Home > Crimson Death

Crimson Death(Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #25)(2) by Laurell Kaye Hamilton

2
 
WHEN WE WOKE for the night, Jean-Claude informed me that there had always been vampires in Ireland, and in fact we had a vampire from there in town. Which was why I was sitting in a very model of a modern business office waiting to talk to our Irish vampire, who wasn’t actually Irish at all. He’d just died there. The office at Danse Macabre had once been Jean-Claude’s; it had been black and white with an Oriental rug and a framed antique Japanese kimono on the wall. Jean-Claude’s things left when he started to be too busy to manage all of his businesses. Damian became manager; he was good at it, but the office was so bland that I’d have never believed the person who decorated this room would be theatrical enough to run Danse Macabre, which showed what I understood about such things, or maybe Jean-Claude had spoiled me. He was theatrical about most things.
 
The office chairs matched the desk, all pale wood and neutral, as if they’d all been bought at the same time and were a matched set, which they had been and were, but somehow the red-haired, green-eyed vampire with his milk pale skin and six feet of ex–Viking warrior looked too exotic to be in this Office Depot–designed room. He needed Victorian furniture, antiques, rich dark colors to complement him, but instead the entire room was so normal it could have been any manager’s office in almost any business across America, except for the vampire in the room and me. We were both too colorful for the beige walls and pale wood. Him in his green frock coat, skintight pants, and knee-high boots. Me in my royal-blue business skirt-suit, the skirt a little too short for a lot of businesses, but at five-three a longer skirt made me look even shorter. Besides, I had a date later with Jean-Claude and I might not have time to change before I had to meet everyone for the talky bit beforehand.
 
Damian had actually requested a meeting so we could talk about something that was bothering him before I knew he might have insight into the case Edward was working on in Ireland. I’d come prepared to hear his problem first, but he seemed reluctant to talk about whatever was bothering him. Fine, we’d talk about crime and vampires first, personal issues second.
 
“There have always been vampires in Ireland, Anita, or at least for the last thousand years, because that’s when She-Who-Made-Me turned me into one, and she’d been there in her castle on the cliffs long before I tried to steal her gold and jewels.”
 
“Then how come the humans didn’t know about her?”
 
“You know as well as I do that if a vampire is careful, he can take a little blood from one person, and a little from another the next night. Our stomachs can’t even hold the quantity of blood in an adult human being’s body, so there’s absolutely no reason to kill your blood donors.”
 
“Unless you want to make them into vampires,” I said.
 
“Or you’re a sadistic serial killer who just happens to be a vampire,” he said.
 
“You’ve told me that She-Who-Made-You is exactly that.”
 
He nodded, staring at his hands where he’d spread them on the pale wood of his desk. “Yes.”
 
“Then how did the human authorities miss a serial killer all that time?”
 
“You have to remember the times she began her . . . career in, Anita. People vanished all the time. They died young and tragically. Life expectancy was less than forty years and most died much younger than that. By forty, people were usually grandparents, or even great-grandparents.”
 
“At forty?” I said.
 
He smiled. “The look on your face is priceless, and yes, at forty. Ireland has had a bloody history and a lot of battles fought especially since 1170 when the Normans invaded and stayed. It’s so easy to disappear someone when there’s a battle close at hand. Then there’re displaced people trying to escape from the fighting. No one questions if they don’t turn up at the next town, or a relative’s house, or rather they assume that the enemy killed them or took them prisoner. It can be months or years before they finally learn that no one knows what happened to them, and by that time it’s too late. The jail in the town was a place where people died of disease and starvation. No one ever questioned if they died a little quicker, and the jailer didn’t give a damn as long as the dead prisoner was one of the ones who hadn’t been able to pay him for better care.”
 
“So you’re saying I just don’t understand how easy it was to kill people back in the day.”
 
“Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying.”
 
“But it’s not the olden days now, Damian. How have she and her kiss of vampires gotten away with it in the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries? People freak out if someone is late sending them a text. It’s not so easy to disappear a person now.”
 
“It’s harder now, much harder, but not impossible, Anita. You’re a U.S. Marshal. You know better than I do how modern killers work. You’ve worked enough serial killer cases here in the United States to know just how good people can be at getting victims and hiding the bodies. And that’s human serial killers. Think how much better they would get if they’d had centuries to perfect their techniques.”
 
“I’ve worked cases where the perp wasn’t human.”
 
“I know that, but my point is still valid.”
 
“How many vampires were there in your group?”
 
