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Crimson Death(Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #25)(1) by Laurell Kaye Hamilton

1
 
I’D FALLEN ASLEEP cuddled between two of the men I loved most, with one arm flung across their naked bodies so I could touch the third. All three of them were warm when I fell asleep, but when my phone woke me hours later, only two of the bodies in the bed were still warm. The only vampire in the bed had died when the sun came up a mile over our heads in our nice safe cave of a bedroom. It was great for vampires, but if you were afraid of the dark or didn’t like the idea of tons of stone pressing down on your head, well, you couldn’t sleep with us.
 
I scrambled over Nathaniel’s almost fever-hot body for my phone, which was plugged in on the bedside table, but when the screen came on it was his phone, not mine, because his lock screen was a picture of the three of us and mine was a close-up of our hands entwined with the new engagement rings. I finally got my phone and hit the button, but it had already gone to voice mail.
 
Micah asked in a voice thick with sleep, “Who was it?”
 
I squinted at the bright screen in the very dark room and said, “I don’t recognize the number, or hell, the area code. I think it’s international. Who the hell would be calling me from out of the country?”
 
Nathaniel snuggled against the front of my body, burying his face between my breasts, as he tucked himself lower under the covers. He mumbled something, but since he was both the heaviest sleeper and the most likely to talk in his sleep, I didn’t pay much attention.
 
“What time is it?” Micah asked, his voice less sleep-filled and closer to awake.
 
“Five a.m.,” I said. I clicked my phone to black and tried to put it back on the bedside table, but Nathaniel had pinned me and I couldn’t quite reach.
 
“We’ve only been asleep for three hours,” he said in a voice that was starting to sound aggrieved.
 
“I know,” I said. I was still trying to push my phone back on the edge of the table with a now firmly asleep Nathaniel weighing me down.
 
Micah wrapped his arm around my waist and Nathaniel’s back and pulled us both closer to him. “Sleep, must have more sleep,” he said with his face buried between my shoulders. If I didn’t slide down into the covers soon, they’d both be asleep and I’d be pinned with my arms and shoulders bared. The bedroom at night was about fifty degrees; I wanted my shoulders covered. I gave one last push to my phone, which fell to the floor, but it didn’t light back up, which meant it was still plugged in, so I was good with it on the floor. Screw it, I was going back to sleep.
 
I had to force both men to give me enough room to slide down between them so we were all covered and warm again. I was just starting to drift back to sleep to the sounds of their even breathing when my phone rang again, but this time it played a different song, George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone.” It was the personalized ringtone for one of my best friends, Edward, assassin to the undead and fellow U.S. Marshal Ted Forrester. Interestingly, Edward and Ted were the same person; think Clark Kent and Superman.
 
I flung the covers off all of us and scrambled, falling to the floor and fumbling for the phone that was glowing in the pile of clothes beside the bed. I hit the button and said, “Here, I’m here!”
 
“Anita, are you all right?” Edward’s voice was too cheerful, which was all the clue I needed that he was with other police officers who would be overhearing everything.
 
“Yeah, I’m good. You sound awfully chipper for five a.m.,” I said, trying not to sound like I was already getting cold outside the body heat of the bed. I started to fumble in the clothes pile for something that was mine but kept coming up with just the guys’ clothes.
 
“It’s eleven a.m. here,” he said.
 
He wasn’t home in New Mexico then, so I asked, “Where are you?”
 
“Dublin.”
 
“Dublin what?”
 
“Ireland,” he said.
 
I sat naked and shivering on the floor, scooping through the pile of clothes around me like a bird trying to make a nest, and tried to think. I failed, so I asked, “Why are you in Dublin, Ireland?”
 
“For the same reason I’m calling you, Anita.”
 
“Which is?” I tried not to get irritated at him, because it usually amused him, and Ted usually took longer to tell anything. Edward was far more abrupt. Yes, they were the same person, but Edward was more of a method actor, and trying to get him to break character wasn’t a good idea.
 
“Vampires.”
 
“There aren’t any vampires in Ireland. It’s the only country in the world that doesn’t have them.”
 
“That’s what we all thought until about six weeks ago.”
 
“What happened six weeks ago?” I asked, trying to burrow myself into the clothes on the floor for warmth.
 
Someone from the bed above me threw my robe on top of me. I told whichever of my leopards had done it, “Thanks.”
 
“They had their first vampire victim,” Edward said.
 
I slipped into the robe, using my chin to hold the phone against my shoulder. The black silk robe was better than being naked, but silk isn’t really very warm. I kept meaning to buy something with a little more heat retention, but it was hard to find sexy and warm at the same time. “Vampire victim, so dead?”
 
“No, just a little drained.”
 
“Okay, if it was nonconsensual blood donation here in the States the vampire would be up on charges, but if it was consensual it’s not even a crime.”
 
“Vampire gaze wiped her memory of it,” he said.
 
“If the vampire and blood donor had agreed that the vamp could use their gaze so the donor could get the whole vampire experience, then it’s treated like you let someone drink too much at a party and then let them walk home drunk, again it’s not even a crime here, just bad judgment.”
 
“Vic can’t remember, so we’ll never know if consent was given or not.”
 
“If they took a swab of the bite for genetics and he, or she, is in the system, they can find the vampire in question.”
 
“Nobody believed it was a vampire bite, so they didn’t treat it like an attack. They thought she’d been slipped a date-rape drug.”
 
“The fang marks weren’t a clue?” I asked.
 
