The Harlequin / Chapter 9-10

Chapter 9-10


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Chapter Nine

DAWN HAD COME and all the vampires were asnooze in their coffins when I finally got a few minutes to try Edward again. I'd called twice while Lisandro's experts searched everything. They had found bugs, but not where they were listening to us, like listening posts. Hours of work later and we were clean. We actually got lucky. The bugs weren't the smallest and latest cutting-edge technology. Which meant they needed to be close to the clubs to hear. Probably something mobile like a van, the experts said. The tech was good, but not the latest and greatest. Which probably meant the Harlequin didn't know how to hack phone lines and computer systems. Probably. But even the listening devices we found were pretty high tech for a bunch of ancient vampires. Made me wonder what other wonders of modern technology they might be willing to use. Most vamps relied on vampire powers. I wasn't sure the Harlequin did. In fact, I was betting they didn't. Ancient vampires and armed with modern shit; it just wasn't fair.

I wanted to even those odds, so I was in Jean-Claude's bathroom with my cell phone, trying one last time to reach Edward.

I dialed the number, and had almost given up when I heard the phone click over. The voice that answered the phone was thick with sleep. For a second I thought it was Edward, so I said, "Edward?"

The voice cleared a little and said, "Anita, that you?" The voice was male, but definitely not Edward. Shit.

Edward was engaged to a widow with two kids. Lately when I wanted to be sure I'd get him the first time, I called Donna's house, not his. They weren't officially living together, but he spent more time at her place than at his own. "Hey, Peter, sorry, forgot the time difference."

I heard some movement, as if he'd rolled over and taken the phone under the covers with him. "It's all right. What's up?" His voice had spent the last year breaking and finally settled into a deeper bass that still startled me sometimes.

"I just need to talk to Ted," I said, hoping he hadn't heard the Edward earlier.

"It's okay, Anita," and he gave a laugh that still held a lazy edge of sleep. "I know who Edward is, but you're lucky I answered the phone. Mom or Becca would have asked questions."

This was the first I knew that any of Edward's new family knew his secret identity. I wasn't sure how I felt about Peter knowing, or about any of them knowing. They knew what he did, sort of, the legalish parts, but they didn't really know who Edward was, or at least that's what I had believed until now.

I checked my wristwatch, which had gone on along with a robe. I did quick math in my head and said, "Shouldn't you be getting ready for karate class?"

"They're painting the dojo." he said.

I would also have asked why he had a phone in his room, but he wasn't my kid. I mean, sixteen was a little young for your own phone, wasn't it?

"I placed first in the karate tournament last Saturday," he said.

"Congratulations," I said.

"It's not like real fighting, not like you and Edward do, but it's still cool."

"I've never won first place in a martial arts tournament of any kind, Peter. You're doing good."

"But you have a black belt in judo, right?"

"Yeah."

"And you're training in other martial arts, right?"

"Yeah, but..."

"A tournament is just kid stuff, I know, but Edward says I have to wait until I'm at least old enough to sign up for military service before he'll take me on anything real."

I did not like the sound of that at all. "Eighteen, right."

"Yeah" - he sighed so heavily - "two years." He made two years sound like forever. I guess at sixteen it is.

I wanted to tell him that there were other lives to live that had nothing to do with fighting, guns, or violence. I wanted to tell him that he couldn't follow in his almost-stepfather's footsteps, but I couldn't. It wasn't my place to say it, and Peter wouldn't have listened anyway. I was in the same business as his "dad," so I was cool, too. "Is Ted there?"

"Anita," and he sounded chiding, "I know his real name."

"Yes, but you're right, I should never have said Edward when calling this number. It should be Ted until I'm sure who I'm talking to. I'm practicing."

He laughed again. I didn't think I was that funny. "Ted's here." I heard that slide of cloth again. "Though at eight on a day we don't have school, Mom and Ted are probably still in bed." He must have rolled over to look at a clock.

