“How long did Madigan use her blood, cells, and tissue for his filthy experiments?” Bones asked in a flinty tone.
I didn’t have to bite my lip and repeat the question. Don seemed eager to reply.
“I shut him out as soon as I realized I was wrong about Cat. She wasn’t corrupt like my brother—”
“Or you,” Bones added.
“Or me,” Don conceded wearily. “So when Madigan refused to back off his experiments with her, I had him fired from the program.”
At last, here was the source of the enmity between the two men. No wonder Don had wanted to take it to his grave and beyond. If he’d been alive while recounting this, I don’t think I could’ve stopped Bones from killing him, judging from the rage wafting off his aura.
“I don’t believe you,” Bones bit out. “You didn’t fire your silent partner because you suddenly remembered your conscience. Madigan must have wanted to do something truly appalling for you to finally act.”
Don’s gaze skipped to me, then slid away. “No.”
The accusation didn’t come from me, though I thought it the instant before Marie said it. The voodoo queen’s hazelnut-colored gaze zeroed in on Don like twin lasers.
“Lie again, ghost, and I will release my servants.”
Don looked at the Remnants and shuddered. Their mouths were open obscenely wide, and they began racing around Marie as if they couldn’t wait to tear into him again. Dexter whined while cowering behind Tyler’s legs. Even the dog was afraid of them.
My uncle opened his mouth . . . and nothing came out. Then, with one final shudder, he squared his shoulders and spread out his arms.
Let them come, his posture nearly screamed.
I bit my lip so hard that my fangs went all the way through. “What else did Madigan want to do, Don? Harvest my organs? Vivisection?”
Those were the most horrible things I could think of, but when his head snapped up and his expression was a mixture of abject shame and a plea for understanding, I knew it was worse.
“He wanted to forcibly breed you in order to produce more test subjects with your tri-species-compatible DNA, but as soon as he suggested it, I threw him out—”
I felt the crack in Bones’s shields right before the urn sailed through Don and smashed into the wall behind him. Though it had been hurled with enough force to send up a fine cloud of ash amidst the broken pieces, none of us had touched it. Marie’s eyes widened as she looked around. Then a slow smile spread across her lips.
“Interesting,” she said, staring at Bones.
“More like freaky when he does that,” Tyler muttered to no one in particular.
Bones didn’t seem to care that he’d outed himself to Marie over his telekinetic abilities. His glare was all for Don as he stabbed a finger in my uncle’s direction.
“You deserve to remain a ghost forever.”
“I-I didn’t,” Don began.
“Shut it,” Bones thundered.
The ground actually began to shake as he dropped his shields and the full weight of his fury-fueled power crashed into the room.
“You allowed Madigan to see how valuable she was to his supersoldier plan, then you whetted his appetite by refusing to let him near her for years. Bloody hell, she’s a full vampire now, yet he is still obsessed with her! But you knew that when he rushed to take your job after your death, yet you still refused to divulge the truth, so you get to say nothing in your defense now.”
I didn’t speak, either, still reeling from this bombshell. My relationship with Don had always been complicated, true. When we first met, he blackmailed me into working for him. It was only after I found out we were related that I discovered the reason for Don’s prejudice against vampires. Max, my father, had murdered his own parents after he became a vampire. For decades, Don had blamed his brother’s actions on vampirism before finally admitting that Max had been a twisted a**hole when he was human, too.
“Make him tell you where it is, Kitten.”
Bones’s harsh tone startled me out of my thoughts. “Where what is?”
“The facility Madigan used to work out of.”
He began circling my uncle, pausing only to grind a piece of Don’s urn beneath his boot.
“He wasn’t working out of your old compound,” Bones continued. “You knew every inch of that place, not to mention I would have read it from one of the employees’ thoughts. So where was Madigan running his experiments? Likely, it’s where Tate and the others are now.”
“Where?” I asked Don, ripping my lip as I spoke the single word.
“Charlottesville, Virginia, in the old plumbing supply factory on Garrett Street, but it’s been empty for years.”
“We’re checking it anyway,” Bones stated. “He never abandoned his pet project, as his interest in Cat and my missing people attest.”
Marie rose, another flick of her fingers causing the Remnants to disappear as though sucked away by an invisible vortex. Then she strolled closer, the movement somehow more menacing because of how relaxed she appeared to be.
“When you find this facility, you need to shut it down and eliminate everyone associated with the experiments.”
“Oh, I intend to,” I said, still torn between guilt over what I’d done to Don and anger over what he’d let Madigan do to me.
“Intentions aren’t good enough. You have sixty days.”
“What?” I sputtered. “We are not even sure where this facility is. Plus, Madigan’s worked in covert operations for decades. He could have secret labs and compounds set up all over the nation!”
“Exactly,” Marie said.
Then she pointed at me, and I didn’t think it was an accident that she did it with her Remnant-summoning ring finger.
“I’m not the only one who won’t tolerate humans trying to create supersoldiers by merging our genetic codes together,” Marie went on. “If you haven’t destroyed this entire operation within sixty days, I will assist the Guardian Council in eliminating it through other means.”
“You guys have a council?” Tyler asked, looking intrigued.
I didn’t answer. I was too busy translating what that meant. “Scorched earth” would be a kind description of what would be left if Marie and the ruling body of vampires took this over. They wouldn’t stop at killing Madigan and his mad scientists—they’d wipe out everyone down to the last office worker or groundskeeper. That meant hundreds of employees, not to mention my friends, if they were even still alive.
And such a mass slaughter might cause world leaders in the know to stop turning a blind eye to the existence of ghouls and vampires. Marie knew this, but she and the Law Guardians would risk it to ensure that cross-species-merging never became a reality. After all, vampires and ghouls had almost warred twice before over the possibility that a person could be both part-vampire and part-ghoul at the same time.
