At graves end, p.10
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       At Graves End, p.10

         Part #3 of Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost
 
Chapter Ten

 

  BONES, EVER PARANOID THAT ONE OF THESE guests could be Max's mysterious benefactor, was plastered to my side. I didn't mind for two reasons. First, he could be right. There was a shitload of pulseless people here, and who knew how many of them were really allies? The other reason was simple. That new throb of his power felt like a caress along my skin.

  But when the naked human men and women came out to mingle among the guests, I stopped in my tracks.

  Bones chuckled, hearing the question in my mind, or guessing from the look of my face.

  "These are the hors d'oeuvres, Kitten. See that glitter they're covered in? It's a very special mixture, edible as well. Note the ones with the extra arms? They don't have birth defects, those arms are food delicacies shaped like limbs and glued onto them. Ghouls have to eat also. "

  I stared in disbelief as one of the walking treats sat on the lap of a vampire, offering her neck. Meanwhile, a ghoul sedately gnawed on what appeared to be a fake fourth arm protruding from her torso. Yuck!

  I found my voice. "That is the sickest version of a snack plate I've ever seen. How did you get these people to agree to this? Mind-fuck them?"

  He snorted. "Not nearly. They're willing volunteers, pet. Some are humans who belong to Mencheres or me, and others are groupies, for lack of a better word. People who know about vampires and ghouls and are hoping some nice undead bloke will choose them to change over. It happens, of course. Else they wouldn't flock to us in droves. Some of them offer more than a bite or a beverage, but that's their choice. I don't require it. "

  Oh, so they were dinner and entertainment. How my life had changed. Here I was, one of the hosts of a bang-and-bite soiree honoring Bones's alliance with a mega-Master vampire. What next, presiding over a massive orgy?

  Bones caught my hand. "We're sneaking away for a moment," he whispered, backing me into a nearby study. Once past the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, he pressed a lever, and then we were in a narrow dark passageway before I'd ever seen where it was.

  "Secret tunnel?" I teased. "How very cloak-and-dagger. "

  He smiled. "Ah, here we are. Alone at last. "

  "Here" was a small room, unfurnished, no windows. Only a hatch in the ceiling about three feet square in size.

  "Leads to the roof by way of the attic," he supplied. "Quick way to make a dash for it, if one needed to. Also, this room has thick concrete walls, so less sound travels. "

  So that meant we could talk without being overheard. "You can read my mind now," I breathed. "God, Bones, that kind of freaks me out. "

  "I'd tell you I won't listen to your thoughts, but that would be a lie. You're too close to me for me to block them out completely, and I can't say I would even if I could. I want to know all of you, Kitten. What you show me, and what you try not to. "

  There was no use arguing over it. If I'd been endowed with the same power, I'd be just as guilty of using it. Mencheres had said Bones's strength would grow, but he hadn't mentioned that he might get new abilities altogether. I wondered what else was going to be different.

  "My vision and hearing are clearer," Bones answered for me. "And of course I feel significantly stronger. As for what else is different, we'll have to wait and see. "

  "I still don't know about this," I muttered. It was weird having him pull the questions out of my mind before I could even ask them.

  Bones studied my face. "I haven't changed, luv. Just my abilities. Can you believe that?"

  He would have heard the answer before I said it out loud, but I did it anyway.

  "Yes. "

  Bones gave me a few drops of his blood to replenish what he'd drunk before we returned to the questionable festivities. I felt like I'd downed a bottle of NoDoz, I was so wired. Don will be doing backflips when he gets his sample for his weekly collection, I thought irrelevantly.

  Tate was across the room. He caught my eye and rubbed his nose, twice. I tensed. That was an old signal that there was trouble. He turned around in the next moment, so it wouldn't have been obvious to anyone that a message had just been exchanged.

  This was a time when Bones's new telepathic eavesdropping would come in handy. Something's up, Tate's freaked. If you have a lockdown mode for this place, now would be the time to implement it.

  Bones made his way over to Mencheres, keeping me close to his side as we passed by other people. They didn't exchange words. Maybe Mencheres had also heard my mental warning, because he nodded once and then gestured to a nearby guard.

