At Grave's End (Night Huntress #3)

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05.03.2019

BONES ARRIVED AT TEN AFTER MIDNIGHT. I went outside to watch the helicopter land, Cooper at the controls. Bones was the first one off. Then came my mother, Rodney, and Cooper. Cooper looked downright ghostly, but my mother seemed almost blase.

"Nowthat was informative," were her first words. "Catherine, you never told me that no matter how many times you sliced something off a vampire, it grew back."

Charming. "Guess I don't have to ask if you had a nice time," I muttered. "I suppose it'll make you easy to shop for this Christmas, though."

She frowned. "Must you always wisecrack? Never mind, I'm tired and I just want to get some sleep."

I swept out an arm. "The barracks are right this way."

She gave a disparaging glance around. "I remember barracks all too well from when you first started with Don. It's like sleeping in a coffin and since I'm not a vampire, I'll pass on that."

"Mom." My teeth ground together. "It's only temporary. We'll get you another place soon. I would say you could stay with Bones and me, but then there's the whole vampire thing again."

"I can get a hotel," she insisted.

"Registered under the same name Max found you at?" I shot back. "No. Don's going to get you a new ID and another house, but until then-"

"She can stay with me."

The offer didn't come from Cooper. No, he'd been studying the ground in a rapt way during this exchange. Bones lifted his brows in surprise.

Rodney shrugged. "I have a house about two hours from here. I'm not there much, since I travel a lot, and it would be safe until your uncle found her something else, Cat."

I sighed. "Rodney, thanks for offering, but-"

"You don't have body parts there, do you?" my mother interrupted. "I don't want to open the refrigerator and find a head on the shelf."

Rodney laughed. "No, Justina, it doesn't look like Jeffrey Dahmer's hideaway."

She gave a measuring look toward the exterior of the building and then back at Rodney. "If my choices are staying in a barrack with a bloodsucking new vampire on the premises, or at the home of a ghoul, I'll take the ghoul. Catherine, I'm sure one of your soldiers can give us a ride?"

She swept away toward the barracks, Rodney following after her.Dead Man Walking, I thought, and it had nothing to do with him being a ghoul.

Bones watched them go and then turned to me. "That woman is frightening."

I snorted. "I've felt that way my entire life."

Bones stared at me, his expression guarded. No doubt he was wondering if I was going to start bitching at him again over how he'd kiddie-tabled me, but I wasn't. I still disagreed with his reasons, but Annette's admonition struck a chord in me. My relationship with Bones was worth a hell of a lot more than my wounded pride over what he'd done. I had to work through this issue with him, and avoidance or whining wasn't the way to do it.

Still, I felt awkward, not knowing what to do with myself. I hadn't given him a real greeting. My normal routine would have been to kiss him, but that didn't feel appropriate, either. I settled on stuffing my hands into my pockets and shifting uneasily on my feet.

"So…"

I let the single word trail off. Bones gave me an ironic smile.

"Better than 'rack off,' as it were."

"I understand why you did it, but we need to find a way to get past this sort of thing," I said in a rush. "Protecting the other person from what we assume he or she can't handle, I mean. I didn't think you could handle Don and my mother years ago, so I left, but I should have trusted you to make that decision for yourself. Just like you should have trusted me to decide about this."

Bones snorted in disbelief. "You're comparing my leaving you for one night to you disappearing on me for over four years?"

I felt a flush rise in my face. "Well, no…er, I mean, the principle's the same," I stammered. "What I did was wrong and stupid and I can honestly say I regret it more than anything in my life. But tonight you didn't give me a choice, Bones."

I paused, taking a deep breath and trying to let my eyes convey what I was having a hard time articulating.

"If you would haveasked me not to go, for the same reasons youordered me not to, I would have been okay with it. I would have still thought you were being paranoid, but it wouldn't have made me feel like you were pulling a 'me big bad vampire, you silly little girl' routine."

Bones shot me a frustrated look. "Of course I don't think you're a silly little girl."

He began to pace. I watched him, saying nothing.

"I'm very weary of being the reason you need to be strong," he said, his eyes edging with green. "Because of me, you dangled yourself out as bait to a group of murdering white slavers years ago. You had to drive a car through a house to rescue your mum-while covered in your grandparents' blood. You took a job with Don that's nearly gotten you killed countless times. All because of me."

He stopped pacing to come over to me, grasping my shoulders.

"I am well sick of seeing you forced to prove your strength on my behalf, so I didn't want you to do it yet again with Max. Can't you understand that?"

I covered his hands with mine. "Yes. But you didn't make me do any of those things, Bones. Even if I'd never met you, I'd still be going after vampires, and I wouldstill have to handle the consequences of that."

He was silent for a long moment, staring into my eyes with that hard, penetrating gaze of his. Then at last, he gave a short nod.

"All right, luv. Next time I'll give you the choice, not make the decision for you."

