At graves end, p.6
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       At Graves End, p.6

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

 

  DON ARRIVED AT MY MOTHER'S WITH THE full team less than fifteen minutes after I called him. They must have broken every traffic law known to man, not that any local cops could give them speeding tickets.

  Bones and Annette strapped Max into the capsule. Don was taking him-for now. Bones curtly said he'd send someone by later to collect Max, and the tone he used made me glad my uncle didn't argue. Of course, I didn't think Don wanted Max on his hands very long. The look the brothers had exchanged while Max was being strapped into that capsule was filled with so much history, Don glanced away even before Max started to curse him.

  I had to be given several pints of blood to replace what I'd lost. Bones's blood had healed my multiple injuries, but my pulse had been dangerously weak.

  "That was close," I said to Bones with a shaky smile after my final transfusion. I was sitting in his car. He'd used a towel to wipe off as much blood from me as possible. We were leaving soon. Bones didn't want to stay longer than necessary here, since we couldn't be sure who else Max and Calibos might have told about their ambush plans.

  Bones met my eyes with an unfathomable look. "I'd have brought you back one way or another, Kitten. Either as a vampire or a ghoul, even if you hated me for it afterward. "

  "Not if Max had his way," I muttered. "He was going to cut me into pieces. "

  Bones let out a hiss that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Then he seemed to get himself under control.

  "I'll remember that," he said, each word bitten off.

  So many emotions were surging in me. Relief, delayed panic, anger, exhilaration, and the urge to clutch Bones and babble about how thrilled I was to evensee him again. But there wasn't time for a meltdown, so I stuffed those feelings back. Get it together, Cat. Can't have you turn into a mass of psychological goo, there's too much to do.

  My mother was in the backseat. She'd refused to go to the compound, even though she wouldn't have been there long. Don was moving everyone out. Max had found my mother's house, so it was an easy guess to make that he knew where the compound was, too. Don wasn't taking any chances that Max had told other vampires where to find it. Don's operation had killed enough of them that some might decide to pay it a visit.

  So my mother was leaving with Bones and me now, and Don would get her set up with another place to live later. Once he finished relocating our entire team.

  "I'm sorry, Catherine," she mumbled, not meeting my eyes. "I didn't want to call you. I heard myself saying the words, but I couldn't seem to stop. "

  I sighed. "It's not your fault. Max used mind control. You couldn't help what you were saying. "

  "Demon power," she whispered.

  "No," Bones said firmly. "Max is the one who told you all vampires were demons, right? You think he's capable of telling the truth, even after this?"

  "Whatever Max told you back then," I added, "you would have been compelled to believe, just like you were compelled to call me before. Vampires are another species, Mom, but they're not demons. If they are, why are you still alive? You've tried twice to get Bones killed, but today he saved you instead of letting you hang. "

  Her face was twisted with emotion. Being confronted with the reality that what she'd fervently believed for twenty-eight years might be wrong was a hard thing for anyone to swallow.

  "I lied to you about your father," she said at last, so soft I could barely hear her. "That night, he didn't. . . but I didn't want to believe Icould have let him, not after I saw he wasn't human. . . "

  My eyes closed for a moment at her admittance. I'd suspected that the night I was conceived wasn't rape, but here was confirmation at last. Then I met her gaze.

  "You were eighteen. Max had you believing you were giving birth to a modern-day version of Rosemary's baby, just because he thought it was funny to tell you all vampires were demons. Doesn't make him any less of an asshole. Speaking of that. . . " I pulled the IV out of my arm, then put on the jacket Cooper had kindly left for me, since my own shirt had been cut open and was sopping with blood. When I was covered, I hopped out of the car. No more horizon-tilting dizziness. It was amazing the difference vampire blood and three bags of plasma could make. I didn't even have a mark on me anymore, whereas by rights, I should be in a body bag.

  "What are you doing?" Bones asked, lightly holding my arm.

  "Saying goodbye to my father," I replied, walking over to where the capsule sat like a huge silver egg in the driveway.

  "Open it," I said to Cooper, who was standing guard until it could be loaded into our specialized van.

  Cooper unsealed the outer locks. He didn't look away when the capsule's door slid open and Max was revealed, so I figured he'd swigged some vampire blood on the way here. That was the only thing that could inoculate a human from falling victim to nosferatu mind control, even if it did have other side effects.

