Which, I had no doubt, Wraith intended to happen soon.
"This changes who we need to bring to Balchezek," I said, pacing. "It's gotta be Bones."
We'd originally decided to snatch Annette. With her lower power level and lack of a spouse to watch over her, she would've been easier to rescue - or kidnap, as she wouldn't want to go. But though Bones was stronger than me or Ian, I couldn't sit back and hope Wraith would wait for us to outmaneuver him before he killed Bones to put the last piece of his plan into place.
Ian sighed. "And here I was really looking forward to it being Annette."
"Don't chicken out now," I warned him.
He shot me a measured look as he stood. "I told you once before: Crispin is one of the few people I'd fight to keep from harm, even at the cost of my own life. Tomorrow, I'll prove it."
I stared at him, noting the hard line of his jaw and the uncompromising gleam in his vibrant turquoise gaze.
"You do that, and I take back every nasty thing I've ever said about you."
He grinned, his mood changing from serious to wicked in an instant. "Why? I'm all those things and more."
I shook my head. Ian was more proud of his depravity than anyone I'd met, but if he helped me pull Bones out from under four bespelled vampires and one demonically-enhanced vamp, I'd shower him with prostitutes and p**n while swearing he was an angel.
However, Mencheres could decapitate us with his mind, and on my best day I couldn't take Bones in a fight, so neither of us might live through tomorrow. We were going up against our friends and loved ones, which made us operate under the constraint of not killing anyone. It didn't take a crystal ball to know that with Wraith's spell pulling their strings, we wouldn't be shown the same consideration.
Oh well. Time to ante up on that " 'til death do us part" section of my vows. Living forever sounded boring anyway.
I strode up the gravel road that led to my house. Bare tree limbs swayed in the breeze and the air was crisp enough to see my breath, if I had any. Today was aptly referred to as Black Friday, when malls and Walmarts became bargain war zones for holiday shoppers hunting for the best deals. My war zone consisted of a steep wooded hill with two picturesque cabins at the top of it; my coveted prize the brown-haired vampire who'd publicly disowned me.
I knew when my presence was detected by the sudden hush of conversation in the main house above. Fine. Wraith's voice had been grating on my nerves anyhow.
"Honey, I'm home!" I called out loudly, quickening my pace.
By the time I reached the top of the hill, the front door was open and Wraith stood framed in it. My face stretched into a smile that felt more like a sneer. No need to pretend I was under his demonic thrall anymore.
"Well, hi there, bro. Couldja send the hubby on out?"
"You are not welcome here, Cat," he said, as if he owned the place.
"Au contraire, my good man. Cut off or not, I'm still Bones's legal wife, and vampire law states that wherever one spouse is, the other automatically has an invitation, too. So either send Bones out, or I'm coming in."
The bottom of my black jacket rustled in the cold wind, but not the top. That was too weighted down with weapons. Wraith had either heard enough about my reputation to guess that, or he could tell from my expression that "no" wasn't an acceptable answer to me. He disappeared inside the house, and seconds later, another vampire came out, but not the one I was here for.
Mencheres stood in the doorway, his Egyptian features schooled into hard, unreadable planes. It only took one look into his eyes to know that Wraith had ordered him to kill me.
The sudden overwhelming pressure on my neck came before I could even attempt to run, not that running would have done any good. Mencheres didn't need me to stand still to rip my head off.
But just as quickly as that awful squeezing started, it stopped. A red dot appeared on Mencheres's forehead, darker gore spattering the doorway behind him. He dropped to his knees, the strangest look on his face as he slowly pitched forward.
"Nice shot, Ian," I muttered, and then ran toward the door. The single silver bullet wouldn't kill Mencheres, but silver took much longer to heal, buying us precious time until his brains unscrambled and he regained consciousness.
And once that happened, if we were still here, we'd be toast.
