Dancing (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #22.5)(6)


by Laurell K. Hamilton

“Sorry, what’s up?”

He grinned at me, and shook his head.

“What?” I asked.

“You guys are good together, that’s all.”

“Thanks.”

The grin faded around the edges. “But I need you to see something in the kitchen.”

“Is Nathaniel all right?”

“Oh, he’s fine; a lot of the other wives think he’s just fine.” He drew the last “fine” out into that ghetto drawl.

I frowned at him. “What do you mean?”

“Haven’t you noticed that we’re missing a lot of the wives?”

I glanced around and it was mostly men, not all, but suddenly a lot. “So the women have gone inside to talk about things other than guns, sports, and police work. Doesn’t it usually end up divided between cops and non-cops?”

“Not this early in the day. Come see.” He motioned me to follow him, and I did, wondering what was going on.

The dining room was what you walked into from the back door, so I could see that the table was covered in food, waiting for Katie to give the “come and get it.” But I knew that the traffic jam of women spilling out into the dining room from the kitchen hadn’t helped cook, because if all of them had helped, or were helping, the kitchen wouldn’t have been big enough to hold them all. Usually, people ask if they can help and if told no, they go outside and visit, drink a few cold drinks from the cooler.

I heard Katie’s voice higher than normal, calling out, “Ladies, thanks for the offer, but Nathaniel and I have all the help we need.”

Three women turned and started walking away from the kitchen. They were laughing. A tall brunette said, “I’d love to help Nathaniel out.”

The shorter brunette woman beside her said, “If I wasn’t a married woman I’d help him out, all right.” She laughed half nervously.

The third woman, a blonde, said, “I’m married, not dead, I may still take a run at him.”

The short brunette gave her a play slap on the arm. “You wouldn’t cheat on Tom.”

“For that, I might.” Her voice had dropped to a low purr.

The tall brunette saw us standing there, and touched the other woman’s arm. They looked at us a little startled, probably wondering if we’d heard them.

“Hello, ladies, I’m just checking in with Katie and Anita wanted to check in with Nathaniel. See how our better halves are getting on with the food,” Zerbrowski said.

By him including his wife and Nathaniel together he made it clear that it was on equal par, wife and . . . partner. The women got it, because they suddenly looked uncomfortable. The blonde decided to tough it out, sticking her chin out definitely, “Nathaniel belong to you?”

“You make him sound like a puppy, but if you mean is he my boyfriend, yeah, he belongs to me.”

“Lucky you,” she said.

“Yeah, I’m a lucky girl,” I said, and fought not to have my eyes go hostile. Her attitude had already gotten on my nerves.

“You really are,” the short brunette said, taking the blonde’s arm and keeping them all moving.

Zerbrowski leaned in and whispered, “Stop glaring at them, just let it go.”

I turned around so I couldn’t keep looking at the women. “It’s just the attitude bugs me.”

“He’s a good-looking guy, Anita.”

“It still bugs me.”

“You jealous?”

“Not in the way you mean,” I said.

“There’s only one kind of jealousy.”

I shook my head. “I’m not jealous as in seeing the women as competition, or being insecure. I know what I mean to Nathaniel, what we have.”

“Then what?”

“If a group of strange men had talked about Katie in front of you the way they just talked about Nathaniel in front of me, how would you feel?”

He stopped walking and just stared into space for a second. He had an odd look on his face. He finally shook his head and said, “I’d have been pissed. I might have made a joke to pass it off, but I would have been pissed.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“But you must be used to that at Guilty Pleasures when he dances.”

“Oh, that and worse, but that’s at his job. He’s trying to be sexy and lusted after, but not here.”

“How do you know he didn’t flirt with them?”

“First, he’s cooking. He can focus on that the way I do at the shooting range. Second, he wants to fit in here as one of the ‘wives.’” I made quote marks over the word. “Flirting won’t get him invited to more family-friendly get-togethers.”

“Katie called me in hoping that the women would be too embarrassed to flirt and loiter in front of another husband.”

“Did it help clear the women out?”

“Most of them.”

“So why fetch me?”

“Because Katie said to fetch you. She seems to feel that Nathaniel needs some reassurance.”

There were still too many women in the kitchen. There usually were, at parties like this, because they got tired of the boys club outside, but the energy was different from that. Katie and Nathaniel moved around the kitchen, but the five extra women in the room were in the way.

Katie said, “Elise, can you please move. I need to get something from that cabinet.”

Elise was a tall woman. She had let her hair go salt and pepper, but her makeup was flawless, and the bones of her face would make her beautiful when she was eighty, which she so wasn’t. She was either a young forty, or a very well-preserved fiftysomething. She moved out of Katie’s way, but only just enough, because two other women were also leaning against the cabinet and there wasn’t room to move without losing her view of Nathaniel washing dishes in the sink. Katie liked to clean as she cooked, and so he was helping do that, too.

I glanced from the three to the last two women who were near the door. What had Nathaniel done to get this reaction? Yes, he was gorgeous, but this was excessive. He saw me and the relief on his face was clear, at least to me. Something had happened; I didn’t know what, but something.

I went to him, and he wrapped himself around me, hugging me very tight, and just held on for a few seconds. It reminded me of my reaction outside with the crowd and the questions, when I’d clung to Micah, but Nathaniel was far more social than either of us. He raised back enough for us to kiss. I expected a good but chaste kiss, considering the audience we had. I was wrong.