***Part Eight***

Three Weeks Later

Richard had not taken Anita's choice well, as she suspected. She left it up to Jean-Claude to talk to him about the triumverate. Jean-Claude was looking into replacing Richard with another lycanthrope, Anita had suggested Rafael if he discovered it was an option.

"Have you seen Edward?" Cherry asked from the doorway. Anita witnessed nothing between Edward and Cherry to indicate there was anything between the two of them, but did notice Edward was very hyperaware of her presence in any room.

He told her some of what happened with Olaf, but Anita suspected she would never know the entire story. Regardless of his claiming that they were now even, Anita felt she owed him now more than ever before. Jean-Claude agreed with her, though he had not said so in so many words. The two men in her life, master vampire and preternatural being hunter, had come to some sort of gentleman's agreement.

"He's not in his room?"

"No, and the room is empty."

"What?" Anita asked, hearing the hurt in Cherry's voice and feeling a little hurt herself. Anita did not find it so unbelievable he would not say good bye to the others, but to leave without telling her hurt a lot.

"His things are gone."

Anita went out the back door, walked outside to the driveway where sure enough the rental Jeep was gone. "I guess he's feeling better," Anita said.

"I knew he was, he had mentioned leaving, but I didn't think he'd just up and leave."

"Neither did I." Anita was baffled. She was tempted to ask Cherry if something had happened between them to cause Edward to leave, but it was none of her business. Like always, Edward entered and exited Anita's life on his terms. "I'm sorry," she said to Cherry, knowing she had grown attached to him even if her feelings were not returned.

Anita went back inside knowing there was nothing she could do. Anita might have a chance at finding him but she was not going to. She was not going to betray their friendship by chasing him down where his life as Ted was. If he had gotten Cherry pregnant or something she might violate the trust he had bestowed upon her by showing her where he lived, but not over something like this. Edward had come and gone from her life since they had known one another. He would not have left if he did not feel better, so Anita had to take comfort in the knowledge that Edward was fine.

She had little time to dwell on it anyway as Jean-Claude arrived. He was dressed casually tonight in a pair of jeans and a plain button-up top. Since Anita had made her decision to be with him, Jean-Claude still dressed to shock and please at his clubs. Away from them, though, his dress had become more mainstream. "Don't you look modern," she said, kissing him.

"You don't like it, ma petite?" She had asked him once why he had changed and he had said it was out of respect for her, that his club patrons expected it but that he felt wrong in drawing attention to himself in such a flamboyant manner when accompanying her socially as half of a couple. She had been flattered and told him so after ensuring he did not believe she expected such a change out of him.

"Oh I do."

"You prefer my other clothes better?"

"I didn't say that," she said. She really had no opinion one way or the other. Jean-Claude wore clothes that were flattering to his form no matter how revealing they were.

He grazed her cheek with the back of his hand. "What is troubling you, Anita? It is not my outfit, I know this, as every other man in the room is dressed in a similar fashion."

"Edward's gone."

"And this has you upset? I'm confused, ma petite. I realize he has been your houseguest for the past few weeks and you were with him for quite some time out west, but surely you realized he would leave."

"He didn't say good bye."

"Oh," he said with understanding. "I'm sure he has his reasons, ma petite. It is not your place to worry about Monsieur Forrester. He will be fine. One thing I have come to understand about him is that he would not have left if he was not fit to leave."

"I know. I still hate the idea of him going back to Donna," she whispered.

"I'm sure he hated the idea of you taking up with me again, ma petite, yours is not the place to judge."

"I think Cherry's upset."

"I'm sure she is, but she will get over it."

He was right, and it was not Anita's place to pry. She did not want to pry into Edward's life more than her lack of desire to pry into Cherry's. "You ready to watch movies?"

"If I must."

"Oh come on, we went to the opera last night."

"Yes, ma petite, I'm well aware of how well the opera went over with you. If I must suffer through modern cinema to get back in your good graces then I shall do it."

"That's what I like to hear." She led Jean-Claude to the living room. "I'll be right back," she said heading toward her room. She spotted the envelope lying on her pillow and picked it up. She debated about opening it, afraid of what it might say, afraid that Edward might say this time his leaving was for good and he would not be back. Curiosity got the better of her, however, and she opened it recognizing Edward's bold yet simple handwriting immediately.


I assume by now you realize I have left. Some might say I took the coward's way out and left without saying goodbye, but I have no room in my life for emotional attachments. You know this as well as I. If I crossed the line I have debated crossing over the past couple of weeks, the line you yourself crossed some time ago, I would no longer know who I am or what my purpose was. This is something I simply cannot, or perhaps more aptly put will not, do - throw my life off kilter. I have spent far too long seeing the preternaturals as being lesser beings, the enemy. And while your friends have demonstrated to me there are exceptions, to involve myself with them more personally than distantly through you would be my downfall.

Please thank Cherry for her assistance and let her know if there's anything I can ever do for her to return the favor she merely needs to ask.

As for Donna, I will be breaking things off with her and leaving the area. Ted Forrester will disappear into the sunset. If you hate me for turning my back on Peter and Becca I will understand, I know this is an issue near and dear to her heart but I would only hurt them by remaining in their lives. I'm a bad example, I have no idea why I ever believed I could be a positive role model for someone else's children. I have no idea where Ted will resurface. This is for your safety, so please do not think that I'm doing this because I dislike your knowing where I live. If you were to ever be questioned about me, I prefer you have no information to give out. It's better that way for all concerned.

Once I have regrouped and am back on the hunt, I have no doubts my travels will take me through St. Louis. Be assured those under your protection have the same immunity to contracts as if they were you as far as I'm concerned, all but Elizabeth who I make no promise I would spare if given the chance to take her down for a price.

Be careful, Anita Blake, and until we meet again enjoy the small gift I have left for you under the bed. I had it made especially for you knowing I may need you to fly to me again some day. Use it well.

With affection,

Anita folded the letter and placed it back into the envelope before searching under her bed. Under it, she found a gun, made of some lightweight wood grain in appearance material. It felt smooth to the touch, like plastic. She opened the hammer and the barrel held two bullets. She had no idea if the gun would be good for multiple uses or if this was just a one use gun, but either way she would board her next plane feeling a little better about things knowing she was able to at least carry one weapon with her. She was not sure it would kill, the barrel obviously held a small caliber bullet, but in a pinch it would be better than nothing.

"Thank you, Edward," she said placing the weapon in her weapons closet before returning downstairs where she sat on the couch next to her vampire lover, surrounded by her lycanthrope friends who were piled together on the floor the way of pard and pack members.

"Are you okay, ma petite?" Jean-Claude whispered in her ear as Nathaniel started the movie.

"Yeah, I'm fine," she said offering him a smile before placing her head in the crook of his arm, leaning against him, a hand at his thigh, readying herself for a quiet night at home. She was returning to work at Animators, Inc. tomorrow and would also be back on call with Dolph's preternatural police force team as of tomorrow so she vowed to enjoy what she imagined would be her last night of solitude for some time.

~The End~

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