  My father was pronged in several places with silver. The hooked end of those spikes made it impossible for him to pull himself free without shredding his heart, not to mention several other choice pieces of him. Once the door closed, he couldn't even wiggle, because the inner structure prevented movement while the spikes continued to drain the blood and strength out of him. I knew all this, because I designed it.

  Bones's gaze sizzled into Max. "Go on, mate, say one word, see what it gets you," he urged him in a voice smooth as silk-and frightening as the grave.

  "Right now, Daddy dearest, 'I told you so' doesn't even begin to cover it," I said grimly to Max. "So I'll repeat what you said to me earlier: You should have killed me when you had the chance. "

  Then I turned to Bones. "Why are we taking him anywhere? I'd just as soon kill him now and not have to worry about him again. "

  "Youdon't need to fret about him," Bones said in that same icy, neck-ruffling tone. "Ever. But he doesn't get off that easily. "

  Bones reached out and touched Max's face. It was a light stroke, but Max flinched as if Bones had sliced his cheek open with a knife.

  "I'll be seeing you soon, mate. I can't wait. "

  Annette came over. Her champagne-colored eyes considered Max from a face lightly lined with age. Annette had been thirty-six when Bones changed her. Times were different in the seventeen hundreds, so she looked around forty-five, but she made it look good. Unlike her normal impeccable appearance, her strawberry-blond hair had half-fallen out of her chignon, and her navy tailored suit looked a lot worse for wear.

  "I say, it's been quite the day already," she remarked.

  I stifled a snort. How like Annette to describe an afternoon of torture as calmly as "quite the day. "

  "Seal him back up," I said to Cooper, not wanting to look at my father anymore. Or ever again.

  Cooper complied, and the capsule's door slid into place with a series of locks clicking back together. Even as it did, a frightening thought occurred to me.

  "What happened to Calibos? There was another vampire here besides Max. "

  "His head's over there," Bones said, nodding by the trees, "but the rest of him's farther back. "

  I felt a cold satisfaction at that. "How'd you know to come here?"

  "The airline lost Annette's luggage. " Bones sounded almost bemused. "I rang you twice to tell you we'd be late, that we were stopping off to fetch her some new togs. You didn't answer. You always answer, so I drove straight here. About a mile away, I heard you scream. I pulled off, and Annette and I circled round the house on foot. We found the one bloke. Didn't know how many more might be inside, so we smashed through the windows at the same time. "

  A bark of laughter escaped me. My mother and I owed our lives to Annette'sluggage being lost? How ironic.

  "Bet you wish you'd carried on," I couldn't help but quip to Annette.

  A ghost of a smile flitted across her lips. "Not quite, darling. I just rang Ian," she continued, more to Bones than me now. "He was furious to hear what Max did. He's formal
ly cutting Max off from his line. "

  That was the worst punishment a vampire could inflict on a member of their line. It meant no vampire would challenge whatever happened to Max in the future, and right now, my father's future looked pretty grim.

  "Max said Ian didn't know about this," I added, even though I was no fan of Ian's. "He said he had new friends who wanted me dead as much as he did. "

  Bones gave a short nod. "We're going home, luv. To find out who helped Max orchestrate this, so we can kill every last one of them. "

  Our house was a large cabin at the top of a hill, with sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains out of bulletproof-glass windows. It was remote enough that we'd never met our neighbors, so the helicopter pad and hangar on the side of our house hadn't been cause for any awkward conversations.

  Annette went back with Don to help with Tate, as was the original plan, although Bones refused to go with her. He told my uncle his priorities had changed, not that Don had any trouble understanding why. Tate would be okay with two undead people taking care of him. It was my safety that seemed to be in a more tenuous position than Tate's, according to what Max had said.

  When I walked into my house, my cat jumped out to twine around my legs. We hadn't figured on being back for a week, so I'd set up the automatic feeder and litter-box cleaner. Now my kitty would get some of my leftovers instead of just his dry food. No wonder he was glad to see me.

  My mother had never been to Bones's and my house, but I was too anxious to wash the blood off me to give her a proper tour.

  "Here's the guest room," I said, directing her to the downstairs bedroom. "I've got some clothes in it, too, so help yourself to whatever's there. I'm taking a shower. "

  Bones followed me upstairs. I stripped off the jacket Cooper had given me, plus my bloodied bra and pants. If I never saw those clothes again, it would be too soon. Bones also peeled off his crimson-spattered shirt and pants, kicking them into a corner before joining me in the shower.

