At graves end, p.20
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       At Graves End, p.20

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

 

  MANY THINGS WERE CLOSEDCHRISTMAS Day. Restaurants. Bars. Clubs. Malls. Of course, one establishment was notoriously busy. The movie theater.

  Today's six o'clock showing of a romantic comedy starring two big-named Hollywood actors was about to get interesting. It helped that this was an upscale theater with balcony seating. More chance to show off the aerial abilities of the undead.

  Vlad Tepesh rose out of his seat in the front row as if he'd been pulled by strings. His body was in stark outline against the wide screen behind him. He spread his arms and let the emerald beams in his eyes settle on the shocked faces turned toward him.

  "You shouldn't have come, Reaper. "

  A show hound, Bones had called him. Right now I had to agree. Even his long dark hair swirled around him, blown as if by an invisible breeze. I hid my smile and stood, holding a crossbow at the ready.

  "Time to die, suck head. " Okay, cheesy, but if he was piling on the dramatics, so was I.

  "What the fuck. . . ?"

  The guy next to me barely got the words out when I fired four arrows in rapid succession. Vlad spun in midair, dodging the arrows. They landed in the screen right as there was a close-up of the actress's face.

  Somebody screamed. Finally, I thought. Jeez, did I have to cut his throat to cause a panic? People were so jaded nowadays.

  Vlad flew at me, mouth open and fangs on display. With that, one of the patrons howled out a word.

  "Vampire!"

  "Run for your lives," I yelled, knocking over several people as I avoided Vlad's tackle. He caught the edge of my jacket and used it as leverage, throwing me across the theater to crash into the wall. It was a spectacular toss and knocked the wind out of me, causing me to gasp even as I ducked from his fist.

  "We're playing it that way, huh? Good. I like it rough. "

  I returned the gesture, slamming him so hard into the nearby wall that it caved inward. Insulation and concrete showered those who hadn't made it out of the theater yet. Then when Vlad sprang forward, I head-butted him hard enough to split the top of my hairline. It rocked him back, though, allowing me to ram two blades into his chest. Blood poured from my scalp, causing more screams as the houselights went up and the two of us were clearly illuminated.

  Vlad ignored the knives in his chest and yanked me closer, licking the flowing red stream from my forehead.

  "Doesn't hurt now," he murmured.

  "Overactor," I snapped.

  A gunshot went off, causing both of us to turn in amazement toward the back of the theater. Sure enough, there was a guy, popcorn all over him, sighting down a barrel at us for another shot. Tate, who was also in the theater, knocked him so hard in the head that I hoped there wouldn't be permanent damage. The shooter dropped to the floor.

  "Americans," Vlad muttered over the fresh screams from the remaining patrons. "Every other person in this country's armed. Good thing that his aim was as poor as his judgment. "

  "Come on, let's finish this. Flashy ending, isn't that your favorite?"

  "Oh, Cat, you're going to make me do something I've never done before. " He laughed, kicking me hard enough to break my ankles before flinging me into the fake velvet seats. They crumpled beneath me even as I sprang to my feet, wincing but still erect. I leapt up as he charged me, causing him to crash into empty air instead of my body.

  "And what is that? Be humble?"

  Vlad rolled, yanking the knives from his chest like they were splinters. His eyes flicked to the last of the fleeing bystanders as they trampled one another to get to the exit.

  "Nothing can force me to do that. "

  The empty seats around him suddenly exploded into flames. I blinked, taken aback. Tate looked shocked, too. Vlad's lips curled, and he waved his hands in the direction of the fire. Like candles being doused, the blaze subsided.

  "You're pyrokinetic," I breathed. "Impressive. "

  "As are you. " At last the theater was empty of everyone still conscious.

  "Young man, the projector room?" Vlad prodded Tate.

  Tate leapt onto the tiny window, jerking the camera through the opening. It served to block the view of someone dumb enough to stand there and gawk down at us.

  "Here, your ankles. " Vlad lost his offensive posture and walked toward me. "If you'd permit?"

  He held out his hand and glanced at my knives. I knew what he meant. Refusing would be both rude and stupid, since limping after him would hardly look imposing. With a nod, I sliced a neat line in his hand, then held it to my mouth and swallowed.

  Vlad watched me with that same faint smile. "You don't like the taste of blood, do you?"

  "No. Well. . . no. "

  He must have read the rest of my response in my mind, because he let out a derisive chuckle. "Acquired a taste for Bones's, have you? Really, he has more intelligence than I'd credited him, binding himself to you. It sorely hinders his competition. "

  "He doesn't have any competition," I answered at once, glancing at Tate.

  "That's where you're mistaken. I wasn't talking about your scorned suitor there. " Vlad gave a dismissive nod to Tate, who bristled. "I meant me. That's what you're going to make me do-envy Bones, a man I have little regard for. How galling. "

  His self-deprecating tone made me smile. Now Tate really glowered.

  "You'll get over it, Vlad. Give it two weeks, you'll be sorry you even met me. "

  "Perhaps. Shall we take our final bows now?"

  I stamped my feet to make sure my ankles were back to normal, then gestured toward the exit.

  "After you. "

  ". . . in front of the Palace Twenty on Montrose Avenue, where terrified spectators are telling an incredible tale. Hugh, can you pan to the right to show the firefighters?. . . Witnesses report gunshots, flames, and possible occult-related activities during this otherwise quiet Christmas evening. . . You, yes, you, miss, can you tell us what occurred inside?"

  "He flew!" a shaking blond girl gasped, grabbing the microphone away from the reporter. "I think he had wings or something. . . and then she shot him, and the theater started to burn, oh God, I thought I was gonna die!"

  "Okay, clearly we have a distraught observer, let's see who else we can talk to. "

  The newswoman tried to keep it professional, but then an impromptu tug-of-war occurred over the microphone as the blonde refused to let go.

