WE ENDED UP in a spacious room just off the main lobby that was filled with chairs and had a podium. I think this was the place where the tamer press events happened.

There was a woman in one of the chairs. She wasnt that tall, but she managed to be leggy in spike heels and a killer designer suit. Her auburn hair was in a tight bun that left her perfect makeup and overly dramatic eyes suitably noticeable.

No more talking to the press unless you clear it through me, she said.

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I am not one of the Summerlands, Jason said, and he sounded tired. I didnt blame him.

He fell on his sword out there for us, Dubois, one of the other suits said. This one was older, his gray suit only a little darker than his hair. His face was lined, but it was a good face. If hed dyed the hair he wouldnt have looked his age. A different suit would have helped, too. Gray wasnt his color.

She gave one abrupt nod. He did give them something else to chew on, Ill grant that. But the little kiss in the alley was childish.

I know that, Jason said, but Chuck here had bossed me around, and Im not Keith. I dont need the babysitting.

After that kiss and the impromptu press conference, the hell you dont, she said.

Are all press agents this pleasant? I asked.

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She gave me an angry look. And youpointing a long painted nail at meare not helping.

Im a federal marshal and a vampire executioner. I also raise the dead for a living. But all the press cared about was my boyfriends. But I didnt argue with the reporters. I let them ask sex questions and didnt get mad on camera. I think I behaved myself admirably.

Jason hugged me one-armed. You really did control your temper. Im very proud of you.

I gave him a look that made Ms. Duboiss look seem tame. He winced, buTHE didnt mean it.

Frankly, I said, I was too surprised to know what to do. Ive done some press with Jean-Claude, but nothing like this.

Dubois seemed to have gotten over her snit, because she offered me her hand. Me, not Jason. It earned her a brownie point or two. Im Phyllis Dubois, press secretary on site for the wedding week.

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I took her hand. She had a good firm shake for a woman, but then so did I. Im Anita Blake, and I guess all I am today is Jasons girlfriend.

Jean-Claude is that sexy master vampire of St. Louis, right? she said.

I nodded.

Did you leave him for Jason?

I gave her an unfriendly look. Dont you start.

She smiled and it made her face younger, more in tune with the nearly club makeup. Sorry, but if it were true it might help us deflect some of the heat from our boys.

Youd blow the story up even more so theyd feed on us, I said.

She shrugged narrow but elegant shoulders. My job.

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How do I get to the hospital to see my dad? Jason asked.

Well put you in a limo, and if we have to well get you a police escort, Dubois said.

Why? Jason said, unusually suspicious for him.

I answered it, Because a limo with a police escort will draw off part of the press that is hanging around for the bachelorette party tonight.

You really do think Im going to throw you to the wolves, dont you?

Oh, I like wolves, I said, its the reporters that scare me.

Gray Suit said, I dont think theres any way to get you quietly to the hospital. In fact, we should send people ahead to warn the hospital so the reporters dont get into Mr. Schuylers room.

Good thinking, Peterson, as always. Call our liaison at the hospital.

Peterson, aka Gray Suit, took out a cell phone and went toward one side of the room. Apparently for some privacy for the call.

Another phone sounded. Dubois got a slim one out of her pocket and started talking into it.

Chuck said, Youre a federal marshal, for real?

For real, I said.

He looked me up and down, not like a man will, but like he was sizing me up for other things. Things that had nothing to do with sex.

Youve got a gun at the small of your back. Its lying sideways, not up and down, so its almost invisible.

I nodded. And you missed it completely when we first met.

My bad, he said.

Sloppy, I said.

It wont happen again.

What wont happen again?

Me thinking youre just agirlfriend.

You always hesitate before you say girlfriend, Chuck; what do you actually start to say?

You wont like it.

Im betting I already know the phrase thats on the tip of your tongue, Chuck.

Jason was watching us, the way he did sometimes when people were doing something that interested him or puzzled him. Hed watch, file it away, and talk to me about it later. Sometimes much later.

Chuck glanced around, and when he realized that both Dubois and Peterson werent in earshot, he said low, Piece of ass, I wont make the mistake of thinking youre just a piece of ass.

I nodded. Yeah, thats what I thought you were thinking.

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