BOTH FEET IN THE GRAVE, A Night Huntress novel.
If you thought you learned more about the dangerous and sexy alpha vampire, Bones, in the USA Today bestselling scorcher, THE OTHER HALF OF THE GRAVE, you haven’t seen anything yet…
Cat disappeared from Bones’ life to protect him, but this Master vampire will keep his promise to find her.
Two hundred years of bounty hunting made Bones the best at what he does, yet it’s still taken him four long years to find Cat, the half vampire now known as the “Red Reaper.” There’s a price on Cat’s head, and not even her job as a secret government agent can save her. Only Bones can. But has time hardened Bones too much to love again? Or will his passion for Cat burn through every obstacle–alive, undead, or otherwise–between them?
From the New York Times bestselling author of the Night Huntress series comes a fresh, new perspective on the origin saga of Cat and Bones, in Bones’s own words…
“Cat and Bones are combustible together.” – Charlaine Harris
“Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer for Anne Rice fans” – Apple Books
READ AN EXCERPT:
Copyright, Jeaniene Frost. All rights reserved.
Author’s Note: As I did with THE OTHER HALF OF THE GRAVE, I updated the technology to today’s time because I didn’t want to confuse readers by not mentioning technology that is commonplace now. Also, once again, there are slight changes in both context and dialog since couples can have two different versions of the same incident. Thus, this is Bones’s version of what was said and done, and he’ll swear that it’s the right one.
“I hope this won’t be engraved on my headstone,” said the man sitting next to Bones. “But you haven’t breathed this whole time. Care to tell me how you do that?”
Bones had been ignoring the bloke, as he’d ignored everyone else in this hole-in-the-wall bar, but at that, his gaze lasered onto him. Caucasian, late twenties, amber-colored hair, glasses, and a steadfast gaze despite his newly accelerated heartbeat.
Brave, Bones added to his list. Perceptive, too.
Bones rarely pretended to breathe in public, and most people never noticed, especially at a bar. Still, Bones wasn’t about to admit to being a vampire, so he gave a derisive grunt.
“You’ve had too much to drink, mate.”
“Oh, you’re English?” the man continued in that same conversational tone. “So is my blind date, if she ever shows up. She’s an hour late, so I’ve probably been stood up, but just in case, I’ve only been drinking club soda.”
The man hefted his glass in punctuation. Annoyance filled Bones. Figures he’d sit next to the only sober, observant person in a bar filled with the drunk and the oblivious. At least this was a problem he could easily fix. Bones leaned forward and crooked his finger, inviting the man to come closer.
After a moment’s hesitation, he did.
Bones released the power in his gaze. Two thin, emerald beams hit the man right in his widening eyes. With their heads so close together, no one else noticed.
“You’ve seen nothing,” Bones said in a newly resonant voice. “Now, mind your business.”
The man blinked, and Bones shuttered his gaze and leaned back. Now, he could resume waiting for his client to show up-
“Was that supposed to do something?” the man asked with another blink. “Aside from looking scary and cool, I mean.”
Bones’s gaze swung back to him in disbelief. He was one of the few humans with natural immunity to vampire mind control?
“Yes, it’s supposed to do something,” Bones snapped. Then, his gaze narrowed. Maybe this was more than a case of bad luck.
Bones pulled out his mobile and started a program without taking his eyes off the stranger’s face. Then, he placed his mobile on the bar near the stranger’s phone.
“Who are you?” Bones asked in a coldly pleasant tone.
“Randy MacGregor,” the stranger said, edging away. “And I’m starting to regret saying anything to you—”
“Too late for that,” Bones interrupted with flash of fang in his smile.
Randy blanched and tried to get off his bar stool.
Bones’s hand landed on Randy’s knee, and a warning squeeze made Randy yelp. Randy’s own body blocked the other people at the bar from seeing, and Bones had chosen his seat because it put the wall at his back. That, combined with the bar’s wide countertop and low lighting, caused Randy to look around with the belated realization that he wasn’t safe despite the establishment’s many patrons.
“I could scream,” Randy said when he turned back to Bones.
