At Grave's End (Night Huntress #3)

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05.03.2019

WE DIDN'T LEAVE RIGHT AWAY, WHICH WAS Bones's idea, not mine. I went to my office while Bones went off to talk to Juan. When the two of them came back fifteen minutes later, Juan looked paler, but he also seemed to be excited.

"What's up, buddy?" I asked him.

Juan glanced around my office. "Bones,aqui? Ahora? "

Bones gave him an impassive look and shut the door. "Si. Listos?"

Juan's eyes met mine, and then he nodded. "Si."

I was still translating when Bones grabbed Juan and buried his fangs deeply into his neck. What thehell? Then what they'd been saying penetrated.Bones, here? Now? Yes. Ready? Yes. Oh God. Juan must be the vampire replacement Bones had just promised Don. Talk about not wasting any time.

Juan's legs buckled and his eyes fluttered closed. He lost consciousness, his body rapidly going into shock from the mass amounts of blood leaving it. Bones held him, sucking harder at his neck. Juan's face drained of color even as Bones's became pinker, almost flushed. If I touched him now, I knew he'd be warm, though his new temperature would only last as long as it took for Juan to suck his blood back out of him.

Juan's heartbeat slowed. What had been a fast, nervous beating when Bones first bit him turned into lazy, lethargic buh-booms with growing spaces in between. After a minute, Bones raised his head.

"Kitten, hand me that letter opener."

It took me a second to shake myself from seeing my friend dying in front of me, but then I passed the requested item over. Bones took it and plunged it into his own neck, blood spilling out from the unusual fullness of his jugular. He put Juan's head there, forcing his blood into Juan's mouth.

Dave came in the door, an odd expression on his face. Thin crimson lines streamed into Juan's slack mouth. The air became charged, like there was an electric storm nearby. Bones held Juan to his throat, the letter opener still piercing his skin. Juan's lips twitched. His mouth began to fasten of its own volition onto Bones's neck. The letter opener fell unneeded to the floor, because Juan was biting at him now. With single purpose, he clutched Bones, chewing into the pale neck.

Juan sucked on Bones's throat, tearing his flesh and swallowing in ravenous gulps. Bones held him, his lips in a tight line as Juan's blood was given back to him irrevocably altered. Finally he grasped Juan and tore his mouth away, wrestling him to the ground and pinning him. Juan struggled, his teeth snapping and starting to curve with the first hints of fang.

"No you don't, mate," Bones said.

Dave moved toward me, standing in the way of the now-insensible man who would kill anyone out of sheer, blind hunger.

Juan continued to thrash for another minute before he shuddered violently. Then his whole body went limp and his last few heartbeats went forever silent.

Bones grunted in weariness and rolled off him. Changing a vampire weakened him of power. Not to mention he'd just been sucked dry.

"You need a refill," I stated, and went to pass by Dave to get some plasma from our in-house blood bank.

"Don't."

Bones was on his feet before I could blink.

"Just…stay right here, Kitten."

Understanding dawned. The last time he'd changed someone over, I'd gone away for "just a minute" and ended up being tortured and nearly killed.

"I'll get it."

The offer came from Dave, who seemed to remember.

"No, you won't," Bones said. "You'll stay right here on the very slim chance our friend wakes up and makes a go for her throat. That way I wouldn't have to kill him. Call Ian, have him bring the blood up."

Jeez, he was being cautious. The odds of Juan rising so soon and overcoming Bones were near absolute zero, but I didn't argue. Dave made the call. The fact he also didn't argue meant he must be equally paranoid.

"Why aren't we just putting him downstairs in the secured cell? That's what it's there for."

"Because, Kitten…" Bones put Juan's lifeless body on the couch and stayed close to him. "We're leaving, and we're taking him with us."

It was several hours and a dizzying free-flying jaunt from the compound back to our cars later that we rounded the last curves on our driveway in the Blue Ridge.

"Where will we put Juan?"

Three cars behind I could hear him howling, cut off the next moment by the slurping sound of him feeding from the plasma bags I'd packed. He'd just risen. Five vampires were in the car with him, and three of them were Masters. No, he wasn't going anywhere.

