Alternate “middle” version of Destined For An Early Grave, Part 4

dfaeg-640x480-300x225It’s time for Part 4, the final edition of the alternate “middle” version of Destined For An Early Grave. If you’ve already read Parts 1 , 2 and 3, you can skip to the ***’s to read the final part. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here is the short recap:

I have a lot of deleted scenes from my first four novels, and in some cases, alternate versions. Many of you have said that you miss Cat and Bones now that their story came to an end in Up From The Grave, so I decided to post a never-before-seen, deleted alternate version of the “middle” of Destined For An Early Grave. Because it’s so long (over 30K words!) I have posted it in four parts on my blog. For a full recap, please go here to read Part 1.

Adult content warning: This part contains explicit language and sexual situations. As mentioned before, is also unedited, so my apologies in advance for any spelling or grammar errors. If you want to point those errors out, do so in the comments and I will correct the posted version.

And now, Part 4, the conclusion to the alternate “middle version, with a note from me at the end:

***

Bones was gone when I woke up. I must have really conked out. For a little while, I stayed in bed, breathing in the scent of him on the sheets while I wondered what he was doing. Zen forms of meditation, or all-out brawling to test his skills? Probably both. Speaking of skills…

His gauntlet from last night shook me from my indolence. If Bones set about to do something, he accomplished it. Add my flagging willpower to the picture and I may as well be waiting spread-eagled for him. The thought of making love to him inspired mixed emotions. Sure, it had always been great, but as I’d told him, we’d been in love. I didn’t want sex with me to be one huge yawn to him, and he’d never admit it if he was disappointed. If only he didn’t have so many other women to compare me with.

There were a couple of ways I could handle this. First, worry myself into permanent abstinence. No nookie, no fears about whether it was good for him. This didn’t seem feasible, so I discarded it. Second, wait until any sex was great sex. Nothing like a long drought to make the first rain very appreciated. Again, however, that didn’t appear to be in the cards. A few more nights of sleeping with Bones while he was naked and I’d be spread-eagling him. Plus, it didn’t lend to a closer relationship, and that was the goal.

Okay, that left the third option. This was going to hurt.

I returned to my room, showered, dressed, and then marched downstairs. Taps played in my mind because I felt like I was headed for the firing squad.

“Annette.”

My too-jovial voice made her pick up her heard warily. She’d been sipping tea in the parlor with Spade and Denise.

“Cat,” she replied.

“You and I never get to chat,” I continued with a bright smile. “How about I get some wine and we have a little picnic in the yard, just the two of us, hmm?”

Now she was more than wary. Her gaze darted to Spade in a way that clearly spelled out, help. However, Annette was anything except a coward.

“I’m sure that would be lovely…if you insist.”

“Done!” I flashed another broad, false smile. “Red wine or white?”

A dry laugh escaped her. “Really, dear, what do you think?”

“Red it is. See you in twenty minutes? There’s a nice, shady tree behind the pool. I’ll set up there.”

Again, she flicked her eyes to Spade, but he just shrugged as if to say, I don’t have a bloody clue what she’s up to.

Denise watched this exchange with her forehead wrinkled in disbelief. When I headed to the computer in the other room to punch in my beverage and food requests, she followed me.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

“You know the first thing you do before planning a mission?” I replied, a brisk mentality setting in. “Field research.”

Her hazel gaze widened with comprehension. Then she laughed.

“I was going to offer to go with you, but I think I’ll stay out of this. My field research days are over.”

“Yeah, well. I thought mine were, too.”

###

Annette reclined on the quilt like it was a velvet dais. Even the outdoor setting didn’t diminish her sophisticated air. She could have been at the poshest restaurant waiting for her next glass of Crystal. Not on the ground with only a blanket between her and the dirt.

“All right, Cat. You’ve gotten me out in this dreadful heat, what is it that you want?” she said after finishing her first glass.

I took a healthy gulp of my wine before replying. “I’m going to have sex with Bones tonight, and I want to make sure I’ve got all my bases covered.”

Her wineglass almost fell from her hand. “Indeed?”

“You’re not invited to join in,” I continued pleasantly. “I’d like you to make a magnanimous gesture, Annette. One you get no personal gratification out of.”

Both her perfectly shaped brows rose. “You’re not making sense, dear.”

“Fine, I’ll cut to the point. No one knows more about fucking Bones than you do, and I want him happy. Since he doesn’t have love to fall back on if sex with me is mundane, I want to make sure I’m pushing the right buttons with him. So, are you going to help me or not?”

Annette was speechless for a few moments before she laughed, loud and merry.

“Oh, Cat! What you don’t realize is that right now you are exactly like Crispin. This is just what he would do, given similar circumstances.”

“Is that a yes?”

She stifled her laughter, but that gleam was still in her eyes. “The most effective method of instruction is demonstration.”

“The day I grow balls,” I said sweetly. “Verbal only. Yea or nay?”

“Yes.” Her lips kept twitching. “You start. Tell me what the two of you normally do, and then I’ll tell you what you’ve been neglecting.”

And that’s how I ended up detailing my sexual history to Bones’ ex-girlfriend, using concise descriptions and leaving nothing out. After fifteen minutes, the amusement had left her and her eyes had started to fleck with emerald.

“Well? What am I missing?” I finished with.

Annette finishing her wine before pouring herself another. She kept giving me sideways glances as she drank, until finally, she just stared.

“Do you know I’ve been under the impression that you were strait-laced? You act that way, and while I knew you were passionate – blimey, I have ears – I didn’t realize you were such a dirty little vixen!”

She said it accusingly, like I’d been holding out on her. I took another gulp of my own wine and shrugged.

“You know Bones. I used to be strait-laced. He got around that.”

“So it seems.” She shook her head. “Faith, this won’t take long. You’ve no interest in ways to pleasure him with another woman, so I can only suggest three things…”

The items she rattled off almost made me blush. The first I hadn’t considered since he was a vampire and I didn’t think it pertained, the second was flat-out embarrassing, and the third…well. We’d see.

“Hmmm,” was all I said.

She gave me an arch look. “Even so.”

We didn’t say anything for another minute, both of us drinking our wine. All of a sudden, I started to laugh.

“Can you imagine what he’d say if Bones had his memory back and he came upon the two of us discussing the best ways to have sex with him?”

Annette laughed as well. “He’d swear I drugged your wine. He’s so bloody protective of you.”

Just as quickly, my eyes filled with tears. Yeah, he’d loved me so much that he used to be crazy protective. It had been annoying at times. Now, I’d kill to have it again.

She set down her glass and slid across the small blanket. Even as I waved her away, she put her arms around me.

“You poor girl,” she said softly. “Despite our differences, I know how much you love him. And somewhere deep inside him, past this blockage, he knows it, too. There’s no spell that can erase that.”

Then I did the second most unusual thing I’d ever done with Annette. I let her comfort me as I cried.

###

This time, when Bones came home, I wasn’t hiding away upstairs. I was in a chair by the foyer, a half-full glass of gin and tonic next to me. I’d been sipping conservatively, which wasn’t what I wanted to do. I’d have downed two bottles of straight gin, left to my own devices, but reeking of liquor didn’t lend to a romantic mood.

He saw me as he took off his coat, coming closer with it draped over his arm instead of putting it in the closet. He wore a royal blue shirt, the deep color setting off his creamy skin. His pants were black, but that was his norm. Years ago, he’d told me he had better things to do than mix and match his tops with trousers.

“Catherine.”

Just the way he said my name made my heartbeat speed up. When he leaned down, brushing his lips across my cheek, it sped up even more.

Wherever he and Mencheres went during the day, it had shower facilities. He was freshly washed and smelled like soap, male and his own natural scent. The combination was better than cologne.

Behind him, Mencheres gave me a quick, approving nod. He’d probably just filched from my mind what my intentions were. Then the Egyptian vampire melted up the stairs without saying a word. Spade and Denise were on the other side of the house, and Annette was out seeing a movie. Who said she couldn’t be gracious once in a while?

“I, ah, wanted to talk to you,” I said as I stood up and indicated the nearby den.

“Of course.”

He laced his fingers in mine as we walked. If only this didn’t feel so awkward. Or if I were rip-roaring drunk.

“It’s nice to see you,” Bones went on. “I’ve thought of you all day, as usual.”

“Stop.” I pulled my hand free as I shut the den’s door behind us.

“Stop what?”

“You don’t have to say that. What I mean is, you don’t have to try and seduce me. I’ve decided to, um, let you out of the doghouse.”

Part of me had thought he’d hear that, throw me over his shoulder, and run for the nearest bed. Or, as had happened before, just get busy right where we were. Bones didn’t do either. Instead, a smile tugged at his mouth.

“Waving the white flag, are you?”

I threw up my hands. “It just seems fair. You could die for sticking it out with me and you’re very well aware of that. Hell, I’d be demanding some recompense, if I were you. And I know you’re not celibate out of preference, so…bar’s open.”

That drew outright laughter. By the time he reined it in, my foot was tapping in irritation.

“I apologize, luv, but that was priceless. Bar’s open? I’ll bear that in mind. Are you hungry?”

My foot quit tapping. “Are you being sleazy and metaphorical?”

He didn’t burst out laughing again, but from his twitching mouth, it was close.

“No, I meant literally. Have you eaten supper yet?”

“Well, no.”

In all of my apprehension, I’d skipped that. He gave me an appraising look, his tongue tracing inside his bottom lip.

“Right, then, let’s be off.”

He grasped my hand and led me out of the den. When we reached the front door, I stopped.

“What are you doing?”

He gave me a tolerant look. “Can’t even remember the last time we went out for fun, can you? No wonder you look so confused. I’m taking you to dinner, Catherine. Alone.”

That last word was practically a dare for anyone in the house to try and stop him. So I played the part of Spade and Mencheres.

“We can’t, it’s not safe. Someone could spot us and tell Gregor, not to mention I can’t know where we are. Jeez, if you’re not in the mood, just tell me! You don’t have to go all crazy.”

He laughed again, but this time, it was filled with more than humor. Green pinpointed in his eyes and he moved closer until my retreat was blocked by the door.

“My dear, sweet wife, I want you terribly. As to the dangers of going out, you’ve gotten good at keeping your eyes closed. If there’s immediate trouble, I have my mobile and we won’t be going far. Besides,” his smile turned wicked, “we haven’t even had a proper date yet. What bloke puts out without that? Blimey, I don’t know what sort you think I am.”

###

Bones took me to a chain restaurant. Smart, since it would have locations nationwide. Since it was dinner hour, a long line of people waited to get in, but Bones just flashed his eyes at the hostess and we were given the next table.

I didn’t look at the menu. Or the cars in the parking lot, license plates having too much information. I kept my concentration on him, and he made that easy. He sat next to me instead of across from me, touching my arm, back or hand in casual ways that made me barely able to chew, and never once let the conversation pause. I’d almost forgotten how charming he could be. It didn’t escape the notice of several females in the vicinity, either, who kept throwing him interested glances. I reminded myself that there was nothing wrong with looking. Flinging my fork into some chick’s forehead for checking him out was undeserved. And too flashy. We’d definitely have to cut our evening short.

Bones didn’t eat since solid food wasn’t his preference, so he drank whiskey and encouraged me to eat everything on my plate. Over my objections, he also ordered dessert and goaded me into eating that, too. Since it was a brownie with ice cream and chocolate sauce, I didn’t require much persuading. When I finally put my fork down, he let out an amused snort.

“Heavy-lidded eyes and a sated smile. Not the way I’d imagined seeing it, but lovely nonetheless. There’s one bite left.”

I was too stuffed to do more than look at it. “It’s good, you should have it.”

“All right,” he said at once.

Maybe I didn’t guess his intention because I was in the mildly dazed state of overeating. Or perhaps I was lulled by his easy charm. What I should have remembered was this was Bones. There was only so long his chasteness would last.

His mouth came down on mine, his hand on the back of my neck keeping me from jerking away in surprise. I gasped at the contact, and he took my parted lips as an invitation. His tongue swept past my lips, deepening the kiss with a skillful sensuality that had me gasping for a different reason this time. My head tilted back as he explored my mouth with unhurried thoroughness, and when I slid my tongue along his, he sucked on it with erotic hunger.

Sensations hijacked my sensibilities. The taste of whiskey on his tongue. His hand on my neck, pulling me closer. My nipples hardening when our bodies met. The race of my pulse, increasing with every second. And his throaty moan when my hand moved further up his thigh –

I yelped, snatching my hand away as color rushed to my face. I’d been about three inches from feeling him up in a crowded restaurant. What was the matter with me?

Bones’s eyes snapped open when I broke away, revealing that they’d changed from dark brown to bright green. “What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong?” I repeated. “I’m a dirty tramp, that’s what’s wrong!”

Several heads turned. Oops, said that too loud. I sank lower in my seat, wishing the ground would swallow me.

Bones laughed, low and throaty. “I’m breaking your rule, Catherine, because I’m going to compliment you again. You’re even more beautiful when you blush. You’ll have me wracking my brain thinking up ways to make you do it again.”

“Believe me, you already have,” I muttered, cursing my heated cheeks.

The waitress stopped by with the check, casting disapproving looks at both of us before hurrying away. First making out at the table, then me howling out my lack of morality. I hoped Bones left her a big tip.

“Let’s go, okay? I think I’ve done enough damage,” I said.

His eyes had been marbling back to brown, but at that, they flashed green.

“Feeling your response means more to me than anyone in this place, so sod them. I’ve been afraid that my actions had killed any real desire you had for me. Oh, I knew you fancied the look of me, but that’s not the same. I can’t decide if I’m more switched on or relieved, and believe me, luv, I have never been so aroused.”

He almost whispered the last sentence. Not for propriety, since as stated, he didn’t care about that, but because they were more emphatic softer. All the while, his gaze drilled into mine until I felt stripped both physically and emotionally, and I scrambled to get control of myself.

“Okay, well, we can leave. If you’re, ah, ready to go to bed.”

Bones leaned back, eying me now with calculation.

“Think you’ll keep me at bay by shagging me? Wrong. I want you, not just your flesh, though I confess a strong desire for that, too. I’ll wait to have you until it is you. You won’t make me settle for anything less.”

“Are you sure you don’t have your memory back?” I snapped. “Because you sound just like you did the day you left me!”

As soon as the words left me, I clapped a hand over my mouth. I’d just ripped open a wound that had barely scabbed, and from his immediate pounce, he knew it.

“It wasn’t only Gregor between us, was it? Did you do this before? Shield yourself away from me?”

“People are waiting for this table,” I stalled, looking around to avoid his gaze.

It didn’t work. “You don’t want to have this conversation back at the house with a dozen eavesdroppers any more than I do. Here and now, Catherine, let’s sort this out.”

He’d never let it go. Not Bones, king of seeing things through to the end.

“I’ll need a gallon of gin for this,” I grumbled while trying to away from him. At least I could get a little physical distance if he was about to rip apart my emotional barriers.

Bones eyed me before slapping money on the table. Then he grasped my hand.

“Gallon of gin, you say? I know just the place.”

He led me out of the restaurant and I shut my eyes once we reached the parking lot, following the tug on my hand to the car. Once in it, I concentrated on the song playing instead of noises from nearby places. It was an old one, “Under Pressure” by Queen, and I could relate to the lyrics. I was under pressure, too, and it was about to get worse.

Bones didn’t drive long before we stopped. He opened my door and took my hand again. Even these small touches affected me, bringing out a stinging longing. It was so weird to miss someone when they were right next to you.

“Open your eyes,” he said after he led me inside.

The neon Budweiser sign was the first thing I saw. We were at a noisy, boisterous bar. At least I didn’t feel underdressed, as I had at dinner. My button-down shirt and jeans fit right in here.

Bones took us over to the bar. “Gin, top shelf, the entire bottle.”

Money changing hands cleared up the bartender’s objection. I was too nervous over our upcoming discussion to be embarrassed by that little scene. When Bones led me to a table at the far end of the bar, I took the bottle from him and began to drink. Bones waited until my third deep swallow before he spoke.

“Did you hold yourself back from me the entire time we were together?”

My hands trembled on the bottle that I gripped like a lifeline. Still, I refused to lie. “Yeah, pretty much.”

“Why?”

Such a simple question. So impossible to answer.