“You said it yourself, Anita: there are no vampires in Ireland. In thousands of years of history, there’s never been a vampire here. They noted the fang marks as possible needle marks for the drug they thought had been used on the vic; if they hadn’t been hunting for needle marks and other signs of drug use, they wouldn’t have even found them. They are some of the tiniest, neatest marks I’ve ever seen.”
 
I sat up a little straighter, both to tie my robe tighter and because that meant something. “You’ve seen almost as many vampire bites as I have.”
 
“Yep,” he said in his best Ted Forrester drawl. He was probably playing the full American cowboy, accent and all, for the Irish police. He could be the ultimate undercover person and blend in damn near anywhere, but when he was Ted, it was like he enjoyed just how thick he could play the part. I wondered if he’d packed Ted’s cowboy hat and brought it on the airplane. The thought of him wearing it in Ireland was either fun or cringeworthy. I wasn’t sure which yet.
 
“How tiny? Do you think it’s a child vampire?”
 
“I’ve seen female vamps that had a bite this small, but that one could be a child.”
 
“What do you mean, that one?”
 
“We have at least three different bite radiuses.”
 
“So three different vamps,” I said.
 
“At the very least, maybe more.”
 
“What do you mean, maybe more?”
 
“I’ve got permission to share photos with you if you can get to a computer.”
 
“My phone is a computer. Can’t you just text me?”
 
“I could, but you’ll want a bigger screen to look at some of these.”
 
“Okay, I . . . I can get to a computer. I just need someone to help me log on, or something.”
 
“You have a secure email account, because I’ve sent you things to it before,” he said.
 
“I know, I know. I just don’t use the computers here much.”
 
“Where are you?”
 
“Circus of the Damned.”
 
“Tell Jean-Claude howdy for me?”
 
“Howdy? Even Ted doesn’t say Howdy.”
 
“I’m American, Anita. We’re all cowboys; didn’t you know that, darling?” he said in a drawl so thick it sounded like you should be able to do a Texas two-step on it.
 
“Yeah, like all the Irish are leprechauns and go around saying Top of the morning to you.”
 
“If I had my way, you’d be here seeing all the leprechauns.”
 
“What do you mean, if you had your way?”
 
“Go to the computer so you can see the pictures, Anita,” and the out-West accent lost some of its thickness, fading into what was Edward’s normal “middle of nowhere,” maybe Midwestern accent. I’d known him for over six years before I’d learned that Theodore (Ted) Forrester was his actual birth name and the one that both the military and the Marshals Service knew him by. He’d just been Edward to me.
 
“Okay, but what did you mean, if you had your way?” I got to my feet and my lower body was instantly colder in just the silk robe without the nest of other clothes around me. I looked down at the bed, because both Micah and Nathaniel were better with the computers down the hallway than I was; hell, Nathaniel was still occasionally sneaking new ringtones for people into my phone. Some of them had been embarrassing when they sounded at work with the other marshals, but “Bad to the Bone” for Edward had worked so well, I kept it.
 
“When you’re at the computer, call me back,” he said, and hung up. That was more like Edward.
 
Once the phone screen stopped glowing, the room was pitch-black, cave dark, so that you could touch your own eyeball because you couldn’t see your finger coming to flinch away. We usually left the bathroom door open, so the night light inside could give some illumination, but whoever had gone in last had forgotten. The only thing that let me walk to the bathroom door without bumping anything was familiarity with the layout. I opened the door and it was so damn bright that for a second I thought the overhead lights had been left on; but as I blinked and adjusted to the glow, I realized it was just the night light. It looked ungodly bright because my eyes had adjusted to the thick darkness of the other room, but as my eyes readjusted to the light it was just the night light like normal.
 
I’d have liked to let the men in my life sleep, but I needed help with the computers. I was really going to have to take notes the next time someone showed me how to do all this because I never seemed to remember it the way that they did. I stared down at the bed. Nathaniel had curled down into the covers so that only the top of his head and the thick braid of his nearly ankle-length hair showed. The light was just bright enough to gleam red in the brown of his auburn hair. He was curled up on his side so that his broad shoulders rose like a hunky mountain above the rest of the bed. It was impossible to tell with him curled up like that, but he was five-nine. Micah lay just out of arm’s reach from him; they were leaving my space in the middle of them empty, waiting for me to crawl back in and sleep, which I so wanted to do, but duty called. Micah’s curls had spilled across his face so the most skin I saw was the darker skin of his slender shoulders and one arm that showed muscles, but he would never bulk up the way Nathaniel did. Genetics had made our very dominant and commanding Nimir-Raj, leopard king, my size, five-three. You couldn’t see it under the covers, but he was built like a swimmer with that upside-down triangle of shoulders to slender waist and hips. Nathaniel was built not only more muscular but more lush, the man’s version of curves. Jean-Claude lay on his back. He could sleep on his side but he preferred to sleep on his back, and since he died at dawn so he couldn’t keep cuddling as we moved during our sleep, it wasn’t as big a deal that he didn’t spoon as well as the three of us, who were all side sleepers.
 
Jean-Claude was the tallest of us at six feet even. Lying on his back, he looked every inch of it. His long black curls fell almost to his waist now, as did mine. We both had truly black hair, me because my mother’s family had been Mexican, and his because it just was; his skin was paler than mine, but not by much thanks to my German father. I was pretty sure that if Jean-Claude hadn’t been a vampire I’d have been paler than he was, but no one is paler than a vampire. Even literally dead to the world he was still one of the most beautiful men I’d ever seen, and that was with Nathaniel and Micah to compare to, though admittedly both their faces were currently covered, but I knew what everyone looked like. I was told that I was beautiful and some days I believed it, but looking down at the three of them I was still amazed that everyone and everything in the bed was mine, and I was theirs. I caught a gleam in Micah’s hair and realized it was his eyes open and watching me through the tangle of his rich brown curls.
 