“You could,” Bones agreed. “Wouldn’t help, though. You might be immune to the power in my gaze, but I’d bet your life that everyone else here isn’t, so all you’d do is piss me off.”
Fear soured Randy’s scent, yet when he spoke, his voice was steady. “All right. Then how about I willingly forget everything I’ve learned, and we both go our separate ways?”
“Depends,” Bones said. “Did someone send you to find me?”
Shock widened Randy’s eyes. “What? No! I didn’t even know people like you existed until now!”
Randy’s scent, gaze, and pulse all indicated truthfulness, yet Bones hadn’t survived for over two hundred years by being too trusting. That’s why his mobile was cloning Randy’s phone even now. Soon, he’d have all of Randy MacGregor’s data, if that was even his name.
Bones’s brow rose. “And the first thing you do when you discover that ‘people like me’ exist is introduce yourself?”
“Told you I regretted that,” Randy said with a dry laugh. “But I couldn’t help it. The unusual has always fascinated me…”
Randy kept talking. Bones didn’t hear it. His attention was now focused on the tall, bald man entering the bar. His skin was light taupe, his brows dark brown, and he had a lean, wiry build and features that hovered between pleasant and plain. He looked human enough, if you didn’t notice the faint tinge of luminescence to his skin or how predatory his gaze was. When that gaze landed on Bones, the vampire’s aura rolled out in a wave that only another vampire could feel.
Swirls of energy bit into Bones, as if he’d suddenly become a feast for a swarm of mosquitoes. Power that potent marked the new arrival as an old, strong vampire, and he wanted Bones and any other vampire there to know it.
Bones rose and grabbed his coat, pausing only to say to Randy, “If you want to live, stay here.” Couldn’t have the bloke follow him and get killed from more of his dangerous curiosity.
“Lionel, right?” Bones said when he reached the vampire.
Lionel regarded Bones with an icy aqua gaze. “First you insist on meeting in person, then you use my name in public. So much for your reputation for discretion.”
Bones ignored Lionel’s scathing tone. “I might be unconventional, but my services are guaranteed. That’s why I require exclusivity on this contract.”
Lionel’s gaze raked Bones.
Bones let a small amount of his aura out, keeping the rest behind a wall of ice that hid his true strength. Lionel felt the power in that brush of aura and straightened, his scowl fading.
“That guarantee plus your reputation is why I agreed to your terms, but I’ll only grant exclusivity for two weeks. After that, this is an open contract. I need this handled quickly.”
Bones smiled. “Your price told me that. Half a million is quite the bounty to have on a human.”
“Oh, the Red Reaper isn’t human,” Lionel said in a dark tone. “If she were, I wouldn’t need to hire someone like you.”
Rage scorched Bones, yet nothing in his expression changed. Lionel was right; the “Red Reaper” wasn’t human even though she breathed and had a heartbeat.
“Intriguing,” was all Bones said. “Now, give me everything you’ve got on her.”
“Not here,” Lionel said. “Somewhere private.”
Once again, Bones smiled. “I know just the place.”
Winter-dried leaves crunched beneath them as they walked. Some of the piles were high enough that the edge of Bones’s coat swirled them as they passed. Lionel gave him a sardonic glance.
“Pale skin, ridiculously handsome, and wearing a black leather trench coat on top of all-black clothes? You’re a walking caricature of our species.”
“The coat was a gift.”
Bones’s glib tone hid a sharp inner stab at the memory of Cat’s eyes, darker than an approaching storm while her voice quavered from grief even as she teased him. “Vampires are supposed to wear black leather, aren’t they?”
“And I have better things to do than fret about color- coordinating my clothes,” Bones added, stifling the memory.
Four blocks later, the neighborhood changed from shops and pubs to empty buildings and abandoned businesses. Urban decay in this part of Virginia had taken its toll. Bones stopped at a fenced-in structure that had once been a basketball court.
Lionel curled his lip in distaste. “This is the best you can do?”
“The nearest building’s condemned and only warehouses and train tracks are behind us, so it’s quite private.” Bones held out a hand. “Now, give me what you have on the target.”
Lionel pulled a legal-sized envelope from his coat. “This has the Red Reaper’s last known whereabouts plus pictures of her. They’re blurry, but these were the best I could find.”
