At graves end, p.9
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       At Graves End, p.9

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

 

  IN SPITE OF THE FEVERISH TRACKING OF DOMINO'S accounts to try and pinpoint who supplied the money, we'd come up empty-handed. Whoever it was, he or she was clever. There were ghost companies, fake names, and canceled bank accounts, to name a few of the obstacles we encountered.

  Two weeks later, Bones's cell phone rang. The crescendo should have sounded like a warning, but I'd been concentrating on the papers in front of me.

  "Hallo. . . ah, didn't recognize the number, Mencheres. . . "

  The name snapped me to attention. What did Bones's version of a vampire granddaddy want?

  Bones's relaxed features hardened into unreadable planes as he listened. Then he said, "Right. We'll see you shortly," and hung up.

  "Well?" I prodded.

  "Mencheres is summoning me to his house to discuss a proposition he has for me. "

  I frowned. "Why couldn't he just tell you whatever it is over the phone?"

  "It must be important, pet," Bones snorted. "My grandsire isn't much for dramatics, so whatever he wants to propose, it's not whether I'll water his plants for him for a small fee when he goes out of town. "

  Even though I was bundled under a thick sweater, I felt a chill go up my spine. What could Mencheres want to discuss with Bones that was so important, he was having him drop everything to meet him in person?

  There was only one way to find out.

  Mencheres answered the door himself, and I couldn't help but shiver as I felt his aura wash over me. The waves of energy coming from him were like a mini lightning storm. Mencheres's features announced him as Egyptian, and he had that whole wannabe pharaoh thing going on with his regal bearing and waist-length black hair. I guessed Mencheres to be well over two thousand, though from his appearance, you wouldn't think he was a day over twenty-five.

  "Nice place you have here," I remarked, looking over the ornate mansion as we entered. "I can see why you'd need the space, what with all your houseguests. "

  If I'd thought we'd be surrounded by Mencheres's usual underlings, I was wrong. It sounded like we were the only three people in this mansion aside from some dogs. Mastiffs. Noble animals. I was a cat person myself.

  Bones gave me a glance that made Mencheres smile. "Don't worry, she can say what she pleases. I like her directness. It's very similar to yours, albeit less diplomatic at times. "

  "My wife makes a good point, although tactless," Bones said. "Normally you have several of your people on hand. Should I assume their absence means you wish to keep our business private?"

  "It's what I thought you would want," was his reply. "Before I go any further, can I offer either of you something? The house is fully stocked. "

  I bet it was. This place was three times the size of our home, and with huge grounds to boot. Bones had said Mencheres kept a vampire and ghoul staff with him, plus some members of his line, and then their live-in snacks as well. Being as old as he was, he had a large entourage.

  Bones accepted an aged whiskey. I declined anything, wanting to get right to the point. Mencheres led us to a lovely drawing room done in masculine tones. Leather couches with buttery textures. A stone fireplace. Hardwood floors and hand-stitched rugs. One of the dogs came to sit at Mencheres's feet when he settled himself on the couch opposite us. Bones had one hand around his glass and the other was holding mine.

  "Do you like the whiskey?" Mencheres asked.

  "For the love of God, just say what your proposal is already," I burst out, since with Mencheres's ability to read minds, he would have heard my internal, impatient wonderings anyway.

  Cool fingers tightened around mine. "I can't help it," I went on, more to Bones than Mencheres. "Look, I'm good at flirting with things and then killing them, or just killing them. Not beating around the bush. Mencheres had us fly all the way here for something, and it wasn't to ask if the whiskey was good. "

  Bones sighed. "Grandsire, if you would be so kind. . . "

  He waved a hand to indicate what the rest of the sentence dangled. Let's have it.

  Mencheres leaned forward, his steel eyes meeting Bones's dark brown ones. "I propose a permanent alliance between your line and mine, Bones. If you agree to this alliance, I will give you the same gift of power that was once given to me. "

  Wow. Sure didn't seethat coming.

  Bones tapped his chin while I shifted on my seat. Vampire politics made me edgy as a rule, and the thought of a permanent alliance with this particular mega-spooky vampire didn't make me happy at all. There had to be something behind this. I didn't see Mencheres throwing it out there solely to be magnanimous.

  Bones seemed to agree. "You want to merge lines and give me a power upgrade? Why do I feel like there's more than you're telling me, Grandsire?"

  Mencheres's face was impassive. "War is coming, I've seen it. With your new strength and our combined lines, we'll have a better chance to win. "

  "You've seen it?" I asked. "Or you'veseen it?"

  In addition to being able to mind-read anyone with a pulse, Mencheres was also known for his visions. Little glimpses of the future and all that. I wasn't sure whether I believed it-why wouldn't Mencheres be playing the lottery all the time?-but Bones believed Mencheres had that ability, and he'd known him for centuries.

