At graves end, p.12
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       At Graves End, p.12

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

 

  MARQUIS WAS A SWINGERS' BAR WHERES amp;M was in vogue and humans were the minority. To blend in with their anything-goes style, I was posing as the third in a trio with Tate and Dave. Bones was here somewhere, but I hadn't seen him. It was hard enough for me to disguise who I was without walking in arm-in-arm together.

  Not that we were here for kinky fun and games. Even though we were at war with the undead-the veryfamous undead, to be precise-I still had a job to do. After the deadly fiasco with Belinda, Don hadn't found another woman to be a replacement for me as bait yet, and this club was reported to be a place several people had disappeared from. Even though it was getting very difficult trying to juggle my job with all the upheaval in my personal life, work waited for no one. Not even the two-millennia-old daughter of Cleopatra.

  I still had a hard time coming to grips with that, but Bones reminded me that people who were remem bered hundreds or even thousands of years after their time were bound to make a lasting impression on their contemporaries. Put like that, I guess it wasn't such a surprise that some of history's notables-or their offspring, like Patra-had been changed over by a vampire or ghoul. But Mencheres hadn't just changed Patra, he'd also married her a mere few years after turning her. Practically a whirlwind courtship, as far as pulseless couples went. And even worse for him was that while he couldn't bring himself to kill his estranged wife, she sure didn't seem to have that same hesitation with him.

  To blend in with the Marquis crowd, I'd had a drastic makeover. My hair was streaked with wide black highlights, and my outfit, if it could be called that, looked like a combination ofLast Tango in Paris andAmerican Chopper.

  Two black leather circles attached to my breasts by thin metal chains were all that covered me from the waist up. Black leather thong panties were the bottom half, with more chains dangling from my waist in an absurd version of a skirt. Leather-topped thigh-high stockings embedded with spikes doubled as my hosiery, and I wore solid silver high-heeled shoes. All the better to kick the hell out of someone with. I'd gone heavy on the black eye makeup until raccoons and I could pass for cousins. Add numerous chains crisscrossing my arms, and this evening couldn't end fast enough.

  Dave and Tate were dressed with equal heinousness. More black leather, chains, and whips. Either Don's staff truly had costumes for all possible occasions on hand, or someone at wardrobe had a lot of explaining to do.

  We were checked for weapons at the door, all our chains notwithstanding. As usual, my silver shoes went overlooked. Hiding a weapon in plain sight had proven to be very effective. I was ushered in with Tate and Dave without anyone guessing a thing. Let the free-for-all begin.

  The three of us surveyed the interior of the club. Even I, who'd seen a lot, blinked at the spectacle around me.

  Couples led each other around by collars, dog-walking style. Every other person had a whip. I almost felt left out. In front of us a domestic dispute was going on. A man backhanded his date so hard, blood pearled at her mouth. My abrupt step forward was put on hold when she moaned in pleasure, asking for another blow.

  Ew. Well, what did I expect?S amp;M didn't stand forsoft and mushy.

  What almost gave me away as a quasi-normal person was my reaction when I got a look at the dance floor. Random beatings aside, which seemed to be the norm, some humans and their undead companions were giving dirty dancing a whole new name.

  "Wow," Tate whispered. "They're fuckingright on the dance floor. "

  "I see that. " There was an edge to my words.

  Dave gave me a sideways grin. "Juan will cry at being stuck in the van. If he were here, he'd be screaming,Authenticity's imperative! and taking his pants down. "

  That relaxed me enough to laugh. "You're so right. Well, let's boogey, boys, but keep your pencils in your pockets. We have a job to do. "

  For the next half hour, we grooved while manag ing to do a sweep of the area at the same time. So far, nothing looked murderous, even if it was nasty and rough.

  I felt a hum of power nearby. Bones had gotten to be so familiar to me that I knew him by aura alone. As casually as I could manage, I glanced over Dave's shoulder, seeking him out. My eyes widened when I found him.

  Bones was shirtless, those luscious muscles moving under his crystal flesh as he danced. And holy hell, when had he found the time to pierce his nipples? Those rings must be silver; that was the only thing a vampire's body wouldn't naturally dispel, but would need to be forced out by willpower instead, which Bones obviously wasn't doing. Those shiny silver circles drew the eye to his sculpted chest. It took me a minute to even notice his pants, and then I did freeze.

