Hit list, p.25
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       Hit List, p.25

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

  BEFORE I COULD go off crime solving I had to shower. I was covered nearly head to foot in thick, clear goop. I'd learned from past experience that it dried fast and became very tacky, very quickly. I didn't even want to put clean clothes over the mess of it, let alone explain to the other cops what it was, and why I was covered in it, which was why I was in the shower when Ethan knocked on the door of the bathroom.

  "Anita," he called; his deeper voice must have been lost in the rush of water the first time, because he said my name again, and knocked louder. "Anita!"

  I turned off the water, grabbed a towel to wipe my face, and got my Smith & Wesson from the little shelf in the back of the shower. That shelf's supposed to keep soap from getting wet while you shower, but my soap could take its chances; some of the smaller handguns actually fit just fine there.

  "What's wrong?" I asked, towel in one hand, gun in the other. Depending on his answer I'd know if I had time to wrap my hair up.

  "There's a marshal at the door. I can't answer the door like this. "

  He was still in half-man form, and he was absolutely right. Wereanimals were legal citizens with a health issue, but to police they were a walking, talking public safety hazard. Some cops would shoot first and let God and the paperwork sort it all out later.

  I called, "I'm coming. " I put the gun back on the shelf so I could wrap my hair up in the towel. Then I got the second towel and wrapped it around my body. I didn't take time to dry much either. I did not want some overzealous fellow marshal to get a glimpse of a weretiger through a drape edge and think he had to save me. Having someone shoot Ethan, or my having to shoot another cop to save him, would have all kinds of suck on it.

  With the towel secured, and my left hand on top of it just in case, I was as decent as I was going to get without taking time to throw on clothes. My modesty wasn't worth Ethan getting shot.

  I was toweled and gunned as I came out of the bathroom. "Get in the bathroom," I said.

  He blinked those blue and gold eyes at me. "Am I hiding?"

  "No, just out of sight until I explain that you're a good guy to the other marshal. "

  Ethan did that cat smile again, a drawing back from the teeth. "Am I a good guy?"

  I took the time to smile at him, as someone knocked very solidly on the door. "Of course you are. " I used the gun to motion him toward the bathroom. He did what I wanted, bending down to get under the doorway. As the door closed behind him, I went to the door. I called out, "Who is it?"

  "Anita, it's Bernardo Spotted-Horse. "

  That stopped me for a second. The last time I'd seen Bernardo had been in Las Vegas when he, Edward, and another marshal were after a preternatural serial killer. He was using his real and only name as a marshal, but before he got a badge he'd worked with Edward as a mercenary, bounty hunter, and assassin.

  I unlocked the door, gun at my side, and opened the door. The towel chose that moment to begin to slip off me, so I was grabbing for it as the door swung inward.

  "Now this is the way for a woman to open the door," Bernardo said.

  I glared up at him. I had the towel hugged to my breasts, and no nipple was showing, but way more flesh than I'd planned was on display.

  He grinned down at me. With the wraparound sunglasses still on he looked model perfect, if you were into tall, dark, and handsome. I'd once thought he was American Indian GQ gorgeous, but the attitude was way more Playgirl. His nearly waist-length hair spilled around his shoulders, a black so dark that it had blue highlights in the sunshine that slanted across the cement upper story. His wide-shouldered upper body was encased in a black leather jacket that fit like a second skin and emphasized the black jeans that damn near outlined his lower body and ended in midcalf boots.

  "I was in the shower," I said.

  "I can see that. " The grin was not his usual come-hither smile, it was just pure delight.

  "Oh, stop it," I said, "and give me a second to refasten the towel. "

  "Tease," he said.

  I frowned at him and ducked behind the partially open door to secure the towel again. When it was as secure as I could make it, I opened the door and ushered him inside. "You were wearing nothing but a sheet the first time I saw you," I said.

