At graves end, p.7
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       At Graves End, p.7

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

 

  MY HURT LASTED THE REST OF THE DAY. I stayed in my room, not wanting to talk to anyone, especially Bones. He'd left me alone, too, not even attempting to come upstairs.

  But as the sky darkened, I decided I couldn't just keep sulking. I showered again and went downstairs. Rodney had made dinner. God only knew where he'd gotten the steaks from; he must have sent someone to the store.

  Don, seated at the table with my mother, gave me a wintry smile. "We were just discussing hiring Rodney to cook for the team. I think it would improve productivity by thirty percent. "

  I snorted, noticing Bones was outside on the porch. "Probably more. Speaking of the team, where's the new base?"

  "Tennessee, that former bomb shelter the CIA used to occupy. With some basic renovations, we should be up and running again within a week or two. The un derground reinforcements make this facility the safest choice. "

  "I agree. When are you going there?"

  "Later tonight. " Don nodded at my mother. "You'll have a place to stay there as well. We've also relocated your friends Denise and Randy on the off chance that Max discovered their home as well as yours. "

  "God, I hadn't even thought of that!" I exclaimed, lashing myself for being an idiot. How could I have forgotten to consider the safety of my best friend and her husband?

  Don sighed. "You had other things on your mind. Being tortured and almost killed will do that to a person. "

  Rodney set a plate in front of me, and one in front of my mother. I almost fainted when she began to eat instead of hurling it at him. Had one of the vampires gotten tired of her bitching and bitten her into a better mood?

  She caught my flabbergasted look. "I watched what he put in it," she said defensively.

  Rodney, instead of being insulted, just laughed. "You're welcome, Justina. "

  I dragged my attention away from the unbelievable sight of my mother eating food a ghoul had prepared. "If you're going to the new compound later, Don, I'm going with you. "

  Bones had been pacing on the porch while talking on his cell. At that, his booted stride stopped.

  Don cast a pointed glance out the window before meeting my gaze. "Are you sure that's wise?"

  "Unless you fire me, I am going there today to check on my team," I interrupted him. "That's where I'm needed. " Since I clearly wasn't wanted with Bones later.

  I ignored the muttered curse outside. Don spread out his hands. "Of course I'm not going to fire you. I'm sure the men will be glad to see you. "

  "Zero, Tick Tock, Rattler, you will be accompanying her," Bones said. He didn't bother to come inside or raise his voice. With their hearing, it wasn't necessary.

  "How did you move Tate to the new location, anyway?" I asked without comment on my assigned guard. Transporting a blood-crazed new vampire must have been tricky.

  Don coughed. "The only way we could. In the capsule. "

  My jaw dropped. "He could have been killed. "

  Don's expression clouded. "It was Tate's idea. He knew how dangerous he was to the team any other way. He arrived safe and is now confined with Annette and Dave again. She's said Tate's already making strides in controlling his hunger. "

  It was less than a day since Tate had been turned.

  "Wow. "

  Bones came back inside. I didn't look up, but concentrated on my food. When I was done, I rinsed my plate, put it in the dishwasher, and started back toward my room.

  "Just a moment, Kitten," Bones said. I paused, half up the stairs. He held out something that flashed in the light. "Did you want this back?"

  I glanced down at my left hand and felt a sting of shame. I'd forgotten about my ring. Good God, I had to get my head out of my ass. First not thinking of Denise and Randy's safety, then not even remembering Max had stolen my engagement ring. That whole tortured-and-almost-killed thing wouldn't cover every screwup I was making. No wonder Bones was treating me like a stupid little girl-I was acting like one.

  "Thank you," I said, looking him in the eye. "I do want it back, of course. "

  No matter how upset I was over him leaving me behind tonight, my anger wasn't going to be permanent. I'd fight Bones to see the error of his ways over treating me like a damsel in distress, but I wasn't giving up on us. Not now, not ever.

  Bones almost smiled. "I'm glad to hear it. "

  He came up the stairs. I stretched out my hand, but instead of handing me the ring, Bones slid it on my finger. The cool touch of his skin on mine, that familiar tingle of his power. . . all of it made me want to do nothing more than fling myself in his arms and forget about the world around us.

  But there was so much more going on than just the two of us, and how we felt. Who would have ever guessed that my falling in love with a vampire was turning out to be the easiest part of our relationship? I remembered when I thought him being undead was the biggest obstacle to our having a life together. Now I knew the stakes were much higher.

  "I'm leaving now, Kitten. Don will give me the location where you'll be. I'll pick you up afterward. "

  I let my hand slide from his. "What time?"

  "Before dawn, but not by much. "

  It wasn't even eight. Bones had along party planned for Max. "Uh huh," was all I said.

