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A Perfect Blood (The Hollows #10)(7)

By:Kim Harrison

Scared, I backed up, but she was a vampire, and with walkie-talkie man in her, it would take eight feet to give me any measure of security. Nina watched me, her expression more one of sour disappointment than the excited thrill of making a tag. Looked like I had passed the “let’s surprise Rachel” test.
“You thought I did that?” I said, shaking as I gestured at the body hanging spread-eagled from the roof of the bandstand. “You thought I did that perverted . . . thing!” My God, the body had been utterly deformed. Whoever had done this was either seriously disturbed or utterly lacking in compassion. Demonic? Perhaps, but I didn’t think a demon had done it.
Ivy looked up from the clipboard, and Jenks rose high, a silver dust slipping from the pixy. Feeling braver, I faced Nina, outrage filling me as I tried to push out the horror. This was why Trent had been here. As the man who had successfully banished me to the ever-after, they probably figured he’d know better than anyone if I’d done it.
“You brought me out here thinking I did this and that I was going to give something away!” I shouted, my back to the hanging corpse. Everyone was watching now, and Jenks darted to me with a sparkle of dust. I leaned in, furious. “What does your sniffer tell you? Did I do it?” I said bitterly. Jenks hovered before the dead vampire, his garden sword drawn. The pixy was clearly cold but ready to defend me, his tiny, angular features bunched in anger.
“No, not anymore.” Nina’s suddenly black eyes squinted as she looked past me to the hanging corpse. “But if you so much as scratch me, pixy, I will prosecute. I take care of those I borrow.”
Jenks’s sword drooped, and when I backed up a sullen step, he put it away and flitted to my shoulder, his dragonfly-like wings clattering angrily. Borrow. Sure. I suppose there were legal ramifications to letting the body you were controlling die. If anyone could kill a living vampire, Jenks had the reflexes to do it. Though pixies were generally a peaceful, garden-loving people, they fought fiercely for those they gave their loyalty to, and Jenks and I went back a long way. He looked about eighteen in his black, double-layered, skintight cold-weather gear, the only softness to him a decorative red sash his deceased wife had made for him. The color would keep any pixies not yet in hibernation from slaughtering him for being on their turf.
“Hi, Rache,” Jenks said as the four-inch man landed on my shoulder, bringing the scent of dandelions and oiled steel to me. “This vampire flunky giving you trouble?”
Nina grimaced at the slur. Behind her, Ivy made her slow way to us, scuffing her boots on the sidewalk so there’d be no misunderstanding of her intentions. She looked relaxed in her black jeans and leather coat, open to show her tucked-in T-shirt, but I’d lived across the hall from her for over two years, and I could see her tension in the tightness of her eyes. Some of it was a lingering jealousy she couldn’t help, because I was talking to another vampire—one stronger and more influential than she was—but most of it was concern as she prepared to stand up to a dead vampire. Her mother’s Asian heritage made her slim, her father’s European background made her tall. Straight black hair hung almost down to her midback again. It was in a ponytail right now, swaying as she came closer. Confident, she nevertheless had a healthy respect for her undead kin, and I dropped back a couple of steps to make room for her.“Hi, Rachel,” she said, letting a soft, sultry tone into her voice to help cement her high political standing in Nina’s mind. Ivy was still alive, but she came from a very powerful family. “Are they not letting you on the crime site again?”
Feeling better with my friends around me, I uncrossed my arms. Nina was silent, and the surrounding I.S. officers were drifting into scoffing groups, probably making bets. “I don’t know yet,” I said tightly. “Walkie-talkie man here only gave us the job to find out if I did it.”
Jenks’s laughter sounded like angry wind chimes, and Ivy tilted her head as she took in Nina’s off-the-rack dress suit, scuffed heels, and a warm but clearly last year’s style coat, knowing in an instant that she was channeling a dead vampire. “Another stellar decision from the I.S. basement,” Ivy said, smiling to let her slightly pointy canines show.
My anger slid three points to unease when Nina smiled back at Ivy with an obvious attraction, clearly liking her strong will and defiant attitude. Yeah, that was about right for the old ones. The more you defied them, the more you relieved their boredom and the more they tried to break you.
Jenks recognized Nina’s sultry look as one of the slow hunt, and his wings clattered in warning. Ivy recognized it, too, and grimacing, she rolled her eyes and blandly offered her hand to Nina. “I’m Ivy Tamwood,” she said without emotion as she tried to repair the damage and distance herself. “But you already know that.”
