Halfway to the Grave

Page 81

"We have a deal," I said to Don, steeling myself. "If you meet my conditions."

"Name them. I'll tell you straight out if they're impossible."

He struggled to climb back into the wheelchair, but I watched him without pity.

"One, I command any teams that hunt vampires. There's no way I'm going to listen to any brass-striped and -buttoned fool when it comes to battle. I'm superior to any of your men and I don't care that I'm younger. We do things my way and I train and pick my own team. If they don't meet my standards, then they stay at home."

My voice was granite and I didn't blink. He nodded briskly, all business.

"Two, we leave right away, and we don't come back here. You forget about my undead friend. I'm not backstabbing someone who helped rescue my mother and has done me no harm. If you can't handle that, then we quit speaking, because if I ever hear differently, you'll wish more than my mother does now that I'd never been born. Believe me, you'll have plenty of other dead vampires to play with by the time I'm through."

Don hesitated for only a moment and then shrugged. "I want to win the war, not just one battle. I'll agree to that. Provided, of course, you have no further contact with him or any other nonhuman friends you may have acquired. I won't endanger my people needlessly or open my division to infiltration because you like how something is in the sack."

His emphasis on thing was deliberate. So he had prejudice issues as well.

"Three, there is a length-of-service agreement. Even soldiers get to quit after a period of time. I don't want to be enslaved to you for the rest of my natural life, however short that may turn out to be. Ten years, and not a minute more."

He frowned and pulled at his eyebrow. "What if after that time special circumstances come up? Monsters don't send us notice in advance to warn us of the trouble they plan. How about ten years' full duty, and then after that, three missions a year of our choice for another three years? That seems fair, doesn't it?"

"Three missions a year, not to exceed one month in total time length combined. Done."

Thirteen years. That was way too long to expect Bones to wait for me, even if he didn't age.

"Four, you set me and my mother up in separate residences but in one place. I am not going to be traveling like a gypsy from barrack to barrack or whatever you call them. I want a house, nothing fancy but mine, and a salary. Give my mother a home as well, just not too close to mine. Same state, different cities ought to do it. This arrangement with her will continue even if I die on the job. She gets my salary if I'm killed, understood? And you're also going to take care of those girls who were rescued last night. Get them the best counseling money can buy, and make sure they're set up with a good job and a place to stay also. They were chosen because they don't have that. You're going to give it to them."

Don gave the faintest smile. "We would have done that anyway. You'll find if you cooperate, we can have a mutually beneficial association for everyone involved."

"I doubt it," I said wearily. "But it's a deal nonetheless. Last but absolutely not least, I refuse to go after vampires who aren't killing people. This may sound like an oxymoron to you, but in my experience, I've met vampires who drank only enough to live and didn't kill unnecessarily. They can feed off someone without their knowledge afterwards. I'll kill killers, not sippers. Find someone else to hunt those for you, and good luck."

Tate Bradley stirred, moaning softly and sitting up while pressing a hand to his bleeding head. Guess I'd cracked his skull a bit. He stood, but swayed and gave me a very unpleasant look.

"You hit me again and I'll-"

"What? Bleed more? Thanks, but I only drink gin and tonic. That's one vampire attribute I'm without. No fangs, see?"

With a wide smile I bared my teeth at him and returned his nasty stare. If he hated me now, wait until I started to train him. Then he'd know hatred.

Don coughed. "I'm sure we'll be able to find enough unsavory types to keep you sufficiently busy so we won't have to hunt the ones you feel are harmless." The edge to his words told me he thought nothing undead was harmless. But the potential for harm wasn't limited to vampires. I knew that from experience now. "Then we are finished. I'll arrange to have you and your mother transported out of here immediately. Tate will accompany you to the airport, and you two should get to know one another. Tate, meet your new team leader, Catherine."

"My name is Cat."

It flew out of my mouth. Everything in my life was about to change, but some things I was keeping.

Bradley held open the door and Don once again wheeled out. Bradley paused for a moment and shook his head at me.

"Can't say it's been a pleasure meeting you, but I'll see you soon. Try to let me stay conscious next time."

My brow arched at him, shades of the vampire I loved. "We'll see."

Chapter Twenty-Six

TO GIVE CREDIT WHERE IT WAS DUE, DON WAS as good as his word in setting up my transportation. Within an hour, I was dressed and waiting in my mother's room, sans handcuffs. I'd finally showered to wash off all of the blood, and while in there, I allowed myself to cry, since it mixed with the water and felt camouflaged. Yet looking down at my mother now, my eyes were dry as sand.


I'd just finished speaking to her about the offer and my subsequent acceptance of it. Some of the repugnance had left her face while I talked and at last she took my hand.

"You're doing the right thing. The only thing to save yourself from a future of evil."

Bitterness wafted from me and a small, selfish part of me hated her. If not for her, I could just disappear with Bones and live the rest of my life with the man I loved. Yet it was no more her fault for her unyielding hatred of vampires than it was my fault for being born. In this case, we were even.

"I don't think it's saving me from a future of evil, but I'm doing it anyway."

"Don't be stupid, Catherine. Of course it is. How long could you have continued your relationship with that creature before he turned you into a vampire? If he cared for you as you claim he did, then he wouldn't want to sit back and watch you age over time, would he? Moving closer to death each year, as all humans do. Why, when he could change you and extend your youth indefinitely? That's what he'll do to you if you stay with him, and if you weren't being blind, you'd already know it."

Much as I hated to admit it, she had brought up a very obvious point I'd let myself ignore. What would happen to our relationship in ten years? Twenty? More? God, she was right. Bones wouldn't just sit back and watch me die of old age. He'd want me to change over, and I would never do it. Maybe we'd been doomed from the start, and my mother's prejudice and Don's offer were just proof of that. You fight the battles you can win, Bones had repeatedly said. Well, I couldn't win this battle, but I could keep him safe. I could keep my mother safe, and then use what was in me to keep other people safe. Put in perspective, a broken heart wasn't such a terrible price to pay. I might be looking at a future without him, but it was still a future. Considering all the girls Hennessey had taken who didn't have that anymore, it would be an insult for me to squander my life when theirs had been robbed from them.

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