As promised, here is this week’s new chapter of THE OTHER HALF OF THE GRAVE, a limited-time free serial detailing Cat and Bones’s earliest encounters through Bones’s point of view. Once again, this is not an entire book, nor is it a new Cat and Bones novel. For more information and to read the previously-posted chapters, go HERE. Disclaimers aside, enjoy!
Hours later, she regained consciousness and immediately threw up. The unshaded lamp between them meant she didn’t see his wince. Concussions were nasty indeed. Good thing he’d chained her in a standing position instead of flat on her back. Otherwise, her vomit might have gone back down her throat.
Bones waited until she stopped heaving before he came into the circle of light. “I thawt I thaw a putty tat.” A sarcastic Tweety Bird impression was the least she deserved after trying to kill him. “I did, I did thee a putty tat!”
Anger flashed across her features. Good. The concussion wasn’t addling her wits, then. Time to get answers. “Now then, luv, let’s get down to business. Who do you work for?”
She had the nerve to look surprised. Then, disappointingly, she lied. “I don’t work for anyone.”
“Bollocks,” he said, and came nearer.
Her heart rate increased and she glanced down at herself in dismay. He’d stripped her of her weapons and outer garments while she was unconscious, leaving her only in her bra and knickers. Sadly, her clothing had revealed nothing except an extra silver weapon shaped like a cross, of all things, and her mobile only had texts and phone calls to and from her mother.
But someone had taught her how to kill vampires. Someone had sent her after him and Devon. If it was who Bones thought it was, she was protecting the same mass murderer he’d chased across two different countries, and her silence would cost more innocent people their lives.
He couldn’t allow that, but he’d ask her nicely one more time. “Who do you work for?”
“No one,” she lied again.
The hard way, then. He slapped her, hiding his distaste for it behind a deep scowl.
She glared at him and snapped, “Go to hell!”
Why wouldn’t she tell him who her boss was? Was she in love with the sod? Or was she so greedy that she didn’t care how many people suffered, as long as she received whatever reward she’d been promised? If she were a man, Bones would ask her again with his knife, but he couldn’t bring himself to torture a woman, even one that had tried to kill him. Still, she was a murderer at best and a conspirator in a cartel that had murdered hundreds at worst.
He gave her a firmer slap. “Once again, who do you work for?”
She spat out the blood he’d drawn onto his feet. “No one, ass munch!”
Surprised laughter burst from him. He hadn’t been called such a creatively vile name in decades. It merited giving her another chance to talk without more unpleasantness. Still, she couldn’t think he’d gone soft. That’s why he let her see his fangs before he leaned in very close.
“I know you’re lying,” he said, brushing those fangs near her neck. Her whole body went rigid and her pulse tripled in speed. “I know you’re lying because last night, I went looking for a bloke,” Bones whispered against her skin. “When I spotted him, I saw the same lovely red-haired girl who’d been rubbing on me leaving with him. I followed, thinking I’d sneak up on him while he was occupied. Instead, I watched you plug a stake into his heart, and what a stake!”
He held up her impressive weapon between them. Her eyes widened when she saw it.
“Wood on the outside, silver on the inside,” Bones said, tapping the stake. “Now, that’s made in America! Poof, down goes Devon, yet it didn’t stop there. You plopped him in the trunk and drove to your truck, when you chopped his head off and buried him in pieces. Then you when home whistling a merry tune. How in the bloody hell could you do that, hmm?”
With every word, her expression became more stricken. His tone hardened.
“You don’t work for anyone? Then why, when I take a deep whiff here,” he inhaled near her neck, “do I smell something other than human? Faint, but unmistakable. Vampire.”
She flinched at the word. Bones pounced. She needed to know there was no point lying to him anymore.
“You’ve got a boss, you do. Feeds you some of his blood, right? Makes you stronger and faster, but still only human. Us poor vamps never see it coming. All we see is”-he pressed on the vibrating pulse in her neck-“food. Now, for the last time before I forget my manners, tell me who your boss is.”
Anger and hatred soured her scent, but her gaze burned into his with a defiant sort of despair. “I don’t have a boss.” Idiot, her tone added. “You want to know why I smell like a human and a vampire? Because that’s what I am. Years ago, my mother went on a date with what she thought was a nice guy. He turned out to be a vampire, and he raped her. Five months later there was me, premature but fully developed, with a whole slew of funky abilities.”
Ah. She’s unhinged. Modern fiction might have half-breeds aplenty, but in reality, the only one that Bones knew of had died over six hundred years ago.
“When she finally told me about my father,” Cat went on. “I promised her I’d kill every vampire I found to make up for it. To ensure no one else suffered what she had to. She’s been afraid to leave her home ever since! I hunt for her,” her voice rose to a scream, “and the only thing I regret about dying now is that I didn’t take more of you bloodsuckers with me!”
