Home > This Side of the Grave (Night Huntress #5)(11)

This Side of the Grave (Night Huntress #5)(11)
Author: Jeaniene Frost

"Marie's first loyalty is to herself, and if I were a betting woman, I'd say she's already made up her mind whether she's backing Apollyon or not. Our only shot is the fact that war would be bad for everyone involved, not just vampires. If Marie didn't always insist on face-to-face meetings, we could save time by just asking her over the phone. Or texting her." Then the mental image of potentially getting a text from Marie reading "i kill u" made me laugh. Marie didn't mince words once she'd determined a course of action, so I wouldn't put such a thing past her.

Bones gave me an inquiring look, but I waved a hand.

"Never mind. Just my warped sense of humor. So, Mencheres, I don't suppose you've had any recent visions about where Apollyon's base of operations is, hmm? Or whether he'll whip the ghouls into the same hysterical frenzy as last time?" He opened his mouth, but Kira beat him to it, her aura sparking and eyes flashing green.

"Don't pressure him. He already feels guilty that he can't see anything about this." I bit back the laugh that rose in my throat, feeling a similar wave of amusement sweep over Bones even though nothing changed in his expression. Kira's hackles rising in protectiveness for a vampire who could kill all of us without even getting up from his seat was just too funny. So was the quelling look Mencheres shot us before murmuring something soothing to her, obviously picking up on Bones's humor through their shared power connection, if not mine as well.

"You're right, Kira. Mencheres, I'm sorry," I said, managing to make my voice contrite despite my ribs aching with suppressed laughter. "Um, anyway, we wanted to give you guys a heads-up about where we're headed and why. You know, in case we're never heard from again." I said the last part jokingly, but the grim reality was that it was true. Marie Laveau normally promised safe passage to and from any meetings with her, but with her being the ghoul queen of New Orleans, these circumstances with Apollyon made things a little different. She might decide it was in the best interest of her species to go back on her word just this once, and make our trip to the Big Easy a one-way journey.

"We will go with you," Mencheres stated.

"No," Bones replied softly. "You'll stay here protecting our line in case anything does happen. That way, our people will remain safe."

The faintest smile ghosted across Mencheres's lips. Bones had just repeated the same argument the Egyptian vampire used on him two months ago, when it had been Mencheres refusing Bones's help in a dangerous situation.

"Very well," he said, with a graceful tilt of his head. "I shall stay. Perhaps Spade can accompany you in my stead."

"There's a problem with that," I pointed out. "One, I know Bones's best friend, and Spade won't want Denise to go if it's dangerous, which it will be. Two, I know my best friend, and hell no will Denise agree to stay behind. Plus, all we need is for Apollyon to find out that Denise is now a shapeshifter for him to really have something to go batshit over." I didn't add that if anyone found out what was in Denise's demonically altered blood, she would have even less of a chance at survival than I would if the vampire nation decided to offer me up to Apollyon. While Mencheres already knew and I didn't think Kira was untrustworthy, I didn't know how many other undead ears were in this house in addition to Gorgon.

"What about Vlad?" Kira asked. "He's tough and scary."

"Not the show hound," Bones grumbled, while at the same time I said, "Good idea." His brows rose as he turned to me. I cleared my throat, squirming a little under that lasered brown gaze.

"Well, it is," I replied, straightening. "Just because you don't like him doesn't mean he's not our best bet, and while he might refuse to do it if it was just you going, odds are he'll say yes because I'll be there."

Bones's mouth twisted in a way that told me that wasn't the best argument I could've used. "Because we're friends," I quickly added. "Vlad's big on being there for his friends."

"I don't question Tepesh's taste in regarding you as a friend. Just yours for feeling the same way about him," Bones muttered.

I couldn't resist a slight grin. "Maybe because he reminds me of someone I love." Bones snorted in disagreement, but out of the corner of my eye, I caught something he didn't - Mencheres's wink at me. It startled me so much that I whipped my head around to stare at him, but by the time I did, the vampire's expression was as smooth and impenetrable as a pond at midnight.

