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The Lunatic Cafe

By Roberta Ortiz,2014-11-04 21:10
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Amazon.com ReviewThe zombie-raising business gets slow in December, so Anita Blake is starting to see some oddball cases. She's got a neatly typed list of eight missing lycanthropes given to her by Marcus, the leader of the local werewolf pack, who wants her to find them. The trouble is, Anita's occasionally furry boyfriend Richard is locked in a power struggle with Marcus. Jean-Claude, master vampire of the city and Anita's other love interest, is getting jealous as well. To top it off, Anita has to solve some horrific murders and keep her bounty-hunting friend Edward from killing Richard and Jean-Claude. Hamilton alternates between funny and fearsome in this larky series about a monster hunter with a few dark secrets. From WikipediaThe Lunatic Cafe is the four Published by Orbit on 2000/10/05

    The Lunatic Cafe (v2.1)

    Book 4 in the Anita Blake - Vampire Hunter series

    Laurell K. Hamilton, 1996

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    The zombie-raising business gets slow in December, so Anita Blake is starting to see someoddball cases. She's got a neatly typed list of eight missing lycanthropes given to her byMarcus, the leader of the local werewolf pack, who wants her to find them. The trouble is,Anita's occasionally furry boyfriend Richard is locked in a power struggle with Marcus. Jean-Claude, master vampire of the city and Anita's other love interest, is getting jealous as well.To top it off, Anita has to solve some horrific murders and keep her bounty-hunting friendEdward from killing Richard and Jean-Claude. Hamilton alternates between funny and fearsome inthis larky series about a monster hunter with a few dark secrets

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    Chapter 1

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    It was two weeks before Christmas. A slow time of year for raising the dead. My last client ofthe night sat across from me. There had been no notation by his name. No note saying zombieraising or vampire slaying. Nothing. Which probably meant whatever he wanted me to do wassomething I wouldn't, or couldn't, do. Pre-Christmas was a dead time of year, no pun intended.My boss, Bert, took any job that would have us.

    George Smitz was a tall man, well over six feet. He was broad shouldered, and muscular. Not themuscles you get from lifting weights and running around indoor tracks. The muscles you get fromhard physical labor. I would have bet money that Mr. Smitz was a construction worker, farmer,or something similar. He was shaped large and square with grime embedded under his fingernailsthat soap would not touch.

    He sat in front of me, crushing his toboggan hat, kneading it in his big hands. The coffee thathe'd accepted sat cooling on the edge of my desk. He hadn't taken so much as a sip.

    I was drinking my coffee out of the Christmas mug that Bert, my boss, had insisted everyonebring in. A personalized holiday mug to add a personal touch to the office. My mug had areindeer in a bathrobe and slippers with Christmas lights laced in its antlers, toasting themerry season with champagne and saying, "Bingle Jells."

    Bert didn't really like my mug, but he let it go, probably afraid of what else I might bringin. He'd been very pleased with my outfit for the evening. A high-collared blouse so perfectlyred I'd had to wear makeup to keep from looking pale. The skirt and matching jacket were a deepforest green. I hadn't dressed for Bert. I had dressed for my date.

    The silver outline of an angel gleamed in my lapel. I looked very Christmasy. The Browning Hi-Power 9mm didn't look Christmasy at all, but since it was hidden under the jacket, that didn'tseem to matter. It might have bothered Mr. Smitz, but he looked worried enough to not care. Aslong as I didn't shoot him personally.

    "Now, Mr. Smitz, how may I help you today?" I asked.

    He was staring at his hands and only his eyes rose to look at me. It was a little-boy gesture,an uncertain gesture. It sat oddly on the big man's face. "I need help, and I don't know whoelse to go to."

    "Exactly what kind of help do you need, Mr. Smitz?"

    "It's my wife."

    I waited for him to continue, but he stared at his hands. His hat was wadded into a tight ball.

    "You want your wife raised from the dead?" I asked.

    He looked up at that, eyes wide with alarm. "She's not dead. I know that."

    "Then what can I possibly do for you, Mr. Smitz? I raise the dead, and am a legal vampireexecutioner. What in that job description could help your wife?"

