomme de sangor human servant, you wouldn't be sick at all."
"Forgive me for having a day job."
"Also if Asher had taken enough for just a feeding, then you might be a bit sick," he negotiated a turn, "but I think that whatever Asher did to you along with taking blood made it worse." He paused. "Truthfully, you shouldn't be this sick, at all."
We crested the rise, and the soft hills stretched out for miles, shades of green with a hint of gold here and there.
"At least I'm not nauseous anymore when I look at the trees."
"That's good, but I mean it, Anita. After you'd slept, and then gotten up and around, you should have been fine." He took the next curve carefully, a lot slower than he'd taken the first one.
"So what went wrong?" I asked.
He shrugged, and slowed even further, trying to see the address on a cluster of mailboxes.
"Dolph said the crime scene was on the main road. You won't miss it, Jason."
"How can you be sure?"
He flashed me another grin, his own blue eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses. "I do trust you."
"What went wrong?" I asked again.
"What were you doing when dawn broke?" he asked, speeding back up and taking the next curve a little faster than I would have liked.
"The ardeur,Asher was feeding, and . . ." I hesitated only for a second, "having sex."
"With both of them at once," he said, voice mock serious, "I am so disappointed in you, Anita."
"That I wasn't invited."
"You are so lucky you're driving right now."
He grinned, but didn't turn away from the road this time. "Why do you think I said it while I was driving?" He slowed. "I see what you meant about not missing it."
I turned my attention from Jason's face to the road. Police cars, marked and unmarked, were everywhere. Two emergency vehicles were parked on the edge of the road, which effectively blocked traffic. If we'd been planning to drive farther on, we'd have had to find another way around. But lucky us, we were stopping here.
Jason pulled the Jeep over, driving into the grass in a vain attempt to leave some space for anyone else that might be coming behind us.
A uniformed officer started walking towards us before Jason had turned off the engine. I got my badge out of my suit jacket pocket. I, Anita Blake, vampire executioner, was technically a federal marshal. All vampire hunters that were currently state licensed in the United States had been grandfathered in to federal status, if they could qualify on a shooting range. I'd qualified, and now I was a fed. They were still arguing in Washington, D.C., about whether they'd be able to give us anything more than the pittance that each state pays us per kill, which is not enough so you could afford to do it as a day job. But then, luckily the vampires haven't gotten so out of hand that any state needed a vampire hunter full time.
I wasn't getting any more money, so why had I wanted the badge? Because it meant I could chase the vampires, or other supernatural bad guys, across state lines, different law enforcement jurisdictions, and not have to ask anyone's permission. I also wouldn't be up on murder charges if I killed a vamp on the wrong side of a state line where I wasn't licensed.
But for me, more than most vampire hunters, there was an extra benefit to having a badge of my very own. I no longer had to rely on policemen friends to get me into crime scenes.
I didn't know the uniformed officer that was about to knock on our Jeep window, but it didn't matter. He couldn't keep me out of the crime scene. I was a federal marshal–I could stick my nose into any preternaturally related crime I wanted to. A real federal marshal could have intruded into any investigation, and technically my badge didn't specify that I was relegated to preternatural crime, but I know my limitations. I know monsters, and monster-related crime. A regular cop I am not. What I'm good at, I'm very good at, but what I don't know shit about, I don't know shit about. Take me away from the monsters and I wasn't sure how much use I'd be.
I was out of the Jeep and flashing my badge before the uniform got to us. He sized me up the way men will do from shoes to face–in that order. Any man who starts at my feet and then goes up has lost pretty much any chance he has to impress me.
I read his name tag, "Officer Jenkins, I'm Anita Blake. Lieutenant Storr is expecting me."
"Storr isn't here," he said, arms crossed over his chest.
Great, he didn't recognize my name–so much for being a celebrity–and he was going to play 'don't want the feds pissing in my pond!'
Jason had gotten out on his side of the Jeep. Maybe I looked a little disreputable in my slightly wrinkled suit, with a run in my hose that went from toe to thigh, but Jason didn't look like a fed, or a cop. He was dressed in blue jeans that had faded through enough washings to be comfortable, a blue T-shirt that almost matched his eyes, still hidden behind the mirrored shades, and white jogging shoes. It had turned out to be one of those unusually warm fall days we get sometimes. Too warm for his leather jacket, so he hadn't bothered with anything else. The white gauze and tape on his forearms were very noticeable.
He leaned on the hood of the Jeep, smiling pleasantly and looking so not like a federal anything.
Officer Jenkins's eyes flicked to Jason, then back to me. "We didn't call the feds in."
Standing there in my three-inch heels on the slightly uneven road was making me feel light-headed again. I did not have the patience, or the strength, to debate.
"Officer Jenkins, I am a federal marshal, do you know what that means?"
"Nope," he said, making the word longer than it was.
"It means that I don't need your permission to enter this crime scene. I don't need anybody's permission. So it doesn't matter if the lieutenant is here or not. I told you who alerted me to this crime out of courtesy, but if you don't want to be courteous, officer, then we don't have to be."
I turned and looked at Jason. Normally, I would have left him at the car, but I wasn't a hundred percent sure I could make it up the rest of the hill without falling over. I genuinely didn't feel well enough to be here. But here I was, and I was going to see this crime scene.
I motioned Jason to me. He came around the Jeep, his smile fading around the edges. Maybe I looked as pale as I felt.
"He's not a fed," Jenkins said.
I'd had enough of Jenkins. If I'd been feeling better I would have bullied our way through, but . . . there were other ways to bully.
I waited until Jason was there to steady me, then I moved my hair to one side showing the white gauze and tape on my own neck. I pulled on one side of the tape until it peeled down, and I could flash the bite at Jenkins. It wasn't a neat puncture wound. Asher had gotten carried away, because the edges of the wounds were torn.
"Shiiit," Jenkins said.
I let Jason tape the wound back up, while I talked to the other man. "I have had a hard night, Officer Jenkins, and I have the authority to go into any preternaturally related crime scene that I see fit to enter."
The tape was smoothed back into place, and Jason was standing very close to my left arm, as if he knew how unsteady I was feeling. Jenkins didn't seem to notice.
"It isn't a vampire attack," Jenkins said.
"Am I not speaking English here, Jenkins? Did I say it had anything to do with vampires?"
"No, sir, I mean . . . no."
"Then either escort us to the crime scene, officer, or step aside and we'll find our own way."
Flashing the vampire bite had thrown him, but he still didn't want a fed messing with his crime. Probably his boss wouldn't like it, but that wasn't my problem. I had a federal badge. In theory, I had the right to the crime scene. In actuality, if the local police barred my way there wasn't much I could do. I could go get a court order and force the issue, but that would take time, and I didn't have that kind of time. Dolph was already pissed at me. I didn't want to keep him waiting that long.
Jenkins finally stepped aside. We started walking up the hill. I had to take Jason's arm about halfway up. My goal in life for that moment was not to fall down, throw up, or faint, while Jenkins was still puzzling over whether he'd done the right thing letting us get past him.