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At Graves End, Page 11

Jeaniene Frost

Chapter Eleven

 

  WE WERE ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE LAWN OF the still-smoldering house. The fire department had come. So had the police, but this time, Juan and Tate didn't even need to bother with their credentials. Not with so many vampires able to green-eye the emergency crews into putting out the flames first and asking questions. . . never.

  Which was why no police had wandered over despite some very loud yelling by the six perpetrators of tonight's bonfire. The other four had been rounded up when the original two outed them under extreme duress. None of the guests had been allowed to leave while this went on, for obvious reasons, despite some protests. After two hours of "questioning," the main architect of the attack was finally revealed to be a vampire named Patra.

  And wouldn't you know it, this Patra was also Max's mysterious benefactor, though I had no idea who she was, let alone why she'd wanted me dead.

  As soon as Bones heard the name, his head whipped up and he stared at Mencheres. The Egyptian vampire closed his eyes with a look I might have called pain.

  "Let me guess," I said, noting their reactions with alarm. "We're talking about a really old, powerful vampire?"

  Bones turned his gaze back to me. "Yes. Over two thousand years old and a Master. Mencheres, you know what this means. "

  The other vampire's tunic wasn't all sparkly white now, and that pretty gold dust on his skin had been replaced by ashes. Right about now, I was thinking it matched his expression.

  His steel eyes opened, and whatever emotions he might have been feeling were slammed behind an impenetrable mask.

  "Yes. It means war. "

  "Those of you who are not of our lines," Bones said in a clear voice, "make your choice now. Stay here and align yourself with us, or choose Patra and walk away. You get free passage tonight only. Should I ever see you or yours again without invitation, I'll kill you. "

  Mencheres glided over next to him. "Decide," he said simply.

  Some of those who walked over to us were a given. Spade had moved before the words finished being uttered. Rodney did, too, and several other notable members of the pulseless community. Vampires and ghouls I didn't recognize were taking our side, either out of loyalty to Bones or Mencheres, or out of fear of them.

  Then there were the holdouts.

  Several glided off into the night, their absences wordless but pointed. Then there were the undecided ones, waiting to see how many stayed and how many left before they chose a side. The person who surprised me most by leading his people over with a curt nod to Bones was Ian. I'd been sure he'd take that long walk into the night, what with how he'd been upstaged by Bones twice in the last few months. I glanced at Bones and thought a single sentence:I don't trust him.

  A half shrug was his only response.

  When it was finished, roughly seventy percent of the independent Masters had cast their lot with us. The other thirty were only an indication of the opposition. Who knew how many really meant it by standing at our side tonight? Only time would tell.

  Pledges made, everyone left the ruins of the house. I hoped Mencheres had insurance, because he'd just lost a shitload of valuables in that detonation. Then again, I didn't think "undead vendetta" would look like a plausible reason on his homeowner's policy claim form.

  Mencheres, Rattler, Tick Tock, and Zero accompanied Bones and me in our specially equipped SUV. It had bulletproof glass, among other things, and before we turned it on, Zero checked it over for any explosive devices. Fool us once and all that. Spade and Rodney were in charge of our four party spoilers. I was betting they were going to have a long day in front of them.

  Once we'd driven off far enough that I wasn't worried about other undead ears listening, I asked the questions I hadn't wanted to utter before.

  "How did this woman get those vampires to Krispy Kreme themselves? Obviously the humans had to be tranced into becoming walking bombs, but the vampires? It doesn't seem like their style. "

  Tick Tock was driving. Mencheres rode shotgun, and Bones and I were in the backseat. Good thing this vehicular monstrosity had a third row so that the other three vampires weren't perched on our laps.

  "Likely by holding whomever they love hostage and then threatening wretched torment on them if they refused," Bones replied. "Not much else would make a vampire give up their own lives in that way, but we'll find out for certain when we question the others more fully. "

  I winced. "God, then I can't really blame them for what they did. Maybe you shouldn't be so rough on them-"

  "Did they come to me with the plot?" Bones interrupted. "No. I would have tried to assist them and their family if they had, but they didn't, so they knew the consequences. "

  I didn't argue further. Vampires played by a whole different set of rules, and for nearly killing Bones. . . yeah, they deserved what they got.

  "Will she really let their families go?"

  Bones shrugged. "It's in her favor to. Else the threat doesn't work as well next time. "

  "I hate this shit," I grumbled. "Backstabbing. Hostages. Suicide bombings. Family and friends hurt just because they love someone on the wrong side of the fang border. It's only going to get worse now, isn't it?"

  "Yes. "

  Most of the time Bones's honesty was what I loved about him. Then there were the times when I wished he would just fucking lie to me.