"I didn't mean to call this early," I said, "I'll call back later." His voice sobered. "What's wrong, Anita? You sound all stressed." Great, I couldn't even control my voice enough to fool a teenage boy. Truth was, I'd finally realized that I wasn't just asking Edward to come hunt monsters, I was asking him to leave his family to come hunt monsters. Edward used to live to find bad things that could test his skills. He lived to be better, faster, meaner, quicker, more deadly than the monsters he hunted. Then he'd met Donna, and suddenly he had other things to live for. I wasn't sure he'd ever walk down the aisle with her, but he was the only father the kids had, and the only husband Donna had. Her first husband had been killed by a werewolf. An eight-year-old Peter had picked up his father's dropped gun and finished off the wounded shapeshifter. He'd saved his family while his father's body was still twitching on the floor. In some ways Edward fit in just fine. Edward picked Becca up from ballet class, for God's sake. But... but what if I got him killed? What if I got him killed and Peter and Becca lost another parent because I was too chickenshit to handle my own mess?

"Anita, Anita, are you there?"

"Yeah, yeah, Peter, I'm here."

"You sound strange, like, scared almost."

Peter was too damned perceptive for comfort sometimes. "I just..." Oh, hell, what could I say that would fix this? "Let Edward sleep in, don't wake them."

"Something's wrong, I can hear it in your voice. You called because you're in trouble. That's it, isn't it?" he asked.

"I'm not in trouble," I said. In my head, I added, yet.

Silence on his end of the phone for a heartbeat. "You're lying to me." He sounded accusatory.

"Well, that's a hell of a thing to say," I said, with as much indignation as I could muster. I wasn't lying, not really, I was just fudging the truth. Okay, fudging like double chocolate with three kinds of nuts, but it still wasn't completely a lie.

"Your word, your word of honor," he said in a very serious voice. "Tell me you didn't call to get Edward's help with some nasty monster problem."

Shit. "You know you're being a pain in the ass here," I said.

"I'm sixteen. I'm supposed to be a pain in the ass, or that's what Mom says. Give me your word that you're not lying to me, and I'll believe you. Give me your word, and I'll believe everything you've said, and I'll hang up, and you can go back to not being in trouble."

"Damn it, Peter."

"You won't give your word and then lie, will you?" His voice held question, and almost wonderment, as if he didn't quite believe it.

"No, not as a general rule, no."

"Edward said you wouldn't, but I wasn't sure I believed him. But you really won't, will you?"

"No," I said. "Happy now?"

"Yes," he said, though his voice didn't sound exactly happy. "Tell me what's wrong. Why do you need Edward's help?"

"I need to talk to Edward, but I won't tell you why, or what it's about."

"I'm not a baby, Anita."

"I know that."

"No, you don't," he said.

I sighed. "I don't think you're a baby, but you are a kid, Peter. You're grown-up for sixteen, but I'd like to keep some of the darker shit away from you until you reach at least eighteen. If Edward wants to share with you later, that's his lookout."

"You might as well tell me, Anita. If I ask, he'll tell me."

I hoped he was wrong, but was afraid he was right. "If Edward wants you to know, he'll tell you, Peter. But I am not going to tell you, and that's final."

"Is it that bad?" he asked, and I heard the first thread of worry.

Shit, again. I just couldn't win conversations with Peter. I'd only had a handful of them lately, but he always seemed to talk me into a box. "Get Edward on the phone, Peter, now."

"I can handle myself in a fight, Anita. I can help."

Shit, shit, and double shit. I was not going to win this conversation. "I'm hanging up now, Peter."

"No, Anita, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." And his voice went from that cynical grown-up to an almost childlike panic. The panic had worked better before his voice deepened. "Don't hang up, please, I'll get Ted." The phone hit wood so hard, I had to put the phone away from my ear. He came back on, saying, "Sorry, dropped the phone. I'm getting dressed. I'll go knock on their door. If it's bad enough for you to call Edward, then you need to talk to him. I'll stop being a kid and just get him for you." He was a little angry with me, but mostly frustrated. He wanted to help. He wanted to grow up. He wanted to fight for real, whatever the hell that meant. What was Edward teaching him? Did I really want to know? No. Would I ask? Yes, unfortunately, yes. God, I did not need another problem on my plate right now. I thought about trying to lie to Edward, say I'd just called up to chat about the latest issue of Mercenaries Quarterly, but if I wasn't up to lying to Peter, Edward was absolutely out of my weight class.