I sighed. “Different reasons for different circumstances. When we first met, it was because I hated vampires and you were one of them. Years later, after you found me, I had fears about my job, my mother, and you wanting me to change over. Then finding out that I was, like, the thirty-thousandth woman you’d slept with. Always running into your exes was a little hard to swallow, and –”

“Who told you that number?” he interrupted, astonished.

I took a few more gulps before answering. “You did.”

Both his brows went up. I nodded in confirmation. “I asked, and you said about three to four women a week was your average before me. Multiply that by your age, and there you have it.”

“Bugger,” he swore. “Don’t know what I was thinking, revealing such a thing to my wife.”

He gave me another appraising sweep of his eyes, as if measuring what had made him tell me that. I was glad for the switch in topics and plowed ahead.

“You also said you considered your virginity lost in stages of four.”

His brows went higher. “I told you that, too? Did you pump me full of truth serum one night? Is that how you got me gabbing like a teenage girl?”

“Some of the things you told me weren’t to be believed, but you swore they were true. Like the time you were a whore and after a particularly busy night, you faked a hard-on with a new client by using your fingers to keep your cock straight. Now that, I couldn’t imagine, but you said the woman never knew –”

“Clearly I opened up to you in a very personal way,” he cut me off, resolve replacing the disbelief in his expression. “Everyone tells me I was deeply in love with you. The things you know, like my mother’s perfume and other stories I’ve never shared, only solidify that. Yet you admit to holding me at arm’s length, and you still haven’t said why.”

I almost choked on my gin. The spotlight was back on me, with reinforcements.

Bones stared at me, waiting. Around us, people drank and danced and fought and had their own problems. In the grand scheme of things, one wobbly marriage didn’t matter except to the two people in it.

“I don’t know why,” I said at last, very softly. “It seemed like every time I opened up, something bad happened and I’d need my shields to get me through it. I almost jumped off a cliff when I thought you were dead and Vlad had to talk me down. That’s what happens when I let myself go. I can’t stand to need you so much, so…I hold back. Just enough. Then, if you’re gone, I can still function, no matter the reason why you’re not there.”

A small, twisting smile pulled at his mouth.

“Never value something with more than you can afford to lose. Yes, I understand that very well. It’s what I’ve lived by all these years, so it appears I married someone just like me. I suppose it’s fitting.”

We didn’t say anything for a few minutes. I drank while those brown orbs bored into mine whenever I met them, which wasn’t often. Finally, he slid his hand across the table, palm up.

“Let’s agree to stop, both of us. Take my hand, Catherine. No more safety net, no shields. We’ll let each other in, though it will mean living as dangerously as it gets. Are you with me?”

My first impulse was to run as far as my legs could take me. Bones’s stare promised to hold me to any vow I made, and I didn’t think I could handle losing all of my defenses. He wasn’t offering guarantees, either. He couldn’t. In life, there were none.

I looked at his pale skin, broad palm, tapered fingers and short nails. I knew a lot of the history behind that hand, and most of it wasn’t pretty. The violence in his past was only exceeded by the licentiousness, and maybe more. Maybe I didn’t really want to discover everything about Bones.

And yet, in the end, none of my concerns mattered. This was Bones, and I’d never been able to help myself when it came to him.

My hand covered his like steel to a magnet. Even if it destroyed me – and hell, it probably would – I still couldn’t do anything else.

Bones drew a knife out with his other hand. I gave him a questioning look as he pressed it to my palm.

“I don’t remember doing this before, and until I have my other memories back, I want something of my own.”

The knife scored my palm, welling blood up in the cut. He released me and then cut his hand the same way.

“Claim me as yours, Catherine.”

An offer and a demand. I met his eyes while taking his hand with mine, feeling his blood start to heal me on contact.

“By my blood, you are my husband,” I said softly.

His hand tightened on mine. “By my blood, you are my wife. Forever.”

I gave him a small, almost shy smile. “You want to kiss the bride?”

He didn’t smile back. Instead, his expression was very serious.

“Yes.”

This time, his kiss was restrained. I was the one who flicked my tongue inside his mouth, craving his taste. Then I was the one who wrapped my arms around him and pulled him closer.

His restraint vanished. He tangled his hand in my hair, tipping my head back and opening my mouth further while he ravished the inside. I clutched him, suddenly feeling dizzy. His other hand ran down my back, shifting me until our hips lined up. Then he kissed me deeper while the bulge in his pants hit my most sensitive spot.

At the feel of him there, that denied, starved part of me reared up and said, now. Not later, not back at the house. Right. Now.

My hands raced down his back, his chest, his stomach – I couldn’t stop touching him. Bones let out a harsh moan and lifted me up. My feet made contact with several people as he pushed through the crowd to the exit, but he made it there so fast, they probably didn’t know what had hit them.

He moved just as swiftly through the parking lot, still kissing me with a hunger that made me oblivious to anything else. Once we reached the car, Bones deposited me into the front seat, but I didn’t let go. I pulled him on top of me, barely registering the sound of the car door slamming shut.

He wrestled out of his jacket without breaking contact with his mouth. All the while, that bulge continued to rub me in the most inflaming, erotic way. The intimate friction ripped away the last of my control, making me insane with need. He made a rough noise when I wrapped my legs around him, then I felt the seat go all the way back.

His shirt came off with a single, impatient tug, then with a jerk, he split apart my blouse and bra. When my breasts touched him, skin on skin, the contact drove me out of my mind. I twisted against him in mute demand, not caring that I could barely breathe from his ceaseless, devouring kisses. His hands went to my jeans, and after a rip, he pulled them down my legs.

“Don’t stop touching me,” I gasped, burning to feel his hands on me again. Even the seconds he’d spent taking off my jeans was too long.

“I can’t stop,” he growled. Then he tore at the front of his pants. I writhed under him, digging my nails into his back, my whole body thrumming with expectation.

“Bones-!”

His name ended in a cry as he thrust inside me. My loins clenched at the excruciating pleasure as he moved deeper, stretching me with his length and thickness. I latched my mouth onto his neck, straining toward him while my nails raked down his back.

Words spilled out of me, but I didn’t know what they were. My heart beat so loudly, it deafened me. Those deep, hard thrusts had me sobbing with ecstasy. Every nerve ending sizzled and my muscles tensed as he increased his pace, until I heard myself crying out for more in a voice that broke from passionate sobs.

Bones yanked my hips up, tilting me as he pushed so deeply inside me that I screamed. He leaned forward, increasing the ecstatic pressure, and rocked hard and rhythmically. Blasts of pleasure shot through me. That boiling tension ruptured all at once, shaking me with the orgasm. He didn’t pause, and his continued movements kept me shouting with passion. After a few minutes, his hands clamped on my hips while his whole body tensed. A hoarse cry was followed by a throb deep within as his climax vibrated through me, and I reveled in the feel of it.

After several moments, he shifted to rest his weight on his arms, waiting until I stopped hyperventilating before he kissed me.

“Bloody hell, luv, I’m trembling.”

I gasped out a laugh at the surprise in his voice. “You always do.”

“No,” he whispered. “I don’t.” Then concern skipped across his features. “Did I hurt you? Didn’t mean to lose control like that –”

“Do I feel hurt to you?” I interrupted with another breathless laugh.

He smiled and it melted me to see it. He was still inside me, still hard, and it felt so right that I thought I’d cry.

I didn’t because in the next instant, red and blue lights flashed behind him. Bones let out a vile curse just a voice boomed out, “Police! Come out with your hands up!”

“Are you out of your bloody mind?” he thundered back.

“What’s going on?” I managed to say before he lifted me out from under him, pushing me into the back seat.

“Stay down, stupid sods just cocked their guns,” he muttered.

Guns? “Wait –”

“They’re only human, I’ll tidy this right up,” he cut me off. “There’s a bit of a crowd out there, Catherine. Put this shirt on.”

I was half sitting on his shirt in the back seat, but my clothes were nowhere in sight, so I grabbed it.

“Coming out, lads, nice and easy,” Bones called out.

“With your hands up,” the bullish cop reminded him.

Bones opened the door and stretched out his hands. Meanwhile, I scrambled to put on his shirt.

“Nobody move in the car!” came the next bellow.

“It’s just my wife, mate, no harm. Come and see for yourself.”

Bones was using his vampire voice, raising the hairs on the back of my neck with its timbre. Since I was no longer mindless from lust, I could now hear and see the small crowd hanging out behind the police.  Well, what did I expect? Noisy sex in a parking lot was bound to get noticed.

One of the two policemen approached, and I blushed when I saw Bones get out of the car wearing nothing but his shoes. Thank God the other cars blocked most of him from the bar patrons view.

“Obviously I’m not armed, so let me explain,” he said in the same reasonable, echoing tone.

Once the officer was close enough, Bones hit him with his gaze. His eyes gleamed only for an instant, but it was enough.

“Tell your partner that all’s well and to over here,” he instructed him quietly.

“Jack, come on over,” the cop intoned, lowering his gun. “It’s okay, there’s no assault in progress.”

Inwardly, I ground. People had called the police because they thought there was an assault going on? That’s what I got for being a screamer!

“Ed?”

The other cop hadn’t lowered his gun. He was still cautious, good for him. But he did come closer. Bones waited until the officer’s back was to the crowd before his gaze lit up again.

“Nothing’s going on. False alarm, right, mate? We’re leaving and you won’t even report this.”

“Sure,” the cop said with the same glazed look as his partner, Ed. He even smiled. “You folks take care now, you hear?”

“Thanks ever so,” Bones replied with less graciousness. “Now, tell those bloody people to mind their own business and go back inside.”

“Folks, there’s nothin’ going on here,” Officer Ed rang out, waving at the onlookers. “Go on back inside before I start checking licenses and insurance!”

That got results. With grumbles, the people dispersed. There were a few whistles and some lewd comments, but soon, only a couple of gawkers remained.

“Right, then, gents, off you go.”

Bones waited until the police got back in their car before he walked around to the driver’s side, totally nonchalant about his nudity. In the interim, I’d gotten his shirt on, grateful that it hung to my thighs since my panties were in tatters and my jeans were ruined. Almost getting arrested post-coitus was a definitely a mood kill.

“Here.” I handed him his pants when he opened the door. “Zipper’s ripped, but they’ll cover you.”

Bones stepped into them and then got in the car. I crawled back into the front seat and adjusted the lever until it was upright once more. We drove off with a spin of tires, me closing my eyes at the whole scene.

“This was my fault, Catherine, I’m sorry,” Bones said.

I kept my eyes shut even though it was pointless. “You weren’t the one who screamed so loud that someone called the police.”

“Perhaps not, but I should have controlled myself until we were back at the house. Even worse, I lost complete awareness of my surroundings. It’s a damn good thing only coppers stumbled on us, or I could have gotten you killed.”

I let out a watery laugh. “I’m just as much to blame as you are, and if you’d have tried to put the brakes on before, there would have been an assault in progress.”

He chuckled. “This isn’t the way I intended things to go tonight, but I’ll make it up to you as soon as we get back.”

I sighed. “I’ve got two words that’ll make you forget all about that plan.”

“Indeed?” He sounded highly skeptical.

“Omaha, Nebraska,” I said, and opened my eyes.

“Bugger,” Bones said with feeling.

I nodded. “Yup.”

While I’d watched the drama with Bones and the police, additional things had caught my attention. License plates. The city’s name painted on the cop’s car. The radio dispatcher in the background, giving street addresses and codes. In short, my exact location.

Bones pulled his cell out, dialing. The other end picked up on the first ring.

“Hallo, Charles…no, we’re fine. We’re on our way back, but we ran into a spot of trouble. Catherine knows where we are…yes…right…see you within the hour.”

He hung up. “They’ll start preparations. I’ll ask you to settle back and close your eyes. You know the city, but there’s no need to make it easy for Gregor to find the house. We’re going to drive about for a bit to throw you off from the exact distance.”

“Can we stop at a gas station?”

“Why? We have petrol…oh, right.” He caught on. “Of course.”

I did have to pee, but that wasn’t my only reason for wanting to visit a bathroom. The inside of my thighs were wet, and trotting into a house full of vampires like that didn’t appeal. Add me wearing only his shirt and Bones may as well write ‘Got Laid!’ on his forehead.

Bones went to the nearest service station and got the restroom key for me. I stayed in the car, watching with dark amusement at the looks the counter clear gave him. He was still shirtless and there was a nice big tear along the inseam of his pants. It was a damn good thing Bones also healed so fast, or the various scratch marks and hickeys would have been even more incriminating.

After I answered nature’s call, I freshened up as best I could with paper towels, water and liquid soap. A hot shower would have been preferable, but that wasn’t in the cards. We’d probably be leaving right after we got back to the house.

Bones materialized next to me when I came out of the bathroom, making me jump. I thought he was still waiting in the car.

“You scared me,” I said with a little laugh.

He cast a look down the front of me. “Do you regret making love to me?”

I hadn’t expected that. “Why would you…what…?”

“Simple yes or no, Catherine,” he said, gripping my shoulders and giving me that unblinking gaze.

“No! I mean, I regret what happened afterward with the cops, but…why, do you?”

“Of course not.” He let go. “Then why did you wash as though I’d fouled you?”

He was offended that I’d cleaned up? Okay, that was new.

“Because it’s tacky to walk around like that! I know how well vampires can smell, and there’s a bunch of them waiting back at the house. Grant me a little dignity, will you?”

“Tacky?” Bones appeared to mull the word. “We have a difference of opinion. I’m in no hurry to wash your scent from me. In fact, I can’t wait until it’s all over every inch of me.”

Whoa. Guess Annette had been right about Suggestion Number Two!

A low laugh escaped him. “You’re blushing again. I’m finished holding back – you are absolutely stunning. Do you know why I laughed the first time I saw you? Because I still half-thought that it was a prank. Charles tells me a lurid tale about an arch enemy, a forgotten marriage and a spell to induce amnesia, then in walks this exquisite girl who’s supposed to be my wife. It didn’t even seem possible.”

He kissed me then, quick and fervent. I didn’t even have a chance to respond before he ended it.

“Let’s go. It seems I don’t have any willpower when I kiss you. Later, I’ll kiss and taste every inch of you. I won’t be able to think about anything else until then.”

With far more unsteadiness then before, I got into the car. No, it wasn’t a good idea for him to kiss me. I wanted more when he did that, too, and there were only so many gas stations between here and the house.

###

Thankfully, no one batted an eye when we arrived in our different attire. Bones gave me his coat to wear, so I was decently covered, at least. He only wore his torn pants and shoes, but there wasn’t time for winks and nudges. Mencheres drew him aside as soon as we crossed the threshold, and I went straight to my bedroom to change. Denise and Spade were loading up the car, from what I overheard, and Annette was chatting with Fabian so someone else must be collecting her bags. From the bustle of activity, we’d be leaving soon.

I threw some things into a suitcase that had been laid out on the bed. Already, most of my other things were packed, judging from the empty drawers and the suitcases by the door. A glance in Bones’s room showed a freckle-faced teenager hefting some bags toward the door. He smiled at me and told me he’d be back to get mine. Okay, so we were leaving very soon.

Spade came to get me ten minutes later. “Come with me, Cat, I’ll show you to your car.”

“Where’s Bones?”

He gave me a jaded smile. “Still with Mencheres, I expect.”

That sounded faintly ominous. “It’s not his fault,” I said at once. “I’m the one who didn’t shut my eyes in the parking lot –”

“Quite,” Spade interrupted with a laugh. “Crispin knew when he took you out that you might discover your location. He choose to do it anyway, and now he’s held to task for it. Don’t fret. Mencheres is just giving him the rough edge of his opinion.”

Spade’s demeanor was far friendlier. Ever since had Vlad had torched his house, he’d been a little prickly around me.

“Why are you in such a good mood? Happy about a change of scenery?”

“My best friend is happier,” he responded instantly. “Come now, Cat. If Denise was the one who’d unwittingly cheated on me and I treated her with cool judgment, how would you respond? Especially if she were truly regretful? You’d be skinning off pieces of my arse and we both know it, so can you blame me for wanting to do likewise?”

Well, that was honest. Put in those terms, he also had a point. I’d julienne him if he hurt Denise. Guess he’d fought similar compulsions.

“If I didn’t love him so much, I’d be more logical,” I said at last.

Spade smiled. “I know.” Then he chuckled and gave my ass a quick smack. “That’s why this is still intact, without my boot stuffed up there.”

I slapped at his hand, but he’d already moved it away. Then he took my suitcases, using one to gesture with.

“Come along, Reaper. Let’s get lost again.”