I whispered, “Were you just pretending to sleep?”
 
He started to sit up and nodded.
 
I tsk-tsked at him. “It’s police business.”
 
“Then get a policeman to help you with the computer,” he said, but he was already climbing out of the covers, carefully trying not to uncover the other two men.
 
“Get my gun,” I whispered.
 
He reached into the specially made holster attached to the headboard and grabbed my Springfield EMP, and crawled to the foot of the bed to hand it to me so that he didn’t cross Nathaniel’s body with it. He was nowhere near the trigger, and he was being careful, but he knew the rules for gun safety. Treat every gun as if it’s loaded and lethal, and never, ever cross someone’s body with it unless you mean to shoot them. I took the gun and put it in my pocket, wondering if it would hold the weapon. The gun fit, but my robe was seriously hanging crooked from the weight. I tied the sash at my waist even tighter and tried to see if my hand would fit into the pocket well enough for me to draw the gun if I had to; it wasn’t perfect, but it worked.
 
Micah crawled out of the bed with his own handgun. He was one of the few lycanthropes I knew who carried a gun and weren’t professional bodyguards or mercenaries. He was not only the Nimir-Raj of our local wereleopard pard but also head of the Coalition for Better Understanding Between Human and Lycanthrope Communities. The Coalition was a national organization that was slowly but surely forging the country’s different types of shapeshifters into a cohesive group with one voice, shared goals, and they looked to him to lead them toward those goals. Not everyone was happy that the infighting that had always divided the shapeshifter communities was being turned into something more cooperative. Some hate groups saw it as a danger to humanity. Some lycanthropes saw it as us forcing our rule onto them, even though the Coalition never entered another group’s territory unless invited in to solve a problem they couldn’t solve on their own. It was like people who called the police when they needed them and then got angry that the police found evidence of a crime while they were saving the phone caller and his or her family.
 
There’d been more than one death threat against Micah, so he had bodyguards when he traveled and carried his own gun when he could. Not all buildings and businesses would allow concealed carry on the premises, so sometimes he had to leave the gun behind and rely on the bodyguards, but he liked to be able to take care of himself, too. Just one more thing we agreed on.
 
Micah’s robe was one that Jean-Claude had bought for him, or maybe had had made, because it looked like something from the Victorian era, deep forest green velvet covered in gold-and-green embroidery. The thick cuffs and the collar and lapels that swept from his neck to his waist were shiny gold with more of the brocade embroidery. The robe also fell exactly to his feet but was a fraction short enough that he never tripped on it or had to lift it up when he was walking on anything but stairs. Stairs were tricky with anything that went to your ankles. I knew that at least the robe had been tailored to fit him. He added dark green house slippers and he was ready to go.
 
I finally had house shoes, too, so that my feet were warm, and they stayed on rather than making me shuffle like the house slippers had done, but the silk robe . . . I needed something warmer. Especially now that we were here at least five nights a week. The two days in the Jefferson County house were mainly so we could get some sunlight. Except for Micah, we all worked almost exclusively nights, and after a while it was just depressing without some sunshine. I’d finally asked Jean-Claude if he missed it, and he’d said, “Very much, ma petite, much more than I thought I would when I agreed to become what I am.”
 
Micah gathered his own phone and his eyeglasses from the bedside table on his and Jean-Claude’s side of the bed. The glasses had green frames with gold accents to complement his green-gold leopard eyes. He’d been wearing prescription sunglasses for a long time without most of us being aware they were prescription. A very bad man had forced him to stay in leopard form until he hadn’t been able to shift completely back to human form. He had his summer tan from running outside, so that the eyes looked incredibly exotic against the darker skin, but the serious downside to his having kitty-cat eyes was that cats are nearsighted. He’d also lost some of his color vision, though not as much as a real cat, as if something were more human about his leopard eyes. His optician had asked permission to write a paper on the difference in his vision and was cowriting the paper with a zoo veterinarian. Micah had worn the sunglasses to hide his eyes when he didn’t want to stand out and because he’d worried that having less-than-perfect eyesight might be used against him in fights for dominance in the lycanthrope community, but finally he’d gotten glasses that helped him read more easily as well as see farther away. Cat eyes focused differently and had made him work harder to read than we’d realized. He had contact lenses, too, but here with us he didn’t bother. I liked the way the dark frames bordered his eyes like they were works of art that finally had a frame worthy of them rather than being hidden away behind dark sunglasses.
 
We left Nathaniel deeply asleep nested in the covers and already wiggling a little closer to Jean-Claude. This bed was big enough that he might just wrap himself in covers before he reached the other man for cuddling, but Nathaniel was a cuddle-seeking sleeper more than any of the rest of us, and the rest of us were pretty cuddly.
 
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.
 
Milligan hurried forward and opened the door to the computer room for us. Micah and I both let him. The room was dim, lit only by the banks of computer screens that were still cycling through the images on their screens. Some had finally gone black and still for the night. We moved into the room and Milligan started to come in with us, but I said, “Sorry, Milligan, but I’m going to have to look at police evidence.”
 
“I have to make sure the room is clear,” he said.
 
