Before we get to the chapter, a reminder that my final contest for an early copy of WICKED BITE and a $50.00 Amazon gift card ends on Tuesday. To get details on how you can enter for your chance to win, go HERE.
Also, in case you missed it yesterday, here is the official book trailer for WICKED BITE (has sound, so hit that “mute” button if you’re at work :))
Now, regarding Chapter Sixteen from THE OTHER HALF OF THE GRAVE, a limited-time, free serial of Cat and Bones’s earliest adventures told through Bones’s point of view. This will be the final chapter because–as I mentioned from the start–I only wrote about 30K of this between deadlines as a gift to readers. Today, we’re at the end of what I’ve written. My apologies in advance if this doesn’t cover a part of Cat and Bones’s story that you really wanted to see. My apologies also that I can’t write more at this time. I’m smack in the middle of writing the third Night Rebel novel, and my brain can’t handle writing two books at once. Believe me, I’ve tried. Can you picture smoke coming out of my ears while “Bandwidth Exceeded!” flashes on my forehead? *grins* Because that’s just about what happens.
In all seriousness, while this was meant to be a gift for readers, it turned out that it was a gift for me as well. Not only did I enjoy writing this, it’s meant so much to me to read comments like “This made me happy” or “I really liked this” or one of the many kind things you’ve said. Knowing that I brightened your day, even if just for a moment, is a wonderful, wonderful feeling. It also helps so much on days when writing feels less like giving narrative to a story in my head, and more like pulling my own teeth without Novocaine ;). Writers can have quite a few of those days per book, so I can’t say thank you enough to everyone who took the time to tell me that you enjoyed this, either here on my blog, or on Twitter, or Facebook, or wherever. Seriously, thank you.
Okay, mushy stuff aside, here is the chapter at last! It’s a long one for the finale, and if you haven’t read the previous chapters, you can find them HERE. As always, readers, I hope you enjoy it 🙂
At first, she refused to sit. Then, after lurching from side to side with the trailer’s jostling movements, she chose a box on the opposite side of the cabin from where he sat.
That soon gave her a new concern, however. After her third attempt to tug her skirt down to cover more of her thighs, Bones took pity on her, and gave her his jacket.
She settled it over her lap with obvious relief. “Thanks.”
He didn’t roll his eyes, but it took a great deal of effort. Yes, he was mad with desire for her, but he wasn’t about to steal peeps up her skirt like a deviant schoolboy.
She seemed to relax a bit after that. He let the silence stretch because he knew it wouldn’t last. Not with the way she kept glancing at him and drawing in a breath as if to speak before discarding whatever she’d been about to say.
Of course, being her, what she finally settled on contained a thinly-veiled vampire barb.
“I know this isn’t a concern for you, but is there enough oxygen in this thing?”
“Plenty of air. Just as long as there isn’t any heavy breathing,” he replied with a challenging arch of his brow.
She might be pretending that nothing happened between them, but he wasn’t about to.
“Well, then I am safe. Absolutely safe,” she stressed.
A slow smile curled his mouth. The lady doth protest too much, indeed.
She glanced at his mouth before quickly lifting her gaze back to his eyes. Then, surprisingly, she didn’t look away.
Bones didn’t speak. He simply stared back at her, letting the silence fill with everything she wasn’t able to say yet.
“Shit,” she finally breathed out, as if coming to a long-denied realization.
His tone was light, but he’d never been more serious. From the look in her eyes, she knew it, too. Her heart rate sped up, and she began to fidget while glancing around as if hoping an exit would magically appear.
“So, who’s this Hennessey you were asking about?” she asked in an obvious attempt to change the subject.
Ice pierced his desire at the name. “Someone dangerous.”
She caught the shift in his mood, and pressed her advantage. “Yeah, I gathered that. Sergio seemed pretty scared of him, so I didn’t think he was a Boy Scout. I take it he’s our next target?”
And let her near Hennessey? Never.
“He’s someone I’ve been tracking, yes, but I’ll be going after him alone.”
She stiffened. “Why? You don’t think I can handle it? Or you still don’t trust me to keep this stuff secret? I thought we covered this already!”
Grand, now he’d offended her. “I don’t think that. But I do think there are certain things you’d do well to stay out of.”
From her expression, she clearly disagreed. But then her frown smoothed, and she blinked at him in a guileless way.
“You said something about Sergio being Hennessey’s best client. What do you mean by that? What did Hennessey do to whoever hired you? Do you know, or did you just take the contract on him without asking?”
He stifled a laugh. She was baiting him so he’d tell her everything in order to defend himself? Clever, but it wouldn’t work.
