At Grave's End (Night Huntress #3)

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05.03.2019

SPADE GAVE A POINTED GLANCE AT THE CLOCK and then at a plate on the table. "Your breakfast is cold."

I glanced at the clock also. We should have been down an hour ago, but oh well. Some things had a higher priority than food.

I sat at the table in front of what I assumed was my plate. The Brie was waxy inside the croissant, the eggs wilted, and the julienne peppers had lost whatever brightness they'd once had. Rodney began to brew another pot of coffee, apparently thinking the previous one was a lost cause.

I smiled at Spade. "Don't worry, it's room temperature. My favorite."

I ate my food with a rush of appetite while Bones went with Spade to find a liquid breakfast. Once out of my eyesight, I heard Annette join them. Bodyguards. Since Mencheres was in the room next to the kitchen, I was covered. Besides, my money wasn't on Rodney being the turncoat. Or surprisingly, on the other vampire who glided in.

Vlad took a seat next to me, ignoring Rodney's inhospitable glare.

"With the color back in your face," Vlad observed, "Bones isn't the only one who looks resurrected."

I leaned back to sip my coffee. He considered the cup in front of me with a sardonic smile.

"Ah, a hot cup of caffeine. You must need it after yet again another night without sleep."

I felt color burn on my cheeks. Vlad chuckled, picking daintily at his fingernails.

"Really, Cat, you shouldn't be so shocked. Soundproof isn't mindproof, and telepathy travels through even the thickest walls. I could barely sleep myself with all the shouts going off in my head."

Good God, I hadn't considered that. This must be what it felt like to have someone find a sex tape of you.

"There goes your invitation to ever stay at our house," I ground out, suddenly fascinated with my coffee cup. "Here I'd been thinking I almost liked you. I'm over it now."

Vlad grinned, and it was wolfish and charming.

"And here I was lamenting the fact that the opportunity to extend our friendship had passed. I'm not a fool like the other one. You'll never leave Bones. The boy should realize that and move on with his life."

I stiffened. What his sentence told me was that Vlad, too, didn't think Tate was the traitor. If he had, Vlad would know Tate wouldn't have a future to worry about.

"I owe you."

Vlad's expression turned serious just as quickly as the change in topic. "You would, normally. In this case, however, it's a debt of mine settled and requires no payment from you."

"Come on, Vlad, you're breaking character. Magnanimous isn't your best color."

He smiled. "Quite correct. You said before you read about my historical account? Then you know that I was married. At a battle near my home, I was struck in the head. It would have been a deathblow, but I'd been a vampire for several weeks. Dawn came, and I slept as all new vampires do, my forehead still caked with blood. My men assumed I'd been slain. A soldier ran to my house to inform my wife of my demise. You know what happened next."

Yes, I did. She jumped to her death from their castle roof, thinking to spare herself from enemy captivity or worse.

And almost six hundred years later, Vlad had stepped in to help prevent me from doing the same thing.

That scarred hand slid across the table to mine. "My wife stood alone on that roof when I should have been there. I hadn't told her what I was. Already I'd horrified her by what I'd done to keep my people safe, I was afraid that my no longer being human would drive a deeper wedge between us. I'd planned on telling her the truth in time…but all at once there was no more time. Since she's been gone, I've done many more things she would have been revolted over, yet on that day with you…I felt her smile at me. I haven't felt that in a very long time."

Abruptly he stood. "Don't squander what you have. If you do, you'll spend the rest of your days regretting it. Bones should never be afraid to show you all he is, even though he's an uppity street peasant who's been gifted far and away over what he deserves."

This last part was louder, because Bones was on his way back from the sound of the measured stride heading toward us. I smiled up at Vlad wryly.

"Petty, aren't you?"

"Of course. Along with my many other despicable qualities. But, Catherine…" He leaned closer until only I could hear him. "I would have never let you jump."

Vlad left right after that, taking the other exit from the kitchen to avoid running into Bones. This time I thought it was less because of their mutual dislike and more that he wanted to avoid more of his gratitude. Like it was pesky to be reminded he'd done a good deed.

Bones came in the kitchen, glancing from Vlad's retreating figure back to me. Then he rolled his eyes.

"Blimey, Kitten, don't tell me you like that conceited sod?"

A smile tugged at my mouth.

"Yeah, I kind of do."

Last night Bones had assured me Tate was being held comfortably and not subjected to any abuse. When I saw him in the tiny cell that was best described as a dungeon, I was furious.

"This is your idea of comfortable? What's a little cramped to you, the seventh ring of hell?"

Bones didn't flinch at my scalding tone. He considered the manacled and bloodied form welded to the wall in front of us.

"He's not being injured, just restrained. The blood on him is no doubt just from last night. While he might have preferred a soft bed and a nice neck to sip from, it's hardly grievous torment considering what he's done."