  I let out a deep sigh. "This puts our wedding on hold. There's no way we could expect to pull off a shindig like that with everything going on now. In stead of 'Here Comes the Bride,' I'd probably be walking down the aisle to a bunch of ticking noises before a bigboom. "

  "I'm sorry, luv," Bones said. "It wouldn't be safe, not at this time. "

  Not unless we drive straight to a post office and do the honors there, I thought bleakly, then lashed myself for being childish. So we'd have our wedding another time, big deal. Considering how tonight had almost turned out, a canceled wedding should be the least of my concerns.

  "So who is this Patra chick, anyway?" I asked. "Doesn't make sense that she'd go to such extremes to help my father murder me. . . and then let her lackey Talisman offer Tate a deal to get me out of the house before it blew. "

  In the front seat, I saw Mencheres tense even as Bones said, "No, it doesn't, does it, Grandsire? In fact, while I can think of several reasons why Patra would want you dead, and me as well now that I've merged lines with you, I don't have the slightest idea why she'd come after my wife. "

  Something in his tone made me look sharply at him. . . and then at the silent vampire in the front seat. There was more going on here than met the eye. The tension grew until you could almost see it like a haze.

  "It was never about Cat," Mencheres said at last.

  "Excuse me?" Now I was pissed. "When someone tries to see you dead, then itis about you in my book. "

  Mencheres didn't turn around, but kept staring ahead at the highway. "Then your book would be wrong, because there is another reason to kill you. Max and Calibos believed that Bones didn't care about you, so they thought they could get away with what they did. But Patra knew Bones loved you. Enough that your death would be a crippling blow to him, which would make him easier to kill later. That's the only reason she aided Max, because she has no interest in you, Cat. Killing you was just a means to get to Bones. "

  Bones muttered a curse even as I burst out, "But why? What didBones do to her?"

  Bones's face was grim. With the soot and ash smeared all over him, he looked very dangerous.

  "I think it's time you explain, Grandsire. "

  "Everyone envies me my visions," Mencheres said with bitterness. "You don't know what it's like to be asked why, why,why didn't I see the earthquake coming, or the tsunami, or the volcano, or the plane crash, or whatever tragic event that claims the lives of those around me. I don't know what makes some things come to me with diamond-sharp clarity, while others are murky, and some are never glimpsed at all. I can only warn w
hat I am sure of. . . and then wait to see if I'm ignored. "

  I blinked. This was as upset as I'd ever seen Mencheres. His slick-as-ice exterior was seriously cracked, and he looked like he wanted to put his fist through the windshield. Tick Tock cast him an appraising look out of the corner of his eye, no doubt deciding whether or not to pull over.

  "No one is blaming you for what happened tonight," Bones said in an even tone. "But you still haven't answered my question. "

  No, he hadn't, but he'd done a good job at clouding the issue. Hell, I could barely remember what the question was myself after that outburst. Oh, right, why the really old bitch wanted Bones dead. Focus, Cat!

  "I warned Patra many years ago what would happen if she went down a certain path. " Mencheres's voice was so low, I had to strain to hear him. "Centuries ago, I saw a vision of a man marrying a woman who was neither human, vampire, nor ghoul, and then the same man wielded the knife that killed Patra. So you see, Bones. . . as soon as Cat was revealed to be a half-breed and you wed her at Ian's, Patra knew what I'd told her all those years ago had come to pass. So the only way she can avoid that fate is to kill you. "

  "You son of abitch. " My voice was a furious growl. "You knew Patra would come after Bones with all she had, but you didn't warn him. You didn't doany- thing!"

  "Kitten, infighting won't solve anything," Bones said, but he didn't sound pleased, either. "We have to stick together, else we'll be doing Patra's work for her. "

  The logic penetrated that red part of my brain that was thinking,Kill! Kill! toward the vampire in the front seat.

  Mencheres shook his head. "I've had guards watching Bones since that night at Ian's. The only time I didn't was when you both were carrying out your missions with your uncle. Furthermore, I. . . I'd hoped when Patra realized I'd been right, that she'd cease her plots against me. But after what happened to you, I knew she was set on her course. And that is why soon afterward, I made my offer of an alliance with Bones. Without it, do you think either of you would have a chance?"

  Hard words. Bones gave Mencheres that same flat stare. "You're very right I'm going to kill Patra for what she's done to my wife. No matter if you plead with me not to. "

  "Why the hell would he?" I wondered irritably. "Seems to me she wants him dead, too, or she wouldn't have just barbecued his home hoping he'd be in it along with you. In fact, oh powerful one, why haven't you taken her out yourself? Can't you handle her on your own?"

  Mencheres closed his eyes. It was Bones who answered my question.

  "There's more about Patra you don't know. She chose her vampire name in honor of her mother, one of Egypt's most famous rulers, and merely shortened it when she changed over. Patra is the daughter of Cleopatra, and Mencheres refuses to kill her. . . because she's his wife. "