At Grave's End (Night Huntress #3)

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05.03.2019

THE RED NIGHTGOWN FLOWED AROUND ME, as dark as blood on my skin. Bones held me by the hips and arched underneath me, sharp noises of pleasure coming from his throat.

"Yes, Kitten. More…don't stop…"

I closed my eyes, caught up in the ecstasy. My fingers wound the sheet into handholds as I moved faster.

"Yes…"

The sensuality of the moment faded as a haze seemed to appear around us and the sheets began to develop a life of their own. They coiled around my wrists and ankles, as if the cotton had become an evil serpent. I tried to tell Bones to stop, but when I opened my mouth, blood poured out.

"Still trying to be brave, little girl?" a voice witheringly asked.

Horror crawled over me. I knew that voice.

The haze lifted, and I screamed in a long, piercing wail as Bones and the bed faded, and I was somehow on the floor in front of my father. Those serpentine sheets became knives that speared me through the wrists. My gut, leg, and arms throbbed in agony.

"Know what I'm going to do to you, little girl?" Max went on. "I'm going to rip your throat out again."

He came toward me. I tried to twist away, but those knives in my wrists prevented me. Max laughed as his fangs neared my skin, my struggles as frantic as they were useless. Then I screamed as he dragged his fangs slowly across my neck.

"Stop stop stop stop-!"

Max pressed something to my mouth. I coughed, sputtered, and swallowed, but after a few moments, Max faded and I could see someone else.

"Wake up, Kitten!"

Bones focused in front of me. Before my gaze, welts and scratches on him healed, leaving only blood to show where they'd been. His wrist was pressed to my mouth, the sheets were shredded all around us, and we weren't alone in the room.

Spade was at the side of the bed grasping my shoulders. He let go and sat back with a noise of relief when I blinked at him. Dave, Rodney, and Tate hovered by the door, Denise almost hopping to see over them. Then all I saw was Bones's chest as he clutched me to him.

"Bloody hell, you're awake." He pushed me back and cupped my face. "Do you know where you are?"

In my bedroom. Stark naked and so was Bones. Spade rose to his feet and I looked away. We weren't the only ones undressed.

"Bones, what is everyone doing in here? Spade, cover up. Frigging vampires think everyone wants to see what they've got."

Bones still had me clasped to him. At least being in his arms kept my breasts from being on display.

"Will you animals get out of my way!"

Good Lord, mymother was in the hallway trying to get in? She'd faint if she saw this.

"Spade, towel, bathroom," I hissed. "Save some of the mystery."

He laughed, but it sounded more like a tired wheeze. "Crispin, she's all right. I'll take myself off so she doesn't exhaust herself chiding me."

Spade had blood in drying lines on him as well. What the hell? Tate stared at me, and his presence made me squirm. He shouldn't see me like this.

Ian pushed by the other people in his way, snapping a cell phone shut.

"I told him it worked, Crispin. He said to call him later-"

"Now this is too much," I shouted. Forget Ian's businesslike manner, not even a wink or inappropriate leer. "I had a bad dream, there isn't a full-scale assault going on, so everyone, go."

Ian looked at me with pity. "More concerned with propriety than peril. We'll talk soon, Crispin."

"Right, then."

Finally, the room emptied. When the last person closed the door, I relaxed enough to tremble.

"God, that was the worst nightmare I've ever had. If I didn't know better, I'd say my neck still hurt…"

Which it did, actually. How was that possible?

Bones met my gaze. "Kitten, that wasn't just a dream. It was a spell to trap you in your own nightmare. Your neck hurts…because the spell was reenacting that day with Max, and if you hadn't have woken up, it would have finished the job and killed you."

I tensed everywhere, trying to get control. "How do you know it was a spell?"

"You started screaming in your sleep. Charles dashed in the room-that's why he was naked, he came straight from bed-and we tried to wake you. Then you became violent. Obviously, we knew it was more than a nightmare, and when I concentrated, I could read in your mind what was happening to you. No one had a bloody idea what to do. Ian rang Mencheres to tell him what was happening. He's the one who knew how to stop it."

"How long did this go on? It only seemed like a few minutes."

"It lasted round half an hour, though to me, it felt like years."

Half an hour! "You said Mencheres knew how to stop it. How'd he know?"

