ETA: I had to change the subject line because I apparently can’t count. The chapters below are Ten and Eleven. Not Nine and Ten. D’oh!
Happy holidays! Once again, to celebrate, it’s another two-fer from THE OTHER HALF OF THE GRAVE, also known as the Bones point of view chapters. Before we get to that, in case you missed it, I posted a new WICKED BITE snippet AND a new contest giving away signed copies of WICKED BITE plus a box of Godiva chocolate. So, if you want read the excerpt and enter for your chance to win free books and Godiva, go HERE.
And now, to the new chapters! In addition to more from Cat and Bones, this selection also includes Winston the horny, alcoholic ghost. Usual reminder: THE OTHER HALF OF THE GRAVE 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. There will be new chapters every week from now through January. Disclaimers, contest alerts, and new WICKED BITE excerpt reminders aside, happy reading!
“We’re going on a field trip,” Bones announced.
She gave him a startled look. “Now?”
“I know you’re tired from training, but this won’t be taxing, promise.” And it had to be done late at night, though he kept that part to himself. “Come on, moonlight’s burning. The longer you delay, the longer this will take.”
“Fine,” she said with a sigh.
Her reluctance didn’t bother him. It was an improvement compared to the first week after their fight. Then, she’d treated him with only icy anger. The second week, it had been irritation tinged with grudging respect. Now, at week four, she treated him like an over-demanding boss while also showing pride at how far her fighting skills had progressed. He couldn’t decide which pleased him more; her increased comfort in abilities she’d previously been ashamed of, or how she was now so at ease with him, she thought nothing of brushing his arm when she bent to retrieve her bag.
Four weeks ago, she would’ve jumped as if scalded by the accidental contact. Now, she hefted her bag onto her shoulder and said, “Please tell me we’re not taking your motorcycle.”
Her dislike of his preferred mode of transportation wasn’t news to him. That’s why he said, “We’re not. You’re driving.”
They walked the two miles from the cave to her old pickup. His bike could’ve handled the overgrown, wooded terrain, but she had to park so far away because her truck would’ve stalled on the first heavy bit of brush. Still, she enjoyed driving, so he didn’t point that out, or the fact that they’d arrive at their destination much faster if they took his bike.
She was mostly silent for the first hour into their drive, responding only to the directions he gave her. Then, when the city lights faded and nothing except lonely country road stretched in front of her, nervousness tinged her scent. Bones glanced around, seeking the cause. No, nothing but bleak, barren scenery and their single-lane, unpaved road.
“Turn left here,” Bones said when he spotted the sign for Peach Tree Road.
She gave him a dubious look, probably because he was steering her deeper into the woods, not out of them.
“You know, partner,” she said, emphasizing the word. “You’re being very secretive. When are you going to tell me what this field trip is about? I take it you didn’t just get a sudden urge to go cow tipping.”
Just to see the look on her face, he should tell her he had. “No,” he said, the truth winning out. “Can’t say that I did. I need some information from a man who lives out here.”
She stiffened. “Look, I refuse to be a part of killing any humans, so if you think you’re going to interrogate this guy and then bury him, you’re wrong.”
Any other time, he’d be offended. Right now, he laughed.
“I’m serious!” she snapped, pumping the brakes hard.
He didn’t laugh again, but it was close. “You’ll get the joke soon enough, luv. But let me set your mind at ease. For one, I promise not to lay a single hand on the fellow. For another, you’ll be the one talking to him.”
She gave him a surprised look, as if she couldn’t believe he trusted her enough to do this.
He waited. When she didn’t speak or take her foot off the brake, his brow arched. “Will we be driving against anytime soon?”
“Oh,” she said self-consciously, then hit the gas hard enough to lurch them forward. “Do I get any more details than that? Like, some background on him and what you want to know?”
“Of course. Winston Gallagher was a railway worker back in the sixties. He also had a side business of making moonshine. One day, a fellow bought one of Winston’s products and then was found dead with it the next day. Winston might have mistaken the alcohol content for the batch, or the sot drank too much. Either way, it all ended the same. Winston was found guilty of murder and condemned to die.”
“That’s outrageous!” she said with all the shock of someone who’d lived a modern, mostly-privileged life. “They did that with no motive or malice aforethought?”
“’Fraid the judge, John Simms, wasn’t big on innocent until proven guilty. He also doubled as the executioner. Right before Simms hanged him, however, Winston swore he’d never let him have another night’s peace. And since that day, he never has.”
