At Grave's End (Night Huntress #3)

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05.03.2019

WE FOLLOWEDANTHONY INTO THE PARKING lot. His ride was a black stretch limousine. As soon as we approached it, I squeezed Tate's hand, but he'd already sensed it.

"Who else is in there?" he demanded, halting a few feet away.

Anthony grabbed Tate just as the doors opened and two vampires streaked out. One helped Anthony hold Tate, and the other yanked me by the arm. That single gesture told me in a split second they didn't know who I was. If they had, this chump would've had me in a bear hug at knifepoint.

"Don't hurt us!" I wailed. There were only four of them, plus Anthony. Two of them were Masters, but not overly strong, so I guessed this was Anthony's guard for when he went out on the town. There were too few of them for it to be a setup.

Tate swung his gaze to me with sudden clarity, then smacked at the hands restraining him.

"I'll get into the car, no need to shove me," he barked.

Anthony didn't let go, but he nodded to the other man, who held the door open with sarcastic flourish. "After you."

Mentally I sent messages to Bones, telling him to back off and let these punks lead us straight to Hykso. It was a step of faith-I didn't how far away he was or if he could hear me. It wasn't like I could check the bars on my cell phone, after all.

I hunched my shoulders and scurried after Tate, letting fear leak out of my pores, a neat trick I'd developed over the years. To a vampire in a controlling position, it was the sweet scent of victory.

"What's going on?"

My voice trembled for effect while I measured each of the five men in the limo, gauging their strengths. They hadn't frisked me for weapons, which was just not smart. I had two throwing knives taped to my upper back, and the heels on my shoes weren't wood.

"We're being kidnapped," Tate answered coolly as the car sped off. "Don't worry, they're only interested in me."

Anthony grinned, elbowing his closest companion. "Can you believe the luck, finding one of Bones's people at the carnival? Patra will be so happy!"

The other vampire didn't share Anthony's giddiness. His gaze traveled over me in a calculated manner.He dies first, was my instant decision.A thinker, didn't need one of those.

"And his gray-eyed, red-haired friend? You haven't mentioned her."

Something was in his hand, and I made a bleat of terror as a normal person would when it pointed at me. A gun, well, getting shot hurt less than getting burned, that was for damn sure. As long as he didn't blow a hole in my head or heart, any other area could get fixed.

Anthony giggled like a joke had been told. "Kratas, why Patra assigned you to me, I'll never know. She's a fake, of course. Tate's into role-playing. He's got a thing for the real Reaper, it's common knowledge. Maybe I'll keep the redhead for a while. She's not important, so Patra won't need her."

Kratas sent Anthony such a jaded look that the other vampires were suddenly at attention.

"None of you can think past your cocks,that's why Patra assigned me. Can I imagine the luck? No, I can't."

Anthony seemed a little sobered by that. He considered me more objectively. Then he shook his head.

"Her hair smells dyed, her eyes have some blue in them, and her skin…it doesn't have a hint of glow, and she's got no tat. Plus, you didn't see the two of them when I came into the carnival. They were all over each other. Bones wouldn't let his wife fool around with the youngest member of his line."

Kratas gave me another hard stare. "Waste of time to mesmerize her and ask," he muttered, almost more to himself. "If she's not the Reaper, she'll claim innocence, and if sheis, she'll still claim innocence, since they say vampire powers don't work on her."

A brunette vampire shrugged. "Then kill her, it's not worth the risk."

I let out a frightened squeak for effect while I mentally readied myself for a fight. But Kratas was already shaking his head.

"And risk losing our most valuable hostage ever? I think not."

"I have an idea," one of the other vamps piped up. "Have them fuck. He wouldn't risk the death sentence if that's the Reaper, and neither would the real Reaper do it."

Tate let out a disbelieving chuckle even as my hand tightened over his.

"Come on, guys, you expect me to get it on now, when the poor girl's shaking in fear? No thanks, I'm not into rape."