Chapter Ten

I SAT ON the edge of the bathtub, waiting for Edward to come to the phone. I'd insisted on privacy for the phone call, though I'd told Jean-Claude and Micah who I was trying to call. Jean-Claude had said only, "Help would not be unwelcome." The comment said, clearly, that he was worried. The more worried I realized he was, the more worried I got.

I heard noise over the phone, movement. The phone was picked up, and I heard Edward's voice say, "Hang up the other extension, Peter." A second later he spoke directly into the phone. "Anita, Peter said you needed help, my kind of help." His voice was that empty-middle-of-nowhere accent. It was his normal voice; when he was playing Ted Forrester, good ol' boy, he had a drawl.

"I didn't say I needed help," I said.

"Then why did you call?"

"Can't I just call to chat?"

He laughed, and the laugh was strangely familiar. I realized it was an echo of Peter's laugh earlier, or maybe Peter's laugh was an echo of Edward's. They weren't genetically related, I knew that, so what was with the laugh? Imitation, maybe.

"You would never call me just to chat, Anita. That's not what we do for each other." He laughed again, and murmured, "Called to chat," as if the idea were too ridiculous for words.

"I do not need you to be condescending, thanks anyway." I was angry and had no right to be. I'd called him, and it was me I was angry at. I was wishing I hadn't called - for so many reasons.

"What's wrong?" he asked, not taking offense. He knew me too well to let a little angry outburst bother him.

I opened my mouth, closed it, then said, "I'm trying to decide where to start."

"Start with the dangerous part." There, that was Edward, not start at the beginning, but start with the dangerous part.

"I did call for backup, but I have other backup already. It's not you, but it's not a bunch of amateurs either." I was being honest. The wererats were almost completely ex-military, ex-police, or ex-criminals. Some of the werehyenas were the same flavor of professional. I had help. I shouldn't have called Edward.

"You sound like you're trying to talk yourself out of asking me for help," he said, and his voice was curious, not worried, just curious.

"I am."

"Why?"

"Because Peter answered the phone."

There was a sharp intake of breath. "Hang up the phone, Peter," Edward said.

"If Anita's in trouble, I want to know about it."

"Hang up the phone," he said, "and don't make me ask again."

"But..."

"Now."

I heard the phone click.

"Well," I said.

"Wait," he said.

I sat on my side of the phone in silence, wondering what we were waiting for. Finally Edward said, "He's off."

"Does he listen in on phone conversations a lot?"

"No."

"How do you know he doesn't?"

"I know..." He stopped himself, and said, "I don't think he does. I think you're a special case for Peter. He's in Donna's old room. I told him he could keep the phone if he behaved. I'll talk to him."

"If he's in Donna's old room, where are you and she sleeping? Not that it's any of my business," I added.

"We put a master suite on the house."

"Have you moved in, then?"

"Pretty much."

"You sell your house?" I asked.

"No."

"I guess Batman can't sell the bat cave."

"Something like that." But his voice, which had started a little friendly, was not friendly now. It was empty, the old pre-Donna Edward talking to me. He might be talking about domestic bliss and raising teenagers, but he was still the coldest killer I'd ever met, and that person was still in there. I wasn't sure whether I couldn't bear the thought of him watching Becca at ballet class, or would have paid to see him sitting with all the other parents waiting for their leotard-clad darlings.

"If I lied well enough I'd just make something up and hang up."

"Why?" he asked, in that empty voice.

"Because Peter answering the phone made me realize that it's not all fun and games anymore. If I get you killed, then they lose another father. I don't want to have to explain that to Peter, or Donna, or Becca."

"But especially Peter," he said.

"Yeah," I said.

"Since you can't lie to me, just tell me, Anita." His voice was a little softer now, a little feeling to it. Edward liked me; we were friends. He'd miss me if I were gone, and I'd miss him, but there was still a little question on whether one day we'd find ourselves on the opposite sides of a problem, and have to finally see which of us was the better man. I was hoping that day would never come, because there was no way for me to win the fight now; dead or alive, we'd both lose.

"Do you know what the Harlequin are?" I asked.

