Halfway to the Grave

Page 51

"It's contagious!" I managed to get out. "There's no escape from the drool disease once you catch it!"

He laughed again, compounding his problem. I hiccuped, Timmie gasped and sputtered, and both of us looked like mental patients to anyone who would have happened by the still-open door. I ended up handing him the same napkin he'd given me, trying to control my giggles while instinctively knowing I'd found a friend.

I headed over to the cave Monday afternoon after my classes. A couple miles before I made my turn onto the gravel road that ended at the edge of the woods, I passed a Corvette parked to the side with its hazard lights on. No one was inside. I almost huffed to myself in superiority. Whose old Chevy was tooling past a broken-down, sixty-thousand-dollar sports car? So there!

I was whistling the little tune Darryl Hannah made famous in Kill Bill when I entered the cave. That's when I felt the change in the air. The disturbance. Someone was lurking about fifty yards ahead, and whoever it was didn't have a heartbeat. What I also instinctively knew was that it wasn't Bones.

I kept whistling, not letting my heart rate accelerate or my cadence falter. I wasn't armed. My knives and wood-coated stakes were back at the apartment, and my second set was in the dressing area behind this unknown person. Weaponless, I was at a distinct disadvantage, but there was no way I was turning around. Bones must be in trouble, or worse, since I didn't sense him here. Someone had found his hideout, and empty-handed or not, I wasn't going anywhere but forward.

I progressed as casually as possible, my mind racing. What could I use as a weapon? My options were dismal. This was a cave, there was nothing around but dirt and...

I reached down while ducking under one of the lower slopes in the ceiling of the cave, the action concealing what I scooped up. The person was coming toward me now, moving soundlessly. My fingers tightened around what I held as I rounded the next bend, bringing the intruder into view.

A tall man with longish spiky black hair was about twenty feet from me. He smiled as he approached, confident in his presumed superiority.

"You, my beauteous redhead, must be Cat."

The name I'd given Hennessey. This must be one of his goons and somehow he'd found Bones. I prayed I wasn't too late and he hadn't killed him.

I smiled back coldly. "Like what you see? How about now?"

And I flung the rocks I'd gathered straight into his eyes. I put all my force behind it, knowing it wouldn't be lethal but hoping to temporarily incapacitate him. His head snapped back and I sprang at him, seizing my chance while he was blinded. My momentum knocked him off his feet and both of us went down. Immediately I grasped his head, smashing him face-first into the stone ground, wedging the rocks deeper into his eyes. I straddled his back when his thrashing almost threw me off, using my weight and squeezing him with my thighs as hard as I could. All the while I bashed his head, I was cursing at his strength. A Master vampire without a doubt. Well, what did I expect? If he was a weakling, Bones would have greeted me, not him.

"Stop it! Stop!" he howled.

I put more effort into it instead. "Where's Bones? Where is he?"

"Christ, he said he was on his way!"

He had an English accent. I hadn't noticed that before, being so wrapped up in my concern. I stopped banging his head, but kept it ground into the stony floor.

"You're one of Hennessey's men. Why would you let him know you're waiting for him?"

"Because I'm Crispin's bloody best friend, not one of that scoundrel's dingos!" he said indignantly.

That answer I wasn't expecting. He'd also called Bones by his real name, and I didn't know if that was common knowledge. I had a split second to debate with myself, then I grabbed another rock, using one hand to keep his head where it was. With the pointy end of the stone, I jabbed him in the back.

"Feel that? It's silver. You move and I ram it right through your heart. Maybe you're Bones's friend and maybe you're not. Since I'm not the trusting sort, we'll wait for him. If he's not here soon like you said, I'll know you were lying, and then it'll be curtains for you."

I almost held my breath, waiting to see if he called my bluff. Since I hadn't pierced his skin, he shouldn't be able to feel that this wasn't silver. I hoped vampires didn't have a sixth sense about their kryptonite. My big plan, if he wasn't a friend, was to jam it through his heart anyway and then run like hell for my silver. If I got to it in time.

"If you'd refrain from slamming my face any more into this dirty rock floor, I'll do whatever you like," was his even reply. "Fancy letting my head go?"

"Sure," I said with an unpleasant snicker, not relinquishing an ounce of pressure. "How about I let you floss with my jugular as well? I don't think so."

He made an exasperated noise that sounded very familiar. "Come on, this is ridiculous-"

"Shut up." I didn't want his chatter distracting me from hearing when-or if-Bones arrived. "Lie there and play dead, or you will be."

Twenty cramped minutes later, my heart leapt when I heard steady footfalls coming toward the cave. Then a feeling of power I recognized filled up the space as those footsteps came closer.

Bones rounded the corner and stopped short. A single dark brow arched even as I leaned back, letting go of the vampire's head at last.

"Charles," Bones said distinctly. "You'd better have a splendid explanation for her being on top of you."

Chapter Sixteen

THE BLACK-HAIRED VAMPIRE ROSE TO HIS FEET as soon as I jumped off, brushing the dirt off his clothes.

"Believe me, mate, I've never enjoyed a woman astride me less. I came out to say hallo, and this she-devil blinded me by flinging rocks in my eyes. Then she vigorously attempted to split my skull before threatening to impale me with silver if I so much as even twitched! It's been a few years since I've been to America, but I daresay the method of greeting a person has changed dramatically!"

Bones rolled his eyes and clapped him on the shoulder. "I'm glad you're still upright, Charles, and the only reason you are is because she didn't have any silver. She'd have staked you right and proper otherwise. She has a tendency to shrivel someone first and then introduce herself afterwards."

"That's uncalled for!" I said, insulted at the suggestion that I was homicidal.

"Right." Bones let that go. "Kitten, this is my best mate, Charles, but you can call him Spade. Charles, this is Cat, the woman I've been telling you about. You can see for yourself that everything I've said is...an understatement."

From his tone, that didn't sound altogether complimentary, but I felt a tad bit guilty about what I'd done to the lanky vampire eying me, so I didn't comment and just held out my hand.

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