Halfway to the Grave
with Exclusive Bonus Material
Halfway to the Grave
I STIFFENED AT THE RED AND BLUE LIGHTS flashing behind…
SOMETHING SEEMED TO BE DIGGING AT MY brain. With agonizing…
WE FACED EACH OTHER IN THE CENTER OF A large…
HARD TRAINING. THOSE WERE THE WORDS HE used to describe…
IT WAS WEEK FIVE. I TRUDGED INTO THE CAVE, wishing…
FRIDAY FINALLY ARRIVED. FOR THE PAST FIVE days, I experimented…
BONES WAS FAR MORE EXPEDITIOUS IN disposing of a body…
IT OCCURRED TO ME THE NEXT MORNING THAT I had…
MY MIND COULDN’T SEEM TO KEEP UP WITH current events.
SOMETHING WAS PRESSED AGAINST MY MOUTH. Liquid spilled into it…
DID YOU GET THE NOTES FROM THE LECTURE today? I…
WE STOPPED ONCE ON OUR WAY TO THE CAVE. Bones…
I DROVE STRAIGHT HOME, MY EMOTIONS IN A tug-of-war the…
WE ONLY STAYED LONG ENOUGH TO MAKE sure Charlie didn’t…
IT WAS A BUSY REMAINDER OF THE WEEK. THERE was…
THE BLACK-HAIRED VAMPIRE ROSE TO HIS FEET as soon as…
EVEN WITH BONES’S SPEEDING, I WOULDN’T have time to shower…
TWO WEEKS WENT BY, BUT WE DIDN’T FIND anything more…
THE CLOCK STRUCK ELEVEN AND CAT THE vampire huntress was…
TIMMIE LOOKED AT ME WITH THE MORBID fascination you’d give…
CATHERINE, YOU HAVEN’T BEEN HOME IN FOUR weeks. I know…
WE DROVE OVER UNPAVED ROADS AND through the trees to…
MY STAKES AND KNIVES WERE IN MY BOOTS and lined…
THEY READ ME MY RIGHTS, SOMETHING I didn’t pay much…
THERE WERE THREE GUARDS OUTSIDE MY hospital room, and I…
TO GIVE CREDIT WHERE IT WAS DUE, DON WAS as…
RODNEY WAS A GHOUL, TO MY SURPRISE. Somehow I just…
Dear Readers Letter
Creatures that Inhabit the Night Huntress world…
One Foot in the Grave
Home for the Holidays
Once Burned: A Night Prince Novel
The World of the Night Huntress
About the Author
Other Books by Jeaniene Frost
About the Publisher
Halfway to the Grave
Halfway to the Grave
To my mother,
who always believed in me,
even when I didn’t.
I STIFFENED AT THE RED AND BLUE LIGHTS flashing behind me, because there was no way I could explain what was in the back of my truck. I pulled over, holding my breath as the sheriff came to my window.
“Hi. Something wrong?” My tone was all innocence while I prayed there was nothing unusual about my eyes. Control yourself. You know what happens when you get upset.
“Yeah, you’ve got a busted taillight. License and registration, please.”
Crap. That must have happened when I was loading up the truck bed. Speed had been of the essence then, not daintiness.
I handed him my real license, not the fake one. He shone his flashlight back and forth between the identification and my face.
“Catherine Crawfield. You’re Justina Crawfield’s girl, aren’t you? From the Crawfield Cherry Orchard?”
“Yes, sir.” Politely and blandly, as if I didn’t have a care in the world.
“Well, Catherine, it’s nearly four a.m. Why are you out this late?”
I could tell him the truth about my activities, except I didn’t want to sign on for hard time. Or an extended stay in a padded cell.
“I couldn’t sleep, so I decided I’d drive around.”
To my dismay, he ambled to the bed of the truck and shone his light in it.
“Whatcha got back there?”
Oh, nothing unusual. A dead body under some bags and an ax.
“Bags of cherries from my grandparents’ orchard.” If my heartbeat were any louder, it would deafen him.
“Really?” With his flashlight he poked at a plastic lump. “One of ’em is leaking.”
“Don’t worry.” My voice was almost a squeak. “They always leak. That’s why I carry them in this old truck. They’ve stained the bottom of it red.”
Relief crashed through me when he ceased his explorations and returned to my window.
“And you’re driving around this late because you couldn’t sleep?” There was a knowing curl to his mouth. His gaze took in my tight top and disheveled hair. “You think I’m going to believe that?”
The innuendo was blatant and I almost lost my cool. He thought I’d been out sleeping around. An unspoken accusation hung between us, nearly twenty-three years in the making. Just like your mother, aren’t you? It wasn’t easy being illegitimate in a town so small, people still held that against you. In today’s society, you wouldn’t think it mattered, but Licking Falls, Ohio, had its own set of standards. They were archaic at best.