“It was small, but then we were hiding. The more vampires you have, the harder it is to feed and stay undetected.”
 
“I get that, but how small is small?”
 
“Never more than a dozen vampires, and usually less. We were harder to hide than the humans and shapeshifters that were part of her retinue.”
 
“One of the reasons that vampires have human servants and moitié bêtes, beast halves, is that they can both move around better in daylight than their vampire master,” I said.
 
“She-Who-Made-Me could walk in daylight.”
 
“That’s right. I’m sorry. It’s such a rare ability that I forgot.”
 
“Perrin and I were the only two of her vampires that were able to live in the light, even holding her hand. All the others that she’d tried to take for a walk in the sunlight had burst into flames and died, while she laughed at them. It was an envoy from the vampire council that suggested the evil thought that made her risk burning both of us alive.”
 
I’d literally shared the memory with Damian once, and I didn’t want to do it again, so I said the words. “He said, ‘Perhaps the reason they can walk out with you in the sun is not you sharing power with them’”—and Damian joined his voice to mine, so we finished the speech together—“‘but that they have gained power of their own, to sun-walk.’”
 
We looked at each other. “I really wish we didn’t keep sharing the worst of each other’s memories, Anita.”
 
“Yeah, why can’t either of us remember puppies and rainbows when we go all vampire and master?”
 
“I never owned a puppy,” he said.
 
“I did.”
 
“Oh right, the dog died when you were thirteen or fourteen, and then the dog rose from the dead and came home to crawl into bed with you.”
 
“Okay, maybe not puppies, maybe just rainbows,” I said.
 
“Sharing good memories would be better, but you’re the master here, not me, so your wishes dictate the nature of our relationship.”
 
“Are you saying if I can’t find my happy thoughts, then none of us can?”
 
“When we share memories, apparently so.”
 
“I’ll talk to my therapist about trying for more cheerful memories.”
 
“Is it helping? The therapist, I mean.”
 
I thought about it, then nodded. “I think it is.”
 
“What made you decide to finally see a full-fledged therapist? I know you were getting some informal counseling from the witch that works with the werewolf pack in Tennessee.”
 
He was right. I’d been doing a little therapy while I was learning to control my metaphysical abilities with my magical mentor, Marianne. I was still seeing her from time to time. Nathaniel and Micah had both gone with me, because I wasn’t the only one who needed to ask someone more knowledgeable about “magic,” but real hard-core therapy wasn’t Marianne’s job.
 
“Oh, I don’t know: my mother’s death when I was eight; my father’s remarriage to a woman who had problems with me being half Mexican and ruining her blond, blue-eyed family picture.”
 
“Which means you don’t want to tell me, because you give almost no emotion to any of that,” he said, looking at me very directly out of those greenest of green eyes. They really were the purest green eyes I’d ever seen in a human face. Hell, I’d only seen a few domestic cats with eyes that green. He swore they’d been the same color when he’d been alive.
 
“When I go too long without talking directly to you, I forget how impossibly green your eyes are.”
 
“Which means you really don’t want to tell me why you started therapy.”
 
“What, I can’t compliment you?”
 
“First, I’m not sure that was a compliment. Second, you almost never compliment me, so yes, it’s a distraction technique for you, though your best distraction is what you started with: trot out your tragic family history and most people would leave you alone about it.”
 
I gave him an unfriendly look. “If you know I don’t want to tell you, then why are you still pushing on it?”
 
“Maybe I’m thinking that if I understood why you went, I might go, too.”
 
“Is that why you wanted to meet? To talk about going to therapy?” I didn’t try to keep the surprise off my face.
 
“No, but it’s not a bad idea.”
 
“No, it’s not. I think most people could use a little good therapy.”
 
He nodded, but more because he thought he should than because he meant it, as if he was already thinking about something else.
 
“What’s wrong, Damian? You asked for this meeting days before I knew I needed to ask you about Ireland.”
 
“I’m having nightmares.”
 
“Vampires don’t have nightmares,” I said.
 
“I know.”
 
He blinked those impossibly green eyes at me, then tucked a strand of that equally impossibly red hair behind one ear. He was so nervous that it showed in the tightness of his muscles as he moved, or tried not to move and betray just how nervous he was. For once, I didn’t need to sense anything from him to know exactly how he felt.
 
“How bad are the nightmares?” I asked.
 
“Bad enough.”
 
“Are they memories?”
 
“Some, but most of them are modern-day, and I don’t recognize most of the people in them.”
 
“I’ve had dreams like that, where it’s like you’re guest-starring in someone else’s dreams,” I said.
 
