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Crimson Death(Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #25)(3) by Laurell Kaye Hamilton

3
 
THE WHITE LIGHT died abruptly like someone had turned a switch. I took my finger off the trigger and pointed the gun in as neutral a direction as I could find. Cardinale stood there with her orange-red hair in careless curls around her shoulders, her blue eyes blinking at me in the careful makeup that made them look like a bright blue sky to match Damian’s perfect summer green. My pulse was in my throat still; I hadn’t even gone to the quiet place in my head where I normally went when I was going to shoot someone. Maybe I’d known she didn’t mean it? Maybe I hadn’t wanted to shoot her? My body felt so full of blood and heartbeat that I was shaking with it, which meant I’d have probably missed the shot anyway. Fuck.
 
Cardinale was very still as she looked at me. It wasn’t just vampire stillness, though they could be statue still, but I think she was trying not to make any sudden moves. If she was trying not to spook me, she was a little late.
 
“Thank you for not shooting her,” Damian said. I thought he was talking to just me, and then I saw the security guards in the doorway behind her. One had his gun out; the other one didn’t. The fact that I hadn’t realized they were there meant I was still shielding too tight not just against Damian, but vampires and apparently shapeshifters since both bodyguards were that, or maybe part of my metaphysical ability picked up normal humans, too, because as soon as I lowered my shields a fraction, I could feel more of the energy of the customers already out in the club beyond us.
 
It took me a second to adjust from almost no psychic input to having more, and in a shooting emergency that second could have cost me my life. I had to find a middle ground for shielding around Damian, damn it. But one problem at a time. “Where the fuck were you while all this was going on?” I asked.
 
The two men just inside the door glanced at each other, and then the one with the gun out, Ricky, said, “I didn’t have a clear shot, Anita.”
 
“I’m not mad that you didn’t shoot Cardinale, Ricky,” I said. I had my gun loose in my hand, but I still hadn’t holstered it because once a vampire goes that apeshit around me, especially in a small room, I like my gun out.
 
“Then what are you mad about?” he asked, and he fought not to sound sullen. He was tall, dark, and handsome if you liked the standard Midwestern Romeo type who usually got the prom queen’s virginity, or promised you the moon at the dance club with a few drinks, and meant none of it. I might be prejudiced; Ricky and I had had a serious misunderstanding the first time we met. He was still digging his way off my shit list, and I was still not his favorite boss. Fine with me; I wasn’t here to win popularity contests. I was here to make sure everyone stayed safe and as happy as I could manage. Safe was easier than happy most nights.
 
The other guard was new, too, and I couldn’t place his name. We had too many new people lately doing security; I should know the names of everyone that I might have to depend on for backing me in an emergency.
 
“What’s your name?” I asked the other guard, who was standing there with no visible weapon and looking worriedly from me to Ricky and the vampires. God, he looked young, big and tough looking, but young.
 
“Roger, Roger Parks.” Most shapeshifters didn’t give their last name in introductions, which meant he was very new, maybe even to being a wereanimal. Great.
 
“Well, Roger, Roger Parks, what’s the first thing you saw when you opened the door?”
 
He did that nervous glance around at all of us again, then said, “Light, white light.”
 
“Is that all?” I asked.
 
“There were a red glow and a green-and-blue glow, which could have been either of the vampires.”
 
“What alerted you that there was trouble?”
 
“Echo alerted us,” Roger said.
 
I looked at Ricky. “Do I need to ask you the next question, or can you just answer it?”
 
He took in a lot of air and let it out slowly, licked his lips, and said, “We were told there was an issue in the manager’s office, and that you and Damian were both in the room, and to be kept safe.”
 
“What about me?” Cardinale asked; her voice was very careful as she asked, as if she didn’t want to even raise her voice. She was being very careful now, which was good; she’d need to be very careful for a long time around me after this.
 
Ricky glanced at me, and I knew he was asking for guidance; he could be taught. I said, “You were endangering two of the principals that our security force is charged with keeping safe, Cardinale. That makes you a liability, not an asset.”
 
“What does that even mean?” she asked, her voice holding more of that British Isles accent than her normal middle-of-nowhere one. It was like most of our British vamps had been given voice lessons to sound like all the announcers on the major news sources so that they blended in everywhere and nowhere.
 