"Tepesh doesn't need to go with us," Bones said at last. "His presence could be construed as a threat by Marie since she knows damn well he and I don't fancy each other. If he's in a nearby city, however, that would be close enough for him to provide assistance, should we require it."

Considering Vlad could fly, if it wasn't close enough, then we were screwed anyway. But I didn't say that out loud. Everyone here already knew it.

Chapter Twelve

The Ritz-Carlton hotel was locatedon the very edge of the French Quarter, facing Canal Street. Its exterior was a beautiful combination of modern architecture and old-style Southern influence, with white plaster and carved lion gargoyles adorning the building. As we checked in, the staff was polite to the point of obsequiousness, making me want to tell them to relax; I wasn't that hard to please. Only when I'd stayed at Vlad's house had my ass been so thoroughly kissed, and the management here didn't have a reputation for expressing displeasure with their people by impaling them on long wooden poles. At least, not that I knew of.

Once inside the elevator leading up to our floor, however, I understood the reason for the employees' over-the-top graciousness. If the fur-clad woman next to me had her nose any higher in the air, she'd get altitude sickness - and really, who wore a full-length fur coat in the summer time, anyway? The man with her, her husband, I deduced from their matching rings, also looked like a stick took up permanent residence in his ass. She gave me a cool glance, her gaze traveling over my windblown hair and somewhat unkempt appearance with a disdain that took me right back to my days as a small-town outcast. Hey, for riding straight through from Chicago to New Orleans on a motorcycle, I looked pretty damn good. Nary a bug in my teeth or anything.

A slight sniff accompanied her turning away to whisper, "Clientele here seems to have slipped," to her husband, loud enough that even without supernatural hearing, I would've heard her. My teeth ground together while I reminded myself that mesmerizing her into believing her ass had just grown by five sizes was not a mature thing to do.

The elevator doors opened in the next moment, thankfully on the couple's floor. As they exited, Bones gave the husband a bland smile.

"She's rogering the plumber every Thursday while you're at the club. Did you really think your loo needed repairs four times this past month?" The woman let out a shocked gasp even as her husband's face became mottled.

"You told me he was laying pipe, Lucinda!"

Bones grunted. "Right you are, mate."

The doors closed just as the woman began to sputter out an indignant, yet unconvincing, denial. My jaw still swung open at the whole exchange.

"Bones!" I finally managed.

"Serves the sow right for what she was thinking about you, and he was no better" was his unrepentant reply. "Now they'll have something else to occupy their time aside from looking down their noses at people."

Part of me was horrified at what he'd done, while another, less charitable part cackled shamelessly. God, the look on that woman's face! She'd had "busted" written all over her formerly haughty expression.

"Not like I broke some poor, innocent bloke's heart, either," Bones went on. "He's shagging his barrister. Pair of them deserve each other."

"This just reinforces my opinion that I don't want mind-reading powers," I said, shaking my head. "I never need to pick up on things like that from other people's heads." The elevator doors opened again, our floor this time. Bones's hand rested lightly on my back as we walked to our room. Once inside, my jaw dropped again. This wasn't a hotel room; it was the size of a house. I slowly looked around at the gorgeous hardwood floors, Oriental rugs, elegant antique furnishings, a dining room complete with crystal chandelier, ornate family room with gilded fireplace, floor-to-ceiling glass doors that afforded a view of the Mississippi River and the outdoor courtyard - and I hadn't even gotten to the bedroom yet. The other time we'd come to New Orleans, we'd stayed at Bones's town house in the Quarter, but we knew that would be the first place anyone looked for us, so checking into a hotel seemed safer.

Though a lot more expensive, judging from all the finery around me.

"Did we win the lottery and you forgot to tell me?"

He flashed me a grin as he tossed his jacket onto a nearby chair. "Know one of the advantages of being mates with a vampire who used to get regular visions of the future? Two words, luv. Investment advice."

I laughed even as I shrugged out of my own leather coat. "Now I have another reason to hope Mencheres's visions get back to full strength."

