At Grave's End (Night Huntress #3)

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05.03.2019

BONES'S WORDS SANK IN, MADE EVEN MORE ominous by the way Spade began to squirm in his chair. When I first saw Bones, he'd murmured something to Spade I didn't catch. Then I'd been so overcome by Bones being alive, I wouldn't have noticed a stampede of elephants, let alone the noise of a struggle…

"Where is Tate?"

Amazing how I could be overwhelmed with joy and yet also mad at the same time.

"He's not dead," Bones answered. "He's locked up until he admits to his treachery, and then I shall kill him for it."

"You think the train station was a setup?" It made sense. That oncoming train with its host of Master vampires and one very mean Egyptian queen was too convenient.

"Only those of us in this room knew of that plot, except of course Dave and Cooper, and it doesn't add up that it would be one of them. Dave was mostly barricaded in a box with Juan, and Cooper has no cause to see me dead. Tate's the only one who would risk everything to see me killed in such a manner that you weren't injured as well. His love for you has driven him to this betrayal, and I want you to hear his admittance from his own lips. Then I'll kill him quickly, for your sake."

No. It's not him.

Bones heard the denial in my mind and sighed. "I'm sorry, luv, I know you care for him-"

I slammed the shields in place that guarded my thoughts, not because of Bones, but for the reason that two other vampires in the room could hear them. There was no way I'd believe Tate would do such a thing. He might taunt Bones and be a dick sometimes, but he wouldn't betray him to Patra. I just couldn't believe that.

Which left someone else in the room as the real guilty party.

"Tate's not going anywhere, right?"

My calm question caused Bones to gaze at me oddly.

"No."

"Then let's not deal with him right now. If Tate does admit to doing that, you won't have to worry about killing him. I'll do it myself."

That much was true, except it didn't apply in this case. If Tate ever did try to kill Bones, he'd challenge him to a fair fight. He'd lose, of course, but being underhanded just wasn't his style.

"Mencheres," I went on, "you said you'd heard of something similar happening to a vampire that happened to Bones? About the withering thing?"

Mencheres let his cool appraising eyes meet mine, and in that instant I knew two things. He saw through my apparent lack of distress over Tate, and he also didn't believe it was him.

Weep.

The word flashed across my mind like it was spoken in my ear. Mencheres's steel gaze didn't waver, and I jerked back in shock even as I complied. It wasn't hard. I still wasn't all the way back in control of my emotions.

I let some tears fall, big fat drops of duplicity that rolled down my cheeks. Playing weak. Sometimes it was the best offense.

"My sire Tenoch had a similar gift," Mencheres stated. "He could manipulate his body to appear withered in order to convince whoever was around that he was dead. You must have inherited more from me than I realized, Bones, when I shared my power with you. Tenoch took days to recover from its effects; you will be very lucky to have your strength back within a fortnight."

Mencheres rose, all grace and leashed authority. "We will keep the traitor secure. You will need blood and sleep. We will keep the news that you're alive undisclosed until you are completely healed. Please, take my chamber. It is soundproofed, so you will be less disturbed by the noises of the house."

Bravo!I wanted to clap, but kept my compliment suppressed under a landslide of shields.You devious prick, I might start to like you.

To add to the camouflage, I sniffled. "Take me to bed, Bones. I'm very tired."

He lifted himself and me up in the same fluid motion. "Mencheres, if you'll direct me?"

Bones carried me out of the study. When we passed by my mother, who still lingered by the door, Bones stopped to give her an impudent smile.

"Thought you were finally rid of me, didn't you?"

She opened her mouth, paused, and then shut it. Then she further surprised me by moving out of the way without having to be shoved aside. For her, that was the equivalent of a gushing welcome.

"Filthy animal," she called out when we were almost out of sight.

He snorted in amusement, not slowing his steps. "Nice to see you again, too, Justina."

Mencheres followed us into the large bedchamber with a vague comment about retrieving some of his things.

"Just need to get these items before I leave you to your slumber…" he said in a regular voice before shutting the door behind him.

"Bones, Cat is correct. It isn't Tate."

I was surprised Mencheres felt that way, too, but I didn't question it. "He wouldn't do this," I agreed.

