Bullet, p.28
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         Part #19 of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton
Chapter 28


  WHEN I OPENED the door, Nicky right behind me, I saw that he'd been sharing guard duty with Graham. Tall, broad-shouldered, he wore his straight black hair cut a little too long through the bangs, so that his eyes stared out through the hair like a cat watching from the grass. Though cat wasn't accurate. He was a werewolf. Other than a little uptilt at the edges of his eyes and the straight black hair, his mother's Japanese heritage seemed to have passed him by; most of him came from his tall, Nordic father. His parents were still the only ones to ever come down to Guilty Pleasures to visit their bouncer son at work. Graham had missed the orgy because he lived off-site and he was usually being a bouncer at the strip club rather than muscle here. He was wearing a bright red T-shirt, which meant he was available for blood donations or sex. So far I'd managed to keep him off my menu, and I was planning to keep it that way.

  He grinned at me. "I can't believe I missed last night. "

  "Be happy you did," I said.

  He looked stricken and way younger than his early twenties. "It was an orgy. You fucked people that you've never touched. "

  I glanced at Nicky, who was at my side. "Does he know everything that happened last night?"

  Nicky nodded.

  "You guard this door, and if anything happens to Nathaniel because you failed at your job I will kill you. " My voice had just a little inflection at the end, but only a little.

  Graham looked at me. "What'd I say to piss you off ?"

  "That you have to ask that question, Graham, is why I don't sleep with you. "

  He still looked totally lost. It was Nicky who said, "She feels bad about Noel and Haven being dead. " His voice was pleasant as he said it, and I realized that his inflection never changed, either, but it wasn't numb, just pleasant like nothing he had just said moved him.

  "We need another wereanimal to bunk with Nathaniel. "

  "You told me to stay on the door," Graham said.

  "Sorry, just thinking out loud. " My head felt buzzy and full of static. The shock was beginning to wear off, which was both good and bad, apparently.

  "If you want more people to sleep with Nathaniel while he heals, the infirmary is the best place. People are on rotating shifts. "

  I opened that part of me that was connected to so many people. I just threw it wide to see who was close. Nicky hit the radar first because he was right beside me, but the energy went out and out. I knew that Jean-Claude was here, and he felt my urgency and my confusion and started walking this way. I found Jason, and felt sorrow from him. I wondered what was wrong. I found Damian still up, still awake. Apparently none of the vampires who woke early were going to sleep at all today. Crispin's and Domino's energy came and with that one brush I knew there were more tigers here. They flared brighter in my head. They shouldn't have been brighter on my metaphysical radar than the shapeshifters I was closest to. I narrowed down my search, leaving that bright energy out of my search pattern. I brushed a lot of people's energy inside the Circus, but one person I didn't find was Richard. He wasn't here. Crap.

  I started dialing his number. Inside the Circus was like an underground bunker, almost impenetrable, but outside it all bets were off, and Richard was the least capable of the three of us to watch for this kind of danger. He was still too trusting, and too tied to trying to be "normal. "

  Stephen came down the hallway. He should have been at the apartment he shared with Vivian. No, wait, it was daylight out and since he worked nights he often spent the day here being snack food for vampires among other things. He wasn't on my food list. Stephen was cute enough but just not that kind of friend. He was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. His curly blond hair was loose around his shoulders. He always looked younger in his street clothes. He took one look at my face and asked, "What's wrong?"

  The phone went to voice mail. "Shit. " I waited for the beep. "Richard, it's Anita. Come back to the Circus. We have assassins in town with a contract to kill you, me, and Jean-Claude. You aren't safe. Call me back, damn it. " I hung up.

  "Text him," Graham said.

  "What?" I asked.

  "Text him. Some people check their texts a lot more than they do their voice mail. "

  I hadn't had the phone that long. I handed it to him. "I don't know how to text. Help me. "

  Normally, he'd have said something smart, but wisely he just started working the phone. "What do you want me to tell him?"

  "Assassins in town. You're in danger. Come back to the Circus. "

  "How do you spell assassins?"

  "Let me, faster if I type and spell," Stephen said, and took the phone. He typed in what I said. "Sent. " He put that cornflower-blue gaze on me. "Now back up and tell me, why are there assassins in town and how do you know?"