    "Mr. Vaughn said you knew all about lycanthropy." He said that as if it explained everything.It didn't.

    "My boss makes a lot of claims, Mr. Smitz. But what does lycanthropy have to do with yourwife?" This was the second time I'd asked about his wife. I seemed to be speaking English, butperhaps my questions were really Swahili and I just didn't realize it. Or maybe whatever hadhappened was too awful for words. That happened a lot in my business.

    He leaned forward, eyes intense on my face. I leaned forward, too, I couldn't help myself."Peggy, that's my wife, she's a lycanthrope."

    I blinked at him. "And?"

"If it came out, she'd lose her job."

    I didn't argue with him. Legally, you couldn't discriminate against lycanthropes, but ithappened a lot. "What sort of work is Peggy in?"

    "She's a butcher."

    A lycanthrope that was a butcher. It was too perfect. But I could see why she'd lose her job.Food preparation with a potentially fatal disease. I don't think so. I knew, and the healthdepartment knew, that lycanthropy can only be transferred by an attack in the animal form. Mostpeople don't believe that. Can't say I blame them entirely. I don't want to be fuzzy, either.

    "She runs a specialty meat store. It's a good business. She inherited it from her father."

    "Was he a lycanthrope, too?" I asked.

    He shook his head. "No, Peggy was attacked a few years back. She survived ... " He shrugged."But, you know."

    I did know. "So your wife is a lycanthrope and would lose her business if it came out. Iunderstand that. But how can I help you?" I fought the urge to glance at my watch. I had thetickets. Richard couldn't go in without me.

    "Peggy's missing."

    Ah. "I am not a private detective, Mr. Smitz. I don't do missing persons."

    "But I can't go to the police. They might find out."

    "How long has she been missing?"

    "Two days."

    "My advice is to go to the police."

    He shook his head stubbornly. "No."

    I sighed. "I don't know anything about finding a missing person. I raise the dead, slayvampires, that's it."

    "Mr. Vaughn said you could help me."

    "Did you tell him your problem?"

    He nodded.

    Shit. Bert and I were going to have a long talk. "The police are good at their job, Mr. Smitz.Just tell them your wife is missing. Don't mention the lycanthropy. See what they turn up." Ididn't like telling a client to withhold information from the police, but it beat the heck outof not going at all.

    "Ms. Blake, please, I'm worried. We've got two kids."

    I started to say all the reasons I couldn't help him, then stopped. I had an idea. "Animators,Inc., has a private investigator on retainer. Veronica Sims has been involved in a lot ofpreternatural cases. She might be able to help you."

    "Can I trust her?"

    "I do."

    He stared at me for a long moment, then nodded. "All right, how do I get in touch with her?"

    "Let me give her a call, see if she can see you."

    "That would be great, thank you."

    "I want to help you, Mr. Smitz. Hunting missing spouses just isn't my specialty." I dialed thephone as I talked. I knew Ronnie's number by heart. We exercised at least twice a weektogether, not to mention an occasional movie, dinner, whatever. Best friends, a concept thatmost women never outgrow. Ask a man who his best friend is and he'll have to think about it. Hewon't know right off the top of his head. A woman would. A man might not even be able to thinkof a name, not for his best friend. Women keep track of these things. Men don't. Don't ask mewhy.

Ronnie's answering machine clicked in. "Ronnie, if you're there, it's Anita, pick up."

    The phone clicked, and a second later I was talking to the genuine article. "Hi, Anita. Ithought you had a date with Richard tonight. Something wrong?"

    See, best friends. "Not with the date. I've got a client here who I think is more up your alleythan mine."

    "Tell me," she said.

    I did.

    "Did you recommend he go to the police?"

    "Yep."

    "He won't go?"

    "Nope."

    She sighed. "Well, I've done missing persons before but usually after the police have doneeverything they can. They have resources I can't touch."

    "I'm aware of that," I said.

    "He won't budge?"

    "I don't think so."

    "So it's me or ... "

    "Bert took the job knowing it was a missing person. He might try giving it to Jamison."

