Each word hammered into Bones like physical blows, I could tell from the emotions weaving into my subconscious. While I'd heard the story of Bones's past, it wasn't common knowledge, and Wraith had been spot-on with the dates and details. Plus, there was the resemblance. Both men had those high, chiseled cheekbones, thick brows, full yet firm mouths, and tall, proudly arrogant stances. Bones was a brown-eyed brunet and Wraith a blue-eyed blond, but if Wraith dyed his hair and got dark contacts, even a casual observer could guess they were related. Half-brothers, if what Wraith said was true.
"Close, but my mother's surname was Russell, not Maynard," Bones stated. "And neither she nor any of the women I grew up with even hinted that they knew who my father was. Now, over two hundred years later, you expect me to believe this tale of dukes and you being my long-lost brother?" His arm tightened around Wraith's neck. "Sorry, mate. I don't."
"I . . . ave . . . oof." The words were garbled from the pressure Bones put on the vampire's throat.
"Proof?" Bones asked, loosening his grip.
Wraith managed a nod. "If you stop throttling me, I'll show you."
Fabian followed us at a discreet distance as we walked down the winding gravel road that led to the bottom of the hill. If Wraith noticed the ghost flitting above the tree tops, he didn't comment. In fact, he seemed relaxed. Cheerful even, but I didn't let down my guard. I'd had people smile the whole time they attempted to kill me, so a jolly disposition might indicate good intentions if you were Santa Claus, but the same didn't go for vampires.
"How did you find my house?" Bones asked. He also hadn't lost an inch of his wariness, as the currents swirling around him indicated.
"I followed you from the hotel," Wraith replied.
I stopped short. "You're admitting you're the a**hole who carved up Annette?" Brother-in-law or not, he'd pay if he was.
Wraith sighed. "I rescued Annette by chasing that vampire off. Didn't catch him, though. By the time I returned to check on her, you were loading her into the car, and the lot of you looked angry enough to kill first and ask questions later."
Ian had said he'd heard a vampire when he first arrived. He'd thought it was the perpetrator fleeing the scene, but could it have been Wraith chasing after the real attacker?
"If that's true, why wouldn't Annette mention you when we arrived? And more importantly, where were you when some sod was painting the walls with her blood?"
Wraith cast a sideways glance at the flatness in Bones's tone. He wouldn't need to be linked to his emotions to know that Bones didn't believe this version of events.
"I was on my way to see her. You can check her mobile; the call she received right before she was attacked was me telling her I was running late. When I arrived, I heard something odd. Her door was unlocked, so I entered in time to see someone dash out the window. After checking that Annette was still alive, I chased him. As for why she didn't mention me, I can only guess it was due to a misguided attempt to keep the surprise."
"What surprise?" Bones and I asked in unison.
"That you have a brother," Wraith replied softly. "The news was to be Annette's birthday present to you."
Even with their similarity in appearance, it still seemed impossible to think that Wraith was Bones's brother. From the disbelief threading into my subconscious, Bones felt the same way.
"This vampire you chased, did you get a good look at him? Happen to recognize him?" I asked, changing the subject.
"Sorry, never seen him before. The only thing I can tell you is that he had dark hair and could fly like the wind."
A brunet vampire who could fly. That narrowed it down to at least ten thousand - not much help at all. We were almost at the bottom of the hill. Up ahead, a Buick was parked on the side of the road, its lights off.
"My car," Wraith said, nodding at it. Then he held out a set of keys. "The proof you seek is in the boot."
Bones didn't touch the keys, but a tight smile stretched his lips. "Don't think so. You open it."
Wraith snorted in a way that sounded very familiar. "Think I've wired it to explode? You're even more paranoid than your reputation."
"I'm also more impatient than my reputation," Bones replied coolly. "So get on with it."
With another noise of exasperation, Wraith set down his long stick and walked over to the back of the car. The trunk popped up without even a spark and Wraith pulled out a flat, sheet-draped, rectangular object.