With that, she closed her eyes and braced. Bones’s brows rose. Did she think he was about to rip her throat out? As if he’d murder someone who was barking mad…or was it more than that? Her voice had held the distinct ring of truth. Could a vampire have compelled her to believe such an impossible story? A simple “kill these blokes” order would’ve been much easier, but some vampires tended toward the dramatic.
After a few moments, her eyelids peeked open. “Well?” she demanded. “Kill me already, you pathetic suck-neck!”
Bones stifled a laugh. “Ass-munch. Suck-neck. You kiss your mum with that mouth?”
She puffed up in outrage. “Don’t you talk about my mother, murderer! Your kind isn’t fit to speak of her!”
“I’ve seen you do murder,” Bones reminded her, then couldn’t resist adding, “And if what you’re telling me is true, you’re the same kind I am.”
She shook her head so hard, her red hair flew. “I am nothing like your kind! You’re all monsters, preying on innocent people and caring nothing about the lives your wreck. The vampires I killed attacked me – it was their bad luck that I was ready for them. I might have some of this cursed blood in my veins, but at least I was using it to-”
“Oh, stick a sock in it already.” Bigoted little bird, wasn’t she? “You always ramble on so? No wonder your dates went right for your throat. Can’t say as I blame them.”
Her jaw dropped and he almost laughed at the look on her face. The Queen couldn’t be more offended if someone had farted on her crumpets. Still, the brief silence was welcome as he continued to weigh whether she was mental or under vampiric compulsion. Now, he gave either possibility fifty-fifty odds.
“I hate to interrupt your sympathy sessions over the other dead vampires,” she said in a scathing tone. “But are you going to be killing me soon or what?”
Mental without a doubt, he thought until he put his mouth near the pounding pulse in her throat. Then, her scent changed his mind. Few humans knew that courage and cowardice smelled the same: like fear. The only difference between the courageous and cowards was whether or not they overcame that fear. Even with the creature she despised and feared at her throat, Cat didn’t grovel or try to offer someone else’s life in exchange for her own. She only stiffened in resignation as his fangs grazed her skin.
Bravery like that deserved another chance before he drank the answers out of her. He leaned back. She sagged in relief, but he pretended not to notice.
“In a hurry to die, are you?” he said in a casual way. If she didn’t believe her life was in danger, she’d have no incentive to tell him the truth. “Not before you answer a few more questions.”
Her mouth turned down. “What makes you think I will?”
He had to fight not to smile. He couldn’t let on how much he admired her courage. Little chit would only use it against him.
“Believe me, you’ll like it much more if you do,” he said in a suitably menacing tone.
She gulped but said, “What do you want to know? Maybe I’ll tell you.”
This time, he couldn’t stop his smile. It was also getting harder to ignore how her plain cotton knickers hugged her shapely hips, or how her bra had slipped in her struggle. Before, he hadn’t given her near nakedness a thought beyond ensuring that she had no more weapons on her. Now that he knew she likely wasn’t a willing participant in the cartel he was hunting, her charms were becoming distracting. He fancied many things about women, but courage outweighed them all. And she had courage to spare.
“Brave little Kitten, I’ll give you that,” he said, tracing his tongue along the inside of his lip. “Right, then. Suppose I believe you’re the offspring of a human and a vampire. Almost unheard of, but we’ll get back to that. Then let’s say I believe you troll clubs hunting us evil deads to avenge your mum. The question remains, how did you know what to use to kill us?”
Someone had to tell her. If she revealed who, he’d know the vampire who’d compelled her into believing such nonsense.
“It’s not an open secret,” Bones went on. “Most humans think good ol’ wood will do it. But not you. You’re telling me you’ve never dealt with vampire before, except to kill them?” Impossible, his tone stressed.
“You got anything to drink around here?” was her surprising response. “Nothing with clots in it, I mean, or that can be classified as O-negative or B-positive. Hmm?”
Once again, he had to bite back his laughter. He’d been asked – or begged – for many things during an interrogation, but never before had someone dared to request a booze break. Courage to spare, indeed.
“Thirsty, luv? What a coincidence. So am I.”
The implied threat made her blanch. Bones pulled out a flask and held it to her mouth. As soon as it brushed her lips, she bit the rim, tilted her head back and emptied all of his good whisky down her throat. She even sighed with regret when she released her bite and the flask dropped back into his hand.
Bones held the bottle upside down. No, not a drop remained. She was a brash, brave, foul-mouthed, murdering drunk, and God help him, he hadn’t found anyone this enticing in centuries.
“If I’d have known you were such a lush, I’d have given you the cheap stuff.” Then, lest she sense the effect she had on him, he added, “Going to go out with a bang, are you?”
Instead of quailing, she managed to shrug. “What’s the matter? Did I ruin my flavor for you? I’m sure I’ll be turning over in my grave worrying that you didn’t like how I tasted. I hope you choke on my blood, you jerk.”