  He inhaled with a slow breath. Maybe he was gauging my emotions by my scent. "I love you," he said at last, and then left without waiting to see if I said it back.

  He was already down the stairs by the time I murmured my reply.

  "I love you, too. "

  I gave the interior of the new building a once-over. "Cozy. For a bomb shelter. "

  "It will be much more difficult for anyone to monitor," Don pointed out. "The exterior looks like a private airport, and the underground levels are extensive. We'll add upgrades each day until it's completed. "

  "Oh, I like it. "

  Rattler, Zero, and Tick Tock looked around with curiosity as well. Don hadn't been wild about three strange vampires accompanying me, but he must have known better than to argue with Bones. Rodney, Cooper, and my mother had gone with Bones on his grisly field trip. Juan didn't, so he was perusing the facility as well.

  "Where's the team?" I asked.

  "On the fourth sub-level. They're busy moving the pieces of the obstacle course into the new training room. "

  I swallowed. It would be a huge undertaking to get everything up to speed, and it was all my fault. I was the one with the homicidal father who'd found out where our last facility was, after all.

  "I'm going down there. You coming?"

  Don shook his head. "No. I'm going to check on some of the online transfers, make sure everything's being routed correctly. "

  I left him to go to the elevators, following the signs. Juan and my three undead watchers trailed me.

  I did a couple hours of lifting and moving with the guys to try and get things into somewhat of an order. This was where having those three undead bodyguards came in handy, since they could hoist cars on their shoulders if they wanted to. We made the most of them with the really heavy items, but they didn't complain, although I was sure this wasn't they had in mind when they were told to watch my back. I was just about to get the rappelling platform in place when Don walked in. He waved me over, an odd expression on his face.

  "What's wrong?" I asked at once, checking my cell to make sure I hadn't missed any calls.

  "Nothing. Come to my office for a minute. There's. . . something you should see. "

  "Why does everyone think being cryptic is cool?" I wondered. Don didn't answer. He just headed back up and left me to follow. My watchdogs quit what they were doing and followed as well. If only my team were so obedient.

  I was still grumbling as we got to Don's office. His door was closed, and I yanked it open-and then stopped in my tracks.

  Tate stood on the other side of it. Indigo eyes ringed with green gazed at me with suppressed heartbreak. I glanced a
t my watch. It was just a few minutes after midnight, only a day since he'd been changed.

  "He's mastered his hunger enough to be let out for a short while," Annette said. She was standing a little off to the side behind him. "Remarkable, really. "

  Pink tears slid out of Tate's eyes as he stared at me.

  "I'll never forgive myself, Cat. I'm the one who suggested using Belinda as bait on jobs, and it almost got you killed. I'm so fucking sorry. "

  I touched his face, wiping away those pink streaks. "It's not your fault, Tate. No one saw this coming. "

  He grasped my hand. "I heard Max had gotten to you. I had to see for myself that you were all right. "

  Tate grabbed me, hugging me so hard, I knew I'd have bruises. He was probably unaware of it, not having had much time to get used to his new strength.

  I pushed at him. "Tate. . . you're squeezing me too hard. "

  He let me go so fast I almost staggered. "Oh Christ, I can't do anything right!"

  It hadn't escaped my notice that my three vampire guards were very close by. Their energies coiled in the air, as if the snow, coal, and Western-themed vampires were just about to strike.

  "Ease down, guys," I told them.

  "You shouldn't be so close to a new vampire," Rattler said. "It's not safe. "

  Tate's eyes went green. "Who the fuck are they?"

  "Bones's way of being overprotective. They're my shadow until he gets here sometime later. "

  Annette cocked her head. "Is Crispin dealing with Max tonight?"

  "Yep. And he thinks I wouldn't be able to stomach seeing him at his vampy worst. But he had Cooper and my mother go along. He must figure they're tougher than I am. "

  "Or more accurately, he doesn't care what they think of him," Annette replied.

  "Figures you'd take his side," I scoffed.

  The icily blond Zero moved closer to Tate. I saw it and let out an annoyed sigh.

  "For crying out loud, he's not going to bite me, so back down. "

  "Your temper and scent are exciting him," Zero responded in a flat tone. "He's too newly turned to restrain his hunger from such triggers for long. "

  I cast a glance back at Tate. His eyes were blistering emerald, and if I could see his aura, it would probably be sparking. Oh. Maybe Whitey had a point.

  Tate snarled, "I'd never hurt her. "

  Don, who hadn't said anything the last several minutes, spoke. "Then go back to the chamber and prove it. "

  Tate rounded on him before he seemed to catch himself. He took in a long scent of air and blew it out through his nose.