Ricky looked at me again, and this time I just nodded.
 
“How blunt do you want me to be, boss lady?” Ricky asked.
 
“Tell her what you were told about your job,” I said.
 
“Echo is head of security at Danse Macabre now, Anita.”
 
“I’m aware of that.”
 
“She uses pretty cold logic.”
 
“That’s fine. Just say it, Ricky. Maybe it’ll help keep Cardinale alive.”
 
He nodded, then looked back at Cardinale. “The job of security is to protect assets. Danse Macabre running smoothly and making money is an asset. Anita is one of the principal assets that we are all charged with keeping safe, and Damian is another asset both as the manager of the club and as Anita’s servant. You are an employee here at Danse Macabre, but you are not one of the major dancers, or a headliner of any kind, nor do you have a direct metaphysical tie to any of our principal assets.”
 
“What does all that mean?” she asked, her voice trying for neutral but holding the first hint of anger.
 
“It means you aren’t a principal, so we don’t have to protect you like you are one. You aren’t an important financial asset either, so we have to put even less energy into protecting you, which means none of us has to put our body between you and a bullet, or whatever.”
 
“So I’m not important at all,” she said.
 
“You said it. I didn’t,” Ricky said.
 
“What are your orders when a principal is in danger?” I asked.
 
“To protect them at all costs and to take out the threat,” Ricky said.
 
“Tonight that threat was you, Cardinale. If they’d come to the door before the light blinded us all you’d be shot, if not dead, so get jealous all you want, but don’t do it on the clock where security is going to have to help deal with it, because it’s going to get you dead.”
 
“He was half naked and covered in blood down his back. How was I supposed to know that you hadn’t already fucked each other?”
 
Damian spoke for the first time. “I have never cheated on you, Cardinale, never.”
 
“But you were sleeping with her when you started sleeping with me.” And she pointed a very accusing finger at me. I’d have said it was overly dramatic, but after all the glowing and holy objects, it wasn’t that dramatic.
 
“I never lied about Anita or anyone else, Cardinale. I never lied to you about anything.”
 
“I can’t stand the thought that you want to be with other people.”
 
“I don’t want to be with other people.”
 
“But you think Anita is beautiful, and you think Echo is beautiful, and you admire Fortune.”
 
“I admire beautiful women with a look, or a glance, but that is all.”
 
“That is not all you do with the customers that you take blood from.”
 
“That is not all you do with the ones you drink from either.”
 
“But I don’t enjoy it; it is just food, and it is more than that to you.”
 
I felt like we were in the middle of an old fight, and I was tired of it already.
 
“I’ve told you that feeding was all the softness I had in my existence for centuries, so it means more to me than simple food. It was all the kindness She-Who-Made-Me would allow me.”
 
“Why am I not enough for you?” She yelled that part.
 
“Because I cannot feed on another vampire! Because it is my job to seduce the crowd and choose someone to feed upon. It is part of the show here, and it gains us money and more customers, which makes us more money, and that is what this club is supposed to do.”
 
“I cannot watch you flirt with all the women night after night, and know that if I would allow it you would fuck them while you feed.” She wasn’t yelling, but her hands were in fists as she fought to keep her voice even.
 
“I would not have public sex with strangers, Cardinale. That is very different from feeding on blood in public,” he said.
 
“But you’d fuck Anita in private if I allowed it, wouldn’t you?”
 
“It’s a girl trap,” I said out loud.
 
Damian looked at me and said, “I know, but I don’t care.”
 
“Do not drag me into this further than I already am.”
 
“I’m sorry, but you’re already in it, because she won’t let you out of it,” he said.
 
“What’s happening?” Roger the guard asked.
 
“He’s about to tell the truth,” Ricky said.
 
“Why is that bad?” Roger asked.
 
“It just is.”
 
“Shut up,” Cardinale said. “This is between Damian and me.”
 
“Then have the conversation with just the two of you,” I said, and started for the door. Surely with two security guards to back me up, I could get out of the office without Cardinale doing something we’d all regret.
 
