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Crimson Death(Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #25)(16) by Laurell Kaye Hamilton
JEAN-CLAUDE HAD to take a business call, because though he was now head of all the vampires in the country, he was still running his own businesses and finances. Sometimes I forgot that part of what had led him to become king was his ability to do business, but he didn’t. It was part of our power base that I was no help at all with; my idea of investments was my 401(k) plan at work. Nathaniel and I went to find Magda to ask about Ireland, because we could handle that part while Jean-Claude did things only he could do. It was delegation at its best, though usually Nathaniel didn’t go with me when I was working on crime busting, but then this really wasn’t about the police work; it was more about trying to figure out why a country that had worked fine for eons was suddenly going apeshit. Had Jean-Claude and I done something to fuck it all up? If we had, how did we fix it? If we hadn’t, then what had changed in Ireland?
Before we could find Magda, Nicky found us. He was tall, blond, blue-eyed, and so in shape it was almost intimidating. He wasn’t the tallest person in my life, but as he strode toward us down the hallway he seemed like he was; it was part attitude and part that his shoulders were almost as wide as I was tall. His biceps strained against the sleeves of his black workout shirt. He was wearing the new shorts that were split up the outer thighs to accommodate men who had awesome muscled thighs like Nicky, so they’d have full range of movement in the octagon during MMA—mixed martial arts—matches. I’d seen them first on a pay-per-view match that I’d watched with Nicky and other friends among the guards.
My happy-to-see-you smile faded when I saw the outfit. Saturday morning was an informal fight practice. Sometimes there weren’t enough people showing up for it and those of us who did drag our asses out of bed for it ended up just hitting the weight room or the track. There was no reason I knew of for Nicky to be wasting some of the new fancy shorts on a Saturday workout.
Nathaniel saved me from having to ask. “Why are you dressed for a serious fight workout?”
“I’m one of the instructors today. Why are you awake this early?” Nicky said with a smile.
Nathaniel smiled back, and said, “Hey, I don’t sleep all day.”
“I thought you’d be tucked into bed between Jean-Claude and Damian for a few more hours at least.”
“We had enough sleep,” I said.
“Speak for yourself,” Nathaniel said.
“You would sleep all day,” Nicky said, grinning.
I led Nathaniel forward until I was close enough to touch the other man. He looked down at me with one blue eye and the other covered by a black eye patch that had a white skull embroidered in the center of it. I let go of Nathaniel’s hand so I could reach up and touch the long, thin braid on the right side of his face. It was the side of his bangs that fell in a long triangle down his face so that his own hair hid the missing eye. It was how he had kept enemies from realizing he was completely blind on that side for real fighting. Werelions fought to the death more than most lycanthropes when they met other groups of their own kind. In fact, they were the animal group most likely to fight savagely within their own group. Every other kind of lycanthrope I knew had traditions that limited serious fighting among themselves. The lions had one of the most vicious cultures of any group, so being a lion who had a blind side was a serious problem.
I touched the side of his face, smiling up at him. “God, you’re handsome.”
He smiled but shook his head. “I’m good looking, but I have Nathaniel, Jean-Claude, Micah, and even Dev to compare to and they’re all prettier than I am.”
“Well,” Nathaniel said, “I am prettier, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t handsome.” He flashed that grin, the one that held so much mischief. “You know I’m sad you’re not more bisexual, Nicky, and I only do gorgeous men.”
Nicky smiled and shook his head. “You and I don’t think of each other that way, but if I did you’d be too pretty for me. I like my men more guy-guy. You’re prettier than most of the women that I’ve fucked.”
“Oh, Nicky, you always know just what to say to flatter a girl,” I said.
His eye widened, and his other eyebrow rose, too, even though there was no eye to widen behind the piratical-looking eye patch. “You know I didn’t mean you, Anita.”
I smiled up at him. “You’re my Bride, Nicky. You’re metaphysically compelled to keep me happy, so that could be a complete lie so I won’t be upset.”
His face started to show him trying to think his way through what I’d just said, and then he gave me a more typical cynical look. He put his arms around me and drew me into a hug. I didn’t fight him, just wrapped my arms around his slender waist. “I can feel your emotions, remember?”
“I remember,” I said, smiling.
“Then I know that you are happy with me and enjoying being in my arms, so you’re teasing me.” He’d started smiling as he said the “in my arms” part.
“Sometimes I wish I could feel your emotions like I could feel Nathaniel’s if I lowered my shields and we wanted to share.”
“I’m a sociopath, Anita. You wouldn’t want to read my emotions, or my thoughts, most of the time.”
“You told me that I was your conscience.”
“You are. Your magic keeps me tame, because a Bride is designed to do anything to keep their master happy. Acting like I have a conscience pleases you.”
“It does.” I hugged him around the waist and he flexed his arms just a bit, letting me feel the strength in all those muscles. He could have crushed me easily. If he’d been just human and this in shape, he could have broken my spine in half with little effort, but being a lycanthrope on top of that meant he literally could have crushed me, or torn me to pieces, and that was without changing form to have claws and fangs. He tightened his arms around me so that he compromised my rib cage and it was hard to draw a full breath. Nicky liked breath play and he’d taught me to enjoy it, too, but we’d never done it this way.
