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At Graves End, Page 14

Jeaniene Frost

Chapter Fourteen


  OUR LIST OF GUESTS WAS SMALL DUE TO THE unfestive circumstances of being at war. There were Rodney, Spade, Rattler, Tick Tock, Ian, Zero, and another vampire Annette brought as her date named Doc. Mencheres wasn't here, and that was fine by me. My guests consisted of Denise, Randy, my mother, Don, Cooper, Dave, Juan, and Tate.

  Bones had invited Ian at the last minute. He hadn't been on my original list of people I wanted to spend time with, but since he'd thrown in his side with ours, Bones felt he'd deserved the nod. I'd been hoping he wouldn't show, but that was in vain. In fact, I wondered if the reason Ian came was because he knew he was here against my preference-and got a kick out of that.

  We were sitting in the dining room. Ian had arrived late and as soon as he crossed the threshold, my mother and Don had gotten up from the table. They were lingering near the porch with Dave, Cooper, and Juan, who also had reason not to like the chestnut-haired vampire across from me.

  "Why, Cat, you seem edgy," Ian baited me after my silence at the table grew pointed. "You're not still cross at me over kidnapping your ex-boyfriend last summer, are you?"

  I resisted the urge to hurl my plate at him. "Of course not, Ian. It's just that normally at this hour, Bones and I are fucking like rabbits, so I get twitchy when I have to wait for him to climb aboard. "

  Ian wasn't amused. "Do you let her insult me when I have come in goodwill, Crispin?" he demanded.

  Bones lifted a brow. "You're not insulted in the least, and bringing up reference to how you attempted to force Cat into your line was extremely ill-mannered. Let it be the last time you speak of it. "

  The words were mild-his eyes weren't. They were swimming with green.

  Ian leaned back in his chair. "Well, mate, look at you. Claws come shooting out straightaway, and here I was barely even being rude. At first I thought you snatched her away from me out of spite, but that's not it, is it? You of all people to fall prey to love. "

  They had over two hundred and twenty years of history between them, both good and bad. The air seemed to thicken around the table.

  "You didn't come here just to discuss my wife, did you?"

  Ian leaned forward. "It was Max's treatment of her that prompted you to declare violent retribution to any who had a part in it. Why wouldn't I want to see how committed you were before I stuck my own neck out farther than I already have? If you were merely angry out of a sense of pride, well. . . " Ian dangled the sen tence with a careless flick of his hand. "Why endanger me and mine over ruffled feathers?"

  "Do you remember the time I jammed a silver knife into your heart, Ian?" I asked brightly. "You can't count how many times I've wished I'd twisted it. Ruffled feathers over my kidnapping, torture, and attempted murder? Fuck you!"

  "I'm not downplaying what happened to you, Cat," Ian said at once. "Only stating my interest in Crispin's reaction to it. What he's done to Max is deserved, but that could have been the smart response of a leader showing his mettle, nothing more. You do appreciate the difference?"

  Ian's piercing turquoise eyes met mine. He was a cold bastard, I knew that from experience, but there must be more to him than I saw. Or Bones would have killed him decades ago.

  Bones inclined his head. "You have your answer, Ian. My response is entirely personal when it comes to her. "

  "Lucky for you that Mencheres merged lines with you and gave you more power. And speaking of your new alliance, I can't imagine why Mencheres chose you over me, considering of the two of us, I'm not the one who shagged his wife. "

  I froze even as Bones let out a vicious curse. Ian, catching my expression, began to laugh.

  "What, didn't Crispin tell you about that? Don't know why, happened before your parents were even born. "

  I got up from the table. Discussing this in front of Ian was not going to happen. Bones followed me as I went outside on the porch. Once we were alone, I rounded on him.

  "Why? I know you didn't think much of screwing around before me, but Patra was your grandsire's wife!"

  His jaw clenched. "I didn't know who she was when it happened. Mencheres and Patra hadn't been on good terms since before I became a vampire. A few decades ago, I met a woman, spent the night, and then a week later I found out she was Mencheres's wife. Patra knew whoI was. She did it to hurt Mencheres, bloody hell, who do you think told him about it? I didn't understand why he didn't kill me back then, but after what's happened recently, I suppose he knew one day he'd need me around. "

  By having sex with another vampire's wife, Bones would be under a death sentence-if the wronged spouse chose to claim it.

  "Is there anything else I don't know? Because I better not find out there was something more you decided to keep from me. "

  "There's nothing else. I promise. "

  I stopped my pacing to look at Bones. He was gorgeous, and the longer I was with him, the more I was reminded that many women had shared that opinion. I was sure there'd be a lot more ex-flings of his popping up, but here's hoping they wouldn't be powerful, homicidal ones like Patra.

  "All right. Let's go back in. I'm sure Ian misses us. "

  Bones ignored my sarcasm and pulled me into his arms. "Do you know it's nearly midnight?" he whispered. "Only two more days until Christmas Eve. "

  So much had happened since last Christmas. What would the next year bring?

  "Better things," Bones answered low. "I promise. "

  He kissed me, his lips cooler than usual, but who needed ninety-eight degrees when he made me feel this way? In fact, I began to feel warmer as his hands slid lower on my back.

  A branch snapping nearby doused my mood and put me on instant alert. Bones straightened, breaking the kiss.

  "Well, mate. I wondered how long you'd spy on us. "

  His sardonic tone confirmed what my belated senses finally picked up on. God, Bones distracted me to a dangerous level when we kissed. Good thing he could still pay attention, even though I suppose that wasn't an endorsement ofmy allure. Also good was that the vampire in the trees didn't want to kill us.