“No, if he wants you that badly, I want you in the room when he says it.”
 
Fuck, just fuck. “You know, this is your relationship, Cardinale, not mine, so I don’t really care what you want. I’ve got a night off, and I’m going to go enjoy it while you let your jealousy issues wreck your relationship on your own damn time.” I was at the door with Ricky and Roger parting the way, so I was in the doorway with them behind me, between me and Cardinale, the possible threat, like good bodyguards.
 
I was really hoping that Damian would let me get out of the room before he answered her, but I knew . . . hell, I could feel that he’d reached a level of anger with the situation where he wanted it to blow up, to be done. I could feel his loneliness now; whereas before he just told me he was lonely, now I felt it. Loneliness, anger, frustration, and . . . need. A need beyond sex, or blood, or even love; there were so many reasons I shielded around Damian. Shit.
 
“I’ve already asked Anita to be my lover again, and if sleeping with her and Nathaniel will stop these nightmares, then I’ll do that, too.”
 
I hesitated between one step and another, then kept going. I wanted out of the room, out of the mess, out of their relationship, but more than that, I wanted away from Damian’s emotions before he dragged me further into whatever was happening between them.
 
Cardinale yelled after me, and the door was open so some of the customers would likely hear it. “Are you and Nathaniel both going to fuck him now?”
 
Ricky and Roger had closed in behind me like a movable wall of security. I stopped walking so abruptly that Roger almost ran into me, but Ricky said, “Don’t do it, boss.”
 
“Do what?” Roger asked.
 
“Just walk away, boss,” Ricky said.
 
Cardinale screamed, “Are you that much better in bed, Anita? Is that it? Is that why everyone wants you, because you just fuck so good?”
 
“Shit,” Ricky said, softly under his breath.
 
Even Roger had caught up, because his eyes were wide and he asked, “Can we shoot her, or do we have to do nonlethal?”
 
“Nonlethal if you can,” I said, and turned around to look back into the room. Cardinale’s eyes were starting to gleam the way jewels do when light comes in behind them. My cross wasn’t glowing yet because it might just be her anger showing. Damian stood by his desk, his pale upper body still smooth and bare with his long hair falling straight and crimson around all that white skin. Our eyes met, and the marks between us let me feel the defeat in him. He didn’t know what to do with Cardinale anymore; it wasn’t that he didn’t love her, because he did, but he wasn’t “in love” with her anymore, because she’d beaten that out of him with the constant jealousy, the recriminations, the accusations, and the lack of faith in him and their love.
 
Out loud I said, “What do you want me to do, Damian?” I felt so many emotions from him and knew he was deeply conflicted. Part of him would be relieved if it were over between them, but part of me—I mean, him—would miss her and what they had together. I looked at the tall woman standing there with her amazing cheekbones, knowing it wasn’t from dieting but from starving most of her human life. She’d come to being a vampire partly so she’d never be hungry again and because she was beautiful enough for the Master of London to want her in his bed forever. But he’d never made her feel secure; she was just one lover among many. He’d never promised her otherwise, but she’d done the same thing to him she was doing to Damian, so that in the end, no matter how lovely she was to look at, the sex wasn’t worth the emotional blowups. Damian knew all that about her, so suddenly, so did I. There was a long list of bad boyfriends in her human past who had taught her she was okay for a lark, a week, a month, months, but eventually there’d be someone else who caught their eye.
 
“Damian isn’t like that.” I said it out loud and hadn’t meant to.
 
“He isn’t like what?” Cardinale asked.
 
“He has been as loyal and faithful to you as any man could be to a woman.”
 
“You would say that, since you’re his mistress.”
 
“I’m not his mistress. I’m his master, and there is a big difference between the two titles,” I said.
 
“You don’t have to fuck your master,” Cardinale said.
 
I looked past her at Damian. “Do you want me to say it?”
 
“Say whatever you want, Anita.”
 
I took in a lot of air, blew it out slow, then said, “The Master of the City of London brought you into his kiss with the understanding you’d have to fuck him to be one of his vampires, didn’t he?”
 
She looked behind her at Damian. “How could you tell her that?”
 
“He didn’t have to tell me anything, Cardinale. I’m his master. We have to work at not sharing thoughts and memories.”
 