She stared at him, lips parted from shock. “He hung the man you want me to speak to?”
“Pull over at that no trespassing sign, Kitten,” he told her. She did, still glancing at him in disbelief. “Winston won’t speak to me since our kinds don’t get along,” Bones explained. “He’ll talk to you, though, but I warn you, he’s about as cheerful as you currently are.”
“What part of this am I not understanding?” she asked with all the crossness he’d implied. “Did you or did you not say that judge hanged him?”
“Swung him right from the tree jutting over that cliff,” he confirmed. “If you look, you can still see rope marks in it. A good many people lost their lives on that wood, but don’t bother speaking to any of them. They’re residual. Winston’s not.”
“Are you telling me Winston’s…a ghost?”
His lips twitched at her tone. Had it truly never occurred to her that if vampires existed, other supernatural species did, too?
“Ghost, specter, phantom, take your pick. What’s most important is he’s sentient, and that’s rare. Most spooks are only replays of their former selves. Not about to interact, just doing the same things over and over, like a record stuck on a turntable. Blimey, I’m dating myself; no one uses records anymore,” he reflected. “Point is, Winston was so mad when he died, part of his consciousness stayed on. It’s also due to location. Ohio has a thinner membrane for separating the natural from the supernatural, so it’s easier for a soul to stay behind instead of crossing over. This particular area’s like a homing beacon. Five cemeteries forming a pentagram, really?” He shook his head. “What were they thinking? It’s a road map for spirits, it is. Thanks to your bloodline, you should be able to see them, whereas most humans can’t. You should also be able to feel them. Their energy’s like a voltage in the air.”
Her brows drew together, and then wonder flicked across her features. So, she could feel them. Her humanity truly was the smaller half of her.
“What kind of information could a vampire possibly want from a ghost, though?” she asked.
“I want Winston to give you the names of any young girls that have recently died around these parts. Don’t let him tell you he doesn’t know, either–and I’m only interested in deaths by unnatural causes. No car accidents or diseases.”
She was giving him that look again. The one that said she couldn’t tell if he was in earnest or merely pulling her leg. “Is this some kind of a joke?”
Bones sighed. “I wish it were, but it isn’t.”
“You seriously want me to go to a cemetery and ask a ghost about dead girls?”
His lips curled. “Come, now, Kitten, is it so hard for you to believe in ghosts? You’re half vampire. I wouldn’t think ghosts would be such a stretch of your imagination.”
“Guess not,” she said after a pause. “And ghosts don’t like vampires, so I shouldn’t mention my mixed lineage. Do I get to know why ghosts don’t like vampires, by the way?”
“They’re jealous since we’re as dead as they are, but we can do as we please while they’re forever stuck as a hazy apparition. Makes them right cranky most of the time, which reminds me.” He pulled out the bottle he’d acquired before she came over for training. “Take this. You’ll need it.”
She held it up and shook it. Bubbles briefly appeared in the clear liquid, indicating the high alcohol content. “What is it? Holy water?”
He laughed. “For Winston it is. That’s white lightning. Pure moonshine, luv,” he added when it was clear she wasn’t familiar with the term. “Simms Cemetery is right past that line of trees, and you might have to bang about a bit to get Winston’s attention. Ghosts tend to nap frequently, but once you’ve got him up, be sure to show him that bottle. He’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”
“You want me to go stomping through a graveyard brandishing a bottle of booze to rouse an unrestful spirit to that I can interrogate him?” she muttered under her breath. “Perfect.”
“Don’t forget this,” Bones added, sliding a pad and pen at her. “Make sure to write down the names and ages of every girl Winston tells you about. If he can include how they died as well, so much the better.”
“I should refuse. Interrogating a ghost was not part of our agreement.” Even as she said it, interest sparked in her eyes. She might deny it to him – and especially herself – but she was more than intrigued by the prospect.
“If I’m right, this information will lead to a group of vampires,” Bones tempted her. “Hunting vampires is part of our agreement, isn’t it?”
She shook her head, but held out her hand. He gave her the pen, notepad, and bottle of illegal liquor, and then pretended not to notice the spring in her step as she left the truck.