    "Jamison doesn't know his butt from a hole in the ground on anything but raising the dead."

    "Yeah, but he's always eager to expand his repertoire."

    "Ask him if he can be at my office ... " She paused while she leafed through her appointmentbook. Business must be good. "At nine tomorrow morning."

    "Jesus, you always were an early riser."

    "One of my few faults," she said.

    I asked George Smitz if nine o'clock tomorrow was all right.

    "Couldn't she see me tonight?"

    "He wants to see you tonight."

    She thought about that for a minute. "Why not? It's not like I have a hot date, unlike somepeople I could mention. Sure, send him over. I'll wait. Friday with a client is better thanFriday night alone, I guess."

    "You've just hit a dry spell," I said.

    "And you've hit a wet spell."

    "Very funny."

    She laughed. "I'll look forward to Mr. Smitz's arrival. Enjoy Guys and Dolls ."

    "I will. See you tomorrow morning for our run."

    "You sure you want me over there that early in case dream boat wants to stay over?"

    "You know me better than that," I said.

    "Yeah, I do. Just kidding. See you tomorrow."

    We hung up. I gave Mr. Smitz Ronnie's business card, directions to her office, and sent him onhis way. Ronnie was the best I could do for him. It still bothered me that he wouldn't go tothe police, but hey, it wasn't my wife.

    I've got two kids, he'd said. Not my problem. Really. Craig, our nighttime secretary, was atthe desk, which meant it was after six. I was running late. There really wasn't time to arguewith Bert about Mr. Smitz, but ...

I glanced at Bert's office. It was dark. "Boss man gone home?"

    Craig glanced up from his computer keyboard. He has short, baby-fine brown hair. Round glassesto match a round face. He's slender and taller than I am, but then who isn't? He's in histwenties with a wife and two babies.

    "Mr. Vaughn left about thirty minutes ago."

    "It figures," I said.

    "Something wrong?"

    I shook my head. "Schedule me some time to talk to the boss tomorrow."

    "I don't know, Anita. He's booked pretty solid."

    "Find some time, Craig. Or I'll barge in on one of the other appointments."

    "You're mad," he said.

    "You bet. Find the time. If he yells about it, tell him I pulled a gun on you."

    "Anita," he said with a grin, as if I were teasing.

    I left him riffling through the appointment book trying to squeeze me somewhere. I meant it.Bert would talk to me tomorrow. December was our slowest season for raising zombies. Peopleseemed to think you couldn't do it close to Christmas, as if it were black magic or something.So Bert scheduled other things to take up the slack. I was getting tired of clients withproblems I could do nothing about. Smitz wasn't the first this month, but he was going to bethe last.

    With that cheerful thought I bundled into my coat and left. Richard was waiting. If trafficcooperated, I might just make it before the opening number. Traffic on a Friday night, surelynot.

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    Chapter 2

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    The 1978 Nova that I'd been driving had died a sad and tragic death. I was now driving a JeepCherokee Country. It was a deep, deep green that looked black at night. But it had four-wheeldrive for winter and enough room to carry goats in the back. Chickens were what I used forzombie raising most of the time, but occasionally you needed something bigger. Carrying goatsin the Nova had been a bitch.

    I pulled the Cherokee into the last parking space in the lot on Grant. My long, black wintercoat billowed around me because I had only buttoned the bottom two buttons. If I buttoned allthe buttons I couldn't get to my gun.

    My hands were shoved into the coat pockets, arms huddling the cloth around me. I didn't weargloves. I've never been comfortable shooting with gloves on. The gun is a part of my hand.Cloth shouldn't interfere.

    I ran across the street in my high-heeled pumps, careful on the frosty pavement. The sidewalkwas cracked, with huge sections broken out of it, as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to it.The boarded-up buildings were as dilapidated as the sidewalk. I'd missed the crowd, beingnearly late, so I had the shattered street to myself. It was a short but lonely walk on aDecember night. Broken glass littered the ground and in heels I had to be very careful where Istepped. An alley cut the buildings. It looked like the natural habitat of Muggerus americanus

     . I watched the darkness carefully. Nothing moved. With the Browning I wasn't too worried, butstill ... You didn't have to be a genius to shoot someone in the back.