Nina became almost coy, formally taking her hand and kissing the top of it in an overdone show that looked really odd with the dead body strung up behind them. Jenks and I exchanged looks as the game of cat-and-mouse chess continued.
“I worked with your mother before she retired from the I.S.,” Nina said, her voice as gray and silky as holy dust. “You have her strength and your father’s humor. Piscary was a fool for mishandling you.”
Ivy yanked her hand back. “Piscary was my life. Now he’s dead and I have a new one.”
Ivy glanced at me, and I couldn’t meet anyone’s eyes as Jenks harrumphed. My scar was tingling at the vamp pheromones the two of them were kicking out, and I was struggling not to hide my neck when a ping of sensation snaked its way down to my groin. Vampires . . .
I took a slow breath, knowing by Ivy’s widening pupils that she was feeling it, too. Nina was getting better at channeling her undead master. Either that, or new hormones were being turned on the longer the master was inside her brain. I was betting it was the latter, and probably part of the perks of putting up with someone being inside you.
A faint yelp from the parking lot turned me around, and I wasn’t surprised to see Wayde jogging up the sidewalk, the I.S. officer from the van limping behind him. Nina made a small noise when he ran right over that patch of holy ground, clearly not pleased. 
“I thought you were staying in the car!” I shouted as Nina sourly gestured to the surrounding I.S. officers to let him pass.
Giving them space warily, Wayde slowed as he approached, his eyes widening as he glanced at the body, then did a double take. “You yelled,” he explained, then looked again and swore under his breath. “I came. That’s my job. What the hell is that?”
“Someone’s mistake,” I said. “They asked me out here because they thought I did it. I got mad.”
“Sir,” Nina started, and I wondered why he/she used any term of respect at all.
“He’s my bodyguard,” I said tightly. “You know that. I don’t trust you. I should walk away from this, but I’m here, and I’m going to take a look. He stays. Got a problem, take it up with my mom.”
Jenks laughed as the undead vampire looked through Nina’s eyes, assessed the situation, then nodded, Nina’s stance taking on a faint swagger at odds with her slim figure. “He may stay if his talents include keeping his mouth shut.”
Wayde exhaled, seeming to lose body mass and tension, but it all came back when he glanced at the body again. “Uh, sorry it took me so long to get here,” he said to me. “I had to get around limp dick there.”
I looked behind Wayde to the retreating I.S. officer. He had his hand on his nose, and I think he was bleeding if Nina’s sharp eyes on him meant anything. Fresh blood and the scent of a fight were like champagne to the undead, and my estimation of Wayde wavered. A good bodyguard could have gotten by the I.S. officer without drawing blood.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said as I glanced at Ivy and she shrugged almost imperceptibly. “I appreciate it.” And despite my doubts, I did. Regardless of having broken the cop’s nose, he’d clearly been doing his job if the I.S. had been shadowing me and all I’d gotten was a faint feeling of unease. I wasn’t helpless, but another pair of eyes and fists usually kept incidents from ever happening. The best bodyguard was one who didn’t have to do anything but be there.
Jenks’s wings clattered as he took off from my shoulder, clearly struggling from the weight of his extra clothes. November was the cusp for pixies. Most were hibernating by now, but Jenks and his family would winter in the church, and if the day was warm enough, Jenks would brave the cold.
“We gonna watch walkie-talkie vamp have a blood orgy, or are we going to look at someone else’s?” he said snidely, and Nina gestured to the pair of I.S. officers who had been nervously lurking nearby. The better-dressed one jogged forward with the printout and handed it to Nina before backing up. I’d be cautious, too, if my superior had been lusting after someone’s nosebleed.
“I’ve sent a copy to your church of the information we’ve already gathered,” Nina said as she handed it in turn to Ivy. “I want this back. It’s my copy.”
Ivy took it, her lips tight with repressed anger. Something was bothering her, something more than the body. I looked past Nina to the body again, repulsed and yet riveted. My God, the man had only one hand left. It was thick and malformed, bending in as if cramped, with a thick, horny, inflexible skin. The fingers looked as if they were made of dough and just stuck on. The other hand and both his feet were perfect cloven hooves. If anything, he looked like a faun, only everything was perverted and disproportionate. There were no such things as fauns, never had been, but perhaps mutilations such as this were where the fable had gotten started.