Reckoning: From Unbound, Page 1Jeaniene Frost
About Jeaniene Frost
Also by Jeaniene Frost
About the Publisher
February 16, 2004
Eric swallowed the last of his beer and then set the empty bottle on the sidewalk. Not my fault there isn’t a trash can nearby, he thought, ignoring the glare the tour guide gave him. The brunette off to his right didn’t seem to mind. She smiled at him in a way that made him glad he’d blown off his buddies to take this stupid haunted tour.
“…in front of us is the LaLaurie house,” the guide went on, gesturing to the big gray structure on the corner of Royal Street. “This is reputedly one of the most haunted places in the French Quarter. Here, in the mid–eighteen hundreds, an untold number of slaves were tortured and murdered by Dr. Louis LaLaurie and his wife, Delphine…”
Eric sidled closer to the hot brunette, who didn’t seem to be paying any more attention to the guide than he was. She was thin, the way he liked ’em, and though her tits weren’t big, she had great legs and a nice ass. Her face was pretty, too, now that he noticed.
“Hey. I’m Eric. ’S your name?” he asked, fighting back his slur. Smile. Look interested.
“Where are your friends?” she asked. She had an accent that sounded French, and it was a weird question. But she smiled when she said it, her eyes raking over him in a way that woke his cock up.
“They’re at Pat O’Brien’s,” Eric said, with a vague wave. The guide was glaring at him more pointedly now, going on about the LaLauries’ medical experiments on their slaves and other weird, gross shit he didn’t want to listen to. “You wanna grab a drink?”
The brunette came closer, until she was right next to him and her nipples practically brushed his chest. “I’m in the mood for more than a drink. Aren’t you?”
Oh yeah. He had definite liftoff in his pants. “Baby, like you wouldn’t believe.”
Eric glanced around to find a few people staring at him. Okay, he’d said that a little loud.
“I’ve got a room at the Dauphine,” he tried again, softer. “We could go there—”
“My place is closer,” she interrupted him, taking his hand. Firm grip, too. “Come with me.”
She led him down the street, weaving past people and throwing those fuck-me smiles over her shoulder at him every so often. Eric was excited. He’d been here three days and hadn’t gotten laid yet. It was about time he got some strange on this trip.
The girl took him down an alley, walking just as quickly as before, even though he had a hard time seeing where they were going. He tripped on something—a bottle, probably—but she just tugged on his arm at the same moment, keeping him upright.
“Hey.” He grinned. “Nice reflexes.”
She muttered something he didn’t understand, and not just because he was drunk.
“Is that French?” Eric asked.
Her dark hair swung as she glanced back at him. “Oui. Yes.”
She led him up a fire escape at the end of the alley, opened an unlocked door at the landing, and propelled him inside. The lights were off, wherever they were, but this must be her place. She locked it behind him and then her smile grew wider.
“I am going to eat you,” she said in a sexy, accented purr that made him even harder.
Eric grabbed her, squeezing that beautiful ass while he kissed her. She opened her mouth, letting his tongue explore inside while he ground himself against her. Rubber’s in my back pocket, Eric reminded himself. A chick this easy might have something.
She put her arms around his neck, holding on to him like she was desperate for it. Eric fumbled with the front of his pants. Right here, right now worked for him, too.
He’d gotten his pants unzipped and his hands up her short skirt, when she clamped down on his tongue with her teeth. And yanked her head back.
Eric screamed, staring in horror at the blood around her mouth when she smiled at him again. His tongue throbbed like it was on fire.
“Crazy bitch,” he tried to say, but it came out sounding like “’aaazy ’itch.” Blood was still pouring from his tongue, and when he felt the tip of it…there wasn’t one anymore.
“You fucking whore!” Eric spat, not caring if she understood the garbled words or not. His fist came up—and then he was falling end over end, until he reached the bottom with a thud that made his head feel like it had split.
For a stunned second, Eric lay there. Stairs, it occurred to him. Bitch pushed me down a flight of stairs. He felt the first stirrings of fear mixing with his anger.
A light flicked on in the room and Eric jerked, blinking for a minute at the brightness before the images focused.
There was a tall, thin man standing over a mannequin. He looked like he was assembling it, since its leg was on the ground next to the man and its arm was in two pieces farther away. Then the mannequin’s head turned. Its eyes blinked, mouth opened…
Eric screamed, trying to scramble to his feet, but a scalding pain in his leg prevented him. The tall man ignored Eric’s screams and frantic attempts to back away as he gave an inquiring glance up the stairs.
“Mon amour, I was getting worried.”
The girl appeared at the top of the stairs. “Why? No one knows we’re here.”
Eric managed to stand. Agony shot up his leg even though he had most of his weight on the other one.
“Don’t either of you fuckin’ touch me,” he gasped, looking around for something, anything, to use to fight them off.
The girl smiled as she came down the stairs. With his blood still around her mouth, it looked more like a hideous leer.
“Touch you? Mon cher, I already told you—I am going to eat you.”
