At graves end, p.5
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       At Graves End, p.5

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

 

  MAX, MY FATHER, STOOD ABOUT THIRTY yards away between some trees. His red hair blew in the breeze and those identical gray eyes bore into mine. But what really held my attention was the rocket launcher Max had balanced on his shoulder. He also had a gun in his other hand. The disparity between the two weapons almost made me laugh out of sheer hysteria.

  "Iwas going to blow up your car before you even pulled into the driveway," Max said in a genial tone, nodding at the rocket launcher, "but then I saw you were alone. And how could any dad pass up the chance to spend some time with his little girl?"

  If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. That was what Max had spat at me months ago after he'd been busted for hiring two hitmen to put me out of my misery. I hadn't thought he would try more brazen attempts to kill me since Bones married me vampire-style, but it looked like I was wrong.

  "Where's your sire, Max?" I asked, my voice even. "Is Ian running late? Is he still that pissed at me for getting away from him months ago?"

  "Ian?" Max laughed. "Fuck my sire, I don't need him. I've got new benefactors, little girl, and they want you dead as much as I do. "

  I debated going for my knives again. An icy smile stretched across Max's face, which looked enough like mine for anyone to tell we were father and daughter.

  "Think you can get to your weapons before I shoot you? Maybe you can. But not before this rocket plows right through your mother, and wouldn't that be a shame. "

  My jaw clenched. Max and the other vampire were in the exact opposite direction from each other. Even if I was fast enough to take out one of them, the other would still have time to kill my mom.

  "Why don't we go inside? I think a family chat's long overdue," Max said, gesturing with the gun.

  There was no way I could do anything with the two of them this far apart. I started toward the house, but his laugh stopped me. "Drop your purse first, little girl, and kick it over my way. Slowly. "

  A dozen different attack scenarios skipped through my mind, but fear for my mother made me reject all of them. If only it was just Max here. If only I'd strapped some weapons on me before heading over. If only I had another damn watch with a panic button in it, so Bones could realize my mother and I were in deep shit.

  I dropped my purse and gave it a sideways kick over to Max. He grunted and came closer, his aim not wavering with either weapon.

  "Let's make you a little more respectful," he said, and pulled the trigger.

  The bullet hit me low in the stomach, doubling me over. It took a few seconds for the pain to hit, but when it did, it was merciless.

  Behind me, I heard the other vampire giggle. It wasn't much louder than the sound of the shot. Max's gun had a silencer.

  "Inside," he directed me with another wave of the gun. "Or the next round goes in your leg. "

  With my fists covering the rapidly bleeding hole in my gut, I staggered into the house. As soon as Max closed the door behind us, he fired again, striking me in the thigh.

  I'd screamed at the second shot, which knocked me off my feet and sent me sprawling onto the floor.

  "It was too much fun to resist," Max smirked, then waved the gun, this time at my mother. "You make one more sound and she gets the next slug. "

  Max would love to shoot my mother. It hadn't escaped my notice that she had a dull, glazed look on her face. Max had green-eyed her into compliance. The thought of how terrified she must have been to open her door and see my father there almost made my rage match the pain in pure intensity.

  But that was short-lived. Waves of pain, nausea, and dizziness assailed me. Max might have missed arteries or vital organs, but in my current condition, I wouldn't be able to fight off him and the other vampire, plus rescue her. It was only because of being half vampire that I was even still conscious at all.

  Bones. I'd often teased him about being paranoid over my safety, but it looked like the joke was on me. Sure, if I didn't show up at the compound later, he would be worried. Probably enough to come straight here, but from Max's expression, he'd arrive too late.

  "You should have killed me when you had the chance," Max said, staring down at me. "Bet now you wish you'd done that instead of marrying Bones back at Ian's that night. "

  Even if this was it for me-and I wasn't ready to concede that by a long shot-I couldn't bring myself to agree.

  "Have I ever mentioned how much I hate you, Max?" I managed to grit out. Maybe I could stall him. Get him pissed enough to want to take his time killing me.

  The other vampire laughed. "She has such spirit," he said, eyeing me even as he stroked my mother's hair. "What a waste. "

  Recognition dawned about where I'd seen the black-haired vampire before. He was the one who'd gotten away from Chuck E. Cheese's that day!

  "You," I said.

  He smiled. "Nice to see you again, too. "

  Max set the rocket launcher down, but that didn't do me nearly as much good now as it would have a few minutes ago.

  "Calibos," he said, "if my daughter moves, kill her mother. "

  With that grim directive, Max disappeared into the kitchen. I kept applying pressure to the hole in my gut, since it was bleeding worse than my leg. Goddamn you, Max, I thought through the pain. I'll see you dead even if it's the last thing I do.

  And from the looks of it, it probably would be.