He nodded. “Yes, but they are violent, awful dreams.” He stared at his hands, shoulders slumping this time, as if he was beginning to hunch in upon himself. “I wake up and Cardinale is still dead, cool to the touch, and I’m burning up like a fever.”
 
“Vampires are hard when you have daymares,” I said.
 
He nodded. “I guess it is a daymare, not a nightmare.”
 
“Either way, when your lover is cold to the touch, they can’t hold you while you scream.”
 
“No, she can’t. She keeps saying, Why aren’t I enough for you? But she doesn’t understand.”
 
“You need someone there who can wake you up, hold you, be warm for you,” I said.
 
“Yes, I do, damn it. I do.”
 
“What did Jean-Claude say when you told him?”
 
“He doesn’t know.”
 
“You’re telling me first, before your king?”
 
“You’re my master, Anita, not him. I’m supposed to tell you first.”
 
“We’ll debate that later. Are you dying at dawn?”
 
“Sometimes, but most of the time I curl up beside Cardinale and I sleep until the nightmares wake me.”
 
“You should be dying at dawn, Damian.”
 
“Don’t you think I know that? When I woke this morning I had sweat blood, Anita. It’s like I have a fever, a human fever, but I sweat blood. It’s like I’m sick.”
 
“Vampires don’t get sick,” I said.
 
“If I’m not ill, then what is it?”
 
“I don’t know, but first we have to tell Jean-Claude,” I said.
 
“And then?” He gave me a very direct look.
 
I met the look with one of my own. “What do you want me to say, Damian? We’ll talk to Jean-Claude. Maybe I’ll talk to my friend Marianne; she’s a witch—maybe she’d have an idea about where to start.”
 
“I think this is happening because you, Nathaniel, and I almost never see each other. You’re a necromancer, I’m your vampire servant, and Nathaniel is your leopard to call, but the three of us have almost no relationship.”
 
“You say that like it’s normal for a necromancer to have a vampire servant the way a master vampire has a human servant, but it’s a first in all of vampire history. The fact that I can make moitié bêtes like a master vampire is even weirder, because that has nothing to do with my necromancy.”
 
“You gain power through Jean-Claude’s vampire marks, through being his human servant.”
 
“Yeah, but that doesn’t explain everything I can do.”
 
“You came with your own power, Anita.”
 
“I’m sorry I accidentally bound you and Nathaniel into a triumvirate of power.”
 
“You saved my life more than once with your power, Anita; I don’t regret being bound to you. The only thing I regret is that you grew closer to Nathaniel than to me.”
 
“You and your lady love, Cardinale, asked me to back off and let the two of you be monogamous together. I respected the request.”
 
“You had already fallen in love with Nathaniel, and were so not in love with me. Don’t blame that on Cardinale’s relationship with me.”
 
“I’m not, but we were lovers before you and she went monogamous.”
 
“You slept with me less than you sleep with Richard now.”
 
“Look, I’m sorry you’re hurting, or scared, or sick, or whatever, but it wasn’t just me that contributed to whatever is happening, or not happening, between us.”
 
“I know that.”
 
“Do you? Because you don’t sound like you do.”
 
“I could say you’re my master, so responsibility ultimately lies with you, but that would piss you off and I don’t want to do that.”
 
“You’re doing a damn good job, if that’s not what you want, and Cardinale hates me. I don’t see her letting you and me get closer in any way.”
 
“She’s not happy about anyone being near me who isn’t her, but I can’t go on like this, Anita. You keep saying that vampires don’t sleep, or have nightmares, and you’re right, but vampires also don’t have human masters, not even necromancers. I believe that whatever is happening to me is tied to the triumvirate not working the way it should.”
 
“How do you envision it working?” I asked.
 
“More like the one that Jean-Claude has with you and Richard Zeeman, our local werewolf king.”
 
“And that would mean what, exactly?”
 
“Don’t be coy, Anita.”
 
“I’m not being coy. I’m not good enough at it to try. I genuinely don’t know what you’re getting at, because Jean-Claude and I don’t see Richard much at all anymore. He’s dating other people, off trying to find someone to marry and do the white-picket-fence thing.”
 
“You see him at least once a month.”
 
“For sex and bondage, yes. Wait. Are you wanting to have sex with Nathaniel and me?”
 
“The look on your face, Anita. Is the thought of us being lovers again such a bad one?”
 
This was the guy version of the girl trap: a question where there either is no winning answer or one where you have only one answer that won’t start a fight. This was one of those questions, but luckily I could answer truthfully and not hurt his feelings.
 
