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Crimson Death(Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #25)(19) by Laurell Kaye Hamilton

19
 
“YOU BETTER TAKE Edward off hold,” Nathaniel said.
 
“Oh, right.”
 
Nathaniel grinned. “I like that little brother can make you forget yourself like that.”
 
“You calling him little brother doesn’t help me with the age gap issues, Nathaniel. Just saying. But let’s go into the break room for the call, in case someone wants to use the gym.”
 
“He is my brother of choice, and he is younger,” Nathaniel said as he walked toward the small room that Nicky and Jake had come out of less than an hour ago. It had been a busy hour.
 
“He’s your brother-husband. There’s a difference,” I said.
 
He held the door for me as I hit the button to take Edward off hold.
 
“I said kiss the boy, not make out with him,” Edward said.
 
“I’m frowning at the phone, just so you know.”
 
He chuckled; I think I was one of five people on the planet who got to hear that sound from him. “I’m putting you on speakerphone, Edward,” I said. I sat down at the four-seater table so we could lay the phone on the table and both of us sit near the phone.
 
“Who’s listening with you?” he asked.
 
“Nathaniel.”
 
“Since when do you include him on our phone calls?”
 
I had a moment of not knowing what to say, but Nathaniel leaned into the phone and said, “Are you still wanting Damian to come to Ireland to help you?”
 
“Yes,” Edward said, and that one word was very clipped and not exactly friendly.
 
“He’s still out for the day, so I’m listening for his benefit, so he can make an informed decision.”
 
“Don’t you trust me to tell Damian the truth?” I asked.
 
“You’ll tell him your truth, the cop truth. I love you, Anita, but you’ll have solving the case as your primary focus.”
 
“Are you saying I’d manipulate Damian to get him to come to Ireland just so I could solve the case?”
 
“Not in the front of your head, but in the back of your head, yes.”
 
“You’re saying I value the case over Damian’s well-being?”
 
“If you can convince yourself that he won’t be in that much danger, or that it would be good for him to confront his fears and he can help you stop the killings in Ireland, yes, absolutely.”
 
Edward laughed, and it was a real laugh, the one that said he was truly amused.
 
“Et tu, Edward?” I said.
 
His voice still held an edge of laughter as he said, “We’re both good at finding reasons to make people do what we want them to do, Anita. He’s right on that.”
 
“Maybe. Are you okay with him listening in?”
 
“If you are,” he said, and him taking it so calmly surprised me.
 
“Yeah, I’m okay with it.”
 
“Fine. Then I’ll talk to you like Nathaniel isn’t standing right there, and he can interject.”
 
“Interject?” I said.
 
“I’ve been helping Peter fill out applications for college,” he said.
 
“So he’s not going into the military right away?”
 
“His mother and I persuaded him to try a year of college. If he doesn’t like it he can still join up.”
 
I was pretty sure that Donna had done more of the persuading than Edward had, but I let that go. I actually agreed with Donna on this one. “I’m glad to hear that. It’s easier to try college and then sign up for the military than the other way around.”
 
“Which is one of the reasons I sided with Donna on this.” Something about the way he said it made me let the topic drop.
 
“Have you done any college visits? We did some with Sin,” Nathaniel said. He didn’t know Edward’s tone of voice the way I did, so he’d missed the “this topic is closed” inflection.
 
“A few, but let’s save Old Home Week for later,” Edward said.
 
Nathaniel started to say something, but I shook my head at him. He took the hint and let it go.
 
“You said something about getting me and my preternatural friends into Ireland; what did you mean by that?” I asked.
 
“You can bring your deputies like you did on the case in Washington state.”
 
I said, “Outside of special circumstances, in the Preternatural Branch of the U.S. Marshals Service I can’t even deputize civilians in the country. How the hell did you get it to work in Ireland?”
 
“You can’t call them deputies here, but you can still bring them.”
 
“To Ireland?”
 
“Yes.”
 
Nathaniel gave me wide eyes, because I’d discussed with him that no one wanted me to come play.
 
“How? I wasn’t sure you’d get me into the country, let alone me and extra people.”
 