  He entered the room close to the wall, eyes searching the room as he took his sunglasses off. His eyes were as pure a brown as my own. He nodded. "I'd have come across the moment I met you, so it wasn't false advertising on my part. But unless you've changed a great deal you aren't going to offer me that much hospitality. " His eyes were searching the room, taking in the details. Ethan had stripped the far bed down to its mattress. He must have done it while I was in the bathroom, but he'd been right to do it, unless we wanted to owe the motel a new mattress.

  I knew that Bernardo had taken in the stripped bed, the pile of bedding. Hell, sometimes you can smell sex in a room if it's recent enough. He looked at me, face softening to something more serious. "I saw a shadow a lot taller than you through the drapes. Why are you hiding him?"

  "I thought it was one of the local marshals," I said.

  "You're a big girl, why hide?" he asked. He gave me a very direct look. When we'd first met years ago he'd played the handsome flirt and hidden that there was a good mind to go with the great body. Smart is way more dangerous than cute when you're hiding things.

  I called out, "Ethan, it's all right, you can come out. " I made sure to watch Bernardo's face. His eyes widened, just a bit. He made one of those, well, faces, as in, Well, I didn't expect that. He tried to cover that I had shocked him, or at least surprised him, by sliding the earpiece of his sunglasses into a pocket on his chest. He busied himself unzipping his jacket.

  I glanced behind me to find that Ethan had stopped about halfway across the small room. The sunlight streaming through the big window was barely filtered by the thin curtains; no wonder Bernardo had seen a shadow from outside. But now Ethan was half revealed in that bright filtered light, and half in the room's dimness, as if he stood in the midst of trees and sunlight streaming through leaves. It was almost as if even standing in the bland motel room, an echo of jungle and wildness touched that shining yellow and gold fur. He was also at least six-six, maybe six-eight in this form. Bernardo was six-one and used to being tall. He had his left hand sort of half behind the swell of his ass, and I knew that the short, stylish jacket was short for a reason. He was carrying his main gun at the small of his back. In a short jacket he could be warm and still do a quick draw. Winter concealed carry was always a fight between staying warm and not getting yourself killed because you couldn't get to your weapons in time.

  "Ease down, Bernardo, he's okay. " I held my hand out to Ethan.

  He shook his head. "He's armed, and he's scared of me. I'll stay farther away. "

  I glared at Bernardo. "Stand down, Bernardo. He's my" - what word should I use? - "lover. It's okay. "

  "Edward said that you were with a local weretiger. He said you were feeding the ardeur. "

  "Then why is your hand still on your gun?" I asked.

  "Because from the smell and look of the bed he just changed shape recently, which means he's hungry. You're his lover, he likes you; he doesn't know me. "

  "New shapeshifters are compelled to eat right after the change. That stops being true as they get more practice. Do you really think I'd be alone with a shapeshifter so new that he'd lose control like that?"

  "You're like me, Anita; you don't always make good decisions when you find new tail. "

  "I don't like that phrase. None of my lovers are just 'new tail. '"

  He shrugged, hand still touching his gun. "Fine, but when we see someone we want to sleep with, we don't always think it through first. "

  Was he right about me? He was certainly right about the ardeur picking quick and hard, and not always the best choices. I had more control now, but . . . If he was right, he was right, and I had to let it go.

>   "And, Anita, this is a small room, and honestly if I didn't trust you, I'd have my gun out and pointed at your blond friend. Pointed, aimed, and ready to shoot would be my only chance against something as fast as a lycanthrope in a room this small, Anita. "

  I nodded. "I know that. "

  "Then why are you bitching that I'm touching my gun?"

  It was a good point. I shrugged, which made the towel begin to slip again. I caught it earlier this time, so I was still covered. "Fine. Ethan, this is Marshal Bernardo Spotted-Horse. "

  Ethan waved a hand that was big enough to palm Bernardo's skull. I guess in the end there was nothing I could do to make Bernardo comfortable with the big weretiger in the small room, and then I realized something else. Ethan was naked. He was like most wereanimals and not bothered by nudity, but in this shape he wouldn't fit in any clothes he'd brought for his under-six-feet human form. Well, maybe the boxers?