“No, it’s not a bad thought. You’re beautiful and you’re good in bed; it’s not that.”
 
“Then what is it?”
 
“If you sleep with me, let alone with me and Nathaniel, it will cost you Cardinale, because she won’t stand for it.”
 
He nodded one more time. “I know, but I need to figure out what’s happening to me, Anita, and for that I need you and Nathaniel to be closer to me. I need our triumvirate of power to work more like you, Jean-Claude, and Richard do.”
 
“We don’t always work that well,” I said.
 
“Your triumvirate with them works better than the one you have with Nathaniel and me,” he said.
 
I couldn’t really argue with that, so I didn’t try. “Okay, but before we do anything that would piss Cardinale off, we are going to talk to her first. If we can do this without it costing your relationship, then we will.”
 
“Why do you care so much about my relationship with her?”
 
“I caught enough of your emotions to know you were in love with her; that’s important, and I don’t want to screw that up because the metaphysics between us has gotten weird.”
 
“You really do want everyone around you to be happy, don’t you?”
 
“Yeah, doesn’t everyone want that for their friends?”
 
He smiled then, and shook his head. “No, Anita. No, they don’t.”
 
“If you really care for people, you want them to be happy, Damian; otherwise you don’t actually care for them.”
 
“You don’t think like any other woman I’ve ever met.”
 
“Oh, come on, in centuries of life you’ve never met another woman who thinks like I do?”
 
“I swear to you, Anita, you are unique in a lot of ways.”
 
“Unique is usually a polite way of saying weird.”
 
He grinned, gave a little laugh. “Well, that, too, but weird isn’t always bad.”
 
I smiled. “No. No, it’s not; in fact, sometimes weird is exactly what you need.”
 
“I’m a vampire and you’re a necromancer. I think weird is where we start.”
 
I laughed then, and debated how much of the case in Ireland I could share with him. One of the side effects he had from being my vampire servant was that if I told him not to tell anyone else what I told him, he couldn’t. He couldn’t seem to disobey a direct order from me, which wasn’t typical for human servants. It certainly wasn’t how I was with Jean-Claude.
 
“You’re thinking something that’s made you very serious.”
 
“If I told you that there were vampires in Ireland that were taking victims and making no effort to hide them, what would you say?”
 
“I’d say it’s not the work of the vampire that made me. She would never be so careless hiding bodies.”
 
“I’m not sure how many we have dead so far; the others just wander the streets or take themselves to a hospital with complete amnesia about how they got hurt.”
 
It was his turn to look serious. “She would never let people wander around like that. It would attract far too much attention. How many victims so far?”
 
“At least half a dozen.”
 
“She would kill a vampire of her kiss that was so careless.”
 
“So you’re saying it’s not your old group?”
 
He shook his head. “No, Anita, She-Who-Made-Me would never risk the humans knowing about us.”
 
“Even in modern times when more countries are making you legal?”
 
“She’s one of the old ones who don’t believe the new attitudes will last. She said that staying hidden was the only true safety from the plague of humanity.”
 
“She called us a plague, really?”
 
He nodded. “She didn’t seem to like humans much. If she could have fed off something else and stayed alive as a vampire, I think she would have done so.”
 
“A vampire that tries to feed on animals starts to rot,” I said.
 
“I remember what Sabine looked like,” Damian said, and shuddered. It had been worth a shudder or two.
 
“Yeah, and once a vampire gets damaged like that there’s no healing it, so you guys have to feed on humans.”
 
“She enjoyed tormenting humans and having sex with us if it suited her, but she didn’t seem to actually like us, or maybe she didn’t truly like anyone.”
 
The timer on my phone sounded. I turned off the alarm and stood up. “Jean-Claude made me promise not to be late tonight, but is there anything you can tell me about vampires in Ireland that might help explain what’s happening?”
 
“The only thing I can think of is that her power is finally fading enough that she has lost control of some of her vampires and they are mad with power now,” he said, standing too.
 
“Why would she suddenly start to lose power after all this time?”
 
“I do not know. She was very in control of them when I left Ireland five years ago.”
 
“Could it be vampires from out of the country that she doesn’t control?”
 
“It is possible, I suppose.”
 
“But you don’t believe it,” I said.
 
“No, I don’t. She-Who-Made-Me is very covetous of her power and control. She would not allow some upstart vampires to come as near to her as Dublin and make her existence difficult without making their existence impossible.”
 
“You mean she’d kill them.”
 