"Because Patra did it," Bones replied with quiet fury. "Practicing witchcraft is forbidden, but Patra studied it in secret. The spell would have been sealed with her blood, so only her blood-or the blood of her sire-could break it. Mencheres was too far away, so since he'd shared his blood and power with me, he thought it was possible mine would suffice. It did."

I shivered. Maybe the next time I went to sleep, I wouldn't wake up. Killed by my own memories. What a shitty way to go.

"So Patra can cast one of these spells anytime, anywhere?"

Bones's lips thinned into a grim line.

"Not if she's dead, she can't."

Later that afternoon, I called five delivery places. No, the humans in my house weren't that finicky, I was being practical. After all, we had several vampires to feed. The delivery people never knew that they were the real dinner, not the food they carried. They just left with a good tip and a lower iron count. Rodney made his own version of a square meal that he shared with Dave.

"…get ahold of one of Patra's people before we plan any counterattack," Ian said during a pause in the conversation. "Or, if we're lucky, find a turncoat."

"You of all people should have the most experience in turncoats."

The spiteful remark came from Don, and I blinked. He'd hardly said a word since finding out who Patra was.

"Bollocks." Ian sighed. "Look, Max got what he asked for. He wanted to leave his job and his humanity, and I changed him because I can always use another bright, ruthless lad. End of story."

Don regarded Ian with disgust. "End of story? Do you know what Max did, when I tried to take him in after finding out he'd changed into a vampire? He murdered our parents and left their bodies on my doorstep! You enabled him to do that. You gave him the power."

This was something I hadn't heard before. After I found out Don was my uncle, I'd asked if I had any more relatives, but he'd curtly said no. Now I knew why the subject bothered him.

Ian gave Don a look. "Max was a killer before he met me, so the only power I gave him was to do it with fangs."

"You can't help your parents, but your niece is still alive, old chap," Bones said. "We could use your wits to ensure she stays that way. Right then, to the issue of-"

He stopped, staring up at the wood paneling in our ceiling. I followed suit in confusion. What, did we have termites?

"Mencheres is here," he stated.

Spade also picked his head up. "I don't sense him yet."

Bones stood. "I do. And he's not alone."

I rolled my eyes. Great. Guess we'd better call that new Italian place. Time to break in their driver's neck…and Denise and I could sample the chicken parm.

"Who's with him?" I asked.

Bones gave an irritated growl. "It's the bloody show hound."

That made Ian laugh. "Indeed? This should prove to be an interesting night, after all."

Unlike Ian, Spade didn't seem amused by the news. "Why would he bring him, Crispin? He knows the two of you don't care for each other."

"Not to mention I don't like him knowing where I live." Muttered as Bones began to pace. "But he loathes Patra even more than he hates me. My enemy's enemy is my friend and all that rot."

"Who?" I repeated. "Do I know him?"

Bones snorted. "You know who he is."

The sound of a helicopter approaching staved off further conversation. Minutes later, the grind of metal on concrete announced the landing of our uninvited guests.

Mencheres and another vampire stepped out of the chopper. Bones welcomed his grandsire with a hug, but gave the other man only a cool nod.

Bones is wrong, I don't know him, I thought as I looked at the unfamiliar vampire. He was about six feet, with an angular face framed by long brown hair and a tight beard. A wide, pale forehead set off deep-set eyes. He wasn't handsome in the classic sense, but his looks were striking. I would have remembered him if we'd met before.

Scars crisscrossed the hand he extended to me. "You must be the Red Reaper."

He had an odd accent and his greeting wasn't "hello, how do you do?" typical, but I'd heard worse. "You have me at a disadvantage," I replied, shaking his hand.

Power sizzled up my arm. Whoever he was, he was a Master. And several hundred years old, at my guess.

"I rather doubt that." As he gave me the same evaluating stare I was giving him.

"Stop undressing her with your eyes," Bones snapped. "Though you weren't at the wedding, I'm certain you're aware that she's my wife."

The stranger laughed. He had unusual eyes, I noticed. Copper-colored and ringed with emerald. "My invitation must have been lost in the international mail."

Bones ignored that. "Mencheres, I hope there's a reason you brought him?"

"He has information," Mencheres said before turning to me. "Ah, Cat. Pleasure to see you again."

After all this time, you'd think I'd have known better, butCan't say the same was my first thought.

Bones gave me a look. I grimaced.It just flew out! Truth be told, I didn't know why I always had a knee- jerk reaction of dislike with Mencheres. Maybe we'd been enemies in a former life. By now, I'd believe anything.