###

An unknown human was at the wheel of the car Spade let me to. He hadn’t bothered to introduce us. That no-name policy, I guessed. As soon as Bones got in, we left. A whole caravan of vehicles was going also, from the sound of it. I had my eyes closed. No need to give Gregor a mental image of things. Wait until he peeked into my mind and found out that I’d had sex with Bones. The thought almost made me smile.

Cool arms settled around me as Bones repositioned me until my head was on his chest. Then something light was placed over me.

“Go on, luv. Open your eyes.”

I did and saw a dark sheet covering both of us. It felt like we were kids paying tent, and I bit back the urge to ask if he’d brought a flashlight.

Bones smiled. “Now at least we can look at each other while we speak. We’ll be driving ‘round two hours before we switch transportation modes. I know you’re tired, but don’t sleep until after that.”

“I’m not that tired. I usually don’t sleep until dawn, anyway.”

A dark brow rose. “You’ve been abed before midnight all week. That’s not your normal routine?”

I decided on an honest answer. “I was avoiding you. First it was because I was mad, and then when I was around you, I’d either babble or do something completely embarrassing. Hiding in my room felt like the lesser of two evils.”

Bones caught my hand in his. “You’re not hiding any longer, right?”

It didn’t escape my notice that he held the same hand he’d used for our blood oath.

“No,” I said quietly. “Not anymore.”

It also didn’t escape my notice that the last time we’d been reclined in a car, it had been under very different circumstances. I shifted, finding a more comfortable position, and the movement caused a twinge of soreness down below. Good thing we weren’t going over unpaved roads.

Bones stared at me while his other hand slid down until it rested below my navel.

“I was too rough before. Let me to heal you.”

His voice was soft and with the radio blaring, the human driving the car couldn’t overhear us. It made our conversation feel private even if our circumstances weren’t.

“No,” I whispered. “I like feeling you there. You said my scent was comforting? Well, this is to me, and you weren’t too rough. I loved it. This is what I usually feel afterward, but it isn’t pain, believe me.”

I was telling the truth. This was a pleasant sort of ache, and it increased when his eyes began turning green.

“You deserve so much better than a back seat, but I couldn’t help myself. I felt so much touching you that it broke my will. Gregor might have stolen you from my mind, but it’s clear you went deeper than that. You’re beneath my skin, Catherine, and now I know that no person or spell can take you away from me.”

Happiness coursed through me. “Well, if it helps your progress…I guess we’ll have to do it every night.”

He let out an amused snort. “Believe me, you’re not keeping me from your bed any longer. You only succeeded before because I didn’t know any better. I’d have been howling outside your door like a mangy dog if I had.”

“That would have been the last straw for Spade. He’d have slugged me.”

His arms curled around me. The feel of him was like therapy, soothing away my prior hurts.

“Tell me how we met. I want to know everything about it.”

I settled back with a contented sigh. “You were on a job, and you’d tracked your mark to a bar in Ohio. I was there, too, just itching to kill any vampire I could get alone. I saw you, came over and asked if you wanted to fuck…”

###

The new house didn’t have a barn, horses, or a large, pasture-like backyard. It was in the woods, with nothing but trees all around. The interior also wasn’t as upscale as the last few places. In fact, it was kind of rustic. Spade wrinkled his nose in mild distaste. I loved it.

We’d flown the past few hours, then switched back to cars for the last forty minutes. It was well after dawn and I just wanted to shower, brush my teeth, and go to bed wrapped up in Bones’s arms. Mencheres, however, had other ideas.

“No, because he’s coming with me,” was Mencheres’s immediate response when I asked Bones if he’d be right up.

“Huh?” I stopped on the stairs, my suitcase still in hand.

“I’m afraid I won’t see you until tonight,” Bones nearly sighed the words. “Training. We’re already a bit late.”

“But you haven’t slept,” I protested, starting back down.

“That does not excuse him,” Mencheres stated.

Now I was mad. “Aren’t you a little too old for spitefulness by, oh, a few thousand years?”

Bones came forward to rest a soothing hand on my arm. “I already knew this was my penalty. Think I’d change my actions because of lost sleep? You just get plenty of rest yourself. After all,” he brushed his lips next to my ear, “you’ll need it.”

Short of throwing a fit, there didn’t seem to be much I could do. I contented myself with mentally informing Mencheres that he was a cold-hearted, nasty shit, and turned back around. Guess it was just shower, brush my teeth and go to bed alone for me.

“I’ll be waiting for you,” I said as I headed back up the stairs.

Bones gave a short laugh. “You’d better be.”

I picked the bedroom on the farthest corner of the second floor. Not the largest, but it was further away from the others. The privacy was an illusion, but it was the best I could do. It would be so nice to have actual privacy again and not just its counterfeit.

After my bath, I slept for a few hours. Not as many as I should have, but I kept waking up and reaching across the empty space. Eventually I gave up and went downstairs. Annette was watching TV, giving instructions to the actress on the screen.

“Don’t run up the stairs, fool, the killer’s right there!”

Ah, a horror movie. Then I sniffed in confusion. “Are you wearing perfume?”

Annette glanced up and laughed. “Are you blind? Look around, Cat.”

At that, I finally took in the rest of my surroundings. Jeez, she was right. If these had been enemy forces, I’d be dead. Roses were on almost every available table top. Long-stemmed, gorgeous, crimson roses.

“Bones had these delivered?”

“No, the Juice Boxes picked them up,” she replied, turning her attention back to the movie. “They’re in a house up the road.”

I wanted to tell her that calling the live-in blood donors Juice Boxes wasn’t polite, but I didn’t bother. All I muttered was, “You’ll never be normal,” and headed back upstairs.

“Neither will you, darling!” Annette sang out.

Uppity English tart. And yet, when she was right, she was right.

###

Denise set down her cards after Spade nudged her.

“No fair,” I protested. “Each player for themselves.”

The three of us had been playing poker. Denise was better at bluffing, but her other skills hadn’t matured as fast. She and Spade partnered up shamelessly.

“It’s not that. We’re going out,” Spade said, setting down his hand.

“Oh.” I dropped my cards. “Well, don’t get freaky in a parking lot. Cops don’t like that.”

Denise burst out laughing. “Is that what happened last night?”

“Let’s just say we disturbed the peace and leave it at that.”

Spade didn’t laugh, but his lips twitched. “It’s a wonder Crispin didn’t kill them.”

I wasn’t about to explain more. Should have just zipped it to begin with. “He might have wanted to. I didn’t ask.”

“Indeed.” His mouth quirked again. “Appears he’s taking precautions this time. We’re going out, Mencheres is leaving, Annette will be staying overnight in the other residence, and Fabian will be floating elsewhere. You’ll have the house to yourselves.”

A slow flush crept its way up my face. “Bones arranged that?”

Now Spade did laugh. “What do you think?”

Well, what indeed? No fewer than six dozen roses were around the house, plus I’d also gotten a box of new lingerie. That had cracked me up, though, because of the note inside.

Now you needn’t fret about wearing someone else’s knickers.

Whatever Mencheres had Bones doing, he’d clearly allowed him some time to make arrangements. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Bones had intentions about tonight, lack of sleep or no lack of sleep.

“Um, have a nice time,” I said, trying to play it cool.

Spade didn’t say, ‘You too!’ with a knowing wink. He only smiled and took Denise by the hand.

“We’ll be back before dawn.”

They left and soon after, Annette followed suit. Since it was after dark, Bones would be here soon. I cleaned up the poker debris and then went in my room.

A lot of women have a ritual for a planned sexual encounter. In a way, it was the pre-foreplay foreplay. I took a quick shower and brushed my teeth. I’d already shaved from my earlier bath, so that was done. Then I applied unscented lotion, further smoothing my skin. After a quick blow-dry, I put a few curls into my hair to make it messily full. Finally, I applied a hint of makeup with matte lipstick.

I’d just finished when I heard the car pull up. I went downstairs, wanting to be semi-posed. As the car stopped, I positioned myself on the couch, then thought, what if he wasn’t alone? I jumped up, starting back up the stairs, but relaxed a second later. I’d only heard one car door shut, so Mencheres must not have returned with Bones.

The key turned in the lock, making it too late for me to repeat my former pose. I only had time to turn around as Bones came in. Instead of the sultry hello I’d prepared, all that came out was a breathy, “Hi.”

Bones didn’t say anything as his eyes moved over me. I was wearing the long, tonally dyed slip that had come with the new bras and panties. At the top, it was the palest pink, with whisper-thin straps and a deep neckline. As it went past my hips, it darkened in color until the bottom was a deep rose. I wasn’t wearing anything under it, and since it revealed far more than it hid, his gaze didn’t miss an inch.

“Catherine.”

His voice, thicker with desire, made warmth course through me.

“Take me to bed.” Not very original, but I couldn’t seem to say anything else. Really, the last two words were redundant, anyway.

In a blink, he was in front of me, his hands on my hips. They massaged me with slow circles as his mouth went to my neck. His tongue at my pulse shivered me, as did the brush of his fangs, then he went past my collarbone, dragging his lips down further. Finally he settled on my breast, licking the peak before sucking it through the material.

The chafe of silk and his mouth grew while his hands explored my curves. He didn’t raise the slip, but used the fabric to his advantage as he dragged it along my body. I gripped his head, feeling dangerously weak when his mouth descended on my other breast.

“Take me to bed now,” I managed to say, glad it hadn’t come out as another, more explicit demand.

A strong suction had me arching my back to press closer to him. My nipples throbbed when he lifted his head. His eyes met mine, and they were scalding green.

His arms coiled around me, lifting me though his head stayed near my breasts, kissing the valley in between them. The staircase didn’t even creak with his quick steps, and he went straight to my bedroom. He could probably smell which one I’d slept in.

Bones set me on the bed, but I pushed him back when he began to stretch out next to me.

“Take off your clothes.”

He stopped me when I began to undo his buttons. “Not yet.”

“Yes. I want to touch you.”

A groan came out of him. “Later, luv. I’m barely clinging to my control as it is, and I have plans for you.”

That wasn’t what I wanted, no matter how great it would feel.

“Forget your control. I want you, not your willpower.”

“Willpower?” He chuckled, smoothing the nightgown up my leg. “You’re very wrong. I don’t have any with you.”

I stopped his hand. “If your clothes stay on, so do mine.”

He began unbuttoning his shirt. I slid my palms along his chest when it was revealed. His skin felt incredible, so sleek and tight. When his shirt came off, he started on his pants. I slid closer to him, kissing his neck. His other hand climbed higher up my thigh.

My breath caught at the intimate stroke of his fingers. His touch was gentle, finding and then teasing the most sensitive parts of me. I opened my legs, gasping, and he began to suck on my throat. Not breaking the skin, just capturing my pulse in his mouth and tonguing it.

I pushed his pants down his legs. Two small thuds on the floor were his shoes, then finally, he was naked. I couldn’t stop touching him, reveling in the hum of power under his skin, his muscles, and all the familiar ridges and valleys of his body. Feeling them again aroused me almost as much as his seeking fingers.

When I reached down to close my hand around him, he caught it. “Let me look at you.”

Lust deepened his voice. His fangs were also out and his eyes were green fire. He dragged my nightgown up and over my head before letting it fall to the side. When he spoke again, his voice was throatier.

“Sometimes I think I’ve dreamt you. Or that I’ve died and you’re my heaven.”

I stroked his cheek. “Or your hell, but I don’t want to debate. I want you inside me.”

“Yes.” It was a hiss.

His body covered mine, pressing me back. My legs cradled his hips as he took my hands, stretching them over my head. Then the hard, thick feel of him grazed me. I strained against him, impatient, wanting to grab him and feel him cleave into me.

“Now, Bones.”

His eyes glowed brighter at my panted words. “Not…yet.”

He slid down, his mouth settling between my legs. A long, slow lick tore a cry from me, then additional, sensual delves left me burning with need.

“So sweet,” he growled. “You taste like crushed flowers, and I must have more.”

His tongue went deeper, almost convulsing me. Bands of pleasure yanked together in my belly, my heart thumped, and every inch of me felt on fire.

“Bones, now!”

A high-pitched demand he responded to by pulling my thighs over his shoulders, continuing his erotic assault. I clutched his head, all my words replaced by moans. He tasted every millimeter of me, until I rocked against him in ecstasy. Everything inside me tensed when he began to suck on my clitoris, his fangs rubbing instead of piercing. Those strong pulls detonated the fireball in me, that inner throb erupting so fast, I didn’t even have time to scream.

Bones moaned, caressing my thighs as I shuddered from my climax. Then languorous warmth filled me, making me sound drowsy though I was far, far from sleepy.

“Your mouth is deadly, you know that?”

A laugh tickled me and he gave a last lick before answering. “I enjoyed that so much, I almost came with you.”

I kissed him when he slid up, winding my arms around his neck. “Not yet,” I breathed as he grasped my hips and moved between them.

“No?” he asked, stilling. “Too soon afterward?”

I pushed him away enough to maneuver. “No, but first…”

My head was at his stomach when he stopped me with a steel grip.

“Don’t.”

The flat refusal in his voice surprised me. “Why not?”

Something lurked in his eyes, gone in an instant, but I still caught it. If I hadn’t known him so well, I wouldn’t have.

“Not now.” He moved me up and smiled. “My control is thin, and I want to take my time. Not be disgracefully quick like in the car.”

“Bones.” I held his gaze. “I’m not asking, and don’t stop me again.”

I slid lower on the bed and he held himself absolutely still. It pierced me, because I’d seen in that glimpse what the real problem was. Raw, guilty shame had flashed in his eyes. The memory of what I’d overheard with Cannelle bothered him as much as it did me, it seemed.

I rubbed my cheek on his stomach while handling him with soft touches. “I love your skin. It’s like a drug. I have to feel you when I’m near you, and when I’m near you, I want to taste you…”

I flicked my tongue into the crease of his thigh and his tenseness eased a notch. He couldn’t see it, but I smiled. In this, I was confident. Long ago, he had taught me all his weaknesses.

I licked along both creases of his thighs, only letting my breath fall on the hard length that throbbed against my cheek. Then my tongue grazed the sensitive skin of his sack, and he shuddered.

He sat up, reaching for me. “Catherine, let me –”

“No.” I batted his hands away. “Just you.”

He laughed somewhat unsteadily. “Why do I feel as though I’m in trouble?”

I met his eyes, giving a single, long lick along the length of his shaft. “Because you are.”

Several minutes later, he came with a shout that would have caused someone to call the police, if we’d been back in that bar parking lot.

“You think that my mouth is deadly?” His voice was strained as he pulled me up to him. “You’ve shown me to be a rank amateur.”

My laugh was throaty. “If you’re just being polite, you have only yourself to blame. You taught me what to do.”

“Then well done to me.” Bones captured my mouth with a long, deep kiss that excited me almost as much as hearing his shout of pleasure. I slid on top of him, straddling him.

“Too soon afterward?” I teased.

Hard flesh pierced me, replacing my laughter with an extended moan. Oh, the feel of him! Moving slowly but powerfully, swaying me to his pace. I balanced on his shoulders until he sat up, gripping me close. Then his mouth went to my breast, sucking with erotic intensity before his fangs penetrated the tip.

It wasn’t a deep bite. Just enough to send throbs of pleasure through me from the juice in his fangs. My nipple felt seared, and when he sucked and bit the other one, all my defenses fell away.

“I love you.”

It was a gasp I couldn’t hold back even though logic said it was too soon. My reason had just flatlined, however, leaving only my emotions in control. Bones’s mouth left my breasts and he froze like I’d flipped a switch.

Suddenly, I was nervous. “I meant, I love this -”

“Don’t you dare.” His hands left my body to hold my face. “Say that again.”

“I don’t want you to, to feel obligated –”

“Never say that to me again.”

He was still inside me, but not moving anymore. Back at the compound, I’d admitted to Bones that I loved him, but hadn’t said it since. Now, however, the intimacy of our joined bodies was too powerful, forcing out the words that fear wanted to hold back.

“I love you, Bones. I love you so much, God, so very, very much.”

“Do you know how that makes me feel?” he whispered. “I’ve been many things these past two centuries, but I haven’t known real happiness until this moment. I don’t know if these are old emotions or new ones, and I don’t care anymore. Please, Catherine. Please. Say that again.”

