OF OUR BAKER'S DOZEN UNDEAD SUSPECTS, we had it narrowed down to four. This was an exceptionally painful process for Bones, since each of them had spent no less than a century with him, and he considered them all close friends. Caesar hadn't suspected Brutus, either, however, and look where that got him. So Bones had to be unmerciful in his evaluations.
Zero was on the list, despite his outward slavish devotion, then Tick Tock, Rattler, and Doc completed our suspects. Vlad he kept as a potential alternate.
While I'd been eating breakfast, Bones had finally called Don to tell him he'd arrived. My uncle asked about Tate, of course, and got a brusque response that he was still unshriveled "for the moment." I could just picture tiny gray hairs being yanked from Don's eyebrow during that conversation. Don loved Tate, but he was also a realist. He knew what would happen if Tate was guilty of this crime. Vampires didn't do probation.
To reinforce Mencheres's description of a slow recovery, Bones moved with notable sluggishness compared to his normal prowling strides. We spent the afternoon on the couch while Mencheres brought him up to speed on what had occurred when he was presumed dead. In brief but unsparing detail, Mencheres described how Patra had crashed the event at the opera house. My mother gave up pretending she wasn't eavesdropping and sat in a nearby chair. When Mencheres was finished, she broke the loaded silence.
"What a real bitch, Catherine. You should kill her."
Bones let out a snort. "I intend to do the honors myself."
And in the meantime, we'd see who here tried to contact Patra to let her know Bones was alive. Don had arranged for tapping of all the phones, and even interceptions of the wireless signals coming out of the house. Computers, text messaging, and anything else aside from homing pigeons were confiscated. Security purposes, Mencheres coolly stated, and no one dared argue with him. When the traitor made his move, he'd have to do it by phone, and then we'd catch him. Now we just had to wait.
"Bones, you are still pale," Mencheres said. "You should feed and get more rest."
"Right." Bones tugged my hand. "Kitten, I want to show you something."
I followed him downstairs to the basement, passing through several rooms I hadn't bothered to explore in the past few days. At least a third of this house was underground, a good vampire and ghoul analogy. What you saw on the surface was only the beginning, much like the species themselves.
Two vampires bowed at the waist before they held the wooden double doors open for us.
Several people, all human, glanced up when we entered what appeared to be an entertainment area. Some of them were on a large sofa watching the plasma TV, others played on one of the four billiard tables, and five looked to be engaged in a game of poker.
"What is this?" I whispered.
Bones's wave encompassed the room. "This is a vampire's version of a kitchen, luv. Caring for humans in exchange for their blood is how many vampire households operate. I wanted you to see it."
"Dibs on the redhead!" a freckled young man called out, coming forward with a grin. "You'll like me, I taste the best."
"You think I'm here tofeed on you?" I gaped when he tilted his head and bared his neck.
Bones chuckled. "He does indeed. Sorry, Neal, but she's not going to bite you, and you don't taste the best," he corrected him before laying a hand on his shoulder. "You'll do, however. Though you should eat fewer onions."
I watched as Neal went to Bones, who sealed his mouth on Neal's neck and bit him like he was a walking cupcake. Less than a minute later he stopped, closing the holes and giving Neal a companionable chuck on the chin.
"Less garlic as well, mate. I've drunk Italian chefs who didn't have such a reek about them."
Neal's smile didn't slip. "Best pizza I've ever had, Whitey, and it was loaded with onions and garlic. Sorry."
Bones gave an amused snort. "Toothbrush, lad. Familiarize yourself with it or you'll never get turned. No, don't get up," as one of the girls rose from the couch. "We're taking a quick walk and then we'll be off."
My mother would pass out if she knew this was underneath her, I thought dazedly.Living snacks, all within biting reach.
"Who are these kids?" I asked low. None of them looked much past their twenties.
Bones led me through another set of rooms. There was a library, computer area, even an underground Jacuzzi. And every few dozen feet there were bedrooms. Some were occupied, some were empty, and a few with closed doors had the unmistakable sounds of sex coming from them.