    The wind gusted cold enough to take my breath away as I neared the corner and relative safety.I wore a lot of sweaters in the winter, but tonight I'd wanted something dressier, and I was

freezing my patooties off, but I was hoping that Richard would like the red blouse.

    At the corner there were lights, cars, and a policeman directing traffic in the middle of thestreet. You never saw this many police in this section of St. Louis unless the Fox was on. Alot of wealthy people came down here in their furs, diamonds, Rolex watches. Wouldn't do for a

    Fiddler onfriend of the city council to get mugged. When Topol came to reprise his role in

     , the audience was very crème de la crème and the place crawled with cops. Tonightthe Roof

    there was just the usual. Mostly in front of the theater, mostly doing traffic, but also takingpeeks at the seedy backs of buildings in case someone with money wondered away from the light.

    I went through the glass doors into the long, narrow entryway. It was brightly lit, shinysomehow. There's a little room to the right where you can pick up your tickets. People streamedout of it, hurrying to the inner glass doors. I wasn't as late as I thought if there were thismany people still getting tickets. Or maybe everyone else was as late as I was.

    I caught a glimpse of Richard standing in the far right corner. At six foot one he is easier tospot across a crowded room than I am, at my own five foot three. He stood quietly, eyesfollowing the crowd's movement. He didn't seem bored or impatient. He seemed to be having agood time watching the people. His eyes followed an elderly couple as they walked through theglass doors. The woman used a cane. Their progress was painfully slow. His head turned slowlywith them. I scanned the crowd. Everyone else was younger, moving with confident or hurriedstride. Was Richard looking for victims? Prey? He was, after all, a werewolf. He'd gotten a badbatch of lycanthropy vaccine. One of the reasons I never get the shots. If my flu shotaccidentally backfires, that's one thing, but being furry once a month ... No, thanks.

    Did he realize he was standing there searching the crowd like a lion staring at a bunch ofgazelles? Or maybe the elderly couple had reminded him of his grandparents. Hell, maybe I wasgiving him motives that were only in my suspicious little brain. I hoped so.

    His hair was brown. In sunlight it gleamed with strands of gold, hints of copper. I knew thehair was shoulder length, nearly my length, but he'd done something to it, pulled it backsomehow so it gave the illusion of being very short and close to his head. Not easy with hairas wavy as his.

    His suit was some rich shade of green. Most men would have looked like Peter Pan in a greensuit, but on him it looked just right. As I walked closer, I could see his shirt was a palealmost gold, tie a darker green than the suit, with tiny Christmas trees done in red. I wouldhave made a smart remark about the tie, but dressed in red and green with a Christmas angel onmy lapel, who was I to complain?

    He saw me and smiled. The smile was very bright against his permanently tanned skin. His lastname, Zeeman, is Dutch, but somewhere back in his ancestry was something not European. Notblond, not fair, not cold. His eyes were a perfect, chocolate brown.

    He reached out and took my hands, gently, drawing me to him. His lips were soft against mymouth, a brief, nearly chaste kiss.

    I stepped back, taking a breath. He kept hold of my hand, and I let him. His skin was very warmagainst my cold hand. I thought about asking him if he'd been thinking about eating thatelderly couple, but didn't. Accusing him of murderous intent might spoil the evening. Besides,most lycanthropes weren't aware of doing nonhuman things. When you pointed it out, it alwaysseemed to hurt their feelings. I didn't want to hurt Richard's feelings.

    As we went through the inner doors into the crowded lobby, I asked, "Where's your coat?"

    "In the car. Didn't want to carry it, so I made a dash for it."

    I nodded. It was typical Richard. Or maybe lycanthropes didn't get cold. From the back I couldsee he'd braided his hair tight to his scalp. The tip of the braid trailed over his collar. Icouldn't even figure out how he'd done it. My idea of fixing my hair is to wash, smear a littlehair goop through it, then let it dry. I was not into high-tech hair design. Though it might befun to figure out the knots in a leisurely fashion after the show. I was always willing tolearn a new skill.