“Oh yes, but you need to go. I will think upon what I know about my old mistress and her retinue, but this has to be someone or something new in Ireland. Within her fortress she was mad and capricious, but outside it she was very disciplined. Whatever is doing this doesn’t seem very disciplined. In fact, I’d say it was new vampires learning how to control themselves, but she could hunt them down easily and destroy them, or ‘invite’ them to join her kiss.” He made little air quotes around invite.
 
“Join us or die, huh?”
 
“Something like that. Jean-Claude cautioned me to make certain you leave by about now,” he said, glancing at the wall clock.
 
I let the surprise show on my face. “I don’t think he’s ever talked to one of my other people before like that.”
 
“He didn’t want you to get distracted by me.”
 
“Fine. I’ll fill Jean-Claude and Nathaniel in on what’s happening with you and we’ll come up with a plan.”
 
He offered his hand to me, as if it were any other meeting, and I took it the same way. We forgot that weird was where we started. Power jumped between our skin in a wash of heat, as if a sudden fever had gripped us both. The last time I’d touched him there’d been attraction, power, magic, but not like this heat wave.
 
I let go of his hand, but he held on, until I said, “Let go of me, Damian,” and he had to let go, because I’d ordered him to do it.
 
Our hands parted, but it was like pulling our hands out of some invisible taffy: sticky, sweet, and trying to hold on to both of us. We stood there staring at each other, both of us breathing fast, chests rising and falling with the need for air as if we’d been running.
 
“What the hell was that?” I gasped it, because I didn’t have air for anything else. I was even sweating, just a little.
 
“I don’t know,” he whispered, and there was the faintest dew of sweat on his face. The sweat should have been pinkish with blood, but it was darker than that, more red than pink. One drop of that bloody sweat trailed down his face and took my gaze with it, to find more sweat down the middle of that bare line of chest, so that it looked like he was bleeding from a hundred tiny puncture wounds, except it was the fine pores of his skin. He wasn’t wounded; he wasn’t even truly bleeding; there was always a little blood in a vampire’s sweat, enough to make the clear liquid slightly pink.
 
I watched Damian bleed down the paper whiteness of his skin, and knew something was wrong, as in call-a-doctor wrong, but who do you call when a vampire gets “sick”? Since they didn’t get sick in any traditional sense, there weren’t a lot of doctors that specialized.
 
Damian touched his fingers to his skin and stared at the blood on them. “What is happening to me, Anita?”
 
“I don’t know,” I said.
 
“You’re a necromancer and my master; shouldn’t you know something?”
 
I felt that little spurt of anger but pushed it down, because he was right. “Yeah, I should, but I don’t. I’m sorry for that.”
 
He got some Kleenex from his desk drawer and started dabbing at the bloody sweat. The tissues came away soaked. “I woke from the nightmares like this today, Anita, drenched in blood. I ruined the sheets and Cardinale just lay there in the bloody bed like the corpse she was.”
 
I stared at him, because I’d never heard a vampire describe another vampire like that before. “Damian . . .” I reached out to touch him, comfort him, but stopped myself before I finished the gesture; shaking hands had been exciting enough.
 
“Whatever is wrong with me is getting worse, Anita.” He threw the bloody Kleenex in the small office wastebasket.
 
“We’ll talk to Jean-Claude first.”
 
“And if he doesn’t know what’s wrong with me, what’s second?”
 
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” I said.
 
“If Jean-Claude doesn’t have an answer for this, Anita, then you and Nathaniel and I have to make our metaphysics work better.”
 
“Even if it costs you Cardinale?”
 
He stripped off his coat and held it out by two fingers away from his body. Blood was still beading on the skin between his shoulder blades. Shouldn’t it have soaked into the coat? He turned around and fresh blood was sweating onto his chest and forehead.
 
“Cardinale said she’d rather I keep having nightmares than have me sleep with someone else.” He wiped at the fresh blood with more Kleenex, until it was all a bloody mess. “I can feel it dripping down my back,” he said with distaste.
 
“It is, but I’m afraid to touch you again after the handshake,” I said.
 
“Nothing personal, but I don’t want to bleed more,” he said.
 
“Maybe Jean-Claude can help us figure out why my touch made you do this,” I said.
 
“The next time we touch he should be in the room.”
 
“And Nathaniel,” I said.
 
“And maybe some security guards,” Damian said, as he threw more bloody tissues into the trash can.
 
“Why security?” I asked.
 
“The last time things went wrong with me, Anita, I killed innocent humans, just slaughtered them. I don’t remember doing it, but I believe that I did. I was worse than a freshly risen vampire, more like one of the revenants that never regains its mind.”
 
