Hit list, p.16
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       Hit List, p.16

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

  THE WERETIGERS' DOCTORS and medics descended on the hallway not long after that. They took the more critically injured and left the dead to be carried away. Both the wounded and the dead were carried farther into the underground where they had their hospital area. We had one in the underground back home in St. Louis, too. They patched up the knife wound on Ethan's arm. It was shallow and long; if the knife hadn't been silver-edged he'd have healed it already. Edward reported the disaster of the tracking dogs after he heard my report about the Harlequin spy. The dog had been as useless as we'd said, but he was more concerned about what had happened to me than about the case.

  Alex went with most of the guards to report to his mother, the queen. They left two on the door of the room where we'd managed to wreck half the machinery that handled ventilation to their underground lair. A repair person was coming to look at it later. Business was being handled once the wounded and the dead were tended to, because no matter how much blood is spilled, you still need your air circulation to work. The mundane aspects of life keep needing attention no matter what else is happening. If you live through the disaster you still need to get groceries, do laundry. That's one of the hardest things to understand when you first get involved in violence. That once it's over the world goes on, and you have to go along with it.

  Edward was adamant about talking to Ethan and me in private. Once the door was closed, he let Ethan see just how unhappy he was with him. He was up in Ethan's face. "I thought you were supposed to be good at your job. "

  "I am," Ethan said, and that first trickling heat began to fill the room. He'd been patient, but no one's patience is limitless, not even Ethan's, apparently.

  "Edward, this wasn't his fault. This wasn't anyone's fault. "

  Edward turned on me, hands in fists, eyes paled to that cold color of blue like a winter sky. I'd never seen him upset like this; he was usually one of the most controlled people I knew.

  "I trusted your safety to him, Anita. I left you in his hands, literally. " He was up in my face now, and the height difference made him loom a little over me. He was one of those men who weren't that tall, but could really loom when they wanted to, and he wanted to. "The only reason you're not dead is that he had orders to take you alive, Anita. "

  I realized something and did the girl thing and said it out loud. "You really do care that much about me. "

  That stopped him in midword. Made him close his mouth and just look down at me, shaking his head. "What?"

  "Sorry, had a girl moment. "

  He frowned at me.

  "It's just that I've been in danger before. I've had people try to kill me before and you were somewhere else when they tried. You've never gotten this upset. "

  He turned around, hands on hips. I think he was trying to regain control of himself. It wasn't like Edward to lose it. I had a thought: Was it the vampire? Was he that good, even in daylight, to spread anger like this?

  "Edward, are you wearing your holy item?"

  That made him turn around and face me. "What?"

  "Are you wearing a holy item?"

  He gave me a very Edward look, like I should know better. "You know I don't wear one. "

  "You've seen my cross glow. You know blessed holy water works. I've never understood why you don't wear something. "

  "Holy water works because a priest blesses it; a cross works only if the wearer has faith in God. I don't. "

  I let the theological discussion wait for another day. "The vampire caused Alex to be filled with rage and try to kill Ethan. Now you're as angry about something like this as I've ever seen you, and you're angry at Ethan again. "

  I had a thought: What if I wasn't the only one who had figured out that Ethan carried some of the gold bloodline? What if while George was here waiting for me to show up for the last two months, he smelled the gold on Ethan? What if today hadn't just been about capturing me, but about killing Ethan? Was that too twisty-turny, or was it just devious enough for the Harlequin?

  Edward was studying my face. "You've thought of something. "

  I looked into his very calm, very Edward face. But it was Ethan who said, "This isn't like the anger that was in the Prince. That didn't go away. "

  I nodded. I didn't say out loud that it had to be a change of heart toward me on Edward's part. Once I'd believed that if he had to he'd kill me - he might miss me, but he'd do it. Now, I realized maybe he wouldn't. Maybe he was finally emotionally attached to me in a very un-Edward-like way.

  If Edward had known that Ethan was part gold tiger, I'd have just said my thinking out loud, but he didn't know. I was thinking that the fewer people who knew, the better, but if the Harlequin knew, then Ethan wasn't safe. Of course, maybe it had just been coincidence that he was the guard who was with me when Alex attacked me. I frowned and rubbed my forehead. I was giving myself a headache.

  "I think I'm overthinking this. "

  "Overthinking what?" Ethan asked.

  I looked from him to Edward. We were alone. Alex had gone with the guards to tell the queen what had happened. They'd left some guards outside the door of the room we were in, but only Ethan was in the room with us, mainly because Edward had insisted he needed to talk to Ethan.