Again, I could have argued with him, but I let him do his job, though again, I was pretty sure the two of us could take care of anything that might be lurking in the computer room down here. It wasn’t that big a room and there was only one area that was actually out of sight of the door.
 
Milligan came back around the room after completing his circuit. “The room is clear, ma’am, sir.”
 
“Then you can leave us,” Micah said.
 
“You don’t have to stay right by our sides,” I said.
 
He hesitated, and you could almost watch the wheels turning as he weighed whom he was supposed to listen to and whom he could safely override. A lot of our new ex-military had issues with the new, less rigid chain of command.
 
“We’re going to be talking police business, Milligan. You cannot be in here for it,” I said.
 
Milligan nodded. “Okay, that makes sense.” He went for the door.
 
“And don’t stand just outside the door,” Micah said.
 
Milligan turned. “Sir, I . . .”
 
“I know I could hear the conversation through the door, Milligan, which means so could you.”
 
“Claudia will have my head if I don’t wait for you.”
 
“We’re both armed, and we’re standing in our own underground fortress,” I said. “If we’re not safe here, then we’re in deeper shit than just one guard can handle.”
 
Milligan got that arrogant look on his face, one I’d seen before from men with certain backgrounds.
 
“Even a former SEAL wouldn’t be enough, Milligan. Now go back to Custer and guard Jean-Claude’s door.”
 
He tried to argue some more, but Micah said, “That’s an order, Milligan. Anita and I both outrank Claudia.”
 
He frowned, sighed, and said, “Yes, sir.” He didn’t question it again, just turned on his heel and went for the door.
 
I made sure Milligan walked down the hallway and then came back to Micah.
 
He sat down in the chair in front of the computer so he could type faster, and within a few minutes I was up and running. He didn’t even have to ask for my password or username anymore, because he’d helped me too many times and had finally memorized it all. That probably wouldn’t please the other officers if they knew, since he was a civilian, but I wouldn’t tell if he didn’t.
 
I called Edward back. He answered on the first ring. “Anita, are you online?” His voice was less Ted and more Edward, so I thought to ask, “Can you talk freely yet?”
 
“No.” Edward’s one-word answer rather than the longer way around the mountain that he sometimes took as Ted.
 
“While we wait for the email to come through, you said something about how if you had your way I’d be seeing more than pictures, or something.”
 
“They don’t like the fact that you’re a necromancer.” His voice held some of Ted’s happy undertones, but there was also Edward’s cold emptiness. He was not happy that they wouldn’t let me come play.
 
I heard voices in the background. Edward said, “Sorry, Anita. I’ve just been corrected”—with more of Ted’s accent this time—“because it would be against their own laws to deny someone entry to their country on the basis of the type of magic they could perform.”
 
“I think of it as a psychic gift more than something mystical,” I said.
 
“Their laws actually don’t acknowledge a difference between psychic gifts and magic, only between magic and Church-sanctioned miracles.”
 
“If they actually mention miracles in their laws, then that’s a first outside of Rome that I’m aware of.”
 
“Then be aware, Anita, because this is the second,” he said, and I could hear the smile in his voice, but it didn’t match the words, as if he were having trouble staying Ted in front of the other cops. What had they done, or what had happened, between one phone call and the next to make him struggle with it?
 
“Are you okay, Ted?”
 
“I’m just dandy.”
 
I let it go, because he either wouldn’t talk about it or couldn’t with all the other officers in the room. My email pinged. Micah helped me open the attachment on it, and we were suddenly looking at a throat with two delicate fang marks on it. It was a really small bite radius. It could be a child or a woman with a smaller-than-average mouth. The second neck wound had considerably bigger holes; no one was going to mistake them for hypodermic needle marks. These were definitely a different vampire.
 
“I’m going to put you on speakerphone, Anita. Tell us what you see.” He didn’t mean tell us; he meant tell them. I was pretty sure this was some kind of test. If I dazzled them, would they let me come play with Edward in Ireland? Did I want to go play in Ireland? I didn’t want to do an international flight with my phobia of flying—that was for sure—but . . . I didn’t like that they were all prejudiced against a psychic gift that I couldn’t do anything about. Also, I was a wee bit competitive.
 
“Well, from the first two bite images you’ve got at least two different vampires. The first could be a child, or a grown woman with a small mouth, or a crowded one.”
 
“This is Superintendent Pearson, Marshal Blake. What do you mean, crowded?” His voice sounded like I’d expected. Irish in that way that movies convince you must be real. It made me smile that he actually sounded like movie Irish; so many accents didn’t match what you expected.
 
“Fang marks are just like human bite marks in one way, Superintendent Pearson. It’s not always the size of the mouth that dictates how a bite mark looks; sometimes it’s how the teeth are placed. Someone who has too many teeth for the size of their mouth can sometimes have teeth that are sort of crowded together, which will make the space between their canines much smaller than you’d expect for an adult.”
 
Another man’s voice said, “We don’t care about canine teeth. We care about the fangs.” His accent didn’t match as well, as if he were from a different part of Ireland. It was the same idea as a Southern accent here, as compared to Northern, or Midwestern, though television and the Internet were erasing regional accents in a lot of places.
 
“The canine teeth are what become fangs after the person changes into a vampire,” I said.
 
“That’s Inspector Logan. Please ignore him, Marshal Blake.”
 
I heard Logan make an unhappy noise, but he didn’t make a second remark. Pearson outranked him, or someone else in the room did and had taken Pearson’s side.
 