  "Keep moving, Cat," Dave whispered.

  I picked up where I'd left off, staring over Dave's shoulder as I danced. Bones's pants were made entirely of thin metal chains linked together. Skin peeked through the gaps whenever he moved, and anyone could tell he wasn't wearing anything under them. He caught my eye and grinned, running his tongue over his lip slow enough for me to notice that his nipples weren't the only thing he'd pierced.

  I was just starting to get warm all over at the thought of how that spike in his tongue would feel, when a brunette jostled around other people to peer up at Bones, her expression one of delighted shock.

  "I don't believe it, it's you! Do you remember me? Think Fresno, late eighties. Of course, I was human then. I almost didn't recognize you with the dark hair, you used to be blond. . . "

  Bones was giving her a glare that would have frozen steel, but she went on, heedless.

  ". . . come here before? I'm here all the time, and I can show you theprivate party area. "

  Bones lost his annoyed look at once and beamed at her. "Priscilla, wasn't it? Of course I remember you, my lovely. Private area, you say? Show me. "

  Bones let her drag him off to the side. Tate watched, a faintly disgusted curl to his lips.

  "Don't you get sick of it? How half the women he runs into have had a piece of him?"

  I ignored that and focused on Bones and Priscilla. Bones was telling her I was on the menu for tonight, if that private area was discreet enough for dining.

  "It is," Priscilla was saying as she ran her hands over him. "I can't wait to fuck you now that I'm a vampire. You were so amazing before, and it'll only be better. . . "

  My teeth ground together. Tate just let out a knowing snort.

  Priscilla pulled Bones's mouth down to hers next. I knew I should look away, but I couldn't. Nor could I leap across the dance floor and pummel her into a mass of goo, which is what I really wanted to do. But if I did, I might as well grab a bullhorn and announce myself. So I watched Bones kiss her with a thoroughness that had my nails ripping into my palms. It's not real, just like it's not real when you have to romance targets on a job, I reminded myself.

  But it hurt like it was real, making me wonder how Bones stood it when the situation was reversed and it was me French-kissing and getting feely with other men. At least he grabbed Priscilla's hand to stop her when the tramp reached for the front of his pants.

  "Soon, sweet, after I've eaten," Bones told her in a sensual purr. "Wouldn't want to be distracted, would I?"

  Bones propelled her back toward our little group.

  "This is William," he said with a nod to Dave, still in my arms. "The rest aren't worthy of names," he finished, indicating me and Tate.

  Priscilla ran a finger over his chest. "What's yours? You never did tell me. "

  He brought her hand to his lips. "I'll tell you afterward. "

  My teeth ground again, but I didn't say anything.

  "Follow me," Priscilla said. "This way. "

  His former promiscuity is finally coming in handy, I thought darkly as we approached the entryway into the hidden room. This would have taken time to find on our own.

  It was concealed underneath the unused bar in the far corner. You stepped behind a half wall and lifted the false cabinet
to reveal stairs. They traveled down, the noise from the revelers and music masking the sounds below. Something thumped in the room beyond the narrow passage, rising and falling with increasing volume as we approached.

  "Welcome. " Priscilla smiled as she opened the door. "To the real Marquis. "

  The room wasn't large, but it was filled from top to bottom with unnatural devices of every kind. Manacles hung from the walls, the cuffs attached to them stained with blood. We stepped past benches of a variety I never wanted to know about, straps and buckles worn from repeated use. A wheel? I didn't even want to guess what that was for.

  The thumping noise we'd heard turned out to be the flogging of a couple tied to one of the welded poles. They were faced away from their tormentor, foreheads smacking into the pole with every blow, and from the looks of them, they weren't enjoying their punishment.

  The whip master paused in his measured staccato to glance up at us. He was a vampire, roughly two hundred from the feel of his aura.

  "What have you brought me, Priscilla?"

  Another vampire lounged on the nearby couch, drinking from the neck of an unconscious woman on his lap.

  "Guests, Anre," she said.