"Oh, they're from all sorts," he replied. "Some are college students, aspiring artists, runaways from bad homes, street children, or budding apprentices. Neal's one of those. He wants to be a vampire, so he's showing his commitment by being a meal and doing small errands. Whenever you have a group of vampires who live in a large house, you generally have one of these situations."
"Are they all tranced?"
"Blimey, no. They're aware of what keeps them and why. The runaways get homeschooled, a place to live, and an allowance they save for whenever they wish to strike out on their own. For their own safety, though, most of them don't know where they're located or the real names of who keeps them. When they leave, what they do know is wiped from their minds. It's happened this way for millennia, Kitten. A form of feudalism, as I told you before."
"Feudalism?" I stopped near one of the bedrooms with the heavy breathing. "Is that what you call it?"
"This"-Bones nodded at the doorway-"is consensual. While I can't speak for all households, as a rule it's considered very bad form to mesmerize one's food into shagging. If you're a guest and you do such a thing, it's almost cause for death. Now, if the human fancies a tumble, then who's to criticize? It's their choice."
Who's to criticize? Me.Nice, Mencheres. Provide all-you-can-eat meals, in every possible way. Do be sure to feed regularly, Bones, there's a good lad!Asshole.
"You know better, Kitten," Bones said with all seriousness. "It will never happen."
I believed him, even if irrationally I still felt threatened by the easy opportunities available. "Is that why you showed me this? So I wouldn't worry you were trying to conceal something?"
"That's one of several reasons, yes." Bones started to smile. "The main one is behind you, ogling your arse and about to get beaten for it."
"Amigo," a voice said in a wheedling tone. "I haven't seen it for days-"
My whirling to barrel into him cut off the rest of the sentence. Juan returned my hug, crooning in Spanish.
"Mi querida,your husband's back,que bueno."
"Yes, I'm glad he's here as well," I sniffed. "And that you are, too. How do you feel?"
Juan grinned. It was his usual lecherous grin that reminded me crossing over didn't change the essence of the person.
"I feel wonderful, and you are even more beautiful with these new eyes of mine. Look at your skin." He fingered my cheek. "Magnifico."
"That's all the pawing you're allowed, mate."
Bones gave him a light punch, knocking him back a pace. Juan didn't quit grinning.
"I must thank you for many things,amigo, but this most of all. You have made women even more appealing to me, ah, the scent of them. Their heartbeats. And how they taste…" He closed his eyes. "Delicioso."
I swung my gaze to Bones in disbelief. "You've turned him into evenworse of a pig!"
Bones shrugged. "He's just a bit overwhelmed with all the new senses. He'll get used to them. Or get neutered if he forgets himself and even thinks of palming your arse, do you think I'm blind?" He slapped at the hand wandering with feigned innocence near my hip. "Control,amigo. Learn it."
"Querida." Juan kissed my cheek, this time with respect. "I'm not ruled by my hunger and I can once again fight. He's given me power…and I won't squander it."
One of the girls who were watching TV came down the hall with a flirtatious giggle, eyeing the two men. Juan went on full alert, his nose crinkling and green lights appearing in his eyes.
"Speaking of not squandering it…" He gave me a last quick kiss and followed after her, grinning.
"La rubia, por favor…wait. I am thirsty, and very susceptible to flattery…you could talk me into anything…"
"So much for fighting the good fight," I observed dryly. "He'll have a harem within a week."
Bones watched Juan disappear down the hall, nuzzling the blonde's neck in a manner that didn't speak only of hunger. "He's a fine bloke. He'll learn."
"Learn what?"At least he can't get or pass diseases anymore, I thought. That's one advantage turning Juan into a vampire did for womankind.
Bones put an arm around me as we headed toward the exit of this flesh feast. "He'll learn that many women can satisfy for a short period of time, but when he falls in love, only one will sustain him forever."
I cast him a sideways glance "Are you trying to seduce me?"
His lips curled with promise. "Absolutely."
My fingers laced in his. Yes, there was so much wrong with our situation. Someone we trusted wanted him dead, and that was just the start of our problems. Still, life was wasted on those who didn't live in the time they had, be they human, vampire, or ghoul. Or a freaky mixture of the two, like me.