“First, the Irish police are interested in seeing how well the shapeshifters work with us, and them. Bring Socrates unless you think he won’t work well with the rest of the group.”
 
“Because he’s an ex-cop,” I said.
 
“Yes, I’d go with more ex-military and police if possible.”
 
“I’ll do what I can. Will the guards who helped us out in Washington state be okay by you?”
 
“They’ll do, and Nicky can always come play with us.”
 
“He’s so not ex-cop, or military anything,” I said.
 
“No, but he’s good enough that I’d take him for backup even if you couldn’t come with him.”
 
“Wow, that is high praise coming from you.”
 
“Just truth.”
 
I’d have to remember to tell Nicky later, though he would probably just shrug it off and say, Of course, or say nothing. I might not even be able to tell if it pleased him. It had tickled the hell out of me when Edward told me I was good enough for backup, but of course my background and Nicky’s were vastly different, and so were our reactions to certain things.
 
“Okay, Socrates and Nicky. Any other requests?”
 
“Lisandro, Claudia, Bobby Lee.”
 
“Claudia doesn’t travel out of town with me, but the other two, check.”
 
“She came to Colorado.”
 
“She came with Jean-Claude, not me.”
 
“Okay, whatever, you can explain to me why that matters later, but right now just bring a small group that would play well enough with police and military to not make them regret the decision to let us come play.”
 
But Nathaniel felt compelled to answer the Claudia question. “Claudia doesn’t want the ardeur to rise with her alone with Anita. That’s why she won’t travel out of town with her.”
 
I gave him the look that oversharing deserved. It was not a friendly look.
 
He shrugged and said, “What?”
 
“I’m beginning to like having Nathaniel on this call,” Edward said.
 
I frowned harder at Nathaniel and then aimed it at the phone, too, as if Edward could see it. Truth was, he wouldn’t have been bothered if he’d been there for me to glare at.
 
“Let’s concentrate on business, shall we?”
 
“I’m all about business, Anita; you know that.”
 
“I don’t know how the hell you pulled this off, Edward.”
 
“We got lucky; they’re thinking about putting their own preternatural unit together, but they don’t want to simply duplicate the British unit. They weren’t entirely happy with how the Brits handled the last time they had to call them for help.”
 
“Didn’t they fight to get free of British control for a long time?”
 
“Yeah, so having to call in the Brits for help the last time they had a preternatural citizen go rogue on them didn’t sit well with the government, or the popular vote.”
 
“Ah, I hear elections coming,” I said.
 
“It’s not just the politicians, Anita. You have to know more of the history of the country to understand just how desperate they were to turn to their nearest neighbors for help.”
 
“Why didn’t they ask Interpol for help?” I asked.
 
“Interpol’s preternatural unit was tied up elsewhere and couldn’t get there as quickly as the Brits could. To save Irish lives they let their old conquerors into their country again. The president of Ireland and his party lost the next election because of it.”
 
“Wait. This is like a footnote in something else I read. It was a mixed group of lycanthropes, a human sorcerer, a couple of witches, and some fairies—I mean, Fey, or whatever.”
 
“Important safety tip in Ireland: Don’t call them fairies.”
 
“I know that, Edward, honest.”
 
“Just a reminder. Tell all your people to remember it, too.”
 
“Why can’t we call them fairies?” Nathaniel asked.
 
“In old-world Fey it’s the equivalent of calling someone who’s African-American the N-word, except that Fey have magic to punish you for the insult.”
 
“Wow, really, it’s that big an insult?”
 
“To some of the older Fey in the Old World, yes,” I said.
 
“What do we call them instead?” he asked.
 
Edward answered, “Fey, the gentle folk, the kindly ones; little people has fallen out of favor, but some old-timers still use it.”
 
“The hidden folk is another one,” I said.
 
“Fey is shorter and more common among the police in most countries,” Edward said.
 
“I know that Ireland has kept the highest concentration of Fey in the world,” I said.
 
“But most of the wee folk are good citizens, or they just want to be left alone to do what they’ve done for the last thousand years.”
 
