Dancing (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #22.5)(7)


by Laurell K. Hamilton

He kissed me completely and thoroughly, his fingers digging and kneading into my back, the way a cat will treat a cushion just before the claws come out and it gets shredded. Micah could have brought just his claws out like that, but Nathaniel would have had to lose human form to do it, and I knew his control was better than that. For him to do anything this catlike here meant he was very nervous, the kiss meant nerves, and maybe a need to prove he belonged to me so the other women would back off.

I was a little stiff at first with the kiss, because it was way too much for me around the other police, or their wives, but his need and his nervousness made me force myself to relax into him. He’d explain later, and it would make sense. I believed that. I believed in him, and knew he’d have a reason for it.

He drew back and said, softly, “Missed you.” His eyes were uncertain.

“I noticed,” I said, and smiled at him.

Whatever he saw in my smile, my face, took the uncertainty out of his eyes, and replaced it with warmth, happiness, and that look we all get when we look at someone we’re in love with, as if a weight that we carried all our lives lifted when we looked into the face of our beloved.

“Wow, wish my husband greeted me at the door like that,” a woman with brown hair in two pigtails, halter top, and shorts said.

I glanced up to find several of the women looking appreciative, but the energy in the room had changed to something softer. I realized that the energy had been almost predatory, the way it can get at Guilty Pleasures sometimes. Women are more sexually aggressive at strip clubs than men, and their energy can be much angrier. I suddenly realized that one or more of the wives must have recognized Nathaniel from the club. It’s hard for most people to treat you like a real human being once they’ve seen you take your clothes off on stage. The wife, or wives, hadn’t been able to resist telling some of the other women and they’d wanted to see for themselves.

If it had been a female stripper recognized by men it would have been much more covert, because a bunch of men standing there gazing at a woman gets creepy pretty fast, but doing it in reverse the women didn’t see themselves as predatory. It never occurred to them that Nathaniel might be just as uncomfortable as a female dancer would be with the treatment. He was a man, men liked attention from women, or that was the thought. Actually, men can get just as embarrassed as women, and be made to feel just as bad about themselves, they’re just not allowed to admit it.

“He’s your . . .” the elegant Elise said, and she let the sentence trail off as if she wanted me to fill in the blank.

“Boyfriend,” I said. “We’ve been living together for three years.” I added that last part to make it clear it wasn’t just hot sex and breathtaking kisses. Duration in a relationship counts for most people, and makes them take it more seriously.

“A hello kiss like that after three years together, that’s impressive,” Elise said. Her tone held a certain disdain, nothing I could call her on, but it was there.

“How long have you been with your husband?” I asked.

“Five years.”

“Congratulations,” I said, though I wondered why only five years. She had to be over forty and the hair made me want to say fifty, but some people turn gray early, the face certainly didn’t look fifty.

She gave a small smile. “Thank you, Anita; it is Anita Blake, correct?”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

“It’s nice to finally meet you, after hearing so much about you.”

“I hope it was all good things,” I said, smiling, because I was almost sure it wouldn’t be. My reputation for being the bad girl, or even the cop that shot first and asked questions later, didn’t endear me to everyone with a badge.

“What else would it be?” she said.

“Food’s up,” Katie said, voice too bright.

“I’ll leave you to it then,” Elise said and glided out of the kitchen, tall and graceful. The other women trailed behind her.

“What was all that about?” I asked.

“It was terrible, they were so rude,” Katie said, and she went to hug Zerbrowski.

“Rude how?” I asked.

“Some of the wives just came in for a quick peek at Nathaniel, and that was all right, but others . . . If it had been men looking at me like that I’d have felt dirty.” She shivered.

Zerbrowski stroked her hair, as he held her. “You should have called me in sooner.”

“We should have had Anita come in and kiss him sooner,” she said.

“You have this effect on women often?” Zerbrowski asked.

Katie raised her head from his chest and said, “Nathaniel was a perfect gentleman. He didn’t do anything to start this.”

“Actually, I did, Katie, just not today,” Nathaniel said.

They looked at him. I just raised my head and looked up at him while still in his arms. “What do you mean?”

“They’ve seen me strip. Most people have trouble treating dancers like real people once they’ve seen them take their clothes off.”

“Seeing you on stage shouldn’t have made them be so rude at our party,” Katie said.

Nathaniel shifted in my arms and I knew there was more. “What is it, Nathaniel?”

“I worked a bachelorette party for one of the wives.” He very carefully didn’t say which wife. He would keep his customers secrets even if they didn’t keep his.

“Why does that matter? It’s still your job and this was my home. It’s disrespectful to us, as well as you.”

Nathaniel looked down and met my eyes. It was a mute appeal. “I take it that it was a very lucrative party for you?” I said.

“It was,” he said.

“They got their money’s worth, I take it?”

He nodded.

“I don’t understand,” Katie said.

I glanced at Zerbrowski. “You ever go to any private bachelor parties that had strippers?”

“Maybe,” he said.

Katie frowned at him. “You always tell me, don’t tease Anita right now.”

He smiled. “Yes.”

“If you’d gotten a lap dance from a stripper and then she showed up as the girlfriend of one of the cops you knew, how would you react?”

“Honestly?”

“That’d be nice,” I said.