At graves end, p.13
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       At Graves End, p.13

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

 

  BONES ANDIDROVE TO DENISE'S THE NEXT day. I hadn't seen my best friend in a while, what with gearing up for Tate's change and then the whole aftermath of my kidnapping. So just to hang out with her and relax was nice. Denise also knew everything about me, Bones, vampires, ghouls, and even the war we were in. I had to call her and explain the reason behind her abrupt relocation, after all. Don probably just told her and her husband, Randy, to pack without giving any reason why.

  Their new house was on the outskirts of Memphis. It was a good thing Randy was a private computer consultant and could work wherever, because I would have hated to be the cause of him losing his job. Denise had quit her job shortly after they got married, so again, I was spared some guilt. They hadn't said anything, but I thought they were trying for a baby. It would explain her sudden interest in things she'd never bothered with before. Case in point, she made dinner for us instead of ordering out. Definitely a new trait.

  "This is really good," I enthused, helping myself to more pot roast. "We'll have to come here for the holidays. As you know, I burn water. "

  Denise grinned. "Or you could have your own party and let Rodney cook. Didn't you tell me he was amazing in the kitchen?"

  "Oh, he is," I answered, mouth still full. Then I cocked my head. "Bones, how dangerous would it be for us to have a Christmas party?"

  He considered the question. "Have to only invite a few people, but I don't think it would be cause for any real alarm. "

  I swallowed as the idea grew in my mind. "I've never done that kind of thing before. My grandparents weren't social butterflies and I didn't much feel like entertaining during the years we were apart. Our guesthouse is finished, so we'd have plenty of room. We can't have our wedding right now, but we can have a small holiday party. It'll be our first Christmas together, Bones. "

  He smiled at me. "That's an excellent reason to celebrate, and I know Rodney would be delighted to come and cook. It's his favorite pastime. "

  Denise clapped her hands. "Oh, it'll be so cool. I've never celebrated a holiday with dead people before!"

  Randy rolled his eyes, but Bones just laughed. "Yes, that usually does make for a more interesting time than a midnight Mass at church, I suspect. "

  "We'll have to invite my mother, too," I said. "In fact, she's not that far from here. Rodney's place is what? About an hour away?"

  Bones nodded. "Yes. Want to visit her next?"

  I considered my options. If she knew I'd been this close to her and hadn't stopped by, I'd never hear the end of it. Okay, so that was settled.

  "We'll drop by. God knows she'll be there. The woman never goes out. "

  "When's her new place going to be ready?" Denise asked.

  "Next week. I think Don deliberately took a while relocating her out of Rodney's to pay her back for some of the grief she's heaped over him in the past. There's no reason it should have taken so long to get her a safe place, not that I'll tell her that. "

  Denise got up, rummaged in her pantry for a minute, and then came out with an unopened bottle of gin.

  "Here. If you're going to your mother's, you'll need this. "

  We said our goodbyes to Denise and Randy an hour later and headed off to my mother's temporary residence. It had been a pleasant drive through the country, very relaxing-until suddenly Bones cocked his head to the side as if concentrating, and then stomped on the gas pedal.

  "What's wrong?"

  He'd said moments ago that we were almost there. Alarmed, I strained my ears, but my range wasn't as far as his. All I could hear were the sounds from various families as we whizzed by their homes.

  "Don't bleedin' believe it," Bones chuckled.

  "What!"

  He continued to streak through the streets at a high rate of speed. "Oh, you'll see. And you'll need that bottle Denise gave you. "

  I figured there wasn't a bloodbath going on, because he still grinned with maniacal humor. Hopefully the sound of my mother being axed to death wouldn't make him so gleeful. When we pulled up in the driveway of what I assumed had to be Rodney's house, all I heard was her fumbling around and muttering curses. What was unusual about that?

  Bones darted out of the car without even turning the engine off and pounded on the door hard enough to rattle the windows.

  "Open up, Justina, or I'll break down this door!"

  The front door flung open as I approached at a slower rate than Bones had. Someone had to turn the car off, after all.

  Bones went right past my mother, ignoring her demands to stay out. He gave her a wicked rake of the eyes, and his lips twitched uncontrollably.