“Bullshit, there are still Unseelie Fey over there, and they’ve always been prone to do bad things.”
 
“They don’t see it that way, Anita. They think they’re neutral like nature.”
 
“Yeah, nature is neutral, but a blizzard will still kill you, and there are a few types of gentle folk that really do like to hurt people.”
 
“But they don’t, because they don’t want to be deported,” he said.
 
“I still remember reading in college about what it took for some of the European countries to deport the gentle folk. Massive magic, because they are tied to the land; you remove some of the folk and the land can actually start to die.”
 
“That would complicate things.”
 
“They didn’t know it would kill the land back in the day, and they didn’t understand that Fey that weren’t tied to their land could go rogue in a big way, or the British didn’t know. Apparently Ireland’s Fey population was more wild and even more closely connected to the land than their British Isles counterparts.”
 
“And you remember all this from college?”
 
“Enough that I looked it up online briefly after you told me Ireland was a possibility.”
 
“You, on a computer willingly?”
 
“Anita’s gotten much better with all the tech,” Nathaniel said.
 
“Hey, I’ve totally been won over to my smartphone, and it’s a little computer.”
 
Edward chuckled. “Fair enough.”
 
“I wanted to refresh myself on some of what I remembered after I talked to you the first time. Some of the Irish believe that the great potato famine and the British occupation not only lost them artists and writers, but their native-born psychics and witches, so they’re pretty welcoming to anyone who’s talented, except necromancers, apparently. Back when they let writers out of income tax, they did the same thing for anyone with a demonstrable psychic or magical ability.”
 
“That last is news to me.”
 
“It wasn’t pertinent to you, personally, and except for me I’m not sure you even work with people who are gifted enough to care.”
 
“True.”
 
“Marshal Kirkland raises the dead, too,” Nathaniel said.
 
“Larry and I are two of the very few with any demonstrable psychic talent.”
 
“I know your gifts help you survive and be better at your job. How do the rest survive without any psychic gifts?” Nathaniel asked.
 
“We manage,” Edward said dryly.
 
“I didn’t mean you. You’re Edward.”
 
I actually understood what he meant by that. “You know he’s right; you are Edward and that’s better than magic any day.”
 
“I just always assumed that Edward was just bad-ass enough not to need magic, but that everyone else had some.”
 
“Nope,” I said, “there’s me, Larry, and Denis-Luc St. John, Manny before he retired, a couple on the West Coast and one on the East Coast, but everyone else is psychic free.”
 
“Seems like it should be the other way around,” Nathaniel said.
 
“People didn’t trust psychics when the business started,” Edward said. “It was too close to being a witch, and a lot of the old-time vampire hunters hunted witches, too.”
 
“We had a coven that went rogue a few years back here in St. Louis. They didn’t have an order of execution on them, but the police called me in to consult anyway.”
 
“When the preternatural citizens go off the reservation, who you gonna call?” Edward asked.
 
“Us.”
 
“Us,” he said.
 
“So the Irish want us to bring preternaturals over so they can see if they want to integrate them into their new homegrown unit—is that it?”
 
“Something like that,” he said. I would remember later how he said it, and that I didn’t question it at the time.
 
“This seems almost too good to be true, Edward. It gets us around the no-guns rule, the badges being American. Are they really going to let us bring in a bunch of nonpolice armed for big bad vampires?”
 
“That’s the deal, though I did have to promise them we wouldn’t make too big of a public mess.”
 
“If it goes well, no one will know we were there,” I said.
 
“That’s what I told them.”
 
“You said you had some contacts in Ireland. This is a hell of a lot more than just ‘some contacts,’ Edward.”
 
“I told you, we got lucky. One of the men in charge of putting the new unit together owed me a favor.”
 
I had a moment to think about what it took to owe Edward a favor. I’d owed him one once upon a time, and he’d called me to New Mexico to hunt a monster that was doing worse than just killing people. He and I had both almost died that time.
 
“What kind of favor did he owe you?”
 
“You know I won’t answer that.”
 