  My mother still stared sightlessly ahead. Aside from that, to my relief, she didn't look hurt. Calibos, as Max called the other vampire, let his hand wander down the front of her shirt to squeeze her breast. A low growl came from me that made him grin.

  "Temper, temper," he purred, letting his hand creep lower.

  Max came out of the kitchen and glared at Calibos. "Not her," he said curtly. "If there's time, you can have Cat, but Justina's mine. "

  Oh dear God. Renewed determination surged through me. I couldn't let Max live, even if I ended up killing me and my mother in the process of taking him down. I knew my mother. She'd rather be dead than raped by a vampire, especially Max.

  "I think it's time to wake her up, don't you?" my father asked me in that same chipper tone. He handed his gun to Calibos with directions to shoot me if I twitched, then went over to my mother. Max cut his thumb on one of the four knives he'd returned from the kitchen with and held it to her mouth.

  "Rise and shine, Justina," he said, rubbing the blood on her lips.

  My mother licked it, blinked once-and then screamed.

  Max's hand clamped over her mouth. I tried to push the pain back enough to concentrate on a plan. Come on, Cat, think! There's got to be a way out of this.

  "Hello, beautiful," Max said, putting his face right next to my mother's. "I'm going to take my hand away, but for every time you scream, I'm going to cut something off our daughter. Understand?"

  My mother's gaze flicked to me, widened, and then she nodded. Max dropped his hand.

  "That's better. Now, to make sure kitty here doesn't spoil the fun. . . "

  Max walked over to me, still holding those knives. I braced myself, wanting to grab for those blades like I'd wanted nothing before it. But Calibos had the gun pointed at me and my mother within biting distance. I'd make my stand, but this wasn't the time.

  Max smiled, kneeling to grab my wrist. "You're going to die," he said, low enough that only I could hear him, "but I'll let your mother live just so she can remember that she watched it happen. But if you fight me, little girl, I'll rape her and kill her in front of you before I finish you. How much do you want to save her from that?"

  I'd never felt such hatred for anyone as I did for my father. There was a chance that Max would kill us both anyway, but I had three choices. Hope I came up with a brilliant plan and managed to rescue both of us, hope Max took long enough torturing me that Bones showed up in time. . . or go for those knives and risk watching Max make good on his threat about my mother. I knew he was capable of it. There was
n't much I thought was beneath him.

  "Let her go when it's over," I said very softly, opting for Plan A or B.

  Max smiled. "Smart girl. " His fingers stroked my wrist. "Why did you come here alone? Where's Bones?"

  Lying always sounded more authentic when it was mixed with the truth. "He's at the compound. He changed one of my team last night into a vampire, so he's staying with him until he's over the blood craze. "

  Max's smile widened. "Tate. "

  I couldn't hide my shock. My father laughed. "How do I know about that? Belinda gave Calibos the information. Once I found your mother, all I had to do was compel her to invite you over. I owe Belinda a huge thank-you. "

  Belinda. Son of a bitch, I'd underestimated that blue-eyed bimbo. Now I knew what she'd been whispering to Calibos as she led him out of Chuck E. Cheese's. What was the one thing Belinda knew that no one else outside my unit did? The date and time we were changing Tate. Belinda must have figured with me dead, no one would piece together how Max had done this. But she hadn't figured on dying herself.

  Another wave of light-headedness swept over me. I must have been bleeding internally, since what was leaking out onto the floor didn't account for how I felt.

  "You'll have to save the thanks, Max, because she's dead. "

  He shrugged. "That's a shame. Nice girl. "

  "Max. "

  Both of us turned. My mother was still standing where she'd been. Slow tears trickled down her face. I'd never seen her cry before.

  "It's me you want," she said in a raspy voice. "I raised Catherine, and I taught her to hate every vampire she met. Let her go. This is between you and me. "

  This, not being shot twice, was what brought tears to my eyes. All the times I'd thought she didn't love me, and here my mother was trying to use herself to barter with the vampire she feared the most.

  Max lasered a green glare her way. "Oh, I have unfinished business with you, Justina. Do you know what a pain in the ass it's been, being the vampire who fathered the half-breed? I've had strangers beat me on sight! But I get no protection if I just kill you, whereas takingher out garners me new friends. They wanted Bones dead, too, but I'll take what I can get. "

  I was about to ask who these new friends were, when Max took one those knives and speared it straight through my wrist, hard enough to pin it to the floor. I gave a harsh gasp, but it was my mother who screamed.

  "Stop it!"

  Max grinned, keeping the other knives well away from my reach. "Thanks, Justina. Now I get to do a little slicing, courtesy of you. "

  Calibos let out an annoyed sigh I could hear even above my own labored breathing.

  "This is boring. Am I going to get to do anything fun today?"

  Max took another knife, giving a meaningful glance at my mother before touching its tip to my skin. "Go on, fight me. Give me a reason to make you watch your mother suffer before she dies," he whispered.