Bones rifled through the pages. The pictures were blurry, showing only a profile or partial face through a crowd. That’s why they hadn’t been scrubbed from the internet before Lionel could find them. No full face shots of the “Red Reaper” existed. Someone with impressive government reach and a constantly-running facial recognition program had made sure of that.
The focus of these pictures was police officers and an area closed off with crime scene tape, but a woman with scarlet hair was in the background. Lionel had circled her, as if Bones wouldn’t recognize the shape of her jaw, the high peaks of her cheekbones, her slim, straight nose, or those full lips…
“…arrogant to name herself the Red Reaper,” Lionel was saying. “As soon as I saw a redhead in those pictures, I knew who must’ve ruined my operation and killed my men.”
What Lionel didn’t say was that his “operation” must have involved murdering humans. Those were the only vampires that Cat Crawfield, a.k.a. the “Red Reaper,” came after these days.
“Oh, she didn’t name herself that. I did,” Bones replied.
He’d gotten to the “last known whereabouts” part, but to his dismay, Lionel had no address, city, or even state of residence. He only had the address of the crime scene a few counties over from this one. Blast it, Bones already knew that Cat had been in Virginia ten days ago! It’s why he was here now.
“What do you mean?” Lionel said in a sharp tone.
Bones looked up. “I called her the grim reaper with red hair when she kept killing my targets before I could interrogate them. She didn’t like that, but weeks later, when I called her my Red Reaper, she smiled-”
“You know the bitch?” Lionel interrupted.
Rage smashed through Bones’s walls, releasing the full force of his aura.
Lionel recoiled when he felt it. “What the fuck-”
Bones yanked Lionel’s throat out before he could say another word, and then grabbed two silver knives from his coat.
Lionel leapt back when he saw them, his throat already healing with supernatural swiftness. “What are you doing?” he demanded.
Bones snorted. “Would’ve thought it was obvious, but if you need it spelled out”-he lunged-“I’m going to kill you.”
Lionel avoided the strike, but just barely. The knives slashed into his back instead of piercing his heart.
“Stop!” Lionel demanded with the imperiousness of someone used to being obeyed. “Kill me, and you’ll start a war!”
Bones lunged again, feinting right this time. Lionel fell for it, going left. Bones’s stab pierced Lionel’s chest, but Lionel yanked back with impressive speed. The knife ripped through Lionel’s arm instead of his heart.
“Why?” Lionel spat, yanking out one of the fence poles and swinging it like a club. “Why take the contract if you knew the Red Reaper? You even demanded exclusivity-”
“Yes, which makes me the only bounty hunter after your measly five hundred K,” Bones cut him off.
Craftiness sprang into Lionel’s gaze. “If it’s more money you’re after…”
Bones’s temper exploded. Money, power, control…that’s what had motivated the people who’d forced Cat to leave him. Why else would a shadow branch of government blackmail a half-vampire into becoming their personal assassin?
“Fuck your money,” Bones said, and flung his knives.
Both landed in Lionel’s chest. One pierced his heart from how suddenly Lionel dropped to his knees. Silver in the heart was nearly paralyzing for a vampire, but it wasn’t fatal. Yet.
Bones landed on Lionel and slammed his head into the ground hard enough to shatter his skull. The deep rents in Lionel’s head healed in the next several seconds, but the knife wounds didn’t. Silver prevented a vampire’s natural healing abilities.
Lionel’s eyes focused and widened as he saw Bones’s hand on the hilt of the knife in his heart. “Don’t,” he rasped.
“You asked why I took the contract,” Bones replied. “It’s the same reason why I’m the one who spread the ‘Red Reaper’ moniker in the undead world. That way, news of her exploits warned the smart ones away, and the stupid ones, like you,” his tone turned scathing, “used that same name when hiring undead bounty hunters to kill her, making you so, so easy to find.”
“I’ll cancel the contract-”
“Oh, it’s cancelled,” Bones said, and twisted the blade.
The green glow instantly faded from Lionel’s eyes and his skin began to crackle and split. Vampires might not age while they were alive, but true death reverted all their years back onto their corpse in short order. By the time Bones rose, Lionel’s body resembled a badly constructed scarecrow.