  At first, the water was icy. It took a couple minutes to heat up this time of year. I shivered as the frigid spray landed on me. Bones folded me in his arms and moved to where the majority of it splashed on him. Even when it turned warm, however, and Bones turned to let the heated water rinse my blood away, I was still shivering.

  "I didn't think I'd make it today. "

  My voice was low. Bones's arms tightened around me.

  "You're safe now, Kitten. And nothing like this shall ever happen again, I promise you. "

  I didn't reply, but I was thinking this was one promise Bones might not be able to keep. Who knew what could happen in the future? This wasn't just about the revenge my father had wanted on me-and my mother-for my existence. Max had done this with promises of rewards and help. Now the question was, from whom?

  But I didn't say any of that. Bones was correct-I was safe now. And he was here. Right now was all I'd concentrate on.

  For the moment, anyway.

  We weren't home for more than an hour before people started showing up. First it was Juan and Cooper, who Don sent as added protection for me. Both of them were carrying enough silver knives and guns with silver bullet clips to take on a dozen vampires.

  Then Bones's brand of added security arrived in the form of three vampires I hadn't met before. The one named Rattler reminded me of a young Samuel Elliott, Zero looked albino with his long blond hair and glacier eyes, and Tick Tock was pitch dark with black skin, black hair, and black eyes. Mentally I referred to them as Cowboy, Salt, and Pepper.

  Then came Spade, or Charles, as Bones called him. Spade preferred everyone else to call him by the tool he was assigned when he was a lowly penal colonies convict. Something about never forgetting how helpless he'd once been. Bones had picked his name after rising as a vampire in Aborigine burial grounds. Vampires sure made it complicated to remember what name to call them by.

  Rodney the ghoul was next. He endeared himself to Juan on the spot by starting to cook up a storm. I didn't eat, I went to bed, but to no one's surprise, I didn't get a very restful sleep. My dreams were filled with seeing my mother dangle by the neck from a banister and my father's sneering face as he shot me.

  Don showed up a little after noon. I was seated at the kitchen table with Juan, Cooper, my mother, and Bones. We'd been talking about anything but the obvious when my uncle came in. I was surprised to see him, actually. I thought he'd be busy directing the transfer from one base to another.

  "Does your boss know you're playing hooky?" I asked.

  Don gave me a dry smile. "I can't stay long, but I wanted to go over a few things and. . . just see how you were doing. "

  He could have gone over any pertinent work-related items on the phone, so I was guessing his presence had more to do with the latter part of his statement.

  "I'm glad you're here," I said, meaning it. We might have had a rough start-okay, avery rough start-but aside from my mother, Don was the only family I had.

  "Have some breakfast," I offered, gesturing to the multiple covered dishes near the stove. "Rodney's cooked more food than I even knew I had. "

  Don gave the items a wary flick of his eyes that made Rodney laugh.

  "It's a ghoul's version of vegetarian," he assured Don. "Nothing in there you wouldn't find in a grocery store. "

  Don, still looking hesitant, filled a plate and sat down. I watched him take a tiny bite, swallow. . . and then spear a bigger portion. Yeah, Rodney was a superb cook.

  Bones's cell rang. He excused himself to answer it, speaking in a low tone. I could only make out a few words, since Juan and Cooper began talking to Don about the new compound we were moving to. Getting everything up and running on no notice was going to be challenging.

  Bones came back in the room and snapped his cell shut. There was something tense in his shoulders that hadn't been there before.

  "What?" I asked.

  "I have to leave for a while tonight, Kitten, but it's nothing to fret about. "

  "Who was on the phone? And what's going on later?"

  Bones seemed to choose his words. "That was my grandsire, Mencheres. He was confirming he'll be at the showing. "

  I sighed. "You're being deliberately vague, Bones. What showing? What's this about?"

  The other vampires all pretended to be fascinated by the decor around them. Bones's expression closed off into unreadable planes.

  "I'm calling together members of my line, Ian's, and other pertinent vampire Masters to witness Max's torture. "

  I blinked. "You're holding a rally just to beat on my father in public?"

