Hit list, p.15
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       Hit List, p.15

         Part #20 of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton
Chapter Fifteen

  I GOT TO my feet in time for a third shot to whirr over my head and make me crouch back down. Ethan got the gun away from George as I watched, but George punched him at the same time, and the gun went spinning across the floor. A knife flashed in George's other hand as I moved toward the fallen gun. I had it up and aimed it at the fight, but they were too fast. Ethan was fast, but George was faster, not fast enough to cut him, but fast enough that it was all Ethan could do to keep George from cutting him. They moved in a blur, circling and punching, and using their knees against each other's lower bodies, because they were too close in to use the whole leg to kick. I couldn't get a clean shot. Every time I thought I had it, Ethan was in my way.

  I realized that George was purposefully moving Ethan around so he spoiled my shot, which meant that George was even better. I realized he had openings to punch Ethan, and I knew he had the strength to knock him back, but if he did that then he wouldn't have Ethan as a shield against the gun. He could have won the fight, but he needed Ethan in front of him, and close to him. Fuck, but he was good.

  Did Ethan think he was holding his own, or did he understand what the other man was doing? I heard footsteps running in the hallway. I hoped it was help coming.

  "I'm not here to hurt you, Anita Blake," George said in a voice that showed no strain.

  I ignored him and waited for a shot to open up.

  Ethan stopped trying to fight and let George cut his arm. It gave him an opening to push back and let himself fall to the floor and give me a clear shot. I aimed at George's center and squeezed the trigger, but he was already moving, impossibly fast, a blur that I tried to follow with my hands and the gun as I fired. The gun was a Glock 21, which was a . 45ACP, and it took my hands up toward the ceiling so that by the time I had the gun back down and ready to aim again he was through the door and out of sight.

  I said, "Motherfucker!" and got to my feet, gun held up, elbows bent, so if I had another shot I would be able to take it. But the hallway was a mass of people in white T-shirts and khaki pants. Most of them had the same short, dark red hair, so that there was no target to aim at, or there were too many.

  Some of the figures were on the ground, white shirts blossoming crimson with blood. I prayed that one of them was George, but somehow I knew he wouldn't be.

  I felt movement behind me and started to bring the gun around, but Ethan said, "It's me. " I stopped in midmotion, telling the beating of my pulse in my throat that of course it was Ethan; no one else in the room was conscious. That made me think about Alex, and wonder why his being hurt hadn't hurt me. I'd taken damage when some of my other animals to call had been hurt, so why hadn't it hurt me?

  I glanced behind to see that Alex was still motionless on the floor. I'd check on him after I knew what had happened to the bad guy.

  Ethan moved in front of me, and I realized he'd taken the time to get his weapons. His T-shirt was untucked so that it didn't all fit back as neatly as it had started, but shoulder holsters chafe without a shirt. I had time to see that his wound was bleeding freely and starting to get all over his white shirt, as he put me at his back and did what a good guard will do: be a meat shield. When all else fails, that's the last duty of any bodyguard, to literally put his body between you and harm.

  I started to say I didn't need it, but honestly, I couldn't have held my own against the other man as long as Ethan had. I could admit that he was not only stronger than I was, but better at slugging it out. I didn't like it, but I admitted it in my head, and I let him wade out into the fight in the hallway first. Did it hurt my pride? Yes. Was my pride worth dying for? No.

  But when I started moving out behind him from the doorway, Ethan put a hand back and stopped me. "Wait," he said. There was a time when I wouldn't have listened, but the speed . . . the speed at the end had been too fast even for a shapeshifter. He'd been as fast as the masked shapeshifter who had injured Karlton. He wasn't tall enough, but he was fast enough. He had to be one of the Harlequin. I still wasn't certain if I'd hit him, or if he truly had been faster than a speeding bullet. It had all happened too damned fast.

  I picked out words from the babble of voices in the hallway: "He was too fast . . . dead . . . help me stop the bleeding . . . it's too late, he's dead . . . get the doctor. "

  Ethan motioned that I could move forward. I pointed the gun down at the floor, but kept it in a two-handed grip. There were two men down in a pool of blood. A guard with yellow hair was holding his hands on one man's throat, trying to stop the bleeding, but blood gushed out from between his fingers. I'd known shapeshifters powerful enough to heal a wound like that, and I'd seen one die from an almost identical wound. He'd been killed by one of the Harlequin's animals to call, too. Were they trained to go for the throat?

  The other fallen guard had less blood on him, but his eyes were already set in death. It looked like a stab straight to the heart. There was no recovery from a silver blade through the heart for a lycanthrope. He'd been dead the moment the blade slid home. Two other men were down with knife wounds, and a third was mobile but bleeding like Ethan.