  "Well. As I don't live and breathe. Justina, hair's a bit disheveled, luv, been cleaning house? No? And your face. . . if I didn't know better, I'd say it was flushed. Back when I was a degenerate whore, as you like to say, I'd see women look like you do all the time. After they wereshagging. "

  My mouth dropped and I took in her appearance. She was wearing only a robe, her brown hair was indeed going every which way, her face was distinctly colored, and holy shit, was that ahickey on her neck?

  "You filthy animal, get out of here," she commanded Bones.

  He laughed so hard it bent him double. "Really, that's a bit of the pot calling the kettle black now, isn't it? And to think how Kitten used to be terrified about you finding out she was shagging a vampire. You can't say much about that anymore, can you? Come on down, mate, take a bow! I stand in abject awe. "

  "Bones," Rodney's voice called out gratingly from upstairs. "Just get out of here. "

  I staggered. "Mom? You andRodney?"

  A scarlet blush graced my mother's features. "He was making me dinner," she sputtered.

  I found my voice amid the astonishment. "And dessert, too, apparently! I don't believe you. All those years, you crucified me for sleeping with a vampire, and look at you. Rodney's a ghoul, you hypocrite!"

  "He doesn't kill people, they're dead when he gets to them!" she thundered back with questionable logic. "And I am forty-five years old and don't need to be explaining myself to my daughter. "

  I stared at her like I'd never seen her before. "Did Rodney like them?" I asked.

  She huffed. "Did he like what, Catherine?"

  "The balls on you, that's what!"

  Bones laughed again and wiped his eyes with his sleeve. "Let's go, Kitten. Just had to rub it in, I couldn't resist. Justina, good on you, and Rodney"-another decadent chuckle-"admirablecourage. "

  Bones propelled me, still bitching, from the house. The door slammed behind us.

  Bones still couldn't contain his laughter as we drove away at safer speeds. "I'm delighted you didn't ring her in advance, luv. That was priceless. "

  I didn't answer, just settled back in my chair and broke the seal on the gin.

  My dress was silver. It hung to my feet in a clinging line from the waist, two ties forming a halter at the neck. The back was bare, and the front had a deep V that made a bra impossible. Those stick-on ones didn't do the trick, either.

  I frowned at my reflection. "You'll be able to tell right off if I get cold. I'm the hostess, I'm not supposed to look cheap. "

  Bones appeared behind me in the mirror. "You don't look cheap, you're stunning. "

  A brush of his lips on my back punctuated his compliment, and as if on cue, both my nipples puckered. Yeah, it looked indecent, all right.

  "Ravishing," he whispered into my skin.

  He should like the dress, he picked it out. Bones always chose more revealing outfits than I did. At least I had on underwear, minuscule though it was. Some things I insisted on despite his limitless powers of persuasion.

  Bones tilted his head to the side for a second. "Your mum's here. "

  I went downstairs to greet her, since Bones wasn't dressed yet. I hadn't seen her since that unbelievable night at Rodney's, and I didn't even want to know if they were now, um, dating. Rodney, being
a gentleman, hadn't mentioned the incident when he showed up this morning to prep for the evening's meal, but I'd heard Bones greet him with an "All hail the dragon slayer!" salute.

  I opened the door. . . and my smile froze. Thiscouldn't be my mother.

  Her brown hair was free of gray and had new lighter highlights. Whether it was makeup or a chemical peel that seemed to have taken ten years off her in less than three weeks was anyone's guess. Her dark amethyst velvet dress was tighter than mine, and cut high on one leg before draping down to her ankle on the other side. One shoulder was bared in Grecian style, and her hair was swept half up with stray pieces trailing. Her blue eyes were the only thing familiar about her.

  "Catherine. " She swept by me without a hug. Okay,that was familiar, too. "You really should wear something warmer, it's freezing out. "

  Hello to you, too, Mom. Or whoever the hell you are, because you sure don't look like the woman who raised me.

  "You should talk," I managed. "I can see all the way up to your thigh. My God, if Grandma saw you now, she'd come right out of her grave!"

  My mother opened her mouth, paused, and then smiled. "I won't tell if you won't. "

  I was going directly to the kitchen to fall to my knees in awe before Rodney. Lo and behold, he'd managed to give her a sense of humor, and here I'd figured that would take voodoo, several headless chickens, and a lot of gris-gris.

  "Let's get you some eggnog, Mom," I said, recovering from my shock enough to steer her into the living room. "It's spiked. "