He stayed on the far edge of Simms Cemetery, watching as Cat slowly walked up to the old headstones. If you didn’t know the cemetery was here, it was easy to miss, hence the human rumors that it was so haunted, it could move to change its location. When trees obscured his view of her, he propelled himself into the air. She didn’t know he could fly, so she wouldn’t think to look up to spot him, and his all-black attire made him nearly invisible against the night sky. His new, high vantage point gave him a better view of her, though the trees were clumped so close together, their bare limbs formed a spider web of branches between them.
She was halfway to through the cemetery when she whirled and whipped out her knife.
“Are you all right?” Bones called out.
“Yeah,” she said after a second, sounding slightly embarrassed. “It was nothing.”
He followed her gaze. John Simms’ shade rose from his grave and crossed the cemetery. Then he flung himself off the same cliff the former hanging tree protruded over. After a few moments, his shade rose from his grave and repeated the process.
Cat paused when another shade materialized over an age-crumbled headstone. The Weeping Woman had appeared so often, even humans had heard of her. But she, like Simms, wasn’t really there. Only remnants of the energy they’d left behind was. Cat must’ve realized that, too, because after a sympathetic look, she ignored her and continued searching the cemetery.
After a moment, she stopped and knelt by another weathered headstone. “Winston Gallagher,” she said, knocking on it as if it were a door. “Come on out!”
Bones was too far up to see the name, but she was in the correct general area. Besides, Winston would hear her even if it wasn’t his headstone. Per his instructions, she was being loud.
“Knock, know, who’s there?” she said next.
Bones smiled at her whimsy, and then he felt a surge of energy before a shadow formed at the nearby tree line. Cat looked in that direction, proving she felt it, too.
“Oh, Winston,” she said, drawing out the last syllable of his name as if it were an incantation. “I have something for youuuu!” And she stroked the bottle inside her jacket.
“Cursed, insolent warm baggage,” the ghost whispered, materializing to show his stout midsection, bushy brown hair and thick whiskers. “Let’s see how fast she can run.”
Winston let out an eerie wail worthy of a B-grade horror movie, and then kicked the leaves at his feet. They burst outward as if struck by a solid object. An impressive trick for a ghost.
Cat merely stood up and said, “Winston Gallagher?”
The ghost looked over his shoulder. Bones wasn’t sure if that was in disbelief at being addressed by name, or because Winston could sense Bones’s presence. In case it was the latter, Bones flew up higher, until he could barely see them.
“Well?” he heard Cat say impatiently.
The ghost muttered something Bones couldn’t hear with his new distance.
Cat replied, “The hell I can’t! Is that your headstone? If the answer’s yes, tonight’s your lucky night.”
“You can see me?” Winston asked, louder now.
“Yeah, I see dead people,” Cat quipped. “Who knew? Now let’s talk. I’m looking for some newly deceaseds, and I heard you could help.”
Bones couldn’t see Winston’s scowl, but it was clear in the ghost’s new, belligerent tone. “Get out of here, else the grave will swallow you, and you’ll never leave!”
“I’m not afraid of the grave. I was born half in it,” was Cat’s calm reply. “If you want me to get out of here, fine. But that means I’ll have to throw this in the nearest trash can.”
Bones knew the moment Winston saw the bottle. “What’s that you’ve got there, mistress?” he crooned. Nothing like an insatiable craving to make the ghost remember his manners.
“Moonshine, my friend,” Cat replied in a tempting tone.
“Please, mistress!” Winston shouted. “Please, drink it!”
“Me?” Cat said in confusion. “I don’t want any.”
“Let me taste it through you, please!” Winston begged.
Cat began muttering under her breath. Bones only smiled. Yes, she might be cursing him for not mentioning this part, but now she’d learned another important lesson when it came to dealing with supernaturals: expect the unexpected. Would she be flexible in order to accomplish her goal? Or would she succumb to her hostility for non-humans and refuse?
“Fine,” Cat said after a pause. “I’ll drink some, but then you’re going to give me names of young girls who’ve died around here. No car accidentally or diseases, either. Murders only.”
One month ago, she’d thought that all vampires were rabid murderers and ghosts didn’t exist. Now, she was bargaining with a ghost on behalf of her vampire partner. By contrast, it had taken Bones years to stop hating himself for what Ian had forced him to become. She’d made tremendous gains in only weeks.
“Read the paper, mistress, why do you need me for that?” Winston snapped. “Now, drink the ‘shine!”
The ghost thought to bully her? Bones almost pitied him.