"French clowns?" he said, and let himself sound puzzled.

"Do you know them in any other context?"

"Twenty questions isn't like you, Anita; just talk."

"I just wanted to see if I was the only vampire hunter extraordinaire who was totally in the dark about this. It makes me feel a little better that you don't know about them either. Apparently Jean-Claude is right; they really are a big, dark secret."

"Talk," he said.

I talked. I told him what little I knew about the Harlequin and his band. It really wasn't that much.

He was quiet so long that I said, "Edward, I can hear you breathing, but..."

"I'm here, Anita. Just thinking."

"Thinking what?" I asked.

"That you always let me play with the best toys." And his voice wasn't empty now, it was eager.

"And what if these toys finally manage to be bigger and badder than you and me?"

"Then we die."

"Just like that," I said. "You wouldn't have regrets?"

"You mean Donna and the kids?"

"Yes," I said, and I stood, starting to pace the bathroom.

"I would regret leaving them."

"Then don't come," I said.

"And if you get killed, I'd always believe that I could have saved you. No, Anita, I'll come, but I will bring backup."

"Not anyone too crazy, okay?"

He laughed, that chuckle of true delight that I'd heard maybe six times in the entire seven years I'd known him. "I can't promise that, Anita."

"Fine, but Edward, I'm serious. I don't want to get you killed on them."

"I can't stop being who I am just because I love Donna, Anita. I can't stop being what I am because I've got the kids to think about."

"Why not?" I asked, and I was thinking of a conversation Richard and I had had when we thought I was pregnant. He'd expected that if I were pregnant I'd stop being a federal marshal or vampire hunter. I hadn't agreed.

"Because it wouldn't be me, and they love me. Donna and Becca may not know everything that Peter does about me, but they know enough. They know what I had to do to save the kids when Riker took them."

Riker had been a very bad man. He had been doing illegal archaeology digs, and Donna's amateur protection group had gotten in their way. It actually hadn't been Edward or me that first got the kids on Riker's radar. Nice to know we weren't completely to blame for what happened. Riker had wanted me to do a certain spell for him, which truthfully I hadn't been necromancer enough to do, but he wouldn't believe me. He tortured the children to get my, and Edward's, cooperation. Six-year-old, now eight-year-old, Becca had gotten a badly broken hand. Peter had been sexually molested by a female guard. We'd had to watch on videotape. We'd killed Riker and all his people. We rescued the kids, and Edward had made me give Peter my backup gun. Edward decided in that moment that if we lost, he preferred Peter to be killed resisting, rather than taken again. I hadn't argued, not after what they'd done to him. I had watched Peter empty my gun into the body of the woman who'd hurt him. He'd kept dry-firing into her body until I wrestled the gun away from him. I still saw his eyes when he told me, "I wanted her to hurt."

I knew that Peter had lost some of his innocence the night his father died and he had to pick up a gun to protect his family. He'd taken a life, but I think he thought it was killing a monster, and that didn't really count. Hell, once I'd thought the same thing about monsters. Killing the woman who had hurt him had taken more from him, a bigger piece of his soul. I couldn't even imagine how big a piece the sexual abuse stole away. Had it been better for him to have his revenge so quickly? Or had it cost him more?

I'd told him the only truth I had that night: "You killed her, Peter. That's as good as revenge gets. Once you kill them, there isn't any more." Revenge was always the easy part; the hard part was living with it afterward. Living with what you'd done. Living with what they'd done to you, or those you loved.

"Anita, are you there? Anita, answer me."

"Sorry, Edward, I didn't hear a damn thing you said."

"You're a thousand miles away inside your own thoughts. That's not a good place to be in the middle of a firefight."

"It hasn't come to a firefight yet," I said.

"You know what I mean, Anita. I have to round up my backup and arrange transport. That'll take a day or so. I'll be there as soon as I can, but you need to watch your back until I get there."

"I'll do my best not to get killed before you get here."

"This isn't funny, Anita. You seem seriously distracted."

I thought about it for a moment, then realized what was wrong. I was happy for the first time in my life. I loved the men I was living with. I, like Edward, had a family to protect, and mine wouldn't be tucked safely in New Mexico while we cleaned this up. "I just realized that I've got my own family here, and I don't like them being on the firing line. I don't like that a lot."