“I’m in love with you, and that makes any man want to keep a woman happy,” he said.
My words were careful, because I had to concentrate to breathe enough to talk normally, as I said, “And I’m in love with you, which makes me want to let you make me happy, and to return the favor.”
His smile changed to that certain one that was part happiness and part evil, or maybe evilly happy. I knew what he was going to do a second before he tightened his arms and I suddenly had to struggle to breathe. I had enough breath to use my safeword and stop the whole thing, but I didn’t. With most people I’d have told them to stop and been figuring out how to reach my gun, but Nicky was my bit of rough sex and bondage, and I was his, which meant that the sensation of being trapped and fighting to breathe excited me. It made me want to ask him to squeeze tighter, but if I did that I might not be able to say my safeword, and then I’d be at Nicky’s mercy, but like he’d said, he could feel what I was feeling. It literally seemed to cause him pain for me to be unhappy with him, so he would feel if I wanted him to stop.
Hands touched my back underneath where Nicky’s arms squeezed around my ribs, and I knew it was Nathaniel. His hands caressed their way down my body until he could trace the swell of my hips and ass. It made me have to close my eyes and shudder with that first faint preamble to the possibility of an orgasm. It was like the scent of rain on the wind, even though the sun was out. It promised you’d get wet, but the wind could change. But the one and only time I’d allowed the two of them to use a gag while they double-teamed me, Nathaniel had bitten me much harder than I’d been happy with and he’d absolutely known it when he did it. We now had a hand signal for me to use in case I had trouble talking, but still . . . Nathaniel pressed the front of his silky shorts against my ass and even through the jeans I could feel that he was happy to be there. It made me shudder again in equally happy anticipation.
“God, Anita, you have the fastest windup of any woman I’ve ever met and I love it, but Jake is expecting me at the practice. I’m supposed to be helping him instruct the class.”
Nathaniel leaned his forehead against my hair, moving his hips back enough so he wasn’t pressed against me. “Please tell me that we can do this later.”
“Oh yeah,” Nicky said.
“Maybe,” I said, my voice raspy and almost painful to hear, though it didn’t hurt me. I wanted the sex with them, but I wasn’t completely sold on doing breath play with my chest being squeezed. I was harder to hurt than a normal human, but I wasn’t as indestructible as a lycanthrope. I’d hate to crack a rib because we were doing rough sex and I just didn’t understand what Nicky was doing well enough to understand when to call it for sure. We’d need a lot more negotiating and information sharing before we did anything like this for real.
Nicky gave me a look. He stopped squeezing me, and my voice was almost normal as I answered that look. “I want the sex with both of you, but I’m not sure about having my rib cage compressed while we do it.”
“Fair enough,” he said.
“Even I’ve never had anyone compress my chest for breath play,” Nathaniel said.
“It would almost be worth it to do something as a bottom in the bedroom that you haven’t done,” I said, turning my head so that I could offer him a kiss, which he took.
“I’ve been bottoming in the dungeon and bedroom a lot longer than you have,” he said, smiling.
“I didn’t even know I liked bondage and submission, or rough sex, until the last few years.”
“I’ve always known that I liked bottoming in the dungeon, but I didn’t know that I enjoyed topping until you came into my life,” he said, and kissed me again.
“Do you know where Magda is?” I asked.
“In the gym. I saw her go in as I went to change.”
“Can you give me fifteen minutes?”
“I’ll change and come to practice. There’s a chance I may be going out of the country on a job, and I never know when I’ll get to work out while I’m hunting bad guys.”
“I’ll change, too,” Nathaniel said.
We looked at him.
“What? I work out and you’ve been forcing me to take at least one fight practice a week.”
“Fighting is my version of your kitchen,” Nicky said.
“You’re my brother-husband; of course I know fighting is your version of my kitchen. You’re the best sous chef I’ve got.”
Nicky grinned. “Well, we wouldn’t want you cooking dinner for everyone all by yourself.”
“Or worse yet, with only Anita to help me.”
“Hey,” I said.
Nathaniel hugged me. “I’m sorry, but you really can’t cook.”
“Maybe I just don’t want to cook,” I said.
Nicky hugged us both. “So cute,” he said.
“I am not cute,” I said.
“Yes, you are,” Nathaniel said. “You just hate being called cute.”
“Short, delicate-looking people don’t like being called cute.”
“Micah hates it, too,” Nathaniel said.
Nicky hugged us both and kissed the top of my head, then turned and kissed Nathaniel on the forehead. It made him laugh. “You’re the one who says we don’t think of each other that way.”
“We don’t, but you hate being left out when the physical affection is being passed around.”
Nathaniel just smiled, because he couldn’t disagree.
“My love, and my brother, if you’re going to change for practice do it quick. This is the first time Jake has asked a non-Harlequin to help instruct. Don’t want him to regret it.”
We went to our room for our exercise clothes. I wondered how the other Harlequin would feel about Jake choosing Nicky over one of them. Some of them had serious issues with anyone that wasn’t Harlequin. The only saving grace was it was still too early for most of the vampires to be awake. The Harlequin wereanimals were proud, but the vampires were just downright superior to everyone. They wouldn’t take well to anyone making them question that superiority. It promised to be an interesting fight practice.