Laughter spilled out of him. If he were in her position, he’d give his interrogator nothing but scathing sarcasm, too. “Good form, Kitten! But enough stalling. How did you know what to use if no vampire told you?”
She looked away. “I didn’t. Oh, I’d read a hundred books or more about our…your kind after hearing about my father. Some said crosses, sunlight, wood, or silver. It was pure luck, really.” Her tone darkened. “One night a vampire approached me at a club and then took me for a drive. Of course, he couldn’t have been nicer, right up until he tried to eat me alive. I made up my mind that I was going to kill him or die trying, and the big silver cross dagger was all I had one me. It worked, though it took a bit of doing. So presto, I know about silver.”
Bones listened, expressionless, but inside, he tipped his hat. Well done, you.
“Later, I found out that wood didn’t work at all. Got myself a nice scar on the thigh to prove it. The vamp laughed when he saw my stake, too. Clearly, he wasn’t afraid of wood. Then when I was making caramel apples it occurred to me to hide the silver in something a vampire would think was harmless.” She gave him a baleful look. “Most of you are so busy eyeing my neck, you don’t see me pull out my pointy friend. There you have it.”
He’d started shaking his head at the caramel apples part. By the time she finished, he was almost agog. “You’re telling me caramel apples and books taught you how to kill vampires?”
At her nod, he started to pace. Could she…could she be telling the truth? No vampire in his right mind would make up such a ridiculous story simply to compel a human to kill!
“Then it’s a damn good think most of the recent generations are nearly illiterate or we’d all be in serious trouble,” he finished with a sharp laugh. “But how did you know he was a vampire when you saw him?” What were the facts amidst the fiction that another vampire must have implemented in her mind? “Did you not find out until he tried to have an artery party?”
She flinched at how close he’d come. Bones backed up, but only a step. She was too brave to be allowed to feel truly comfortable. That could cause her to think lying was an option.
“I don’t know how I knew. I just did. For starters, your kind looks different. Your skin looks…ethereal, almost. You move differently, more purposeful. And when I’m near you, I feel it in the air, like static electricity.”
He’d been surprised at her perceptiveness about a vampire’s skin and movements. Most humans didn’t notice such things. But when she said she could feel another vampire, he was shocked. How could she feel another vampire? Only vampires could do that.
“Happy now?” she suddenly demanded, her voice cracking a bit. “Heard what you wanted?”
“Almost. How many vampires have you killed? Don’t lie to me, or I’ll know it.”
She pursed her lips and paused as if silently counting. “Sixteen, including your friend from last night.”
“Sixteen?” How? She’d failed utterly at being a seductress with him, and her only other act was being a marginally-believable drunk. “Sixteen vampires you took out yourself with nothing but a stake and your cleavage? Makes me ashamed of my kind, it does.”
Her chin lifted in indignation. “I would have killed more if I hadn’t been too young to get into bars, since they’re vampire trolling grounds, not to mention all the times I had to take off when my grandfather got sick.”
A mechanical “ping” came from the other side of the cave, indicating a new text. Bones left to read it. He’d uploaded Cat’s SIM card from her mobile and sent it to his hacker friend, Ted. If there was deleted information on there from Cat’s vampire boss, Ted would find it.
Nothing, Ted’s text read, dashing Bones’s hopes. Most boring phone I’ve ever cracked. U owe me.
Bones’s jaw tightened. Yes, he did, but it left him no closer to answers. Only Cat had those.
Chains clanged and he heard her grunt. Bones came back to her section of the cave to see her bent forward, straining as she tried to wrest her chains from the wall. He switched the light off to disorient her and chuckled as she cursed him.
“Oh, sorry about that,” he mocked. “Those chains won’t budge. They’re not going anywhere – and neither are you. Good of you to try, though. Hate to think your spirit’s broken already.”
“I hate you,” she said, out of breath from her efforts.
More truth, but not enough. Still, he had another path to the truth. A previous vampire compulsion could be broken by a stronger vampire, and Bones was strong. All it would take was drinking her blood.
“Time’s up, luv,” he said softly.
Her heart hammered with fear when he smoothed her hair back from her neck. His lips thinned. He hated terrifying her, but drinking her blood was the only way to break the hold the other vampire had on her. Who knew what else Cat had been forced to do? She thought Bones was about to kill her, but in reality, he was freeing her.
If he thought she’d believe him, he’d tell her that.
But in case he was wrong about her being under vampiric compulsion and this had been her best acting job yet…“Last chance, Kitten. Who do you work for? Tell me the truth and I’ll let you live.”
“I told you the truth,” she gasped out, her pulse vibrating against his lips.
He rested his fangs over it. “I don’t believe you…” he murmured, glancing up to give her once more chance to confess-
Holy Mother of Christ, her eyes.