***Part Three***

Edward paced the length of Anita's living room. Jason was there as was Nathaniel and a couple other of Anita's leopards, two women. One was cute, it was too bad she was a lycanthrope. She was also a nurse as it turned out and she had chastised Edward for bringing Anita to Jean-Claude instead of her house. As if Edward knew Anita had her own nurse on hand.

There had been a note when Edward arrived at Anita's house, a note accompanied by a lush, deep red rose. Since Jean-Claude was aware that Edward was bringing Anita to the Circus, Edward felt reasonably safe in assuming the note was not from Jean-Claude. Richard was a possible sender of the note, but Edward did not believe Anita had informed Richard of her return.

Cherry, the nurse, had been offended that Edward would open Anita's mail. Edward had assured the lady that Anita would not mind in this particular instance. He was not too keen on reading a love letter to Anita from her undead or werewolf boyfriend anyway, so if he saw the note was in fact not from Olaf he would fold it up and put it away unread.

One look at the handwriting told Edward it was Olaf. The man wrote about as well as you would expect someone like him to write. The note was short and to the point. "A blood red rose to match your thirst for blood." He was tempted to crumple the note up, but refrained. Anita would need to see it for herself.

"Throw the rose out," he demanded. "I'm going to check the house." Chances were he would try and get her here where she should feel safest. He removed his leather jacket and handed it to one of her pet leopards expectantly. The girl would know where to put the jacket. The other woman took it, the one not nearly as friendly as the nurse was, and disappeared in a huff apparently not pleased to act as coat check girl.

"All right, who else but me is part of the defensive unit," he asked. Jason and Nathaniel looked from one another to Edward and Edward sighed softly. "Do you at least know how to fire a gun?" The question was met with two heads shaking in the negative. "Fuck it all," he muttered under his breath.

"We could shift and prowl the perimeter."

"He knows about lycanthropes, Nathaniel," Edward said with a surprising tone of admiration for the man. He was loyal to Anita and willing to put his life on the line, this was good. "It was a good thought, though. I don't think Anita would like to know I willingly and knowingly let you go out there."

The look on Nathaniel's face, one of awe, fear and gratitude made Edward realize he had provided the lycanthrope with some sort of right answer. Whatever the question was, Edward did not rightly care and he did not make it a point to make a lycanthrope's day. Whatever the young man's problems were, Edward was not here to be his shrink or his helper. He was here to bag himself a serial killer before it bagged the one woman Edward loved.

"What," he challenged, drawing his gun when he heard the low rumbling in Jason's throat.

"Nothing," the wolf said. Edward was quite certain it was not nothing. Could the werewolf read his thoughts? Or was he merely picking up on something that Edward exhibited outwardly when it came to Anita. Surely the werewolf realized that Edward loved Anita, just not in the romantic, flowery sense of the emotion.

"Right," he mumbled, holstering his gun in a fluid movement.

"Why didn't Anita call us," Cherry asked.

"There was no time. And I told you she agreed with me that she was safer with Jean-Claude at the Circus."

"You don't think we would protect her with every fiber of our beings?"

"Yes, I do believe that. But I know this man where you do not. And I do not believe every fiber of your beings would work against him." He stood, towering over Jason. He had to look disheveled, scraggly and perhaps a little menacing after driving all day and a mostly sleepless night the night before. In truth, he hoped they were frightened of him if for no other reason than to bring home his point. He accentuated that point with his next words. "He scares me," Edward said simply.

And it seemed to work. Jason, Nathaniel and Cherry backed off and Edward went to Anita's kitchen to make some coffee. Someone came into the room after him. He sensed it was one of the two women but did not know it was the nurse until he turned to face her, coffee cup in hand. "Are we in danger here?"

"I don't think so," Edward said setting the cup down on the counter to wait for the maker to do its thing. "I think he knows to hurt anyone Anita cares for would be foolish on his part, it would drive her away from him rather than to him. He wants her to join him."

"This is so creepy," Cherry admitted.

"And it's my fault she's in this creepy mess, thus the reason I'm here with the four of you while she's holed up with her undead lover. Neither are scenarios I dream up while in bed nights. No offense," he added offhandedly.

"None taken," she said just as flippantly.

"Listen, I'm not here to win any nice guy awards."

"That's good, because even if I was handing them out you would not get one. You called her away from here. She left us without telling us where she was going or why. The only thing we heard was of Jean-Claude's brief connection with her and then she was gone. All he could tell us was that she was terribly weak. You put her in danger."

"Not intentionally. Listen, she owed me one. It's the way Anita and I work. I saved her neck once. Just ask her, or don't you care about that. Maybe you'd rather I passed the contract up and just gone about my merry way, not telling her about it. Oh, but wait I forgot you weren't around for that ordeal." He shook a finger at her, as if scolding a child. "Don't pass judgment on me. I answer to myself and no one else with the exception perhaps of Anita. She understands me, I understand her. If she's not mad at me you nor any of her other little pets have reason to be angry at me either."

Cherry placed her hands at her hips, making fists with them and Edward could not help but laugh. "I just don't like to see her hurt. You're right, I haven't always been around and I don't know much about you, but I know enough and have heard enough to know that where you are trouble, blood, gore and death usually follow."

"That's right, sweetheart. They call me ‘Death', there's a reason for that."