“Questions like that are why I won’t tell you more about it. Suffice it to say there’s a reason why Ohio’s been such a hazardous place for young girls lately. It’s why I don’t want you chasing after vampires without me. Hennessey’s more than just a sod who bleeds someone when he can get away with it. Beyond that, don’t ask.”
Her scowl didn’t make her any less beautiful, but it did make her displeasure very clear.
“Can you at least tell me how long you’ve been after him? That can’t be top secret.”
He sighed at the acid in her voice. She still thought this was about trust. It wasn’t, but if he told her why he was after Hennessey, she’d insist on being involved, and he couldn’t put her in that sort of danger. Still, he had to give her something.
“’Round eleven years.”
Her jaw dropped. “Good God! He must have a real fancy price on his head! Come on, what did Hennessey do? Aside from pissing off someone rich, obviously.”
More baiting so she could keep dragging information out of him? Or did she really believe his motives were that shallow?
It didn’t matter.
“Not everything is about money,” he said in tone that made it clear she’d get nothing else from him.
She gave a frustrated sigh. Then, after a few minutes of irritated silence, she cocked her head at him.
“How did you become a vampire?”
He was both surprised and amused by the question. “Want an interview with the vampire, luv? If memory serves, that didn’t turn out too well for the reporter in the movie with that same name.”
She shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. I never saw it. My mother thought it was too violent.”
As soon as she said it, she laughed at the irony.
Bones smiled, too, but his smile covered his anger. What a hypocrite her mum was, more concerned with protecting her daughter from fictional violence than from the real danger of hunting vampires by herself.
“Good thing you didn’t watch the movie, then,” he said with an exaggerated glance at the blood-spattered Mercedes. “Heaven knows what might have happened.”
She chuckled, but when her laughter stopped, she looked at him with hopeful expectation. She really did want to know his story.
“All right, I’ll tell you, but then you have to answer one of my questions. Got an hour to burn, anyhow.”
“Quid pro quo, Dr. Lecter?” she scoffed. “Fine, but I hardly see the point. You already know everything about me.”
Just for an instant, he let her see beyond his control.
“Not everything,” he replied with all the lust burning in him.
Her eyes widened, and her color rose—an indication of the heat flashing through her that Bones could practically feel from her nearness. He could also see it in the sudden tightening of her nipples, and he could scent it in the new lushness to her fragrance. She tried to cover her response by moving his jacket higher, and she also concealed the new hitch in her breath behind a cough that fooled no one.
“W-when did it happen?” she asked in a desperate attempt to diffuse the new tension between them. “When were you changed over?”
He shuttered his gaze and leaned back.
Her sigh of relief both annoyed and elated him. Yes, you get another reprieve since this is neither the time nor the place. But soon, I won’t let you hide from your desire for me, Kitten, and I’ll make you feel it from far more than a look.
“Let’s see, it was 1790 and I was in Australia,” he summarized. “I did this bloke a favor, and he thought he was returning it by making me a vampire.”
“You’re Australian?” she said in disbelief. “I thought you were English!”
His smile was grim. “I was born in England. It’s where I spent my youth, but it was in Australia that I was changed into a vampire. That makes me part of it as well.”
She leaned forward, her concern over his nearness now forgotten. “You have to go into more detail than that.”
He made himself more comfortable on his box perch. “I was twenty-four, and it happened just a month after my birthday.”
She goggled at him. “My God, we’re almost the same age!
“Sure,” he said with amused snort. “Give or take over two hundred years.”
“Er, you know I what I mean,” she stammered. “You look much older than twenty-four.”
He laughed. “Thanks ever so.”
Now her color was high for a different reason. “I, ah…”
“Time were different then,” he said in a gentle tone. “People aged far more rapidly. You modern folks don’t know how good you have it.”
“Tell me more. Please,” she added almost shyly.
He leaned forward. Few people knew his real roots, but if she wanted to know, he’d tell her.
“It’s not pretty, Kitten. Nor romantic like the movies or the books. You remember you told me you slugged those lads when you were young because they called your mum a whore? Well, my mum was a whore. Her name was Penelope, and she fifteen when she had me. She and the madam of the brothel were friendly, or I never would have been allowed to live there. Only girl-children were kept at the bordello, for obvious reasons.”
She paled, but her gaze was steady. She didn’t like what she was hearing, but she could handle it.
“When I was little, I didn’t know there was anything unusual about where I lived. All the women doted on me, and I would do house chores and such until I got older. The madam, Lucille, later inquired as to whether I wanted to follow in the family business. Some of the male customers who were so inclined had taken notice of me, for I was a pretty lad. But, by the time Madam approached me with the offer, I knew enough to know I wouldn’t want to engage in such activities. Begging was a common occupation in London back then. Thieving was as well, so, to earn my keep, I begged and I stole. Then, when I was seventeen, my mum died of syphilis. She was just shy of thirty-three.”