He kissed me with the longing of someone starved, then began making love to me with an intensity that had tears coursing down my cheeks. I forgot that he was running on no sleep. Forgot Annette’s advice on what tricks to try. I forgot everything except his last request, and I told him that I loved him with almost every gasping breath.

***

Author’s note: This is the end of the deleted alternate “middle” of Destined For An Early Grave. The rest of the story would have gone on pretty much as the published version, with Cat turning into a vampire and Gregor kidnapping then forcibly changing over her mother. I had planned to have Bones regain his memory during the climactic fight scene with Gregor at the end. In that, Gregor would have used a knife secretly filled with his blood, intending to kill Bones in those vulnerable moments when his memories came crashing back. Cat’s reaction would have been the same: blowing Gregor’s head off when she realized that Bones was about to die. Cat would have gotten away with interfering in their duel the same way she did in the published version: after Veritas examined the knife and found the secret device on it, confirming that Gregor had cheated. Cat’s confirmation that Bones’s memory had returned would have come right afterward, the first time he called her Kitten again.

I hope you enjoyed this alternate version. Since many of you have asked, I intend to keep all four parts on my website for the next 30 days, and then I’m taking it down. Some of you have also asked if I have any more alternate versions from the Night Huntress series, and the answer is yes. I have a very long, alternate version of the beginning of At Grave’s End. I was debating posting it in parts on my blog like I did with this one, so if you liked reading a different version of Cat and Bones’s story, let me know. If you didn’t like it, let me know that, too. I don’t want to post more of these alternate versions if they tarnish most readers’ memories of the series, so let your opinion be heard because it matters to me.

Thank you.

The Beautiful Ashes contest winners

TBA cover 2

Here are the names of the contest winners from last week’s giveaway of The Beautiful Ashes.  We had such an overwhelming response to the giveaway that it was great to be able to have 20 winners with this contest.  Thanks to everyone who entered!

And now, here are the winners…

Jennifer Brock, Kim Barker, Teddi Muirbrook, Shannon Gammon, Kimberly DuPre, Sarah Monahan, Stacy White, Sherry Singh, Karen Snow, Ginny Dulaney, Jennifer Engles, Kat Neguette, Ana Hernandez, Janelle Hagelin, Vanessa Helmich, Brittany Wininger, Lisa Sailing, Sarah Murphy, Joella Perez and Brittany Chafin.

Congrats, all! Replies have been sent to your entries with instructions. Hope you enjoy the book!

If you haven’t already seen the trailer for The Beautiful Ashes, watch it here.

Also, a reminder that Part 4, the final part of the alternate “middle” version of Destined For An Early Grave, goes up tomorrow. If you haven’t read the previous three parts, they are here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Alternate “middle” version of Destined For An Early Grave, Part 3

dfaeg-640x480-300x225It’s time for Part 3 of the alternate “middle” version of Destined For An Early Grave. If you’ve already read Parts 1 and 2, you can skip to the ***’s to read the next part. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here is the recap:

I have a lot of deleted scenes from my first four novels, and in some cases, alternate versions. Many of you have said that you miss Cat and Bones now that their story came to an end in Up From The Grave, so I decided to post a never-before-seen, deleted alternate version of the “middle” of Destined For An Early Grave. Because it’s so long (over 30K words!) I’m going to post it in four parts on my blog. Part 1 was posted on July 26th and Part 2 was posted on August 2nd, so if you didn’t read either of them, go here for Part 1 and here for Part 2 to get caught up. Part 3 is below, and Part 4 will be posted on August 16th to conclude the alternate version.

How did I end up with an alternate “middle” to Destined For An Early Grave? Because I changed my mind about a subplot. In the original version, when Bones left Cat after the infamous “piano scene” to go to New Orleans, Gregor found a way to erase Bones’s memory of Cat, similar to how Mencheres had erased Cat’s memory of Gregor when she was a teenager. As you can imagine, having Cat erased from his mind changed Bones’s behavior dramatically, and thus the original middle of the novel was very different from the version that was later published. I decided to take that subplot out because so much had already happened to Cat and Bones in DFAEG that the memory loss seemed too burdensome. However, I’m sentimental, which is why I took the chunk out of the final manuscript, but didn’t delete it from my computer.

So, if you want to see Cat and Bones interacting with each other while Bones has no memory of their previous life, read on. For context, Part 1 of the alternate “middle” version starts on page 207 of the published version of Destined for an Early Grave, or 55% into the ebook, so if you want to familiarize yourself with what was going on back then, grab your copy and brush up. You’ll see some scene overlapping with only small changes at first, then the new content starts after Cat arrives at the military base.

In case you’re wondering, the entirety of the alternate “middle” ends right before Cat is turned into a vampire. After that, the story was pretty much the same as in the published version, which is why I call this a deleted “middle” section of DFAEG. Also, among other notable differences, Spade and Denise are already a couple in this version. Their romance originally happened off page, which changed when I got the green light to write First Drop Of Crimson.

Adult content warning: Some or all of these four parts will contain explicit language, violence, and sexual situations. This is also unedited, so my apologies in advance for any spelling or grammar errors. If you want to point those errors out, do so in the comments and I will correct the posted version.

Bones fangirl warning: His memory of Cat has been stolen, as stated above, so it starts out with Bones acting like he used to before he met Cat *cough, slut, cough*. If you don’t want to see Bones that way, don’t read this.

All explanations, warnings and disclaimers aside, here is Part 2 of the alternate “middle” version of Destined For An Early Grave:

***

Water rushed all around me, too thick to swim in. How did I get in the ocean? Why couldn’t I swim? Where was everybody?

“Somebody help!”

My cry went unanswered. The water seemed to be pulling me under. I gasped, choked, and felt the burning of it in my lungs. This was how I was going to die. Alone and drowning. Funny, I’d always thought that I would die in a fight…

“Take my hand.”

Blindly I reached out – and then realization hit me and I yanked my arms back.

“Damn you, Gregor, leave me alone!”

He materialized in front of me, floating right above the water. An invisible wind blew his ash blond hair, and those smoky green eyes were glowing emerald. The waves lapped at his feet, but they didn’t suck him in. That relentless undertow was only for me.

“You’re nothing to Bones but an unwanted burden now. How does it feel, knowing what he’d rather be doing, and all the women he’d rather be with doing it with?”

“There’s one less of those now, isn’t there?” I snapped, trying to keep my head above that thick water.

Oui, that was unexpected. You shall regret it, mon amour. Come to me now, and you may spare the others my wrath.”

“No dice, Gregor. The only way you’re getting me is dead.”

“Why do you do this,” he shouted, giving up his false calm. “I offer you everything, and you’d rather be the whore of a whore!”

Something was in the water with me. It felt like hands wrapped around my ankles, pulling me down. Maybe Gregor could actually kill me in my sleep. After all, Patra nearly had.

“Because I’m happier being a whore’s whore than being with you.”

After I said it, I quit fighting. I let myself sag and the water closed over my head. In a weird way, it felt like being flushed because all of a sudden, I was moving downward very fast and then –

“Wake up, Catherine!”

Bones was shaking me. Instinctively I coughed, but there was no water in my lungs. I was in bed, and the only thing wet on me was my own sweat.

“I’m awake,” I croaked

Bones released me, and that’s when I noticed that my cheek stung. Guess he’d been doing more than shaking me.

“You said no more beatings,” I joked to take the edge off of how rattled Gregor’s dream had made me

Bones let out a relieved laugh.

“Made me break a promise right quickly, didn’t you? Charles told me what it would look like if Gregor connected to you in your sleep, but it’s the damndest thing to see it. It’s like you’re dead, only I can hear your heart beating.” Bones leaned closer, brushing away the fine sheen of sweat from my brow. “This is Gregor’s doing, isn’t it? Despicable filth.”

“I’m okay.” I sat up, puling the covers over me where I’d kicked them away. He watched without blinking.

“You were crying out that you were drowning. That’s very far from okay.”

A glance at the clock showed that it was close to five in the morning. “He can’t try it again today. It takes a few days before he’s strong enough to make another go at me, so I’m fine. Really.”

Bones slowly moved away, not taking his eyes off me. It made me flash to how long it had been since we’d been in bed together. Weeks? More? Cowardly, I shut my eyes, hugging the pillow to my cheek as if I were exhausted.

“You can go back to bed, Bones. As I said, I’m fine.”

Nothing but loaded silence for a moment, then finally, I heard him get up and leave, closing the door behind him.

I opened my eyes and let out a sigh of frustration. Damn Gregor, and damn me for being a fool who let him dreamsnatch me before. What I wouldn’t give to take it all back and not have gone with him that day. Bones – the old Bones – had been right. I shouldn’t have cared about my lost memories. It wasn’t like they’d also stolen my strength and left me dangerously vulnerable, as Bones’s lost memories had done. Who would have guessed that one day, he’d need Gregor’s blood to unlock what was stolen from his mind? Too bad I hadn’t packed an extra vial of Gregor’s blood for the road when I drank from him that day…

“That’s it!”

I vaulted out of bed, my mind racing from a sudden surge of hope. I’d drunk Gregor’s blood. Was enough of it still in my system to help Bones?

I went straight into Bones’s room without knocking. He was just settling himself into bed, and in my excited state, I plowed ahead with no forethought.

“Eat me, quick. It might not be too late!”

Instead of going for my neck, Bones whisked me onto the bed and yanked my pajama bottoms down.

“What is your problem?” I gasped, slapping him. Then I pulled my pants back on. He’d had them off in a blink.

Bones sat on his haunches and touched his face in disbelief. “What’s yours, luv?”

All of a sudden, I realized his translation. Instead of being apologetic, I was incredulous.

“I meant eat me as in bite me. Wow, you don’t even know me, but you’d just, just dive right in, huh? Come on, a virtual stranger stomps in here and says ‘eat me’ and you don’t even protest? You should’ve demanded a hand job, at least!”

Bones just gazed at me and then dropped his hand from his cheek. “You confuse me, Catherine.”

That deflated some off my huffiness. Well, that, and the way the sheets barely covered his lap.

“Are you naked?” I asked before catching myself.

He regarded me with suspicion. “Is this another trick question?”

“No, never mind. Look, here’s what I meant – drink my blood. I had Gregor’s blood a couple weeks ago, so some of it might still be in me. Maybe enough to make a difference. Get it?”

Bones’s expression hardened and he gestured to me with an impatient swipe. “Come here.”

Oh, now he was all business.

“I can’t believe you would have let me order you to munch on me,” I grumbled, circling the bed to sit by him.

His hand shot out, pulling me closer. “Considering what you overheard the other day, I reckon it’s the least I could do.”

I didn’t have a chance to respond. His mouth went to my throat, I felt his tongue seeking out the right spot, and then he bit.

The warmth hit me almost immediately. Bones’s arms supported me, sensing when my spine went to jelly. Deep, steady suctions curled my toes while heat cascaded through me. I knew I was making little gasping sounds, but damned if I could help it. This didn’t just feel hot, good, and sensual. It felt necessary. Like if he didn’t drink me, somehow, I’d be the one who was left starving.

I moaned his name, reaching up to touch him. He caught my hands, holding them to my sides while he drew away and closed the punctures with his blood. I swayed without his support, glad I was sitting or I might have fallen over.

“Bones?” I made his name question this time, not an exhalation of enjoyment.

“It didn’t do anything, Catherine. Best you leave now.”

He looked away when he said it, his shoulders rigid. Everything about him was distant and almost angry.

I got up, cursing myself for not thinking of trying this sooner. What if a couple more days would have made all the difference?

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, and returned to my room as fast as I’d left it.

###

The next morning, I woke up to find that Bones was already gone. After breakfast, I gave Denise a hug and told her there was something I had to do. Then I marched to the stables and grabbed a shovel.

About fifteen minutes into me cleaning the first stall, a teenage boy with freckles and brown hair came running in the stable.

“Stop!”

This I’d expected. “What’s your name, kid?”

“Uh, people just call me Pony.”

“Pony? Call me Red. I’m House, right? So, as House, I get to do certain things. Today, I’m going to clean out these stalls and then exercise and rub down the horses. Is that your job?”

“Uh huh.” He chewed his lip nervously.

“Take the day off, Pony. If anyone gives you trouble, send them to me. You can’t talk me out of this, so don’t bother. Now, be a good kid and point me to the feed, okay? Don’t worry; I know what I’m doing.”

Eight blissful hours of labor later, I felt better. Finally, I’d done something productive. The stalls were sparking, although I was covered in dirt, manure, sweat and straw. Pony had hung around most of the day, trying not to be noticed. Maybe he was afraid I’d screw something up and was preparing for damage control. I gave him a wave when I went into the house, laughing to myself at his dumbfounded expression.

Yeah, kid. Chicks can do the same thing boys can.

I took my time in the shower to get the stench of the stalls from me. Then I pulled my damp hair into a ponytail and put on jeans and a comfortable shirt. When I went downstairs, I was in a much better mood. And hungry. Spade and Denise were in the lounge sipping sherry, looking sophisticated even in these rural surroundings.

“Who do I ask to get a burger and some French fries? Oh, and a milkshake.”

Spade gave me a mocking grin. “Not going to insist on peeling the potatoes, milking the cow and churning the ice cream yourself? You must be knackered.”

“You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl,” I said tartly, refusing to let him ruin my mood. “Want to check under my fingernails to see if I missed some dirt?”

“I shouldn’t wonder if you did.” He gestured to a computer across the room. “It’s for inhouse use. Type what you want and when you want it. They’ll send it up.”

“Thanks.”

Forty minutes later, I was devouring my second burger. Yep, the first one had been that good. Instead of another milkshake, I drank a Coke. Since Denise and Spade probably wanted some time alone together, I let them be and ate on the balcony. I’d just settled back and let out a contented burp when Bones’s voice almost made me leap out of my skin.

“Hello, Catherine.”

My plate skidded across the floor from my jump. “Holy hell, when did you sneak in here?”

Bones bent for the dish even as I hurried to do the same. His fingers brushed mine when each of us grasped it. I let go first, that cursed awkwardness setting in again.

“Ah, thanks. Don’t know why I’m so jumpy. And I guess I should apologize for the truck-driver burp. Charming, huh?”

He set the plate down and his mouth twitched.

“Actually, it was. It’s the first time I’ve seen you relaxed. My apologies for startling you. Mencheres and I walked the last few miles back, that’s why you didn’t hear the car.”

I had no idea what to say. After last night’s babble fest, then my seriously misinterpreted directive, maybe silence was the best option.

Bones sat down on a nearby chaise lounge. I picked the one across from him and sat. At that, he vacated his spot and sat next to me, an arched brow daring me to move.

“We can do this all night.”

I laughed at the idea of playing musical chairs with a vampire about to hit his bicentennial birthday.

“Just to see Spade’s face, we should.”

He laughed as well, an easy chuckle that doused me with nostalgia. His hand found mine and I squeezed back out of habit until reality made me pull away.

Or try to.

His fingers tightened, not letting me go. “We can do this all night, too, but really, can’t you let me at least hold your hand?”

“God, Bones, I have no idea what I’m doing.”

The words escaped in a moment of truthful frustration. Now I really tried to get away, but that made him coil his arms around me.

“Stop. I told you that you smelled familiar. You feel familiar as well, and right now, that’s all I have to go on.”

I stopped squirming. Bones leaned back, maneuvering me until I was cradled by his arms and legs. His chest was my support, and he propped another pillow under him before making a satisfied noise.

“Much better. Are you comfortable?”

I was. My back fit into his chest and his leg danged off the lounge as it had the many previous times he’d held me like this. The familiarity plus not having to look at him helped quell my awkwardness.

“I’m not making this any easier on you, am I?” I murmured. “You’d be so much better as the spouse of the amnesia sufferer. I’m screwing things up seven ways from Sunday.”

“No, you’re not, and please, quit cataloguing your faults. I don’t care if you belch, never wear makeup, chew with your mouth open or scream profanity in church. Loyalty and honesty, as I told you, are the only two qualities I bother about.”

“So it would have been fine if I had been sixty, zaftig and with a spine like a question mark?”

His snort of laughter ticked my ear. “Yes. Though I would have needed to research the best way to shag you.”

I elbowed him. “You probably already know.”

Another snort. “A gentleman never tells.”

“If I marry any, I’ll remember that.”

My dry comment only made him laugh again. The way it kept hitting my skin sent pleasant shivers through me, and I didn’t think it was an accident.

“You’re doing that on purpose, aren’t you?”

“Of course.”

He sounded even more amused. If it were an English term, he probably would have followed it up with, duh.

