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Serpentine


Page 1 of 47



Also by Laurell K. Hamilton

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Novels

GUILTY PLEASURES

THE LAUGHING CORPSE

CIRCUS OF THE DAMNED

THE LUNATIC CAFE

BLOODY BONES

THE KILLING DANCE

BURNT OFFERINGS

BLUE MOON

OBSIDIAN BUTTERFLY

NARCISSUS IN CHAINS

CERULEAN SINS

INCUBUS DREAMS

MICAH

DANSE MACABRE

THE HARLEQUIN

BLOOD NOIR

SKIN TRADE

FLIRT

BULLET

HIT LIST

KISS THE DEAD

AFFLICTION

JASON

DEAD ICE

CRIMSON DEATH

Merry Gentry Novels

A KISS OF SHADOWS

A CARESS OF TWILIGHT

SEDUCED BY MOONLIGHT

A STROKE OF MIDNIGHT

MISTRAL'S KISS

A LICK OF FROST

SWALLOWING DARKNESS

DIVINE MISDEMEANORS

A SHIVER OF LIGHT

Specials

BEAUTY

DANCING

STRANGE CANDY

(short story collection)

BERKLEY

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

Copyright (c) 2018 by Laurell K. Hamilton

Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY is a registered trademark and the B colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Hamilton, Laurell K., author.

Title: Serpentine / Laurell K. Hamilton.

Description: First edition. | New York: Berkley, 2018. | Series: Anita Blake, vampire hunter; 26

Identifiers: LCCN 2018012385 | ISBN 9780425255681 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780698146655 (ebook) Subjects: | BISAC: FICTION/Fantasy/Paranormal. | FICTION/Fantasy/Urban Life. | FICTION/Horror. | GSAFD: Occult fiction. | Adventure fiction.

Classification: LCC PS3558.A443357 S47 2018 | DDC 813/.54--dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018012385

First Edition: August 2018

Jacket art: woman's face (c) Elisabeth Ansley/Trevillion Images; horseshoe snake by Jesus David Carballo Prieto/Alamy Stock Photo; snakeskin background (c) Svetlanais/iStock by Getty Images Jacket design by Judith Lagerman

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

To Jonathon, my husband, who let me take time out of our romantic getaway to finish this book and stayed at my side while I did it. Real love is about consistency over time, battles won, battles lost, the pain, the pleasure, the sharing.

To Genevieve, my first girlfriend and the only woman in my life. Yes, dear.

To Spike, poly partner, helpmate, romantic battle buddy. Strength shared is strength multiplied.

Acknowledgments

Shawn, what a long, strange journey it has been, my friend--here's to happiness and new adventures. Will, who made me feel safe and reminded me that I am my own surety. Jess, who has performed miracles of organization in helping Sherry and Theresa battle on against the tide of artistic clutter. To all my fans and readers, who have fallen in love with my world and characters. To Zannah, Keiko, and Mordor, the office pack. To Eomer and Grizzy, office cats, at last.

Contents

Also by Laurell K. Hamilton

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Epilogue

About the Author

1

I WAS STANDING in the air-conditioned hush of Forever Bridal in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but since all I could see was a rack of plastic-wrapped wedding dresses taller than my head, I could have been in any bridal shop in any part of the country. The dresses were ones that had needed tailoring to fit their brides. I stared at the different shades of white, from dazzling white like fresh snow in sunlight to a cream so dark it was almost a pale brown, or maybe taupe. I was always confused by taupe. Who wouldn't be confused by a color that couldn't decide if it was gray or tan? The dress they'd finally let me try on was black, because the pale teal that matched the maid of honor's dress had looked so bad on me that even Donna Parnell, the bride-to-be, had conceded that we could try the dress in black for me. Since I was the best man, or best person, on the groom's side of the aisle and the men were in black tuxes with teal ties and cummerbunds, putting me in black would make the wedding party look more balanced, or that's what the store manager had finally said.

I stood clutching the overly long black skirt in one hand, so I didn't trip, as I talked to Micah Callahan on my new smartphone, which was actually so smart I felt uncomfortable using it, as if the technology were silently judging my lack of tech savvy.

"So, your clients have finally given you permission to share more info with your police girlfriend?" I said.

I could feel/hear the smile in his voice as he said, "They're not clients, Anita. I don't take money for helping people who are desperate." Micah was the head of the Coalition for Better Understanding Between Human and Lycanthrope Communities, colloquially known as the Furry Coalition. They traveled the country, some internationally, to help keep the lycanthropes and the humans safe from each other. Sometimes it was just to give lectures to the local police to help them deal better with this v
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