"The cellar," was Bones's reply. "It's reinforced, and we'll have Tick Tock, Dave, and Rattler take turns staying with him. Within a week, he'll be himself."

Until then, Juan was a danger to anyone with a pulse.

"We're not going to have enough room if everyone stays."

"Three of the couches have pull-outs and the rest will make do with blankets and the floor. Each one of them has endured worse, believe me."

"We're the ones with the urgent problems and it's our house they're staying at, we should take the floor," I noted. "It's only polite."

Bones snorted. "Right. In my own home on Christmas? I think not."

Yes, it was after two a.m. and therefore officially Christmas Day. This wasn't the romantic, private evening I had planned, but oh well. We were together.

I leaned over and kissed his neck, letting my breath tickle his ear. "Merry Christmas," I whispered.

Bones put the car in park and stopped me when I began to draw back. His hand curled around my neck as he dipped my head back with a slow, deep kiss that made mereally wish we were alone.

It was interrupted when Ian rapped on our side window.

"If we're supposed to wait outside in the cold while you two snog in the car, I'd just as soon have flown home."

My mouth opened in outrage when my mother trotted by and muttered, "Thank God somebody said it."

The humor of that struck me and I laughed. My mother, agreeing with the vampire who'd sired Max? Now that was a Christmas miracle if I'd ever heard one.

"I'm sorry, Ian, did I forget to ask your permission before I kissed my wife?" Bones countered. "Wanker."

"Guttersnipe."

Ian said the insult with a trace of a smile. Far from being offended, Bones chuckled, giving me a last kiss before he got out of the car and grasped Ian by the shoulders.

"I'm glad you're here, mate."

Ian had a self-deprecating smile. "Do you know why I am? Because for once, you asked for my assistance. You've never done that in all the centuries I've known you. That's why I threw in my lot with you, bloody usurping sod though you are."

Ever since I first met Ian, I hadn't understood why Bones tolerated him, but seeing the two of them like this explained a lot.

"You could have walked away, Ian. Just as you could have over two hundred and twenty years ago when I was imprisoned at the colony. I didn't thank you then and I haven't since, yet it is long overdue. Thank you, Ian, for changing me into a vampire. I am forever in your debt."

Ian's eyes flashed with emotion. Then he arched a jaded brow, recovering.

"About bleedin' time. I expect it to take another two centuries before you'll apologize for threatening to kill me over Cat?"

Bones laughed. "You'll shrivel waiting for that apology, mate."

"Let's hatch a dastardly plan, then," Ian said with amused grimness. "Or Patra will ensure that we'llall shrivel."

Vlad showed up at our house, remarking that he'd been in the neighborhood. I doubted that, but I wasn't about to call him a liar, especially since he'd proved to be a useful source of information. Still, part of me wondered if he'd shown up just because it irritated Bones. Vlad seemed to have a devilish sense of humor that way.

"Whatever happened to Anthony?" he asked after hearing that Hykso and Kratas were being held hostage. Unfortunately, according to Spade, so far they hadn't proved to know a wealth of information.

"I'll be shipping pieces of him back to Patra," Bones replied. "Along with pieces of the other blokes. It'll give her people something to think about."

The sick part of me wondered if Bones would cover those boxes with Christmas wrapping paper. Talk about getting an unwanted present. Here's hoping Patra didn't have something similar in the works for us. Nothing said "home for the holidays" like opening a present full of body parts.

"That's it!" I shot straight out of my seat, struck with an idea like a proverbial light bulb had gone off.

Bones arched a brow at me, not knowing what it was. My thoughts must have been whirling too fast for him to catch.

"It's Christmas. Most people are with their loved ones today," I said. "Rather than ship bits of Anthony and the other guys from flunky to flunky, hoping they got to someone high enough to pass them onto Patra, how would you like to deliver them in person?"

Ian leaned forward with interest. Bones stared at me, tapping his chin.

"You know the answer. Go on."

"We know that Patra's been on the lookout for anyone who'd give her information on us. Hell, we're doing the same thing. So what if an informant contacted Patra through one of the numbers Kratas had, offering to sell information on where she can find us? But this person wants cash up front, in person, and right away."