  "Okay, I'm thinking that maybe Alex attacking you wasn't just to make you kill each other so I'd be alone and easier to snatch. I think maybe George saw a way to kill two birds with one stone. "

  Ethan frowned at me. "I don't understand. "

  I told them both what I'd smelled from Ethan's skin. He gave me an incredulous look. "If I were part gold I'd have the power to command the other colors, and I so do not have that. "

  Edward was looking at me. "Anita is the Mistress of Tigers; if she says you smell like the golden tigers, then you do. " He looked at the other man.

  "I have three tiger forms, three. " He actually held up three fingers. "Red, blue, and white, that's it. No gold. " He folded the fingers down into a fist. "I can't be. "

  "All I can tell you is that you carry the strain. I've never smelled a weretiger that smelled of four different colors, so I can't tell you why you don't have three shapes to go with it, but I can tell you it's there. "

  "You think that George sensed it, too, and when he had a chance to kill Ethan and not get caught, he took it," Edward said.

  "Maybe," I said.

  "If that's true," Ethan said, "then I'm dead. They are the greatest warriors, greatest assassins and spies that ever lived. I am so dead. "

  He seemed oddly calm about it.

  Edward and I exchanged a glance. I saw the slight frown of disapproval around his eyes, which let me know he wasn't sure it was a good idea, but that he wasn't going to say no, because he wasn't sure it was a bad idea either.

  "Then you stay with us, with me. "

  Ethan raised eyebrows at that. "How does that keep me safe?"

  Edward and I looked at him.

  Ethan smiled, quick and surprised. "Are you saying that the two of you are better than all of us?"

  I shrugged, not always the most comfortable thing in the shoulder holster. It made me have to resettle the straps with a shoulder movement that looked like what it was, adjusting a strap on a holster that wasn't quite comfy.

  "I think it's more that Ted and I trust each other more than we trust a bunch of men we don't know. "

  "What she said. "

  "You're human," Ethan said. "You saw what just one of these people did to a hallway full of weretigers. They're trained guards, Anita. "

  "They're not as well trained as you are," I said.

  He shrugged, and had to do his own version of resettling the straps; without his own marshal Windbreaker it was very obvious. "The other guards wouldn't agree with you. "

  "You held your own with George. Hand to hand with him armed with a gun and a blade, and you kept him at bay. "

  "He was toying with me, Anita. He was keeping me enough in the fight so my bo
dy was blocking your shot. "

  "When did you figure that out?" I asked.

  "When he had an opening for the knife and didn't take it. "

  "If you hadn't sacrificed your arm to his knife and thrown yourself backward, I'd have never been able to shoot him. "

  Edward motioned at the bandage on Ethan's arm. "So you let him cut you, knowing it was a silver blade, and threw yourself back onto the floor so Anita could shoot him?"

  Ethan nodded.

  Edward gave a small smile. "You trusted her to shoot him before he could fall on you and finish you. "

  Ethan nodded again.

  Edward studied the other man. "You trusted that George was more worried about Anita shooting him than about killing you?"

  "Yes," Ethan said, and he was frowning now.

  "Why?" Edward asked.

  "Why what?"

  "Why would you trust Anita that much? You'd just met her. "

  Ethan frowned. He seemed to think about it for a moment or two. "Her reputation, and the fact that one of the greatest fighters to ever walk the face of the earth was that worried about her. He was that convinced that she would not only shoot him, but kill him. He was way more worried about her than me. "

  "So you trusted that the bad guy had researched Anita, and if he was scared of her, then you'd trust her to be scary?"

  Ethan thought about that for another moment or two. Then he nodded. "I guess so. "

  "You decided all that in the middle of a fight," Edward said.

  "While healing a wound in his side," I said.

  Edward looked at me. "What?"

  "When the bad guy made Alex go crazy with rage, he shoved Ethan into the machinery. "

  "I got that," Edward said.

  "Did you also get that one of the broken pipes got shoved through Ethan's side?"

  Edward raised eyebrows just a little at that. "No. "

  "He dragged himself off the pipe while I was trying to calm Alex. "

  "Dragged himself off the pipe?" Edward said.

  "Yep. "

  Edward looked back at Ethan, and it was a considering look. He finally gave a small nod. "That'll do. "

  I smiled, because I knew what that meant.

  Ethan frowned at both of us. "What'll do?"

  "You," I said.

  He frowned harder. "What?"

  "You've passed inspection," I said.

  Ethan looked at Edward. "His inspection?"

  "Our inspection," Edward said.

  He looked from one to the other of us. "You guys have worked together a long time. "

  We glanced at each other and then back to Ethan. We both said, "Yes. "

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