"Who are you worried about?" he asked.

"Nathaniel, Micah, Jean-Claude, all of them."

"I'm looking forward to meeting your new lovers."

It took me a minute to realize. "You've never met Micah and Nathaniel. I'd forgotten that."

"Jean-Claude can handle himself, Anita, as well as anyone in this situation. It sounds like the shapeshifters have you covered for now. Micah is head of the local wereleopards. He didn't get the job on his winning personality. He's a survivor and a fighter, or he'd be dead already."

"Is this supposed to be a pep talk?" I asked.

He gave a sound that was almost a laugh. "Yeah."

"Well, you suck at it."

He laughed then. "Which of your lovers is cannon fodder, Anita? Who are you really the most worried about?"

I took a deep breath, let it out slow, and said, "Nathaniel."

"Why him?"

"Because he's not a fighter. I've taken him to the gun range and he knows the basics." Then I remembered a moment when Chimera, a very bad guy, had come to town. I remembered an ambush, when Nathaniel had been with me. I'd forgotten. He'd killed someone, and I'd forgotten. I hadn't even thought how it might have affected him. Some leopard queen I was. Fuck.

"Anita, you still there?"

"Yeah, I just remembered something that I guess I was trying to forget. Nathaniel shot someone, killed him to save me. One of the wererats had gotten killed, and he picked up the guy's gun and used it just like I'd taught him." I was suddenly cold down to my toes. All the awful things that people had made Nathaniel do over the years while he was on the street, and it had been me that forced him to kill. He'd done it out of love, but motive didn't change the end product. Someone was still dead.

"He'll do, Anita." There was a tone to Edward's voice, approval maybe.

"You know, I hadn't thought about what he'd done until just now. What kind of person forgets that?"

"Did he seem messed up about it?"

"No."

"Then let it go," Edward said.

"Just like that," I said.

"Just like that."

"I'm not good at letting go."

"No, you're not."

"How much does Peter know about your real life as assassin to the undead and furry?"

"That's my call, Anita, not yours." His voice wasn't friendly now.

"I'd love to argue, but you're right. I haven't laid eyes on Peter since he was fourteen."

"He turned fifteen that year."

"Oh, so not two years since I saw him but more like a year and a half. That gives me so much more room to bitch at you for introducing him to the scary stuff."

"I'm just saying that he wasn't a kid when we met him. He was a young man, and I've treated him like one."

"No wonder he adores you," I said.

It was Edward's turn to be quiet.

"I can hear you breathing," I said.

"You know how I said we don't chat?"

"Yeah."

"I finally realized, just now, you're the only person I can talk about this with."

"What, Peter?"

"No."

In my head I went through the list of things that Edward could only talk to me about; nothing came to mind. "I'm all ears."

"Donna is pushing for kids."

That stopped me. It was my turn to be at a loss for words. I managed to stumble out some words, the wrong words. "Really? I mean, I guess I thought she was too old to start over."

"She's only forty-two, Anita."

"I'm sorry, Edward. I didn't mean it that way, I just never saw you with a baby."

"Ditto," he said, and he sounded angry now, too.

Worse yet, I felt my throat closing tight, my eyes burning. What the fuck was wrong with me? "Do you ever wish you had a life where you could see babies and shit like that?" I asked, and fought to keep the sudden rise of emotion under check.

"No," he said.

"Never?" I asked.

"You thinking about a baby?" he asked.

Then I told him something I had never expected to tell Edward. "I had a serious pregnancy scare last month. False positive and everything. Let's just say it made me reassess some parts of my life."

"The biggest difference between us, Anita, is that if I have a baby with Donna, she carries it, not me. You would have a lot more trouble doing it."

"I know, the whole girl thing."

"Are you seriously thinking about babies?"

"No, I was relieved as hell when I found out I wasn't pregnant."

"How'd your lovers take it?"

"You know, most normal people would call them boyfriends."

"No one woman could date as many men as you have in your life, Anita. You can fuck them, but you can't date them. I'm having enough trouble having a relationship with one woman; I can't imagine juggling a half dozen of them."