A rat scurried away from the nearby waste container. A vermin-infested rubbish bin was a perfect place for this sod. Bones picked him up and shoved him inside, but Lionel’s neck was now so brittle that it snapped. His skull banged down the side of the dumpster before landing on Bones’s foot. Bones kicked it with enough force to penetrate the dumpster’s rusted exterior.
Goal! he thought irreverently.
Later, Bones would manufacture a price on Lionel’s head so that the war Lionel had threatened him with would never happen. If people knew that Bones had killed a prominent vampire for personal reasons, it might, but if Bones called it business because he was a bounty hunter by trade, and Lionel had a contract out on him? Well, vampires didn’t respect much, but commerce was a highly protected industry.
Bones reached for his mobile, freezing when it wasn’t in its usual place inside his jacket. Had it fallen out during their fight? No…he’d left it back at the pub to clone Randy’s phone.
Bones wiped the worst of the blood on his shirt. That was the other reason he only wore black; it hid incriminating stains. Then, a pair of gloves hid his red-stained hands. The gloves reminded him of Cat. She’d worn gloves the night they met. Yes, she’d also tried to kill him that night, but she believed all vampires were evil at the time. Took a lot of doing to convince her otherwise. Took even more work before she grew to love him with the same unbridled passion he’d felt for her…and if he kept thinking this way, he’d give into the loss that burned like a living inferno inside him.
Bones forced his pain back beneath the ice that had saved him countless times during his long life. He picked up Lionel’s envelope. It might not contain anything useful, but he wasn’t leaving it behind for anyone else to discover.
When Bones finally entered the bar again, he was surprised to see that Randy was still there. Bones’s former seat was still open, too, and his mobile was on the countertop where he’d left it. Even his whisky glass remained untouched.
“Didn’t expect you to stay,” Bones said.
Randy gave him a look of wary amusement. “You told me to stay if I wanted to live. I do, so here I am. Plus, I saw that you’re cloning my phone. I’m a software designer, so I recognized the program,” he added at Bones’s raised brow. “No point in running when you know everything about me now.”
Bones let out a bark of laughter. “You should have taken both mobiles with you when you fled. Then, I’d have nothing.”
Randy’s eyes widened. “You don’t have the cloning program backing up into the cloud on a private server?”
He sounded more shocked by that than he had at learning that vampires existed. Bones should take his mobile and leave, but…he had no new leads, no one else to kill, and no one else to talk to, if he were being honest. His best mate, Charles, would only give him another lecture to move on with his life, and nothing awaited him back in his hotel room except loneliness.
“I meant stay as in ‘don’t follow me,’ but since you were so literal with your translation,” Bones signaled for the bartender, “I may as well buy you a drink.”
Two months later, Bones was following up on a possible sighting of Cat in Texas when his mobile rang. He glanced at the number with a silent scoff. It was Ian, the vampire who’d turned him over two centuries ago despite Bones emphatically saying that he did not want to become a vampire.
Bones ignored the call. He could do without another thinly-veiled admonition from his sire to stop taking contracts on prominent vampires. Word of Lionel’s death would have reached Ian by now, and Ian hated playing a placatory role in the undead world. He far preferred the rebel role.
Bones’s mobile stopped ringing, but then immediately chimed with a text alert. His lips curled. Patience wasn’t his sire’s strong suit, but Ian would have to learn it because Bones had no time for his sire’s nattering today.
An hour later, Bones glanced at Ian’s text only to stop the “unread message” alert from chirping every five minutes. Then, adrenaline harpooned him so fiercely that he crushed his phone, but not before reading the single line of text Ian had sent.
Very well, I WON’T tell you what happened when your redheaded ex came to see me yesterday.
“Lucifer’s boiling blood!” Bones shouted, knocking things over in his haste to get to his burner phone. Then, he had to force himself to relax as he dialed Ian’s number. Cat had gone after his sire? And Ian was still alive?
Did that mean…did that mean Ian had killed her?
At last, Ian answered. “I don’t know this number-”
“Where is she?” Bones shouted.