  I set my teeth and didn't fight as he drove this blade slowly through my other wrist. It hurt even more than the first one had. My mother let out a moan that sounded like she was in pain, too.

  "Please. " It was barely audible, and she held her hand out to Max. "Please, no more. This is my fault, leave her alone!"

  "What time is your playboy vampire expecting you back?" Max asked, ignoring her.

  It would take Bones twenty minutes to get to the airport from the compound, maybe less with the way he drove. Then another fifteen or so minutes to load up Annette's ridiculous amount of bags and head back. Would Bones call me once he'd gotten back to the compound? I had my phone set to vibrate, so I wouldn't be able to hear it if he did, since it was outside in my purse. God, would it take him hours before he even wondered why I wasn't back yet?

  "Three hours," I said, keeping my face as blank as possible.

  Max let a nasty smile curl his lips. "I'm going to assume that really means one hour. But don't worry. I'll make it count. Oh, and I'll take this. "

  Max yanked my engagement ring off my finger. He held it up to the light and grinned.

  "Must be five carats," he said admiringly. "This'll net me a couple million, easy. "

  "It's a ruby," I snapped, hating the sight of my engagement ring in his hands.

  Max laughed. "Stupid little girl, that's adiamond. Red diamonds are the rarest in the world, and Bones has had this stone for over a century. Ian's wanted to buy it from him for decades. But you won't be needing it anymore. "

  Max sliced up the front of my shirt, remarking that this was for Calibos's benefit, not his. The throbbing from my wrists, combined with the searing pain in my legs and gut, made it so easy for me to pass out. I kept fighting the blackness that crouched temptingly near.

  My mother darted forward. Calibos caught her, giving her a hard shake.

  "You're nothing but animals," she hissed at them.

  "Insults count as screaming," Max replied, laughing as she gaped in disbelief. "My game, so I get to make up the rules. That's two things I get to cut off Cat now. Want to make it three?"

  I met my mother's gaze over Max's shoulder. Her eyes were wide and overflowing. I gave the barest shake of my head. Please don't. You can't make it better. Just run when you have the chance.

  She couldn't hear my silent urgings, of course. Max let the tip of his knife dip to my jeans, and he slit them down the side.

  "Here's where I'll start," he remarked, then grabbed a handful of my hip and gave a hard upward swipe with the third knife.

  I bit my lip so hard to keep from screaming that I tasted blood. Calibos snickered. Max held up my severed piece of skin like it was a trophy.

  "Nice tattoo," he said, flinging it to the side. "Maybe I'll have that shipped to Bones, so he can have a spare. "

  My hip flamed where there was now a bleeding open wound instead of the crossbones tattoo I'd gotten to match the one on Bones's arm. My mother didn't cry out this time, but she drew in a deep, shuddering breath.

  "I love you, Catherine," she whispered.

  I had to look away, because I didn't want to give Max the satisfaction of seeing me cry. I couldn't remember the last time she'd said that to me. She must believe we were both doomed to die.

  "I'm sick of holding her, I'm putting her under," Calibos said, turning green eyes to my mother.

  "Stop it. " Max's voice was a whip. "She's going to see this. She's going toknow. "

  Calibos made an exasperated noise, then dragged my mother over to the drapes by the window. He yanked one off, ripped it down the center, and then tied the end of it around her neck.

  "Max," I said warningly.

  He swatted me in the head, hard. "Shh, I want to see what he's got in mind. "

  Calibos threw the other end over one of the railings in the banister on the second floor. My mother was struggling, but she was no match for the vampire. I began to strain against the knives pinning me down. Max shoved another one through my wrist almost like it was an afterthought, then punched me in the gut where I'd been shot.

  The blast of agony must have knocked me out for a minute, because when my eyes focused again, my mother was standing on a chair, one end of the drapes wrapped around her neck, and the other tied to the banister upstairs. There was hardly any slack in the line, and one of the chair's legs was missing.

  "Now she can watch, and I can join the fun," Calibos smirked.

  Max gave him an approving grin, then turned his attention to me.

  "Do you want to know what I'm going to do to you, little girl?" he asked in a conversational tone. "After I torture the hell out of you, I'm going to chop you into pieces. Can't risk Bones getting someone to raise you into a ghoul, now can I?"

  Vicious prick wasn't stupid. With my half-vampire bloodline, it was entirely possible I could be raised as a ghoul, if Max were just to murder me. But if I was dismembered, that option was out.

  "Same rules apply. Let's see how long you last before you scre
am and I get to cut something off Justina," he taunted.

  Max's fist began knocking my head back and forth like a toy on a spring. Blood filled my mouth and my lip split, but I bit my tongue and didn't make a noise. After a few minutes, the ringing in my ears dulled the thwacking sounds of him beating me. Then he stopped.