With great effort I restrained my anger. My humanity tended to shed like a disposable skin when I got angry.
“Could we just keep this between us, Sheriff?” Back to the guileless blinking of my eyes. It had worked on the dead guy, anyway. “Promise I won’t do it again.”
He fingered his belt as he considered me. His large belly strained against the fabric of his shirt, but I refrained from comments about his girth or the fact that he smelled like beer. Finally he smiled, exposing a crooked front tooth.
“Go home, Catherine Crawfield, and get that taillight fixed.”
Giddy with my reprieve, I revved up the truck and drove off. That had been close. I’d have to be more careful next time.
People complained about having deadbeat fathers or skeletons in their family’s closets. For me, both were really true. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I hadn’t always known what I was. My mother, the only other person in on the secret, didn’t tell me until I was sixteen. I grew up with abilities other children didn’t have, but when I asked her about them, she’d get angry and tell me not to talk about it. I learned to keep things to myself and hide my differences. To everyone else, I was just weird. Friendless. Liked to wander around at strange hours and had odd pale skin. Even my grandparents didn’t know what was in me, but then again, neither did those I hunted.
There was a pattern to my weekends now. I went to any of the clubs within a three-hour drive to look for some action. Not the kind the good sheriff thought I was into, but another brand. I’d drink like a fish and wait to be picked up by that special someone. One I hoped I could end up planting in the backyard, if I didn’t get killed first. I’d been doing this for six years now. Maybe I had a death wish. Funny, really, since technically I was half dead.
Therefore my near miss with the law didn’t stop me from going out the following Friday. At least this way, I knew I was making one person happy. My mother. Well, she had a right to hold a grudge. I just wished it hadn’t spilled over to me.
The club’s loud music hit me like a splash, jerking my pulse to its beat. I made my way carefully through the crowds, seeking that unmistakable vibe. The place was packed, a typical Friday night. After I wandered around for an hour, I felt the first stirrings of disappointment. There appeared to be only people here. With a sigh, I sat at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic. The first man who tried to kill me had ordered it for me. It was now my drink of choice. Who said I wasn’t sentimental?
Men approached me periodically. Something about being a single young woman screamed “Screw me” to them. Politely and somewhat impolitely I turned them down, depending on how persistent they were. I wasn’t here to date. After my first boyfriend, Danny, I never wanted to date again. If the guy was alive, I wasn’t interested. No wonder I had no love life to speak of.
After three more drinks I decided to cruise the club again, since I was having no luck being bait. It was nearly midnight, and so far there had been nothing aside from alcohol, drugs, and dancing.
Booths were tucked in the far corner of the club. As I passed in front of them, I felt a twinge of charged air. Someone, or something, was near. I stopped and did a slow circle, attempting to ferret out the location.
Out of the light and obscured by shadows, I saw the top of a man’s head bent forward. His hair was nearly white under the intermittent lighting, but his skin was unlined. Hollows and contours became features as he looked up and spotted me staring at him. His brows were distinctly darker than his hair, which appeared to be light blond. Those eyes were dark as well, too deep for me to guess a color. His cheekbones could have been chiseled from marble, and that flawless diamonds-and-cream skin gleamed from under his shirt collar.
Pasting a false smile on my face, I sauntered over with the exaggerated walk of someone drunk and plunked myself down on the opposite seat.
“Hello, handsome,” I said in my most alluring voice.
His tone was clipped, with a distinct English accent. I blinked stupidly for a moment, thinking maybe I had drunk too much and misunderstood him.
“I’m busy.” He sounded impatient and mildly annoyed.
Confusion raged in me. Could I have been wrong? Just to be certain, I reached out and ran a finger lightly over his hand. The power nearly jumped off his skin. Not human, all right.
“I was wondering, um…” Stumbling over my words, I searched for an enticing phase. Frankly, this had never happened before. Usually his kind were easy pickings. I didn’t know how to handle this as a true professional would.
“Want to fuck?”
The words burst out, and I was horrified at myself for saying them. I barely managed to avoid clapping a hand over my mouth, never having used that word before.
He glanced back with a curl of amusement on his lips, having turned away after his second refusal. Dark eyes raked me appraisingly.
“Bad timing, luv. Have to wait until later. Be a good bird and fly away, I’ll find you.”
With a flick of his hand, he dismissed me. Numbly I got up and walked away, shaking my head at the turn of events. Now how was I supposed to kill him?