“Save your breath, I’m not sleeping with you yet. Getting to know someone before you find their G-spot is probably a new experience for you. At least this way, I’ll be original.”

Now his laughter didn’t hit my neck, because he threw his head back to let it out without restraint.

“Don’t fret, Catherine. Even if you weren’t my wife, you’d still be an original, but please, tell me all about yourself. I wanted to know everything anyway, but that infinitely lovely ‘yet’ makes me even more anxious.”

“You shouldn’t be in such a rush.” This topic was starting to make me antsy again. “After all, I might suck in bed.”

“Be still my non-beating heart.”

It took me a second, then I elbowed him again. “I’m serious. I suppose we should discuss it, though, so, ah, something doesn’t come up at a bad time…”

I trailed off, trying to find the right words without blushing.

“I suppose I was very hard to please?” he asked wryly. “Berated you if I wasn’t satisfied, did I?”

“No, of course not.”

“Then why do you believe I would now?”

Too late, I saw the trap. Aw, hell, how to explain?

“Don’t take this the wrong way. You…you loved me. Even the first time, when I didn’t know anything, you loved me and it…it meant you were grading on a wide curve, okay?”

“Ah.” A pause. “Was I your first?”

This was a very personal topic, but it was about him, too. Even if he didn’t remember.

“My second, but I don’t really count the guy before you. He took my ‘no’ as a ‘come and get me!’”

“What was his name?”

“Danny Milton.” Wow. Been a while since I’d thought about him.

“One ‘l’ or two?”

His tone was so causal, it took me a second. “One ‘l,’ why…oh! Are you serious? With everything going on, you’d want to track him down?”

He sat up, jostling me with a little the motion. “With that description, yes.”

Since Danny was dead, there was no point in arguing further. “Rest easy, then. You already killed him.”

“Good.”

He leaned back and we sat in silence for a few more minutes. The whole thing felt surreal. Like the past two months hadn’t happened and we were back on our own porch just watching the sky together. Every so often, he’d inhale and exhale. Listening to that felt strangely intimate, especially since I felt the rise and fall of his chest against my back. Bones didn’t need to breathe, so he was taking my scent into him. Repeatedly.

He was the one who broke the silence.

“When I saw you kiss Vlad, I wasn’t merely affronted because you were my wife. It…hurt, for an instant. Very unexpected, that. And now, instead of learning more about my past with Charles or Mencheres, I’d rather sit here with you. To be frank, it frightens me.”

“Why?”

My voice was hushed, like the one you’d use if you were sharing secrets in the dark. His lowered, too, until it was soft but not yet a whisper.

“I have so much to lose. Overnight, I’m Master of my own line and at war with another Master, but that’s not what I’m afraid of. I have experience in leading and in fighting, yet it seems I’ve already been a shoddy husband. I’m afraid to fail you again, Catherine.”

I squeezed his hand. “You don’t know how to fail. And before…before our big blow-out, you made me very happy, Bones.”

He didn’t move, but the mood became different. Quiet confessions turned into something else. I felt it in the quickening of his power, the flex of coiling energy beneath me.

“I’d like to make you happy again.” His voice thickened. “It doesn’t have to be about me. I’ll stay within whatever limits you set.”

The fact that for a second, a part of me considered it made me fling myself way from him.

“No. Believe me; you’ve already proven yourself in that regard. I-I’m not ready to open that door and I’m not going to crack it, either. You don’t deserve to do penance on me while I get off.”

Bones watched me while I paced, staying in his reclined position on the chaise lounge. Damn him for being so gorgeous, and God help me, I did still want him, no matter that I was dealing with my hurt over everything that had happened, both with and without his memory.

His mouth lifted in his old, knowing smile, and when he inhaled again, that smile widened.

“Your desire scents the air, so let me know when you change your mind. It’s not penance, I assure you. I simply want you any way that I can have you.”

I had to leave, now. Before my chastity went up in flames.

“Goodnight.”

I left the balcony. Bones didn’t follow. As I headed toward my bedroom, I heard him take in another long breath and then let it out in a sigh.

###

What do you do when you’re on a diet and your favorite food is within gobbling distance? I tried more pacing in my bedroom, but that didn’t help. Turned on the TV, but that only made it worse. All the local channels were off, leaving just the premiums. No matter what I flipped to, it seemed sex was on every one. Finally, with grim frustration, I ran a bath and settled myself into the tub. Well, it had been a while since Bones normally kept me more than sated, but it had to be like riding a bike, right?

Of course, that didn’t turn out as planned, either.

First, I was too rough. I attacked my flesh like it had done something wrong, which only increased the need while doing nothing to ease it. Great, now I was sore and frustrated. Finally, I forced myself to go slower and to think happy thoughts. The warm water soothed my previous attempts and my gentleness began to pay off. At last, progress. My breath shortened, fantasies and memories intermingling in my mind.

Bones’s hands all over me, teasing, seeking, driving me insane. The weight of his body pressing me into the bed. His mouth between my legs, tongue stroking, delving and flicking, until I couldn’t stand it anymore. Then that hard, deep thrust as he’d push himself inside me –

And him flinging open the bathroom door to come toward me. I froze in shock, my hand still jammed between my legs. Then I found my voice. “Get out!”

My demand only slowed him, but it was the conditioner bottle bouncing off his head that brought him to a stop.

“Catherine –”

The shampoo bottle beamed him next. Some of the green left his eyes as the soap followed. Then my razor. Soon I was out of items and just splashing water at him.

“But you called me in here,” he exclaimed, backing away at last.

“No, I didn’t!”

I yanked the shower curtain off, covering myself, and grasped the iron rod, burning all over with embarrassment.

That backed him all the way out. “It seems there’s been a misunderstanding –”

Getoutofhere!”

I couldn’t even separate the syllables in my humiliation. He translated, however, and a second later, I heard the door shut. Then worse, Spade’s muffled laughter, immediately shushed by Denise.

“For crying out loud,” I hissed, the shower curtain still clinging to me. “Can’t a person even masturbate in peace?”

###

The next day, the adult thing would have been to go downstairs, act as if nothing had happened, and proceed about my business.

Well, who had ever accused me of acting like an adult?

I faked sleep until noon, took lunch in my room, and then watched movies with the fortitude of a professional loaf. Plead another headache to anyone who dared to knock and inquire. The only activity I indulged in was a shower, having reassembled mine later last night. It was a cold one, too, my hands used for hygienic purposes only.

When evening finally came and Bones returned, his question about my whereabouts was met with Spade’s instant laughter.

“Headache, mate.” Spade didn’t bother to suppress his continued chuckles. “You might want to take my word for it. Don’t want her injuring herself booting you from her room this time.”

“Stuff it, Charles.” Bones sounded as amused as I felt. “If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my room.”

I stayed in bed, not wanting to make my lie more obvious by puttering around upstairs. The small, still-sane part of argued that I couldn’t keep this up. Bones needed support, not hiding. Considering his sexual history, a little rub-in-the-tub probably didn’t even register on his dirty meter.

It took three hours of mental berating before I climbed out of bed. Another forty-five minutes of similar scolding in the bathroom, washing my face and brushing my teeth to a ridiculous level. Twenty minutes to rehearse opening lines for our conversation. Another hour of backing out before deciding to go for it. By then, however, I figured it was too late. Bones had to be asleep by now.

That brought me back to staring at the ceiling. I had every speck of knockdown on it memorized. At this hour, couples in the house were starting to get active. Trying to tune out the various noises only highlighted my loneliness. I was so engrossed in my attempts to ignore any grunty, squeaky sounds, it took me a few more minutes to realize that some of them came from the next room.

At that, I shot out of bed. Pressed my ear to the wall and strained to listen. Son of a bitch, there it was! Oh, subdued, sure. Very hushed, but unmistakable feminine pants mixed with Bones’s moans.

As if in a dream, I saw myself calmly get my knife, walk the short distance to his room, and kick his door right off the hinges.

“What the hell?”

Bones was in bed. Alone, so he or the slut must have heard me coming. His covers were mussed and the TV was on, but I kept my main attention on seeking out my prey.

“Where is she?”

His gaze dropped to the knife in my hand and then the broken door near my feet. “Have you lost your wits altogether?”

“Going to play it that way? Fine.”

I darted forward, checking under the bed. Nothing. Then I yanked open the closet doors, tearing one off with my forcefulness. There went another household item, but no one was hiding in the closet. When I headed for the bathroom, Bones had his arms crossed over his chest, watching me with more than a hint of anger.

“Care to play hot or cold? Let me give you a hint: you’re freezing.”

I threw him a venomous glare and checked the bathroom anyway, keeping a wary eye on the bedroom door. No bitch was going to sneak past me. Had to be a vampire or ghoul. I didn’t hear any heartbeat except my own.

No one was in the bathroom, either. Or the linen closet, which looked too small, but I checked anyway. I even knocked over the wicker laundry hamper. Only clothes. Then I circled the bed again, seeking any hiding placed I could have missed.

“Getting warmer, pet.”

A large wall unit faced the bed and it had closed sections in it. Bones nodded in that direction and I tightened my grip on the knife. If someone were to scrunch themselves up real small…

“You’re on fire.”

For someone who’d just been caught cheating, Bones didn’t sound guilty or apologetic. Instead, he sounded pissed and more than a little disgusted.

I marched toward the wall unit. Noises were coming from it. Moans, gasps, groans. Then I glanced at the TV. What – ?

“You’re watching porn?” I turned to him, the beginnings of doubt creeping in.

“Take a closer look,” he said with that same harsh edge to his voice.

I gave another cursory glance at the TV screen before zeroing in on the naked male with astonishment. “You’re playing old sex tapes of yourself? What kind of a sick –”

“Careful.” Bones voice was whiplike now. “Accuse me falsely again, and I’ll turn you straight over my knee.”

I drew myself up with indignation. “I dare you to try, you porn-reminiscing perv – ooof!”

Some things time and familiarity had dulled. What should have occurred to me, as I made my taunting statement, was that Bones never bluffed. Ever.

I was facedown on the bed with my mouth full of blankets before I could even yelp. Thwack! went the hard swat right on my ass. Then Bones flipped me over and grabbed my wrists, moving his face only inches away from mine.

“Now, perhaps you’ll let me explain. If you had the slightest ounce of trust, you’d have done that earlier. Instead, despite my repeated promises, you thought I was shagging another woman right under your nose, or at best amusing myself with tapes of prior lovers. I’ve killed people for lesser insults, but since you’re my wife, all you’ll get is a sore arse. Now, look at the girl on the telly, Catherine!”

He used my hair as a handle to tilt my head. Left with few other options, I stared at the screen. Humph, a redhead, figures. Wait a minute…

“That’s me!”

Bones rolled off the bed with a shake of his head. “This, luv, was in the DVDs that Denise gave me, so the only crime I’ve committed tonight is to ogle my own wife. Off topic, you’re absolutely stunning naked. I thought to tell you the same last night, but the many objects hitting me in the face distracted me.”

I was still sprawled on the bed, and yes, my ass was sore. He’d whacked it with authority. For a few astounded moments, I couldn’t decide if I was angry for him daring to spank me, regretful over falsely accusing him of adultery, or flattered by his last compliment.

My own groans from the tape snapped my attention back to the television. I flushed. After making this on a whim during our boat trip to Paris, I hadn’t watched it. Frankly, with everything going on, I’d forgotten about it. Holy hell, this was graphic! We looked like a couple of coke-crazed porn stars.

“I don’t want you seeing this,” I said, striving to lose my fierce blush.

A single brow arched. “Why not?”

“Because!”

I was about to detail my objection in a more reasonable manner when something new on the screen caught my eye. My gaze narrowed.

“Wait a minute. This isn’t supposed to be on here. I told you to turn the camera off. You said you’d turned it off!”

Bones laughed at that, moving over to stand by the TV.

“No, in fact I didn’t. I’ve rewound this part a few times, I confess. You say, ‘I won’t do that with the camera running,’ and I reply, ‘I won’t let a bloody camera stop us from doing anything.’ Then I go to the camera, tap it, come back and say, ‘There. Feel better?’ and, ah, you do appear to feel better, luv. But nowhere do I actually verbalize that I’ve shut it off.”

My mouth hung open further. Bones tapped the screen for emphasis.

“We’ll rewind it, if you’d like. I don’t mind.”

It didn’t matter that the man laughing at me technically hadn’t been the one who tricked me. “You sneaky bastard, you knew I thought it was off!” I sputtered.

“Now, Catherine, I might not remember making that decision, but let me assure you, I’ll claim it. And stand by it proudly.”

That glint was back in his eyes. The one that said he was contemplating a thousand filthy things, and I’d love them all. Belatedly, it occurred to me he was naked. How could I have missed that? Having my ass whacked and then watching a skin-flick starring myself were my main two reasons.

Unable to help it, I took a good, long look. My God, but he was gorgeous. His creamy skin stretched over his hard muscles like it couldn’t get enough of touching them. Then those broad shoulders, rippling arms and chest, flat stomach and of course lower -

“You keep looking at me and licking your lips, and I’m going to get certain impressions,” he said in a silky tone.  “Are they the wrong impressions?”

Had I been licking my lips? Well, who could blame me?

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to eye-hump you. It’s, er, just been more weeks than I care to count, so…” Stop talking! I groaned inwardly. It’s like you’ve got verbal diarrhea!

“Weeks?” That arched his brow higher.

I let out a sigh and tried to keep my gaze above his waist.

“I didn’t correct your misassumption before because, well, I was mad. Vlad and I never had sex. We slept together, but as friends, nothing more. So yeah, it’s been weeks, and the last time was with you.”

Bones shut the television off. Guess I had his full attention now.

“First, thank you for telling me. I’d believed otherwise, of course, from what Charles had said about interrupting the two of you in bed.”

“The only thing Spade interrupted was sleep,” I said, shrugging. “But of course, he didn’t come to that conclusion.”

“I wouldn’t have, either,” Bones said, sounded almost as if he didn’t believe me.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t sleep with Vlad because he wasn’t you.”

As soon as I said it, I wanted to take it back. It was too honest, too raw, and in its own way, more exposing than the video he’d just watched. I dashed a hand across my suddenly stinging eyes and tried to shake it off.

“Plus, I’m not that easy.” Fake, uneven laugh. “I made you wait months before you got me into bed the first time, which was probably a celibacy record for you.”

Bones still hadn’t said anything. He just stood there staring at me. Moonlight peeked through the windows, caressing parts of his body with light while the rest stayed wrapped in shadows.

I had to leave before I said anything else I regretted. I rolled off the bed. “Sorry about your door and your closet and -”

“Get back in bed.”

“What?”

He came nearer. “Get back in bed. I’m sick of tossing about, unable to sleep because I hear you, yet you’re so far away. It’s only been five nights, but it feels like a bloody year. I’m not asking for sex, Catherine. I just want to hold you while I sleep.”

I told myself it was the least I could do after smashing into his room like an angry She-Hulk to accuse him of cheating. Plus, I’d just admitted to a sleepover with Vlad, so it would look petty if I denied the same request from Bones. None of those reasons were why I nodded and crawled beneath the covers, though. Deep down, I needed to feel his arms around me. I’d been through a nonstop emotional ringer the past several weeks that had drained me both physically and mentally. Right now, being held by Bones sounded like the only thing that would get me through the night, let alone whatever else would be thrown at us next.

After I settled myself into bed, I set my knife on the nightstand. It had been in my hand this whole time; what a fruit loop I was. Bones gave it a brief smile and then climbed into bed, grasping me securely from behind. Our bodies were only separated by my pajamas, and feeling him pressed along the back of me filled me with the weirdest blend of comfort, desire and complete safety. This was nothing like what I’d felt during my sleepover with Vlad. It went deeper in every way.

“I’m glad you didn’t argue with me,” he said, his deep voice lower as he rested his head next to mine. He didn’t realize it, but this was the same way we’d fallen asleep countless times before; me in his arms with his body curved around the back of mine. My emotions might still be in turmoil, but muscle memory seemed to take over. Contentment stole through my limbs, relaxing my body in a way I would have thought impossible only a few minutes ago.

“I’m tired of fighting with you,” I replied, surprised that the words came out with drowsy slowness. When had I closed my eyes? And why was it suddenly impossible to open them?

“Good.” Something brushed my neck that was either his fingers or lips. “This is all I want now, but tomorrow night, Catherine, I’m going to seduce you.”

