Halfway to the Grave

Page 18

"You can't forget you have a monster inside you," she interrupted me.

My mouth tightened. God, she'd picked a great time to go into this! You have a monster inside you, Catherine. Those were the opening words she'd used when I was sixteen to tell me what I was.

"I've been scared for you since I found out I was pregnant," she went on. The lights were off, but I didn't need them to see the tension in her face. "From the day you were born, you looked just like your father. Then each day after that, I watched your abnormalities grow as you did. Soon you'll leave, and I won't be there to watch over you anymore. You'll have only yourself to make sure you don't become like the monster who sired you. You can't let that happen. Finish school, get your degree. Move out of town, make some friends, it'll be good for you. Just be careful. Don't ever forget you're not like everyone else. They don't have evil in them trying to break out like you do."

For the first time in my life, I wanted to argue with her. To tell her that maybe there wasn't any evil in me. That my father could have been bad before he turned into a vampire, and my unusualness made me different, but not half evil.

Even as the denial sprang to my lips, however, I choked it back. It hadn't escaped my notice that our relationship had dramatically improved since I started killing vampires. She loved me, I knew, but before that, I'd always felt like a small part of her also resented me for both the circumstances of my birth and the repercussions of it.

"I won't forget, Mom," was all I said. "I won't forget, I swear to you."

Her features softened. Seeing that made me glad I hadn't argued. There was no need to upset her. This was a woman who'd raised the child of her ra**st, and in this small town, she'd been alienated just for having a baby out of wedlock. No one even knew the horrible truth behind her pregnancy. As rough as that was, to top it off, I had hardly been a normal child. She didn't need me lecturing her on right and wrong.

"In fact," I went on, "I'm going out Friday to hunt again. I'll probably be home late. I-I have a good feeling I'll find one."

Yeah. Did I ever.

She smiled. "You're doing the right thing, baby."

I nodded, swallowing back the guilt. If she found out about Bones, she'd never forgive me. She wouldn't understand how I could have partnered with a vampire, no matter the reason.

"I know."

She lay down in her bed. I got in mine as well and tried to fall asleep. But fears of my changing perspective and who was responsible for it kept me awake.

Chapter Six

F RIDAY FINALLY ARRIVED. FOR THE PAST FIVE days, I experimented with makeup and different hairstyles to turn myself into more appetizing bait. The goody bag from Hot Hair Salon had been filled with cosmetics, gels, hair spray, hair clips, nail polish, you name it. Bones also bought me curling irons and hot rollers. After dolling myself up, I would spar with him in full slut gear, preparing myself to fight in a short dress.

Now Bones waited for me by the entrance of the cave, a rarity. From the looks of him, he was already dressed for the evening. Black long-sleeved shirt, black pants, black boots. With his light skin and hair, he looked like an archangel dipped in coal.

"Now, you're clear on all the details, right? You won't see me, but I'll be watching you. When you leave with him, I'm going to follow you. Anywhere outside is fine, but do not, I repeat, do not let him take you inside any buildings or houses. If he tries to force you inside one, what do you do?"

"Bones, for God's sake, we've been over this a thousand times."

"What do you do?" He wasn't about to give up.

"Hit the pager in the watch, Mr. Bond, James Bond. You'll come running. Dinner for two."

He grinned, squeezing my shoulder. "Kitten, you have me pegged all wrong. If I go for your neck, I have no intention of sharing."

Although I would never admit it, having a small safety net like that made me feel better. The watch was rigged with a tiny pager that would only send a series of beeps to Bones, but if it went off, it meant my ass was in jeopardy.

"Are you ever going to tell me about who I'm after? Or do I find out later if I've staked the wrong guy? You've been pretty secretive about the whole identity thing. Afraid I'd rat you out?"

That previous smile was wiped from his face, replaced by an expression of complete seriousness.

"It was better for you not to know beforehand, pet. That way no accidental slips. Word can't get out if word isn't spoken, right?"

He followed me to the partially enclosed space where he kept my slutty clothes and accessories. It was amazing how many places a cave held. As near as I could figure, this one was half a mile long. I went inside the makeshift dressing room and put the privacy screen in place with a pointed look. Changing clothes in front of him was not going to happen. The screen didn't impair conversation, however, so I answered him as my clothes came off.

"It amuses me to think of you worrying about my Freudian slips. Maybe you didn't hear me the other times I told you, but I don't have any friends. The only other person I talk to is my mother, and she's being kept far out of this loop."

As soon as the words left my mouth, a hollow feeling grew in my chest. It was true, too true. As twisted as it was, Bones was the closest thing to a friend I'd ever had. He might be using me, but at least he was up front about it. Not sneaky and deceitful like Danny had been.

"All right, luv. His name is Sergio, though he might well give you another one. He's about six-one, black hair, gray eyes, typical vampire skin. Italian is his first language, but he's fluent in three others as well, so his English has an accent. He's not very beefy. In fact, he may even look soft to you, but don't let it fool you. He's almost three hundred years old and more powerful than you can imagine. Also, he's a sadist, likes 'em young, real young. Tell him you're underage and that you snuck in with a fake ID, it'll only switch him on more. You also can't kill him straightaway, because I need some information from him first. That's everything. Oh, and he's worth fifty thousand dollars."

Fifty thousand dollars. The words echoed through my mind. And to think I'd been prepared to argue with Bones over pocket change! The words kept resounding, and with them an important detail that had never been revealed before.

"Money. So that's why you hunt vampires. You're a hit man!"

I was so amazed by this new information, I opened the screen while only wearing my bra and panties.

He cast a leisurely look down the length of me before meeting my eyes.

"Yeah, that's right. It's what I do. But don't fret. You could also say I'm a bounty hunter. Sometimes my clients want 'em back alive."

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