Halfway to the Grave

Page 50

"Call me if you need anything, promise me. Be careful, Catherine."

"I promise, Mom. I will."

Oh, what a tangled web we weave...What I was going to do next was far, far from careful, but I was doing it anyway. A soon as she left, I picked up the phone and dialed.

While I was waiting, I took a shower and put on new clothes. Not night clothes, because that seemed too obvious, but regular clothing. The time apart this week had been rough, and for more than just the scary fact that I missed him. My mother made her usual comments about how all vampires deserved to die and for me to keep hunting them, in between admonitions to study diligently. I'd cringed with guilt every time I had to nod and agree with her so she didn't get suspicious.

My hair was still wet from washing it when I heard him rap twice. I opened the door...and the last few days fell away. Bones stepped through the entrance and locked it behind him while pulling me into his arms in one motion. God, but he was beautiful, with those chiseled cheekbones and pale skin, his body hard and seeking. His mouth covered mine before I could get a breath in, and then I didn't need to breathe because I was too busy kissing him. My hands trembled when they reached up to grasp his shoulders and then clenched when he reached under my waistband to feel inside.

"I can't breathe," I gasped, wrenching my head away.

His mouth went to my throat, lips and tongue moving over the sensitive skin as he bent my spine until only his arms held me upright.

"I missed you," he growled, restlessly pulling off my clothes. He swept me up in his arms and asked a single question. "Where?"

I jerked my head in the vicinity of my bedroom, too busy feasting on his skin to answer. He carried me into the small room and nearly flung me on the bed.

A tentative knock at my door the next morning made me groan as I rolled over. The clock showed nine-thirty. Bones had left right before dawn with a whispered promise to meet me here later. He said my apartment had too much exposure for him to sleep. Whatever that meant.

I stumbled into my robe, fastening my attention to the doorway where the knock had come from. Heartbeat, whoever it was, and only one. That made me leave my knives in the bedroom. Opening the door armed might set a bad tone if it was my landlord.

The sound of footsteps retreating had me snatch the door open in time to see a young man about to disappear into the unit next to mine.

"Hey!" I said, a little sharper than I'd intended.

He stopped almost guiltily, and it was then that I noticed the small basket near my feet. A quick glance showed it contained ramen noodles, Tylenol, and pizza coupons.

"College survival kit," he said, coming toward me with a hesitant smile. "I guessed from seeing you unload your books last night that you're attending school, too. I'm your neighbor, Timmie. Uh, Tim. I mean Tim."

The obvious cover-up of a nickname had me smiling. Childhood baggage was hard to overcome. In my case, I'd never get past mine.

"I'm Cathy," I replied, using my school name again. "Thanks for the goodies, and I didn't mean to bark at you. I'm just grouchy when I wake up."

He was instantly apologetic. "I'm sorry! I just assumed you'd be awake. Jeez, am I dumb. Go back to sleep, please."

He turned to go into his apartment, and something about his hunched shoulders and awkward demeanor reminded me of...me. That was how I felt on the inside most of the time. Unless I was killing someone.

"It's okay," I said quickly. "Er, I had to get up anyway, and the alarm clock must not have gone off, so...do you have any coffee?"

I didn't even really like coffee, but he'd made a nice gesture and I didn't want him feeling bad. Seeing the relief that washed over him made me glad for the small lie.

"Coffee," he repeated with another shy smile. "Yeah. Come on in."

I wasn't wearing anything under the robe. "Give me a second."

After throwing on sweatpants and a T-shirt, I padded over in slippers to Timmie's place. He'd left the door open, and the aroma of Folgers filled the air. It was the same brand my grandparents had brewed all my life. In a way, it was comforting to smell it.

"Here." He handed me a mug and I sat on the stool by his counter. The layouts of our apartments were identical, except of course Timmie's place had furniture. "Cream and sugar?"


I studied him as he went about the small kitchen. Timmie was only a few inches taller than me, not quite six feet, and had sandy-colored hair and taupe eyes. He wore glasses and had the type of frame that looked like it had only filled out from the skinniness of adolescence recently. My internal suspicious radar so far hadn't picked up anything threatening about him. Still, it seemed every time someone was nice to me, he or she had ulterior motives. Danny? One-night stand. Ralphie and Martin? Attempted date rape. Stephanie? White slavery. I had a reason to be paranoid. If I felt even the slightest bit woozy after drinking this coffee, Timmie was going down for the count.

"So, uh, Cathy, are you from Ohio?" he asked, fumbling with his own cup.

"Born and bred," I replied. "You?"

He nodded, spilling some coffee onto the counter and then jumping back with a surreptitious glance at me, as if afraid I'd reprimand him. "Sorry. I'm a klutz. Oh, um, yeah, I'm from here, too. Powell. My mom's a bank manager there, and I got a kid sister who's starting high school who still lives with her. It's been just the three of us since my dad died. Car accident. I don't even remember him. Not that you wanted to know all that. Sorry. I babble sometimes."

He also had a habit of apologizing every other sentence. Hearing about his fatherless state made me feel another bond of kinship with him. Deliberately I took a swig of coffee...and let a little bit dribble out of the side of my mouth.

"Oops!" I said with feigned embarrassment. "Excuse me. I drool sometimes when I drink."

Another lie, but Timmie smiled, handing me a napkin while the nervousness eased off him. There was nothing like having someone be a bigger goof to boost one's own self-confidence.

"That's better than being a klutz. I'm sure a lot of people do that."

"Oh yeah, there's a club of us," I quipped. "Droolers Anonymous. I'm on Step One in my membership. Admitting that I'm powerless over my slobbering and my life has become unmanageable."

Timmie was in the process of taking another sip when he started to laugh. Coffee came out of his nose as a result, and then his eyes bulged, aghast.

"I'm sorry!" he choked, making it worse by trying to talk. More coffee emerged, spraying me in the face. His eyes bugged in horror, but I laughed so hard at seeing him leak like a thermos with holes that I started to hiccup.

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