If you thought you learned more about the dangerous and sexy alpha vampire, Bones, in the USA Today bestselling scorcher, The Other Half of the Grave, you haven’t seen anything yet…
Cat disappeared from Bones’ life to protect him, but this Master vampire will keep his promise to find her.
Two hundred years of bounty hunting made Bones the best at what he does, yet it’s still taken him four long years to find Cat, the half vampire now known as the “Red Reaper.” There’s a price on Cat’s head, and not even her job as a secret government agent can save her. Only Bones can. But has time hardened Bones too much to love again? Or will his passion for Cat burn through every obstacle—alive, undead, or otherwise—between them?
From the NY Times bestselling author of the Night Huntress series comes a fresh, new perspective on the origin saga of Cat and Bones, in Bones’ own words…
BOTH FEET IN THE GRAVE
A Night Huntress Novel
2023 © Jeaniene Frost
As I did with THE OTHER HALF OF THE GRAVE, I updated the technology to today’s time because I didn’t want to confuse readers by not mentioning technology that is commonplace now. Also, once again, there are slight changes in both context and dialog since couples can have two different versions of the same incident. Thus, this is Bones’s version of what was said and done, and he’ll swear that it’s the right one.
“I hope this won’t be engraved on my headstone,” said the man sitting next to Bones. “But you haven’t breathed this whole time. Care to tell me how you do that?”
Bones had been ignoring the bloke, as he’d ignored everyone else in this hole-in-the-wall bar, but at that, his gaze lasered onto him. Caucasian, late twenties, amber-colored hair, glasses, and a steadfast gaze despite his newly accelerated heartbeat.
Brave, Bones added to his list. Perceptive, too.
Bones rarely pretended to breathe in public, and most people never noticed, especially at a bar. Still, Bones wasn’t about to admit to being a vampire, so he gave a derisive grunt.
“You’ve had too much to drink, mate.”
“Oh, you’re English?” the man continued in that same conversational tone. “So is my blind date, if she ever shows up. She’s an hour late, so I’ve probably been stood up, but just in case, I’ve only been drinking club soda.”
The man hefted his glass in punctuation. Annoyance filled Bones. Figures he’d sit next to the only sober, observant person in a bar filled with the drunk and the oblivious. At least this was a problem he could easily fix. Bones leaned forward and crooked his finger, inviting the man to come closer.
After a moment’s hesitation, he did.
Bones released the power in his gaze. Two thin, emerald beams hit the man right in his widening eyes. With their heads so close together, no one else noticed.
“You’ve seen nothing,” Bones said in a newly resonant voice. “Now, mind your business.”
The man blinked, and Bones shuttered his gaze and leaned back. Now, he could resume waiting for his client to show up-
“Was that supposed to do something?” the man asked with another blink. “Aside from looking scary and cool, I mean.”
Bones’s gaze swung back to him in disbelief. He was one of the few humans with natural immunity to vampire mind control?
“Yes, it’s supposed to do something,” Bones snapped. Then, his gaze narrowed. Maybe this was more than a case of bad luck.
Bones pulled out his mobile and started a program without taking his eyes off the stranger’s face. Then, he placed his mobile on the bar near the stranger’s phone.
“Who are you?” Bones asked in a coldly pleasant tone.
“Randy MacGregor,” the stranger said, edging away. “And I’m starting to regret saying anything to you—”
“Too late for that,” Bones interrupted with flash of fang in his smile.
Randy blanched and tried to get off his bar stool.
Bones’s hand landed on Randy’s knee, and a warning squeeze made Randy yelp. Randy’s own body blocked the other people at the bar from seeing, and Bones had chosen his seat because it put the wall at his back. That, combined with the bar’s wide countertop and low lighting, caused Randy to look around with the belated realization that he wasn’t safe despite the establishment’s many patrons.
“I could scream,” Randy said when he turned back to Bones.
“You could,” Bones agreed. “Wouldn’t help, though. You might be immune to the power in my gaze, but I’d bet your life that everyone else here isn’t, so all you’d do is piss me off.”
Fear soured Randy’s scent, yet when he spoke, his voice was steady. “All right. Then how about I willingly forget everything I’ve learned, and we both go our separate ways?”
“Depends,” Bones said. “Did someone send you to find me?”
Shock widened Randy’s eyes. “What? No! I didn’t even know people like you existed until now!”
Randy’s scent, gaze, and pulse all indicated truthfulness, yet Bones hadn’t survived for over two hundred years by being too trusting. That’s why his mobile was cloning Randy’s phone even now. Soon, he’d have all of Randy MacGregor’s data, if that was even his name.
Bones’s brow rose. “And the first thing you do when you discover that ‘people like me’ exist is introduce yourself?”
“Told you I regretted that,” Randy said with a dry laugh. “But I couldn’t help it. The unusual has always fascinated me…”
Randy kept talking. Bones didn’t hear it. His attention was now focused on the tall, bald man entering the bar. His skin was light taupe, his brows dark brown, and he had a lean, wiry build and features that hovered between pleasant and plain. He looked human enough, if you didn’t notice the faint tinge of luminescence to his skin or how predatory his gaze was. When that gaze landed on Bones, the vampire’s aura rolled out in a wave that only another vampire could feel.
