Halfway to the Grave

Page 47

I swallowed my coffee in one gulp. "Don't wait for me to judge you. In my opinion, he had it coming."

"I said no for my daughter, so she'd never be scared of him the way I was," she said, taking my empty cup and refilling it. "Bones didn't just snap his neck and leave, either. He got me out of that flea-hole apartment I was in, gave me a place to stay, and eventually I got my own place and opened up the shelter. Now I'm the one helping out women who don't have nowhere else to turn. God has a sense of humor sometimes, doesn't He?"

That made me smile. "You could say I'm proof of that."

Tara leaned forward and dropped her voice. "I'm telling you this because he must have taken a shine to you. Like I said, he don't bring nobody here."

This time, I didn't argue. There was no point, and I couldn't tell her that my presence was more necessity than preference.

Something the girl was saying upstairs redirected my attention.

"...made me call my roommates. I told them I'd met up with my old boyfriend and we were going away together, but it was a lie. I don't know why I said it, I heard the words coming out of my mouth, but I didn't want to say them..."

"It's all right, Emily." Bones' voice was soft. "It wasn't your fault, they made you say that. I know this is hard, but think. Did you see anyone else aside from Charlie and Dean?"

"They kept me in that apartment the whole time, but no one else came in. I have to take a shower now. I feel so dirty."

"It's all right," he said again. "You'll be safe here, and I'll find all of the sods who did this."

It sounded like he was out the door when she suddenly shouted.

"Wait! There was someone else. Charlie took me to him, but I don't know where we were. It seems like I blinked, and then I was in this house. I remember the bedroom was big, wood floors, and it had red and blue paisley wallpaper. There was this man wearing a mask. I never saw his face, he kept it on the whole time..."

Her voice wavered. Tara shook her head in repugnance at what didn't need to be elaborated.

"I'll find them," Bones repeated with resolve. "I promise."

He came down the stairs a few minutes later.

"She's settled down," he said, more to Tara than to me. "Her name is Emily, and she doesn't have any family to contact. She's been on her own since she was fifteen, and her mates think she's off with an ex-boyfriend. No need to tell them otherwise and put them in danger."

"I'll brew another pot of coffee and be right up," Tara said, rising. "You staying?"

"Can't," Bones replied with a shake of his head. "We have to catch a plane this afternoon and we're booked at a hotel. But thank you, Tara. I'm indebted to you."

She kissed his cheek. This time, my gut didn't knot. "No, you ain't, honey. You keep safe, now."

"And you." He turned to me. "Kitten?"

"I'm ready. Thank you for the coffee, Tara, and for the company."

"Wasn't nothing, child." She smiled. "You be sweet to our boy here, and remember, be good only if being bad ain't more fun!"

I let out a surprised laugh at this mischievous directive, which was unexpected considering the very unfunny circumstances we were meeting under.

"I'll try to remember that."

Bones didn't speak during the hour drive back to the hotel. There were so many things I wanted to ask him, but of course, I couldn't bring myself to.

When we pulled in the parking lot, however, I couldn't stand the silence anymore.

"So what's next? We find out if Charlie has a bounty on him? Or see if anyone knows who the masked ass**le might be? I wonder why the guy bothered to wear a mask. Kinks, do you think, or maybe he was someone she knew and he didn't want her to recognize him?"

Bones parked and gave me an unfathomable look. "Either one is a possibility, but regardless, I think it's best if you bow out now."

"Oh, don't give me that unsafe crap again!" I said, instantly angry. "You think I can see what was done to Emily, know it's going on with countless other girls, and just hide under my bed? Remember, I was supposed to be one of those girls! I'm not bowing out, no way!"

"Look, it's not your bravery that's in question," he replied with an edge.

"Then what?"

"I saw your face. The look in your eyes when I spoke to Charlie. You wondered if I was going to join Hennessey. Deep down, you still don't trust me."

He hit the steering wheel with his last comment. It dented, and I winced from more than the accusation in his words.

"You were doing a great job acting, and I got confused. God, can you really blame me? Every day for the past six years I've had it drummed into my head that all vampires are lying, vicious scum, and to date, by the way, you're the only one I've met who isn't!"

Bones let out an amazed snort. "Do you realize that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me?"

"Was Tara your girlfriend?"

It just flew out. I sucked in a horrified breath. Good Lord, why did I ask that?

"Never mind," I said quickly. "It doesn't matter. Look, about last night...I think we both made a mistake. Hell, you've probably realized that as well, so I'm sure you'll also agree that it should never happen again. I didn't mean to flake out earlier with Charlie, but old habits die hard. Okay, bad metaphor there, but you get my point. We'll work together, bring down Hennessey and whoever else is in his little gang, and then we'll, ah, go our separate ways. No harm, no foul."

He stared at me silently for several moments. "'Fraid I can't agree to that," he finally answered.

"But why? I'm great as bait! All the vampires want to eat me!"

A small smile touched his mouth even as I mentally groaned at my choice of words. Bones reached over and stroked my face.

"I can't just let us go our separate ways, Kitten, because I am in love with you. I love you."

My mouth fell open and my mind briefly cleared of thought. Then I found my voice.

"No, you don't."

He let out a snort and dropped his hand. "You know, pet, that is one truly annoying habit you have, telling me what I do and do not feel. After living for over two hundred and forty-one years, I think I know my own mind."

"Are you just saying that to have sex with me?" I asked suspiciously, remembering Danny and all of his cutesy lies.

He gave me an annoyed look. "Knew you'd think such a thing. That's why I didn't say anything before, because I never wanted you to wonder if I were merely lying to cajole you into bed. However, to be rudely blunt, I've already gotten you on your back, and it wasn't by declaring my devotion to you. I simply don't care to hide my feelings any longer."

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