Kratas, to my dismay, seemed to like the idea. He cocked his gun. "You into death? Because this gun's filled with silver bullets, and that's what you and your girlfriend are gonna get unless you do it. Here, we'll even give you some space."

With questionable helpfulness, the other vampires cleared off our seat and scrunched next to each other on the opposite one. Tate and I had their undivided attention. Great. Now what? They were all too alert for us to make a move. No, they had to be off their guard first.

Tate looked as rattled as I felt. I had to do something, fast, before he ruined it. The bottom line was, we needed them to lead us to Hykso. If we just started the mayhem now, there were too many of them for us to try and take a few alive. Sure, Bones would jump in on the fight, but what if before then, Tate or I happened to kill the only person who knew where Hykso was? We couldn't risk it.

"I don't want to die," I quavered, rustling up some crocodile tears. "We shouldn't have gone out tonight, I told you I wanted to stay home!"

Tate only took a second to fling off his unease. My act was saying to play the game-for now. Just long enough to get us a little closer to Hykso.

Tate took me in his arms. "It's all right, baby. Everything will be fine." Then he glared at them.

"You can forget about using a stopwatch, because I'm taking as long as it needs to get her in more of a mood."

"Just glare her into the mood," one of them snapped impatiently.

Tate gave a disgusted grunt. "That may be how you get chicks to want to fuck you, but I find a little something called foreplay works, too."

"Fine, do it your way," Anthony said. "As long as it's in the next twenty minutes, because we'll be at Hykso's plane by then."

Mentally I smiled.Good, tell us how far away we are, that'll make it easier to coordinate an attack.

Kratas waved the gun. "Get on with it."

I eyed Tate, wishing he had Bones's mind-reading skills.Less than twenty minutes, okay, if we drag out the kissing and such, we can be almost there. Then Bones and the others will be close enough to find Hykso, if we end up killing whoever knows, we'll finish up here, and drinks will be on me. But first…

Tate kissed me, brushing away my fake tears.

"It's okay, baby," he murmured. "Just pretend we're alone. Don't look at them. Think about how much you love to be touched like this."

The translation was clear-I had to act like he and I had done this before. Some of my reticence could be rationalized as fear. Not all of it.

I took a deep breath. If someone would have told me this morning that I'd spend tonight getting to second base with Tate, I would have laughed and called them a liar. But that was exactly what I was about to do, though second base was as far as I was willing to commit to this charade.

Tate gave me a deep, openmouthed kiss. I put my arms around him, letting my fingers play in his short hair as I tried to simultaneously keep an eye on the vampires through slitted lids and act like I was getting turned on by Tate's attention.

But I wasn't. Inside me, guilt was competing with the ruthlessness that said we had to get closer to our target. Right now, guilt was winning. Desire was pretty far from anything I felt.

Tate knew it, too. He broke the kiss, staring at me with mixed green and blue eyes. I knew he could tell that this wasn't doing anything for me, and so could the other vampires.

Kratas cocked the gun. Dammit all to hell. I'd have to fake this better.

I twined my arms around Tate and pulled myself onto his lap, drawing his head to my throat. The feel of his tongue and fangs grazing the sensitive skin of my neck reminded me of Bones, and there were shivers to show for that. I arched my back and sucked on his throat in return. Tate shuddered, his hands wandering up my back to my breasts.

Warning shot through me. Did Tate remember about the two knives strapped to my upper back? Or had he forgotten that in his distraction over the extremely compromising position we'd been forced into?

I reached for his hands, sliding them to the front of my jeans.

"I don't have to get all the way naked in front of them, do I?" I asked, making my voice high and vulnerable.

Tate's gaze met mine. His eyes were all green now. "No, baby. This'll do."

He helped me slide my jeans off even as, absurdly, the night I met Bones flashed in my mind. How Bones had called my seduction bluff after I'd lured him to a deserted patch of woods.You weren't going to shag me with all your clothes on, were you, Kitten? Guess all you'll need off is your knickers, then. Come on. Don't take all bloody night.