“Guess I’ve caught you on a bad night,” she said in an icily pleasant tone. “I’ll leave you alone and be on my way-”
“Samantha King, seventeen years old, passed last night after being bled to death! Please!” Winston screeched.
Bled to death. His jaw tightened. Contrary to what Cat had been taught, vampires rarely killed when they fed. Even if the vampire had no moral qualms, leaving bodies behind was a messy, attention-getting waste. Why kill to feed once when a living human could provide many meals over the course of a single year? The few humans in the know about vampires usually flocked to them, seeking the protection, care, and housing vampires gave human members of their lines, all for the low cost of silence about their species and a little blood now and again.
“Mother of God!” his Kitten said, gagging.
Ah, her first taste of moonshine. It wasn’t his preferred liquor, either.
“That tastes like kerosene!” she finished with a gasp.
“The sweetness! Yessss!” Winston moaned. “Give me more!”
Bones’s mobile vibrated with an incoming call. He saw the number and knew he’d have to take this. He flew higher, until he was sure neither Cat nor the ghost could hear him.
“Ted,” Bones answered the call. “What did you find out?”
“Not as much as I’d like,” his friend replied, a Southern accent coating each word in a pleasant drawl. “I flagged every wire or transfer above ten g’s, and you’re right. Lots of money coming in and out of areas in Ohio that aren’t experiencing an economic boom. Lots of new shell corporations here, too.”
He’d seen this before. “Let me guess; the money’s being sent to more shell corporations that can’t be easily traced?”
“Give the fanged man a cigar,” Ted said.
“Is Flat Creek Incorporated one of shell companies?”
“Yes.” Ted sounded surprised. “Was going to tell you that’s the top receiver of all the wires, but you beat me to it.”
Means he was right about who was running this secret cabal, and that wasn’t good news. Hennessey was an old, powerful, well-connected vampire known for his expensive tastes, unbridled avarice, and absolute lack of a conscience.
“Any of Flat Creek Inc’s clients sloppy?”
There was usually at least one. Arrogance bred contempt for playing it safe.
“Sergio Ricci,” Ted replied, rolling his r’s. “He’s been the biggest spender this past year, too. Probably why he’s the easiest to trace. Hard to completely hide that kind of money.”
Sergio. Not nearly as powerful or connected as Hennessey, but just as morally bankrupt. Killing him would be a pleasure.
“Thanks, mate. I’ll need our usual arrangement soon, so don’t go anywhere. In the meantime, keep your ear to the ground. Let me know if anything new comes up.”
“Will do, bud,” Ted replied.
Bones hung up and floated back down. He was near the ground when he heard Cat yell, “I hope worms shit on your corpse!”
She sounded more angry than endangered, but he hastened to the ground anyway. “What happened, Kitten?”
“You,” she slurred, taking several seconds to spot him even though he was now striding right toward her. “You tricked me! I never want to see you or that bottle of liquid arsenic again!”
She hurled the bottle moonshine bottle at him with none of her usual skill. It missed him by meters.
Bones retrieved it, shocked to see it was now empty.
“You drank the whole bloody thing? You were only supposed to have a few sips!”
“Did you say that?” she accused him as she staggered and fell.
Bones caught her before she hit the ground.
“Didn’t say anything. I’ve got those names, so that’s all that matters, but you men…you’re all alike.” She paused to let out a loud hiccup. “Alive, dead, undead, you’re all perverts. I had a drunken pervert in my pants! Do you know how unsanitary that is?”
“What are you saying?” Had someone else shown up in the cemetery while he was too high up to see? He’d kill them–
“Winston poltergeisted my panties, that’s what!” she said with another impressive hiccup.
“Why you scurvy, lecherous spook!” Bones thundered, swinging around to face the cemetery. “If my pipes still worked, I’d go right back there and piss on your grave!”
Ghostly laughter danced on the wind before fading away. That was it. Bones didn’t know how to kill a ghost, but he’d find out. It would be his new pastime.
She plucked at his jacket. She was so drunk, even that slight movement nearly felled her. Without his arm around her, she wouldn’t be able to remain on her feet.
“Who were those girls?” she slurred. “You were right, most of them had been killed by vampires.”
“I suspected as much.” And hated for her to know it, but giving them justice was more important than him fretting about her having another reason to hate vampires.
“Do you know who did it? Winston didn’t.” She widened her eyes, as if having difficulty focusing on him despite him being right there. “He just knew who they were and how they died.”