  "It's certain," Mencheres replied, no emotion in his tone.

  Bones mulled this over. I kept silent. This was his call. He was the one who'd known Mencheres all of his undead life. Far be it for me to start voicing my disapproval just because Mencheres gave me the heebie-jeebies.

  Bones nodded after a long moment. "I'll do it. "

  And I knew Mencheres could hear it when I thought,Aw, shit. He didn't comment, though. He just rose, all long black hair and sharp granite eyes, and then embraced Bones.

  "We will seal our new alliance next week. Until then, speak of it to no one but those you trust the most. "

  Then Mencheres released Bones and gave me a wintry smile.

  "Nowyou can leave, Cat. "

  The house Mencheres used to host the gathering in honor of his and Bones's forthcoming alliance had sentimental value for me, in a way. It was the same mansion where I'd met Ian when he'd tried to blackmail me into joining him, but I'd ended up binding myself to Bones instead. Apparently it belonged to Mencheres, and Ian had been just using it for that night.

  Speaking of Ian, as Bones's sire, he'd earned himself an invite for tonight's festivities. Bones also had all of the direct members of his line here, well over two hundred vampires, and that didn't count the ghouls he'd had a hand in siring, which was roughly another hundred.

  Mencheres couldn't fit all of his direct descendants without renting a football stadium, so power level and preference had decided the cut on who was invited. To showcase their new alliance, several prominent Master vampires of other lineages were present, and not all of them friendly.

  Many of the ornate couches that had lined the area around the arena months ago were absent as well. There were too many people here now to have that much space taken up. It was practically standing room only, with chairs and couches reserved only for the very elite who dared to sit in them. At the arenalike center of the room, there were no such trappings. We would all stand.

  This was the largest number of undead people I'd ever been around. My skin practically danced from all the vibrations coming off them. Our troupe of elite guards consisted of Spade, Tick Tock, Rattler, Zero, and about a dozen more somewhat familiar vampires. Their names might escape me, but their power levels didn't. Even in a room filled with more than half of Bones and Mencheres's people, our escorts were crackling with unspoken warning. I was glad I was on the inside of this group, not facing them in battle. I'd be roadkill against them.

  When we entered the square elevated platform, I had the sensation of being in a boxing arena. There was Mencheres's side and Bones's on either corner, no one talking. Even the spectators were hushed. Then Mencheres strod
e to the center and addressed the faces fixed on him.

  He'd dressed in an Egyptian tunic, all white, with a belt around his waist that I'd bet my ass was pure gold. Around his upper arms he had more gold bands, and his pale skin had a faint yellow sparkle. He must have dusted himself in it. With his long dark hair loose, held back only on his forehead by a thin lapis lazuli crown, he looked like he'd stepped out of an ancient fresco from a pharaoh's tomb. Hell, for all I knew, therewas a fresco of him somewhere in a pharaoh's tomb.

  "All of you are here to witness me declare my loyalty in an alliance that will only be broken by death. From this night forward, I promise that every person who belongs to Bones is also mine, as all of mine are now his. As proof of my word, I offer my blood to seal this alliance. If I betray it in any way, it will also be my penalty. Crispin, you who have renamed yourself Bones, do you accept my offer to merge our lines?"

  Bones squeezed my hand once and went to stand next to the other vampire. "I do. "

  Mencheres paused, maybe for dramatic effect. "And what do you offer as proof of your word?"

  Bones's voice was strong. "My blood is proof of my word. If I betray our alliance, let it be my penalty. "

  Normally they would have each sliced their hands, clasped them in a formal handshake, and called it a day. Kind of similar to a vampire marriage ceremony, in fact. But there was more going on tonight than our guests were aware of. Everyone here knew that Bones and Mencheres were merging their lines, but what they didn't know about was the bonus activity. The transference of power. Only those of us on the platform showed no surprise as Mencheres eschewed the traditional hand cutting and bent his head to Bones's neck instead.

  There was a flurry of exclamations from the observers. Guess they'd caught on to what else this was about. Three rows up, I heard Ian spit out a foul curse, and I smiled. Uh oh, did someone feel slighted?

  Ian wasn't the only one. There were several more unhappy voices from Mencheres's side of the huge room. People who'd obviously thought one day to be the lucky recipient of this gift themselves. That was the other reason why we had the guards with us. In case someone, or a group of someones, got more than vocal with their dissatisfaction.

  Mencheres ignored all that and didn't stop drinking from Bones's neck. When at last he lifted his mouth, I saw Bones sway a tad on his feet. Draining a vampire made him weaker, and from the looks of Bones, Mencheres had cleaned his plate.

  "My word, sealed in blood," Bones rasped. "Freely given and accepted. "

  Mencheres tilted his head in invitation next, and Bones sank his fangs into the other vampire's exposed throat.