    The main lobby of the Fox is a cross between a really nice Chinese restaurant and a Hindutemple, with a little Art Deco thrown in for flavor. The colors are so dazzling, it looks likethe painter ground up stained glass with bits of light trapped in them. Pit bull-size Chineselions with glowing red eyes guard a sweep of stairs that lead up to the Fox Club balcony, wherefor fifteen thousand dollars a year you can eat wonderful meals and have a private box. Therest of us peons mingled nearly shoulder to shoulder in the carpeted lobby, with offerings ofpopcorn, pretzels, Pepsi, and on some nights, hot dogs. A far cry from chicken cordon bleu orwhatever they were serving up above.

    The Fox treads that wonderfully thin line between gaudiness and the fantastic. I've loved thebuilding since I first saw it. Every time I come, there is some new wonder. Some color, orcarving, or statue that I didn't notice before. When you realize that it was originally builtto be a movie theater, you realize how much things have changed. Movie theaters now have thesouls of unwashed socks. The Fox is alive as only the best buildings are alive.

    I had to let go of Richard's hand to unbutton my coat the rest of the way, but hey, we weren'tattached at the hip. I stood close to him in the crowd without touching, but I could feel him,like a line of warmth against my body.

    "We're going to look like the Bobsey twins when I take my coat off," I said.

    He raised his eyebrows.

    I spread the coat like a flasher, and he laughed. It was a good laugh, warm and thick likeChristmas pudding.

    " 'Tis the season," he said. He gave me a one-armed hug, quick like you'd give a friend, buthis arm stayed over my shoulders. It was still early enough in our dating that touching eachother was new, unexpected, exhilarating. We kept looking for excuses to touch each other.Trying to be nonchalant about it. Not fooling each other. Not sure we cared. I slipped my armaround his waist and leaned just a bit. It was my right arm. If we were attacked now, I'd neverdraw my gun in time. I stayed there for a minute thinking it just might be worth it. I movedaround him, offering my left hand to him.

    I don't know if he caught a glimpse of the gun or just figured it out, but his eyes widened. Heleaned close to me, whispering against my hair. "A gun here, at the Fox? You think the usherswill let you in?"

    "They did last time."

    He got a strange look on his face. "You always go armed?"

    I shrugged. "After dark, yes."

    His eyes were puzzled, but he let it go. Before this year I'd sometimes gone out after darkunarmed but it had been a rough year. A lot of different people had tried to kill me. I wassmall even for a woman. I jogged, lifted weights, had a black belt in judo, but I was stilloutclassed by most professional bad guys. They tended to also lift weights, know martial arts,and outweigh me by a hundred pounds or more. I couldn't arm-wrestle them, but I could shootthem.

    Also a lot of this year I'd been up against vampires, and other preternatural creepie-crawlies.They could lift large trucks with a single hand or worse. Silver bullets might not kill avampire, but it certainly slowed them down. Enough for me to run like hell. To get away. Tosurvive.

    Richard knew what I did for a living. He'd even seen some of the messy parts. But I stillexpected him to blow it. To start playing the male protector and bitch about the gun orsomething. It was almost a permanent tightness in my gut, waiting for this man to say somethingawful. Something that would ruin it, destroy it, hurt.

    So far, so good.

    The crowd started flowing towards the stairs, parting on either side to the corridors leadinginto the main theater. We shuffle-stepped with the crowd, holding hands to keep from being

separated. Sure.

    Once free of the lobby, the crowd flowed towards the different aisles like water searching forthe quickest route downstream. The quickest route was still pretty slow. I dug the tickets outof the pocket of my suit jacket. I didn't have a purse. There was a small brush, a lipstick,lipliner, eye shadow, ID, and my car keys stuffed in my coat pockets. My beeper was tucked inthe front of my skirt, discreetly to one side. When not dressed up, I wore a fanny pack.