“Don’t ask me more about it,” Bones said, soft but stern. “I won’t tell you, and before you even wonder, no, I had nothing to do with it.”
She stared at him, her expression somber but not accusing. She believed him. It struck him with more force than he was prepared to process. He looked away so she didn’t read the emotion in his gaze. Was she finally starting to trust him?
All at once, she began to laugh. “You know what? You’re pretty. You’re so pretty.”
He looked back at her, fighting not to laugh himself now. “You’ll hate yourself in the morning for saying that. You must be absolutely pissed.”
Another cascade of giggles escaped her. “Not anymore.”
“Right,” he said, picking her up.
She didn’t even protest. Drunk beyond belief.
“If you weren’t half dead, what you just drank would kill you. Come on, pet. Let’s get you home.”
She snuggled deeper into his arms. At once, his body reacted despite him knowing that this was the drink, not her. Still, she felt so right in his arms, and when she brushed her mouth on his neck and inhaled his scent…it took all his vampiric ability to keep him from turning rock hard.
“Do you think I’m pretty?” she asked in a breathy tone.
“No, I don’t think you’re pretty,” he said, voice hoarse as he fought to control his body’s reaction. “I think you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.”
She smiled, then her expression clouded. “Liar. He wouldn’t have done that if I was. He wouldn’t have been with her.”
“Who?” Bones asked at once.
“Maybe he knew,” she said as if she hadn’t heard him. “Maybe on some deep level, he could sense I was evil. I wish I hadn’t been born this way. I wish I hadn’t been born at all-”
“You listen to me, Kitten,” he interrupted. “I don’t know who you’re talking about”–aside from the world’s biggest fool, clearly–“but you are not evil. Not one single cell of you. There is nothing wrong with you, and sod anyone who can’t see that for themselves.”
Her head fell back as if it were too heavy for her to hold up any longer.
He shifted, cradling her closer.
A smile flitted over her lips. Then, with the quixotic mood swing of someone drunk, she began to laugh again. “Winston liked me. As long as I have moonshine, I’ve always got a date with a ghost!”
Did his feelings for her make him irrational enough to be jealous of a ghost? Yes, yes they did. “Hate to inform you, but you and Winston do not have a future together.”
“Says who?” she asked with another laugh.
He shouldn’t. He shouldn’t. He shouldn’t… He lifted her head, waiting until her gaze settled on his face. Then he leaned down so there was no chance that she could look away.
She stared at him, her breath hitching. Her heart rate sped up, too, and not from fear. No, another scent entirely lit his senses on fire. His whole body tightened, but he didn’t close the space between their mouths. He’d waited too long to kiss her like this, when alcohol motivated her choice instead of desire.
“I’m drunk, aren’t I?” she asked in an unsteady tone.
He snorted. “Impressively so.”
She smiled as if glad he’d confirmed that. Then her gaze flicked to his mouth. “Don’t you dare try to bite me,” she said, as if just now remembering that he was a vampire.
“Don’t fret. That was the furthest thing from my mind,” he replied with the absolute truth.
She smiled again. A pang hit him when he realized this was the most he’d seen her smile. He carried her to the Ford and opened it one-handed. Then, he set her down and fastened her seat belt around her hips. There was no accompanying shoulder strap. The strap hadn’t been invented when this truck was manufactured. He took also the notepad from her and put it in the glove box. She barely seemed to notice. She slumped against the truck’s door as soon as he shut it.
He drove off. The bumpy, unpaved road roused her. No surprise with the thin, worn seats that were little more than a fabric-covered steel bench. She needed a new vehicle. If he thought she’d accept it, he’d buy her one tomorrow.
“Here,” he said when he could stand her restlessness no more, and tugged her so she could lay her head on his leg.
“Pig!” she shouted, banging her head on the steering wheel from how fast–and clumsily–she recoiled.
“Isn’t your mind in the gutter?” he said with a chuckle. “I only had the most honorable of intentions, I assure you.”
She gave his lap a wary look, as if assessing its potential danger. Bones’s lips twitched, but he didn’t laugh again. Oh, you won’t have to wonder when that’ll be dangerous, Kitten. I promise you, you’ll know.
Then she looked at the cold, unforgiving metal that made up most of the interior to her truck before she flopped down and rested her head on his leg.
“Wake me when we get to my house,” she said.