“You didn’t have any of these symptoms before last time, did you?”
 
“No, no nightmares, no bloody sweats, no power jumps, just out of my head with bloodlust.”
 
“That was different, then, Damian.”
 
“Was it?”
 
“You said it yourself: The symptoms are different.”
 
“I suppose.”
 
“You just went crazy that time, Damian.”
 
“No, I didn’t just go crazy, Anita. You had cut me off from my connection to you and instead of dying finally and completely, I was old enough, or powerful enough, to go crazy.”
 
“Damian . . .”
 
“I know you haven’t cut me off from your power as my master this time, Anita, but you’ve still distanced yourself from me.”
 
“Because you and Cardinale asked me to.”
 
“We did, but I didn’t understand how much I would miss interacting with you and Nathaniel.”
 
“We were never that close, the three of us.”
 
“No, but I feel the lack of you both, somehow.”
 
Since Nathaniel had said almost the same thing about Damian a few months back, I wasn’t sure what to say; I didn’t seem to miss Damian as much as my other fiancé did. “I did what you asked, Damian.”
 
“Maybe I’m unasking,” he said.
 
“What does that mean?” I asked.
 
“It means that I’m lonely.”
 
“You live and work with Cardinale, and you’re in love with her.”
 
“I know that.”
 
I wanted to ask, Then how can you be lonely? But I wasn’t sure how to say it. He said it for me. “I thought being in love meant you’d never be lonely again, that it would be like coming home in every sense of the word.”
 
“It is like that,” I said, and couldn’t help but smile as I said it.
 
He shook his head. “That smile on your face, that’s what I wanted to feel, but it’s not like that with Cardinale, not anymore.”
 
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I said, “The bleeding has almost stopped.”
 
“Oh good, I’ve stopped sweating blood for the second time today.” He threw the last of the bloody Kleenex in the small trash can and turned to me with angry eyes. “Jean-Claude told me if I went mad again he might have to kill me.”
 
“I remember,” I said.
 
“You can’t let me hurt innocent people again, Anita.”
 
“I know,” I said.
 
“I told Cardinale about the last time something went wrong with me, and I honestly think she’d prefer me dead than with someone else. How can that be love, Anita? How can she prefer me insane and having to be killed like an animal to me sleeping with other people?”
 
Again, I had no good answer, so I said nothing. I rarely got in trouble saying nothing.
 
“Answer me, Anita. How is that love?”
 
Of course, not everyone will let you say nothing; sometimes they demand more than that, even when there’s nothing good to say. “I don’t know, Damian.”
 
“You don’t know, or you know that isn’t love—it’s obsession?”
 
“Since I’m the other woman as far as Cardinale is concerned, I’d rather not comment.”
 
“She-Who-Made-Me didn’t understand love, but she understood being obsessed with someone. She’d find someone among the prisoners or the would-be treasure seekers who would come to the castle; like ordering pizza, the food comes to you.” He laughed, but it was a bad sound, the kind of laughter that made you cringe or want to cry. “She’d pick one special person to tease and torment and maybe fuck. Sometimes they thought she loved them, but it was the kind of obsession that scientists feel for insects, so beautiful until you kill it, stuff it, and put a pin through it.”
 
I fought not to point out that insects aren’t stuffed, and not to ask if She-Who-Made-Him actually stuffed or pinned her victims. Neither comment would help the pain in his eyes, so I let them both go. I can be taught.
 
“You can’t equate Cardinale with her,” I said, finally.
 
“Why not? Maybe after so many centuries with She-Who-Made-Me, obsession is all I understand? What if that’s what I saw in Cardinale? What if years of being tormented have made me mistake someone who wants to possess me for someone who wants to love me?”
 
“I don’t even know what to say to that, Damian, except it’s probably above my pay grade on the therapy scale and it sounds like a question for a real therapist.”
 
He nodded. “Maybe it is.”
 
“When do you get off work tonight?” I asked.
 
“Two hours before dawn.”
 
“You and Cardinale live at the Circus, so you’ll be heading that way anyway. We’ll see you an hour before dawn.”
 
“That won’t give us much time.”
 
“I’ll fill Jean-Claude and Nathaniel in on everything, so we’ll have less to explain.”
 
“An hour is still not much time to solve the unsolvable,” he said.
 
“Jean-Claude doesn’t have to die at dawn, if I’m touching him, and you aren’t dying at dawn. That gives us more time,” I said.
 