  "Miss, let me have that back, I'm sure you'll want to speak to the authorities-"

  "There she is," she shrieked, pointing at me. "That's her. She's the one who shot that thing. She'll tell you I'm not crazy!"

  The reporter surged forward and the cameraman pointed that large black lens right at me. I gave it one full glance before hurrying into the van under heavy escort. This was live coverage, broadcast nationwide. Hi, Patra. See? I'm on the opposite coast from where the informant is supposed to meet you, and you'd NEVERexpect Bones to be away from my side on a job during Christmas, would you?

  "FBI, no one's allowed past this point," Tate barked, shoving the reporter to the side. He pushed the camera down, cutting off any additional views of me or my entourage. After all, one quick look was all we needed. Any more and Patra might notice that Bones wasn't shadowing me.

  Our hysterical witness kept up a steady stream of shrieking until she was dragged to the side by the local police. Either this would work or it wouldn't, we'd soon find out. Cooper, playing the informant, was supposed to be meeting Patra's contact within an hour. With luck, Patra would believe Bones and I were both here in Los Angeles.

  Tate appeared in the doorway of the van and slammed it closed. Vlad was seated next to me, and Tick Tock and Zero were also inside. Tate gave the command to leave to Doc, our driver for tonight, and sat across from me.

  "All right, Cat. If anyone pokes around there, they'll see the usual cleanup crew and all the brass. There'd be no reason to think Bones wasn't with you. I'll be glad to get
out of here, no point in painting a target on your head. "

  "It went pretty well," I commented, bouncing as the van sped away. We'd change cars two times and then fly the rest of the way. Bones was adamant about that. "I hope his goes off without a hitch. "

  Tate compressed his mouth and said nothing.

  "When will you call the Master?" Zero asked.

  It always unnerved me when he called him that. Zero seldom addressed Bones otherwise, no matter how often Bones had urged him to. His milky gray eyes were trained on me expectantly.

  "I won't. He'll call me when it's over, maybe in about two hours, maybe more. "

  My stomach twisted with worry. It was all I could do not to snatch up my cell and ruin everything with a fervent, useless plea for him to be careful.

  "We'll be halfway to Mencheres's house by then. " Vlad stretched his legs. "A good thing, too. I'm hungry. "

  "We'll all be better when we reach Mencheres in Colorado," I said. "Vlad, you'll get your dinner, Tate, you can see Annette, and I'll see Bones sometime before midnight. At least we'll have a few minutes of Christmas together. Maybe. "

  God, how I wanted to be at our own home with no one but Bones around. Not shoved in a van surrounded by five vampires on my way to one of Mencheres's many houses. Life. You could only make plans for it, not dictate orders to it.

  "Doc. " I rapped on the metal panel. "Step on it, will you?"

  The sounds of a helicopter brought me bolting out of my chair with a glance at the clock. Eleven fifty-one, Colorado Mountain Time. Jeez, Bones had cut it close.

  Not bothering to throw on a coat, I went outside in my thin cardigan, shivering as the helicopter landed. Snow flurries were swept away by the churning rotors that whipped hair into my face. They slowed and the side door opened, revealing Spade, Rodney, and Ian.

  "Someone get me a bloodygood set of irons, I'm sick of sitting on this sod," Ian spat. His chestnut hair was flying almost as much as mine.

  Three of Mencheres's vampires scurried to obey. The other half dozen went to assist Spade, Rodney, and Ian as they restrained a struggling, cursing figure.

  "Angel, fetch your husband and have him give us a hand," Spade sang out. "Where is the lazy sod-?"

  He stopped at the look on my face. Ian halted as well, giving a brutal blow to the unknown vampire they carted like so much luggage.

  "Where's the other chopper? We were delayed, so Crispin should have beaten us here. "

  Ian had never sounded so edgy. As if in slow motion, I raised the cell phone in my hand. I'd been clutching it for the past several hours waiting for his call. Nerveless fingers punched in those ten numbers, and then I waited again for that metallic buzzing that served as a ring.

  Mencheres came to stand next to me, but I didn't look at him. All I could do was stare at the helicopter rotors like I was transfixed. My heartbeat was so loud, I almost couldn't hear the phone as it rang.

  One. . . two. . . three. . . four. . .

  God, please. I'll do anything, please. Let him be all right. Let him be all right.

  Five. . . six. . . seven. . .

  He has to answer, he has to!

  Eight. . . nine. . . ten. . .

  There was a click and then background noise. I didn't wait for more, but screamed his name.

  "Bones! Where are you?" I couldn't hear his voice, just more residual sounds. "Can you hear me?" I yelled even louder. Maybe we had a bad connection.

  "Yessss. . . "

  It was a hiss that drove straight through me, chilling me more than the snow falling around me. The voice wasn't masculine, and it had a distinct Middle Eastern accent.

  "Who. Is. This?"

  Each word was a growl coming from the center of me. I saw Spade grip my arms, but I didn't feel it.

  A woman laughed, low and vicious. Her voice is deeper than I imagined, I found myself thinking. What else was I wrong about? Why am I sitting on the ground?

  If she said anything else after her next four words, I didn't hear it. I knew I was screaming, that Mencheres snatched the phone from me, and Spade jerked me toward the house even as I fought to stay outside. My eyes were still fixated on the slowing helicopter rotors as if they could magically change everything. They can't stop, the thought streaked through my mind. If they stop, then Bones won't come out of that chopper. Someone, turn them back on! Turn them back on!

  No one did. They halted with a last, lazy rotation even as Spade forced me inside the house. Something exploded in me then, more powerful than the wordpain could ever encompass, and all I could hear in my mind was Patra's taunting, brutal, satisfied question.

  Is this the widow?