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  • Wounded(Anita Blake Vampire Hunter #24.5) by Laurell Kaye Hamilton
  • THEY SAY WHEN your friends’ kids start getting married, it makes you feel old, but since Consuela Rodriguez was only six years younger than me, I wasn’t really worrying about it. It was the first wedding I’d gone to since I hit puberty where no one asked me when I thought I’d get married, because I was wearing an engagement ring on my finger big enough to signal airplanes from a deserted island. I actually didn’t like wearing it in public; it made me feel like I was asking to get mugged. In a perfect world I should have been able to cover myself in diamonds from head to foot and walk anywhere alone, but the world wasn’t perfect and it just seemed mean to wear something so tempting when I was usually armed with two guns and multiple knives, plus a badge that said U.S. Marshal on it.

    Today I was only carrying one gun. I didn’t think the wedding reception would get that out of hand. I almost never went anywhere unarmed, but I hadn’t thought about dancing at the reception and whether the gun would stay concealed. I’d just been happy to find another dressy outfit that I could conceal any handgun on. The little Sig Sauer .380 fit nicely in the Galco Tuck-N-Go to one side of the short red skirt, with the red top that came down over the belt loops that I’d had tailored onto the skirt. The loops were wide enough for my gun belt to slide through and fasten around front tight enough that the Sig stayed put, so if I did have to draw the gun, my hand would find it from body memory and not have to go hunting around. I’d been carrying at the small of my back when I wanted to be ultraconcealed, until I’d done some training drills and discovered that if the gun wasn’t at my side where I usually carried, it took me a few extra seconds to draw, aim, and fire. Those few seconds could cost me, or someone else, their life out in the field, so I started having belt loops put on my skirts, and the very unfeminine belt slide through all of the waists, because that was what it took to hold the gun, any gun, in place. I could change my holster, my gun, but the gun needed to be at my side for my hand to find it automatically. I was just glad I’d found out in training and not in the field. In training you could fix it; in the field you got dead.

    Nathaniel Graison stood beside me in a gray tailored suit that showed off the broad shoulders, slender waist, and nice ass and slid over the swell of his thighs like a polite glove: tight enough to show off, but not so tight it was obvious. The lavender dress shirt was buttoned up to the smooth line of his neck and gave his skin just a little color and the hint that he’d probably tan if he ever tried, but he didn’t bother. The shirt also deepened the color of his eyes so they were more intense than the shirt, like violets to the shirt’s paler lilac. His driver’s license said his eyes were blue because they wouldn’t let him put purple down as a choice. His tie was silver with a tie bar that looked silver but was actually platinum because it wouldn’t make his skin react, since like most shapeshifters he was allergic to silver. His almost ankle-length auburn hair was back in a tight braid so he didn’t trip me when we danced. His hair never seemed to get in his way when he moved—maybe it was practice; he was an exotic dancer, and the hair was often loose while he worked.

    He was smiling and moving ever so slightly in time to the music. I had enough dancers in my life, from exotic to professional ballet, to know that they all moved, even when they thought they were standing still, as if their bodies couldn’t help but make grace out of the noise of everyday life.

    Manny had been standing next to his slender daughter, gazing up at her, because Connie had gotten about five inches of extra height from her mother’s side of the genetics, but now he was dancing with his wife. Two of her brothers had been dragged onto the dance floor by their wives. Rosita’s brothers towered over most of the other men in the room, not just tall but wide, like big, burly refrigerators who smiled often, bright smiles in dark faces. They hugged more as the afternoon reception wore on. At least two of them had gone to college on football scholarships, though I wasn’t sure which of the six it had been. Another ran his own heating and cooling business, one was an accountant, and another did something about freight hauling. They’d been introduced to me in a mass as “These are my brothers.” Rosita had rattled off their names and jobs too fast for me to follow all of it. I figured the names were more important to remember than jobs, so I concentrated on that. I could name four out of six. At one point she’d tried to fix me up on a blind date with one of them, back when she was convinced I’d end up an old maid at twenty-four. Lucky for me that I was engaged at thirty-one or Rosita would have been having fits.