I gave his hands a squeeze. "I promise not to decide things for you again, either."

His mouth twisted. "Turns out I'll be the first to make good on my word over this new accord. There have been some developments. Max gave us the name of the chap who sold him the missile he was going to use on your car."

"Do you know where he is now?"

"Yes."

I felt cold anticipation at the thought of confronting that person.

"I'm going with you."

Bones's expression said he hadn't expected any other response.

"Tomorrow."

This was my third trip to Canada. I'd traveled there on missions for Don, but maybe one day I'd get to just visit Niagara Falls as a tourist and not kill anything.

I sat in a van with my companions. Dave was half a mile away, negotiating the sale of three hundred surface-to-air missiles, five hundred grenades, and three high-powered explosives. He was acting as the front man, since Bones was much more recognizable. With Dave's extensive military background, he could talk shop with the best of the black market arms dealers. Even now they were quarreling over the grade of plastique for the potential car bombs.

No one spoke in the van. We could hear every word ourselves, so that meant any undead ears trained in our direction could as well. Cooper and Juan rechecked their machine guns, which were equipped with silver bullets. That modified ammunition wouldn't kill any ghouls, but it would make a vampire's day very unpleasant. Our numbers were low for a reason. Less chance of getting noticed that way.

Spade was there, picking at his fingernails as the time ticked by. He wasn't carrying a gun. Master vampires like him and Bones didn't need to, since they were weapons themselves. Deadly ones.

The modified bulletproof bodysuit I wore chafed underneath my clothes. It was the newest thing, a thin, flexible piece that covered all the major organs and looked like a medieval teddy. Of course, if my head got blown off, it wouldn't do me any good, but the rest of me was protected. Cooper and Juan were also outfitted with the same material. Range of motion was greatly increased with this versus the old bulky vests.

"…not going to give you a fucking dime, this is not the product we agreed on," Dave was saying. "I'm supposed to go back to my client and tell them maybe the trigger mechanism will work or maybe it won't, praise Allah and it will. You stupid amateurs. There is so much shit for sale now, I don't need to pussy around with this Blue Light Special quality at Rembrandt prices, so fuck off and have a nice day."

He must have started to walk away, because there was a scurry of footsteps behind him.

"Wait a moment. Perhaps we could discuss-" the agitated bargainer began before he was cut off by a laugh. Bones stiffened beside me, and Spade perked up. This must be our target.

"Harrison, I'll take it from here," a cool voice interrupted.

We slid the van door open and crept out. Spade and Bones went first, their lack of heartbeats being an advantage. The rest of us would follow after the attack started. The element of surprise was priceless.

"Who are you?" Dave asked, sounding annoyed. "Another lackey?"

"I'm Domino, and yes, I am the boss," was the icy reply. "You must excuse this sample of material. It was a test. Occasionally we get undercover officers posing as buyers, but they can't tell the difference between a bomb or a basket. You clearly know your merchandise, however. Even if I've never heard of you."

This last part was colder than the first, and with open suspicion. Dave grunted.

"How many undercover agents have you had poking around your business that lost their pulses? Last I checked, the police academy hasn't called for undead admissions."

"Ah, but there is always a first time, isn't there? Now then, I have other business to attend to. Logan, bring out the other crates. We need to finish this up-"

Domino stopped speaking just before the explosion. He must have felt them coming before the two bombs that had been thrown into the warehouse detonated. The staccato burst of gunfire that erupted along with screams let me know there were more inside than we'd figured.

Juan, Cooper, and I sprinted toward the structure where flames were now leaping into the night. Keeping our heads down, we returned fire. In the blackness, I saw human and undead defenders trying to locate the cause of the bodies on the ground. Our ma chine guns crackling in the dark had two advantages. They kept the guards' attention on us while Spade and Bones slaughtered, and we took out several targets more at the same time. Dave had two primary goals in the melee of violence around him-keep Domino from getting killed, or getting away.

Juan grinned wolfishly and chanted unknown taunts in Spanish as we breached the perimeter. Cooper was cooler, methodical even as he sighted down his marks with admirable accuracy. He had a slight curl to his lips. For him, that was the equivalent of cackling glee.

Once close enough, I threw the gun away in favor of my knives, which were my favorite weapon. Almost as fast as I'd fired the bullets, I threw off silver blades at the remaining two dozen fighters. The humans were easy to drop, clawing at chests as the knives sank home.

Someone jumped me from behind, knocking me down. I wrestled him, holding his snapping fangs at bay. The vampire had a look of disbelief, then his features began to shrivel as I jammed a dagger through his heart. Chucking him off, I whirled to face the next one.

It was a human about to fire point-blank in my direction. I spun in a midair cartwheel to avoid the bullets, savagely amused by the dumbfounded expression he wore as none of them hit me. I wrenched the gun out of the man's hands and turned it on him. A few short bursts later and he was dead on the ground.

