At graves end, p.3
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       At Graves End, p.3

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

 

  THE VAMPIRES DIDN'T TAKE LONG TO NOTICE Belinda. Maybe they even smelled her before they saw her, because they weren't inside the place for a minute before they sidled over to her. I kept a good grip on Ethan's hand as I heard Belinda exchange hellos, straining my hearing to make sure she wasn't saying anything else. Like,trap orReaper. So far, so good. Belinda was just being flirty-with a homicidal edge to it, inquiring if they were up for eating anyone here.

  "Why do you think we're here?" one of them said with a smirk. "It ain't for the big fake mouse. "

  The others laughed. My jaw clenched. Bastards.

  "You here with anyone?" another asked, giving Belinda an up-and-down leer.

  "Some chick I met and her son," Belinda said dismissively. "One of you can eat her, but I call dibs on the kid. "

  "Point them out," the dark-haired vampire said.

  I glanced away right as Belinda's hand arced up, putting a false smile on my face as I looked at Ethan. Don't worry. Nothing's going to happen to you.

  "The blonde wearing the black turtleneck sweater and jeans, holding the little boy's hand. That's them. "

  "Pretty," the brunette drawled, then added quickly, "but not as pretty as you, of course. "

  "Thanks. " Belinda's voice said his backpedaling wasn't sufficient, but she'd let it go. "So, how do you all normally do this? Just snatch a kid and run?"

  "See that guy over there?" The tall, scrawny vampire pointed to someone wearing an employee badge. "After a few flashes of my eyes, I'm going to steal his outfit from him. "

  "Why would you want to take some guy'sclothes?" Belinda asked in disbelief. I glanced back over to them casually. I'd just been wondering that myself.

  "Not his clothes, the Chuck E. Cheese costume," the vampire replied with a grin. "It's easy to get kids to follow you outside without arousing suspicion when you're wearing that. Even if their parents notice, one of us just gives 'em the gaze and they go home thinking everything's fine. Takes them a day or so to even realize their kids are gone, and they don't remember where they lost 'em from. "

  "We take them out one at a time and store them in the trunk," another added. "It's cool enough this time of year, so they don't die and go stale, and with a flash of the eyes, they stay quiet while they're there. "

  My hand tightened on Ethan's until he let out a yelp. I loosened my grip, fighting to keep my eyes from glowing out of pure rage. I couldn't kill these guys soon enough.

  Belinda smiled. "A vampire in a Chuck E. Cheese costume? That I have to see. "

  The vampire returned her grin. "Wait right here, honey. You'll love the show. "

  As if on cue, the robotic figures in the theater came to synthetic life. The kids squealed in delight. I watched as one of the vampires followed the employee they'd pointed out behind the stage. My intention to follow as well was cut short by what I heard next.

  ". . . hungry now, I'm getting someone to eat," the russet-haired vampire said, sauntering away from Belinda and the others.

  I let go of Ethan's hand. Belinda had pointed him out as hers; he was the safest kid in the place at the moment. I knelt down until I was eye-level with him.

  "See that game?" I asked, pointing to the one closest to us. "You play that and you don't move from it until me or one of the other guys you met earlier comes to get you. Promise me. "

  Ethan nodded. "Promise. "

  "Good boy," I murmured. Ethan went over to the game and set all his tokens down by it. Cold fury seized me as I watched the other vampire hunt for his prey.

  "All units, stand by," I whispered into my cell phone. This could get ugly real fast.

  I discreetly kept him in sight as the vampire wandered through the room, his sharp eyes picking out which kids were being supervised and which weren't. There was a young boy by the change machine, gathering up his tokens. The vampire watched him, sidling up behind him as the boy started to browse the games. Then he waited until they were near a corner, and put his hand on the boy's shoulder.

  The boy looked up-and that was all it took. The vampire's eyes flashed green for a moment and he murmured something, too low for me to catch. No one else noticed. The boy followed him into the next room without a pause, disappearing behind one of the partial walls.

  I went after them, noticing the vampire had picked the least busy place, where all the out-of-order games were kept. He was kneeling, the little boy in front of him. I could see the green light of the vampire's gaze reflecting off the skin of the boy as he stood there, making no attempt to run or scream.

  He's going to bite him right now. Right here, and he could have his body stuffed behind one of those broken machines in less than a minute. His parents will never even know he's in danger until he's already dead. . .

  The russet-haired vampire leaned down, no fear of parents or God or anyone else stopping him. I pulled out a silver knife from my sleeve and crept forward. Say hello to my little friend, asshole!

  "What the-?"

  I whirled, feeling the inhuman power at my back even as I heard the voice. The vampire wearing the Chuck E. Cheese costume stood behind me, his big fake mouse head tilted questioningly to the side. The other vampire dropped his hands from the little boy, and his gaze narrowed on my knife.

  "Silver," he muttered.