  That's when all hell broke loose.

  A vampire walking toward us blew up. Just blew into pieces of scorched body parts. Then three more rushed in our direction at kamikaze speeds.

  Bones threw me across the room like a Hail Mary football to Tate, who darted forward. It wasn't a moment too soon. The explosion from the charging vampires momentarily deafened me. Tate caught me, using his body as a shield from the sudden attack of human and inhuman bombs that seemed to be all around us. Two more of our breathing treats went off like Roman candles, splattering gore on whoever was lucky enough not to be killed by their close contact. I craned over Tate's shoulder and kicked as he barreled us away from the crowd.

  "Goddammit, let me go!"

  "You don't understand," Tate ground out, giving me a rough elbow to the head that briefly stunned me into limpness. Then I started to wrestle with him as he sped through the throngs of people. Each exit was guarded by vampires who belonged to Bones or Mencheres, but they let us pass after a shouted command from Bones. Hearing his voice made me weak with relief. At least he was still alive.

  Tate clamped his hand over my mouth, not letting go, even when I bit him. It was the most damage I could inflict in the position he had me in, flung over his back like a sack. Only after we were outside on the lawn did he stop running.

  "Let go of my hand, I have to go back inside," he almost snarled, dropping me.

  I released my bite and began to yell. "What the fuck, Tate! You think I'm just going to stay out here while people are exploding-"

  "There's a bomb, Cat. This place is going to blow. "

  That shocked me into silence for a second, then I started toward the house again.

  Tate punched me, hard, rocking me back.

  "I don't have time to explain," he spat. "But I am going to get everyone out, even your vampire lover. If you see Talisman, grab him. He's involved. Guard the perimeter, Cat. "

  He sprinted back inside, and I wrestled with the choice whether or not to follow him. Everything inside me screamed to go back in and tell Bones about the bomb. What if Tate didn't get to him in time? Mentally I kept shouting the warning at him, but with all the chaos, I didn't know if he'd hear me.

  My decision was made when I saw three forms streaking stealthily across the roof. Oh, we had rats trying to abandon ship, did we?

  I got them in midair as they jumped to the ground, throwing them into the walls from the velocity of my leap. There was only a split second to identify them before I crashed into their bodies, and in that instant, I knew which ones to skewer. The two lesser vampires each got a chestful of daggers while I split Talisman's skull on the stone walls, not killing him, but dazing him.

  He came to awareness with a frenzy of snapping teeth. Talisman was a Master vampire and he wasn't willing to go down gently. We rolled around on the grass, both of us tearing at each other. Soon I was covered in messy bite marks where his teeth sliced me but hadn't locked on. Only when I jabbed a knife through his heart did he freeze. With a malicious smile I moved it a fraction.

  "One twitch and you're beef jerky, asshole. I'd stay real still if I were you. "

  But he wasn't me. "I won't be held like your father," he said, and proved his statement by thrashing on top of me, shredding his own heart with his actions and going limp.

  "Shit!" I exclaimed, and shoved him off.

  There wasn't time to ponder Talisman's suicide. The doors to
the house opened and groups of vampires and ghouls came out, led by the guards. There were so many of them, it looked like an anthill evacuating. None of the faces belonged to Bones, however.

  I saw Annette amid the throng and grabbed her. "Where's Bones? Why isn't he out here? He knows, doesn't he?"

  I didn't saybomb, not wanting to cause a panic if people didn't know yet. Annette looked rather frazzled herself, her usual cool composure absent.

  "He's still inside. He won't leave until all his people are out and he finds the others who are involved. "

  "Oh no he doesn't," I growled.

  Annette yanked on my arm and didn't let go. "Crispin said to keep you out here," she insisted, holding me back.

  Everything else aside, I enjoyed what I did next. Shallow of me, but true. I whirled and hit her so hard, she dropped to the ground with a dent in her skull. On the practical side, it also kept her from restraining me. See? It wasn't all for fun.

  As I rushed toward the house, I almost barreled into Spade.