I let out a sleepy laugh at his bluntness, not to mention his overconfidence. “Is that a warning?”

Now I was sure it was his lips because he did it again, slower and more deliberately.

“A promise.”

***

Read Part 4 next Saturday, August 16th, right here on my website blog.

The Beautiful Ashes book trailer, wallpapers and contest

Lots to include in this post, so let’s get right to it :). I’m so pleased to release the official book trailer for The Beautiful Ashes, Broken Destiny book one. Once again, I turned to Book Candy Studios to produce the trailer and I love what they came up with.

If for some reason the trailer box doesn’t appear above, click here to watch it on my YouTube page. If you want to read excerpts or learn more about the book, I have all of that on this page. You can also preorder your copy from  AmazonBAMPowellsB&N, iBooks, IndieboundAudible.com or your favorite retailer.

Up next are the downloadable wallpapers. For these, I turned to the fabulous Syd Gill, who also created my other downloadable wallpapers as well as my website and Facebook header images. Click the links below to get the best size to fit your computer/tablet:

TBA_WP1280x1024640 x 480
800 x 600
1024 x 768
1280 x 1024
800 x 500 (widescreen)
1024 x 640 (widescreen)
1152 x 720 (widescreen)
1440 x 900 (widescreen)

As a reminder, I’m traveling to several cities to celebrate The Beautiful Ashes release, so if you haven’t checked out my Appearance schedule, please do! I might be coming to your city in the very near future.

Finally, I just received my author copies for The Beautiful Ashes, so I’m thrilled to be able to hold a contest giving away the final version of the novel. So, let’s get right to that, too!

20 winners will receive a finished paperback copy of  The Beautiful Ashes, Broken Destiny book one.

All winners will be chosen by Randomizer. To enter, please follow the rules below:

1. Send an email to  jeanieneprizes AT gmail DOT com.  (obviously replace the “AT” with an “@” and the “DOT” with a “.” in your email.)

2. Make sure to include your name and the email address you want to be contacted at if you win, if it’s not the email you’re sending your entry from.

3. You can only enter ONCE. Duplicate entries will be deleted.

4. Contest starts now and ends August 14th at 11:59pm Est. Winners will be announced August 15th on my website blog.

 5. International entries are welcome.

Hope you enjoyed the book trailer and the wallpapers. To everyone entering the contest, good luck!

Alternate “middle” version of Destined For An Early Grave, Part 2

dfaeg-640x480It’s time for Part 2 of the alternate “middle” version of Destined For An Early Grave. If you’ve already read Part 1, you can skip to the ***’s to read the next part. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here is the recap:

I have a lot of deleted scenes from my first four novels, and in some cases, alternate versions. Many of you have said that you miss Cat and Bones now that their story came to an end in Up From The Grave, so I decided to post a never-before-seen, deleted alternate version of the “middle” of Destined For An Early Grave. Because it’s so long (over 30K words!) I’m going to post it in four parts on my blog. Part 1 was posted on July 26th and if you didn’t read it then, go here to get caught up. Part 2 is below, and Parts 3 and 4 will be posted on August 9th and August 16th.

How did I end up with an alternate “middle” to Destined For An Early Grave? Because I changed my mind about a subplot. In the original version, when Bones left Cat after the infamous “piano scene” to go to New Orleans, Gregor found a way to erase Bones’s memory of Cat, similar to how Mencheres had erased Cat’s memory of Gregor when she was a teenager. As you can imagine, having Cat erased from his mind changed Bones’s behavior dramatically, and thus the original middle of the novel was very different from the version that was later published. I decided to take that subplot out because so much had already happened to Cat and Bones in DFAEG that the memory loss seemed too burdensome. However, I’m sentimental, which is why I took the chunk out of the final manuscript, but didn’t delete it from my computer.

So, if you want to see Cat and Bones interacting with each other while Bones has no memory of their previous life, read on. For context, Part 1 of the alternate “middle” version starts on page 207 of the published version of Destined for an Early Grave, or 55% into the ebook, so if you want to familiarize yourself with what was going on back then, grab your copy and brush up. You’ll see some scene overlapping with only small changes at first, then the new content starts after Cat arrives at the military base.

In case you’re wondering, the entirety of the alternate “middle” ends right before Cat is turned into a vampire. After that, the story was pretty much the same as in the published version, which is why I call this a deleted “middle” section of DFAEG. Also, among other notable differences, Spade and Denise are already a couple in this version. Their romance originally happened off page, which changed when I got the green light to write First Drop Of Crimson.

Adult content warning: Some or all of these four parts will contain explicit language, violence, and sexual situations. This is also unedited, so my apologies in advance for any spelling or grammar errors. If you want to point those errors out, do so in the comments and I will correct the posted version.

Bones fangirl warning: His memory of Cat has been stolen, as stated above, so it starts out with Bones acting like he used to before he met Cat *cough, slut, cough*. If you don’t want to see Bones that way, don’t read this.

All explanations, warnings and disclaimers aside, here is Part 2 of the alternate “middle” version of Destined For An Early Grave:

***

Bones stood about a dozen feet away. He wasn’t wearing something borrowed – the clothes fit him too well, so Spade must have brought them. His hair was still damp and curled slightly at the edges. Its rich brown color only complimented his brows and dark, almost-black eyes.

“Catherine?” he said.

God, the blankness in his gaze! He really didn’t recognize me, and though I’d expected it, I still felt like I’d been punched in the gut.

I cleared my throat and managed to mutter, “That’s me.”

Then he did something I didn’t anticipate: he laughed. I went from apprehensive to pissed in the time it took to hear it.

“What’s so funny?”

Bones sobered, waving an apologetic hand. “You don’t know how unsettled I’ve been, waiting to meet you. For the past few hours, I’ve heard about this fierce warrior woman I married. Blimey, I half expected you to have bigger biceps than me. Now I see you and you look…like a harmless girl barely out of her teens. It’s a bit odd reconciling the two.”

As he spoke, he raked me with his gaze. With a surge of self-consciousness, I wished I’d put on more makeup or fixed my hair. Bones was so stunning, anyone around him automatically looked a little uglier, and – it didn’t matter! With a mental shake, I brought myself back to reality.

“You should know that…we’re not really married.”

There, I said it, even though it clawed to stay in my throat.

A cool appraising look came into his eyes. I’d seen it before enough to know that he was taking stock of me.

“Is that what you think, Catherine?”

“It’s really weird to hear you call me that,” I muttered.

His brow arched. “Did I address you as Cat? Is that your preference?”

“No.” It was so hard talking to him as if we were strangers! Part of me wanted to run into his arms while the other part wanted to kick the shit out of him for cheating on me. “You, ah, you used to call me Kitten.”

“Did I?” He appeared to mull it. Then, “It doesn’t suit you.”

I looked away, blinking. He had no idea how much that hurt. Cannelle wasn’t the only one who’d just been stabbed in the heart. Of course, she had helped do this to me. In retrospect, I’d owed her one.

“Call me Catherine then, whatever. Look, Bones, I don’t know what Spade told you, but you left me. When I told you over the microphone that I was separated, it was true.”

“You also told me you were a sixty-year-old, zaftig woman suffering from a malformed spine.” He took a step closer. “Clearly untrue, that.”

“I was in a bad mood.” I kept looking away from him, my gaze flicking from the furniture to the walls to the carpet. Anything but his eyes. He was still staring at me, though. I didn’t have to see it to feel it.

“An apology is less than worthless for what happened, but nonetheless, I’m truly, deeply sorry.”

I drew in a steadying breath. This next part was really going to hurt.

“Don’t, um, don’t worry about it. Like I said, we’re separated. Well, not even separated, because technically, I’m married to Gregor, all right?” I burst out. “You and I have nothing holding us together, and you had finally realized that and walked out. So do yourself a favor. Keep walking.”

If I didn’t drive him away now, Bones would stay with me out a sense of obligation, and then he’d get slaughtered. Going back to Gregor was the only way I could keep him safe. Eventually, Bones would get stronger, maybe the ghouls wouldn’t be so riled since Gregor would no doubt change me into a vampire, and then people would quit getting hurt trying to protect me.

I snuck a glance at him. Bones tapped his finger on his chin, weighing my words while those dark eyes considered me.

“I’ve heard Charles describe what happened between us, and now you, but it doesn’t make sense. If I was finished with our relationship, then why did I fly to New Orleans to lure Gregor into dueling with me? Those are hardly the actions of a man who’d had enough.”

I cast around for a response. “You were trying to set me up so that I’d be okay when you left. You see, you did it so you could walk out without any guilt or responsibility weighing you down.”

He stopped tapping his chin.

“Plausible. But then why didn’t Gregor take me up on my challenge? Or, if he no longer felt that fighting me was necessary because I’d left you, why did he use witchcraft to tear you from my mind?”

“Because Gregor’s an asshole,” I snapped. “Um, I mean, I love him and all…” Time to backpedal, fast! “In fact, I miss him. With you being gone recently, I, ah, I’ve come to realize that Gregor’s the man for me. So you don’t have to feel bad about what happened with Cannelle or, er, anyone else, because I love Gregor.”

God help me, that was the best I could manage to say it. I even smiled. At least, I felt my face stretch. Hopefully, it was a smile.

“I see.”

His expression was unreadable. Then, after a loaded few seconds, Bones threw me a cheery grin.

“Well, I for one am relieved. When Charles told me I was married and I thought it was permanent, I nearly soiled myself. Limited to only one woman for the rest of my life? Not my style at all. You seem like a nice girl, but we wouldn’t have lasted. After all, I hear you don’t allow other women in our bed, and how much of that would I have been able to stand, hmm? Faith, Cinnamon and I went through eleven lasses in the short time we were together, and in truth, I could have gone for more –”

“You slutty bastard!”

I’d been listening with my jaw dropping progressively lower, but that was the last straw. I threw myself at him, pummeling and kicking while cursing him with every filthy word I knew. Part of me was aware that I was crying, my fury surpassed only by an all-consuming hurt that seemed to boomerang through my emotions. He’d just taken all my worst fears and blown up my heart with them. If that’s how he truly felt inside, then we’d never had a chance. Why had he lied and told me that we did? Why had he made me love him so much, when he’d always known he would go back to his old ways?

After several minutes, it dawned on me that Bones wasn’t fighting back. He just stood there, absorbing my blows without making a move to defend himself. By the time I’d worked myself into that ugly, hiccupping-crying stage and I couldn’t throw another punch, he pulled me into his arms.

“L-let me go, d-d-damnit…”

“Going to tell me more about how you love Gregor?” he asked with heavy irony. “So much that Charles told me you waited for me for days without word, and even when it seemed obvious that I’d abandoned you, you ran off with Vlad Tepesh instead? Was I very witless before? Is that why you thought I’d believe such rubbish now?”

Being in his arms was akin to dragging sandpaper across my raw emotions. I pushed at his chest, but his arms tightened and I’d used up the last of my remaining strength in my fit of wounded rage.

“You don’t understand. I have to go back to Gregor -”

“You’re not going anywhere near him,” he interrupted. “I don’t give a rot who you’re technically married to. All I bother about is that I sworn by my blood that you were my wife. That means I will fight until the last drop of blood in me to keep you.”

He was speaking clearly and in English, but I was still so upset that I had a hard time understanding. “Then you didn’t mean all those awful things you just said?”

He sighed. Since my head was practically wedged in his throat, I both heard and felt it.

“No, I didn’t mean any of it…except for the numbers. I won’t lie to you, Catherine. Though I didn’t wish for more and I’d kill to say there were none, there were eleven other women aside from Cannelle while I was in New Orleans.”

Eleven? In a week? Yeah, I knew he’d been promiscuous before we met, but for the love of God! Did he ever tuck it away?

He set me back enough to stare into my eyes. “I won’t ask you to forgive me, but I would ask that we start again despite this unpardonable offense.”

“You don’t even know me,” I whispered. “Bones…I drove us apart, and Gregor will kill you if we try to stay together again.”

He snorted. “Charles told me you’d run to jump on a grenade even if it posed no danger to me, but you don’t have to. Gregor’s not the first powerful chap to want me shriveled and he won’t be the last. I’ll stand or fall as a man, Catherine. You can’t protect me from the life I’ve chosen to live.”

“You sure you don’t have your memory back?” I muttered. This sounded a lot like what he’d said the day he left me. Okay, I’d have to try harder to make him understand that he needed to get away from me.

“You don’t even remember making the choice to be with me, and let me tell you, I am a bitch who’s left you no fewer than twice. And how can I expect you to honor an oath that I won’t honor myself? I was blood-bound to Gregor years before we even met. Why would you risk your life to be with a woman who’s going back on the same oath you’d rather die than break yourself?”

His dark gaze didn’t waver. “The actions of a frightened, manipulated child don’t bear being honorable to. Did Gregor tell you what you were doing when he bound you to him? Did you even know what it meant?”

I wasn’t in his arms anymore, but Bones still held onto my shoulders. For the life of me, I couldn’t make myself pull away.

“I should have known. I shouldn’t have let him intimidate me.”

“Do you still love me?”

I squirmed at the abrupt change in topic, let alone the question. Bones just tightened his grip.

“Answer me, and no matter the response, do not dare lie to me.”

His tone was the flat, dangerous one I recognized from his dealings with enemies. Shit, maybe he’d coldcock me if I lied. After all, I was a stranger now. There were a thousand reasons why I should take my chances anyway, but when I opened my mouth, only the truth came out.

“Yes.”

He pushed the hair from my face with a smile. “I’m glad. Would have been rough forcing you to stay with me if you didn’t, but make no mistake, Catherine, I would have. No one’s stealing my wife, and that’s who you are, so don’t argue again. Both of us willingly bound ourselves together, knowing full well the depth of that commitment. You can’t say the same about you and Gregor. Now, it seems we’ve both made mistakes, but those can’t be changed. All I’ll ask is for your honesty and fidelity from this day forward, and I pledge to you the same. Agreed?”

“You are so going to regret this,” I mumbled.

His smile didn’t falter. “Agreed? If you don’t agree, I’ll just knock you upside the head and take you with me anyway.”

His tone was light, but he had a glint in his eyes that said he wasn’t kidding. It reminded me of Bones from our early days. Of course, if you counted his current mental state, that’s who he was.

“Agreed.” You’ll be sorry.

“And if you try to sneak away, I will hunt you down and beat the arse off you.”

Oh, yeah. Definitely shades of his old charm. “I get it.”

“Good.” At last, he let me go.

I stepped back in a daze, wondering how all my intricate planning had been demolished so completely.

“Now, then, I suspect Charles is still guarding the door. He told me I’d have to brawl with you, and he was right. Strong as a bloody ox, aren’t you? Did you just drink vampire blood?”

I gave him a confused look. “No.”

He frowned. “I told you that what happened before doesn’t matter. You can’t be that strong on your own, so you clearly drank from a vampire recently. You promised me honesty, Catherine, and I intend to hold you to it.”

A sharp laugh escaped me.

“Boy, did Spade forget to mention something important about me! You don’t know what I am, do you?”

His frown deepened. “You’re my wife.”

I laughed again, this time with real humor. Well, Spade hadn’t had much time with Bones before they arrived here. Guess he’d skipped over parts about me that he’d deemed less important.

“I’m half vampire, Bones.”

He still didn’t get it. “Being married to one, I suppose you could consider yourself that way –”

“Not consider. I am.”

To avoid further argument, I let the light out of my eyes, bathing his face in a soft emerald glow.

His expression was priceless. There were so few times I was able to shock him. Considering all the times that Bones had rendered me speechless with disbelief, it was refreshing to see him that way.

“Look at your eyes,” he finally managed.

“That’s what you said the first time you saw them. Knocked you through a loop then, too.”

“You breathe, I hear your heart beating -”

“I’ll sum it up: My father had sex with my mother right after he was changed. He still had living sperm, and I showed up five months later. You were actually the first vampire I met that I didn’t kill, but not for lack of trying.

“You tried to kill me?” His brows went up. “Why?”

“Because you were there. I had a bad attitude about vampires back then. My mom kind of brought me up with a grudge.”

“Seven years of my life, replaced with doctored or false memories. You have no idea how livid that makes me.”

His frustration was palpable. On a much smaller scale, I knew how he felt, so part of me wanted to hug him and tell him it would be okay. The other part still wanted to beat him for his rampant cheating, unwitting or not, but I did neither. I was a stranger to him now, which meant I didn’t have the right to hug him or hit him.