“Well, look who finally rang me back,” Ian said with heavy sarcasm. “Have your attention now, don’t I?”
It took all Bones’s willpower not to scream his question again. Sharks scenting blood were less ruthless than Ian when he knew he had an advantage. Bones had already given away too much. He had to reel it back or his wily sire would tell him nothing.
“Say again? There’s beastly noise in this club,” Bones said while turning up the telly as loud as it would go.
“Look who finally rang me back,” Ian repeated in a louder, yet still sarcastic tone. “Thought you might after that text.”
“Yes, well, I have many redheaded exes, but you’d only bother contacting me over one of them,” Bones said in as calm a manner as he could. “She tried to kill you, I assume?”
“Certainly did,” Ian said with infuriating amusement.
“And?” Bones ground out, his blood feeling as if it had transformed into boiling oil.
“And I’m busy now,” Ian said before a distinct click.
Bones stared at his mobile, confirming that the call had indeed ended. Then, he set it down…and demolished his hotel room. If Ian had killed Cat, this carnage would be nothing compared to what Bones would do to him, sire be damned. Still, he couldn’t do anything until he collected himself.
It took twenty minutes before Bones had piled on enough ice to think logically again. When he did, he was certain that Cat was still alive. Why would Ian rush to inform him if he’d killed her? That wasn’t like Ian, for the simple reason that it showed too much bloody consideration.
Oh, Ian would eventually get around to telling Bones if he’d murdered one of Bones’s exes, but it would hardly make Ian’s priority list, and he’d said that Cat came to see him yesterday. No, Ian would only hurry to tell him that if Cat had gotten away. That, Ian would consider a priority because he’d want revenge for the attempt on his life.
But how did Ian know about Bones’s connection to Cat? Only three of Bones’s closest friends knew of his ties to her, plus a few very dead vampires that Bones had tracked down years ago.
Only one possibility-Cat must have told Ian herself.
Hope splashed Bones like a cooling wave. Had Cat left some breadcrumbs with Ian for Bones to follow?
Bones snatched up his mobile and laptop. Ian had the answers he needed. Now, to convince his narcissistic sire that it was in Ian’s best interest to give them to him.
Thirty hours later, Bones’s knock was answered by an unfamiliar blond vampire instead of Ian’s normal ghoul manservant. Then again, this house wasn’t Ian’s usual house when he stayed in New York, so several changes were afoot.
“Tell Ian that Crispin’s here,” Bones said to the new doorman, using his human name since Ian was one of the few people who still called him that.
“More to the left,” Bones heard Ian say, sounding as if he were in an upper room of the three-story mansion. “Blast it, man, can’t you see that the piece isn’t centered?”
“Never mind, I’ll tell him myself,” Bones said, brow arching as the vampire failed to move from the doorway.
“You haven’t been approved yet,” the vampire replied.
He was barely out of his teens in undead years, judging from the low power level in his aura. That’s why Bones smiled instead of knocking him flat.
“You must be new, so let me elaborate. I’m also the first vampire Ian ever made, and I knew him before he had fangs, so I don’t require ‘approval.’ I only require you to move.”
“But, sir…” the vampire began.
“Oh, let him in,” Ian called down. “Before he gets even nastier than his normal foul temperament.”
The doorman stepped aside, revealing more vampires that Bones hadn’t met before. No surprise. Ian was always expanding his line. Even now, several of the vampires hustled to unpack crates containing antiques, artwork, and other expensive decorations while still more vampires hauled in furniture or hung thick silk drapes over the huge windows.
Bones went up the grand staircase, following the sound of Ian’s voice. On the third floor, Bones found Ian reclined on a chaise lounge in a parlor, his long auburn hair spilling onto the collar of his vivid blue robe.
“What do you think, Crispin?” Ian said in lieu of a hello. “Is that piece centered or not?”
Bones glanced at the wall opposite Ian, where a vampire was holding up the wood-framed, mounted head of a Caucasian man with thin black hair and a look of complete surprise on his features.
“More to the left,” Bones said.
Ian gave the vampire holding the piece an exasperated look. “I told you so.”
Bones turned back to Ian. “Not your usual artwork, is it?”