Someone crashed into me right as I cleared the threshold. It happened so fast I didn't see who it was, but the softer flesh made my attacker either Annette or Kira. Her momentum propelled us into the nearest wall and pain thudded through me from blows I made no move to defend against. Blond hair caught my eye as my attacker bent to rip her fangs through my shoulder, missing my neck because I twisted away at the last second.
Kira, then. She wasn't armed, though, so while this hurt, it wouldn't kill me. I let her tear into my skin and pummel me while I reached around to grab the Glock from the back of my jeans. Then I whipped the gun up and shot her through the head.
Her instant flaccidity was replaced with a larger, harder form barreling into us next. Kira's bloody head pressed against my face, blinding me from seeing my latest assailant. But brutal punches that snapped my ribs and reverberated through my body in fiery waves told me who this was. Only one person hit that hard.
"Now!" I screamed, wedging Kira's limp form out from between us.
Glass shattered in rapid succession as Ian shot the percussion grenades through the downstairs windows. The subsequent explosions felt like bombs going off in my brain, but I'd packed enough wax into my ears to take the edge off the worst of the effects. The other vampires, with their supersensitive hearing, weren't as lucky. Bones stopped pureeing my insides to clutch his head, blood leaking out from his ears. Behind his bent form, I saw Spade, Annette, and Wraith doing the same thing. Denise wasn't down here. Fabian had snuck into her room last night to warn her to stay away from the main floor once the action started.
I used that second of distraction to plug a bullet into Wraith's head next, watching with extreme satisfaction as crimson exploded onto his long, blond locks. If only I could finish the job with the bone knife, but I needed the spell reversed, so Wraith had to stay alive.
Bones lifted his head. Blood still stained his ears, but he'd recovered from the debilitating effect of the percussion grenades. Green sizzled from his gaze, and his mouth opened in a snarl as he launched himself at me. Over his shoulder, I saw that Spade and Annette were also shaking off the effects and coming at me with murderous expressions.
I raised the gun, but before I could pull the trigger, the Glock was wrenched from my hand with a snap of power that broke my wrist. Goddamn it, Bones was using his fledgling telekinesis against me! I could only hope he didn't have enough of it to take off my head, or shooting Mencheres would have been a waste of time. That concern cleared out of my mind when Bones vaulted upward the instant before he was about to crash into me. I'd braced for the impact of his tall, muscled frame flattening me against the wall, but instead got a kick to the face that snapped my neck and filled my vision with red.
Agony flared from every facial nerve ending, combined with sickening crunching noises that confirmed my bones had shattered as thoroughly as the glass from the front windows. I resisted the instinctive urge to protect myself from further injury, knowing Bones would move in for the kill. Instead, I flung myself forward, smacking my face against a rock-hard chest. The contact shot more fireworks of pain into my skull, but tucked me under the deadly arm that had been arcing toward my neck.
My vision might be bloody and my face in ruins, but my legs worked fine, and Bones had made an unusual mistake by widening his stance when he tried to wrest my head off. I took advantage of that and slammed my knee upward, using all my supernatural strength to make merciless contact with his groin. That brought him to his knees, but before I could pull out my other gun, something hard slammed into my still-healing face.
Amidst another blast of pain and crunching sounds that I never wanted to hear again, I caught a glimpse of Spade winding up for a second blow. I ducked, his pale hand smashing through the wall behind me instead, but then twin sledgehammers connected with my sides. Bones had recovered from my nutcracker kick and was back on the offensive.
I couldn't block an attack from above and below. Not without lethal means, and those weren't an option. I couldn't scramble away, either. The wall blocked me from behind and three pissed off vampires blocked my front. All I could do was hope to God they were too busy attacking me to stop and run for a silver knife. After a few moments of duck, twist, punch, repeat, I realized something strange: Bones and Spade weren't fighting like their usual, deadly selves. Their skills seemed to have diminished to the same level as Annette's. Otherwise, I couldn't have held them off as well as I was doing.
A boom sounded and Spade flew across the room, a large, smoking hole now in his midsection. Bones whirled to assess this new threat, but I hauled him back as Ian jumped through the ruins of the front window. About time.