  Tate came through the trees with more cracking of branches. "Hi, Cat. God, you look beautiful. "

  Uh oh. Why couldn't he just say, Happy Holidays?

  Dave broke the loaded hostile atmosphere by coming onto the porch. "Buddy, you made it!"

  Another confrontation delayed.

  "Dave. " Tate smiled as he received a bear hug from his friend. Juan came out next, followed by my uncle. Don's normally stoic features changed into a smile as he came forward and embraced Tate. Bones made a cynical noise and led me back inside with a parting comment to Tate.

  "I'm sure you'll have no trouble finding your way to the cottage at the bottom of the hill. That's where you're staying. "

  Ian, ever tactless, chose that moment to sidle up to me. "You and Crispin resolved your differences, I hope?"

  "Yes. Now you'll be able to sleep tonight. "

  Ian laughed. My mother wandered past us, and Ian eyed her with more than casual appreciation. "I say, Cat, I can see what led Max to his eventual downfall. "

  I gave him a black look. "Would you mind not bringing Max up in front of what's left of my family?"

  Ian smiled without a touch of remorse. "Why would they be cross with me? I am owed no small amount of gratitude. If I hadn't changed Max, then there wouldn't be you. "

  That whipped my mother's head around. How like Ian not to have lowered his voice. I could have rammed my fist straight through his stupid mouth.

  "Good one," I growled. "She didn't know you were his sire. "

  Bones appeared from behind him. "Mate, come with me for a moment. "

  He didn't wait for Ian's reply, but propelled him onto the porch. I went in the opposite direction to intercept my mother's furious beeline.

  "Catherine!" she snapped as I blocked her path. "Get out of my way. I need to have a word with that thing. "

  Since she usually
called Bones "filthy animal," I assumed "thing" meant Ian.

  "Mom, I know you're upset. "

  She continued to shove her way past me. "Don't worry, I won't make a scene," she said with a final push by me. For her, that was the height of consideration.

  "You. " She marched straight up to Ian and jabbed a finger in his chest. He gave it an amused glance. "You created her father? Didn't you know what kind of filth he was? Or are you brainless, oblivious, and uncaring about the monsters you make?"

  Bones let out a grim snort. "Clean up your mess, mate, but no matter how rude she gets, don't be insulting. "

  Ian rolled his eyes. "No, Justina, I'm not brainless, oblivious, or uncaring about those I sire. But if I'm responsible for every action my offspring does, then the same goes for you. Your daughter murdered my friend the day I met her. What do you owe me for that?"

  I was nearly as taken aback as my mother was by Ian's cool turning of the tables.

  "Another filthy vampire?" my mother purred when she regrouped. "One of many who tried to feast on her neck?"

  "A ghoul doing his duty to defend me against a woman who tried to kill me in my own home," Ian countered. "Ask Cat. She'll tell you I never even attempted to bite her before she beheaded my friend. "

  I shuffled uncomfortably. How did I know Don had ulterior motives in sending me after Ian? I'd thought I was on just another job taking out the bad guys, not being the unwitting murderer of someone who'd done nothing wrong.

  "I'm sorry about your friend, but I thought he was a killer, and he was sneaking up behind me to knock me out," I replied. "Besides, before that, you admitted you'd killed two people, Ian. Your employees. "

  "Who stole from me," was Ian's response. "Really, Crispin, what would you do to a couple of blokes who raided your home and tried to hawk your valuables on eBay?"

  Bones shrugged. "The same. If you can't trust a chap with something as small as your possessions, how can you trust them not to betray you in a more serious manner?"

  "Even so," Ian agreed, before giving my mother another measured look. "Then with Max we're more than even, poppet, so what else are you riled at me about?"

  She appeared rattled, but then gestured at Bones. "Him. You made him, and he's the reason my parents were murdered, so we're hardly even, vampire. "

  A shadow flickered across Bones's face. You weren't responsible for that, I told him. She's wrong.

  "Yet he also taught Cat how to fight, making her stronger, faster, and deadlier. Without that, do you think she'd still be alive? Furthermore, didn't he just save her lifeand yours recently? Are you telling me that's worth less than your parents?"

  My mother stared at him in an odd way. Like she didn't know what to make of him. Ian returned her gaze, unblinking and unapologetic. Finally, after a tense silence, she turned on her heel and walked away.

  "Glad we had a chance to talk," he called after her.

  She didn't reply.

  Ian clapped a hand across Bones's shoulders. "Shall we return inside? It's chilly out, and your wife is clearly cold. " His eyes roamed over me and he laughed. "Clearly. "

  "Sod off," Bones snapped.

  Ian walked away, whistling. I snorted. "Told you I should have worn a bra. " Then I changed the subject, not wanting anything else to dampen our evening. "If you ask nicely, I'll let you open one of your presents, even though it's early. "

  Bones's lips curled. "What must I say? Please? Ah, Kitten, please, I implore you, beseech you-"

  "Shut up. " With a smirk, I pulled him into the library and retrieved a box from under the couch. A quick glance told me no one was watching, because I didn't want an audience for this. I'd been kidding when I said it was one of his real presents. It was something else. "Here. "

  Bones unwrapped it, and his smile grew to a dirty leer. "Aren't these lovely? Not my size, but if you'd like me to wear them, I'll be happy to oblige. "

  "Aren't you funny? But you know you're supposed to pick which one you wantme to put on. "

  His choice was instant. "The red. "

  "I thought you'd like that one. " My voice was wispy from the sudden flare of heat in his eyes.

  Bones leaned closer until his mouth grazed mine.

  "Right you are. "