“It has never been like that with me and any master I have ever served.”
 
“Damian is my vampire servant, as I am Jean-Claude’s human servant. It’s a different kind of master relationship, a deeper relationship than that between vampire and Master of the City.”
 
She looked at me then, tears shining in her eyes. “So you have a deeper relationship with Damian than I do—is that what you’re saying?”
 
“There’s no way to win with you, is there?” I asked.
 
“I’m not a game to win, Anita. I’m a person with a heart and right now you’re breaking it.”
 
Shit.
 
“No,” Damian said, “there’s no way to win with Cardinale. She’s a riddle with no answer.”
 
“My answer is that I love you more than anything in the world,” she said, turning toward him and starting to cry.
 
“You’re a rigged game, Cardinale, because your rules make it impossible for Damian to convince you that he loves you enough.”
 
“I’ll love enough for both of us, then!” she said, reaching out to him. He didn’t reach back; in fact, he’d done nothing to get closer to her physically since she walked into the room. It was a bad sign for any relationship.
 
“It doesn’t work that way,” Damian said. “You have to leave room for me to love you, too, and your issues don’t leave any room for me. It’s like you’re fighting men from your past that I don’t even know about, but I’m paying for their sins.”
 
“I don’t know what that means. I just know I love you more than life itself!” She moved toward him then, hands reaching for him.
 
His hands stayed at his sides as he said, “I can’t fight ghosts from your past unless you help me, Cardinale.”
 
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Damian.” She was crying now, softly.
 
“Would you be willing to see a couples therapist with me?”
 
“Why? There’s nothing wrong with us except you’re cheating on me.”
 
He hung his head, and the wave of despair that washed over me was almost soul crushing, as if it would wash away all of me and leave nothing behind but a black loneliness that we’d lived with for so long before we came to St. Louis. I was choking on the utter isolation he’d endured when he was trapped in Ireland with the vampire that made him.
 
Again I spoke out loud without meaning to. “Why didn’t you kill yourself?”
 
“I was too frightened to do the one thing that would kill me for certain,” he said.
 
“What are the two of you talking about?” Cardinale asked.
 
“Sunlight,” I said.
 
He nodded.
 
I had shared the memory of his best friend, his shield mate, brother-in-arms, his heterosexual life partner, being forced outside into the sunlight by She-Who-Made-Them, to punish them, yes, but mostly just to cause them both pain, because she could. She’d done a lot of things because she could, and there was no one to stop her; some people are only good because there are rules and punishments in place to make them be good. Take that away and it’s amazing what people will do to each other if they think they can get away with it. I felt the weight of centuries of having no safety, no surety of what evil thing she’d do next, and still being forced to share her bed when she wanted it. I was impressed that Damian had been able to get it up for the evil bitch century after century.
 
“A man who couldn’t service her was tortured to death, or mutilated and left alive. It gave us all a great incentive to rise to the occasion.”
 
“Why are you talking about such horrible things?” Cardinale asked.
 
I felt the vampire behind me before she spoke, and knew it was Echo before I heard her voice. “They are speaking mind to mind, sharing emotions, memories, pieces of their heart and soul.”
 
“No,” Cardinale said, “no, no one gets a piece of his heart but me.”
 
“You are only his love. She is his master. It is a closer bond.”
 
I turned and looked at her then, because that last part was rubbing salt in Cardinale’s wounds. Was my new head of security at Danse Macabre here to make things worse, or better?
 
Echo was shorter than me tonight, because I was wearing heels and she was in flat boots, but then she was security tonight and I was hoping to have a date. Her hair was a brown so dark, it was almost black. It even looked black until you got her too close to Jean-Claude’s hair, or mine, but whereas we were curly she had waves that helped hers fall in a more orderly fashion to her shoulders, framing one of the most delicate triangles of a face I’d ever seen. She was one of the few women who made me think dainty, but once you looked into her dark blue eyes you stopped thinking dainty and started thinking dangerous. She wore no makeup when she worked security, which would have made most women’s faces look plain, but Echo’s natural black lashes and brows framing deep, rich blue eyes, and all that dark hair, well . . . plain was just never a word you thought of when looking at her. Beautiful maybe, but never plain. She did her best to dress down for the job, with a looser black T-shirt over a tighter-fitting black tank top. I couldn’t see the tank top under her T-shirt, but I knew it was there, because she didn’t like the weapons at her waist digging into her bare skin, so there’d be a layer of clothing to protect her bare skin. She’d had a business jacket thrown over all that, so that she hid as much of the trim figure underneath as she could, but you never forgot that Echo was a beautiful woman for very long, no matter how she tried to hide it. Since I was sleeping with her, that should have been a good thing, but she made me strangely nervous, like I was fourteen again and had my first crush.
 