“If it’s just because I’m standing here, I can put my fingers in my ears and hum,” Nathaniel said.
 
“It’s not because you’re standing there,” Edward said.
 
“He’s not going to tell me,” I said.
 
“If you knew that, why did you ask?” Nathaniel asked.
 
“I keep hoping he’ll get chatty.”
 
“When have I ever been chatty?” Edward said.
 
“Did the man who owed you a favor know you in the military, or after you got out?”
 
“No comment.”
 
“Okay, I know you keep a secret better than almost any human being I know.”
 
“Almost?” He made it a question.
 
I smiled, though he couldn’t see it. “Okay, you are the human champ of secret keeping.”
 
“Just human?”
 
“Vampires keep secrets better than anyone I know.”
 
“Is tall, not so dark, and handsome hiding things from you while you plan the wedding?”
 
“He’s over six hundred years old, Edward. I’ll never know all his secrets, but no, I wasn’t thinking of Jean-Claude, just vamps in general.”
 
“And I’ll let that go, because you’ve told me all you’re going to tell me,” he said.
 
I laughed. “Hey, I learned from the best how to keep a secret.”
 
“So I’m getting my own back—is that it?”
 
“Yeah.”
 
“We got lucky, but we also have something that our Irish counterparts need.”
 
“What exactly is that?”
 
“A mixed group of preternaturals who have worked with the police, or been police before.”
 
“How much does your old friend know about me and my people?”
 
“He’s not my friend, more a work acquaintance.”
 
“Okay, so you didn’t tell him much.”
 
“The minimum.”
 
“Which would be what?”
 
“You know how there’s a certain group of military and covert operations that knows more about you than either of us is comfortable with?”
 
“You mean Van Cleef.”
 
“Did you really want to say that name in front of Nathaniel?”
 
“I’ve heard the name before,” he said.
 
“Donna doesn’t know that name,” Edward said.
 
“Nathaniel was with us in Colorado when the name came up last.”
 
“When you told the story it was just you and Micah in the room when his father dropped the name.”
 
“Micah and I thought it would be safer if Nathaniel knew the name.”
 
“I haven’t told Peter either.”
 
“You like to keep secrets, Edward. I prefer to share information more than you do.”
 
“I know Nicky learned it in Colorado. Who else did you tell?”
 
“I was careful.”
 
“Who did you tell?”
 
“You tell me to stay away from any hint of Van Cleef. Are you telling me that he’s involved with the new unit in Ireland?”
 
“Not him personally, but people like him. They’re all interested in the fact that you seem to have all the benefits of being a lycanthrope without the side effect of changing shape.”
 
“Yeah, I keep being told that the military complex—not the military itself, but some mysterious powers that be—is fascinated with the possibility of super-soldiers with some of my abilities.”
 
“Mainstream military has nothing to do with the idea, Anita.”
 
“I know they’re still giving people medical discharges if they catch lycanthropy on the job.”
 
“But some of the firms that are more private security are very interested.”
 
“I thought your acquaintance was Irish police.”
 
“He is, but he wasn’t always.”
 
“Military?” I asked.
 
“Yes.”
 
“Private security firm?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“I didn’t think the regular military or PD liked you much after you were private security.”
 
“He’s a native-born son of Ireland come back with new skills and new money to throw at a project that the government wants done.”
 
“Money. Wait. Is he funding this thing himself?”
 
“No, but he’s helping outfit it, hoping to prove the worth of the new weapons to the government so they’ll order up his new gadgets.”
 
“A government contract would be a lot of money down the road,” I said.
 
“It would be, but that’s down the road. Right now he’s spending a lot of his backers’ money as an investment that may or may not pan out.”
 
“So it’s a big gamble,” I said.
 
“Yes.”
 
“And we’re going to help him win his bet.”
 
“Yes.”
 
“Is your . . . I can’t keep calling him your acquaintance.”
 
“Brian.”
 
“Brian. Really? How . . . Irish.”
 
“It’s still his name.”
 
“Okay, is Brian planning on following us around while we hunt the bad vamps?”
 
“He’s planning to help us.”
 