Ian flashed an impish smile. “No, but when a mate told me that an American trophy hunter had booked an illegal hunt to kill a Siberian tiger, I couldn’t resist. Do you know how few Siberians remain? This bloke didn’t care. Now look at him.” Ian nodded at the head. “He still can’t believe he’s the one stuffed and mounted on a wall instead of that tiger.”
“Speaking of rare, beautiful things,” Bones drew out.
Ian whistled. “I haven’t seen you in, what? Three years? Now, a day after you learn of your former paramour’s visit, you’re in my new house, which, by the way, I didn’t tell you about, so how’d you find me?”
Bones flashed a brief grin. “Finding people is my stock in trade, you might remember. With your extravagant tastes, it was hardly a challenge. Your former house is under police guard with all your belongings inside, so that left you without your required finery. I only needed to look up the delivery address for all the posh furnishings and antiques being hustled in by frantic rare antiquities dealers to find you.”
Ian gave an appreciative grin. “Guilty as charged. Your weakness, however, has always been women, and now, it seems, one woman in particular.”
What had Cat told Ian about them? If Ian knew they’d been in love, his sire would hold that over Bones with the glee of a tyrannical toddler stealing someone’s favorite toy.
He’d gamble that she hadn’t. “That woman is a pain in my arse. Do you know how frustrating is it that she’s still using what I taught her to kill vampires when she was only ever supposed to be temporary bait for my targets?”
Ian stared at Bones with such sharpness that Bones’s eyes prickled, as if the suspicion threading through the bond that connected every vampire to their sire wasn’t indication enough that Ian sensed something was off.
Bones stared back, his posture loose and relaxed. If he’d been human, he would have yawned, too.
“So, you have no idea why your former ‘bait’ came to my door, then?” Ian asked in a too-casual tone.
Bones shrugged. “Must be because you killed some humans. She was always right aggrieved by vampires who did that. It’s why she agreed to be my bait in the first place. Well, that, and because of her other…talents.”
“Talents,” Ian repeated with a low laugh. “That’s one way to describe the rarest person to exist in six hundred years.”
Bones inwardly cursed as he saw that Ian’s gaze now gleamed with something Bones was very familiar with because he saw it in his own eyes every time he looked into a mirror.
Bones tried to defuse Ian’s interest. “I found her dual nature fascinating at first, too. It’s why I bothered to train her, but rare genetics only go so far. They certainly couldn’t stop her incessant whingeing, not to mention her lackluster shagging, her aversion to regular bathing, and don’t get me started on her snoring. Blimey, I’ve never been so tempted to smother someone in their sleep, but if I had to bear another night of lawnmower noises right next to my ear-”
Ian’s laughter cut him off.
“Oh, she can sleep in her own room after I’m done shagging her. But being in possession of the world’s only half vampire?” Ian let out a luxuriant sigh. “No artifact, piece of artwork, or priceless jewel could compare. The fact that she’s beautiful and fiercer than a dragon only makes her more irresistible.”
Bones didn’t move. If he did, he’d decorate the walls with Ian’s guts, and if Ian were dead, Bones might miss some clues as to Cat’s whereabouts from him.
“Can we have the room?” Bones asked in a pleasant tone.
Ian’s brows rose, but he flicked his fingers. At once, the other vampire left.
“Acquiring her would be more trouble than she’s worth,” Bones said in the biggest lie of his life. “She’s violent, which you clearly know, but she’s also unstable and untrustworthy. If you try to make her your property, you’ll regret it.”
Ian grunted. “That warning’s rich considering that you’re the one who branded her like free-range cattle.”
Bones’s eyes narrowed. “The hell you say?”
“Her tattoo.” Ian’s gaze landed on Bones’s left arm where his one and only tattoo resided. “Seeing your distinctive cross-bones symbol on her hip is what distracted me enough for her to plug a silver stake in my heart.”
Blood roared through Bones as if his heart had suddenly started beating again. Cat had marked herself with his tattoo?
“She said you forced her to get it,” Ian went on. “Also said she hated you, and that you owe her a check after stiffing her, which, if true, is hilariously rude of you-”
“I owe her what?” Bones interrupted.