“You don’t know anything! No bond is closer than true love! No bond!” Cardinale screamed it, and started walking stiffly toward us all.
 
“I think you are too emotionally overwrought to work tonight,” Echo said, her voice very calm.
 
“That is not your decision. It’s Damian’s. He’s the manager, not you!”
 
Echo looked past the tall, redheaded vampire who was still stalking toward us, to the tall redheaded vampire standing behind his desk, though since Ricky and Roger were the ones who would be in the line of her anger first, I guessed Echo and I could stay calm a little longer. I wasn’t sure I was capable of calm with all of Damian’s emotions boiling through my head. My mouth was dry, which meant his was, because he was afraid, so afraid. Afraid of losing Cardinale, afraid of not having enough of a relationship with me to take up the slack, afraid of giving up too much, to gain too little. I started to say aloud that he couldn’t use me as his next relationship, that I was booked up, but Echo touched my arm as if she’d read my mind, or my heart, or my intentions. Whatever it was, that one slight touch on my arm kept me from saying that bit of truth, and the moment passed and we were on to other things.
 
“Damian is a fine manager, but I’m the head of security here, and if I think you’re a danger to the peaceful workings of this club tonight, then you will not work tonight.”
 
“You have no right to treat me like that!” She turned and looked at Damian. “Tell her that I’m working tonight. Tell her that you want me at your side in the dance tonight.”
 
He looked at her, and then past her to Echo, and then at me. I felt his gaze like a weight, as if he’d touched me.
 
“Tell her, Damian! Tell her that she can’t treat me this way!”
 
“Echo is head of security at Danse Macabre, Cardinale,” he said, in a voice as empty and neutral as any I’d ever heard from him.
 
“But you’re the manager.”
 
“I am.”
 
“Then tell her she’s wrong. Tell her she can’t send me home like a child.” She was standing in front of him now, so tall that she blocked my view of Damian’s face and most of his body, but I could still feel him. He wasn’t sad anymore. He felt nothing, as if he’d locked all his emotions away along with his body movement; without seeing him clearly I knew he was standing there in that utter stillness that the older vampires could do. It was that stillness that made me want to stare at them harder, as if once I looked away they would just sink into that stillness and vanish. I’d thought it was a way of hiding what they were thinking, but now I could feel that it was more than that, that it was a way of being still all the way to the core of their being. It was like the quiet place I went in my head when I knew I had to pull the trigger and kill someone; in that moment, I felt nothing but the gun in my hand, thought about nothing but how best to use the gun and get the shot. It became very analytical, cold physical logic. I felt that from Damian now and knew he was either hiding away his feelings so the next few minutes wouldn’t hurt that much, or he was hiding them away so he could do what needed doing, or maybe both?
 
“I’ve let my love for you interfere with my ability to manage the club, or at least my ability to treat you like an employee.”
 
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Damian. I love that we work together every night.”
 
“You love keeping an eye on me at work, but you hate the job. You hate watching me flirt on the dance floor, and you hate having to dance with strangers. You’ve gone from being one of the top moneymakers on tips to making almost nothing, because you’re so busy watching me with my partners that you don’t pay enough attention to your own dance partners.”
 
“I’ll do better tonight,” she said, touching his arm.
 
“People come here to dance with vampires and shapeshifters, Cardinale. They come for the illusion that they can have a romance with one of us. They come for someone to pay attention to them, to really look at them, talk to them, listen. If Guilty Pleasures is about lust and the possibility of sex, then Danse Macabre is about romance and the possibility of a relationship.”
 