“Can we kill the bad vamps when we find them?”
 
“I’ve got you in the country armed, Anita—one problem at a time.”
 
“Wait,” Nathaniel said. “Are you saying that Anita can’t kill the vampires when you find them?”
 
“We think the vampires that are giving us issues in Dublin are the newly dead. We have some disappearances, but no one has been declared dead, so they’re still legal citizens with all the rights of the living. Irish law doesn’t cover vampires. Doesn’t even mention them.”
 
“What are we supposed to do when we find the bad guys, Edward, arm-wrestle them?”
 
“Humans, even ones with vampire bites, are to be treated like regular humans, unless they are actively trying to kill us; then they become targets of opportunity.”
 
“What about the vampires themselves? Have they made up their minds what they’re going to do when they find them if they don’t kill them?”
 
“No.”
 
“That’s insane,” Nathaniel said.
 
“The Irish cops really want to save the vampires that are murdering their kids?” I asked.
 
“The Irish are very serious about not taking life.”
 
“Figure out something lethal before we land, Edward. I’m not bringing over my people to be killed because someone in power flinches.”
 
“I’ll do my best, but the local police take the whole peacekeeping thing seriously.”
 
“They can’t have ever seen what vampires are capable of,” Nathaniel said.
 
“Most of them haven’t, except for Brian.”
 
“There will be no peaceful end with these killers, Edward.”
 
“I’m not arguing that, Anita, but your reputation for necromancy isn’t the only thing that the Irish have reservations about.”
 
“What else don’t they like about me?” I asked.
 
“Your reputation for violence.”
 
“Yours isn’t any better.”
 
“Actually, you’ve still got the highest kill count, so I’m less bloodthirsty than you are.”
 
“Great, so I’m the big bad whatever.”
 
“They’re talking about putting a human officer with your preternatural friends while they’re in Ireland.”
 
“A guard on my guards?”
 
“Think of it as more a battle buddy. If one of your shapeshifters does something unfortunate, the officer with them will be in trouble, too, so they’ll be motivated to keep everyone on the straight and narrow.”
 
“The way to heaven is straight and narrow, Edward. We aren’t going that way.”
 
“Brian’s been to hell, Anita. He’ll be fine.”
 
“You and he have served together.”
 
“I didn’t say that.”
 
“Fought together, then.”
 
“I didn’t say that either.”
 
“Fine, damn black ops, but if you tell me that you’ve seen Brian handle himself, I’ll believe you.”
 
“I trust Brian to hold up his end of any operation, but I don’t know his men. I trust him to pick good people, but he’s working with the government.”
 
“Which means what?” I asked.
 
“Which means that he may not have been able to pick his entire team, so be careful until we know they’re as good as Brian.”
 
“I’ll pass that word on to my people here.”
 
“Do that.”
 
“I’ll finalize my team here, and tell them the good news that we can bring our guns.”
 
“No explosives. If we need those, Brian’s people will supply them.”
 
“I don’t think I’ve ever traveled with explosives; that’s your gig.”
 
“You used phosphorus grenades on ghouls and other undead.”
 
“Fine. I’ll leave them at home. Besides, the European grenades you had in Colorado were a hell of a lot more destructive.”
 
“If we need them, Brian will get us some.”
 
“Good to know.”
 
“Pack and get in the air as soon as you can, Anita. I’ll meet you on the ground in Ireland.”
 
“This would be so much easier if I weren’t still afraid of flying.”
 
“I keep forgetting you’re phobic of flying. I should take you up one day and get you over it.”
 
“Can you fly? I mean, are you a pilot?”
 
“I’ll see you in the Emerald Isle, Anita.”
 
“Damn it, Edward.”
 
“Yes?”
 
“Nothing. Just keep your secrets and be all mysterious. You keep telling me I’m your best friend. You know, people don’t keep this many secrets from their best friends.”
 
“I do,” he said. “See you across the pond, Anita.”
 
“See you there, Edward.”
 
“Good-bye, Nathaniel.”
 
“Bye, Edward.”
 
“You didn’t tell me not to endanger Anita.”
 