“Money.” Ian emphasized the word. “She said you failed to pay her a cut of the jobs that she played your bait on. Seemed quite miffed about it, too. Called you a cheap bastard.”
All lies. Cat had refused Bones’s money, claiming she wouldn’t be his lover and his “employee.” Bones teased her that she’d turned him back into a whore because of her insistence on not taking a cut of their jobs as long as they were sleeping together. God, he could still see her face when he told her that he’d have to earn the money back with her pleasure instead…
“…suppose I have to thank you,” Ian was saying. “She would’ve killed me after getting in that lucky stab if not for you. Did you know it’s really true that your life flashes in front of your eyes before certain death? With her blade in my heart, I suddenly felt like I was back on the Alexander. Must have said something about that, too, because instead of twisting that blade, she asked me which prisoner I was.”
Ian’s shields dropped again, peppering Bones’s subconscious with needles of surprise and remembered pain.
“Imagine my shock when she knew the story of how we were shipped to the New South Wales penal colonies on a ship named the Alexander when we were human. Or how I escaped imprisonment and later returned to change you into a vampire.” Suddenly, Ian’s walls were back up, slamming Bones out of his sire’s feelings. “She said you saved her mum once, so she spared my life to call that debt even.”
“Ironic,” was all Bones could get out. If he’d been alone, he might have dropped to his knees. Every moment of the past four years, he’d wondered if Cat still loved him. Hell, in recent months, he’d wondered if she still felt anything at all.
But Cat wouldn’t have spared Ian’s life simply because Bones had once helped to rescue her mum. Cat had a near-pathological need to kill vampires. Bones had trained Cat to be better at it only so she wouldn’t die herself. It was her vampire-killing talent that had made Cat irresistible to the unknown government operative who’d forced her to work for him.
Don’t come after me because I’m already gone…
So began Cat’s farewell letter. Bones hadn’t heard from her since…until now. Cat sparing Ian’s life because he was Bones’s sire was as clear a message as that damned letter had been. Yes, I still care, it said.
But how much?
Bones would get his answers, or die trying.
To cover his churning emotions, he let out a harsh chuckle. “So, she pulled a stake-and-run on you, hmm? To quote you, that’s hilariously rude.”
Ian’s eyes flashed emerald. “She had a team of surprisingly well-trained, silver-armed humans with her. I ran off like she ordered me, but then circled back to catch her unawares. By then, she was being hustled into a van by the blokes, and they were surrounding the property. Under normal circumstances, they’d be easy pickings, but with my newly-pierced heart…”
“You were weakened,” Bones finished. Few vampires survived having their heart pierced with silver at all, and fewer still would have the stamina to attack anyone soon afterward.
“Don’t you have any idea where she is?” Ian asked, that impish smile back on his lips. “Irritating or not, you wouldn’t have let someone so unique entirely off your leash.”
Bones smiled despite his urge to smash Ian’s face in. “I’ve kept track of the damage she’s caused, but I haven’t taken the time to look for her. I keep expecting her to get killed.”
That last part was horrifyingly true, and also why he hadn’t had a decent day or night’s sleep in years.
“If you care so little, why rush to see me as soon as you knew she visited me, then?”
Ian’s light tone didn’t fool Bones. His gaze was back to crystalline sharpness.
“As I said, she’s violent,” Bones replied. “She wouldn’t have shown up for a social call, and I wasn’t sure if her going after you was a backhanded assault on me. You and I might have our differences, but I can’t have some chit thinking she can slaughter you to spite me just because I owe her money.”
“You came to check on me?” Ian clutched his heart as if overcome with emotion. “Oh, Crispin, you do care!”
“Don’t get used to it,” Bones said coolly.
Ian laughed. “Eh, it was nice while it lasted. Well, I assure you she had no idea of our connection until after she’d stabbed me, so you can rest easy on that front. And, if you have no useful information”-Ian waved at the door-“you can return to wherever it is you skulk off to when you’re ignoring me.”
He was being dismissed, and Bones hadn’t learned nearly enough yet. He already knew Cat traveled with human soldiers, but none of them had been left behind at Ian’s former residence. Bones had already mesmerized those guards to make sure. They were only local police officers, and they believed the house had been the scene of a violent drug bust, not a vampire attack.