  He rested his sherry-colored eyes over me. "I'll take her. It will be a pleasure to mark her flawless skin. " Next he considered Bones. "You look familiar, have we met?"

  Bones gave him a cold smile. "Not formally, but we did run into each other in London, round 1890, when I was looking for a bloke named Renard. Recall me now? I took his head but left you the rest of him. "

  Anre lowered his whip. Realization bloomed on his features, and then he shot Priscilla a truly evil glare.

  "You idiot, do you know who this is?"

  Priscilla gave Bones a confused look. Her distraction gave me the chance-and the great satisfaction-to knock her down and then ram my silver-heeled shoe right through her heart.

  "She pissed me off for the last time," I said to no one in particular.

  The vampire on the couch, watching this exchange with alarm, froze over his victim's neck. I lunged at him next. The girl was snatched from his hands and thrown to Dave while I head-butted the vamp with brutal force. He was stunned for a moment. Just long enough for me to jab the heel of my shoe into his heart and straight out through his back.

  Anre began to back away, although there was nowhere for him to go. Tate and Dave were behind him, Bones and me in front of him.

  "Please don't kill me, I have done nothing to you," he whimpered.

  "Bloody hell, show some dignity. You're an embarrassment to the race," Bones chided him.

  "Tate, get the unhappy couple," I directed him.

  Tate went over to them, slashed his palm, and clapped it across each of their mouths. Soon their welts disappeared. Then he untied them from the pole, herding them well out of the way of the other bodies.

  Anre held out a hand to Bones. "You have no cause to harm me. You want the humans? They're yours. "

  I shook my head. Wasn't it always the bullies who feared retaliation the most?

  "You're afraid of him, but it's me you need to worry about. "

  I retrieved one of his fallen whips and cracked it for punctuation. Bones had thought I couldn't handle seeing what he dished out to Max, but I could prove that I wasn't too squeamish when it came to doing necessary dirty work.

  "Give me the names of your other playmates, Anre. Refuse and, well. . . you have a lot of mean-looking toys here. Tried any of them out on yourself lately?"

  An hour later I was in possession of a name-Slash. He was here somewhere, scouting out his potential dinner. With all the noise from above, I doubted he even knew what had happened to Anre.

  I made my way through the dancers, seeking a man with the tattoo of a silver dragon along his jaw. Along the way, I was bumped, jostled, and even slapped by an overzealous woman whose partner turned away at the last moment. She didn't even apologize, either. Just glared at me and snapped, "That wasn't your gift!"

  "I'll give it back, then," I responded, and whacked her a good one. Honestly, whatever happened to saying,Excuse me?

  Someone grabbed me from behind. Cool hands moved over my breasts in a rough caress. I stiffened but didn't slam my elbow into their rib cage. Not yet.

  "I'm better from the front," I purred in my best bondage-tramp imitation.

  My head was jerked back next, so hard there would be strands of it in his grip. I gritted my teeth. This better be Slash, or I was going to stomp the shit out of the unknown asshole.

  That cool hand made its way from my breast down my stomach-and didn't stop. Okay, enough being Little Miss Submissive!

  I whirled around, losing more hair, and smashed my knee up at the same time. Tall, Dark, and Depraved, who didnot have a silver dragon tattoo on his jaw, doubled over. Then I shoved him into the gyrating mass of revelers surrounding us.

  "Isaid I'm better from thefront. "

  There was laughter by the other dancers close enough to witness this. I gave Tall, Dark, and Depraved another nasty glare before scouting around again for Slash. He had to be here. I didn't want to come back tomorrow if I couldn't find him. In fact, I'd be pretty happy if I never set foot in this place again.

  Two more cool hands slid along my waist, pulling me back against a hard chest. I clenched my fist, about to let loose a roundhouse punch, when something out of the corner of my eye stopped me. Were those scales etched on the side of my new Romeo's face?

  I turned around. . . and smiled. "You look good enough to eat, handsome. "

  The man grinned, stretching the dragon's tail that curled from his jaw to the side of his mouth. "Funny you should say that. I was thinking the same thing about you. "

  We began to dance. Slash was about my height, and he used the alignment of our bodies to his greatest advantage. I let it go on for a few minutes. Right up until he unzipped his leather pants and pulled out Mr. One Eye.

