Blood Noir (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #16)


by Laurell K. Hamilton

Chapter 1

I CAME HOME to find two men sitting at my kitchen table. One of them was my live-in sweetie. The other was one of our best friends. One of them was a wereleopard; the other was a werewolf; both of them were strippers. At least once a month they took off more than just their clothes on stage. They changed shape on stage in front of a live audience. Those nights the club was standing room only. I mean, you can go to other clubs to see men take their clothes off, but their entire skin and bodywell, that was unique.

Nathaniel came to greet me with a kiss and a hug. I let my hands play in the long, thick auburn hair that trailed down his broad shoulders, the curve of his waist, the tightness of his ass, and the long muscular legs. He was five-seven now, an inch taller than when Id met him. In my three-inch heels I was still an inch shorter than him. At twenty-one he was finally growing into the promise of those shoulders. His face was less soft than it had been, and more masculine. He would always be beautiful rather than handsome, but the bone structure had changed minutely so he just suddenly looked his age, instead of like jailbait.

He blinked down at me with the soft lilac of his eyes. On his drivers license it said his eyes were blue, because they wouldnt let him put lavender, or purple. His eyes were different shades of color, depending on his mood, or whaTHE wore, but blue was never the color of his eyes.

His hands slid underneath the jacket of my suit, and a little lower to trace the top of my skirt. His hands hesitated a little at the Browning BDM in its shoulder holster. Guns do get in the way of cuddling.

I wrapped my arms around the bareness of his upper body, breathed in the scent of his skin. He was wearing whaTHE usually wore in his off time in the summer, little bitty jogging shorts. Most of the wereanimals would go around nude if you let them. I wasnt quite comfy with that, so he wore the shorts to save my delicate sensibilities. There were some who thought I didnt have any of those left, but they would be wrong, and they would be jealous.

Holding him, breathing in the warmth and sweet vanilla of his skin, I understood the jealousy. Though frankly, not all of it was about sex or even having found love at last. It was about power and them wanting it, and me and mine having it. It was about me being the human servant of Jean-Claude, the Master Vampire of St. Louis. It was about body count, and me having the highest kill count among the vampire executioners in the good ol U. S. of A.

I would give a less favored body part to have a woman greet me at the end of the day like that, Jasons voice said.

I had to peer around Nathaniels body to see Jason. He was still at the kitchen table nursing a coffee mug. It even smelled like coffee, buTHE huddled over it, as if it were something harder and more intoxicating.

Jason was two years older than Nathaniel, which made him twenty-three now. Strangely, Id met them both when they were nineteen. Jason was my height, give or take a half inch or so. His hair was that shade of yellow blond that movie stars are fond of, but his was real, and didnt have to come from a good salon. His hair was cut businessman short. I liked long hair, but I had to admit that Jasons face looked cleaner, better, more handsome even, without the hair to distract. He was wearing a blue T-shirt that made his eyes even bluer than they were. The color not of spring, but of summer skies, before the heat has gotten too hot, but you know its not May anymore.

The clothes hid what I knew, thaTHE looked even better out of them. It wasnt for lack of cuteness and desirability that Jason wasnt my sweetie. He was my friend, and I was his.

What about Perdita, Perdy? You and she are going steady, right?

He grinned at me. Going steady, youre so cute.

I frowned at him. What else do you call it?

Nathaniel kissed me on the forehead. You really are cute.

I moved away from him and scowled at them both. Im serious, what else do you call it? You arent just f**k buddies. She isnt a one-night stand. Shes a serious girlfriend. If its not going steady, what do you call it?

You make it sound like I gave her my class ring, Anita. Perdy and I were lovers, and she wanted it to be exclusive.

I thought you were exclusive.

Except for you, I was.

Wait, youre talking past tense. Are you saying you and Perdy broke up?

She gave him an ultimatum, Nathaniel said. He trailed his hand down my arm as he moved away. Ill get you coffee.

I went to the table and took the seat that Nathaniel had started in. What kind of ultimatum? I asked.

Jason stared into his coffee cup while he answered. She wanted me to stop ha**ng s*x with Jean-Claude and Asher, and you.

Wait, you arent ha**ng s*x with Jean-Claude and Asher, unless theres something I dont know.

He smiled at me. The look on your face, man. He raised his fingers in the Boy Scout salute. I am not now, nor have I ever been ha**ng s*x with Jean-Claude or Asher.

Nathaniel set fresh coffee down in front of me and took a chair across the table on the other side of Jason, so wed both be able to look at him. It also meant we wouldnt be able to do more than hold hands, which was probably good; we tended to distract each other.

But she didnt believe you, I said.

Nope, she didnt. He took a sip of coffee.

Why wouldnt she believe you? I asked.

Im not sure.

If my feeding the ardeur off you through sex bugged your steady girl, you should have said something.

I am Jean-Claudes pomme de sang, his apple of blood. I am his blood donor, and I go where my master tells me to go. The ardeur is your version of a blood feed and youre his human servant. Jean-Claude shares me with Asher, his second-in-command, for blood and you for sex, and its his right to share me. I am his. I belong to him. Perdy knows that. She got kicked out of Cape Cod because she wanted to be more than just a blood donor to the master vampire there.

Samuel didnt say anything about that. In fact, his son, Sampson, said that Perdy was here to spy on him for his mother.

Yeah, but Sampson went home, and Perdy didnt.

Sampson had gone home because St. Louis got invaded by some of the scariest vampires in the world. Jean-Claude had thought it was a bad idea to risk getting the eldest son of his friend and ally killed. Besides, Sampson was a merman, and they arent big on offensive abilities, at least not this far inland. Perdy was a mermaid, too. Though Id never seen either of them turn all fishy. They just looked like people to me.

Perdy stayed for you, Nathaniel said.

Jason nodded. She wanted me to be hers. Shes very jealous, very possessive. Im just not into that.

So you have a woman who greets you like Anita greets me, but the rest doesnt work.

No, Nathaniel. She used to greet me sort of like that, but for weeks now its been, Where have you been? Who have you been with? You f**ked the master again, didnt you? You f**ked Asher, didnt you? You were with Anita again, werent you?