"Hallo, all!" Ian announced. With a savage grin, he tossed aside the still-smoking bazooka and leapt at Annette.
More backup would've meant less risk, but aside from one trusted vampire who wasn't answering his phone, all my strongest and closest allies were the people I was fighting against. Denise couldn't afford to blow her cover by coming to our defense, so she helped the only way she could - by staying out of the way.
When Ian reached Annette, he threw her across the room with enough force to send her smashing through my china cabinet. Amidst the sounds of yet more glass shattering, I heard his shout.
"What are you waiting for? Get Crispin out of here!"
Did Ian think I'd stopped to do my nails? I was busy trying to fend off another attempt to separate my head from the rest of my body. But I ducked under Bones's latest overhand swipe and grabbed him in a bear hug, wincing as the close contact meant his body punches landed with even more devastating effect. He might not be fighting with his usual skill, but he hit just as hard. Then I mustered my power and blasted us through the empty windows, Ian's roar to Spade filling my ears.
"No you don't! You're staying right here!"
More sounds of violence ensued before the wind and my velocity snatched them away. Annette couldn't fly, so Spade was the only vampire left with the ability to chase us, and it was up to Ian to stop him. Even if Annette and Spade didn't overpower him, Mencheres would wake up any minute. If that happened before Ian got away, he wouldn't live long enough to scream before he'd be missing his head. I didn't care how proud he was of his sins; for this, I did take back every derogatory thing I'd ever said about Ian.
Bones fought to break my grip on him, but I didn't let go no matter that my entire torso felt like it had been run over by a truck. I couldn't defend against his barrage of blows and stop him from flying back to Wraith at the same time. It was hard enough to concentrate over the pain to keep propelling us upward. We were miles from the cabin now, but we needed to be even farther away. Too far for Mencheres or anyone else to pick up our trail and follow.
When Bones abruptly stopped his assault, I felt a second of relief that changed at once to alarm. He'd never give up this easily. That was made clear when his hands, no longer curled into punishing fists, slid over me with ruthless, seeking efficiency.
And pulled out one of the silver knives I'd tucked inside my coat.
Our faces were almost level, so I locked eyes with him as that blade came toward my chest. His gaze was still flashing green, his aura cracking with lethal intent, but I couldn't defend myself without letting go of him. If I did, he'd return to Wraith, and I'd be condemning him to death just as surely as if I twisted a knife into his heart.
If these were my last moments on earth, I'd spend them fighting to save him with everything I had. If our roles were reversed, I knew he'd do the same.
The blade broke my skin, sliding into my chest with the sensation of fire made into metal. My body's response to silver grazing my heart was instant. All my power seemed to abandon me, causing my velocity to evaporate. Bones and I began to drop out of the sky, but instead of pushing him away to save myself, I used the last of my strength to tighten my arms around him.
"I love you," I managed to get out amidst the overwhelming pain. As last words went, there weren't any I'd rather say.
Something flickered in his gaze. That blazing emerald glare became flecked with dark brown and his aura fragmented, like an invisible force had struck it with enough force to shatter it. Instead of twisting the knife and ending my life, he pulled it out of my chest - and rammed it into his own.
"No!" I screamed, grabbing for the blade while clutching him with my other arm. Our descent slowed as my power flooded back now that the knife was out of my heart. His failed, the silver sapping his strength like supernatural kryptonite. Only my frantic grip on the hilt kept him from turning the blade and shredding his heart, ensuring true death.
"Kitten." The word was rasped so low I almost didn't hear it above the whoosh of wind. "You have to let me die. Now, while I still have her contained!"
I didn't know what he meant and I didn't care. I pulled the knife free, flinging it aside in revulsion. Bones made a ragged noise and his face twisted, as though he were somehow in more pain without the silver in his heart than with it.
"You're not going to die," I swore, then pressed my mouth to his for a kiss filled with all the love, pain, fear, and frustration of the past several days.
I was still kissing him when I pulled out my other gun and shot him through the head.