  "Whoa," I said, twisting away as he attempted to find a home for his stiff friend. "Isn't there somewhere we can be. . . alone?"

  Slash glanced at his cock, as if expecting it to voice an objection. Then he tugged my arm.

  "Come with me. I know just the place. "

  I saw with relief that I was being pulled toward the fake bar. If he'd gone in the opposite direction, all hell would have broken loose. Slash never bothered to tuck his dick back in his drawers, either. That thing stuck out the whole time like it was pointing the way.

  "Oohh, how exciting," I said as he lifted the faux counter to reveal that hidden staircase.

  Slash took my hand, almost yanking me beside him. The narrowness made for a very uncomfortable walk as we went down. Mental note: Shower as soon as possible.

  "I think you'll be surprised," he said as he opened the door. Then he stopped short. "What the-?"

  I shoved him in with all my strength. Slash went sprawling. He skidded to a halt at that awful pole, which now had the very bloody form of Anre shackled to it.

  I closed the door behind me. Bones went over to Slash, raised a brow at his rapidly deflating erection, and then gave him an icy smile.

  "No, mate, I expectyou're the one who's surprised. "

  "If we can leave quietly, I think we won't have to call in the team," Tate said as he piled Slash's body on top of Anre's. Priscilla and the other nameless vampire were stacked next to them.

  "Skulk out the back with our tails between our legs?" Bones snorted. "Fear's a valuable motivator. If we sneak away, then there's nothing to give someone pause who might consider setting up shop in this place again, is there?"

  I considered that. In most of our operations, we had a smash-and-grab approach. Smash the bad guys (or girls!), grab the evidence (meaning bodies) and then leave. Maybe that strategy needed rethinking. Bones was right about fear being an excellent motivator. Patra was using that tactic against us now. Maybe we needed to highlight that we played for keeps, too.
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br />   I glanced at Dave. He gave me an almost imperceptible nod. Tate, however, was incensed.

  "Brilliant plan, Crypt Keeper. You want us to bring up those heads like souvenirs, then shake our fingers at them and say, 'They were naughty' at all the freaks out there? You're out of your mind!"

  "Foolish. Coward. "

  Bones bit out both words precisely. Tate snarled, and I tripped him as he stalked toward Bones.

  "You must have slipped, because Iknow you weren't about to do anything, were you?"

  Tate glared up at me, and then must have seen the consequences of following through with that intention in my gaze, because he lost his angry posture.

  "Your call, Cat. What's it gonna be?"

  Oddly enough, it's what happened when I'd pushed off Tall, Dark, and Depraved that made my decision. The people around us, human and otherwise, had just laughed. Not jumped in and helped him beat me into submission.

  "We give a warning and show the proof. Like you said, Tate-I'll use those heads as props. "

  "All units, stand by," Tate said into his radio. It didn't escape me that he sounded both pissed and resigned.

  We made our way single file back up the stairs. Bones went first, followed by me, Tate, Dave, and our rescued couple, who hadn't said much all night. When we were all out, Bones lifted me up onto the counter of the fake bar, since my hands were full, and let out a whistle that pierced even over the loud music.

  "Shut that noise off," he barked, giving a menacing green glare to the puzzled vampire in what I assumed was the DJ box.

  The pumping techno beat was silenced. There were sounds of protest that cut off when people saw me. You could say I stood out, what with being perched on a bar holding four severed heads by their hair.

  "I'll make this quick so you can get back to your fun. I'm the Red Reaper, and these four"-I held the heads up for better viewing-"took their games too far by killing my kind. If it happens again here, I'll come back. "

  Two hundred pairs of eyes stared at us, and most of them didn't come with heartbeats. Inside I tensed. Who knew how this would go? Things could get very unpleasant very fast.

  Bones held out his hand to help me down, and I dropped my grisly trophies and took it.

  Maybe some of them recognized who he was, or could guess. Or maybe it was simple apathy. Either way, one by one, the humans and nonhumans pulled back until there was a clear path from our position to the door. Bones set me down from the bar, and all of us walked uninterrupted to the exit.

  "Un-fucking-real," Tate muttered when we reached the parking lot.

  "Which just shows you how much you have to learn," Bones replied.