“But you and I are each other’s relationship,” she said, a hand on both his arms as if she were trying to get him to look at her, or shake some sense into him.
 
“That’s what I wanted more than anything else in the world, a real relationship with one person who truly loved me.”
 
“I love you! I love you truly, madly, completely!”
 
“People come here to be listened to, to feel special, but you’re so worried that I’m cheating on you that you don’t have any room to even pretend for a few minutes.”
 
“Pretend what?” She yelled it, even though they were inches apart. Her hands dug into his bare arms hard enough that she mottled his skin.
 
Roger said softly, “Do we need to be here?”
 
His whisper made Ricky and me jump, as if we’d been frozen by the emotions in the room.
 
“No,” Echo said, stepping back and herding me ahead of her and both male guards, as she got us out of the office and into the corridor that led to the main part of the club. She wasn’t leaving me alone with Cardinale, and I couldn’t argue, because I wasn’t worried about her hurting me anymore. I was more worried that she’d force me to kill her. If Cardinale wanted to do suicide by cop, she needed to find a different cop, someone who wasn’t emotionally invested. Of course, that emotional investment had made me hesitate and not shoot her earlier. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d let a vampire make my holy objects glow that much and not shot them. If she’d pulled this shit with a regular police officer they’d have shot her a long time before they were blinded by holy fire. I was glad I hadn’t shot her, and that would make me hesitate the next time, if there was a next time.
 
Echo stayed a half step behind me, with Ricky behind her and to my other side. She’d sent Roger ahead to wait by the door at the end of the hallway. That she kept Ricky with her meant she had some faith in his skills, or maybe Roger was just that much worse. I owed him a thank-you for suggesting we leave before Damian finished his talk with Cardinale. One of the things I was working on in therapy was that I had trouble protecting my boundaries from the people I was close to, but apparently Roger was better at it. I could shoot and fight just fine, but if Roger, Roger Parks, was better at boundary issues, maybe I could just have him follow me around and get me out of awkward emotional conversations all night. It wasn’t in security’s job description, but it might be damn useful to me.
 
“If you are in a private area with Cardinale, you must have security personnel with you from this point on, Anita,” Echo said.
 
“Okay,” I said.
 
She gave me a sideways glance. “You aren’t going to argue with me?”
 
“No, if she wants to suicide by cop, I don’t want it to be me.”
 
“Suicide by cop: When a person wants to commit suicide but is afraid to do the task themselves, so they threaten police or pose a threat to innocents so that police feel they must kill them to protect others or themselves. Yes?”
 
I nodded. “Yeah, that’s it.”
 
“Do you believe that was what Cardinale intended with you tonight?”
 
“No, at least not in the front of her head.”
 
“Front of her head?”
 
“It was a subconscious thought, in the back of her head, not a conscious thought, which would be in the front of the head.”
 
“Ah, I think much more happens in the back of people’s heads than in the front.”
 
“Ain’t that the God’s honest truth?” I said.
 
“Yes, I think it is,” Echo said.
 
I could feel the bass beating through the still-closed door; I kept walking and Roger opened the door, so well-timed it was like an automatic door. I didn’t even have to pause as we walked through. In fact, I hadn’t been planning to pause. I was just so used to security opening doors for me I took it for granted now. When did that happen?
 
There had been a time when I would have known as much about Cardinale’s background as possible by now, but I’d trusted that if Jean-Claude thought she was okay, then she was, but what a six-hundred-year-old vampire king would think was okay might not be okay to me. Was it a sign that I trusted Jean-Claude that much, or that I’d grown arrogant?
 
Echo paused with her hand on the door and turned to say, “I will make certain that Cardinale does nothing unfortunate tonight. If you can put this incident aside and be truly present for the date and its issues, I think that would be best. If you talk of all this first, it may spoil the mood.”
 
“I was thinking the same thing.”
 
She smiled, and it took her face from severe to truly beautiful. I understood why she didn’t use that particular smile much at work. Customers would have begged her to dance with them, even as dressed down as she could manage. I basked in the warmth of that smile, because I was on a very short list of people that got to have it aimed at them. It made me smile back, and blush, which was a habit I couldn’t seem to break entirely.
 