The next three vampires were all of lesser ages and powers. I dispatched them with my knives as Juan and Cooper unloaded round after round into the remaining forces that had lost their formation. Domino's men were firing at anything, including one another, as our attack continued. Inside the warehouse I heard more sounds of death being dealt. Choked curses and fruitless scrambling to get away. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Dave, Domino trapped underneath him, a silver blade near the vampire's heart.

For a moment, his disbelieving green gaze met mine before it widened in comprehension, and Domino began to struggle harder.

Dave cracked his head against the pavement hard enough to fracture his skull. It wouldn't kill him. It would just take him time to heal it.

Everything began to get quiet soon after. Intermittent shouts were cut off before they could be completed. A glance around showed minimal resistance now, as those who were left alive began to surrender. Strapped to my leg, along with the myriad of weapons, was a cell phone. I dialed Don and let him know to hold off any police that would have been alerted by the explosions. Several members of my team were ten miles away, waiting for this call. They would keep the Canadian authorities at bay while we finished up here.

There was a sudden whoosh of air above me. The knives I'd been ready to fling stayed in my hand as Bones dropped from the sky. He looked me over, assuring himself that I wasn't hurt, no doubt, and then swung his gaze around to the vampire Dave was restraining.

"Why hallo, Domino. Do you know who I am?"

Bones gestured for Dave to let Domino up. Spade appeared, red stains splattering him, and held Domino with an unyielding grip. Juan and Dave rounded up the few remaining survivors.

Domino glared at Bones. "No. What's the meaning of this?"

It was an outright lie. Domino did know. His eyes kept flicking to me.

Bones smiled. "Oh, grand. Going to make me beat the truth out of you? My favorite way to work."

Even I blinked at the suddenness of his movement. One moment Domino's legs were kicking, the next they were ripped off and in Bones's hands. Ew.

New body parts hurt when they grew back. So I'd been told, anyway. Domino screamed like that was true.

"Still don't know me, mate? Come on, lie to me again, see what it gets you."

"Stop," Domino shouted. "I know you, but I didn't know what the missile was for. I swear to Cain I didn't know!"

A dark brow arched. "Max didn't pay you himself, so who did?"

Domino stared with fascinated revulsion at his own limbs on the ground in front of him. "Promise you won't kill me, then I'll tell you everything."

"You don't want me to do that," Bones said softly. He leaned closer until he was mere inches from Domino's face. "Because if I let you live, you'll wish I hadn't. Or I can kill you here. Much easier that way. See, I believe you when you say you didn't know what that missile was for. That's why you get a choice, but either way, youwill tell what I want to know."

I watched as denial, hope, despair, and bitter acceptance flashed on Domino's face.

"The money was wired, I don't know who from," came his flat reply at last. "Max was given an account number to transfer it into, but he didn't handle it himself. I know this because he kept calling me to see if the money had arrived. It took a few days, and he got impatient and said something about a deadline."

"Back to the bank wire," Bones said. "You're going to give me all of your account numbers, and then the locations of where you store your other merchandise. Make it quick. Don't want to stand here all bloody night."

Domino began to strain against Spade, but the other vampire was too strong. "Why do you need all of them? You can take the account it was sent to, but leave the rest alone!"

Bones chuckled, but it wasn't pleasant. "Why I want them is because I'm taking every last cent you have, along with your life. It'll be a lesson to others about what will happen to them if they cross me. Now, do you need more incentive to talk?"

Domino swore as he began to spout off numbers, locations, banks, stocks, investments, safety deposit boxes, all but what was hidden underneath his proverbial mattress. Bones took notes, pausing to question in more detail certain nuances. When Domino was finished, he just stared blankly ahead.

Bones rested his hands on either side of Domino's head, a light touch that belied his intention.

"Now, mate, if you've left anything out, or lied to me, you won't be around when I find out. But you have a son. Drug runner, isn't he? He won't be past my reach, and I'll have no qualms about taking all of my anger out on him, so the next bugger doesn't try to deceive me when I offer him a fair deal. One last time, have you left anything out?"

"I'd always heard you were a vicious bastard," Domino said in a dull voice. "All I've worked for, gone. My son will have nothing."

Those pale hands tightened. "He'll have his life. Unless he was involved in this or tries to collect vengeance on me later, I'll leave him alone. Last chance."

Domino must have believed the warning, because three more bank account numbers were revealed in a monotone of resignation. Being an arms dealer paid well. Between the money and the illegal merchandise, Bones was getting millions. No wonder he laughed at my salary.

"Wise choice," he commented when Domino finished. "If you've been truthful, your son is safe from me and mine. Any last words?"

"You're an asshole."

Bones just shrugged. "I already knew that."

Two hard turns later and it was over. I looked away from the head that dropped to the ground next to the rest of Domino's body.