Edward said, in a much more cheerful version of Ted’s voice, “Go to the next picture, Anita.”
 
I did what he asked. The fang marks seemed bigger still, but the holes weren’t as neat and tidy, so . . . “The marks look even bigger than the last set, but they’re also less neat, as if the vampire used more force to bite down, or jerked out more when it stopped feeding, so it could be the same vamp as bite number two.”
 
Pearson asked, “Do you think we can assume that vampire number two is an adult male?”
 
“With the spacing between fangs you’d probably be safe assuming that, but I’ve known a few women with exceptionally wide teeth spacing, so it’s not a guarantee. The necks all look like women; is that correct?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“Inspector Logan here . . .”
 
“Address her by her title,” another voice said, and I thought it was a woman.
 
“Fine, Marshal Blake, this is Inspector Logan. The pictures don’t show the Adam’s apple; how did you know they were women?”
 
“I’ve spent a lot of years looking at fang marks on skin, Inspector Logan. After a while, you just know what you’re looking at.”
 
Edward said, “Is there anything else that makes you think male or female, Anita?”
 
“A lot of vamps prefer to take blood according to their sexual preferences, so most males prefer to feed on women, and a lot of females feed on men, but some new vamps take any victim that they can, just like any other young predator on a learning curve.”
 
“Detective Logan here, Marshal Blake.” And there was something in the way he said my title and name that let me know he wasn’t happy about it. Or maybe I was being overly sensitive.
 
Micah looked at me, and the look was enough; he thought the same thing about Logan. Maybe I wasn’t being overly sensitive.
 
“Yes, Detective Logan?”
 
“Are you saying that gay vampires would feed on same-sex victims?”
 
“Possibly, but if you’ve never had vampires in Ireland before, then these may all be very new. So again, they’re probably going after whatever victim is easiest. Some women feel safer feeding on other women, even though as a vampire they could beat the shit out of most human men. They never quite get rid of the idea that men are stronger and more dangerous than they are, so they feed almost exclusively on other women regardless of their sexual preference.”
 
“So basically, you don’t know anything about these vampires just from the pictures?” Logan said, and he made sure that I heard the disdain.
 
“I told you that Anita would be more useful in person, Logan,” Edward said, holding on to the cheerful Ted voice with effort. Logan had already been a pain in the ass for his voice to struggle like that.
 
“I don’t think we need to fly your girlfriend in, Forrester.”
 
“Logan!” And now I was sure it was a woman.
 
“That’s enough, Luke, and I mean it this time,” Pearson said.
 
“Everyone knows . . .”
 
“No,” Pearson said, and the Irish accent held anger just fine, “everyone does not know, and before you start spreading rumors about a fellow officer, you might want to make certain you know what you’re talking about.”
 
“That’s how a lot of the rumors get started,” I said.
 
“What, Marshal Blake?”
 
“One person says something that isn’t true, but it’s too scandalous not to repeat, and then the rumors feed on each other, and before you know it, everyone knows the truth, even when it’s a lie.”
 
“Well said. I’m Inspector Sheridan, Rachel Sheridan.” The woman’s voice again.
 
“Glad to almost meet you, Inspector Sheridan,” I said.
 
“You would take her side,” Logan said in his sour voice.
 
“Who got your panties in a twist about me? We’ve never even met,” I said.
 
“It’s me he’s mad at,” Edward said in a voice that was far more cheerful than the words warranted.
 
“Why in blazes would I be mad at you?” Logan asked.
 
“Because you’re jealous,” Edward said.
 
“Why would I be jealous of you, Forrester?”
 
“For the same reason you’re going to be jealous of Marshal Anita Blake.”
 
“And why is that?”
 
“Anita, look at the next picture.”
 
I hesitated for a second, then thought, Why the hell do I care if some cop in Ireland doesn’t like me? I moved to the next image and it was another set of fang marks like the last ones, bigger fangs, and this time rough enough that the wounds were jagged around the edges. It made me have to swallow hard and fight off an urge to rub at the scars over my collarbone at the bend of my left arm where the same vampire had worried at me like a dog with a bone. It had almost cost me the use of my arm, but serious physical therapy and devotion to the weight room in the gym had left me better than I had been even before the injury.
 
“A vampire tried to rip a little and wiggled its fangs in the flesh, deciding if it was going to try to take a bigger bite out of the neck. It looks like a man’s neck this time, or a larger woman’s.”
 
“It’s a different vampire,” Logan said, his voice demanding that I believe him.
 
“Maybe, but I doubt it.”
 
“It’s a different style of attack,” he said.
 
“A different style of biting doesn’t mean a different vamp, Inspector. The vampire is experimenting, deciding what he prefers. This one was either hungrier with this kill, or he’s beginning to like the potential violence of it.”
 
“Potential violence, my arse. He’s sinking teeth into their necks. How much more violent can it get?”
 
“A lot more,” I said.
 
“Go to the next picture,” Edward said. His voice was very still with that edge of coldness that was usually close to the surface for him.
 
I did what he asked, and this time the holes in the side of the neck were huge. I didn’t even think fang marks, just holes, as if someone had taken an ice pick, or something like it, and just driven it into the neck as far as it would go.
 
Micah made a small exhale of breath and reached for my arm. I realized that he might never have seen a vampire attack this violent. He was always so strong, so certain, and dealt with the violence in his life and mine so calmly that sometimes I forgot he hadn’t seen everything I had, or vice versa. I was pretty sure there were things happening on his out-of-town trips for the Coalition that would have scared the shit out of me, even if it was just me being scared because of the danger to him and other people I cared about.
 