"Why not?" Bones snarled in low, heated disagreement. "It's his only chance of ever having you. I know if I were Tate, I'd see me buried if I had to betray everyone around me to do it!"

"And you would regret it," Mencheres said.

For a second, I saw pain flash on his face, and wondered if he was thinking of the murder he'd committed all those years ago.

"Killing your rival doesn't guarantee happiness. Sometimes it ruins any chance you have of it instead. Memories of dead men hold far more power than the annoyances of living ones."

I stared at Mencheres. His face was blank again, giving nothing away, but we all knew what he meant.

"If I had not shared power with you," Mencheres went on, "you would have been killed on that train. You must trust me, because someone under this roof is counting on your jealousy to blind you."

Bones paced in short strides. "That would mean one of the people I've loved as a brother has plotted against me. It's only logical that it's Tate."

"Maybe you're right."

Bones was so surprised by that, he quit pacing.

I came to him, brushing my fingers across his cheekbones. "If you're right," I continued, "then the traitor is locked up and can do no more harm. I'll be grieved that my friend did such a terrible thing, and I'll kill him. But if you're wrong…then you have a person here who's desperate not to get caught. Reeling that you're alive. Frantic over what you'll do if you find out who they are. If you're wrong, we're all in a heap of shit. So what are you willing to bet that you're right?"

Bones stared at me with a penetrating, hooded gaze.

"You know I won't take the risk. Fine, then. Whoever it is will want to report to Patra posthaste that I'm still alive, and they'll also likely try to silence Tate before he convinces me of his innocence. We'll need more than the three of us to stop this."

Mencheres nodded. "In the meantime, let that person feel secure that the blame falls on Tate. We will keep him as he is. Who do you want to include on this?"

In other words, who do you trust with everyone's lives?

"Charles, of course. If he's the rat, I'll stake myself. Rodney also."

"Annette, too," I said. "When she thought you were dead, she said she couldn't live without you."

Mencheres backed toward the door. "I can't stay any longer, it would appear suspicious. About your recovery…I was exaggerating. Tenoch could regenerate within an hour and be back to full power within two. You will be right in a day at most, but let them think you're weakened."

"Grandsire." Bones halted him at the now-opened door. "Once again, thank you."

Mencheres smiled. For an instant, it made him look younger than Bones, in terms of human appearance. With his sizzling aura of power, I never noticed that before.

"You're welcome."

Bones and I faced each other in the room. All at once, I didn't know what to say. Should we run through the list of possible suspects? Debate more over Tate's innocence versus guilt, for Bones still didn't look convinced. Or forget all of the above and try to sleep as suggested?

"Has anyone called Don to tell him you caught up with me?"

That won the toss, and it hadn't even been on my mental list.

"No, but he can wait a bit longer. Come lie down with me, I've longed for nothing as much as your arms these past days."

Bones pulled me with him to the bed, enfolding me under the blanket. I reached out, fingering his shock of white hair. Bones's flesh was cool against my cheek, his skin tight and sleek. It seemed impossible that not long ago, it was withered.

"Your body aged almost to the point of truly dying. That's why your hair's white, isn't it?"

"Yes. I expect so."

It hit me then, staring at his unlined, beautiful face and that stark light hair framing it, that neither of us should be alive. Bones had almost been killed by a knife in his heart, and add one more step on a rocky ledge for me, and he would have returned to find my body broken beyond revival.

Sometimes there were moments when things were perfectly clear. When the answers seemed so obvious, I wondered how I hadn't noticed them before. When I'd thought Bones was dead, nothing else had mattered for me except making sure those responsible paid. I hadn't cared that I'd need to quit my job to handle the responsibility of his line and avenge his death. No, I'd taken that as a given and had called Don to tell him I wasn't coming back.

Now, however, with Bones alive, I could return to my job. Except I didn't want to. I wasn't going to backburner Bones because his life meant less to me than his presumed death had. What do you do when you get a second chance…or in my case, a third or fourth?

You don't squander it, that's what.

"Things are going to change," I said.

Maybe Bones heard it in my voice. It could have been the threads forming in my mind, because his eyes widened even before I said the next words aloud.

"I'm quitting my job."