She paled more, and her hand fluttered as if she wanted to reach out for him, but was stopping herself.
“Go on,” she said in a hoarse tone.
“Lucille informed me two weeks afterward that I had to go. I wasn’t bringing in enough money to justify the space. It wasn’t that she was cruel,” he clarified, seeing her face darken. “She was simply being practical. Another girl could take my room and bring in three times the money. Again, she offered me a choice—leave and face the street, or stay and service the customers. But she added a kindness. Lucille had described me to a few highborn women she was acquainted with, and they were interested. So, I could choose to sell myself to women rather than men. And that is what I did.”
“You were only seventeen,” she whispered, horrified.
Yes, and that was a good deal older than some of the other girls who’d worked at the bordello. The law hadn’t caught up to morality back then, and poverty had no exceptions for youth. But he didn’t tell her that he was hardly the youngest whore there. She was pale enough already.
“The women at the house trained me first,” he said simply. “When it turned out that I had a knack for the work, Lucille kept me in high demand. Soon, I had quite a few regulars among the blue bloods. One of them ended up saving my life. I was still picking pockets, you see. One unlucky day, I pulled the purse off a toff right in front of a bobby. Next thing I knew, I was scheduled to appear before one of the meanest hanging judges in London. My death was all but certain, until one of my clients heard of my predicament and took pity on me. She persuaded the judge through carnal means that sending me to the new penal colonies would be just the thing. Weeks later, they shipped me and sixty-two other unlucky buggers to New South Wales.”
He stopped. Even after all this time, some memories still had the power to wound.
Chains bloodying his skin. The endless groans. That stench. The pleas of the dying, and worse, the guards’ laughter…
Bones scratched a hand through his hair. “I won’t tell you about the voyage except to say it went beyond any misery people should have to endure. Once at the prison colony, they worked some of us literally unto death. There were three men I was mates with—Timothy, Charles, and Ian. After a few months, Ian managed to escape. Then, almost a year later, he came back.”
“Why would he come back?” Cat’s voice was soft. “Wouldn’t he have been punished for running away?”
“Indeed he would, but Ian wasn’t afraid of that anymore. We were in the fields slaughtering cattle when we were set upon by some indigenous people fighting against forced colonized by the British. They killed the guards and the rest of the prisoners except Timothy, Charles and me. That’s when Ian appeared among them, but he was different. You can guess how. He was a vampire, and he changed me that night. Charles and Timothy were changed as well, but only Timothy asked for it. Charles and I were changed anyway because Ian thought we would thank him later for it.”
Ian was still waiting for that thank-you, and he could keep waiting.
“We stayed with the Aboriginal people for a few years, and vowed to return to England one day. Took us nearly twenty years to finally get there.”
For a moment, Bones closed his eyes. It had taken him nearly that entire time to accept what he was, too. Then, and only then, had he been able to move on with his life.
She needed to move on, too, and one of those steps was by talking about the pain she’d buried inside.
“Your turn,” he said, opening his eyes. “Tell me about the sod who hurt you.”
She flinched as if struck. “God, Bones, I don’t want to talk about that. It’s humiliating.”
It shouldn’t be. He already knew enough to know it was someone else’s sin, not her own. Time for her to realize that.
“I just told you that I used to be a thief, a beggar, and a whore,” he pointed out in a gentle tone. “Is it really fair for you to cry foul over my question?”
She straightened from her hunch enough to shrug.
“It’s a common story. Boy meets girl, girl is naïve and stupid, boy uses girl and then hits the road.”
He arched his brow, waiting.
Her hands sliced the air. “Fine! You want details? I thought he really cared for me. He told me he did, and I fell for his lies completely. We went out twice, and then the third time, he said he had to stop by his apartment to get something before we’d go to this club.”
Of course he did, the manipulative sod.
“When we got there, he started kissing me, telling me all this crap about how special I was to him”–her voice cracked, and if she clenched her fists any tighter, she’d be in danger of breaking her hands–“but I told him it was too soon. That we should wait to get to know each other better, that it was my first time. He disagreed.”
Bones didn’t speak. She didn’t need any hints of the vengeance burning through his veins like molten acid. She needed him to stay silent and listen because she’d needed to say this, even if she hadn’t realized it before now.
“I-I should have hit him. Or thrown him off me. I could have, I was stronger than he was. But…I wanted to make him happy.”