I took Micah’s hand in mine while I asked the next question. “Who figured out this was a vampire attack and not just a murder with something sharp and pointy?”
 
“We didn’t think vampire, because Ireland doesn’t have them,” Pearson said.
 
“Exactly, but someone figured it out.”
 
Edward said, “I did.”
 
“This kind of damage isn’t typical for vampires. A lot of police—even here where we know it’s a possibility—might have missed this,” I said.
 
“You don’t have to be nice to us, Blake.”
 
“I’m being nice to everyone else, Logan. You’re just collateral kindness.”
 
“What?”
 
“Let me just apologize for Logan for the rest of the conversation. It will save time,” Sheridan said.
 
“I don’t need you to apologize for me, Rachel.”
 
“Oh, you’re going to apologize for yourself. Good man, go ahead,” she said, and I could hear the almost-laughter in her voice. Some people rubbed everyone the wrong way, and apparently Logan was one of those, because no one in the room seemed to like him. It made me feel better that he wasn’t picking on Edward and me special; he just picked at everybody.
 
“Keep going through the pictures,” Edward said, as if the others weren’t really there. Ted played well with others; Edward didn’t.
 
The next picture was worse, as if someone had torn the throat out but didn’t quite know what they were doing, so there was a fang mark left to one side of the meat that had been someone’s throat.
 
“The vamp is figuring out how strong they are, and what that strength can do to a human body,” I said.
 
“He’s getting a taste for it,” Edward said.
 
“Was that supposed to be a pun?” Logan asked, his voice accusatory.
 
“No,” Edward said, “just accurate. You should try it sometime.”
 
“Try what?”
 
“Accuracy.” That one word was low and cold with anger. What the hell had Logan done to earn that level of anger from Edward?
 
“Who the hell are you to come into our city and tell us that we aren’t accurate enough for you?”
 
“I didn’t say that everyone was inaccurate, Logan, just you.”
 
“You bastard!”
 
“Please, pretty please,” Edward said in a serious voice. He wanted Logan to take a swing at him. What the hell had happened in Ireland to make Edward as Ted fish that hard for a fight? It wasn’t like him to mess around on the job like that. I was the one who usually mouthed off.
 
I did the only thing I could think of to help; I swiped to the next picture he’d sent me. There was another dainty bite on a neck, but on the opposite side of the same neck was the bigger set of bite marks, not the one that was messy, but the first one that I’d thought had degraded in the tearing-out of throats.
 
“Does this next victim have two bite marks on it from both of our first vampires?” I asked. No one answered me, so I raised my voice. “Ted, talk to me!”
 
“Yes, the first two vamps seem to be working together.”
 
“Did that victim die?”
 
“No,” Sheridan answered. “He wandered into a hospital because his neck was bleeding, but he couldn’t remember how he got injured.”
 
“They’re starting to figure out how to work together,” I said.
 
Logan’s voice was strident. “Some expert you are, Blake. You were wrong about the second vampire. It’s not the one tearing out throats.”
 
“You’ve got at least three vampires on your hands,” I said.
 
“Did you hear me, Blake? You were wrong!”
 
“I heard you, Logan. I’m okay with being wrong if it gets us better information to catch the vampires that are doing this.”
 
“Two of them haven’t hurt anyone too badly,” Sheridan said.
 
“Have any of the victims been attacked a second time?”
 
“No,” Pearson said.
 
“I told them to put protection details on the earlier victims,” Edward said.
 
“Did they do it?”
 
“They’re having a little trouble convincing their bosses to approve the overtime.”
 
“Jesus, don’t they realize that the vampires can call their one-bite victims out again?”
 
“I explained it to them.”
 
“What we have a hard time understanding is, if this is true, then why isn’t America overrun with vampires? If one bite enslaves a person, then you should all be slaves by now. You yourself are engaged to a vampire, Marshal Blake. If it were that easy to be enslaved, I don’t think you would still be trusted as a police officer,” Pearson said.
 
“If you donate blood willingly without being completely bespelled by the vampire’s gaze, then he can’t enslave your mind and call you at his whim. Done willingly with the minimum of mind tricks, it’s not much more than a hickey or a love bite.”
 
“Do you donate blood to your fiancé?”
 
“I’ll answer your question if you’ll answer one of mine about your sex life,” I said.
 
“I’m not asking about your sex life, Marshal.”
 
“Yeah, you are.”
 
Micah squeezed my hand and looked a caution at me. He was right; if I wasn’t careful I’d be telling them more about my love life with Jean-Claude than I’d shared with my friends on the force here. Sometimes avoiding a question reveals more than just answering. I was sort of screwed on this one, very damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
 
“They call it coffin bait in the States,” Logan said.
 
“Coffin bait is the equivalent to a badge bunny, someone who will fuck any cop just because they’re a cop. I’m actually only dating one vampire currently, so I don’t qualify as coffin bait.”
 
“How insulting a term is that considered to be in your country?” Pearson asked.
 
“He’s basically called me a whore who will let any vampire both fuck me and bleed me, so pretty damned insulting.”
 
Micah had let go of my hand so he could stand up and start massaging my shoulders through the robe, because I’d suddenly become very tense. Imagine that.
 
“I’ll apologize on Logan’s behalf and on behalf of all the Dublin Gardai.”
 
“Gardai?” I made it a question with an uplift of the word.
 
