Destined for an Early Grave nh-4Jeaniene Frost
Destined for an Early Grave
( Night Huntress - 4 )
Her deadly dreams leave her in grave danger
Since half-vampire Cat Crawfield and her undead lover Bones met six years ago, they've fought against the rogue undead, battled a vengeful Master vampire, and pledged their devotion with a blood bond. Now it's time for a vacation. But their hopes for a perfect Paris holiday are dashed when Cat awakes one night in terror. She's having visions of a vampire named Gregor who's more powerful than Bones and has ties to her past that even Cat herself didn't know about.
Gregor believes Cat is his and he won't stop until he has her. As the battle begins between the vamp who haunts her nightmares and the one who holds her heart, only Cat can break Gregor's hold over her. She'll need all the power she can summon in order to bring down the baddest bloodsucker she's ever faced... even if getting that power will result in an early grave.
Destined for an Early Grave
Night Huntress Series, Book 4
To my sister Jeanne,
who had the courage to walk away
and the strength not to go back.
IF HE CATCHES ME, I’M DEAD.
I ran as fast as I could, darting around trees, tangled roots, and rocks in the forest. The monster snarled as it chased me, the sound closer than before. I wasn’t able to outrun it. The monster was picking up speed while I was getting tired.
The forest thinned ahead of me to reveal a blond vampire on a hill in the distance. I recognized him at once. Hope surged through me. If I could reach him, I’d be okay. He loved me. He’d protect me from the monster. Yet I was still so far away.
Fog crept up the hill to surround the vampire, making him appear almost ghostly. I screamed his name as the monster’s footsteps got even closer. Panicked, I lunged forward, narrowly avoiding the grasp of bony hands that would pull me down to the grave. With renewed effort, I sprinted toward the vampire. He urged me on, snarling warnings at the monster, which wouldn’t stop chasing me.
“Leave me alone,” I screamed, as I was seized from behind in a merciless grip. “No!”
The shout didn’t come from the vampire ahead of me; it came from the monster wrestling me to the ground. I jerked my head toward the vampire in the distance, but his features blurred into nothingness, and the fog covered him. Right before he disappeared, I heard his voice.
“He is not your husband, Catherine.”
A hard shake evaporated the last of the dream, and I woke to find Bones, my vampire lover, hovering over me.
“What is it? Are you hurt?”
An odd question, you would think, since it had only been a nightmare. But with the right power and magic, sometimes nightmares could be turned into weapons. A while back, I’d almost been killed by one. This was different, however. No matter how vivid it felt, it had just been a dream.
“I’ll be fine if you quit shaking me.”
Bones dropped his hands and let out a noise of relief. “You didn’t wake up, and you were thrashing on the bed. Brought back rotten memories.”
“I’m okay. It was a…weird dream.”
There was something about the vampire in it that nagged me. Like I should know who he was. That made no sense, however, since he was just a figment of my imagination.
“Odd that I couldn’t catch any of your dream,” Bones went on. “Normally your dreams are like background music to me.”
Bones was a Master vampire, more powerful than most vampires I’d ever met. One of his gifts was the ability to read human minds. Even though I was half-human, half-vampire, there was enough humanity in me that Bones could hear my thoughts unless I worked to block him. Still, this was news to me.
“You can hear my dreams? God, you must never get any quiet. I’d be shooting myself in the head if I were you.”
Which wouldn’t do much to him, actually. Only silver through the heart or decapitation was lethal to a vampire. Getting shot in the head might take care of my ills the permanent way, but it would just give Bones a nasty headache.
He settled himself back onto the pillows. “Don’t fret, luv. I said it’s like background music, so it’s rather soothing. As for quiet, out here on this water, it’s as quiet as I’ve experienced without being half-shriveled in the process.”
I lay back down, a shiver going through me at the mention of his near miss with death. Bones’s hair had turned white from how close he’d come to dying, but now it was back to its usual, rich brown color.
“Is that why we’re drifting on a boat out in the Atlantic? So you could have some peace and quiet?”
“I wanted some time alone with you, Kitten. We’ve had so little of that lately.”
An understatement. Even though I’d quit my job leading the secret branch of Homeland Security that hunted rogue vampires and ghouls, life hadn’t been dull. First we’d had to deal with our losses from the war with another Master vampire last year. Several of Bones’s friends—and my best friend Denise’s husband, Randy—had been murdered. Then there had been months of hunting down the remaining perpetrators of that war, so they couldn’t live to plot against us another day. Then training my replacement so that my uncle Don had someone else to play bait when his operatives went after the misbehaving members of undead society. Most vampires and ghouls didn’t kill when they fed, but there were those who killed for fun. Or stupidity. My uncle made sure those vampires and ghouls were taken care of—and that ordinary citizens weren’t aware they existed.
So when Bones told me we were taking a boat trip, I’d assumed there must be some search-and-destroy reason behind it. Going somewhere just for relaxation hadn’t happened, well, ever in our relationship.
“This is a weekend getaway?” I couldn’t keep the disbelief out of my voice.
He traced his finger on my lower lip. “This is our vacation, Kitten.”