“I know what Anita does for a living and I know that she trusts you at her back more than anyone else. I trust her judgment.”
 
“That is not how my fiancée would have taken this conversation.”
 
“Donna knows what you do for a living, too,” Nathaniel said.
 
“She knows some of what I do for a living, but she doesn’t want to know all of it.”
 
“Maybe, but Peter does.”
 
“He told me you and he have been talking on the phone,” Edward said.
 
“He’s wanting help putting together the bachelor party.”
 
“I’m your best man. Shouldn’t I be planning that?” I asked.
 
“Do you really want to be planning my bachelor party?”
 
“No, but I’m not sure I want your nineteen-year-old son planning it either.”
 
“He asked to do it,” Edward said.
 
“He’s doing fine with the planning,” Nathaniel said.
 
“I admit I was a little worried how much you and Peter were talking,” Edward said.
 
“Why worried?” I asked.
 
“You think I’m a bad influence on him?” Nathaniel asked.
 
“No, according to Anita, that’s my job.”
 
“I just don’t think him going into the family business is the best thing,” I said.
 
“Before we got grandfathered into the Marshal Program he was going to be a vampire executioner, but now he’d have to go through the new training program. He’s too young to go straight into it, so he’s rethinking his options.”
 
“Does that mean he’s not going into the other side of the family business either?” I asked.
 
“Not now, Anita.”
 
“You don’t have to be afraid to talk around me, Edward. I know what you do, or did, before you put on a badge,” Nathaniel said.
 
“Do you?”
 
“Yes, Donna asked me to help talk to Peter about college.”
 
“So you were just pretending not to know that he’d agreed to try college?”
 
“I wasn’t lying. I just didn’t know Peter had made up his mind. He was still debating the last time we talked.”
 
“I didn’t know you and Peter were such good buddies.” Edward’s voice was not happy. It was a tone that would have made me afraid for Nathaniel once, but I knew that Edward would never do anything to endanger my domestic happiness, just like I would never do anything to endanger his; we’d both worked too hard to find people to love to screw it up now.
 
“We’re not.”
 
“He seems to talk to you more than any of his friends here.”
 
“He doesn’t talk to me more, but he talks to me about the things he can’t discuss with his friends from high school. I already know the deep dark secrets that even his mother doesn’t know. You’ve put Peter in a position where he can’t talk to his mother, his sister, his therapist, or his best friends there in New Mexico, because it would be betraying your secrets. It’s like he knows his stepdad is Batman, but he has to pretend he only knows Bruce Wayne. He can’t talk about it with anyone.”
 
“He can talk to me about it,” Edward said.
 
“You can’t talk to Bruce Wayne about Batman if you know they’re the same person.”
 
“I know where all the bodies are buried,” I said. “He could talk to me without telling me anything I don’t already know.”
 
“You’re a woman, a beautiful woman who is tough enough to go out hunting monsters with Batman. You’re also Edward’s best friend. How can Peter talk to you without wondering if you’ll tell Edward?”
 
“Point made,” I said.
 
“Peter needed someone to talk to who already knew your secret identity. Trust me, if he’d had someone else he’d have talked to them.”
 
“Why did you say it like that?” I asked.
 
“He wouldn’t have confided in one of your boyfriends if he’d had anyone else.”
 
“What does you being my boyfriend have to do with it?”
 
“We talked about this, Anita,” Edward said.
 
“I know, I know. I rescued him and he’s bonded to me like a baby duck.”
 
Nathaniel looked angry then, his beast’s energy trickling out. “Don’t do that, Anita. Don’t make less of it than it is.”
 
“I don’t know what you mean.”
 
“I hope you don’t mean that, because it’s one of Peter’s most important truths.”
 
I shook my head. “I don’t know what you mean about his truth.”
 
“Fine. Here’s the truth. You’re right. He did fixate on you, but how could he not? He was kidnapped and they tortured him sexually. It was scary and horrible, but it was his first sexual experience and then Anita shows up and saves him. Then you’re with him when he killed the woman who had fucked with him. It was you who grabbed him off her body and shoved him up against a wall and told him that she was dead, that he had killed her, and that was as good as revenge got.”
 