  George had fought his way through them in a matter of moments: two dead, three wounded, five if you counted Alex and Ethan. He did all that to a group of trained bodyguards who were also shapeshifters. Apparently the Harlequin were going to live up to their reputation. They were scary good.

  There was nothing I could do for anyone out here, so I said, "Ethan, I'm going to check on Alex. "

  "Good idea," and he followed behind me. One of the other guards asked, "What's wrong with the prince? Is he hurt?"

  "He's hurt," Ethan said.

  "Did George do it?" the man asked.

  I answered before Ethan could. "Let's just see how hurt Alex is. " I didn't want to get bogged down in details, and I also didn't want to see Ethan hurt before I could explain that it was the Harlequin that had made Alex attack and forced Ethan to defend himself. It was too complicated to explain with two of their men dead and more wounded. Complicated could wait until after everyone calmed down.

  Alex was sitting up as we walked toward him. Ethan got to him first and dropped to one knee as George had done, hand going to his chest. "My Prince, forgive me. "

  Alex looked at him and then at me. "It's okay; I would have killed you if you hadn't fought back. The rage was . . . like nothing I've ever felt. " He held out his hand to the other man. "Help me up, and we'll call it even. "

  This was the reasonable Alex I remembered. Ethan helped him stand up. There was bruising on Alex's face where the other man had kicked him, but it was as if the injury were days old instead of only minutes. If Alex had been a more powerful shapeshifter, there wouldn't have been any mark by now.

  The other guard with us asked, "What is Ethan apologizing for?"

  I asked, "Do you know where the rage was coming from?"

  "It was like a dark voice in my head," Alex said.

  The guard blinked orange eyes at us, running fingers through his short orange-red hair. "I feel like I'm missing something. "

  I looked at Alex. "I know there are real vampires that feed on emotion. I've met one that fed on fear and could also cause it to rise in people just by thinking at them. "

  "Handy to be able to make your own food," Alex said.

  I nodded.

  "You think this was a vampire?" Ethan asked.

  "I know that the weretiger who ran out of here was one of the people that we're hunting. That speed, that level of weapons work, it was them. "

  "You mean George was a spy," the new guard said.

  "First, what's your name, and second, how long has George been here?"

  He smiled. "I'm Ben, and a couple of months. "

  I thought about that. "They put him in here almost as soon as she woke up. "

  "What?" Ben asked.

  I shook my head. "Just thinking out loud. " They'd put a spy in here as soon as the Mother of All Darkness wo

  "They put him here near me," Alex said. "They knew eventually you'd come visiting. "

  "His paperwork checked out," Ben said.

  "Some of these guys have been master spies for a thousand years or more," I said. "They're good at what they do. "

  "He cut through us as if we were human," Ben said.

  "Did I hit him with the last shot?" I asked.

  Ben frowned; I think he was trying to replay the fight in his head. "He had blood on his T-shirt, here. " He touched the left side of the chest, shoulder area. "Was it Ethan's blood?"

  "I never touched him," Ethan said.

  "Then, yes, you shot him. "

  I grinned and felt that it was a fierce baring of teeth. "Please tell me all your guns are loaded with silver shot," I said.

  "Of course," Ben said. "Silver will kill a human or a shapeshifter; lead only stops humans. "

  "Then he's hurt," Alex said. "Silver makes even the strongest of us have to heal human-slow. "

  "You were faster than he planned for," Ethan said. "He said so. Most of the guards would have missed that last shot. You did it with an unfamiliar gun, against someone faster than anyone I've ever seen. " Ethan gave me an admiring look that wasn't about sex, but about that guy moment when they realize you are not just another pretty face, but maybe, just maybe you can be cute, petite, and one of the guys all at the same time.

  "I'll call Ted and let him know that the bad guys are trying to find me. "

  "Why did he say that he hadn't come to hurt you?" Ethan said.

  "I think he hoped I wouldn't shoot him. "

  Ethan gave me a look. "He could have been lying. "

  "Yeah, but the other one last night that cut up the marshal said the same thing. They want me alive. "

  "Why?" Ethan asked.

  I shook my head. I didn't know Ethan well enough to answer that question, but I knew now that the Mother of All Darkness wanted me alive. There was only one reason she wanted me that way: so she could take over my body and make it hers. George had said he wasn't here to hurt me. He was lying. He wanted to kidnap me and feed me to the Dark Mother of them all. So she could use my body to live again. Not hurting me? Yeah, right. George was a lying bag of shit.

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