Her voice broke, her shoulders dropped, and she could no longer look at him. Instead, she looked at the floor.
“I really liked him.” A pained whisper. “So, when he didn’t stop, I didn’t fight him off. I didn’t even move. It didn’t hurt as much if I didn’t move…”
Her voice cracked and she stopped, blinking hard while breathing through the memory. It took all his control not to hug her while promising her bloody vengeance.
Then, after a moment, she collected herself.
“That’s about it,” she said in a falsely brisk tone. “One miserable time, and then he didn’t call me anymore. I was worried at first—I thought something bad had happened to him.”
Oh, something would. Something painful, brutal, and very, very terminal.
She let out a harsh laugh. “The next weekend, I found him making out with another girl at the same club where we were supposed to go to. He told me then that he’d never really liked me, and to run along because it was past my bedtime. That same night, I killed my first vampire.”
Her voice turned hard, as if made up from the shards of her pain.
“In a way, I owe my first vampire hunt to being used. I was so upset that I wanted to either die or murder someone. At least having some creature try to rip my throat out guaranteed me one or the other.”
She met his eyes then. Hers glittered with unshed tears, and her features were a mixture of defiance, anger, and hurt.
“Did you tell anyone?” he asked, though he already knew the answer.
“No. My mom wouldn’t have understood, and”—a jerky shrug—“there was no one else to tell.”
Once again, she’d weathered the pain, rejection and shame alone, and once again, she hadn’t deserved any of it. He’d tell her that, but not with words. Not yet. She’d only argue with those. Instead, he filled his gaze with all the empathy she should have been shown.
She blinked, surprised. Then, very slowly, some of the tightness eased from her shoulders. When she was no longer hunched into a defensive ball, he reached out until his hands brushed the air that was warmer from her body heat.
She looked at them, and then back at him.
He waited, leaving his hands within reach, an invitation she could accept or reject. Whatever she chose, he wanted her to know that he was there.
She looked at his hands again, her fingers slowly uncurling—
The truck lurched as it came to a stop. She grabbed the box to steady herself instead of reaching out for him. Bones jumped up with a muttered curse.
If Ted wasn’t such a good mate, he’d break his legs for ruining another moment between them.
And the moment was gone. Her newly shuttered expression was proof of that. Bones sighed. Ah, well. Nothing worthwhile was ever easy.
“We’re nearly at the place, and there’s still work to be done,” he said, heading for the wrecked car. “Hold open that bag for me, Kitten.”
She followed him to the boot of the Mercedes. Bones gave her a construction-style garbage bag, then unwrapped Sergio from the plastic sheets. With a single, hard twist, he removed Sergio’s head, and dropped it into her bag.
“Yuck,” she said, shoving the bag at him. “You take it.”
“Squeamish?” After all the heads she’d lopped off herself? Bones grinned. “That lump of rotting skull is worth fifty thousand dollars. Sure you don’t want to cradle it a bit?”
She wrinkled her nose. “No thanks.”
Moments later, the rear door opened with a metallic screech, revealing Ted.
“We’re here, bud. Hope you both had a smooth ride.”
Cat caught Ted’s wink and was instantly defensive.
“We were only talking.”
Ted stifled a laugh. Bones let her see his smile before he turned to Ted.
“Come now, mate. We’ve been driving for, what? Fifty minutes? Not nearly enough time.”
Ted let out a louder chuckle that time, but his Kitten only scowled.
“Are you two finished?” she asked in her prissiest tone.
Not nearly, but he did have a bit of business to take care of. “Stay with Ted and the trailer. Something I have to do.”
“What?” she asked at once.
“Got a head to deliver, and I’d rather you stay out of it. The fewer people that know about you, the better.”
She seemed glad to stay back with the trailer now. Bones gave her a last smile, and then slung the bag containing Sergio’s head over his shoulder.
He was in a good mood, and for more reasons than her nearly kissing him twice tonight. Beneath all of her anti-vampire brainwashing, she trusted him, and not just as her backup. She trusted him as someone she could share her secrets with. She’d also accepted his past with none of the judgment she was normally so quick to dish out. Bit by bit, she was breaking out of the box that her mum, her grandparents, and her neighbors had shoved her into. Soon, she’d be free.
She’d also revealed an important detail that, unlike the other truths she’d shared with him tonight, he could actually fix.
He couldn’t undo her mum’s rejection, her grandparent’s ostracizing, her neighbors ignorance, or that soon-to-be-dead sod’s appalling treatment, but he could see to it that she went to a club for her coveted evening of drinking, dancing, and non-murdering fun.
She’d get that tomorrow because, unbeknownst to her, they were going on a date.