I was still dumbfounded at the notion. “What about my cat?” I’d set him up for enough food for a couple of days, but not for an extended trip.
“No worries. I’ve sent someone to our house to look after him. We can go anywhere in the world and take our time getting there. So tell me, where shall we go?”
I surprised myself saying it. I’d never had a burning desire to visit there before, but for some reason, I did now. Maybe it was because Paris was supposed to be the city of lovers, although just looking at Bones was usually enough to get me in a romantic mood.
He must have caught my thought because he smiled, making his face more breathtaking, in my opinion. Against the backdrop of the navy sheets, his skin almost glowed with a silky alabaster paleness that was too perfect to be human. The sheets were tangled past his stomach, giving me an uninterrupted view of his lean, taut abdomen and hard, muscled chest. Dark brown eyes began to tinge with emerald, and fangs peeked under the curve of his mouth, letting me know I wasn’t the only one feeling warmer all of a sudden.
“Paris it is, then,” he whispered, and flung the sheets off.
“…we’ll be arriving shortly. Yes, she’s very well, Mencheres. Faith, you’ve rung me nearly every day…right, I’ll see you at the dock.”
Bones hung up and shook his head. “Either my grandsire is concealing something, or he’s developed an unhealthy obsession with your every activity.”
I stretched out in the hammock on the deck. “Let me talk to him next time. I’ll tell him things have never been better.”
The past three weeks had indeed been wonderful. If I’d needed a vacation, Bones had needed it more. As Master of a large line and co-Master of an even bigger
one, Bones was always watched, judged, challenged, or busy protecting his people. All that responsibility had taken its toll. Only in the past few days had he relaxed enough to sleep longer than his usual few hours.
There was just one black spot on this pleasure cruise, but I’d kept it to myself. Why ruin our time off by telling Bones I’d had more of those silly, meaningless dreams?
This time, they went unnoticed by him. Guess I wasn’t kicking in my sleep anymore. I couldn’t remember much of them when I woke. All I knew was they were about the same faceless blond vampire from the first one. The one who called me by my real name, Catherine, and ended with the same cryptic admonition—he is not your husband.
According to human laws, Bones wasn’t my husband. We were blood-bound and married vampire-style, though, and the undead didn’t do divorce. They weren’t kidding about the whole “until death do you part” thing. Maybe my dreams represented a subconscious desire to have a traditional wedding. The last time we’d attempted that, our plans were demolished by a war with a vampire who thought unleashing deadly black magic was fair game.
Mencheres met us on the dock. Even though Bones called him grandsire, since Mencheres was the sire of the vampire who’d turned Bones, he looked as young as Bones. They’d probably been similar in human age when they were turned into vampires. Mencheres was also handsome in an exotic way, with a regal bearing, Egyptian features, and long black hair blowing in the breeze.
But what really caught my attention was how Mencheres was flanked by eight Master vampires. Even before I stepped off the boat, I could feel their combined power crackling the air like static electricity. Sure, Mencheres usually traveled with an entourage, but these looked like guards, not undead groupies.
Bones went up to Mencheres and gave him a brief clasp.
“Hallo, grandsire. They can’t be all for show”—he nodded to the waiting vampires—“so I expect there’s trouble.”
Mencheres nodded. “We should leave. This ship is announcement enough of your presence.”
Reaper was painted in scarlet letters across the side of the boat. It was in homage to my nickname, the Red Reaper, which I’d earned because of my hair color and my high undead body count.
Mencheres didn’t speak to me beyond a short, polite hello as we trotted from the pier into a waiting black van. There was another identical van that six of the guards got into. When we sped off, that van followed us at a close distance.
“Tell me about your dreams, Cat,” Mencheres said as soon as we were under way.
I gaped at him. “How do you know about that?”
Bones also looked taken aback. “I didn’t mention it, Kitten.”
Mencheres ignored both of our questions. “What was in your dream? Be very specific.”
“They’re strange,” I began, seeing Bones’s eyebrows shoot up at the plural. “They’re all with the same vampire. During the dreams, I know who he is. I can even hear myself saying his name, but when I wake up, I don’t remember him.”
If I hadn’t known better, I’d have said Mencheres looked alarmed. Of course, I was no expert on him. Mencheres was over four thousand years old and a genius at hiding his emotions, but his mouth might have stiffened a fraction. Or maybe it was just a trick of the light.
“How many of these dreams have you had?” Bones asked. He wasn’t happy. The way his lips thinned was no accident of light.
“Four, and don’t start. You’d have set sail for the nearest fortress if I’d told you about them, then you would have hovered over me day and night. We were having a really nice trip, so I didn’t mention them. No big deal.”
He snorted. “No big deal, she says. Well, luv, let’s find out what the deal really is. With luck, it won’t result in your losing your reckless life.”
Then he turned to Mencheres. “You knew something was wrong. Why the hell didn’t you bring it to my attention at once?”
Mencheres leaned forward. “Cat’s life is in no danger. However, there is a…situation. I’d hoped this conversation would never become necessary.”