He seemed to think about that, then nodded, putting his coat over the back of his chair so his hands were free. He stood there bare from the waist up, except for the blood that was beginning to dry on his back. “A bright side to this cursed sleep, then,” he said.
 
“Most vampires are a little afraid of that moment when they die each day,” I said.
 
“I think a part of me would be relieved to finally die for real.”
 
“Are you thinking suicidal thoughts?” I asked, because you have to ask, or you won’t know.
 
“No, I was raised to believe a death in battle meant a good afterlife, and I was fighting when She-Who-Made-Me took my life.”
 
“You mean Valhalla and all that.”
 
He grinned. “Yes, Valhalla and all that.”
 
“So you count that moment as your death, and wouldn’t count dying as a vampire now?” I asked, because it was me and I wanted to know.
 
He shook his head. “She-Who-Made-Me killed me, Anita. Make no mistake about that.”
 
I wasn’t sure I agreed with his definition of life and death and when he was killed, but if it gave him comfort, who was I to argue with it? I believed in heaven, and wasn’t Valhalla just Damian’s version of that? If it wasn’t, the difference was a question for a priest and I wasn’t one of those, so I let him take his comfort and I kept mine.
 
“I’ll see you later tonight, then,” I said.
 
“I can’t go to work like this,” he said. “I smell like fresh blood and sweat. It’s disgusting.”
 
“I haven’t noticed you smelling bad; maybe just take a bird bath in the bathroom back here,” I suggested.
 
“You haven’t gotten close enough to smell my skin,” he said.
 
“You just said you don’t want me closer since you sweated blood from one touch.”
 
He sighed. “Yes, I did.”
 
“I’m heading to the Circus of the Damned, then. I’ve got people waiting for me.”
 
“Can I catch a ride with you? I need a shower and clean clothes.”
 
“You fly better than almost any vampire I know; you don’t need a car.”
 
“I don’t feel myself tonight, Anita. I’d rather use a car.”
 
“How did you get here tonight without one?”
 
“Cardinale and I carpool. You know that.”
 
“Sorry. You’re right. I do.”
 
“Look, if you don’t want to give me a ride, just say so.”
 
“I’m not sure you and I in a car alone together is a good idea until we know why shaking hands made you bleed.”
 
He took in a lot of air and let it out slow. Was he breathing more than normal for him, and for most of the vampires I knew, or was I just more aware of it? I almost asked, but then left it alone. I’d ask Jean-Claude later after he’d had time to watch Damian tonight.
 
“You’re right,” he said.
 
“Maybe you can drive the car to the Circus, shower, and come back for the big dance number at the end of the evening,” I said.
 
“Sensible,” he said.
 
“You sound like you’d rather I not be sensible.”
 
“The urge to touch you is always there, Anita, even after what just happened.”
 
Since I wasn’t as drawn to him as he was to me, I kept quiet, because when a man tells you something like that it’s just mean to tell him you don’t feel the same. I did my best not to hurt anyone’s feelings if I could help it.
 
“You’re shielding so hard, Anita, harder than when you came through the door.”
 
“We shook hands and you sweated blood, Damian, and I don’t know if I caused it. So yes, I’m shielding as hard as I can from you right now.”
 
“It’s like you’re not there at all now.”
 
“You can see me,” I said.
 
He shook his head. “It’s not the same, Anita.”
 
“I haven’t cut our ties as master and servant. I know enough not to do that by accident now.”
 
“You might as well be on the far side of the world for all the energy you’re sharing with me.”
 
“See my earlier statement, Damian.”
 
“You’re probably right to do it, but I feel worse, as if a little bit more of my air was cut off and I’m suffocating more quickly.”
 
“You’re a vampire. You don’t have to breathe except to talk.”
 
“I tell you how I feel, and you’re going to argue semantics with me?”
 
It was my turn to take in a lot of air and let it out slow. I wanted to get impatient, maybe even angry, but I tried to do better. “You’re allowed to feel the way you feel, Damian, but vampires can’t suffocate. It was just odd phrasing.”
 
“There’s a lot odd about me lately, Anita.”
 
“I’m going for my date now. You tell Cardinale why you’re borrowing the car and missing part of your shift.”
 
“I’ll talk to Angel about working around me in the dances. We really need another male vampire that can take some of my performances, or hers. She’s a great assistant manager, but we both need someone to take the dance floor for us sometimes so we can manage things.”
 
“Mention it to Jean-Claude tonight. He’d probably know which of our people might be good at it.”
 