“I can tell you about them, well, part of them. I wasn’t there for half. Look, I know what you said, but if this gets to be too much, I’ll understand. You’ve just been slapped with a wife, a memory loss and an arch nemesis, all in the past few hours. I’d pass out if I were you. So despite your best intentions, if over the next few days you realize that you can’t do this, feel free to go. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be all right.”

“Thank you for saying that.” His features hardened. “Now, don’t ever say it again.”

He was so damned obstinate. I prayed it wouldn’t get him killed.

A knock sound at the door, and then Spade popped his head in.

“Ah, Crispin, have you convinced your runaway bride to stay? Or shall we have a GPS system implanted in her for easier tracking?”

Bones answered before I could give an ungracious reply. “She’s staying.”

“Splendid. I’ll return this to you, then. Cat left it by mistake at my prior residence.”

He handed something small to Bones, who gave me a strange look when he took it.

“By mistake, eh?”

Spade smiled. “As it turned out.”

Light reflected from my red diamond wedding ring when Bones opened his palm. I shifted in a mixture of guilt and defensiveness.

“I was angry. Keeping it seemed hypocritical.”

Bones studied the ring and then me with equal intensity. “Give me your hand.”

Slowly, I stretched it out.

“This stone used to be my most prized possession,” he said as he slid the ring onto my finger. “That I gave it to you tells me more about what you used to mean to me than anything Charles has said. I don’t expect you to act as though nothing’s happened, Catherine. I can handle the consequences of my actions. I only expect you to be honest, as I will be with you.”

I looked at the ring on my hand. When I’d thrown it on the floor at Spade’s, I never expected to see it again.

“This isn’t going to be easy.”

He released my hand and shrugged. “Nothing important ever is.”

###

Vlad was in the hallway by Don’s office. He leaned against the wall as he watched me approach. Bones wasn’t with me. Spade had dragged him off for a minute, I assumed to see Ian.

“You called Spade and told him where we were,” I said without preamble.

A half smile flitted across his mouth. “Yes.”

“Damn it, Vlad, I thought I could trust you!”

“You can,” he replied without a hint of sarcasm. “Gregor would have eventually killed you because he can’t control you. I don’t think highly of Bones, but at least he’ll respect you. He’s your best chance for survival, even if you’re too emotional to see that at the moment.”

“And he might die for it. Since you don’t like him, I suppose you’d consider that a bonus?”

Vlad heard the betrayal in my voice, but he only shrugged.

“Who knows what will happen in the future? Now, it’s time for us to part and I don’t expect to see you again for quite a while, so give me a kiss.”

Spitefully, I wanted to say no. He’d tattled on me and didn’t deserve one. Then again, without Vlad talking me off a ledge, among many other things, I wouldn’t even be here.

I stood on tiptoe gave him a quick, chaste goodbye kiss. He brushed his knuckles across my face when we parted.

“Take care of yourself, Cat.”

“Goodbye, Vlad,” I replied softly.

“I’m glad to hear you say that, else I’d wonder what the devil you were doing,” a biting voice said from behind us.

Oh, shit.

Turning around only confirmed that Bones was on the other end of the hallway. Mentally, I cursed Vlad. My back was to Bones, but Vlad would’ve seen him.

“Let him believe you have other options,” Vlad whispered, too low for Bones to overhear. “Do his arrogance some good.” Then louder, “Well, Bones, didn’t you wake up with more than you went to sleep with? If you don’t remember me, let me be of assistance – we don’t like each other.”

“Oh, I remember that distinctly.”

Bones advanced with a glint of green in his eyes. Clearly, he thought the kiss he’d witnessed had been more than platonic. I backed away from Vlad like he was poisonous.

“Um, we really should be going –”

“But, Catherine, I haven’t greeted Tepesh yet.”

His tone held the promise of violence. I was the only standing between the two of them, and it was a precarious position. Just walk away, I sent to Vlad. Now.

“No,” Vlad said mildly.

“No, you won’t say hallo?” Bones thought Vlad was talking to him. “Very discourteous.”

I turned my back to Vlad and held out a hand toward Bones.

“I don’t know what you have in mind, but let me remind you that I could pull the territorial card with twelve other women,” I said, switching tactics. “We agreed to start over, right? So let’s do it.”

Bones stared at Vlad for another tense moment before he held out his hand.

“Right you are, Catherine. Come with me.”

I took his hand and walked away from Vlad without looking back.

###

We didn’t talk for the next several hours. Spade drove and Fabian rode shotgun. Ian had taken another car, thank God for small favors. I sat in the backseat next to Bones and closed my eyes. From his silence, I didn’t know if Bones was sleeping or quietly stewing. Occasionally, his leg or shoulder brushed mine from the swaying of the car, but that was it. He’d let go of my hand as soon as we were off the base.

“I’m arranging for some of your personal effects to be waiting when we arrive, Crispin,” Spade said, finally breaking the silence. “Pictures, letters, DVD’s. Hopefully they should assist with jogging your memory. Cat, it should only be ‘round an hour until we’re on a plane. You can open your eyes after that.”

I yawned. “Good. I’d like to sleep, but I can’t until we’re far enough away. Don cleared out the team right after we left, but it gives my uncle more time, too.”

“Time for what?”

Bones sounded annoyed. He didn’t know that, either. It must feel like we were speaking a different language to him.

“I should find out exactly what Spade told you so I don’t assume you know something,” I said with a sigh. “Every time I sleep, Gregor sifts through my subconscious and leans everything I know, like my location, who I’m with, and what we’re planning. I’ve almost gotten everyone killed a bunch of times. Drugging me didn’t turn out so well, either. The pills turned me into a psycho-bitch with their side effects, and though clocking me must have been enjoyable, that was only temporarily effective.”

Bones was silent for such a long moment, I thought, he’s already regretting not walking away when he had the chance.

“Are you telling me…that I’ve drugged and beaten you?”

His carefully controlled tone told me I’d miscalculated what he was angry about. When put like that, it sounded worse than the reality. I tried to explain.

“You only clocked me once before we got the pills, and what else were you supposed to do? Email Gregor with directions to where we’d be?”

“I don’t bloody believe this,” he said in a hiss.

Spade attempted to soothe things. “Crispin, you were under a great deal of stress, trying to secure her safety and the safety of those around you -”

“Bollocks,” he snapped. “Wasn’t she also under stress? Bloody hell, you’ll never have to explain why you left me, Catherine, but you might want to clarify why you came back. Gregor must have seemed like a vacation by comparison. Is that why you’ve been sitting with your eyes closed this entire time? I thought you just didn’t wish to speak with me.”

“It’s not safe for me to know where we are,” I continued to insist. “The only time I’m not dangerous is when we fly or I’m out like a light.”

“Club you over the head before I shag you, don’t I?” Bones asked in a conversational tone. “I’m obviously a Neanderthal, so I must whap you a good one and then drag you off for my pleasure, right? This treating you like contaminated waste ends here. Open your eyes.”

I almost did out of disbelief. “No.”

“Crispin,” Spade began.

“She’ll not know where we’re headed once we reach the plane,” he said curtly. “Catherine, open your eyes.”

His tone rang with pure command. I almost smiled. “Here’s lesson one about me: I don’t take orders. Especially when I know they’re wrong. My eyes stay shut, Bones, so deal with it.”

Instead of getting irate, he let out an amused snort.

“Stubborn, are you? Well, pet, here’s my response to your lesson – we’re traveling north on I95 in Georgia, just passing the Savanna exit. No need to keep your eyes closed now, is there?”

My lids snapped open with incredulity. “I can’t believe you just did that, you shit!”

He clucked his tongue.

“Such a foul word coming from such a lovely mouth.”

“Don’t bother with flattery, buddy, I’ve heard all your lines,” I muttered, still smarting over being outfoxed.

“I expect you have.” He smiled slyly. “Still, you married me, so some of them must have worked.”

The way he was looking at me made me self-conscious. He was evaluating me as a woman, and with our constant fights the last times we were together, it had been a while since he’d done that. I didn’t even want to remember how far back it was since other things had happened. Maybe Bones had already guessed that, hence the cocky twist to his lips.

Well, deprived I might be. Easy I wasn’t.

“Don’t even think of it. You’re in the doghouse, big time. It might not be your fault, but a short time ago, I heard another woman swallow your sword. The fact that she’s dead now might give you an idea about how much I didn’t like that.”

His smile didn’t waver. “You gave her a more merciful end than I would have. I despise that Cannelle made me a pawn in hurting and humiliating you.”

“And she was trying to lure you out to Gregor so he could kill you,” I added.

“Oh, that.” He made a dismissive motion. “I’d have merely broken her legs if that were her only crime. This isn’t an excuse, but you should know that Cannelle encouraged company with us. I thought it was just what she fancied, but now I know it was deliberate.”

This was a very painful subject, but ignoring it wasn’t going to make it go away. Better ask now than wonder later.

“Were, um, were the others human? I’d like to be prepared if there’s a chance that I’ll run into one of them later. I’m not asking because I’m sharpening my knives, I just…never mind. Forget it.”

I dropped my gaze, studying the floorboards. Why did I even ask? Maybe one day, I’d learn to let well enough alone.

“Humans all, and I’m certain it wasn’t accidental,” Bones replied. “I suspect Cinnamon was ensuring that no one would ask me any incriminating questions. A vampire or ghoul might have heard of me, and therefore made a comment referencing you.”

“Fabian did, right?” I still didn’t look up. “You must have thought he was crazy.”

Bones sighed. “Indeed. I don’t pay much attention to ghosts in general – no offense, mate – and he was railing what sounded like insane nonsense to me. I only began to take him seriously after he started singing.”

“Singing?”

“That was my idea,” Spade interjected. “Had to find a way to get Crispin’s attention without attracting others. I had Fabian sing old songs from the Alexander that the four of us had made up. No one else would have known them, and at their end, I had him relay messages. Like, don’t leave the city, or you’re in danger.”

I was torn between admiring Spade’s cleverness and fighting the urge to shout, Couldn’t you have added keep your dick in your pants!” Fortunately, I held that comment back. Fidelity didn’t supercede safety. No matter how much it hurt now, Spade had made the right decision.

“You did great, Fabian,” I said, and was rewarded with a smile from the ghost. Of course, his head went through the car seat to do it.

When I returned my attention to Bones, he was staring at me with such intentness that I immediately glanced away. Cool fingers closed around my wrist, bringing my hand to his face before I could snatch it back. When I felt the brush of his mouth on my skin, I tried to yank away. Even that small touch made my heart leap in a way that was almost painful.

His grip didn’t loosen as he took in a long, deep breath.

“You smell familiar.” His voice was low. “Even though I don’t remember meeting you before today, I swear that I recognize your scent.”

My heart skipped beat. Scent was the strongest sense tied to memory. Maybe, just maybe, his memory loss wouldn’t be permanent.

Still, it was hard to think with his fingers caressing my hand in feathery touches that belied a grip I couldn’t pull away from.

“Can you, um, let go now?” I asked unsteadily.

He inhaled again. “Not yet.”

Spade pretended to stroke his eyebrow while in reality, his hand blocked the glare he shot me from Bones’s view. Don’t cause a stink, that single look commanded.

Right. I forced myself to relax. Bones was only holding my hand so he could try to place my scent. No need to let everyone know that such a simple touch hit my emotions with the same force as a sledgehammer.

“Okay, well…you let go whenever you’re ready,” I managed to reply in a semi-normal tone.

A breath hit my knuckles that might have been a muffled laugh.

“I’ll do that.”

###

Mencheres, Bones’s co-ruler, was at the residence we arrived at, and for once, I was happy to see him.

“Grandsire.”

I wasn’t the only one, it seemed. Bones embraced Mencheres with something like relief.

“Can you get this worthless barrier out of my head?” he asked at once.

Mencheres set Bones back and placed his hand on his forehead. After a moment, he shook his head.

“The spell is bound by blood, so only Gregor’s blood will lift it.”

Bones ground out a curse. Then he cracked his knuckles. “All right. I’ll track the sod down and get his blood.”

“In your present state, he will kill you,” Mencheres said bluntly. “There can be no retribution for it under our laws, and then he will claim Cat as his. Do you condemn her to that, or will you do as I say?”

“I’m not afraid of him,” Bones spat, but he glanced over at me.

I had a split second of being torn before logic took over. If believing I was helpless would save him, then helpless I would be!

“If you’re determined not to wait until you’re stronger before you confront Gregor, then let me go to him now. If Gregor got me as victory spoils later, I think he’d go a lot rougher on me.”

I even manufactured a shiver as if the thought terrified me. It did, but only because the topic was Bones’s death.

My act worked because this Bones couldn’t tell when I was piling it on. His lips thinned and he returned his attention to Mencheres.

“Right, there’s more than me to consider now. Very well. What would you have me do?”

“Train with me from morning until dusk to get you ready to face Gregor,” Mencheres replied.

Bones gave the Egyptian vampire a self-depreciating smile. “You haven’t trained me since I was a lad. Was I much stronger before, or will I need all the strength I can get to defeat Gregor?”

Mencheres cupped his face with open affection, making me remember when he’d said that Bones was like a son to him. “You were starting to realize how very powerful you truly were.”

Vagueness. Mencheres was the king of that.

Bones glanced my way again. “Morning ‘til dusk, you say? Then I’ll take myself to bed. I remember how you train, so I’ll need the rest.”

All of the sudden, I was the center of attention. It took me a moment to realize why.

“I snore,” I said at once. “Ask anyone, it sounds like trees being chainsawed down. You need, um, some uninterrupted sleep by yourself. I might kick as well.”

That last part I said with a glint in my eye. Yeah, I might kick, and if Bones whispered someone else’s name in his sleep, I might stab him, too.

Bones let out a snort. “Mencheres, if you’ll point me in the right direction? I’ll stay in my doghouse awaiting Catherine’s reprieve.”

Spade turned to me and looked like he was about to argue. Before he could speak, Bones clapped him on the back.

“Don’t fret, mate. Although I’m not certain, she looks as though she’d steal the covers, too. Best all around, really.”

Spade laughed, and Bones gave me a cheeky wink as he followed Mencheres up the stairs.

“Sleep well, Catherine.”

###

The house was big. Maybe even a ranch, from the horses I heard outside. The good news was, beyond that, I didn’t have a clue as to where we were.

Mencheres put Bones in the room next to mine, so I heard him feed from two people before he went to sleep. One male, one female, or as I mentally named them, dinner and dessert. That also told me this was a community residence. Either it had a big basement or there was an adjoining cottage, but Mencheres had living snacks close by. Vampire households made me a little uneasy with their throwback to feudalism, not that I had any room to complain. Humans kept their food within easy reach, too.

Despite feeling tired, I had a restless sleep, drifting off just to wake up over and over again. It was surreal to be this close to Bones, yet miles apart emotionally. He was still the love of my life; I was only some weird chick he’d found out yesterday that he was stuck with.

The door banged open, revealing a teenage brunette with pigtails in the doorway.

“Hello! I’m Heather, and I’m here to get your breakfast. Are you Blood, Body or Breather?”

She was smiling at me in the friendliest way. Meanwhile, I’d just put my knife back on the dresser.

“What?”

She came in without being invited. Then again, she hadn’t been invited to open the door, either.

“You must be a Breather,” she announced. “The others know right off what I mean. Okay, human food, what’ll it be? I guarantee we have it.”

Her initial question finally made sense. Yeah, I guess that would be the first issue when determining what someone wanted for breakfast.

“Just point me to the kitchen and I’ll take care of it myself.”

She laughed like I’d told a joke. “You’re House. You can’t get your own food. Just tell me what you want and if you want it here or somewhere else.”

It was similar to being at Vlad’s, only if I were there, she’d have carted the refrigerator in with her.

“You can’t just point me to the kitchen?”

A firm shake of her head.

“Right,” I sighed. “Eggs and toast, I don’t care how they’re cooked or what kind of bread. Coffee, cream and sugar. Where else can I eat aside from this room?”

“Oh, wherever you want, but the balcony’s the nicest.”

“Where is it?”

“End of the hall to your right,” she chirped.

I stopped her on her way out. “Oh, by the way, I’m-”

“Don’t tell me your name,” she interrupted, the smile wiped from her face. “I’ll call you Red, but we don’t mention real names. That way we can’t repeat what we don’t know.”