I'd been embarrassed taking my pants off then and I was now, too, though for different reasons. Not because I was shy over Patra's five gawking vampires eyeing my ass in its skimpy thong-hell, I wanted them to look, it made for great distraction-but because it was Tate dragging my jeans down my legs. Tate's eyes wandering over me with a lust so raw, I almost abandoned my act right there, getting closer to Hykso be damned.

But then something changed in Tate's gaze. He glanced at the vampires leering at me, and anger tightened his jaw. I almost heaved a relieved sigh, even though Tate's being possessive was something that meant trouble later. Right now, though, it had the needed effect of getting him back on track. He kissed me again, but I could feel there was more calculation to it, even though it looked like he was being just as enthusiastic as before.

From the brief sideways glances I stole, with my mostly bare ass on display, the men were getting more into the show. Only Kratas seemed unaffected. His trigger finger didn't ease a fraction. Even through my irritation, I appreciated Patra's decision to place him with this group. Dedication in the midst of distraction was a valuable trait. I just wished it wasn't being used against me at the moment.

Of course, if he were human, I wouldn't have concerned myself with the gun pointing at me. I could dodge the bullets faster than a human could fire them, but not faster than a vampire. I knew that from painful experience.

I let Tate shift until he was on kneeling in front of me, since it completely cut off their view of my back. Much easier to go for my knives this way.

"Enough stalling."

Kratas tapped his gun for emphasis. At a guess, we were almost to the halfway point. Shit. This was going to be close.

Mentally I shouted a message to Bones, although I had no idea if he was close enough to hear me.I'm going to count it down, Bones. School's out at zero.

Five…

Tate stopped kissing me to unbutton his pants. His eyes were blazing green.

Four…

I clutched his shoulder while my other, hidden hand coiled around my knives.

Three…

Tate unzipped his jeans, and he wasn't wearing any underwear. It was all I could do not to jerk back and give the charade away. Yeah, this was way further than I'd ever anticipated things would go.

Two…

Three things happened at once. I whipped my arm around to send the blades sailing; Kratas fired, the bullet striking me in the side instead of the heart because of Tate's body in front of mine; and the roof ripped right off the limo.

There was a stunned second when I saw Bones before he snatched me out of the car. In the next instant, Spade and Ian descended like bats from hell onto the now-convertible limo while Tick Tock and Dave slammed into it from the highway.

The few cars on the road screeched madly around the careening vehicle. All of this I observed from my new viewpoint of fifty feet in the air, gripped in the crook of Bones's arm. I didn't have time to wonder about what we'd do with all the traffic when he abruptly swooped back down.

"Let's get this piece of rot off the road," he barked.

Bones, Spade, and Ian each grasped an edge of the limo and then propelled upward. The car lifted off the asphalt like it had grown wings. There was still scuffling going on in the interior of the limo, but it had a different sound to it now. More like muffled screams cut off before completion.

A few miles away in the distance, I saw a twin engine aircraft, propellers starting up. That had to be Hykso, and if we could see him, he could see us.

Bones growled and aimed straight for it, his emerald gaze lighting the night.

"Think they'll make it off the ground, Crispin?" Ian sang out, streamlining his body while handling his part of the limo.

"Not a bloody chance," Bones snarled back.

"We can take them on ourselves. Tend to Cat, she's been shot," Spade called out without turning his head.

"Don't even think about it," I snapped. "Flesh wound, keep going."

"We are."

I didn't need mind-reading skills to know Bones was pissed, but flying Superman style while toting an automobile and chasing a plane was not conducive for a chat.

The aircraft started to taxi, picking up speed. So did we, with a burst of nosferatu energy that crackled the air with invisible currents. I shut my eyes, not out of fear, but because the wind nearly blinded me. Through slits I saw the plane start to take off. We were still about fifty yards away.

"Now," Bones commanded, and dropped me.