    The usher, an older woman with glasses, shone a tiny flashlight on our tickets. She took us toour seats, motioned us in, and went back up to assist the next group of helpless people. Theseats were good, near the middle, sort of close to the stage. Close enough.

    Richard had scooted in to sit on my left without being asked. He's a quick study. It's one ofthe reasons we're still going out. That and the fact that I lust after his body somethingterrible.

    I spread my coat over the seat, spreading it out so it wouldn't be bulky. His arm snaked acrossmy chair, fingers touching my shoulder. I fought the urge to lay my head on his shoulder. Toohokey, then thought, what the hell. I snuggled into the bend of his neck, just breathing in thescent of his skin. His aftershave was clean and sweet, but underneath was the smell of hisskin, his flesh. It made it so the aftershave would never smell the same on anyone else.Frankly, without a drop of aftershave I loved the smell of Richard's neck.

    I straightened up, pulling just a little away from him. He looked at me questioningly."Something wrong?"

    "Nice aftershave," I said. No need to confess that I'd had an almost irresistible urge tonibble his neck. It was too embarrassing.

    The lights dimmed and the music began. I'd never actually seen Guys and Dolls except in the

    movies. The one with Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons. Richard's idea of a date was caving,hiking, things that required your oldest clothes and a pair of good walking shoes. Nothingwrong with that. I like the outdoors, but I wanted to try a dress-up date. I wanted to seeRichard in a suit and let him see me in something frillier than jeans. I was after all a girl,whether I liked to admit it or not.

    But having proposed the date, I didn't want to do the usual dipsy-duo of dinner and a movie. SoI'd called up the Fox to see what was playing and asked Richard if he liked musicals. He did.Another point in his favor. Since it was my idea, I bought the tickets. Richard had not argued,not even to pay half. After all, I hadn't offered to pay for our last dinner. It hadn'toccurred to me. I was betting paying for the tickets occurred to Richard, but he'd let it go.Good man.

    The curtain came up and the opening street scene paraded before us, bright colors, stylized,perfect and cheerful, and just what I needed. "The Fugue for Tinhorns" filled the bright stageand flowed out into the happy dark. Good music, humor, soon to be dancers, Richard's body nextto mine, a gun under my arm. What more could a girl ask for?

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    Chapter 3

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    A trickle of people had slipped out before the end of the musical, to beat the crowd. I alwaysstayed until the very end. It seemed unfair to slink away before you could applaud. Besides, Ihated missing the end of anything. I was always convinced that the bit I'd miss would be thebest part.

    We joined in enthusiastically with a standing ovation. I've never lived in any city that givesso many standing Os. Admittedly sometimes, like tonight, the show was wonderful, but I've seenpeople stand on productions that didn't deserve it. I don't stand unless I mean it.

    Richard sat back down after the lights came up. "I'd rather wait until the crowd thins out. Ifyou don't mind." There was a look in his brown eyes that said he didn't think I would.

    I didn't. We'd driven separate cars. When we left the Fox, the evening was over. Apparently,neither of us wanted to leave. I knew I didn't.

    I leaned on the seats in front of us, gazing down at him. He smiled up at me, eyes gleamingwith lust, if not love. I was smiling, too. Couldn't seem to help myself.

    "You know this is a very sexist musical," he said.

    I thought about that a moment, then nodded. "Yep."

    "But you like it?"

    I nodded.

    His eyes narrowed a bit, "I thought you might be offended."

    Guys and Dolls reflects a balanced"I have better things to worry about than whether

    worldview."

    He laughed -- a short, happy sound. "Good. For a minute there I thought I'd have to get rid ofmy Rodgers and Hammerstein collection."

    I studied his face, trying to decide if he was teasing me. I didn't think so. "You reallycollect Rodgers and Hammerstein sound tracks?"

    He nodded, eyes bright with laughter.

    "Just Rodgers and Hammerstein, or all musicals?"

    "I don't have them all, but all."

    I shook my head.

    "What's wrong?"

    "You're a romantic."

    "You make it sound like a bad thing."

    "That happy-ever-after shit is fine on stage, but it doesn't have a lot to do with life."