  The gig was up. "Deploy!" I screamed, knowing Bones would hear me, and flung the knife.

  It buried into his chest to the hilt. I leapt on him in almost the same movement, knocking him over to give a few rough twists of the blade. At the same time, something heavy landed on me. And cushy. It was the vampire in the Chuck E. Cheese getup.

  I rolled over, crunching my legs up and then kicking the vampire off me. He hit a video game hard enough to make it crash through the window. I heard Tate shout, "Homeland Security, nobody move!" as I palmed more knives and then flung them with perfect accuracy into vamp Chuck E. 's chest. He staggered back, but didn't go down. Damn costume must be too thick.

  I grabbed more knives from under my clothes and tackled him. He fought as hard as he could-while being encased in a large mouse suit. Our struggles had us rolling, me attempting to stab deep enough to penetrate that costume, and him trying to beat me while seriously hampered in his movements.

  "Leave Chuckyalone!" I heard a child wail. Several more screamed.

  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, talk about emotionally scarring these kids, watching what must appear to be a crazy woman trying to stab their beloved icon to death. They'd have nightmares for years unless Bones wiped their memories.

  I didn't focus on that, however. I kept hammering away with my knives, hearing another fight break out. The other vampires. I finally got a deep enough slant on the knife under me to have the vampire go limp, and I gave the blade a final twist.

  I got up to the horrified gaze of children and parents alike, but there was no time to explain that Chucky wasn't Chucky, but his evil twin instead. The blond vampire came roaring across the room to me, almost kicking people big and small out of his way. I reached for another knife, found I had only a few left, and went toward him as well. I couldn't risk throwing my knives at him-if he ducked, whoever was behind him would get hit. No, this would have to be a brawl. My eyes blazed green. Come on, Blondie, let's see what you've got.

  Seeing my eyes glow made him falter, but only for a moment. In my peripheral vision, I could see Belinda wrestling with the dark-haired vampire. We hadn't given her any weapons, for obvious reasons, but it was a relief to see her fighting for us instead of against us.

  Behind the blond vampire, the last one appeared. He snarled and started toward me, too. Then his gaze flickered to the door.

  "Oh shit," I heard him say right before he turned and ran behind the stage.

  I didn't have to turn to know what had scared him; I could feel Bones enter the place. But the other vampire hit me at the same time, so I couldn't enjoy the view of that one tucking tail and
running.

  "You take him, I've got Blondie," I called out, avoiding a set of fangs aimed for my throat.

  "I'll get the sod," Bones growled, disappearing behind the large, fuzzy, robotic figures that still sang and joked among themselves on the stage.

  "Let's move it outside, people!" I ordered in between receiving and giving brutal blows. Fast, before any parents or kids became hostages.

  A quick glance showed Belinda roughly handling the dark-haired vampire, moving him outside by almost bear-hugging him. She seemed to be speaking to him, too, but with all this racket, damned if I knew what she was saying.

  A hard swipe brought my attention back to the blond vampire in front of me. Just a little farther, I chanted in my mind. I don't want to kill you, too, in front of dozens of children. They'll have nightmares as it is.

  When he was in front of the hole in the window left by the video game, I charged him, ducking low to avoid his mouth. We spilled out the window into the parking lot, pounding each other on the asphalt. I only had a couple knives left on me, not expecting losing so many of them to Chucky's thick hide. I had to make sure I chose my moment.

  "Mommy, make themstop," a child wailed, and I cursed inwardly. This was theworst setting for a vampire takedown. From the sounds of it, the guys were having a hard enough time keeping the parents and kids from fleeing to the parking lot in a panic, which would compound the problem even more. Dave barked out orders to have the dark-haired vampire Belinda had wrestled out secured in the capsule. Smart. He'd be no threat there, and we could cart him off and stake him at our leisure later.

  I was ducking to avoid a roundhouse punch that would have snapped my neck when I saw Belinda, no longer restraining the other vampire, suddenly seize Zachary, a newer recruit, and bury her fangs into his throat.

  "Tate, stop her!" I screamed, helpless to do anything as Belinda gave a jerk and Zachary fell back, clutching his neck with red streaming between his fingers. Then Belinda ran.

  I heard gunshots, cursing, and the scrambling of feet as several of the team rushed over.

  "Hostile on the loose, secure the perimeter!" Cooper shouted.

  I gave the vampire in front of me a grimly cold stare. "I don't have time for this," I growled, and charged him, knocking both of us over. His fists pummeled me, but I didn't defend myself. I took the battering, holding his mouth away from my throat with one hand and ramming my knife into his heart with the other. Three rough scissors of that blade and he was dead the permanent way.

  I crawled off him. My ribs hurt tremendously, but I didn't cradle my aching sides like I wanted to. A scuffle to my left made me whip my head around, just in time to see the dark-haired vampire who had been about to be pronged in the capsule fling the two soldiers nearest him to the ground. Most of the team who weren't guarding the exits had gone after Belinda, except for the ones kneeling by Zachary. This vampire had taken full advantage of their distraction.

