At graves end, p.21
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       At Graves End, p.21

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

 

  I WAS SEATED NEXT TOSPADE, ANGUISH IN MYsoul gouging me like a rabid monster trying to claw its way out.

  But to Spade, I simply asked, "What happened?"

  Pink tears streaked his face. "Cooper waited at the train station, and about ten minutes later, we saw Anubus sneaking up on him with several Master vampires. We wanted Anubus alive, so Ian and I secured him while Rodney and Crispin fought the rest of them. Then one of the sods managed to run off, so Crispin told Rodney to fall back with us while he went on to skewer the wretch. He was supposed to meet up with us here. We reckoned he'd beat us, since he didn't have to take the long way with a hostile prisoner. I'm so sorry, angel. So damnably sorry. . . "

  Mencheres strode into the room, and the rush of animosity that swept over me left a small, detached part of me curious. Why are you mad at him? This was all yourfault.

  "It's not safe here," he announced. "Patra may have learned our location from Bones, so we have to leave. "

  "Could she have lied?" I was grasping at straws, but drowning hands reached for anything.

  Mencheres cast a look at me that was no less sympathetic for its briefness. "I know her well enough to know when she's lying. She was not. "

  We cleared out in a hurry. Randy, Denise, Annette, and my mother were on their way here when a phone call from Spade had rerouted them. He didn't say why, which I was grateful for. I could hardly bear to think the words, let alone hear them out loud again.

  ". . . all of my people moved at once, we are taking no chances," Mencheres snapped into his phone before throwing it to the ground and smashing it to pieces.

  Another vampire hurried to hand him a fresh one. "The number is new," the lackey said, bowing to him and then, oddly, to me. I didn't acknowledge it. He could have shriveled at my feet and I wouldn't have cared. For now, I was letting myself be hustled by the current of people around me.

  We left by the same helicopter Ian, Spade, Cooper, and Rodney had flown in on. My eyes were dry, staring at nothing. That's all I seemed to see no matter what I looked at. Nothing.

  With a lurch we were airborne. Tate called Don and told him what happened, ending with a warning for him to evacuate. Whatever my uncle said in reply was drowned out by the sounds of the helicopter and my own apathy. What was there to care about anymore? My heart was in pieces.

  "Cat," Tate sighed when he hung up, putting his arm around me, "Don said-"

  He stopped and stared almost stupidly at his chest. The knife I'd pulled from my coat and jammed into him was less than an inch from his heart. I smiled, feeling my face crack like pottery that dried too quickly.

  "That was a warning. The next one won't be. Did you think you could just slide into Bones's place and I wouldn't miss a beat? You lay your hands on me again and I'll finish you, Tate. "

  I meant every bitter word. If there was one person happier than Patra right now, it was Tate. He'd hated Bones from the moment he'd met him, and that wasn't even counting when he shot him at first glance. I'd be damned if I was going to let Tate dishonor Bones's memory by petting me like a lapdog. Whatever chance he thought he'd gained by Bones's death, he was wrong.

  Tate yanked the knife from his chest without a word. He wiped the silver clean on his pants and then handed it back to me.

  "I'm here when you need me," he murmured, and got up to move to the rear of the craft.

  No one else spoke after that, the whole two hours north to Canada.

  We landed in a frozen grass field a hundred yards from a house surrounded by thick trees. It was bitterly cold, or maybe it was just me. I couldn't seem to remember what warm felt like.

  "Cat, we must talk," Mencheres stated, holding out a hand that I ignored as I hopped down from the helicopter.

  "What time will Denise and my mother be here?"

  He folded his arms, oblivious to the stiff wind. "Dawn. They were picking up supplies on their way. "

  "Whatever it is you want to talk about, can it wait until later?"

  My emotional armor was on with full reinforcements, but that wouldn't last. I needed to be alone so I could break down, I didn't want to do it with an audience.

  Mencheres nodded.

  "Afterward, of course. I shall get you settled until then. "

  "Don't bother. Dawn's in less than two hours and I won't sleep. I just want to be alone. I don't have to tell you this has been the worst day of my life. "

  I started walking toward the tree lines.

  "Where are you going?" Mencheres called out.

  "It's hard to be alone with a passel of vampires scuttling around me. I assume you consider this place safe since you brought us here, so I'm taking a walk. "

  There were mutterings of objections behind me from varying voices. As my response, I held up my middle finger and kept walking.

  The pines were thick in places. Tracks in the snow showed many different species called this frigid area home, and at this hour, it was quiet.