The last time, that person had been me, and only my turning into a full vampire had prevented such a war. Madigan, the arrogant fool, had no idea what hornet’s nest he’d stirred up, and if we were very lucky, he’d die without ever knowing.
Of course, we’d need a lot more than luck, as the grim look Bones threw me reminded me. I stared at Marie, not knowing how we’d stop this in the time allotted, only knowing that we had to.
“I guess that means I’ll see you in sixty days.”
Her smile was thin. “I hope so, Reaper, for all our sakes.”
The RV smelled like an Italian restaurant that had been overrun by stoners. Needless to say, I didn’t want to speak to my uncle at the moment, so if Don had any intentions of traveling to Charlottesville, he was doing it by ley line. We had enough garlic and weed to hold off an ethereal army.
Tyler also wasn’t going with us to investigate Madigan’s former compound. The medium stated that he and Dexter were sitting this one out—a wise choice. It also gave me a trusted person to leave Helsing with. My cat had probably run through eight of his nine lives from the other battles he’d been a part of. I wasn’t about to drag him along on what might turn out to be our most dangerous one ever.
We didn’t go straight from New Orleans to Charlottesville, though. We stopped by Savannah, Georgia, first. Knowing the person we were picking up, I expected the address he gave us to end in either a grand house or a strip club, but we pulled up to a modest town house near Forsythe Park instead.
“The nav system must’ve gotten us lost,” I muttered.
Then the door opened, and a tall, auburn-haired vampire sauntered out. He paused to blow a kiss at the disheveled-looking blonde who lingered in the doorway despite only wearing a towel.
“Have that spatula ready when I return,” Ian sang out to her.
“I don’t even want to know what that means,” were my first words when he climbed into the RV.
Ian clucked his tongue as he settled into the seat behind us.
“You don’t? Shame on you, Crispin. Married how long, and you haven’t spanked your wife with a metal spatula yet?”
I’d gotten used to Ian’s assumption that everyone was as perverted as he was, so I didn’t miss a beat.
“We prefer blender beaters for our kitchen utensil kink,” I said with a straight face.
Bones hid his smile behind his hand, but Ian looked intrigued.
“I haven’t tried that . . . oh, you’re lying, aren’t you?”
“Ya think?” I asked with a snort.
Ian gave a sigh of exaggerated patience and glanced at Bones.
“Being related to her through you is a real trial.”
This time, Bones didn’t attempt to conceal his grin. “That’s why you can pick your friends but not your family, cousin.”
An emotion flashed across Ian’s face before he covered it with his usual I’m-a-pain-in-the-ass-and-proud-of-it smirk. If it were anyone else, I’d swear it was childlike joy at hearing Bones call him “cousin.” Recent events had revealed their long-lost human connection, making Ian both Bones’s vampire sire and his only living blood relative.
That meant I was never getting rid of him. Then again, considering what my blood relatives had done, Ian was almost a saint by comparison.
“You didn’t say much when you rang me, so what’s the crisis this time?” Ian drawled, sounding bored.
Bones outlined Madigan’s plan to create supersoldiers by blending vampire, ghoul, and human DNA. When he was finished, Ian no longer looked as though he were fighting a yawn.
“Soon as I heard that humans were cloning sheep, I expected this day to come. Figures you’d be hip deep in it, Reaper.”
“Our priority is eliminating the program while also minimizing collateral damage,” I said, fighting a pang as I added, “And rescuing our friends, if they’re still alive.”
Ian grunted. “That’s not all. If Madigan was successful, you’ll also have to destroy any fruits of his labor.”
I was glad Bones was driving because that made every muscle in my body freeze. I’d been so worried about the consequences of potential species merging that I hadn’t considered how awful the fallout would be if it had already happened. If vampires or ghouls found out that their strongest attributes could be synthesized, then added to any member of the human race, their reaction would be brutal. It wouldn’t be World War III—it would be World War V and G.
“You’re right.” My voice was a croak. “If he’s already made genetically blended soldiers, they’ll have to be eliminated before the vampire and ghoul nations realize it’s possible.”
Or other governments try to do it themselves.
I didn’t say it out loud, but it hung in the air nonetheless. Suddenly, Marie’s sixty-day deadline seemed generous.
“It might not come to that, Kitten,” Bones said, expanding his aura to wrap a soothing band around my emotions. “Likely Madigan’s still at the lab rat stage.”
“I hope so,” I murmured.
If not, I’d be setting myself up to execute people for the crime of being genetically different—a charge I’d been guilty of since the day I was born. Could I really do it? I wondered.
The more troubling question was, what would happen if I couldn’t do it?
Charlottesville, Virginia, reminded me of a bigger version of the town Bones and I lived in. It, too, was located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the sight of their cloud-coated peaks caused a pang of longing in me. I grew up among the gently rolling hills of rural Ohio, but since the very first time I saw the mountains, they’d felt like home to me.
That’s where I wished I were right now. Home with Bones, surrounded by mountains that seemed to hold the rest of the world at bay. The past months of relative uneventfulness had introduced me to what most people called a normal life, and to my great surprise, I’d loved it. At home, the only sharp metal objects I handled were for the new garden I’d put in, and the only screams I heard was Helsing yowling if the kitty felt he wasn’t getting enough attention.
I used to get a rush from going on a hunt, but as much as I wanted Madigan dead, if I could have traded killing him myself for all of this being over, I would. In a hot second.
Maybe this was what people called getting older. Or maybe, after so many years of “hunt, kill, regroup, and repeat,” I realized I had nothing left to prove, either to myself or anyone else. Hatred of vampires—and myself—had put me on this lethal track at sixteen. Thanks to Bones, all that hatred was long gone, and existing had been replaced with actually living.