  "You're right. Everyone in this room with a pulse is starting to smell really good. Okay. Back in the box, better safe than sorry. "

  He brushed by me as he went, taking in another long, lingering breath. "You smell like honey and cream, Cat. I'm going to make myself breathe the rest of the night, just to catch another whiff of you on my skin. "

  Oh shit. Why did he have to say things like that?

  Tick Tock's hand went to the knife at his belt. Zero moved in front of me, almost stepping on my toes to do it. Rattler just shook his head.

  "You'll be dying twice, boy, if you keep talkin' that way. "

  Tate gave him a cold look. "That gets scarier every time I hear it. " Then he was gone, heading toward the elevators and the lowest level where his holding cell was.

  I cleared my throat. "Well. At least that wasn't awkward. "

  Annette's mouth quirked. "Before I join Tate, might I have a word with you?"

  I shrugged. "Sure. What's up?"

  She glanced around. "In private. "

  "Fine, whatever. Come into my new office. "

  The three Fangsters didn't try to follow us. Guess they didn't feel Annette was a threat. Little did they know she and I were more likely to brawl than anyone else here.

  I shut my door more for the illusion of privacy than thinking it would prevent undead eavesdropping. "Okay, what's up?"

  Annette sat in one of the two chairs in the room. "Crispin's right to keep you away from this, Cat. Even though you're clearly sore with him about it. "

  I rolled my eyes. "Don'tyou start. "

  She stared at me. "I was fourteen when I was forced into an arranged marriage with the meanest, most revolting man I'd ever met. . . at the time. On the third night, Abbot called one of the chambermaids to join us in bed. I refused, and he beat me. After that, whenever he brought a woman into our bedchamber, I didn't argue. A few years later, a married duchess named Lady Genevieve invited Abbot and me to her estate when her husband was away at court. She drugged Abbot, and when he slumbered, she told me she had a surprise for me. There was a rap at her door and then a young man walked in. You can guess who it was. "

  "Do I need to hear this?" I interrupted. "Although on an objective level it's fascinating, I don't want to hear you reminisce about having sex with Bones. "

  She waved a hand. "There's a point. Crispin and I were both trapped by our circumstances, you see. Divorce only existed for kings then, and a woman was nothing more than a flesh machine for reproduc tion. I did conceive, whose child I don't know, since I'd been shagging both Crispin and Abbot, but at the time of delivery, Abbot refused to summon a midwife. The baby was breech, I almost bled to death, and my infant son strangled on his cord. "

  That took away my irritation. Even well over two hundred years later, there was no mistaking the pain in Annette's voice. "I'm sorry," I said sincerely.

  She nodded once. "The stillbirth rendered me sterile and I was ill for months. Crispin snuck to care for me as I convalesced. Then soon after, he was arrested for thievery. Lady Genevieve arranged for me to have a private session with the magistrate. I convinced him not to hang Crispin, but to transport him to the South Wales colonies instead. It was the only thing I could do to repay Crispin for his many kindnesses. "

  "Thank you. "

  I'd never said that to Annette before, but over this topic, it was more than due. Yeah, Annette and I had our problems, but without her-and Ian, come to think-Bones wouldn't have lived beyond the eighteenth century.

  "Nineteen miserable years passed. One night there was a knock on our bedchamber door. Abbot opened it, and then was thrown backward through the air. The hood fell back on the intruder and there was Crispin, looking not a day older than when I'd last seen him.

  "Crispin told me he hadn't forgotten me or the misery I'd endured. Then he broke every bone in Abbot's body. After he'd killed him, Crispin showed me what he'd become, and he gave me a choice. With Abbot dead, I would inherit everything and could live out the rest of my life at court. But to me, that was only exchanging one cage for another, so I chose the other option Crispin offered. He turned me, and he has sheltered me ever since. "

  She paused to wipe away a tear. "And now to my point. You're strong, Cat, but you're not cruel. Nor is Crispin unless he is enraged or forced, and he is both in this instance. You'd be stricken by what you saw, but he would do no less than what was necessary. Crispin blames himself, and in part he's correct. Vampires respect what they fear. Mercy is considered a weakness. So love him enough to give him this, even if it's at the price of your pride. "

  She stood. Despite being confined in a room with Tate all day, she still looked as perfect as if she'd stepped from the salon.

  "You confuse me," I said at last. "Why would you care about smoothing things over with me and Bones? It wasn't too long ago you did your best to split us up. "

  She paused on her way to the door. "Because I love him. Even though I can't have him anymore, I still want him to be happy. "

  She left, but it took me several minutes before I did. Things were much easier when I just hated Annette, not when I felt she had a point I needed to listen to.