  As I walked, I let myself remember the first time I saw Bones, bent over a table at a club with the lights reflecting off his hair. How he'd called my bluff when I drove him to a lake under the pretense of seduction. Waking up chained inside a cave, hearing him mock me with a Tweety Bird impression. His face when he first saw my eyes glow and he realized I'd told him the truth about what I was. That smug grin he gave me after I challenged him to a fight to the death. Our first kiss. The first time we'd made love. And the smile he'd given me the first time I told him I loved him. . .

  My rapid pace carried me miles away. When I saw the cliffs, I started climbing them without much thought as to why. Judging from the low-hanging moon, there was still about forty minutes until dawn. Soon after that, Denise and my mother would arrive. I didn't want to see them. I didn't want to see anyone.

  I'd climbed for twenty minutes before I found a wide enough ledge to sit on. A blast of wind made me rub my hands together, and the red diamond caught my eye. My engagement ring for a wedding that would never happen.

  I got up and stared out over the ledge. The rocks below seemed mesmerizing, the distance to them somehow not far or frightening. After a moment, my eyes closed, and I felt myself take a step forward. And then another one.

  "It must be difficult for you. "

  At the first syllable, my eyes snapped open. Vlad was seated on a ledge almost thirty feet below my perch, watching me.

  "Yeah, it's difficult that the man I loved is dead. How brilliant of you to notice. "

  Vlad rose. "Oh, I didn't mean that. I meant it must be difficult for you to decide what you are. I never had to wrestle with that. When I changed into a vampire, I couldn't revert back to my humanity under any circumstances. Yet you wake up every day trapped in yours. As I said, difficult. "

  What the hell was he rambling on about? "I said I wanted to be alone, Vlad. Get out of here. "

  "That's not why you're really here, Catherine. "

  "Don't call me that," I said out of habit, then shook my head. Like it mattered now what he called me?

  He gave me a contemptuous look. "Why not? Stand ing on that ledge is Catherine Crawfield, not Cat, the Red Reaper. Catherine has no obligations, no responsibilities, and she's decided to follow her husband to the grave. In the end, it appears you've chosen your human side. How interesting. "

  "That's not what I'm doing," I snapped, and then stilled.

  Wasn't it?I'd walked out in the freezing cold, climbed a cliff, and was teetering on the edge of it with my eyes closed. Falling at this height would likely knock my head off, so there would be no chance of anyone bringing me back, as a ghoul or anything else. Who was I kidding? I'd known just what I was doing as soon as I left that helicopter, even if I'd refused to acknowledge it until now.

  You could do it, the thought teased me. Don will look after your mother, your team will be fine with two vamps and a ghoul to lead them, Denise has Randy. . . It's not like befor
e when you left Bones and had people depending on you. You can go to him. You're ready.

  "You're ready, Catherine?" Vlad baited me, using that name again as he picked the thought from my mind.

  "Fuck you, Dracula," I snapped. "No wonder Bones didn't like you. You're pissing me off as well. "

  "We didn't care for each other, but we did respect one another. Would Bones want you to do this? Is this whathe would have done, if you'd been killed?"

  No.

  The answer came to me without needing a moment to ponder it. I knew what Bones would do if the tables were turned. If Max had murdered me, Bones would've been as shattered as I was now, but as a vampire, he wouldn't have allowed himself the option of suicide. No, not until he'd tracked down each player in my death and treated them to a horrible payback first. Only after he'd extracted his revenge would Bones have allowed himself to even think about his own death. That's how vampires were.

  But Vlad was right. I had an excuse. I was half human. I could wrap that humanity around myself and leap off this cliff into Bones's arms on the other side. But vampires had no such luxury. If I were a vampire, I'd have no choice but to climb off this cliff and commit myself to a bloody retribution, broken heart or no. But if I was human, I could go ahead and jump.

  Vlad gave me an assessing, unmerciful rake of the eyes as he listened to my internal struggle.

  "So then, what are you?"

  Since I was sixteen and my mother told me about my father, I'd wrestled with that same question. The sound of my heartbeat seemed to mock me. Each breath I took was a taunt. Yeah, I had many similarities to a human, and yes, I wanted the peace of that free fall to the other side where Bones waited for me. God, how I wanted it! But I wasn't human. I hadn't been since the day I was born, and I couldn't let myself pretend to be human now.

  "Well?" Vlad asked with more emphasis.

  I gave one last regretful glance at the ravine's rocky bottom before meeting Vlad's eyes.

  "I am a vampire," I said, and backed away from the ledge.