Mencheres didn't comment on my uncouth version of "long time no see," so I tried for something polite out loud.

"Mencheres. Hi."

"Let's get this over with," Bones grumbled, turning to the other vampire. "Kitten, this is Vlad."

A bark of laughter escaped me before I could stuff it back. Jeez, someone had issues. "Not too original. You're the dozenth Vlad I've come across."

His thin lips curled. "I rather doubt they came by their names at birth as I did."

I waited for the punch line, but it didn't come. Bones still had that annoyed but serious expression on his face, and with growing awareness, I saw that none of the other vampires were laughing.

Finally I found my voice. "You'reDracula? You have got to beshitting me!"

While I was busy being flabbergasted, the other undead guests said hello. Vlad was greeted with tempered courtesy by everyone except for Annette. She gave him a kiss on the mouth that had me shaking my head at her.

Oh, Dracula as well, Annette? I guess if Frankenstein and the Wolf Man were real, they'd already have double-teamed you.

A wheeze came out of Mencheres. If I didn't know better, I'd have said it was a laugh.

Bones gave me another "watch your thoughts, for bloody sake" look. I redirected my observations about Annette's sexual history to the undead legend in front of me.

"Dracula. When I was sixteen and trying to learn anything I could about vampires, I read a lot about you. Bram Stoker almost made you sound nice, because the historical record paints you with a much nastier brush."

Bones lost his frown at once and gave me an approving grin. I rolled my eyes.So it's okay to insult him, just not Annette? Hypocrite.

"I don't answer to that name, and you shouldn't be so quick to believe everything you read. Recorded history's nothing if not fickle. I wonder what it will have to say of you, Catherine?"

"My name is Cat," I corrected him at once. "You remember mine and I'll get yours right."

After further introductions were made, we settled in the family room. Yes, the living room would have been nicer, but I wanted comfortable surroundings while plotting to murder one famed historical figure with another one. Vlad took the chair nearest me, situating himself as if it were a throne. He gave Bones an arch little smile that made me think he'd done it just to piss Bones off, which it had. Bones took his place beside me on the couch and clasped my hand, pointedly.

Despite the circumstances, the ten-year-old child inside me wanted to pepper Vlad with questions.Who's buried in the church by your castle? Did you really nail turbans onto the heads of the sultan's emissaries when they refused to take them off? When did you become a vampire-before or after you supposedly drank glasses of blood on a battlefield as you dined among the men you'd impaled?

"A peasant of similar height. Yes. After, and it was red wine I drank."

Motherfucker, I thought before slamming my mind shut.Another one.

"Impressive." Vlad flicked his gaze from me to Bones. "I wonder where she learned to develop such exceptional mental shields? Have you been hiding something, young man?"

"Don't come into my home and patronize me, you crusty old bat. You're a guest, so behave as one."

"Vlad…" There was a touch of reprimand in Mencheres's voice. More interesting was that Vlad responded to it with a conciliatory flick of his fingers.

"Yes, right. I promised to set our differences aside for the greater good and that's why I'm here. You know I don't like you, Bones, and you don't like me. In fact, if Patra had sided against you without also crossing Mencheres, I might be sitting with her now."

Bones shrugged. "And if it weren't for Mencheres, you and I would have danced a long time ago. But Mencheres holds you in high esteem and he must have a reason for it, so I'll trust his judgment that you're not the worthless sod I think you are."

I blinked. Talk about an uneasy truce.

Mencheres stood. His courtly manners made him seem harmless, but I knew looks were deceiving. In a fight, I was betting he'd be terrifying.

"Bones, I was shocked to hear Patra used magic against Cat. It's forbidden for vampires to practice magic, as you're aware. But we do have an advantage. Utilizing such a spell will weaken Patra for days, which gives us time to strike back at her, if we can find her. Vlad has information on where one of her people might be."

Bones turned a cold gaze to Vlad, who just grinned at him.

"Never thought you'd need something from me, did you?"

"You've already made up your mind whether you're going to tell me or not, so either spit it out or rack off," Bones replied shortly.

Vlad's eyes flicked to me, and then, oddly, to Tate.

"I can smell his lust for Cat. He doesn't even try to hide it. Pisses you off a great deal to have someone in your line openly lusting after your wife, doesn't it?"

"Hey, just a minute," I began, even as Bones raised a brow and snapped, "Your point?" to Vlad.

That thin-lipped grin widened. "I'm getting to it."