    It was his turn to study my face. Evidently, he didn't like what he saw, because he frowned."This date was your idea. If you don't approve of all this happy stuff, why'd you bring me?"

    I shrugged. "After I asked you on a dress-up date, I didn't know where to take you. I didn'twant to do the usual. Besides, I like musicals. I just don't think they reflect reality."

    "You're not as tough as you pretend to be."

    "Yes," I said, "I am."

    "I don't believe that. I think you like that happy-ever-after shit as much as I do. You're justafraid to believe in it anymore."

    "Not afraid, just cautious."

    "Been disappointed too many times?" He made it a question.

    "Maybe." I crossed my arms on my stomach. A psychologist would have said I was closed off,uncommunicative. Fuck them.

    "What are you thinking?"

    I shrugged.

    "Tell me, please."

    I stared into his sincere brown eyes and wanted to go home alone. Instead. "Happy ever after isjust a lie, Richard, and has been since I was eight."

    "Your mother's death," he said.

    I just looked at him. I was twenty-four years old and the pain of that first loss was stillraw. You could deal with it, endure it, but never escape it. Never truly believe in the great,good place. Never truly believe that the bad thing wasn't going to come swooping down and take

it all away. I'd rather fight a dozen vampires than one senseless accident.

    He pried my hand from its grip on my arm. "I won't die on you, Anita. I promise."

    Someone laughed, a low chuckle that brushed the skin like fingertips. Only one person had thatnearly touchable laugh -- Jean-Claude. I turned, and there he was, standing in the middle ofthe aisle. I hadn't heard him come. Hadn't sensed any movement. He was just there like magic.

    "Don't make promises you can't keep, Richard."

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    Chapter 4

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    I pushed away from the seats, taking a step forward to give Richard room to stand. I felt himat my back, a comforting presence if I hadn't been more worried about his safety than my own.

    Jean-Claude was dressed in a shiny black tux, complete with tails. A white vest with minuteblack dots bordered the gleaming whiteness of his shirt. The collar was high and stiff, with acravat of soft black cloth tied around it and tucked into the vest as if ties had never beeninvented. The stickpin in his vest was made of silver-and-black onyx. His shoes had spats onthem, like the ones Fred Astaire used to wear, though I suspected the entire outfit was of amuch older style.

    His hair was fashionably long, the nearly black curls edging the white collar. I knew whatcolor his eyes were, but I didn't look at them now. They were midnight blue, the color of areally good sapphire. Never look a vampire in the eyes. It's a rule.

    With the master vampire of the city standing there, waiting, I realized how empty the theaterwas. We'd waited out the crowd, all right. We were alone in the echoing silence. The distantmurmur of the departing crowd was like white noise. It meant nothing to us. I stared at theshiny mother-of-pearl buttons on Jean-Claude's vest. It was hard to be tough when you couldn'tmeet someone's eyes. But I'd manage.

    "God, Jean-Claude, don't you ever wear anything but black and white?"

    "Don't you like it, ma petite ?" He gave a little spin so I could get the whole effect. Theoutfit suited him beautifully. Of course, everything he wore seemed made to order, perfect,lovely, just like him.

    "Somehow I didn't think Guys and Dolls would be your cup of tea, Jean-Claude."

    "Or yours, ma petite ." The voice was rich like cream, with a warmth that only two thingscould give it: anger or lust. I was betting it wasn't lust.

    I had the gun, and silver bullets would slow him down, but it wouldn't kill him. Of course,Jean-Claude wouldn't jump us in public. He was much too civilized for that. He was a businessvampire, an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs, dead or alive, didn't go around tearing people'sthroats out. Normally.

    "Richard, you're unusually quiet." He stared past me. I didn't glance back to see what Richardwas doing. Never take your eyes off the vampire in front of you to glance at the werewolf inback of you. One problem at a time.

    "Anita can speak for herself," Richard said.

    Jean-Claude's attention flicked back to me. "That is certainly true. But I came to see how thetwo of you enjoyed the play."

    "And pigs fly," I said.

    "You don't believe me?"

    "Not hardly," I said.

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