Swirls of energy bit into Bones, as if he’d suddenly become a feast for a swarm of mosquitoes. Power that potent marked the new arrival as an old, strong vampire, and he wanted Bones and any other vampire there to know it.
Bones rose and grabbed his coat, pausing only to say to Randy, “If you want to live, stay here.” Couldn’t have the bloke follow him and get killed from more of his dangerous curiosity.
“Lionel, right?” Bones said when he reached the vampire.
Lionel regarded Bones with an icy aqua gaze. “First you insist on meeting in person, then you use my name in public. So much for your reputation for discretion.”
Bones ignored Lionel’s scathing tone. “I might be unconventional, but my services are guaranteed. That’s why I require exclusivity on this contract.”
Lionel’s gaze raked Bones.
Bones let a small amount of his aura out, keeping the rest behind a wall of ice that hid his true strength. Lionel felt the power in that brush of aura and straightened, his scowl fading.
“That guarantee plus your reputation is why I agreed to your terms, but I’ll only grant exclusivity for two weeks. After that, this is an open contract. I need this handled quickly.”
Bones smiled. “Your price told me that. Half a million is quite the bounty to have on a human.”
“Oh, the Red Reaper isn’t human,” Lionel said in a dark tone. “If she were, I wouldn’t need to hire someone like you.”
Rage scorched Bones, yet nothing in his expression changed. Lionel was right; the “Red Reaper” wasn’t human even though she breathed and had a heartbeat.
“Intriguing,” was all Bones said. “Now, give me everything you’ve got on her.”
“Not here,” Lionel said. “Somewhere private.”
Once again, Bones smiled. “I know just the place.”
Winter-dried leaves crunched beneath them as they walked. Some of the piles were high enough that the edge of Bones’s coat swirled them as they passed. Lionel gave him a sardonic glance.
“Pale skin, ridiculously handsome, and wearing a black leather trench coat on top of all-black clothes? You’re a walking caricature of our species.”
“The coat was a gift.”
Bones’s glib tone hid a sharp inner stab at the memory of Cat’s eyes, darker than an approaching storm while her voice quavered from grief even as she teased him. “Vampires are supposed to wear black leather, aren’t they?”
“And I have better things to do than fret about color- coordinating my clothes,” Bones added, stifling the memory.
Four blocks later, the neighborhood changed from shops and pubs to empty buildings and abandoned businesses. Urban decay in this part of Virginia had taken its toll. Bones stopped at a fenced-in structure that had once been a basketball court.
Lionel curled his lip in distaste. “This is the best you can do?”
“The nearest building’s condemned and only warehouses and train tracks are behind us, so it’s quite private.” Bones held out a hand. “Now, give me what you have on the target.”
Lionel pulled a legal-sized envelope from his coat. “This has the Red Reaper’s last known whereabouts plus pictures of her. They’re blurry, but these were the best I could find.”
Bones rifled through the pages. The pictures were blurry, showing only a profile or partial face through a crowd. That’s why they hadn’t been scrubbed from the internet before Lionel could find them. No full face shots of the “Red Reaper” existed. Someone with impressive government reach and a constantly-running facial recognition program had made sure of that.
The focus of these pictures was police officers and an area closed off with crime scene tape, but a woman with scarlet hair was in the background. Lionel had circled her, as if Bones wouldn’t recognize the shape of her jaw, the high peaks of her cheekbones, her slim, straight nose, or those full lips…
“…arrogant to name herself the Red Reaper,” Lionel was saying. “As soon as I saw a redhead in those pictures, I knew who must’ve ruined my operation and killed my men.”
What Lionel didn’t say was that his “operation” must have involved murdering humans. Those were the only vampires that Cat Crawfield, a.k.a. the “Red Reaper,” came after these days.
“Oh, she didn’t name herself that. I did,” Bones replied.
He’d gotten to the “last known whereabouts” part, but to his dismay, Lionel had no address, city, or even state of residence. He only had the address of the crime scene a few counties over from this one. Blast it, Bones already knew that Cat had been in Virginia ten days ago! It’s why he was here now.
“What do you mean?” Lionel said in a sharp tone.
Bones looked up. “I called her the grim reaper with red hair when she kept killing my targets before I could interrogate them. She didn’t like that, but weeks later, when I called her my Red Reaper, she smiled-”
“You know the bitch?” Lionel interrupted.
Rage smashed through Bones’s walls, releasing the full force of his aura.
Lionel recoiled when he felt it. “What the fuck-”
Bones yanked Lionel’s throat out before he could say another word, and then grabbed two silver knives from his coat.
Lionel leapt back when he saw them, his throat already healing with supernatural swiftness. “What are you doing?” he demanded.