  "Stubborn bitch. Hmm, let's see if you can keep quiet through this. . . "

  He pulled a lighter out of his pocket, flicked it, dialed the flame up as high as it could go, then held it to my arm. My whole body shuddered and I twisted futilely, gasps and grunts coming from me. After a few minutes of unimaginable agony, I couldn't hold back my scream any longer.

  Max laughed, delighted. Vaguely I was aware of throwing up.

  "I think that's going to cost Justina a finger," he remarked. "What else will you make her lose?"

  "Even if you kill me, Bones will find you," I panted. Sweat was pouring off me and my arm hurt in ways I didn't know were possible. "Believe me, you'll be sorry when he does. "

  Calibos and Max chuckled like I'd told a joke. "That vampire won't start a war over you. " Max grinned. "Hell, the only reason Bones married you was to spite our sire. "

  That's why Max felt secure enough to risk pulling this? Because he thought he had enough protection from his new "friends" and Bones had only married me to piss off Ian?

  "Oh, Boneswill find you. Count on it. "

  They glanced around, uneasy at the vehemence of my tone.

  "Pathetic," Max said at last. "You're trying to scare me into letting you live, but it won't work. Still, Calibos, go outside and keep watch. Just in case her playboy decides to drop by early. "

  "But I haven't gotten to play with her yet," Calibos protested, with a look my way that made me recoil.

  "You'll get your chance," Max snapped. "But I set this up, so I go first. "

  Calibos smirked at me as he headed out the door. "I'll see you soon, sweetie. "

  Max got up and sauntered over to my mother next. She was almost on her tiptoes to keep the drape around her neck slack enough to breathe. Underneath her, the chair wobbled ominously on its three legs. Her hands were tied together with another piece of drapery, and Max grinned as he contemplated her fingers.

  "Which one will you lose, Justina? Let's see, this little finger went to market," he started to singsong, tapping one of them. "This little finger stayed home. This little finger had roast beef. . . "

  I tried to mentally prepare myself for my chance. Now that one of them was outside, this was my best opportunity. It was hard for me to focus, however. I'd had years of experience getting knocked around, but with all of my injuries, I kept feeling myself wandering closer to unconsciousness.

  My mother met my eyes. . . and then kicked the chair out from under her.

  "Goddammit," Max snapped, holding her up with one hand. "Why'd you do that?"

  In the second that he was distracted, I yanked against the knives on my wrists with all my strength, feeling my flesh shred. I'd gotten one of my hands free when Max turned around.

  "What the hell?"

  He let my mother go. She dangled by the neck, her feet well above the floor, while I wrenched my other arm free, ignoring the white-hot burst of pain that caused. I tried to grab one of the knives, but my wrists were too damaged for me to hold anything. I kicked them away and then lunged at Max instead, head-butting him hard enough to knock him over. All I need is a little of your blood, I thought, biting at him savagely,and I'll be healed enough to fight.

  A burst of noise jerked my head toward the window. The last thing I saw was glass smashing-and then there was a burning in my neck and my vision went black. I thought I heard screams, but all at once, everything seemed farther away. I couldn't feel anything, either. It was a relief to be free from the pain.

  Awareness came back with something wet being poured down my throat. I tried to cough it out but couldn't. The flow wouldn't stop, forcing me to swallow. Again. And again.

  ". . . don't you let her die!" I thought I heard my mother scream, then there was Bones's voice, very close.

  ". . . come on, luv, drink! No, you have to have more. . . "

  I gagged, the liquid overflowing my mouth, when shapes around me formed into clarity. I had my mouth plastered to a blood-slicked neck, and I pushed away even as I coughed and swallowed once more.

  "Stop it," I managed to say.

  Hands set me back. It was Bones's throat I'd been pressed against. His neck wasn't the only thing smeared red, either. So was the entire front of him.

  "Christ Almighty, Kitten," Bones breathed, stroking my throat.

  "Catherine," my mother cried. I jerked my head around in time to see her slip in something as she staggered toward me. That drape was still tied around her neck, but the other end was no longer attached to the banister. In the far corner of the room, I heard Max's muttered cursing and a feminine English reply.

  "Don't you move, you little shite. "

  "You've got him?" Bones asked in a truly chilling voice.

  Annette sounded as fierce as I'd ever heard her. "I've got him, Crispin. "

  My mother reached me. She was hugging me and trying to pull me from Bones's arms even as she kept feeling my neck.

  "Did he fix it? Are you all right, Catherine?"

  That's when I noticed the rest of the blood. It wasn't only splattered on Bones, but all over me, around me, even on the nearby wall.

  "What happened?" I asked, torn between dizziness, numbing gratitude that we were alive, and being aghast at all the blood surrounding us.

  "Max ripped your throat out," Bones replied. There was the weirdest mixture of relief and rage in his blazing green gaze. "And he's going to dearly wish I'd kill him before I'm through with him. "