Dancing (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #22.5)(8)

by Laurell K. Hamilton

“I’d wonder if the cop knew that his girlfriend used to strip.”

“Some cops date strippers,” I said.

“Yeah, but they don’t usually bring them to family-friendly parties.”

“You can date strippers, but you don’t bring them home to meet the family,” Nathaniel said. He sounded sad.

I hugged him tight. “You are my family.”

He rewarded me with that brilliant smile of his, the real one, not the practiced one that the customers thought was the real deal. If he could have looked at them like that on cue he’d have gotten more hundred-dollar tips than he already did.

“I didn’t mean it that way, Nathaniel. I know you’re Anita’s family,” Zerbrowski said.

Nathaniel wasted some of the smile in his direction. “Thanks.”

Then Katie got a strange look on her face, and she paled.

“What’s wrong?” Zerbrowski asked.

“Ages ago, they tried to tell me about a bachelorette party that a bunch of the wives went to when Rosetti was about to marry. They told me some details and . . . I told them to stop, I didn’t want to hear it.” She looked at Nathaniel.

He was very still against me. I looked up at him. His face was guarded, as if he were waiting for something bad to happen.

“That was you they were talking about?” Katie asked.

“Probably,” he said, softly.

She blinked at him, brown eyes very wide. “But they said . . . you . . .” She blushed from neck to the roots of her hair. She finally hid her face against Zerbrowski.

“Whatever they said, I did not have sex with anyone at the party.”

She raised her head from Zerbrowski’s chest and blinked at him. The look was enough to say that was exactly what she’d been told.

“The stories grow in the telling sometimes, but whatever they’ve decided to tell people, sex did not happen. Now, here I am in person, and every woman who heard the story will be wondering if it was true; some were drunk enough they may believe what they were told happened, and whoever lied the most will be freaking out that I’m here.”

Katie mastered herself enough to say, “I just need a minute. If you could set the rest of the food on the table and watch the pasta in the oven, I’ll be right back.” Katie went out the door with a bemused Zerbrowski trailing after her.

I looked up at Nathaniel. “If you say you didn’t have sex, I believe you, but what did you do at the party that was so share-worthy?”

“Nothing illegal.”

“I knew that, silly you.”

He smiled. “You never think less of me, do you?”

“Why should I?”

“It doesn’t bother you to know that at least five women here have seen me naked.”

In my head I thought, since you did a few  p**n ographic movies before we met, there might be a lot more people who have seen you naked, but I didn’t say that out loud. If I brought that up, we’d fight, or he’d get his feelings more hurt than they already were, and that wasn’t what I wanted.

“You don’t take your G-string off in the club,” I said.

“For enough money I do at private parties.”

I hadn’t known that, and fought to keep my face from showing it. Then I thought of something else. “Did the lap dances start before or after your thong came off?”

“Most before, but the bride got one after.”

“That must have been tricky.”

“Lap dances without clothes are always tricky,” he said.

“I’ll bet.”

“Are you upset?”

I honestly wasn’t sure, but the only answer I had was, “Not really.”

“You don’t look completely happy,” he said.

“Okay, how long ago was this party?”

“A year ago, maybe a little longer.” His face was very careful as he said it, watching my face for anger. He watched sometimes like that, waiting for me or Micah to get mad at him. He’d been physically abused as a child, and by age seven he’d had to run away after witnessing his older brother’s murder. He’d asked me once if there was a time limit on how long someone could be convicted for murder. I’d told him, no, a person could always been charged for murder, unlike rape, or child abuse, which does have to be reported as a crime within a set number of years. Nathaniel had nodded, and filed the thought away. I didn’t push. His therapist said that Nathaniel had blocked out most of his early childhood in order to survive. What he did remember was so terrible it worried me; I mean, how bad could the rest be? Fresh on the streets at age seven, Nathaniel had been found by a man who liked little boys; he’d fed him, clothed him, taken care of him, and before the age of ten he had pimped him out. Saying Nathaniel had a hard childhood was like saying World War II was a small border dispute. Becoming a headliner at Guilty Pleasures had been such a climb up the social ladder that it seemed wrong to bitch about a little nudity. If things had gone differently and he’d never been found by the local wereleopards, Nathaniel would probably have died of a drug overdose before he ever reached seventeen. The wereleopards had insisted he be drug-free before they made him one of them. I was very glad that he’d lived for us to meet, and that he was in my life.

“So the bachelorette party was after we were living together?”

“Yes,” he said, face, voice, body language very careful.

I nodded. “It’s okay. I mean, it’s weird that the bride and her friends are here, but it’s okay. It’s your job. You’ve been a good sport about me being shot, stabbed, and nearly dying at my job, so I need to man-up and be a good sport about your stuff.”

“You’re really not mad about it?”

I licked my lips, and tried to think how to word it. “I’m not mad. It’s just weird and I’m not sure how to act around the women.”

“It is weird, and me either,” he said.

I smiled at him. “Okay then, we’ll figure it out together, but we should tell Micah when we get outside.”

Nathaniel agreed, and hugged me, smiling. “Then help me set the food on the table. I’ll check on the ziti in the oven.”

“Baked ziti, why is it that no party in St. Louis can skip the baked ziti, or baked mostaccioli?” I asked.

He grinned at me. “I don’t know, but I’m not going to let it burn.” He was already turning to the stove. I started to grab one of the dishes off the kitchen island, but felt the heat in time. I grabbed two potholders lying on the island and carried the dish of baked beans into the other room. I was going to have to remember that a lot of things were too hot to touch without cover. How did I feel about the fact that there were other women here who had seen my love naked? That wasn’t the right question. Nathaniel was like most wereanimals; he didn’t see anything wrong with nudity, so a lot of people had seen him nude. How did I feel knowing there was at least one woman here who’d had a naked lap dance from my sweetie? Nope, still not the right question. I knew that Nathaniel had been far from virgin when we first met. Hell, the first time we met he’d still been working as a high-class call boy, though it beat being a street prostitute, which was where he’d started before someone saw his potential and moved him up. There’d been more than one reason that it had taken a few years for Nathaniel to convince me to date him.