A blur snatched me in midair before I hit the ground. My stupefied gaze took in the sight of bodies ejecting from the car as Bones flung it at the small plane. There was an explosion, its bright flash interrupted by the vampire setting me safely on the ground.

"Stay here," Ian muttered even as he darted away toward the wreckage. I ignored him, lurching in the same direction, but oddly shivering. Why did I feel this cold when the fire was so close?

Flaming forms crawled out of the remains of the plane and were promptly tackled. Through the wavering fire, people who were familiar to me almost appeared demonic as they hacked their way through the scrambling vampires. In minutes it was over, and somehow I was on the grass without noticing I'd fallen. That gunshot must have been more serious than I realized.

Bones came out of the orange haze. He had blood and soot on him, and his shirt was patchy in places. He knelt by me.

"This will hurt, Kitten, but it's quicker."

The warning made my eyes widen as he held me down. He took out a knife and gouged it into my side. I couldn't help but scream as his fingers followed, feeling around for the bullet. After a moment that seemed to last infinitely longer, Bones drew it out, then cut his palm and placed it over the site, healing the larger wound he'd just made. Then Bones sliced his wrist and pressed it to my mouth. I took a deep swallow of his blood, closing my eyes as the pain lost its grip.

My side tingled as it knit back together. It occurred to me that I must have been unconscious when Bones did this after Max shot me. Getting my throat torn open really had numbed me to everything else that day.

Bones drew his shirt over his head. "Bit torn in places, but it'll cover your arse," he said, handing it to me. "'Fraid your trousers are incinerated back in the car."

There were many things in his gaze, and reproach was one of them. Fumbling, I pulled his shirt on like it was a skirt. "Bones, I-"

"Later," he cut me off. "Got a few matters to settle first."

"Crispin."

Ian strode forward, dragging someone by the back of his neck. He shook the person like a rag doll and flung him near our feet.

"Here, reckoned you'd want this one alive. Charles and Tick Tock are holding Hykso, but we shouldn't linger here. Bloody coppers are on their way, I suspect."

"We don't have to worry about them. Perks of her sodding job. She flashes her badge and makes a call, and they curse and kick the stones for not being allowed to venture nearer. Almost funny, really."

Bones's tone changed to cruel in the next heartbeat. "Ah, hallo there, mate. You'll remember my wife. She's the one you shot."

Kratas wore an expression of grim resignation. "I had a feeling about you," he said to me. "Should have listened to my instinct."

"Know what I'm going to do with this bullet?"

Bones's casual tone didn't lull Kratas. His face showed he had no illusions.

"I'm going to melt it down and have a blade crafted with part of the silver. Then I'm going to run it through every part of your body except your heart."

God, sometimes Bones did scare me.

"Are you going to store him with Max?" Ian asked, not looking upset by the prospect of Kratas's pain.

"Elsewhere. We'll sort it out later. Get them set up in the truck so we can get out of here."

The two eighteen-wheelers that pulled up looked like any you'd see on the highway. Dirty on the outside, dents on the fenders, even the drivers were the quintessential trucker type. Furthermore, when the trailer back of one of them slid open, a line of crates met your eyes. Of course, those crates were a false wall that led to an interior the average shipping company had never conceived of.

"Charles, you're in this one with Hykso. Perhaps we'll get lucky and the bloke will know where Patra is. Kitten, we're in the other until we get to the airport. Ian, traveling with us or on your own?"

Ian cast a snooty glance at the trucks and shook his head. "I'll arrange for my own transportation."

"Take Tate with you."

Bones didn't make it a request. Ian shrugged.

"As you wish."

Spade led forward a heavily chained vampire. No introduction was necessary, it had to be Hykso. He certainly had an Egyptian flair to him, with straight black hair, dusky skin, and a distinctive nose. His eyes were trained on me as he approached. Then he smiled.

"Reaper. I look forward to you meeting my mistress."

I smiled back, just as coldly. "So do I, Hykso."