The blush made her smile broaden enough to flash a delicate hint of fang and show that there was a dimple in that classically beautiful face. She touched my face and leaned in for a very unprofessional kiss. I knew how to French-kiss a vampire without nicking myself on the fangs, but her mouth was smaller than that of anyone else I’d kissed so it was more of a challenge, but it was worth it. She drew back first, leaving me a little breathless.
 
“Enjoy as much of tonight as you can, Anita.”
 
“It’s Jean-Claude. What’s not to enjoy?”
 
She smiled. “Very true. I look forward to the next time we can share our king.”
 
I blushed and couldn’t stop it. “Me, too.”
 
She turned and looked at Ricky and Roger; I’d sort of forgotten about them. Echo could have that effect on me.
 
Roger was staring at the floor as hard as he could. Ricky was looking at us as if we were something to eat. I glared at him. “You got something to add?”
 
“You can’t blame a man for enjoying the show.”
 
“Yes, actually I can.”
 
“I am your superior and she is your queen. Both are people you should not be leering at,” Echo said.
 
“I can control what I say and what I do around beautiful women, but I can’t control involuntary body responses.”
 
“We don’t care about your erection,” Echo said. “It’s not important to us.”
 
His anger slid across my skin like the smell of well-cooked meat. I’d acquired the ability to feed on anger the way that Jean-Claude could feed on lust. He’d shared that ability with me, but so far siphoning off people’s anger was something only I could do.
 
I sniffed the air, making a big deal out of it. “Calm the fuck down, Ricky. You’re starting to smell like food: yummy, yummy anger.”
 
“Fuck you.”
 
“You wish.”
 
“You just can’t behave respectfully, can you?” Echo asked.
 
“Anita just seems to bring out the worst in me, I guess,” Ricky said.
 
“You are officially on probation, Ricky,” she said.
 
“That’s not fair.”
 
“Life isn’t supposed to be fair.”
 
“What does that mean?”
 
“It means that only children whine, That’s not fair. Grown-ups understand that fairness is rare and good treatment must be earned.”
 
“I’m good at my job.”
 
“You are. That’s why I’m not going to fire you tonight. But remember this, Ricky: If you disrespect Anita, or any of the female employees again, you will be out of a job.”
 
“How can I not look at them and do my job?”
 
“You can look, but don’t leer.”
 
“I don’t understand the difference.”
 
She sighed. “I think you mean that.” She frowned and turned to me. “Go to our king and shared lover. I will see that Cardinale does no harm and try to explain the difference between a look and a leer to this one.”
 
“Good luck on that last part,” I said.
 
“Perhaps I will enlist some of the other male guards to explain the masculine niceties of looking but not being lecherous.”
 
“Good idea,” I said.
 
She opened the door for me, and the music engulfed us so that I could barely hear her as she told me good-bye, with her face back to its super-serious head-of-security expression. I found myself a little sad to leave her without one more kiss. I’d had other female lovers, but never one that made me think words like girlfriend. Was Echo my girlfriend? I wasn’t sure what to call her, but I was beginning to want to call her something. I’d never had a woman make me feel like I wanted to hang a title on her. I’d had one who had demanded it, but I hadn’t wanted to call her my girlfriend. This time it would be my idea, and ironically, I wasn’t sure Echo would want the title. She’d take it if I wanted to give it to her, but she didn’t need it to feel secure, and maybe that was part of why I wanted to give it to her. Romance can be very confusing.
 
I left my girlfriend behind to make sure the live-in girlfriend of my ex-lover and current vampire servant didn’t harm anyone, while I went to have a date with our shared lover. I would have said shared boyfriend, but Echo really only had one person she dated, and that was Fortune, the love of her life and afterlife. Fortune was my girlfriend’s girlfriend, or maybe Fortune was my girlfriend, too. So did that make either of them my girlfriend’s girlfriend or just my girlfriend? Was Jean-Claude their girlfriend’s boyfriend? Or since everyone had at least occasional sex with each other, were words like boyfriend and girlfriend too old-fashioned to cover it? I was beginning to get a headache, and it wasn’t from the dance music.