"Yes, I've heard about Death and his reputation among my kind. How Anita can be friends with you and remain loyal to us I don't claim to understand."

"You don't have to understand it, she's your leader, your protector, your champion. It's not your place to question her."

"That's not to say I have to like it," Cherry said.

"You've got balls," Edward said turning his back to her to look in the refrigerator for milk or cream for his coffee. "It's nice to know she's got a woman around who cares about her. Up until you all I've ever seen is men."


"Hardly. Anita and I we aren't like that. I don't even know that you'd call what we have a friendship. I just like knowing she's not surrounded by a bunch of preternatural men."

"I'm a preternatural woman."

He turned around carefully, studiously assessing her. "I'm well aware of your gender, Cherry. I'm not blind and despite the Death nickname, I am human and I am very much alive."

"You smell like her," she said after she had sniffed.

"That's what I get for spending the last twenty-four hours with her in rather close quarters." Edward was not sure Cherry believed him, but he did not really care. He and Anita had done nothing wrong. "Should anyone call or come by, Anita is still out of town."

"They're going to notice a strange car is in the driveway."

"Sure, I drove here looking for any clues when I found out she never came back from down south."

"Sounds plausible," Cherry said, a hint of doubt in her voice.

"It's the best I can do under the circumstances. You here in this house and the few employees at the Circus who saw us tonight are the only people who know Anita's returned. I want to keep it that way."

"I'll do whatever I can." Her voice was soft, barely audible, but the emotion and sincerity in her voice came through loud and clear.

"Good. I'm going to take watch I guess. Maybe you can go and get ready in her room, he would see a woman's figure silhouetted."

"Sure, though Nathaniel's probably already asleep in the bed anyway." He glanced at her sharply, quizzically at that statement. She purred, a low purr and he was reminded that she was in part a large cat. "That's where we sleep," she replied saucily and then sauntered out of the room. Edward rolled his eyes, but watched her go as he imagined the point was. She was not as outwardly sensual as the other woman here was, she had been hurt Edward could detect her hesitancy toward him and suspected it was because he was a man she did not know. But still she moved in such a way that was seductive however unintentionally.

He walked through the lower level of the house, turning off lights and checking windows and doors. He was surprised to see a wolf positioned by the back door and a leopard by the front door. A scathing comment was probably appropriate, but Edward was impressed at the loyalty these beings showed Anita. Loyalty was something Edward could understand and respect, human or not. She was not pard or pack yet they still seemed willing to risk their lives for her.

He ascended the steps after his walk through of the lower level and almost tripped over yet another leopard at the head of the stairs. He reached down to pat the leopard's head appreciatively despite knowing the animals were doing this for her not for him. A flick of the leopard's tongue over the back of his hand was his reward for the display of affection and Edward continued on to ensure the windows up here were locked and secured.

Jason was on the floor by Anita's window in wolf form. Edward knew it was Jason without question and nodded his head in acknowledgement of the wolf. His attention then rested on the bed where Nathaniel lay shirtless, sound asleep, and looking very at home in Anita's bed.

Cherry stepped out of the bathroom apparently finished getting ready for bed. "I can sleep downstairs," she whispered, having glanced from the bed to Edward.

"Uh, no, that's fine. I'm not really going to sleep anyway. You both sleep in here?" he asked and knew he probably sounded like a prude just then. It really was not his concern what, or who, Anita did.

"Well, yeah, but not how you think, we just sleep, that's how the pard is."

He glanced at Nathaniel's half-nude body and sensed somehow Cherry was telling the truth. "Hey, not that it's any of my business."

"Maybe not, but I know Anita wouldn't like you thinking that about her."

"I'm not her father and I'm not her husband, so it really makes me no difference what Anita does. If she truly cared about what I thought she would not be involved with the two men she has been involved with of late." Apparently, she had no reply to that. "Listen, I'm not here to argue with you or judge Anita's lifestyle. I'm here to see that she has the ability to live out her life whatever lifestyle choices she makes be damned. I'm going to be walking around the house, there's a lycanthrope in his animal form at both entrances downstairs, one at the head of the stairs and you've got Jason in here, so I think you can assume any moving around that is not accompanied by a gunshot is me. If he gets past four lycanthropes and me, then you can tell Anita I failed horribly."

"Okay," Cherry said and crawled into bed beside Nathaniel. The male lycanthrope seemed to notice her presence in the bed, but he merely shifted and sighed like a contented cat. "Good night."

"Night," he said retreating from the room and back downstairs. He hated this part of the game, the waiting. Acting as sentry for a bunch of preternatural beings was not his idea of fun. He went to the kitchen intent on pouring himself a cup of the freshly made coffee, pleased when he saw the wolf at the door was at attention until he saw who it was entering the room.

Edward would need coffee and lots of it to stay awake tonight, driving all day with Anita was exhausting. He knew she did not want to come back here, did not want him to take her to Jean-Claude but really Edward just saw no other alternative. He had endangered Anita once already and refused to put her in harm's way again. True, taking her with him while he hunted for Olaf would probably be the quickest way to resolve the problem, because Olaf would go wherever Anita was. But Edward wanted the safest thing done not the quickest in this instance. Anita Blake would not die on his watch, not because of something he had done to put her in harm's way.

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