  "Don't even think about stopping me," I warned him, palming some knives to punctuate my threat.

  He barely looked at them. "You have to come with me, we need to get Crispin out. Tate is still inside as well. At a guess, we have less than four minutes. "

  Four minutes! Vampires could survive many things, but having their entire body blown to bits wasn't one of them. Fear made me reckless, and I dashed forward into the house at a dead run, Spade keeping pace.

  We were in the deserted hallway when he sprung. I'd been searching the corners for danger and hadn't expected it from the man at my side. His fist shot at my head, but I never even saw it coming. All I knew was one moment, I'd been peering around a corridor, and in the next, I was seeing stars before everything went black.

  When I opened my eyes, we were sprawled on the lawn a hundred yards from the house. Spade still held me in an unrelenting grip. Even his legs were tangled around mine.

  "You backstabbing son of a bitch," I managed, struggling without success.

  Spade gave me a grim smile even as he tightened his grip.

  "Sorry, angel, but Crispin would kill me if I'd let anything happen to you. "

  Something moved on the roof. With Spade half on top of me, I couldn't see what, or who, it was.

  "Is that him?" I asked desperately.

  Spade craned his neck. "I'm not-"

  An explosion cut him off and lit the sky, as bright as if God himself flipped on a switch. I screamed, struggling even as Spade flipped me over with his body covering mine. My face was pressed in the grass while heavy thunks landed everywhere. It had to be pieces of the house raining down on the lawn like proverbial brimstone. The smoke was choking even with my face in the dirt.

  Spade didn't move for a few minutes, ignoring the threats I gasped out. Not until the sounds of falling objects ceased did he allow me to sit up, but he kept his rigid grip.

  The vampires and ghouls milling around hadn't screamed at the sight of the house exploding in the night. They looked discomfited, but not traumatized.

  "Charles, give me a hand with these. "

  Bones appeared above us in the swirling smoke. I was so relieved to see him, I almost cried. He was covered in soot, mostly unclothed from where his shirt and pants had been burned off, and his hair was in singed patches. He also had three vampires in his arms. When he landed, he dumped them to the ground.

  "Hold those two. Bloody sods," he grumbled, kick ing one. The third sat up and shook his head as if to clear it.

  It was Tate. Thank God, he'd made it out alive as well. Spade released me as Bones knelt next to me, and I threw my arms around him.

  "I'm so glad you're okay. . . and don't you ever tell your friends to hold me back again, dammit!"

  Bones chuckled. "Can we fight about that later, Kitten? We still have business to sort out, after all. "

  Then he set me back to look at me. "What happened to you? You look chewed. "

  He took one of my knives and sliced his palm. I took his blood, feeling the pain in my head ebb.

  "Are Juan and Cooper okay?" I asked, trying to spot them among the throngs of people.

  "I can hear them," Tate answered. "They're all right. "

  Bones gave Tate a sharp look. "How did you know what was about to happen?"

  Green flashed in Tate's eyes. "That scumbag Talisman approached me while you and Cat were off somewhere. He said he'd heard I was in love with Cat, and offered me a chance to get her all to myself. All I had to do was make sure you stayed inside the house after the bodies started to firecracker. Talisman guessed you'd want Cat as far away from any walking grenades as possible, so I was supposed to take her outside, then I just had to save my own ass in time. Presto, you dead, one Reaper looking for comfort. I gotta say, it was pretty tempting. "

  "I would have known you'd never do that, Tate," I said at once. "You're too good a man. "

  He laughed with more than a trace of irony. "Don't be so sure. I'll probably regret it later. "

  Bones stared at Tate for a long moment. I didn't say what else was obvious-that despite how much Bones didn't care for him, either, he could have left Tate in that house to die. But he'd grabbed him and saved his life instead. Without Bones flying them away, Tate would have burned. Both of them were more alike in their honor than I thought either would ever acknowledge.

  But as Bones had said, there was more pressing business at hand right now. Like the two very unhappy vampires fifteen feet away. My eyes narrowed as I glared at them. Try to blow up the man I loved, would they? We'd just see about that.