"Patra would assume it could be a trap," Mencheres pointed out. "So she'd expect you and Bones to be waiting for her."

I smiled. "I'm counting on that."

Bones finally caught the plan in my head. "Kitten,no."

"It's an acceptable risk," I argued.

Vlad must have picked the idea from my mind, too, because he started to laugh.

"Oh, Bones, maybe you should have married a docile girl who didn't stray too far from the kitchen."

"Get stuffed, don't you have more publicity stunts to pull?" Bones shot back. "How about chatting with another writer who can smear your name into greater popularity?"

"What, did Anne Rice not return your calls,mate?" Vlad asked scathingly. "Jealousy is such an ugly trait."

A noise escaped me before I could choke it off. Ian had no such discretion, and his laugh was clear and hearty.

"Don't glare at her, Crispin. It was funny, and that's not even counting the look on your face."

Which was far from amused, but after a beat, Bones relaxed and his lips twitched.

"Indeed it was. Right. Let us sort out this plan of yours, Kitten. It may be our best opportunity."

Bones selected the members of the vampire entourage who were going with me. When he directed Tate to be one of the five, I was speechless. Then he confounded me even more by choosing Vlad as another.

"Are you kidding?" I asked when I found my voice.

"If there's anything your bloke does better than incense me, it's watch you," Bones replied. "He'd give his life for you without the slightest hesitation. It's the one thing he's useful for."

Tate gave Bones an evil look, but didn't argue. Vlad watched their exchange with mild curiosity.

"And why do you want me with her?"

"You're a ruthless sod who never lets conscience interfere with your objectives," Bones said curtly. "It's a trait I haven't often admired in you, yet one I'm counting on now."

I grabbed his jacket. "Don't worry about me, just take care of yourself. I want you back in time for dinner."

There were two other vampires present who could hear the rest of my message, but I sent it to him anyway.When you get back, I'm going to cover myself in whiskey and nothing else. Then I'll pour gin all over you. We're going to drink from each other, in every possible way.

Vlad let out an amused grunt, saying, "Excellent motivator, isn't she?" as he walked away. Mencheres kept his features blank. How mannerly. Dave just muttered, "She can't cook. How's that incentive?"

Bones moved closer until his body was tight against mine. There was a distinct hardness to him as he bent me back, his mouth pillaging mine like we had all the time in the world.

When he let me go, my heart was hammering. His eyes were swirling green and he inhaled, absorbing the scent of my arousal.

"I shall scarcely be able to think about anything else."

Yeah, well, now neither would I.

"Keep those bottles close, Kitten. I'll be back before you know it."

He gave me one last kiss and walked away with Spade, Ian, and Rodney in tow. I watched them climb into the helicopter and shielded my eyes from the wind of the churning rotors. Dave stood next to me as it lifted off and then faded into the distance.

He broke the silence. "I have to get back to Juan. Rattler's staying with your mom, Denise, and Randy, and Tick Tock's going with you. He's stronger than I am, so it's better."

"I'd rather have you," I replied, still staring at the sky even though I couldn't see the chopper anymore.

Dave shifted, obviously pleased by the compliment. "In several years maybe he won't be. I'll see you when it's over."

Tate approached, his short brown hair not even rustling in the wind, and all of a sudden, something cold slithered up my spine.That's irrational, I told myself.You're being superstitious, Cat, get a grip.

"What's wrong?"

Dave knew me too well. Enough to know it wasn't the temperature that made me shiver all over. I rubbed my hands over my arms, fixing a fake expression of confidence on my face.

"Nothing. Forgot my jacket, that's all."

Dave gave me a look, but I ignored it. Just as I ignored the paranoid little voice in my head that made me want to call Bones and insist he return.

I'll be back before you know it.

Comforting words, you would think, but not to me. Those were the last words Bones said to me before I left him all those years ago. That sentence had tormented me during the years we were apart, and now I was afraid him saying it again was prophetic.

Telling myself it was coincidence and nothing more, I went inside. I had a job to do and there was no time for groundless fears. After all, I had enough to be afraid of that wasn't imaginary.