Blood Noir - By Laurell K. Hamilton

To Darla, who has made herself simply indispensable. Sherry, for organizing a house full of artists. Mary, for bringing order, and someone to call for advice. Charles, for security, research help, shooting range trips, and reminding both Jon and I that this really is cool. Shawn, for research questions answered, and for simply being the only other human being on the planet who understands. Marshal Moriarity, whose input came too late for this book, but well fix it next time. Happy retirement.

To the winners of the Jason stage name contest:

Kim Montano, Maitland, FL

R. Malinen, Finland

Sarah Shelton, Arlington, TX

My writing group, The Alternate Historians: Tom Drennan, Rett MacPherson, Marella Sands, Deborah Millitello, Sharon Shinn, and Mark Sumner. Never give in; never give up.

And Lieutenant Robert J. Cooney, Commander of Mobile Reserve, HRT, and K-9 19642008.
Chapter 1
I CAME HOME to find two men sitting at my kitchen table. One of them was my live-in sweetie. The other was one of our best friends. One of them was a wereleopard; the other was a werewolf; both of them were strippers. At least once a month they took off more than just their clothes on stage. They changed shape on stage in front of a live audience. Those nights the club was standing room only. I mean, you can go to other clubs to see men take their clothes off, but their entire skin and bodywell, that was unique.

Nathaniel came to greet me with a kiss and a hug. I let my hands play in the long, thick auburn hair that trailed down his broad shoulders, the curve of his waist, the tightness of his ass, and the long muscular legs. He was five-seven now, an inch taller than when Id met him. In my three-inch heels I was still an inch shorter than him. At twenty-one he was finally growing into the promise of those shoulders. His face was less soft than it had been, and more masculine. He would always be beautiful rather than handsome, but the bone structure had changed minutely so he just suddenly looked his age, instead of like jailbait.

He blinked down at me with the soft lilac of his eyes. On his drivers license it said his eyes were blue, because they wouldnt let him put lavender, or purple. His eyes were different shades of color, depending on his mood, or whaTHE wore, but blue was never the color of his eyes.

His hands slid underneath the jacket of my suit, and a little lower to trace the top of my skirt. His hands hesitated a little at the Browning BDM in its shoulder holster. Guns do get in the way of cuddling.

I wrapped my arms around the bareness of his upper body, breathed in the scent of his skin. He was wearing whaTHE usually wore in his off time in the summer, little bitty jogging shorts. Most of the wereanimals would go around nude if you let them. I wasnt quite comfy with that, so he wore the shorts to save my delicate sensibilities. There were some who thought I didnt have any of those left, but they would be wrong, and they would be jealous.

Holding him, breathing in the warmth and sweet vanilla of his skin, I understood the jealousy. Though frankly, not all of it was about sex or even having found love at last. It was about power and them wanting it, and me and mine having it. It was about me being the human servant of Jean-Claude, the Master Vampire of St. Louis. It was about body count, and me having the highest kill count among the vampire executioners in the good ol U. S. of A.

I would give a less favored body part to have a woman greet me at the end of the day like that, Jasons voice said.

I had to peer around Nathaniels body to see Jason. He was still at the kitchen table nursing a coffee mug. It even smelled like coffee, buTHE huddled over it, as if it were something harder and more intoxicating.

Jason was two years older than Nathaniel, which made him twenty-three now. Strangely, Id met them both when they were nineteen. Jason was my height, give or take a half inch or so. His hair was that shade of yellow blond that movie stars are fond of, but his was real, and didnt have to come from a good salon. His hair was cut businessman short. I liked long hair, but I had to admit that Jasons