  Dave leapt for him, but the vampire ducked under, slid like a macabre penguin on his belly, and then took off at a flat run.

  I sprinted forward, following the sounds from Tate and Cooper as they chased after Belinda. But being human, there was no way they could catch her.

  I made my decision in a split second and went after Belinda instead. She was the bigger threat. Belinda knew the names of my team. She knew intimate details about the workings of Don's organization, and she'd had enough experience being trapped by the security system in the compound to give detailed descriptions to anyone who might be crazy enough to try to breach it. There was no way I could let her repeat any of that.

  I ran as fast as I could, quickly catching up to Tate and Juan. Up ahead, I couldn't see Belinda, but I could hear where she'd been by squealing brakes and excla mations from people as she crossed what must have been a busy intersection.

  "Get the car," I gasped out to Tate, darting past him. "Track me!"

  I had a transmitter in my beeper, and by car, they could follow faster. Plus handle any police, if it came to that. There were more tires screeching and I headed in that direction, bursting through an intersection and catching a glimpse of Belinda right before she darted down a side street. Oh no you don't, I thought.

  I put more effort into it, wishing my ribs didn't feel like they were breaking with every step. Inside I was praying that Belinda didn't dash into someone's home and try to get a hostage, but maybe she'd seen and heard enough about me and the team to know that wouldn't work in her favor. No, she just ran like hell, and I was cursing her even as I kept up.

  Belinda leapt over a fence without even a pause in her stride. At least she wasn't a Master vampire who could fly; I'd be screwed then. I took the fence almost as quickly as she had, but the gash it gave me when a jagged edge of metal scored my leg didn't heal instantly, as it did for her. There were days when I envied undead healing abilities. Just not enough to turn myself fully into a vampire to get them.

  When I gained on her enough to take the chance, I threw my knives. I only had two of them left, so these had to count. The blades landed in the right area in Belinda's back, making her stagger, but she didn't go down. Dammit, I missed her heart! My accuracy while running full-out over uneven ground with a weaving target wasn't nearly what it was if we'd been in close quarters while I was stationary. Note to self: Work on knife-throwing skills while in a chase.

  But the blades began to slow her. All that jostling must be driving the one dangerously near to her heart, and Belinda couldn't stop to get a good enough grab on the handles to pull them out. She tried swiping at her back while maintaining her breakneck speed, but all she succeeded in doing with her flailing was to slant a knife deeper in her back instead of pulling it out. Belinda staggered again, and I willed myself to go faster. Almost there. . . hit the gas, Cat, you can't let her get away!

  I gathered my strength and sprang, managing to grasp Belinda's ankles and knock her over. She whipped around, her fangs snapping at any piece of my flesh they could find. I ignored that and flung myself on top of her, bearing all my weight into her torso.

  Belinda stilled at once. Her wide, cornflower-blue eyes met mine for a second, and then her lids dipped even as she let out a scream that was cut off in the next moment. Those blades, still in her back, had been driven through her heart.

  I wasn't about to take any chances. I flipped Belinda over and gave both knives a hard twist, feeling her go completely limp under me. You should have taken the ten-year deal, I thought coldly. Instead you brought it to this.

  A scream alerted me to my surroundings. Belinda and I were on the edge of someone's lawn, it looked like. The homeowner, an older woman, was clearly upset at seeing two women fight to the death in her backyard.

  I sat back with a sigh. "Go ahead, call 911. It'll make you feel better. " Even though the police would never get their hands on me. No, not with Don's credentials. Besides, Tate and the guys would be here soon, and so would Bones, I'd bet. He didn't need my transmitter to track me; he could do it by scent.

  She babbled something that sounded like, "Murderer," and went inside, slamming her door. Moments later, there was the sound of her calling the police.

  I stayed on the grass near Belinda, nodding politely at the few nearby neighbors who came out to gawk at me before running inside and placing their own emergency calls. I'd been there less than three minutes before Bones came streaking into view. He slowed when he saw me, walking the last several yards to where I sat.

  "All right, luv?"

  I nodded. "Scratches and bruises, nothing serious. The vampire you were after?"

  He knelt next to me. "Exchanging hallos with Belinda in hell by now, I should think. "

  Good. One might have gotten away, but three didn't, and the most dangerous of those three was starting to shrivel in the late afternoon sun.

  "Zachary?"

  Bones shook his head. I took in a deep breath, wishing I could stab Belinda again and somehow
make her feel it.

  The squealing of tires announced the guys' arrival as, moments later, Juan and Tate jumped out of the car that skidded to a stop by us.

  I stood up, brushing some of the grass and dirt off me.

  "As you can see, guys, Belinda has been fired. "