"Maybe I'm just better at relationships than you are," I said, and my voice was not friendly. I wasn't close to tears; I had the beginnings of a nice anger warming me up.

"Maybe; girls usually are better at it."

"Wait a minute. How do you know how many men I'm sleeping with?"

"You and your little harem are big news in the preternatural community."

"Are we?" and I let it be hostile.

"Don't be that way; I'd be bad at my job if I didn't listen to my sources. You want me good at my job, right? Ted Forrester is a legal vampire hunter, a federal marshal, just like you." It had creeped me out when I'd discovered Edward had a badge. It just seemed wrong. But too many of the vampire hunters had failed the firearms test; for the newer ones, too many hadn't made it through the more detailed training. The government had turned further afield to get enough vampire hunter/federal marshals to cover the country. Edward had been grandfathered in on the firearms training, no sweat. But the fact that Ted Forrester had stood up to government scrutiny meant either that Edward had some high-placed friends or that Ted Forrester was his real identity - the name he'd gone into the military with, his actual true name. I'd asked him which it was, and he wouldn't answer. Of course Edward wouldn't answer. Such a mystery man.

"I don't like being spied on, Edward, you know that." Did Edward know about the ardeur? How long had it been since I'd filled him in on the metaphysics in my life? I couldn't remember.

"How did your lov... boyfriends take the news of the almost-baby?" he asked.

"Do you really care?"

"I wouldn't have asked if I didn't care," he said, and that was probably absolutely true.

"Fine," I said, "pretty well. Micah and Nathaniel were ready to rearrange their lives to play daddy and nanny, if I decided to keep it. Richard proposed, and I turned him down. Jean-Claude seemed like he always was: cautious, and waiting for me to decide what wouldn't piss me off." I thought about that. "I think Asher was pretty sure it wasn't his, so he didn't offer too much comment."

"I knew you were living with Micah and Nathaniel. But when did Jean-Claude start sharing you with other vampires? I didn't think master vamps shared well."

"Asher is sort of an exception for Jean-Claude."

He sighed. "Normally I'd enjoy playing with you, Anita, but it's early, and I know you've had a hard morning."

"What's that mean?" I asked, and I couldn't keep the suspicion out of my voice.

He made a sound halfway between a chuckle and an mmm sound. "I'll tell you the rumors I've heard, and you tell me how big a lie they are."

"Rumors," I said. "What rumors?"

"Anita, thanks to my new status I hang with a lot of creature killers. You're not the only one who's got ties to the monsters in their town. Admittedly, you have the most... intimate ties to them."

"And that means what?" I asked, and didn't try to keep the irritation out of my voice.

"It means no one else is fucking their local Master of the City."

Put that way, it was hard to argue with the intimate part. "Fine."

"The Harlequin only come if you've gotten high enough on the radar to attract the council's attention, for good, or not so good, right?"

"Yeah," I said.

"I could just ask you what you've been doing, you and your vampires, that has attracted their attention, but I think it'll go quicker if I ask which rumors are true. I need to get off the phone and start gathering backup. The backup may take longer than transport or the weaponry."

"Ask," I said, not sure I wanted him to ask at all.

"That Jean-Claude has become his own bloodline and broken from his old mistress."

I was surprised, very surprised. "How the hell did that rumor get started?"

"We're wasting time, Anita, true or false?"

"Part true. He is his own bloodline. That makes it so he doesn't have to answer to his old mistress, but he hasn't broken with Europe. He's just stopped being Belle Morte's beck-and-call boy."

"That you've got a string of lovers among Jean-Claude's vamps and the local shapeshifters."

I really didn't want to answer this question. Was I embarrassed? Yes. "I don't see what my love life has to do with the Harlequin coming to town."

"Let's just say that the answer to this question will decide me on whether I ask something else, something I didn't believe. Now I'm beginning to wonder."

"Wonder what?" I asked.

"Answer the question, Anita - do you have a string of lovers?"

I sighed and said, "Define string."

"More than two, three, I guess." He sounded uncertain.

"Yes, then."

He was quiet for a second, then continued. "That Jean-Claude makes everyone, male or female, fuck him before they can join his kiss."