Bones didn’t spare a glance around as he strode rapidly up the streets of the French Quarter. Scents assailed him; countless perfumes, body odor from all manners of hygiene, food cooking—or rotting in the trash. Centuries of decadence had given the Quarter a unique, permanent stench no vampire could completely ignore.
A close second to the cacophony of scents was sound. Music, laughter, shouts, and conversations compounded into a constant white noise.
As he rounded a corner, Bones wondered again why Marie had summoned him. He didn’t have to come; he wasn’t under her line, so he owed her no loyalty. But when the queen of New Orleans called, Bones answered. For starters, he respected Marie. And he reckoned his head wouldn’t enjoy sitting atop his shoulders much longer if he snubbed her.
Though chances were, what Marie wanted would involve Bones killing someone.
He had just rounded another corner when instinct told him he was being watched. He jerked to the side—and felt searing pain slam into his back in the next instant. Bones whirled, knocking people over to dart into the nearest door. With his back safely to a wall and the only entrance in clear view, Bones looked down at his chest.
An arrow protruded, its broad head hooked on three sides where it had punched through his chest. The shaft was still sticking out of his back. He touched the bloodied tip and swore.
Silver. Two inches lower and it would have gone through his heart, ending his life the permanent way.
“Hey, buddy,” someone called out. “You okay?”
/> “Capital,” Bones bit off. He looked around and realized he’d stumbled into a bar. The patrons were goggling at his chest.
He paused long enough to pull the arrow out of his chest before ducking out the door, moving at a speed that would have been only a blur to the onlookers at the bar. He wasn’t concerned with them, however. His attention was focused on finding whoever had fired that custom-made arrow. From the angle it skewered him, it had been fired from above.
One vertical jump had him on the bar’s roof, crouching again while his gaze scanned the nearby structures. Nothing. Bones ran along the tops of the buildings for two blocks, until he felt certain that he was standing where the shooter had been. There was a faint, residual energy in the air that confirmed what Bones already suspected: whoever fired that arrow wasn’t human.
He took another moment to survey the rooftops, but there was no one to be seen. He or she was fast; it had been less than a minute from shot fired to Bones standing where the would-be killer had crouched. No amateur, this. And whoever this was had been alerted quickly to Bones’s presence in the Quarter. He’d arrived only last night.
Bones gave a mental shrug as he jumped down to the street, warier now to stay within clusters of people, but not forgoing his appointment. He’d already died once. It tended to take the edge off fearing it afterward.
Bones waited outside the wrought-iron gate of St. Louis Cemetery #1. His back was to a post, and he’d been eyeing the rooftops, ready to spring at the slightest hint of movement.
Ghosts bathed the cemetery and its surrounding streets like spectral cobwebs. Bones ignored them, though they could to be as noisy and bothersome as the tourists. New Orleans Quarter was the last place for anyone to rest in peace, be it the living, or the dead.
It wasn’t five minutes before a gigantic man walked toward him. His aura announced him as a ghoul, though he looked nothing like Hollywood’s interpretation of one. No, he had smooth brown skin, a bald head, and a barrel-like chest, the very picture of health and vitality. Except his walk, which had a noticeable awkwardness that was at odds with the normal, graceful gait of the undead.
“Bones,” the man greeted him.
It had been decades, but Bones remembered his name. “Jelani.” He nodded. “I am here to see Majestic, at her request.”
Jelani swept out a hand. “Follow me.”
Moonlight glowed off Jelani’s black gloves, their shape too perfect and too stiff. Prosthetics. Both his legs below the knees were missing, too. Bones didn’t know how Jelani had lost his arms and legs, but he knew it had happened before Jelani became a ghoul. The only thing that didn’t grow back after being cut off from a vampire or a ghoul was his head.
But what he didn’t know was why they were moving away from the cemetery, instead of inside its gates.
“You’re not lost, are you, mate?” Bones asked with cool geniality. He’d had meetings with Marie before, and they were only ever held in the cemetery’s underbelly, right below where her empty grave was. Marie Laveau had nothing if not a sense of irony.
Jelani half turned, but didn’t slow his stilted pace. “If you fear to follow me, then by all means, walk away.”
A snort escaped Bones as he stopped. “Trying to shame me into stupidity? Not bloody likely. Half an hour ago, someone made a very credible attempt to kill me, and now you want me to meet Majestic somewhere aside from her normal place. Tell me why, or I will walk away, and then you can explain to her why you felt it beneath you to prevent that.”
Jelani paused, his face still in profile. “Majestic is not here. She bid me to speak in her stead.”
Bones’s brows rose. Marie was notorious for handling requests, threats, or punishments herself, but she’d sent her lackey Jelani to meet with him? It made him even more curious to discover what this was about.
“Right, then,” Bones said. “After you.”
Jelani led him to Lafitte’s Blacksmith House, the oldest bar in the Quarter. Bones ordered a whiskey, neat. The ghoul didn’t order anything. His gaze kept flickering around, either waiting for something, or from nerves. Bones moved his hand to rest almost casually near his pockets. He had several silver knives lining his trousers and sleeves, in case of vampiric trouble, though nothing but decapitation would kill a ghoul.