In a daze I went to the ladies’ room to inspect my appearance. My hair looked okay, albeit its usual startling crimson shade, and I wore my lucky top, which had led the last two guys to their doom. Next I bared my teeth at my reflection. Nothing was stuck in them. Lastly, I raised my arm and sniffed near the crease. No, I didn’t smell bad. What was it, then? A thought occurred to me. Could he be gay?
Reflectively I considered it. Anything was possible—I was proof of that. Perhaps I could watch him. Follow him whenever he tried to pick someone up, male or female. Decision made, I headed out with renewed determination.
He was gone. The table he’d been crouched over was empty, and there was no trace of him in the air. With growing urgency I searched the surrounding bars, the dance floor, and the booths again. Nothing. I must have dawdled too long in the bathroom. Cursing myself, I stalked back to the bar and ordered a fresh drink. Although alcohol didn’t dull my senses, having a drink was something to do, and I was feeling very unproductive.
“Beautiful ladies should never drink alone,” a voice said next to me.
Turning to give a rebuff, I stopped short when I saw my admirer was as dead as Elvis. Blond hair about four shades darker than the other one’s, with turquoise-colored eyes. Hell’s bells, it was my lucky night.
“I hate to drink alone, in fact.”
He smiled, showing lovely squared teeth. All the better to bite you with, my dear.
“Are you here by yourself?”
“Do you want me to be?” Coyly, I fluttered my lashes at him. This one wasn’t going to get away, by God.
“I very much want you to be.” His voice was lower now, his smile deeper. God, but they had great intonation. Most of them could double as phone-sex operators.
“Well, then I was. Except now I’m with you.”
I let my head tilt to the side in a flirtatious manner that also bared my neck. His eyes followed the movement, and he licked his lips. Oh good, a hungry one.
“What’s your name, lovely lady?”
“Cat Raven.” An abbreviation of Catherine, and the hair color of the first man who tried to kill me. See? Sentimental.
His smile broadened. “Such an unusual name.”
His name was Kevin. He was twenty-eight and an architect, or so he claimed. Kevin was recently engaged, but his fiancée had dumped him and now he just wanted to find a nice girl and settle down. Listening to this, I managed not to choke on my drink in amusement. What a load of crap. Next he’d be pulling out pictures of a house with a white picket fence. Of course, he couldn’t let me call a cab, and how inconsiderate that my fictitious friends left without me. How kind of him to drive me home, and oh, by the way, he had something to show me. Well, that made two of us.
Experience had taught me it was much easier to dispose of a car that hadn’t been the scene of a killing. Therefore, I managed to open the passenger door of his Volkswagen and run screaming out of it with feigned horror when he made his move. He’d picked a deserted area, most of them did, so I didn’t worry about a Good Samaritan hearing my cries.
He followed me with measured steps, delighted with my sloppy staggering. Pretending to trip, I whimpered for effect as he loomed over me. His face had transformed to reflect his true nature. A sinister smile revealed upper fangs where none had been before, and his previously blue eyes now glowed with a terrible green light.
I scrabbled around, concealing my hand slipping into my pocket. “Don’t hurt me!”
He knelt, grasping the back of my neck.
“It will only hurt for a moment.”
Just then, I struck. My hand whipped out in a practiced movement and the weapon it held pierced his heart. I twisted repeatedly until his mouth went slack and the light faded from his eyes. With a last wrenching shove, I pushed him off and wiped my bloody hands on my pants.
“You were right.” I was out of breath from my exertions. “It only hurt for a moment.”
Much later when I arrived home, I was whistling. The night hadn’t been a total waste after all. One had gotten away, but one would be prowling the dark no more. My mother was asleep in the room we shared.
I’d tell her about it in the morning. It was the first question she asked on the weekends. Did you get one of those things, Catherine? Well, yes, I did! All without me getting battered or pulled over. Who could ask for more?
I was in such a good mood, in fact, that I decided to try the same club the next night. After all, there was a dangerous bloodsucker in the area and I had to stop him, right? So I went about my usual household chores with impatience. My mother and I lived with my grandparents. They owned a modest two-story home that had actually once been a barn. Turned out the isolated property, with its acres of land, was coming in handy. By nine o’clock, I was out the door.
It was crowded again, this being a Saturday night. The music was just as loud and the faces just as blank. My initial sweep of the place turned up nothing, deflating my mood a little. I headed toward the bar and didn’t notice the crackle in the air before I heard his voice.
“I’m ready to fuck now.”
I whirled around, prepared to indignantly scald the ears of the unknown creep, when I stopped. It was him. A blush came to my face when I remembered what I’d said last night. Apparently he’d remembered as well.
“Ah yes, well…” Exactly how did one respond to that? “Umm, drink first? Beer or…?”