  It was different than when Mencheres drank. Something changed in the air. An invisible current in the room grew. Static electricity seemed to jump off the two figures in the center of the platform, and I blinked, rubbing my arms like I'd been zapped. Here it was, the transference of power. Bones told me that Mencheres had to will it out with his blood; it wasn't something that could be stolen just by anyone drinking him. Even as I watched, the Egyptian vampire's skin started to glow with an eerie inner light, as if a million stars were trying to break out of his flesh.

  Above us, there was the sound of abrupt movement and scuffling. Someone was either trying to start a brawl or trying to make a break for it. Spade barked out a command, and unseen vampires descended from the roof like lethal spiders. They dropped onto the small melee, and then the noise stopped with equal speed.

  Still Bones drank, ignoring everything around him, his legs solidifying underneath him. I knew he wasn't getting nourishment from Mencheres's blood, but was ingesting raw power with every pull of his mouth. Those sparkling stars of light on Mencheres's skin merged into Bones's flesh with the same ease that sand absorbed seawater. It was lovely to watch-and frightening.

  A hum began to grow in the air, then it rose to a piercing, thunderous crescendo in a split second. Instinctively I clapped my hands over my ears even as Bones staggered backward, going limp all at once. I jumped forward and caught him, lowering him to the ground. Mencheres fared better but not by much. Two of his men grasped him as his head drooped and he swayed, looking barely conscious.

  I held Bones on my lap. Our guard formed a protective circle around us with a barked warning that anyone who approached would be killed. It wasn't an exaggeration. They were all armed with silver. So was I. It lined my legs underneath my red dress.

  Mencheres regained himself enough to mumble, "My blood, freely given and accepted as proof of my word," before biting the neck of a human brought to him for that purpose. I looked away, stroking Bones's face and waiting for him to wake up.

  Several minutes later, he did. I sensed it in the rush of energy that made me twitch before his eyelids even fluttered. All of a sudden, Bones felt unfamiliar to me. The vibrating power that normally exuded from him didn't just increase-it kept growing and growing, until he felt like he was going to explode right in my arms.

  His hand closed over mine in the next instant, and I jerked back. It felt like I'd just shoved my fist in a light socket.

  "Bloody hell, luv, this feels quite different," were his first words.

  I laid a tentative hand back on him. "Are you okay?"

  It was almost stupid to ask with that crackling energy nearly shooting sparks up my arm, but I couldn't help myself.

  He nodded and opened his eyes. "Very much so. In fact, I've never felt better. At least not unless we were alone. "

  Pig. Now I knew it was the same man I'd fallen in love with. Bones might have changed in power, but not in any other way. It was almost a relief to find his mind still in the gutter.

  "Let's get you off me, then, your elbow is jabbing me in the kidney-"

  Something on his face made me stop in midsentence. "What?" I asked.

  "Did you just call me a pig?"

  I froze. Had I said that out loud?

  "Bloody hell, no you didn't!" he answered for me, springing to his feet in a lithe motion.

  Good God,he could read minds now? There was something neither of us had thought would happen.

  Bones pulled me up and kissed me. There was so much raw energy permeating from him that his tongue almost hurt when it slid into my mouth, but then it felt good. Very, very good.

  "Shh," he whispered into my ear when his mouth trailed from mine.

  I could guess why the secrecy, of course. We were in mixed company, and if Bones's enemies didn't know he had the new ability to read minds, then they wouldn't worry about it being used against them.

  I won't say anything. But you and I will have to talk about this, because you can't just invade my mind whenever you want to be nosy.

  "Ahh!"

  It came out of me in a gasp when he bit my neck in the next moment. Mother of God, my knees went weak. Bones supported me when they lost strength entirely in the next second.

  We'd planned on him taking some of my blood afterward. Even though he was now hyped full of vamp juice, it wouldn't nourish him. Only human blood could, and mine still half qualified. Thus it wasn't the shock of him biting my neck that buckled me. No, it was the fierce erotic waves pouring over me with each pull of his mouth. Holy shit, it had never felt like this before. He'd gone down on me with similar effect.

  Bones raised his mouth from my throat but didn't let go of me, which was good, because I might have toppled over. Thank God he'd stopped biting me when he did-I would have been mortified to have an orgasm in front of a thousand people. It was bad enough that they could all sense just how much I'd liked having my neck turned into a straw, but at least I wasn't about to ask for a cigarette.

  "Don't be embarrassed," Bones said low. "I feel the same way every time I drink from you. We'll finish up here soon, Kitten, now that the formalities are over. "

  He still had his arm around me when he turned to Mencheres. The other vampire was refreshed as well from his blood donor, albeit less sensuously, I'd bet. They clasped hands once
before facing the crowd.

  "Our alliance has been sealed," Mencheres said formally.

  Bones was more casual about it. "Then this is a party, mates. Let's have at it. "