“I know Anita didn’t tell you all that,” Edward said, and his voice wasn’t neutral or angry now.
 
“Peter needed someone he could tell the whole truth to, and you’ve set him up so he can’t tell anyone else.”
 
“He hasn’t even told me all the details, and I already know them,” Edward asked.
 
“He hinted and I told him about my background. Once he knew that I’d been abused and raped, too, he was pretty sure I wouldn’t judge him for what happened to him. It’s hard for men to admit they were victims. I invited him up to our men’s group here, but he’s not ready to talk in group yet.”
 
“You have a group?” Edward asked.
 
“There are more men with stories like Peter’s and mine than you think.”
 
“It’s not that . . . I’m sorry, Nathaniel. I didn’t know that you were . . . helping Peter. Thank you for being there for him when I couldn’t be.”
 
The anger just leaked away from Nathaniel. He looked surprised. “You’re welcome. He’s a decent person, confused, a little broken, but strong and trying to figure out if he’s Robin to your Batman, or something else.”
 
“Did he talk to you about some of his . . . girlfriends?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“And?”
 
“And Peter asked my advice on a few things. He wanted to know that he wasn’t a freak for enjoying what he enjoyed.”
 
“What did you tell him?” Edward asked.
 
“That he’s not a freak. He just has to make sure that it’s all safe, sane, and consensual. He and I have talked a lot about consent.”
 
“I tried to talk to him about sex,” Edward said.
 
“I know, but he couldn’t talk to you about some of it. You’re his dad, and you’re more vanilla than he is.”
 
Somehow vanilla was not a word I would have used for Edward, ever, but then he and I didn’t discuss his sex life. I just gave him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t pure vanilla.
 
“I don’t understand some of the things that Peter . . . wants.”
 
“He knows that, and he knows you tried to understand, but his kinks are not your kinks, and you sent him to a therapist who treated his interest in bondage and submission as a part of his brokenness.”
 
“His therapist feels that Peter is acting out about his own abuse and anger from it in the bondage and rough sex.”
 
“Some, but whether it’s from the abuse or was inside him waiting to be part of his sexuality doesn’t really matter.”
 
“Of course it matters.”
 
“No, Edward, it really doesn’t. What matters is that Peter doesn’t feel like a freak or a monster but understands that his sexuality is okay. I stressed that he has to negotiate any scene play, so that his partner knows exactly what’s going to happen and agrees to it all. I also told him that just because he fantasizes about something doesn’t mean he’ll enjoy it in reality, and that some fantasies must always remain as just that, fantasies.”
 
“Has he told you his fantasies?”
 
“Some.”
 
“I won’t ask you to tell me.”
 
“Good, because I wouldn’t betray his trust like that.”
 
“Can I ask you something, with you promising not to tell Peter?”
 
“Depending on what it is. I can’t promise blindly.”
 
“I guess that’s fair. I told Anita that I was worried Peter was going to be an abuser, because of what happened to him.”
 
“He could be, but he doesn’t want to be, and sometimes when things like this happen to you, just deciding not to become the monster is enough to avoid it.”
 
“He’s a predator like I’m a predator, and that’s not just from what happened to him at fourteen,” Edward said.
 
“No, it’s not,” Nathaniel said.
 
“I told Anita that I was afraid Peter would take it that extra step and be more of a predator than I am; do you understand?”
 
“You’re worried that the fact that he likes it rough, even violent, in the bedroom means he’s going to turn into a serial killer.”
 
“I told you I didn’t think that was true of Peter, when you asked me, Edward,” I said.
 
“But he hasn’t talked in detail to you like he has to Nathaniel.”
 
“You don’t just become a serial killer, Edward,” Nathaniel said, “not without long-term and systematic abuse, which is not what happened to Peter.”
 
“You can be born one,” Edward said.
 
“Edward,” I said, “Nathaniel’s right. You don’t just become a serial killer without more damage than Peter has had in his life.”
 
Nathaniel said, “Was Peter a bed-wetter when he was younger?”
 