“You know all our vampires, too, Anita.”
 
“I can tell you which of them would be the best for security, or law enforcement backup, but I can’t tell you who could dance some of the old routines you perform here at Danse every night.”
 
“Nathaniel might know, too,” Damian said.
 
“Yeah, or Jason,” I said.
 
“I’ll ask them, and could I find you after I shower and change to talk about everything?”
 
“Text me when you’re done showering and changed. If we’re at a stopping point, I’ll text you back, but if I don’t reply, then we’ll talk an hour before dawn like we planned.”
 
“Fair enough,” he said, but he still stood there shirtless and looking lost. If I hadn’t been afraid of touching him again, I’d have given him a hug. Since I couldn’t do that, I went for the door. I had a rare night off and a date. There’d been a time when I would have allowed Damian’s issues to derail the whole night, but there was always a fresh emergency, and there always would be. Police work had taught me that, and it had taught me something else: that if I wanted to have a life outside of the blood, death, and scary stuff, I had to fight for it. I had to protect my free time as fiercely as I did anything else in my life, because if I didn’t, then my “life” would be another casualty as surely as any other crime victim.
 
I kept my metaphysical shields as tight as I could between me and the vampire behind me, because otherwise I’d have felt all the emotions that were making him look lost and I might not have been able to go for the door. I reached for the door, and it crashed open toward me. I jumped backward, pulling my gun as I moved, just automatic when a door opened with that much angry force. If it was someone who’d done it by accident, I’d apologize for scaring them, but I didn’t have to apologize, because it was Cardinale and she hadn’t come to be scared—she’d come to be scary.
 
In her stilettos she was over six feet tall, all thin bones and angles, the makeup that carved her face into model-perfect beauty floating on the white glow of her skin like water lilies on a pool. The cross inside my blouse was warm. I kept one hand very steady on the gun and used the other to drag the chain up and put the glowing cross on the outside of the silk. It wasn’t glowing bright enough to burn flesh yet, but it could. Holy fire wasn’t always careful what it burned when evil was in the room.
 
I could see the bones in Cardinale’s skull as she turned to look at me, like shapes half seen under the glow of her flesh. I should have sensed her that deep in her power, so close, which meant I’d been shielding from Damian too hard to sense any other vampire.
 
“Don’t shoot her, Anita!”
 
“I’d rather you shoot me than fuck him behind my back.” She yelled it at me, her teeth and fangs moving almost like one of those X-ray short films they used to show in biology class, except this image glowed like light carved into a pretty monster. Her long red hair fanned around her glowing skull like airborne blood frozen in a cloud that would not fall to the floor, her eyes were like blue fire.
 
“I haven’t touched Damian since you told me you were monogamous.” I was having to squint against the growing glow of my own cross, like having a white star hanging around my neck; soon I’d be blind except for the light. I had to shoot her before that happened, or I wouldn’t be able to see to aim. I hated to kill Cardinale over a jealous misunderstanding, but I’d hate her tearing my throat out even more.
 
“Tone the power down, Cardinale, or I will shoot you!”
 
“We were just talking about my illness, Cardinale.”
 
“You stand there half naked with her bloody nail marks down your back and you were just talking!” She screamed it at him and moved toward him, which was better than her moving toward me.
 
“I started sweating blood again. I could not reach my back to clean it off.”
 
The cross around my neck was filling the room with bright white light; it wasn’t actually hot, like flame, and wouldn’t be unless it touched vampiric flesh, or demon, or someone who had given their soul to evil, or . . . hell, it burned if evil with a capital E touched it. The glow of the cross was mingling with the glow of the vampire, so it seemed to be swallowing her to my sight, though I knew that wasn’t it. She’d have to touch the cross to burn. The fact that she wasn’t hiding her eyes from the glow was a bad sign. It meant she was more powerful than I’d given her credit for, or she was so pissed she didn’t care yet.
 
I couldn’t risk glancing at Damian to see if he was hiding his eyes from the glow; the room was too small, and Cardinale was too close to me. If I was going to have to shoot it would be in the blink of an eye, and glancing anywhere but at the vampire that was menacing me would cost me that blink.
 
“I give you my word of honor, my heart, that I started to sweat blood again. I took the jacket off so it would not be ruined. My back is covered in the blood I could not reach.”
 
The cross’s glow was almost complete. I aimed at the glow of her blue eyes, set in the swimming blood of her hair, because that was all I could see past the white light. Take out the brain and all the monsters die.
 
“Cardinale!” I screamed her name, and my finger started to squeeze the trigger.