  But a lot of men had problems with other men being nude, especially if they were well endowed. There was always a measuring stick in a man's mind when it came to certain things. Who was taller, and who was, um, well, bigger.

  I tried to look at Ethan in this form from a guy's point of view, and realized there might be more than one reason that a human male might be intimidated.

  I looked back at Bernardo, and it was my turn to grin. "Is the nudity bothering you? I mean, Ethan's?"

  Bernardo shook his head, but his eyes sort of flickered downward.

  My grin got broader. "Of all the human men I've seen nude, Bernardo, you are the last person I thought would be intimidated by size. " I laughed, I couldn't help it.

  "Are you saying that he's as big in human form as I am in this form?" Ethan asked. Most men wouldn't have asked that blandly.

  I glanced back at Bernardo. "From what I remember, yeah. "

  Bernardo gave me a mild version of his sexy smile, but it never reached his eyes. They were all wary, and worried about the most dangerous thing in the room. He'd flirt, but not until he was sure of the weretiger. The way he was acting, I wasn't certain there was a way for him to be comfortable around the weretiger in half-man form.

  "Is he an old lover of yours?" Ethan asked.

  "No," I said, and my face was still soft with the fading laugh.

  "Then how do you know how well endowed he is?" Ethan asked.

  I looked at him. "Are you jealous?"

  The cat face frowned, but there was a very human intelligence through those eyes. "I think so, and I'm sorry. I know that doesn't work for you, and it doesn't work in the red clan. The women totally get to pick the men, so I can't even say it's my culture. " He spread those big hands that I knew with a flick of his muscles could reveal claws big enough to slice me open. "It's just that it's been a long time, and the thought of sharing this soon hurts a little. "

  I went to him, and was out of hands. I put the gun on the edge of the bare mattress and turned back to the towering, furred figure. I'd learned a long time ago that being physically intimidating didn't keep you from getting your feelings hurt. Everyone's heart is the same size.

  I hugged him one-armed, until his arms wrapped around me, holding me close enough that the press of our bodies would hold the towel in place. I hugged him with both arms then, letting my hands play in the soft, thick fur of his back. He leaned down over me, bending more and more of that tall upper body over me until he could press his face against the top of my head. He huffed against my hair; it was something a lot of cats did, sort of halfway between a breath going out and in, and a soft sound that was used for talking to kittens or favorite people. It was a good, caring sound. I hugged him tighter, rubbing my cheek against the warmth of him. The fur was thinner on the front of him so that I could touch his skin through the silky fur. He was so warm.

  "Thank you," he said, as he stood up straighter. Something about the hugging and moving made the towel begin to slide down, but all Bernardo was seeing was my bare back. He could see that. I kept hugging the big weretiger, and looked up until I could meet those blue and gold eyes. "You're welcome, and thank you for stripping the bed. "

  "We'd have ruined the mattress otherwise. "

  "I know, but thanks for thinking of it anyway. I like men who are domestically inclined. " I grinned at him, but he was still too serious. I tried again. "I do want you, and I'm inviting you now to come to St. Louis when this case is over. "

  He smiled that flash of frightening teeth, but I'd been around enough beast forms to see the delight in his face, and the happiness in his eyes was unmistakable. He picked me up, sudden, unexpected, and effortless. He lifted me so he could look into my face. There are no lips to kiss in beast form, but I'd been dating lycanthropes for a while, and I knew to put my face against his and let him rub his furred cheeks on one side of my face and then the other. I returned the gesture, and put my arms around his shoulders. I realized the towel was no longer covering me. I had a choice of ruining the moment for modesty's sake, or not worrying about the fact that Bernardo was seeing my bare ass. I decided not to worry, and let the joy in Ethan's face be all the covering I needed. In the end, if you can make somebody that happy, what's a little flashing between friends?

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