Bones snorted. “Would’ve thought it was obvious, but if you need it spelled out”-he lunged-“I’m going to kill you.”
Lionel avoided the strike, but just barely. The knives slashed into his back instead of piercing his heart.
“Stop!” Lionel demanded with the imperiousness of someone used to being obeyed. “Kill me, and you’ll start a war!”
Bones lunged again, feinting right this time. Lionel fell for it, going left. Bones’s stab pierced Lionel’s chest, but Lionel yanked back with impressive speed. The knife ripped through Lionel’s arm instead of his heart.
“Why?” Lionel spat, yanking out one of the fence poles and swinging it like a club. “Why take the contract if you knew the Red Reaper? You even demanded exclusivity-”
“Yes, which makes me the only bounty hunter after your measly five hundred K,” Bones cut him off.
Craftiness sprang into Lionel’s gaze. “If it’s more money you’re after…”
Bones’s temper exploded. Money, power, control…that’s what had motivated the people who’d forced Cat to leave him. Why else would a shadow branch of government blackmail a half-vampire into becoming their personal assassin?
“Fuck your money,” Bones said, and flung his knives.
Both landed in Lionel’s chest. One pierced his heart from how suddenly Lionel dropped to his knees. Silver in the heart was nearly paralyzing for a vampire, but it wasn’t fatal. Yet.
Bones landed on Lionel and slammed his head into the ground hard enough to shatter his skull. The deep rents in Lionel’s head healed in the next several seconds, but the knife wounds didn’t. Silver prevented a vampire’s natural healing abilities.
Lionel’s eyes focused and widened as he saw Bones’s hand on the hilt of the knife in his heart. “Don’t,” he rasped.
“You asked why I took the contract,” Bones replied. “It’s the same reason why I’m the one who spread the ‘Red Reaper’ moniker in the undead world. That way, news of her exploits warned the smart ones away, and the stupid ones, like you,” his tone turned scathing, “used that same name when hiring undead bounty hunters to kill her, making you so, so easy to find.”
“I’ll cancel the contract-”
“Oh, it’s cancelled,” Bones said, and twisted the blade.
The green glow instantly faded from Lionel’s eyes and his skin began to crackle and split. Vampires might not age while they were alive, but true death reverted all their years back onto their corpse in short order. By the time Bones rose, Lionel’s body resembled a badly constructed scarecrow.
A rat scurried away from the nearby waste container. A vermin-infested rubbish bin was a perfect place for this sod. Bones picked him up and shoved him inside, but Lionel’s neck was now so brittle that it snapped. His skull banged down the side of the dumpster before landing on Bones’s foot. Bones kicked it with enough force to penetrate the dumpster’s rusted exterior.
Goal! he thought irreverently.
Later, Bones would manufacture a price on Lionel’s head so that the war Lionel had threatened him with would never happen. If people knew that Bones had killed a prominent vampire for personal reasons, it might, but if Bones called it business because he was a bounty hunter by trade, and Lionel had a contract out on him? Well, vampires didn’t respect much, but commerce was a highly protected industry.
Bones reached for his mobile, freezing when it wasn’t in its usual place inside his jacket. Had it fallen out during their fight? No…he’d left it back at the pub to clone Randy’s phone.
Bones wiped the worst of the blood on his shirt. That was the other reason he only wore black; it hid incriminating stains. Then, a pair of gloves hid his red-stained hands. The gloves reminded him of Cat. She’d worn gloves the night they met. Yes, she’d also tried to kill him that night, but she believed all vampires were evil at the time. Took a lot of doing to convince her otherwise. Took even more work before she grew to love him with the same unbridled passion he’d felt for her…and if he kept thinking this way, he’d give into the loss that burned like a living inferno inside him.
Bones forced his pain back beneath the ice that had saved him countless times during his long life. He picked up Lionel’s envelope. It might not contain anything useful, but he wasn’t leaving it behind for anyone else to discover.
When Bones finally entered the bar again, he was surprised to see that Randy was still there. Bones’s former seat was still open, too, and his mobile was on the countertop where he’d left it. Even his whisky glass remained untouched.
“Didn’t expect you to stay,” Bones said.
Randy gave him a look of wary amusement. “You told me to stay if I wanted to live. I do, so here I am. Plus, I saw that you’re cloning my phone. I’m a software designer, so I recognized the program,” he added at Bones’s raised brow. “No point in running when you know everything about me now.”
Bones let out a bark of laughter. “You should have taken both mobiles with you when you fled. Then, I’d have nothing.”
Randy’s eyes widened. “You don’t have the cloning program backing up into the cloud on a private server?”
He sounded more shocked by that than he had at learning that vampires existed. Bones should take his mobile and leave, but…he had no new leads, no one else to kill, and no one else to talk to, if he were being honest. His best mate, Charles, would only give him another lecture to move on with his life, and nothing awaited him back in his hotel room except loneliness.
“I meant stay as in ‘don’t follow me,’ but since you were so literal with your translation,” Bones signaled for the bartender, “I may as well buy you a drink.”