“That’s what the Irish police call themselves,” Edward said. “Gardai is plural. Garda Síochána, literally Guardians of the Peace. Only between twenty and thirty percent of them are even trained with weapons.”
 
“You’re joking.”
 
“No, I’m not.”
 
“Wow, that’s different from here.”
 
“It only went over twenty percent because they had some foreign lycanthropes get out of hand about two years ago.”
 
“It made the international news,” I said. “Wasn’t there a sorcerer involved, too? It was like a gang of preternatural criminals, right?”
 
“Not like, Marshal. It was,” Pearson said.
 
“The sorcerer was homegrown, but the shapeshifters were immigrants, if I remember correctly.”
 
“You remember correctly.”
 
“And now you’ve got your first vampires. What’s changed about your country in the last few years?”
 
“Nothing that I’m aware of,” he said.
 
“Then why does Ireland suddenly have supernatural crime?”
 
“I don’t know, but it’s a good question.”
 
“Do you have a good answer?” I asked.
 
“Not yet, but I may know who to ask for one now.”
 
“We’ve all been trying to figure out why we have our first vampires,” Logan said. “She hasn’t told us anything that we didn’t already know.”
 
“She asked the question differently from anyone else; didn’t you hear it?” Pearson asked.
 
“It’s hard to hear anything when you have your head shoved that far up your own ass,” Edward said.
 
“You won’t always have other cops around you, Forrester.”
 
“Is that a threat?”
 
“That would be illegal and I could jeopardize my career, so of course it’s not a threat.”
 
“Let’s pretend it is a threat, because you need to understand that the other officers aren’t keeping me safe from you; they’re keeping you safe from me.” His voice had started in Ted mode but had sunk all the way down to that cooler, slightly deeper Edward mode. What was it about Logan that made it so hard for him to stay in character? I’d been insulted worse than this before, and we’d both worked with bigger pains in the ass, so what had Logan done to get on Edward’s serious shit list? Usually you had to be a bad guy to piss Edward off this badly.
 
“Enough out of both of you,” Pearson said.
 
“I’ll play nice if he does,” Edward said.
 
“We’re not playing here, Forrester. We’re trying to catch these vampires before they kill more people. That’s not a game.”
 
“What good is playing if the stakes aren’t high, Logan?”
 
“What does that even mean, Forrester?”
 
“It means that life and death are the ultimate stakes to play for.”
 
“Ted, you might want to tone down the big-and-bad routine a little.” It was the best I could do to warn him that he was being all too much Edward and not enough Ted. It was like Superman putting on Clark Kent’s glasses but showing up to the Daily Planet in his super suit. If you’re dressed up like Superman, the glasses aren’t going to hide who you are.
 
“Yeah, Ted, tone it down for your girlfriend,” Logan said.
 
“What are your rules on sexual harassment, Superintendent Pearson?”
 
“Why do you ask?”
 
“Logan just seems like he’s going to keep pushing on this until it falls down around his ears.”
 
“Nothing’s going to be falling on me, Blake. This little problem goes one way, and that’s your way.”
 
“I’m glad we agree on something, Logan.”
 
“What are you talking about?”
 
“You just said the problem is going to go my way; that means I win.”
 
“That is not what I meant.”
 
“Your language is imprecise, Logan. It has been the entire time I’ve been here,” Edward said.
 
“Fuck you, Forrester.”
 
“No, thanks.”
 
“That is not what I meant, damn it, and you know that.”
 
“I don’t know anything about you, Logan, except you are an incredible pain in the ass,” Edward said.
 
“If you can’t work civilly with Marshal Forrester, then you may need off this case,” Pearson said.
 
“I’ve been on this case from the beginning.”
 
“We want the Americans to help us find and contain our vampires.”
 
“We don’t need some cowboy cop from the States to help us do our jobs,” Logan said.
 
“I’ll take all the help we can get. These vampires are killing innocent people, Logan, and all you can do is pick at Ted,” Sheridan said.
 
“So it’s Ted now, is it?”
 
I suddenly had a clue: Logan liked Sheridan, God help us and her. She had reacted to Edward in such a way that Logan thought Sheridan liked Ted. We never really leave junior high and that he-likes-the-girl-who-likes-someone-else game, or reverse the sexes and get the same story. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure I was right, but it was worth a try.
 
“How long have you been in Ireland?” I asked.
 
“A week.”
 
“Donna and the kids must be missing you.”
 
“I’m missing them, too.”
 
“She must be frantic having you gone in the middle of all the wedding planning.”
 
“Our wedding is just about finalized. It’s your wedding that’s taking forever to plan.”
 
“The wedding has gotten huge,” I said, and felt that familiar tightening of my stomach whenever I let myself think too hard about the size of the guest list.
 
“Looks like you’ll be my best man before I get to be yours, at this rate.”
 
“Wait. Did you say that Blake is going to be your best man?”
 
“Yep,” Edward said, trying to get back into Ted-space, and failing worse than I’d ever seen him before. He was usually the master of disguise, but something about Logan just threw the hell out of his usual suave self.
 
“And your fiancée isn’t bothered by Blake being in your wedding?”
 
“Donna encouraged it.”
 
“Well, you know what they say: all the good ones are taken,” Sheridan said, which meant she hadn’t been subtle about being attracted to Edward. He was five-eight, blond, blue-eyed, naturally slender but in great shape, and if you went by the reaction from other women, very attractive. I didn’t see it, but then he’d threatened to torture or kill me, which put a real damper on me seeing him as cute. Now we were so close as friends that it was almost an incest taboo.
 