  "Whoever aided Max and Calibos didn't fret over my reaction to you being tortured, murdered, and mutilated. It's obvious some people believe I don't care, or that I've gone soft. But soon everyone will see what happens to those involved in a scheme to harm you. "

  "There's a certain sense to it," Don said. "Making an example of one keeps the rest in line. But killing Max tonight, Bones, even if you hurt the literal hell out of him first, will only postpone another attack. You'll still have to find out who else is involved to prevent this from happening again. "

  "Quite right, old chap," Bones agreed. "But I'm not going to kill Max. I'm going to keep him alive to demonstrate a new meaning of the termcruel and unusual punishment. Only when Max is completely broken in spirit will I kill him. I expect it will take years of daily suffering before that happens. Personally, I'm hoping it takes decades. "

  Don looked ashen at this pitiless pronouncement. Rodney, Spade, and the three other vampires showed no surprise.

  My mother stared at Bones. Then she smiled. "Nowthat I have to see. "

  "You have got to be-" I began when Bones held up a hand.

  "Wait, Kitten, this is between me and your mum. If you go, Justina, you understand you'll be the only human there. You'd have to keep your insults directed only at the vampire on display. Can you handle that?"

  My mother tos
sed her hair. "I've waited along time for this. I'll be fine. We'll shake on it. "

  Bones took her hand in the first time she'd ever willingly touched a vampire. To her credit, she didn't wipe it on her clothes when he let go.

  "Then we have an accord. Juan or Cooper, I want one of you to come, too. You can carry back what you see to her team as a warning of what awaits them should one of them be tempted to ever betray her. Don, you are not going. You don't need to see what will happen to your brother. "

  My mother stood up even as I thought,Uh oh. "Max is yourbrother?" she asked Don in a scathing voice.

  He didn't flinch from her anger. "Yes. He's the reason why I founded my department. I wanted to kill my brother and all of his kind. I even used my niece to help me do it, and I never told her who I was. Bones did, when he found out. So if you're angry at anyone, let it be me, not Cat. "

  Brave words in a room full of pulseless creatures. Spade gave Don a disgusted glance while Rodney just licked his lips. No doubt he was mentally salting and peppering Don.

  "You knew she was your niece when you found Catherine?" my mother asked in disbelief.

  Don let out a sigh. "I read the assault report you filed that night you met Max. I knew it was him from your description, and then you gave birth to a child with an unusual genetic anomaly. Yes, I knew all along that Cat was part vampire-and my niece. "

  My mother let out a bitter laugh. "So both of us used her for our own selfish reasons. That vampire over there has treated her better than her own family. "

  Bones's brows went up. "Justina, I believe that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me. "

  I was taken aback, too, but we'd gotten off the subject.

  "I'm coming with you tonight," I said, noticing Bones hadn't included me in his list.

  His face hardened. "No, Kitten. You're not. "

  Disbelief flared through me. "I'm the one who was beaten, shot, knifed, sliced, and burned, remember? Hell yeah, I am. "

  "No you're not," Bones repeated, his voice sharpening. "If you want to give Max some comeuppance yourself, grand, but you'll do it another time. Not tonight. "

  The reason hit me. Bones thought I couldn't handle what he'd dish out to Max. I'd been up to my ears in blood and guts since I was sixteen, but all of a sudden, I had to be sheltered from the ugly side of the undead?

  "Bones, I'm not some delicate flower. I won't be seeing anything I can't handle. "

  "Yes you will," Bones replied. "If you go, youwill be horrified, because I'm going to make damn sure it's horrifying, else it doesn't serve its purpose. No, Kitten. Your compassion is one of the things I love most about you, but in this case, it will drive us apart. You're not going, and that's the end of it. "

  I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Hurt and anger competed inside me. How could Bones just take it upon himself to decide what I could and couldn't handle? This was supposed to be a relationship, not a dictatorship.

  "Want to know one of the things I've loved most aboutyou?" I asked, a feeling of betrayal welling up in me. "That you never lorded your age over me. Yeah, there's nothing I've seen or done that isn't old news to you, but you'd always treated me like an equal. Well, now you're treating me like the pathetic little girl Max accused me of being. You want to have your nasty event without me? Fine. But whatever I would have seen later wouldn't have come between us as much as what you just pulled did. "

  "Kitten. . . " Bones said, reaching out to me.

  I brushed past him and went upstairs. Below, Juan cleared his throat. Rattler whispered something about giving me time to cool off. Don coughed and muttered that he had to make more calls. Bones didn't say anything else, and he didn't come after me.