"Here," he said, holding it out to Bones. "I also have archives, but if this doesn't convince you, those won't either."
Bones took it and pulled the sheet away. It was a painting; old, from the state of the framing and the canvas, but I didn't need more than a single glance at the subject to let out a gasp.
Bones said nothing, simply staring at the image of a man who bore an eerie resemblance to him, only his hair was corn-silk blond and he had lines around his mouth that looked too harsh to be caused by smiling. He wore a ruffled shirt and an embroidered coat with so many tassels, buttons, and braids that it looked like it could stand on its own. A jewel-handled dirk sticking out of his belt completed the image of extravagance, as if the arrogance in the man's expression wasn't clue enough that he'd been born to a life of luxury.
"Meet the Duke of Rutland," Wraith said, his voice breaking the heavy silence. "In case his face isn't proof enough, records show that he was christened Crispin Phillip Arthur Russell, the Second. My human name was Crispin Phillip Arthur Russell, the Third. Same as yours."
I flashed to eight years ago, when I was still getting to know Bones and he told me the reason behind his real name.
Merely a bit of fancy on my mum's part, since clearly she had no idea who my da was. Still, she thought adding numerals after my name would give me a bit of dignity. Poor sweet woman, ever reluctant to face reality . . .
If the vampire standing across from us was correct, Bones's mother hadn't called him "the third" on a whim. She'd named him after the father he never knew he had.
When Bones spoke, his voice was strained from the emotions I could feel him fighting to contain.
"If you're my half-brother, that makes you over two hundred years old. If you knew of our ties, why, in all that time, did you never attempt to find me before now?"
Wraith's smile was sad. "I didn't know until recently when I heard your real name from some warmongering ghouls. I thought it was a jest, but then I found a picture of you. Our resemblance was enough to get me digging into my family history. In some very old archives, I found mention of a sum my father paid to Viscount Maynard for reparations concerning the viscount's unwed pregnant daughter, Penelope. Then your name appeared in the Old Bailey trial transcripts, and your age matched how old the child would've been. If that plus our identical names wasn't enough, meeting you is. You look and act enough like my father to be his dark-haired ghost."
Something else swirled amidst the wariness in Bones's emotions, something so poignant it brought tears to my eyes. Hope. Was it really possible that after all this time, Bones had found a living member of his family? Wraith's real name, resemblance, and the portrait were damn compelling, not to mention the records Wraith cited could be easily authenticated. Plus, why would someone go to the trouble of lying about a family connection? Bones wasn't the type of person who'd appreciate being Punk'd.
I linked my arm with his, hoping to help calm his whirling emotions. "You say Annette knew about this?"
Wraith nodded. "I thought news such as this should be delivered in person, so I went looking for a member of your line who'd know your location. Once Annette was satisfied of my claims, we agreed to meet at the hotel, intending to arrive here together."
"As my present," Bones murmured, looking over Wraith with more curiosity than suspicion this time.
A smile quirked Wraith's mouth. "Afraid I drew the line at tying a bow around myself."
The fictional detective Sherlock Holmes had said that once you eliminate the impossible, whatever was left, no matter how improbable, had to be the truth. It seemed unbelievable that the vampire standing across from us was Bones's brother, but so far the facts pointed to that very thing.
"I know this may be rather startling," Wraith went on, still with that same lopsided half-smile. "Or you might not care. So much time has passed since our humanity that I understand if this news means little to you. If you'd rather I leave, I will, but I - I had hoped that perhaps we could get to know one another."
If I hadn't been touching Bones, I wouldn't have noticed the slight tremor that went through him when Wraith stumbled over those last words, showing a glimpse of vulnerability underneath that cocky exterior. Wraith might claim he'd be okay, but it seemed clear that a rebuff would wound him. As for Bones, I could tell he very much wanted to know more about this vampire who might be the only link to his long-lost human family.