I tried to swipe for more pictures on the computer, but we were done. “This can’t be all the pictures, Ted.”
 
“It’s not, but it’s the ones they’ll let me share with you.”
 
“Gentlemen and lady, are you really that prejudiced against my psychic gift?”
 
“It’s nothing personal, Blake,” Pearson said.
 
“The hell it’s not.”
 
“The hell it is,” he said, and then he seemed to think about what he’d just said. “I’m having one of those flashbacks to that American cartoon where it’s always duck season and never rabbit season.”
 
“You’re hunting vampires; my necromancy could help you do that.”
 
“The dead do not walk in Ireland, except as ghosts, Marshal Blake.”
 
“Bullshit, and you know it. You have a vampire problem.”
 
“We concede that,” he said.
 
“Then let Anita come in and help me help you,” Edward said.
 
“Sorry, Forrester, and no insult meant to Blake here, but necromancy doesn’t work here.”
 
“Is it outlawed?” I asked.
 
“No, not exactly.”
 
“Ireland is supposed to be one of the most magically tolerant countries in the world. I’m feeling seriously picked on,” I said.
 
“It’s nothing personal, Blake.”
 
“I do not think that means what you think it means,” I said.
 
He gave a small laugh. “Thanks, we needed that.”
 
“Anita can help us,” Edward said.
 
“Are you admitting that the high-and-mighty Ted Forrester, the one that the vampires have nicknamed Death, can’t handle things here without his sidekick, the Executioner?”
 
“Death and the Executioner—has a nice ring to it,” I said.
 
“So does Death and War,” he said.
 
“That’s catchy, too.”
 
“War is Anita’s newest nickname from the vampires and wereanimals,” Edward explained.
 
“Why didn’t you get a new nickname?” Sheridan asked.
 
“Death suits me,” he said, and I could almost see him give her that terribly direct eye contact from his pale blue eyes. It was like having a winter sky stare at you.
 
I could hear the shiver in Sheridan’s voice over the speakerphone when she said, “Yes. Yes, it does.” Her tone told me that our bid to get her to back off the crush by talking about Donna and the wedding hadn’t worked. Edward was handsome, but this level of persistence made me wonder what he’d done to impress her this much.
 
“Go back to sleep if you can, Anita.”
 
“I don’t feel like I’ve been that big a help.”
 
“You’ve helped as much as you can when they won’t let me share information with you freely.”
 
“Yeah, because they wouldn’t want the big bad necromancer to fuck up their case.”
 
“There’s no need for that, Marshal.”
 
“What?”
 
“Cursing like that.”
 
“Logan cursed.”
 
“But he didn’t say that.”
 
I realized he was upset that I’d said fuck. “If you don’t let me cuss when I talk, I may have to just smile and nod.”
 
He laughed as if he thought it was a good joke. I hadn’t been kidding, but since they didn’t want me to help them any further I wouldn’t have to shock them with my language anymore.
 
“Don’t mind Pearson,” Sheridan said. “The rest of us curse. He just doesn’t like the F-word and we are having the meeting in his office.”
 
“I’ll try to be better if we talk again. Best of luck with your vampire problem.”
 
“Thank you, Marshal. That’s most kind,” Pearson said.
 
“Don’t mention it.”
 
Edward picked up the phone and went off speaker so at least they couldn’t hear my side of the conversation. “What did you do to cause Sheridan to have such a crush on you?”
 
“I don’t know.” I didn’t press, because it was probably the truth. Since Edward could flirt and seduce to get information out of people without any emotional qualms, I knew he meant it.
 
“You just don’t know how charming you are.”
 
“I will try to use this superpower for good, or personal gain, or to hunt down my enemies and slaughter them so I can dance in their blood.”
 
“You have the most cheerful analogies, Edward.”
 
“We all have our strengths, Anita. Sleep well. I’ll call you again if everyone will agree to it.”
 
“Okay, be safe and watch your back like a motherfucker.”
 
“I always do.” He hung up. I hung up. We were done. We could go back to bed for a couple of hours.
 
I opened the door for Micah. He was one of the men in my life who didn’t argue over which of us got the door. I valued that, because sometimes you just want to open the damn door. We were in the corridor and it was just as empty as it had been an hour and a half ago. We all mostly worked nights here, so six or seven a.m. wasn’t a time that any of us expected to be awake to enjoy.
 
“Do you think the smallest bite is a child vampire?”
 
“I really hope not.”
 
“Why?”
 
“I’ve told you this before. All the child vampires go crazy eventually. Jean-Claude says that some of them go nuts immediately after rising from the dead. They just never adjust to it.”
 
We had a couple of child vamps that we’d inherited from Europe. They were both constant reminders of why it was a bad idea.
 
“At least Bartolome is old enough for everything to function like a grown-up,” Micah said.
 
“Yeah, but he still looks eleven to twelve, a young twelve.”
 
“Valentina is worse,” he said.
 
I nodded. “Five to seven years old forever.”
 
“Her mind isn’t the mind of a child,” he said.
 
“Just her body. I know.”
 
“I know the other vampires killed the one who made Valentina, but it didn’t really save her,” he said.
 
I took his hand in mine and said, “I really hope that she’s the youngest vamp I ever meet.”
 
“She’s older than Jean-Claude.”
 
“Her body isn’t,” I said.
 
I prayed that the vampires in Ireland were just female with small bite radiuses. I prayed that no one was creating more child vampires, because if any vampires were damned, it was them. Please, God, no more.