“Marie,” Bones prodded him.
“Majestic,” Jelani corrected at once.
Bones resisted the urge to roll his eyes. The formalities are over, so do pry the stick out of your arse.
Instead he said, “What does she want from me?”
Jelani reached in his jacket. His movement was slowed by his stiff, plastic hands, so Bones didn’t feel the caution he normally would have at the gesture. Then Jelani pulled out a manila envelope.
Bones took it, slipped the photos out discreetly, taking only a moment to flick his gaze over them and the pages underneath. Then he slid them back in their envelope and gave a hard, flat stare to the man opposite him.
“What makes you think they’re even still alive? There’s been hardly a whisper about the pair of them for half a century.”
Jelani’s eyes were dark brown, almost the same color as Bones’s, and his stare was equally hard. “They are alive, and they are in the city.”
“Because of some blood and bits of body parts found in an apartment?” Bones asked dismissively. “Any human could be responsible for the same.”
“It’s them.” Jelani’s tone was emphatic. “They’re repeating what they did forty years ago. Majestic was overseas then, too, and they came here just before Mardi Gras. By Ash Wednesday, fifteen people had disappeared. Now once again, the queen is away, and they’ve returned.”
Bones considered him. Either Jelani was a very good liar or he believed what he was saying. That didn’t make it true, however.
“I need more proof than missing tourists during Marie’s absence. Why didn’t I hear that they returned to New Orleans back then, as you claim? It’s not like such news wouldn’t have made the rounds, mate.”
Jelani was also careful not to say their names. “I smelled them both times,” he replied, not bothering to correct Bones calling her Marie again. “Majestic wants you to handle this quietly. Once it’s done, she will take the credit for their punishment, so it will not seem that she’s twice let murderers hunting in her city escape during her absence.”
Bones tapped his chin. It wouldn’t be an easy job. The LaLauries were infamous in both human and undead history. Louis was rumored to be around four hundred years old, and a powerful ghoul. Delphine was not quite two hundred, but what she lacked in Louis’s age, she made up for in viciousness.
“One hundred thousand pounds,” Bones said.
It was a steep enough price that Marie wouldn’t feel she owed him a favor, but low enough that she’d also know it was a friend’s rate. In truth, he might have done the job for nothing. The LaLauries were as nasty a pair as some of the other sods Bones had shriveled for free.
Jelani didn’t even blink. “If you finish the job by Ash Wednesday, the money is yours.”
That gave him just over a week. Bones finished his whiskey. No time to dawdle, then.
“You’ll give me full run of the city,” he said, setting his glass down. “And you’ll stay out of my way unless directed. Do we have an accord?”
Jelani gave him a thin smile. “We do.”
The townhouse smelled of death, blood, urine, and random police officers, in that order. Bones grunted as he knelt next to one of the reddish-brown stains on the floor.
“With the stench from all the different coppers in here, I’m amazed you could even decipher the LaLauries’ scent.”
Jelani stayed at the top of the stairs, not venturing down to the first floor.
“They weren’t only down there. They slept in the bed up here”—Jelani pointed to a room down the hall—“and sat on the couch here”—with a stiff finger at what Bones supposed was the family room.
Bones inhaled deepl
y, making a mental catalog of the scents. Then he leaped up the stairs in one bound, noticing Jelani’s inadvertent flinch as he watched.
Right. No need to remind the fellow of what he couldn’t do anymore.
“The bed and the sofa, you say?” Bones asked, changing to walk with the slowness he used when around humans. The sofa faced the telly, with a view out the balcony to the left of it. Bones went over to it and inhaled again, noting the differences—and the similarities—from the smells downstairs.
“The owner of the flat. The girl. Has her body been found elsewhere?”
Jelani gave him a slight smile. “What makes you think this wasn’t the boy’s place?”
Bones shot Jelani an annoyed look. “There’s a feminine scent all over this flat. This wasn’t where the boy lived, though it’s mostly his blood on the first floor.”
“There’s a picture of the girl in her bedroom.” Jelani’s voice was neutral, as if they were discussing the weather. “She’s beautiful. I imagine she’s still alive. For now.”
Bones stared at Jelani. All his instincts told him that the ghoul was hiding something. Bones wondered if he’d known the girl. Jelani was acting as if none of this affected him, but his scent was of fear…and hatred. If he’d been emotionally attached to the flat’s owner, that would make sense.
Or he could just be frightened of what would happen if Bones was unable to kill the LaLauries by the time Marie returned. Since Marie had left him in charge, it would be considered Jelani’s failure as well.
“You’ve never told me how you know Delphine and Louis’s scent to recognize it,” Bones stated.
Something flashed across Jelani’s face before it became smooth as dark glass again.
“I was married in the eighteen sixties,” Jelani replied. “She was a slave in the St. Francisville house, which happened to be where the LaLauries fled after they left the Quarter. While I was fighting in the Union Army, Delphine and Louis tortured and ate my wife. I arrived too late to save her, but I’ll never forget their scent.”