One Grave at a Time

Page 49

"You think burning women alive will turn you back into a real boy?" God, was he a sick bastard!

That nauseating smile widened. "Fear strengthens me just as blood feeds your miserable kind. I drew strength from sighted mortals until I was able to appear to whomever I chose. It took centuries of that before I could wear flesh again, and it lasted only minutes. Yet after I burned my first trio of witches on Samhain, I was whole for an hour. Now each witch I send to the flames provides me with such a feast of terror that it strengthens me like nothing you could imagine. In time, I will not be limited to walking the earth only on Samhain but will reside in flesh whenever I choose."

Even though I knew that Bones would chew me out for leaving the smoke-filled safety of the house behind me, I couldn't resist lunging forward and whipping my fist across Kramer's jaw as hard and fast as I could. It connected with a crunch that was so satisfying, I'd swung another one before I could think, breaking the sage jar across his face because I still had it gripped in my other hand.

Kramer disappeared before the glass shards fell to the porch. Pain blasted in my gut, though, letting me know he hadn't gone far. I backed up, hitting the doorframe in my haste, grabbing a handful of the smoking sage before Kramer could go in for another blow. Or before the porch caught fire, which would be even worse.

"If you're done playing with that sod, care to move away from the door? Or will you make me knock you over?" an English voice drawled.

I'd been so concentrated on Kramer, waiting for a glimpse of those telltale dark swirls or-even better-another chance to connect a blow to his temporarily solid flesh, that I'd let my other senses become lax. Ian strolled across the remains of the bean field, one hand grasped tight on my mother's upper arm and the other holding a large wad of smoldering sage. He must've flown them both in. Good thing, because if he'd driven, Kramer would have another car to trash before the night was through.

"Kramer's out here," I warned them, glancing around but still not seeing where the ghost had gone off to.

Ian snorted. "That's why I said you need to move." Then he picked my mother up, flying toward the door like they'd been fired out of a gun. I moved out of the way just in time to avoid being barreled over.

"Take your hands off me," my mother snapped once she was vertical instead of horizontal.

"Now that we're here, I will," Ian replied, letting her go. She stepped back several paces, but Ian just brushed off some lint from his clothes as if he couldn't care less. Then he looked around at what used to be the family room but now looked more like a junkyard from the mattresses, boards, tree limbs, and car parts haphazardly littering the floor.

"I say, Reaper, this place looks almost as dreadful as the one I grew up in. Is all this from that pesky ghost?"

"The very same," I said dryly. Kramer started up a whole new batch of curses at this interruption, revealing that he was still on the porch, but Ian and my mother weren't here because they'd missed us, so something must be going on. "Let's go into the cellar where the three of us can have a little more . . . privacy."

The grin Ian flashed me made me relieved to see white, even teeth again, but I should've noticed that it was steeped in wickedness.

"I've had mothers and daughters at the same time before, but you're Crispin's wife, so I must regretfully decline."

"You are such a pig!" my mother exclaimed, saving me the trouble of saying it.

Another spate of English and German came from the porch. Looked like Kramer thought Ian was a pig, too. In this one and only one thing, we were in agreement.

"Buh-bye, ass**le," I told the ghost. Then I shut the front door, Kramer still bitching on the other side of it, and swept out a hand to Ian. "Follow me. Once we're downstairs, you can tell me and Bones the real reason you're here, aside from amusing yourself with sleazy remarks."

"Oh, I'll tell you right now," he replied smoothly. "Your dear mum tried to eat one of the women you're attempting to save."

Chapter Twenty-Eight

The cellar seemed much smaller with the four of us in it. Tyler sat at the top of the stairs, the door cracked so he could get enough clean air to breathe, but not open all the way because we didn't want a certain nosy ghost to overhear our conversation.

I didn't need to ask my mother if Ian was correct. The instant guilt that flashed across her face when he made his unbelievable statement was answer enough for me. What I waited to ask until all of us were underground was one simple question.

"What the hell happened, Mom?"

"It was an accident," she muttered, looking at the plain wooden wall instead of me. "It wouldn't happen again."

"Yes it would, and if you bit Denise the next time, Charles would kill you no matter whose mother you were," Ian stated.

I rubbed my forehead against the mental image Ian described. If my mother bit Denise and tasted her demonically-altered, drugging blood, Spade would kill her. He'd do it even though it would cause a huge rift between him and Bones because of me, not to mention how it would horrify Denise. But the lengths a vampire would go to in order to protect his spouse superseded all other bonds.

"You did the right thing bringing her here," Bones said to Ian, and I had to agree. I'd thought keeping her with Spade and Denise would be safer, but not if she was still struggling with her hunger enough to attempt feeding from people who were off the menu.

"What triggered this, Mom? Do you know, so we can prevent it from happening again?"

"Ah, and here's the richest part," Ian said, elbowing my mother.

She smacked at his arm, still not making eye contact with anyone in the room. "I've got it under control now."

Ian laughed out loud at that. "No vampire can stop feeding and be under any control for long, my pretty little imbecile."

I was so stunned by his statement that I didn't react to the insult. "You haven't been feeding? But all those times you went out saying you were going to-"

"Lies, lies, lies," Ian said cheerfully. "I'm the last person to judge for that, but she actually thought she could sustain herself by sucking the blood out of raw meat packages-and while that's funny in a dozen different ways, it's not practical in the least."

Bones had his emotions tamped down, a sign that whatever he was feeling toward her right now wasn't something he wanted to share with me. If it was anything like my emotions, he wanted to shake her while screaming, Are you out of your f**king mind? With everything going on, you have to decide that you're going to be the world's only vegetarian vampire? Did it ever occur to you what would happen if your brilliant plan didn't WORK?

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