Halfway to the Grave

Page 26

"His people found it hundreds of years ago, so that makes it theirs as much as anyone can claim anything they don't walk around in. Used to be a winter residence of the Mingoes. They were a small tribe of the Iroquois nation, and they were one of the last Iroquois still in the state when the Indian Removal Act of 1831 was put into effect. Tanacharisson was a mate of mine, and he chose not to go to the reservation. He hid at the cave after the last of his tribe was forcibly removed. Time went by, he saw his people and culture being irrevocably destroyed, and he decided he'd had enough. He painted his body for battle and went off on a suicide mission against Fort Meigs. Before he did, though, he asked me to look out for his home. Make sure no one disturbed it. There are bones of some of his ancestors back in the far part of it. He didn't want the whites desecrating them."

"How terrible," I said softly, thinking of that lonely Indian making his last stand after seeing everything he loved disappear.

He studied my face. "It was his choice. He had no control over anything except how he died, and the Mingoes were very proud. To him, it was a good death. One befitting the legacy of his people."

"Maybe. But when death is all you have left, it's sad no matter how you cut it. It's late, Bones. I'm leaving."

He touched my arm then, and his features were very serious.

"About what you told me earlier, I want you to know it wasn't your fault. Bloke like that would've done the same to any girl, and no doubt has before and since you."

"Are you speaking from experience?"

It flew out before I could stop myself. Bones let his arm drop and he stepped back, giving me another unfathomable look.

"No, I'm not. I've never treated a woman in such a manner, and most especially not a virgin. Like I said before-you don't have to be human to have some behaviors be beneath you."

I didn't know what to say to that, so I just hit the gas and drove away.

Chapter Eight

IT OCCURRED TO ME THE NEXT MORNING THAT I had a few hours with nothing to do and money to spend. The combination of both had never happened before. Energized by the thought, I ran upstairs to shower again and get dressed. Showers were all I'd taken lately, since baths had proven to be slightly dangerous.

After a blissful trip to the mall, I was shocked when I glanced at my watch and saw that it was after six. My, how time flew when I wasn't killing something. It was too late to drive home and give my mother an excuse about tonight, so I settled on calling her. I lied-again-and told her I'd run into a friend and would be seeing a movie and having a late dinner. I hoped whatever occurred tonight wouldn't take too long. It would be nice to spend a weekend evening at home for once.

Speeding to arrive late anyway, I leapt from the truck as soon as I pulled into the familiar grotto. Paranoid, I'd taken my packages with me. It would be just my luck for someone to break in and steal my purchases, even at the edge of the woods. By the time I'd sprinted the remaining mile to the entrance, I was almost out of breath.

Bones was waiting near the opening with a scowl.

"Took your sweet bleedin' time, I see. Oh, but I suppose everything in those bags is for me, so all's forgiven. Guess I don't have to wonder where you've been."

Oops. Suddenly it occurred to me that arriving with an armful of presents bought with his money while not getting him anything might be construed as rude. Covering my faux pas, I straightened my shoulders in feigned offense.

"Actually, I did get you something. Here. It's for...umm, your aching muscles and pains."

I handed him the massager I'd bought for my grandfather, realizing too late the stupidity in the gesture. Vampires didn't have aching muscles or pains.

He looked at the box with interest.

"Well, well. Five speeds. Heat and massage. Deep, penetrating action. Sure this isn't yours?" That dark brow arched with volumes of meaning, and none of them therapeutic.

I snatched it back.

"Just say so if you don't want it. You don't have to be so crude."

Bones gave me a pointed look. "Keep it and give it to your gramps like it was intended. Blimey, but you're a bad liar. Good thing you manage to pull it off with the marks."

Exasperated already, I fixed him with a scathing look.

"Can we get on to business? Like the details about tonight?"

"Oh, that." We descended deeper into the cave. "Let's see, your bloke's over two hundred years old, naturally brown hair, but he changes his color periodically, talks with an accent, and is very quick in combat. Good news is, you can keep your knickers on. He'll be smitten with you on sight. Any questions?"

"What's his name?"

"He'll probably make one up, most vampires do, but his name is Crispin. Get me when you're ready. I'll be watching telly."

Bones left me at my makeshift dressing room, and I flipped through the dozen or so skank-wears he'd bought me until I pulled out a halter dress that almost skimmed the knees. Still too tight, but at least my boobs and butt didn't hang out of it.

An hour of hot rollers, makeup, and high-heeled boots later, I was ready. Bones lounged sideways across the weathered chair, avidly watching Court TV. He loved the channel. Somehow, seeing a criminal get such a kick out of that program disturbed me. His favorite comment was that victims had less than half the rights of the offenders.

"Hate to pry you away, but I'm ready. You know, places to be, etc."

He glanced up in mild pique. "This is a good part. They're about to deliver a verdict."

"Oh, for God's sake! You're worried about a verdict on a murder case when we're about to commit one! Doesn't that strike you as a little ironic?"

Suddenly he was in front of me, uncurling himself with the speed a striking rattler would envy.

"Yes, it does, pet. Let's be off."

"Aren't you driving separately?" We never rode together, to avoid people making the connection.

He shrugged it off.

"Believe me, you'd never find the place. It's a different sort of club, very particular. Come on, let's not keep the gent waiting."

Different sort of club. That was the biggest understatement I'd ever heard. It was far off the main highways, down a twisting back road that looked seldom traveled, and inside an industrial warehouse that was soundproofed. To the outside observer, it was simply another blue-collar industry building. Parking was around the back with only one narrow way in or out between tall trees that acted as a natural gate.

"What is this place?"

My eyes bugged even before we approached the door. There was a line of people waiting for entry. Bones simply passed by them while pulling me along up to the female at the door who I assumed was the bouncer. She was as tall and broad-shouldered as a linebacker, with a face that would have been beautiful except for its preponderance of masculinity.

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