“Could you just spit it out without a buildup for once?” Mencheres was famous for taking his time beating around the bush. Guess being as old as he was, he’d learned an obscene amount of patience.
“Have you ever heard of a vampire named Gregor?”
Pain shot through my head for an instant, then it was gone so fast, I actually looked around to see if anyone else was affected. Mencheres stared at me like he was trying to scope out the back of my brain. Beside me, Bones ground out a curse.
“I know a few Gregors, but there’s only one who’s called the bloody Dreamsnatcher.” His fist slammed down, snapping the armrest off. “This is what you consider acceptable standards of safety for my wife?”
“I’m not your wife.”
Bones swung a disbelieving look my way even as my hand flew to my mouth. Where in the hell did that come from?
“What did you just say?” Bones asked incredulously.
Stunned, I stammered.
“I-I meant…in my dreams, the one thing I can remember is this vampire telling me ‘he is not your husband.’ And I know he means you, Bones. So that’s what I meant.”
Bones looked like I’d just stabbed him, and Mencheres had that cool, hooded expression on his face. Giving nothing away.
“You know, it always seems that when things are going really well between us, you come along to fuck it all up!” I burst at Mencheres.
“You chose to come to Paris, of all places,” Mencheres replied.
“So what? Got something against the French?” I felt a surge of irrational anger toward him. Inside me, a scream built. Why can’t you just leave us alone!
Then I shook it off. What was wrong with me? Was I having a crazy case of PMS or something?
Mencheres rubbed his forehead. Those finely molded features were in profile as he looked away.
“Paris is a beautiful city. Enjoy it. See all the sights. But don’t go anywhere unaccompanied, and if you dream of Gregor again, Cat, do not let him lay hands on you. If you see him in your dreams, run away.”
“Um, no way are you going to get away with that vague, ‘have a nice day’ crap,” I said. “Who is Gregor, why am I dreaming about him, and why is he called the Dreamsnatcher?”
“More importantly, why has he surfaced now to seek her out?” Bones’s voice was cold as ice. “Gregor hasn’t been seen or heard from in over a decade. I thought he might be dead.”
“He’s not dead,” Mencheres said a trifle grimly. “Like me, Gregor has visions of the future. He intended to alter the future based on one of these visions. When I found out about it, I imprisoned him as punishment.”
“And what does he want with my wife?”
Bones emphasized the words while arching a brow at me, as if daring me to argue. I didn’t.
“He saw Cat in one of his visions and decided he had to have her,” Mencheres stated in a flat tone. “Then he discovered she’d be blood-bound to you. Around the time of Cat’s sixteenth birthday, Gregor intended to find her and take her away. His plan was very simple—if Cat had never met you, then she’d be his, not yours.”
“Bloody sneaking bastard,” Bones ground out, even as my jaw dropped. “I’ll congratulate him on his cleverness—while I’m ripping silver through his heart.”
“Don’t underestimate Gregor,” Mencheres said. “He managed to escape my prison a month ago, and I still don’t know how. Gregor seems to be more interested in Cat than in getting revenge against me. She’s the only person I know whom Gregor’s contacted through dreams since he’s been out.”
Why do these crazy vampires keep trying to collect me? My being one of the only known half-breeds had been more of a pain than it was worth. Gregor wasn’t the first vampire who thought it would be neat to keep me as some sort of exotic toy, but he did win points for cooking up the most original plan to do it.
“And you locked Gregor up for a dozen years just to keep him from alte
ring my future with Bones?” I asked, my skepticism plain. “Why? You didn’t do much to stop Bones’s sire, Ian, when he tried the same thing.”
Mencheres’s steel-colored eyes flicked from me to Bones. “There was more at stake,” he said at last. “If you’d never met Bones, he might have stayed under Ian’s rule longer, not taking Mastership of his own line, and then not being co-Master of mine when I needed him. I couldn’t risk that.”
So it hadn’t been about preserving true love at all. Figures. Vampires seldom did anything with purely altruistic motives.
“What happens if Gregor touches me in my dreams?” I asked, moving on. “What then?”
Bones answered me, and the burning intensity in his gaze could have seared my face.
“If Gregor takes ahold of you in your dreams, when you wake, you’ll be wherever he is. That’s why he’s called the Dreamsnatcher. He can steal people away in their dreams.”
I’D ARGUED, OF COURSE. BOTH MEN GAVE ME looks that said how stupid it was to debate something they knew for a fact. Gregor’s ability normally just worked with humans, since vampires and ghouls had a supernatural mind control that prevented such subconscious kidnappings. But since I was a half-breed, it was possible that Gregor’s trick would work on me, too.
Wait until I told my uncle that there was a vampire who could do this. He’d shit himself.
“Gregor will attempt to coerce you in your dreams,” Mencheres said in parting. “You would do well to ignore anything he says and to wake yourself up as quickly as possible.”
“You can bet your ass on that,” I muttered. “By the way, what’s the significance of Paris? You said we’d chosen to come to Paris like that was significant.”
“Gregor is French,” was Mencheres’s reply. “You chose to visit his home of nearly nine centuries. I doubt that’s a coincidence.”
I bristled. “What are you implying?”