“If not spite toward me, then why did she show up at your door at all?” Bones asked, his tone only one notch above bored. “You’re not the type she normally goes after, unless you’ve taken up a new hobby of mass-murdering humans?”
Ian snorted. “Not yet, and I asked her the same thing. She said it was because of Thomas and Jerome, my former employees. Here I was in Siberia, killing that trophy-hunting sod, while back at home, my own people were stealing from me. Do you know how it felt to see my prized Edvard Munch paintings on eBay?”
“Terrible. That’s the only artwork of yours I’m envious of,” Bones replied with a straight face.
Ian gave him an arch look. “Liar, but that’s off topic. So, I returned home and killed those thieves. Didn’t even make a mess of it. Your Red Reaper shouldn’t have known a vampire did it. I healed the puncture wounds in their necks before they died, but then not a week later, she shows up pretending to be an FBI agent. That part was boring, but the way she kissed me?” Ian let out a luxurious sigh. “That was anything but boring.”
Bones turned around and left. It was that, or he’d rip Ian’s head off, which would be gratifying in the moment, but have long-term consequences. Besides, he already knew that Cat distracted her targets with kisses right before she slaughtered them. Ian was just lucky enough to live to tell the tale.
“If there’s nothing else, I have places to be,” Bones threw over his shoulder. Thank God the sire bond went only one way and Ian couldn’t feel the possessiveness burning through him.
“Don’t be a stranger!” Ian called out.
Bones turned to give a scathing reply, thought better of it, and spun back around-
-and walked right into someone coming up the staircase. Only Bones’s quick grip prevented the man from falling backward down the stairs since his arms were filled with yet another crate, and he held it up to protect it instead of grabbing the handrail. Bones couldn’t even see his face with the crate in the way, and he steadied the stranger with a short laugh.
“No need to surf the staircase with your backside rather than drop one of Ian’s trinkets.”
“If you knew what was in this, you’d understand,” the man replied with a Midwestern American accent.
“Max, is that you?” Ian called out. “Took you forever to fly in! Now, tell me you have my Faberge eggs.”
“Right here,” Max said, and lowered the crate.
The floor felt like it vanished beneath Bones. That face.
He knew it better than he knew his own, for he’d long ago memorized those dark red brows framing thundercloud gray eyes, that straight nose, those high cheekbones, that stubborn jaw line, and those generous lips, but never before had Bones seen those features anywhere except on Cat. Now, they were also on a tall, athletic-looking vampire striding through Ian’s door.
Max disappeared into the parlor before Bones could snatch him back. His blasted shock had cost him precious seconds! Now, he could only hope that Ian wouldn’t notice the resemblance-
“Break my back and baste my balls!” Ian shouted, shattering that hope. “I knew the Red Reaper looked familiar! I even told her so. I just couldn’t place where I’d seen her before. Turns out I hadn’t, not really. Max, you magnificent bastard! Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
“No,” Max said, sounding very confused.
Ian’s laughter preceded a wave of glee as his sire’s emotions crashed through their connection. “You probably don’t. You wouldn’t unless you’ve seen her. Now, tell me about every woman you shagged immediately after I turned you…”
Bones left. He didn’t need to hear Max’s reply. He already knew that twenty-seven years ago, Max had raped a young Justina Crawfield so soon after becoming a vampire that his sperm was still viable. Five months later, Justina gave birth to Cat, and raised her to despise all things vampire, including herself.
Blast it all, if he’d only reacted to Max immediately! Now, Ian was too clever not to recognize the huge advantage he’d just gained over Cat. At least Max had no useful information on her. Max had no idea that Cat even existed.
He would now, but more importantly, Bones had discovered a new way to track Cat: Ian.
Ian didn’t fit the profile of every other vampire Cat had been sent after. The others had murdered humans in messy, attention-getting ways. Not quietly dropped two bodies without even a fang mark to show for it. Ian must have been personal for whoever pulled Cat’s strings. Because of Max? Or something else?
Either way, it meant a trail that Bones could follow back to Cat’s boss, and to her.