A gust of frigid wind blew Wraith's hair around his face, reminding me that we could continue this conversation in comfort instead of standing along the side of a road.
I smiled at him. "Why don't we go back to the house? It's warmer there, and then I can congratulate Annette on her choice of a gift. She topped my present by a mile."
Wraith's eyes widened when we walked into the cabin and he saw Annette being restrained by Ian, the other vampire's hand still clamped over her mouth.
"Oh, don't worry about that. We had, uh, a prior failure to communicate," I said by way of explanation.
Ian's brows rose but he didn't let go of Annette. "If this is our trespasser, care to explain why he's not in pieces?"
"He's not the bloke who butchered Annette," Bones said, clearing his throat. "Turns out, he might be my . . . my brother."
Bones reiterated Wraith's story, uncovering the painting for illustration. Ian looked stunned at the revelation of both Bones's parents being members of the nobility, but Bones didn't notice. His attention was all for the blond vampire standing beside him.
"Hmmph," was what Ian said when Bones was finished. "So your human father was the Duke of Rutland, but who was your vampire sire, Wraith?"
"His name was Sheol, but he's been dead for over a century," Wraith replied.
I made appropriate sympathetic noises, but in truth, I was relieved. How awkward would it have been if Wraith was part of an enemy's line? To say vampires existed under a feudalistic system was to put it nicely. It could be better compared to the way the Mafia operated. On steroids.
"How tragic." Ian didn't even try to sound sympathetic, but that was par for the course with him. "Whose protection have you been under since then?"
Wraith squared his shoulders. "I've stayed Masterless."
"At your power level?" Open disbelief colored Ian's words.
My jaw dropped. I'd also noticed that Wraith's aura didn't mark him as particularly strong, but it was crossing a line to rub that in.
Bones agreed. "Ian," he drew out in warning.
"Quite all right," Wraith said, but his lips had thinned to twin slits. "I kept to myself most of the time. Might be lonely that way, but safer considering the many power struggles our kind indulges in."
Annette elbowed Ian in the ribs. At that, he finally took his hand off her mouth.
"I'm so pleased you made it here, Wraith," she said. Her gaze slid to Bones. "It's not how I imagined the two of you would meet, of course . . ."
Wraith came forward to take her hand, kissing it. "You couldn't help that terrible attack. I'm only relieved that I arrived when I did. I vow I'll find whoever did it and repay him in kind."
Annette didn't refute a word, indicating that Wraith had told the truth about his actions at the inn. That meant we had another problem on our hands, but I was glad it didn't involve the tawny-haired vampire who seemed more and more likely to be Bones's brother.
Annette rose from the couch, her pale amber gaze meeting Bones's dark brown eyes.
"Crispin, I assure you that I checked into Wraith's claims when he first contacted me. I'd never have arranged to bring him here otherwise. From everything I discovered, he is exactly who he maintains himself to be - your half-brother."
"I'll turn the archives I mentioned over to you," Wraith added. "They're in my car. Modern technology could confirm it as well, if you wish to compare our DNA - "
"Excellent notion, I know a bloke who can run those tests," Ian interrupted.
"Stop," Bones said, holding out his hand. A smile twisted his mouth before he went on. "I'm sure tomorrow I'll want to see everything concerning your, or our, family history, but right now, I'd like to just . . . talk for a bit. Get to know one another."
Wraith stared at Bones, his expression mirroring the same cautious optimism I felt from Bones's emotions.
"I'd like that," he rasped.
Ian opened his mouth, but my hand landed on his shoulder. "Let's go tell the others about our new guest," I said, squeezing hard in warning. "Annette, why don't you come with us? We'll get your bags and you can put something else on."
Ian glared at me, but I only smiled sweetly while tightening my grip. He could be his normal dickish self some other time. Annette needed no persuading to give Bones a little privacy with Wraith. She almost snatched at Ian's hand to tug him away.