“No.”
 
“Does he have a history of starting fires?”
 
“No.”
 
“Torturing animals?”
 
“No,” and that last no sounded more relaxed than the first two.
 
“Peter is missing the serial killer trifecta, so he’s not a born serial anything. He saw a werewolf kill his father in front of him when he was eight, and he picked up the gun his father dropped and killed the beast, saving his mother and baby sister. That’s traumatic, but it was also brave and heroic. Maybe it made him more prone to violence in other parts of his life, or maybe the violence was always in there; maybe that’s what helped him be able to pick the gun up and use it to kill the monster that killed his father. Being good at violence isn’t always a negative. You should know that better than most people.”
 
“You’re right. I should, but it’s always different when it’s your kid.”
 
“I hope to find out how different someday,” Nathaniel said, then turned to give me a look that was far too serious.
 
“Don’t look at me. I’m not planning on breeding, thanks.”
 
“Kids are great, Anita,” Edward said.
 
“Don’t you start.”
 
“I can’t imagine you pregnant and doing our job, but I can’t imagine you never wanting kids either.”
 
“I really thought you’d be on my side on this one, Edward.”
 
“I’m not on anyone’s side. I just want my best friend happy, whatever that means for her.”
 
Nathaniel smiled at me.
 
I pointed a finger at him. “We are not having this talk again. Especially not while we’re planning the big wedding to Jean-Claude and an only slightly smaller ceremony with you and Micah.”
 
“I’m helping plan both of those, plus helping Donna with her and Edward’s wedding, but I’m not complaining.”
 
“Bully for you, but I mean it, Nathaniel. The baby talk is shelved until we’ve survived all the nuptial bliss.”
 
“Fine. Babies are shelved until after all three of the weddings are over.”
 
“That is not what I said.”
 
“It sort of is,” Edward said.
 
“Damn it, you are on his side.”
 
“I’m not. I mean, if you got pregnant, who would come play cops and robbers with me?”
 
I rolled my eyes, which made Nathaniel smile, but it was lost on Edward. “Yeah, you’d lose me as a playmate.”
 
“You and I play the best games together.”
 
“No,” Nathaniel said. “Anita and I play the best games together.”
 
“And we’re done,” I said. “The two of you are not comparing notes on anything like that.”
 
“Would we do that, Anita?” Edward said, his voice teasing.
 
“I’m not finding out, because this conversation is over.”
 
Edward laughed, Nathaniel joined in, and after a minute of trying to pout at them both, I gave up and joined them. When the laughter stopped, Edward asked again for Damian to come to Ireland and help find the vampires that were plaguing Dublin. Nathaniel asked more questions then, because he’d want to give as much information as possible to the vampire when he finally woke for the day.
 
“He’s your vampire servant. Just order him to come with you to Ireland,” Edward said.
 
“You know I won’t do that, Edward.”
 
“You complicate your life, Anita.”
 
“If I didn’t complicate my life none of the men I love would be in it, and that includes Nathaniel.”
 
Edward couldn’t argue with that, so he didn’t try. “If we have a vampire who knows the city, it could make all the difference, Anita.”
 
“I know, Edward.”
 
Nathaniel said, “What haven’t you told us?”
 
“Anita has more details about the actual murders.”
 
“What about your mysterious friend Brian, and where you met?”
 
“No.”
 
“What about the person behind the new project who isn’t Van Cleef, but is like Van Cleef? Who is he? How dangerous is he to Anita?”
 
“If I thought he was dangerous to her, I wouldn’t ask her to come.”
 
Nathaniel tried a few more questions. I knew better. Once Edward had decided the amount of information he would share, then he was done.
 
We left it like that, because being besties with Edward meant I had to be all right with the fact that I might never know everything about his past. I could live with that, and so could Edward. I suspected that he had some secrets that if he shared them with me, we might not be able to live with them, because someone would find us and make sure we didn’t. Maybe it would just be jail time in a government facility, but I was betting that the mysterious Van Cleef was more a final-solution type of guy, and nothing says final like being dead.