"Even so." He sauntered over, brushing my hair back from my face. "We have time to wash up and change, but don't get too comfortable. We're going out." My brows furrowed. "I thought we weren't seeing Marie until tomorrow night."

"We're not." Bones brushed the barest of kisses across my lips. "Tonight, we have other plans."

I looked at the river several stories below me, wondering if this was some sort of joke.

The bridge I stood atop of - under construction and therefore empty of commuters - swayed slightly in the breeze, or maybe that was just a result of me clutching the beam next to me too hard.

"Say again?" I called down to Bones. He stood at the bottom of the bridge, having flown there after dropping me off on the overhanging beam with only one word of explanation that I must have misheard.

"Jump," he repeated. No, I hadn't misheard him before.

I glanced back at the swirling waters of the Mississippi below. "If this is your way of saying you want a divorce . . ."

"You couldn't drown if you tried," he countered in amusement. "You haven't breathed for necessity in almost a year. Now quit dithering and jump. It's the best way for you to learn how to fly."

"Sounds like a really good way for me to learn how to fall while screaming instead." He grabbed two of the metal support beams under my section and rattled them. The subsequent vibrations were so strong that I let out a yelp while my grip on the rod next to me increased until it creaked. Damn him. He knew I didn't like heights.

"Ghouls can't fly, which gives vampires who can a large advantage over them," he called up. "I want you able to fly before we meet Marie tomorrow night, just in case we need to make a quick escape. You've flown twice before, which means you have the ability. You just need to sharpen it."

"I didn't fly, I just jumped very high," I corrected him, still holding on for dear afterlife.

"I don't even know how I did it."

"Your instincts kicked in under duress. Falling from this height should make you experience similar duress, allowing those instincts to take over again," he replied with more calm than was fair. "Come on, Kitten, jump. Or I'll throw you off."

"You throw me off this bridge, Bones, and you'll have a lot of celibacy in your future!" His lips curled in a way that said he wasn't worried. "Only means I'd have to work harder to change your mind, and you know how I love my work. Now quit stalling. If you're still up there in five minutes, I'm tossing you off."

I slowly uncurled my death grip from the beam. He'd do just what he said, and if I knew Bones, he'd already started the countdown. While common sense said he was right about his reasons for me learning to fly - plus, true, jumping couldn't kill me even if I belly flopped into the Mississippi - I still cursed him as I edged away from the beam.

"Sneaky, manipulating, merciless bloodsucker . . ."

A chuckle drifted up to me. "Pillow talk already? You'll have me hard before we're even back in our room."

"Well, I hope your hard self enjoys flogging the bishop tonight!" I snapped.

His laughter only increased. "Really, luv, I'm impressed. Wherever did you learn such a salty expression?"

I was a few feet away from the beam I'd held on to, nothing nearby to grasp anymore and only my balance keeping me from tumbling into the dark waters below. Jeez, it really was a long way down.

"From Spade. He was helping Denise brush up on her English slang."

"Ah, of course. Only three minutes left now, Kitten."

I looked out at the city's lights winking across the other side of the bridge, trying to steady my nerves. Even in the dark, I could see the buildings lining the water clearly. Every now and then, spectral forms caught my eye, ghosts seamlessly moving in and out of them and other structures as they went about their phantomy business. New Orleans truly was one of the most haunted places in the world, with more sentient ghosts than anywhere else I'd ever seen. Hell, this was where we'd adopted Fabian from.

"Final minute, luv. No more stalling," Bones said relentlessly.

Bastard. I straightened my shoulders, took in a deep breath for courage, and then sprang off the ledge of the bridge as if it were a diving board. Instantly my eyes watered with the sting of air whipping at them. Even though I knew this wouldn't kill me, a rush of panic still filled me as nothing happened except me falling faster toward the river. Almost madly, I began to windmill my arms, as if by doing that they'd suddenly sprout feathers and wing me away. This strategy of his wasn't working! I wasn't flying; I was falling like a dropped brick. God, I'd hit that water any moment . . .

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