"Who's got the keys?"
A wracking cough, then a pained moan followed his response. "Kenny...'ocket...'illed him..."
"In the dead bloke's pocket?"
"Kitten, if you would?"
I began digging inside the pants of the body. Nothing, front or back. Then I patted down the shirt pockets. Bingo.
"Cooper, take their ride and drive it to Twenty-eighth and Weber Street. Wait there, we'll pick you up when we're through."
"Keep your cell handy, just in case," I added, not commenting about the irony of a black man driving a truck with a Rebel flag.
"Right then, mate." Bones dropped the man into the trunk and slammed the lid down. "Watch your heads."
CANDLERIDGE PARK'S SIGN SAID THERE WERE a number of scenic trails and nature paths, but that wasn't why we were there. No, we were there to bury a body. Hopefully, just one.
Fabian floated above the trees, having hitched inside Spade's car without a word. He had to be touching something to travel long distances. The exception was if he was in a ley line, which I still didn't understand. Something about invisible energy currents that acted like spiritual highways. Later, I'd ask him about it in more detail. Right now, I was arguing with Bones. Again.
"Spade acting in the heat of the moment is one thing, but if you kill these guys now, it'll be in cold blood, Bones. They should go to jail, plus get some brainwashing to have them march in every Take Back the Night parade, not to mention civil rights, as soon as they're let out. But they have families who don't deserve to grieve over their sorry dead asses."
"Everyone has someone who cares for them," Bones replied without pity. "Even monsters. It's not fair, but it doesn't change the necessity."
"The gun wasn't loaded," I muttered, switching tactics. "I checked. Besides, it's not like anything would have happened. I had it under control - "
"Is that even the bloody point?"
Exasperated, Bones shut off the engine and turned to face me.
"You can't hear their thoughts. I can. This isn't the first time they've done such a thing, and even if you stopped them and flogged them into hysterical apologies, their intentions were the same. If they weren't human, would you be arguing with me over killing them?"
He had me there. From the look in his eyes, he knew it, too.
"Vampires and ghouls have their own rules." I tried again. "They'd know what would happen if they did such a thing. These bozos didn't get a copy of that playbook. They deserve jail time, yes, but not death."
Bones snorted. "Why didn't it occur to them that they were doing something so appalling, if they were caught, they'd be executed on the spot? It's not my fault that vampires have a fairer form of punishment for r**ists than humans do."
I put my head in my hands. It was aching. Granted, it probably hurt a lot less than Bushy Hair's must have when it hit the parking lot concrete. Logically, Bones was correct. But it still felt wrong.
"You've obviously made up your mind, so do whatever you're going to do. You're too strong for me to stop you."
Bones gave me an unfathomable stare before climbing out of the car and opening the trunk. I listened as he made the two men carry their friend into the woods. Then Bones ordered them to dig with their hands. It was maybe forty minutes before they were done. Then I heard something like a resigned sigh.
"This goes against my better judgment, Kitten...Look right here, both of you. You will go to the nearest police station and make a confession of every blasted crime you've ever committed, excluding only this burial tonight. When you are arrested, you will refuse an attorney, and when you are in front of a judge, you will plead guilty. You will spend your allotted time behind bars knowing you deserve every second of it. Now take your worthless lives and go."
When Bones came back to the car, I was still wiping at my eyes. He shut the driver's door and let out a self-deprecating snort.
"Has it been so wretched lately that letting scoundrels escape punishment is the highlight of our time together?"
The words were flippant; the expression on his face wasn't. It was filled with a regret that I caught before he masked it back into composure.
"It's because this shows that you still care, despite how crappy things have been lately."
There was that flash across his face again. "Did you really think I'd ceased to care? Kitten, I care so much it wrecks me."
I hurtled myself across the car, latching my arms around him and feeling the mind-numbing relief of his answering embrace.
"I can't believe I was so pissed before about being unemployed and without a wallet," I choked, realizing how absurd that was compared to what really mattered.
"Nothing." I kissed him, a deep, searching kiss that wiped out the estrangement of the past several days. "How fast can you make it back to the motel?"
His gaze lit up with lovely, hungry green.
"Good." It was almost a moan. "I'll call Cooper and tell him we'll see him in the morning."
Bones rolled down his window. "Fabian," he called out, "get your ghostly arse back in the car, we're leaving."
Bones did make good time back to the Red Roof Inn. The thought of that uncomfortable mattress with those thin blankets sounded sinfully appealing to me now. Yet while we were waiting at a stoplight about a mile away, pain sliced into my skull.
...understand this man will stop at nothing, and you'll never be safe...
"Gregor," I breathed, so low it was barely a sound.
"Where?" Bones whipped his head around.
...ensure your protection, but you must trust me, cherie...
"Oh, Jesus," I whispered. "Bones...I think he's at the hotel!"
Bones made a U-turn, then hit the accelerator. Brakes squealed, and other vehicles slammed to a stop while horns blared. He hadn't bothered to wait for the light.
"Fabian," Bones said in a tight voice, "go back to the hotel to check. We'll be at the gates of the park we just left."
"I will be quick." Fabian promised, and he vanished. We didn't even have to slow down.
Bones continued to floor it, checking the rearview mirror. After several miles, he pulled over at a gas station.
"Come on, luv, time to switch cars."
We got out. The man fueling his Honda next to us only had time to say, "What the - ?" before Bones hit him with his gaze.
"This is your car now," he said. "And yours is mine."
"My car," the man repeated, eyes glazing.
"Right. Go home and clean it, it's ghastly dirty."
"Wait until he starts on the trunk," I mumbled, getting into the man's vehicle.