"Not true."

"That he makes the men fuck you?"

"Not true, and someone's having a better fantasy life with my life than I am."

He gave a small laugh, then said, "If you had told me no on the first question, I wouldn't even ask this next one, but here it is. That you're some kind of daywalking vampire that feeds off sex instead of blood. I don't believe that one, but I thought you might be interested in what some of your fellow monster hunters are saying about you. I think they're just jealous of your kill count."

I swallowed hard, and went back to sit on the edge of the tub.

"Anita," he said, "you're awfully quiet."

"I know."

"Anita, it's not true. You're not a daywalking vamp."

"Not the vampire part, not exactly."

"How not exactly?"

"Do you know the term ardeur?"

"I know the French word, but that's not what you mean, is it?"

I explained, briefly, as coldly as I could, just the facts, what the ardeur was.

"You have to fuck people every few hours, or what?"

"Eventually I die, but before that I start draining the life out of Damian and then Nathaniel."

"What?"

"I have a vampire servant and an animal to call."

"What!" I'd never heard him sound so astonished.

I repeated myself.

"There isn't even a rumor about this, Anita. Human servants can't have vampire servants; it doesn't work that way."

"I know that," I said.

"Nathaniel is your animal to call?"

"Apparently."

"Does the council know this?"

"Yep."

"Well, shit, no wonder they sicced their dogs on you. You're lucky they didn't just kill you."

"The council is divided on the appropriate action to take about Jean-Claude and us."

"Divided how?"

"Some of them want us dead, but it's not a majority vote. They can't agree."

"So the Harlequin come to break the tie, is that it?" he asked.

"Maybe; honestly, I'm not sure."

"Is there anything else you've done that might make them decide to kill you quicker, like before I can get there?"

I thought about the fact that I might be a panwere. I thought about a lot of things, then sighed. Then I thought of one thing that we'd done that might bother the other Masters of the City in the United States enough to cry for council help. "Maybe."

"How 'maybe'? Anita, can you wait for me to get backup, or do I need to get a plane and get my ass to St. Louis? That's what I need to know."

"Truth, Edward, I don't know. Jean-Claude and I did something back in November that was pretty powerful. It might be enough to scare the Harlequin."

"What did you do?"

"We had a little private get-together with a couple of the visiting Masters of the City. The two that Jean-Claude calls friends."

"And," he said.

"And Belle Morte interfered from all the way in Europe. She messed with me and the Master of Chicago."

"Augustine," he said. "Auggie to his friends."

"You know him?"

"Of him," Edward said.

"Then you know how powerful he is."

"Yes."

"We rolled him, Edward."

"Rolled how?" he asked.

"Jean-Claude and I fed off him; we both fed the ardeur off him. We fed on him, and through him we fed on every person he had brought to our lands. We did this massive feed on them all. It was an amazing power rush, and all of us, vamps, beasties, anyone tied to either Jean-Claude or me by metaphysics, gained power from it."

"I'll contact the backup I want; they can join me later. I'll be on the ground in" - he paused as if checking his watch - "four hours, five at the outside. I'll be in St. Louis before sundown."

"You think it's that serious?" I asked.

"If I were a vampire, and you had a vampire servant, I might kill you just for that. But if you guys rolled Augustine, one of the most powerful masters in this country, then yeah, Anita, they'll be nervous. I'm just surprised the Harlequin didn't hit St. Louis earlier."

"I think they needed the excuse of Malcolm and his misbehaving church. The council is truly divided about Jean-Claude and his power base. I think maybe the council wouldn't agree to let the Harlequin near us, but now that they're here checking out the Church of Eternal Life, well, two birds with one stone."

"Sounds reasonable," he said. "I'll be there as soon as I can, Anita."

"Thanks, Edward."

"Don't thank me yet."

"Why not?"

"I'll see you in a few hours, Anita. Watch your back like a son of a bitch; if these guys are masters they may have wereanimals and humans to do their daywalking. Just because the sun is up doesn't make you safe."

"I know that, Edward. I probably know that better than you do."

"Maybe, but be careful until I get there."

"I'll do my best." But I was already talking to an empty phone line. He'd hung up. I hung up, too.


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