  I shook my head. "I don't have time to explain. I need to find Richard and get him back here. "

  "I'm supposed to be your replacement for Nathaniel's healing, but if you need me . . . "

  I started to dismiss him. I didn't think of him as a fighter, but the first time I'd met him he had waded into a giant snake gone amok in the Circus of the Damned. He'd risked his life to help kill it. Funny how I'd begun to think of him as someone who helped me do my hair and makeup for Jean-Claude's fancy events, but not as a fighter. He was about my size, as delicate in his own way as Vivian, but he was also a werewolf and that meant something.

  "Thanks, Stephen, but I think staying with Nathaniel will be great. I need to find Richard and bring him back here; after that we'll have a meeting or something. " I was already moving down the hallway. Nicky followed me. I almost told him to stay at the door, but truthfully I would eventually have to go outside the Circus, and of our guards he wasn't a bad choice. He might be creepily overattached to me, but his fighting skills were excellent and the only thing that kept his killing in check was my conscience. He didn't seem to have one of his own. I couldn't stay in here forever. I had a job. I'd taken last night off, but I had clients to see this afternoon. Of course, all it would take was one of the assassins signing up as a client and they'd get to be alone with me. Or would have; now I'd need guards with me. Shit.

  A small screaming part of me was saying something in my head that I was trying really hard not to listen to. Richard is in danger. The only comfort about him not answering his phone was that if he was really hurt I'd know it, the same way I'd known that Nathaniel got shot in the shoulder. I'd feel it. Richard was okay. He was safe, for now.

  Then I realized I was being slow. I hit the phone screen and got my contacts list back up. I'd call Jamil, or Shang-Da. They were his main bodyguards, his Skoll and Hati. One of the three would pick up their damn phone.

  Nicky was already on his own phone. I heard him talking to Bobby Lee about the assassins. He was right. I should have told our men first. I had to pull myself together and work this emergency. I'd fall apart later.

  Jamil's number was first alphabetically, so I hit it. He picked up on the second ring. "Anita, what's up?"

  "You need to bring Richard back to the Circus, now. "

  I heard his voice twice, like a weird echo, as he said, "That's going to be a problem. "

  I turned to find him coming down the hallway with Shang-Da by his side. "Why aren't you with your Ulfric?" I asked.

  "He's on a late lunch date. We don't go on the dates. "

  I pushed the whole date thing away. I'd worry about it later, if at all. I told them what was happening. "Well, shit," Jamil said.

  "That about covers it," I said.

  "If he's with the doc, he won't answer his phone," Jamil said. I wanted to say, Richard is dating a doctor? but it didn't matter. It wasn't like we were monogamous.

  "Contact him mind-to-mind," Shang-Da said.

  "I'll try. He's been keeping me out the last few months. "

  "Maybe, or maybe you both quit trying," he said.

  I didn't try to argue. We'd decide who was right and wrong once I k
new Richard was safe. I felt Jean-Claude coming toward me. He didn't try to shut me out. I pushed the thought away. I opened that link between Richard and me. Shang-Da was right; I'd stopped trying a while back. It was just easier that way.

  I smelled trees, leaves, pine, forest. It was how I always found him by scent, as if wherever he was he smelled of the wolf pack's land. I felt him behind the wheel of his four-by-four. I saw him glance up, as if somehow I were hovering near the roof of his truck. We always looked up to see each other - the way we had for the council, come to think of it. That made me lose focus for a moment, and I had to fight to see him. I knew he was already close to his house, because of the trees by the road. I had a moment of seeing him looking up at me, and of seeing the road through his eyes.

  He pushed me out a little, so that he was driving with only himself in his head. "Sorry," he said to the empty air, "but hard to drive that way. "

  "Sorry, but there's a contract killer out for you, me, and Jean-Claude. "

  "The council works fast. "

  "Maybe, but it doesn't matter who ordered it, Richard, just come back. We stay underground until we have a plan. "

  "I can't hide forever. "

  "Just for now, please, Richard. I've had enough emergencies for one day. "

  He started to do the turn to the last road. He caught a flash in the trees. I had a moment to feel him see it, and then the windshield cracked in front of him, and he was fighting the truck not to go into the ditch.

  I screamed, "Gun!"

  The second shot hit him, and I fell to my knees in the hallway. It didn't exactly hurt; in fact, my shoulder and half my chest felt numb. I couldn't catch my breath. It did hurt to breathe. Nicky was holding me. His face was frantic. "Anita!"

  "Shot. " I gasped it out, there was no air. They'd hit his lung, but his heart still beat, strong and thick in my head. I could see sunlight through the trees as the truck went over the side of the road, and there were trees, and we were falling, and there was no air.

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