This was said in a clear, biting tone that would have been easily overheard by anyone eavesdropping. I resisted the urge to demand Tate be taken down. After all, there was still a real betrayer on the loose, and we didn't know who it was.

"You're the luckiest son of a bitch in the world."

It was muttered with nothing less than hatred from Tate. His eyes were pure emerald as they blazed at Bones.

Bones laughed. "You know, mate, when I woke up this morning with her sleeping in my arms, I did indeed feel very lucky."

Tate cursed him, straining against his clamps.

Ian chuckled and clapped a hand across Bones's back. He'd been the guard last night.

"Bloke's scorched you up one side and down the other since you came back, Crispin. I've had a right enjoyable time listening to it. Ah, Rodney, is it your turn now? Good, I'm knackered."

"Thank you, Ian, take your rest. I'll speak to you later."

Although Ian didn't make the top two, or even three, Bones put him high on the list of the remaining people who he didn't think tried to kill him. I thought Ian was capable of it, but Bones disagreed. Since Tate was a liability to whomever really did it, we had to have reliable guards on him.

The area cleared of everyone but Rodney, Bones, Tate, and me. We were underground in a sealed section with just one way in or out. This would be our only chance to talk, because afterward, it wouldn't seem plausible. But now, it made sense that I'd want to confront Bones's Judas.

"How could you do it, Tate?" I asked. Sound traveled well with that echoing hallway leading to this room, so whispering would have been too obvious.

"I hate him, but it wasn't me," Tate replied.

I withdrew a small notepad and pen from under my sweater. Tate watched warily. I nodded to Rodney, who unshackled one of his arms from its clamp. Letting him all the way out would have made too much noise, and Bones was still being cautious. He didn't want Tate loose around me, not trusting if he'd rather see me dead than with him. He still thought Tate was guilty no matter how I disagreed.

I quickly scrawled some words onto the paper and held it up for Tate to see.

I believe you.

Tears came to his eyes. It was all I could do not to hug him and tell him it would be okay. He jerked his head and Rodney brought him the pen, holding the pad up so he could write.

"See, I don't believe you, mate."

Bones said it with no lack of venom, and anyone overhearing would have thought it was him answering Tate's denial to me. Rodney gave a disgusted glance at the page Tate wrote on before he passed it to me.

Love you, Cat

"I don't give a shit what you believe, you sneaky English slut," is what he said to Bones.

Well, we wanted this to sound authentic, I thought ironically.At least that's covered.

"Want to know what I think, dickhead?" Tate went on. "I think you faked your death to send her into a spiral of grief, and then you miraculously reappeared with the guy you hate to blame it all on. You've wanted an excuse to kill me ever since you came back in her life. Got sick of waiting, didn't you?"

I blinked. Tate sure went the other way in coming up with an explanation.

Bones gave a rude snort. "Think I'd hurt her like that just to kill you? Imbecile."

This is not why we're here!I wrote and waved it in front of Bones, forgetting in my agitation that I could just think it at him.

Bones didn't even pause to look. "You're not strong enough for her by half, mate. Faith, conspiring to have me murdered is the most impressive thing you've done. Stick to your story that it wasn't you? Then you're right back in that forgotten place where she'll never notice you. So which are you, a betrayer or a pathetic loser?"

It was a trick question, of course. One answer would have him dead and the other, according to Bones's scathing analogy, emotionally dismissed. There were several points of contention I wanted to argue with him about, but that would wait until later.

Tate glowered at him with even more fury than before, which was saying something. Bones waited with a mocking curl to his lips. I was still scribbling on the notepad when Tate spoke.

"Just let's be clear about one thing-if you kill me, it won't be because I did this. I didn't rat you out to Patra, though thumbs-up to whoever did. If you kill me, it's because you're afraid that if you don't, one day you might watch her walk away with me. So right back at you, Crypt Keeper, what's it gonna be?"

Dark brown eyes that could melt me were flat and icy now.

"I gave you the chance to own up to your deeds with dignity. You refused. Right then, we'll have it your way. You'll stay chained here, no food, no companionship, until hunger and solitude soften you up. We'll see what you have to say again in a month or so. Let him be alone with his deceit and his spinelessness. In the meantime, I'll be enjoying my wife's company."

Bones took my hand. I resisted long enough to hold up the messily written page and have Tate read it as Rodney chained his arm back into place.

Promise I'll find who it is, but if anyone comes in this room but me or Bones, you scream as loud as you can.

"Don't worry, Cat," Tate said, with a touch of humor. "I'll be right here."

When Rodney closed the door behind us, I whirled on Bones.Do you still think it's him? I demanded.

He stared at me with competing emotions across his face, none of them pleasant. Finally, he shook his head.

No.