Bones drove less aggressively this time, but he still went way above the speed limit. Instead of the direct route to the park, he took side roads. Once we reached the park, Bones pulled under a tree, shutting off the engine and the headlights.
In the quiet, my accelerated breathing sounded too loud. "Do you - do you think - "
"Why do you believe Gregor's at the motel?"
He asked it as nonchalantly as if he were inquiring, paper or plastic? That didn't fool me. His knuckles were almost white on the steering wheel.
How to explain? "I got these sharp pains in my head, and I could hear him, only he wasn't talking to me now. I think it was memories of what he'd said before, and the only other time it happened was when he was close, on the street in New Orleans."
A pause. Then, "What did he say?"
"You couldn't hear it?" That surprised me.
"No." The mildness drained from his tone. "Else I wouldn't ask."
"Um, okay. The first one was quick, just a fragment. Something about there not being a cherry farm in France. This time, he was warning me that someone was after me."
Bones grunted. "That sounds very present tense, don't you agree?"
"Yeah, it does," I mused. "But somehow, I still think it was a memory."
Fabian appeared at the windshield. The sudden sight of him made me jump in my seat. He could sure sneak up on someone.
"The yellow-haired vampire was there," he announced. "He was behind the motel with six others. I don't think they saw me."
Bones stared at me. His gaze was filled with something I couldn't name.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly.
His fist shot out.
When my eyes opened, I saw darkness with slight flickers of light around the edges. I was sitting, but not in the car. It sounded like we were on a plane.
Immediately, I reached for the blindfold, but cool hands stopped me.
I turned in the direction of his voice. "Get this off me."
"No. Quit squirming and let me talk."
I froze, remembering. "You knocked me out."
"Yes." Wariness edged his tone. "Are you going to sit still?"
"Depends. Why'd you hit me?" He'd better have a damn good reason.
"Remember when I said the only people who could be informing Gregor of our whereabouts were in the car? Liza, Band-Aid, and Hopscotch didn't know where we were staying in Fort Worth, and even if they did, they've been without means to communicate. Denise and Spade didn't know where we were staying. Fabian was with us the entire time, and if somehow he were a traitor, he could have said Gregor wasn't waiting at the hotel. That leaves only you and me. I haven't told Gregor anything, so that leaves...you."
I was stunned. "You think I've been sneaking behind your back with Gregor?"
"Not on purpose, but in the same way Gregor maneuvered you to Paris, and communicated with you in your dreams; who's to say he hasn't found a way to eavesdrop as well? It's a guess, Kitten, but if I'm wrong, you only lose some time awake."
And if he was right...
"What's your plan? Smack me into a coma and wait to see if Gregor goes away?" I'd thought nothing was worse than feeling helpless, but being a potential liability? That was worse.
"Of course not. But when we change locations, I want you to take those pills so you'll sleep. If you don't know where we are, but Gregor's still able to track you, we'll know it's not from his picking through your mind while you dream."
God, this sucked. Like waiting to see if an animal was rabid, I'd be penned and quarantined.
"Then why did you bother waking me? We're on a plane. I can hear the engines. Why not wait until we got to where we're going?"
"You need to eat and drink, and I thought you'd like to freshen up."
Once again I reached for the blindfold, and once again he stopped me.
"Leave it on."
"Why? I already know we're on a plane, but I can't navigate by the clouds!"
"You don't know what kind of plane," Bones replied intractably. "Make, model, type; these things could be used to trace you. It's just for a little while, Kitten."
Just for little while if he was wrong. But for how long if he was right?
"Fine. Which is first, the feeding or the cleaning? I don't know whether to open my mouth or take off my clothes."
He didn't say anything for a moment. Then, "I'm sorry."
"Does that mean you're going to hit me? Last time you apologized, my head got dented."
I clung to flippancy to avoid bursting into tears at the thought that somehow I was the one who'd been tipping Gregor off.
"It's your preference, and no, I'm not going to hit you."
I wished I could see his eyes. They'd have told me more about what he was really thinking. But all I had was his voice, and Bones was keeping it carefully controlled.
"Then show me the way to the bathroom. Even I can tell that I stink."
However long I'd been out, it wasn't for only a quick nap. My bladder was squealing, and my mouth tasted filmy. Charming.
His fingers curled around mine. "I'll show you."
Left with no other choice except to stumble around, I let Bones lead me.
I used the tiny bathroom sink to wash my hair. That was interesting to do while keeping my eyes closed, since I'd insisted the blindfold be removed. Bones stayed in the doorway the entire time, handing me whatever I needed. From the sounds, there were others on the plane with us. Even though none of them would peek, I felt exposed with the door open. When I was finished, he gave me new clothes.
Then I got spoon-fed. With every bite of what tasted like chicken, my sense of despair rose. So much for equality in our relationship. I couldn't be more useless right now. When Bones handed me the four caplets, I gulped them down eagerly. Better to be knocked out than this.
Bones woke me again after however long, and we repeated the procedure. The sightless rocking and lolling told me we were still on a plane, but it might have been a different one. The engine sounded throatier. Again I snatched at the pills and washed them down, this time refusing to be spoon-fed. I wasn't going to starve, and keeping hydrated was the only real concern. Bones didn't argue. He just stroked my head while I waited for them to take effect.
The last thing I heard before blackness claimed me was, "...landing soon, Crispin." It sounded like Spade. Or maybe I was already dreaming.
MY EYES OPENED, ADJUSTING TO THE BRIGHT light of the room. I was still swallowing Bones's familiar-tasting blood when I became aware that it was from a glass, not a vein.