Good God. “Heather, are you okay with being here? You’re underage, from my guess, and I could arrange for you to live somewhere else, with your own kind….”

My voice trailed off, because she suddenly looked ill.

“Please don’t. This is the best home I’ve ever had. They take care of me, I go to school online, and everyone is nice. I don’t want to go back to foster care, ever. Please don’t tell anyone where I am.”

I’d tried to be nice and instead, I scared the hell out of her. “I won’t. It’s okay. You’re doing great. I just…I’m an ass.”

She lost that frightened look, but she was still a little wary. “Don’t worry. You’re House, so you can say anything. One day, I’ll be House, too.”

How could I respond to that? Keep working hard and it’ll happen?

Finally all I said was, “House doesn’t guarantee happiness.”

She smiled, bright and sunny once more. “No, but it means someone will be bringing me breakfast.”

###

The balcony was beautiful, as promised. It overlooked a garden-surrounded swimming pool. Wherever this was, I hoped we were staying a while, despite the oddity of being ‘House.’ If I could move around outside, maybe swim or take a walk, I’d be delighted.

“Got some room on that bench?”

My head whipped up. “Denise!”

My best friend staggered back, laughing, when I launched myself at her. I was still babbling out an apology about Vlad burning the house and cars when she shushed me.

“No harm, no foul. Spade billed him, isn’t that hilarious? Three days later Vlad sent a check. Oh, but he didn’t pay for the ceiling that he’d chucked Tate through, because he considered that Spade’s fault for not controlling his guest. Vampires, right?”

I laughed as well, in comic disbelief at the protocol of the undead. Then Denise tugged on my arm.

“I’ve got something for you. It’s one of the reasons why I wasn’t here last night. Come with me.”

I followed her to a second-floor bedroom, though the bed was almost hidden from all the stuff on it.

“Clothes!” Denise announced. “All your size, all new. You must have felt like a Salvation Army fashion model, always wearing stuff that wasn’t yours.”

I was overwhelmed by the thoughtful gesture. It didn’t seem possible that something as trivial as clothes could make me feel better, but it did. Maybe it was Girl DNA.

“I also brought some photos and DVD’s, but those are for Bones,” she went on. “That’s the good news. The bad news is…” She leaned over and whispered something.

“Oh, fuck!” I burst out.

“So much for subtlety.” Denise quit trying to keep her voice down. “Spade thought that since she’s – ahem – known Bones the longest, he’d feel more comfortable with her here.”

“No, Spade’s still pissed at me and he’s a sly son of a bitch,” I muttered, holding up a hand to avoid her arguing. “Point me to Lady Ormsby’s room. I don’t want to find out her intentions after I’m prying her off Bones’s door.”

Denise gave me a look that said, you shouldn’t go, but I know you will. “One floor down, third door on your right.”

“I’ll be right back.”

One floor down and the third entrance on the right later, I banged on the door. “Annette! I need to speak with you. Wake up or stop what you’re doing.”

Rustling sounds came from within, and then her grumpy reply. “Can’t it wait? I’m knackered.”

I opened the door. Hey, I’d warned her. “No, it can’t.”

Annette was sprawled out nude in the bed. A sheet covered one leg that she didn’t bother to pull up once she saw me. True, out of everyone, she’d known Bones since the days of their humanity, when he’d been a gigolo and Annette had been his best client.

Her light eyes considered me balefully. “I’ve flown a considerable amount of time to be here, and I’m returning to my slumber straightaway after you leave.”

“Are you going to try and seduce Bones now that he doesn’t remember me?” I asked her, ignoring that.

She rolled onto her back. “Always direct, aren’t you? Another woman might have invited me to tea, played my friend and sought to dissuade me with guilt, but not you. Did you bring your knife?”

“It’s upstairs, and you’re stalling. Answer the question.”

“You find me a threat?”

I gave her figure a blunt evaluation. Annette’s breasts were full, though without the perfect roundness of youth. Faint stretch marks marred her sides, evidence of when she’d once been pregnant with what was probably Bones’s child. Her hips and legs were shapely and generous, exactly the way fashion dictated a woman should look before the past hundred years. She also exuded a sensual decadence, making her flaws somehow more attractive. When she was young, Annette must have been stunning to the point of intimidation, but now, she looked gorgeous as well as very accessible.

“Scary as hell, bitch. Flattered?” I said.

A smile curved her mouth. “In fact, I am.”

“Flattered? Or going after Bones, now that it’s your best chance?”

She sat up and let out a sigh. “No, I shan’t be scheming after Crispin. Oh, I’d like to. Thought about it the whole bloody flight over, in fact, but I can’t. If Crispin’s memories return, he’d despise me. Nothing is worth that, darling. I love him too much to risk his hatred.”

Any other explanation, I’d have doubted. This one rang true. Faults she might have, and lots of them, but she did love Bones.

“Annette, if I didn’t think you’d take it the wrong way, I’d kiss you.”

The truth was, she’d be formidable competition. Bones hadn’t kept returning to her for hundreds of years because she bored him. Annette one-upped me in many, many ways, so frankly, I was relieved.

“If you kiss me, I promise to take it the wrong way,” she replied, amusement clear in her tone. “Now, let me rest.”

“Yeah, happy sleeping.”

Since I had the answer I wanted, I was in a hurry to leave, especially after her last comment.

 ###

Bones came back well after nightfall. Things must have run late, or maybe, he was limiting the time he’d have to deal with me. God knows I’d be stalling if I were in his shoes. If Denise hadn’t been with me today, I might have climbed the walls.

Instead, I did feminine things. Tried on my new clothes. Took turns with Denise giving each other manicures and pedicures, then facials. Let her do my hair in different styles. Denise was in girly-girl heaven.

I didn’t let on, but I wasn’t. Was this what I was supposed to enjoy? Sure, it was nice, and I was so glad that my friend was there, but another day of playing Be-A-Barbie would send me running for my knives. What was wrong with me?  While curls were being put in my hair, I was reminiscing about bloody fights and near-death escapes.

That’s why I was relieved to hear Bones return. Hell, I’d almost flung myself down the stairs to see him when I realized he might just want to sleep. Was it rude to greet him, if he was really tired, or rude not to? Which was worse, to be perceived as a pouncing spider or the aloof wife? There should be a frigging manual for this.

I opted for Chicken Shit Plan C: Dash to the upper floor balcony and see if he sought me out. I wasn’t locking myself in a room, but I wasn’t wagging my tail by the door, either. If only I’d grabbed a book, then I could appear legitimately occupied. As it was, I had nothing to do but stare at the night sky.

Downstairs, I heard Bones greet Annette. Spade introduced Denise as his girlfriend since of course, Bones didn’t remember her. When he asked, “Where’s Catherine?” my heart leapt. How pathetic to be so emotional over a simple inquiry.

“She ran away when you came in,” Annette said cheerfully.

Bitch, I thought with an inner groan.

“Did she indeed?” Bones replied. “To where?”

“Outer balcony third floor.” Again supplied by Annette. She’d better lock her door tonight.

“If you’ll excuse me?”

There was a general murmur of acceptance, and then his light quick footsteps up the stairs, down the hall, and outside the windowed doors closing off the balcony. I stood up and turned around.

“I was just giving you a chance to unwind…” I began, then stopped. The way he looked at me made me more nervous. “What?”

“You told me no flattery, but I can’t help it. You’re extraordinarily beautiful.”

Bones kept staring at me, his eyes flicking from my face to my dress and back again. I sat down because I didn’t know what else to do. Jeez, courtship had been easier when we first met. I’d snarled and plotted to kill him; he’d pummeled me and made fun of my training progress.

So, how did I handle our strained new circumstances? With babbling. Idiotic, relentless babbling.

“Denise did my hair, nails, and the rest of it. And the clothes are new, which is nice. Don’t have to wonder who wore the underwear before me. No matter if you know they’re clean, there’s something icky about wearing another girl’s underwear….”

Good God, are you really talking about underwear? the logical part of my mind screeched. Stop talking now, moron! But I couldn’t seem to shut up.

“…although I never bother with doing all this normally. In fact, most of the time, I barely wear makeup, and I only do my hair if I’m going out to kill someone – which, since I quit my job, isn’t much anymore. I don’t know why I let Denise talk me into this, because when I don’t do it again, you’ll wonder why I only did it in the beginning and everyone will tell you, ‘oh, things change when the girl gets comfortable, that’s marriage for you,’ and, aw, hell, I gotta go!”

With that, I bolted from the balcony and went straight to my room, shutting the door. Even that wasn’t far enough. I went into the bathroom and turned the shower on, jumping under the spray still fully clothed while I cursed myself for being ten shades of an imbecile. I could just imagine Bones’s hushed conversation later tonight with Spade.

Has she ever been treated for schizophrenia? No? Oversight, mate. I’ll get right on it.

My head thumped against the tile. A couple more episodes like this and Bones would be delivering me to Gregor with a big red bow. Maybe I should keep it up. At least then he’d be safer.

In keeping with my new ridiculousness, I stayed in my room and didn’t come out. Denise knocked after an hour, but I put her off with a lame excuse about a headache. She didn’t press it. After several more useless hours staring at the ceiling, berating myself for behaving like a head case in front of Bones, I fell asleep.

Of course, that’s when Gregor showed up.

***

Read Part 3 next Saturday, August 9th, right here on my website blog.

Magic Breaks, “alternate” destined and more

I already mentioned this on my Facebook and Twitter pages, but if you don’t follow me there (pause to shed a tear ;)) then it might be news to you. My longtime friend and regular critique partner, Ilona Andrews, has a new book out:

Magic Breaks

Book 7 in Magic Series

Magic-Breaks-smRelease date: July 29, 2014

No matter how much the paranormal politics of Atlanta change, one thing always remains the same: if there’s trouble, Kate Daniels will be in the middle of it…

As the mate of the Beast Lord, Curran, former mercenary Kate Daniels has more responsibilities than it seems possible to juggle. Not only is she still struggling to keep her investigative business afloat, she must now deal with the affairs of the pack, including preparing her people for attack from Roland, a cruel ancient being with god-like powers. Since Kate’s connection to Roland has come out into the open, no one is safe—especially those closest to Kate.

As Roland’s long shadow looms ever nearer, Kate is called to attend the Conclave, a gathering of the leaders from the various supernatural factions in Atlanta. When one of the Masters of the Dead is found murdered there, apparently at the hands of a shapeshifter, Kate is given only twenty-four hours to hunt down the killer. And this time, if she fails, she’ll find herself embroiled in a war which could destroy everything she holds dear…

Read first two chapters below at the excerpt link.

Powell’s | B & N | Indiebound | Amazon | Borders

 

 

 

Kate and Curran fans, you are NOT going to want to miss this one, but don’t take my word for it. Look at what readers are saying on Amazon:


Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
5 star 139
4 star 8
3 star 2
2 star 0
1 star 0
Ilona and her husband, Gordon (co-writer for the series) have been traveling all week to celebrate Magic Breaks’s release. Here are their last two tour stops (info swiped from her blog) so if you’re in the area, I highly recommend that you go. Ilona and Gordon are hilarious.

Friday, August 1st: Ilona and Gordon Andrews will be in Edina, MN. The event will be starting at 7:00 pm at the Barnes & Noble in Edina (3225 W. 69th St. Edina, MN 55435).

The fan meet and greet will start at 5:30 pm in the cafe inside Barnes & Noble.

Saturday, August 2nd: Ilona & Gordon will be in Atlanta, GA. The Atlanta event will start at 2:00 pm at Foxtale Book Shoppe (105 E. Main St #138 Woodstock, GA 30188).

The fan pre-event will start at 12:30 pm at The Copper Coin Coffee Shot: 400 Chambers St, Woodstock, GA 30188.

***

As for me, Part 2 of the alternate “middle” version of Destined For An Early Grave goes up on my blog tomorrow, so come back if you want to see Cat and Bones’s first in-person meeting where he can’t remember who she is. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then go read this post. It will explain everything :).

Plus, be sure to check back on my blog next week because I will be releasing the book trailer to The Beautiful Ashes, Broken Destiny book one, and I’ll have downloadable wallpapers for you and a new Arc contest, so don’t miss out!

That’s it from me for now. Have a happy Friday, everyone!

Add your light

Note: This post has nothing to do with writing or my books, so skip if you only want professional updates.

There are a lot of refugee crises plus other horrors going on in the world. If I listed all of them from just the past two weeks, it would turn into a novel-sized post. However, I wanted to share a story I’ve been following about the eviction of Christians from the Mosul city of Iraq. If you haven’t heard about it, here’s a brief recap: The militant group Isis seized control of Mosul and ordered that all Christians recant their faith and convert to Islam, or pay a heavy fine, or leave. Failure to comply would be result in their execution. For a more detailed account, go here or here.

Thousands of Mosul Christians left. At “checkpoints” on their way out, refugees say they were robbed of their few remaining belongings. Their former homes or businesses were seized and marked with a painted Arabic letter that stands for Nasara, or Nazarenes, meaning Christians.

Let me stress that anyone who has seen their faith used as an excuse to promote a hateful/violent agenda should be able to sympathize with Muslims who have no part in these or other extremists’ acts. Muslims all over the world have condemned Isis for this and other crimes, plus Christians are by no means the only group being abused and forced out of Iraq. Furthermore, it was his Muslim neighbors that saved 70-year-old Samer Yacub by convincing Isis soldiers not to kill him when he was unable to leave by the deadline, and Muslims have provided sanctuary to most of the displaced Mosul Christians in other parts of Iraq.

I’m writing this post for two reasons. First, out of a sense of awed humility. These Mosul Christians gave up everything they owned and trekked miles through the desert to go to camps with little water or electricity rather than recant their faith. I think of the things I struggle with as a Christian, and to say it pales by comparison is an indescribable understatement. Second, I found a charity to help the Mosul Christian refugees and I’m linking it here, if any of you feel inclined to donate as I did.

World Compassion.

If you don’t feel inclined, no harm, no foul.  As I said above, there are many humanitarian crises going on in the world, which is why I’m a regular donor to such charities as Doctors Without Borders, Unicef, CARE, IRC, Children International, Samaritan’s Purse and the UNHCR. For domestic charities, I’ve turned to Feeding America, Wounded Warriors and St. Jude’s, and because I’m an animal lover, ASPCA and The Humane Society regularly get contributions from me, too. There are countless other charities that help alleviate suffering both nationally and worldwide, so before any says “But what about ________? I can’t believe you don’t donate to them, too!” I am only one person, and like everyone else, my funds are limited. That means I have to say no far more than yes. I think the important thing is to remain open to caring for others, wherever that care is directed at and/or in whatever manner it can be displayed (donating, volunteering, a prayer, a hug or even a smile).  As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

I believe that, which is why I ask that comments consist solely of your favorite charity/charities to help spread the word about them. There are more than enough comments on the internet assigning blame to this group or that group for the world’s problems, so in this comment thread, I’d like the focus to be on charities that are trying to spread a little mercy, love and light instead.

Alternate “middle” version of Destined For An Early Grave, Part 1

dfaeg-800x500If you didn’t read my post earlier this week, let me recap: my first four novels went through extensive rewrites, probably because they were also the first four books I’d ever written. Because of that, I have a lot of deleted scenes from them, and in some cases, alternate versions. Many of you have said that you miss Cat and Bones now that their story came to an end in Up From The Grave, so I decided to post a never-before-seen, deleted alternate version of the “middle” of Destined For An Early Grave. Because it’s so long (over 30K words!) I’m going to post it in four parts on my blog. Part One is now live, so scroll down to read. The remaining three parts will be posted on August 2nd, August 9th and August 16th. So for the next month, there will be free reading on my blog on Saturdays.

How did I end up with an alternate “middle” to Destined For An Early Grave, some of you may be wondering? Because I changed my mind about a subplot. In the original version, when Bones left Cat after the infamous “piano scene” to go to New Orleans, Gregor found a way to erase Bones’s memory of Cat, similar to how Mencheres had erased Cat’s memory of Gregor when she was a teenager. As you can imagine, having Cat erased from his mind changed Bones’s behavior dramatically, and thus the original middle of the novel was very different from the version that was later published. I decided to take that subplot out because so much had already happened to Cat and Bones in DFAEG that the memory loss seemed too burdensome. However, I’m sentimental, which is why I took the chunk out of the final manuscript, but didn’t delete it from my computer.

So, if you want to see Cat and Bones interacting with each other while Bones has no memory of their previous life, read on. For context, this alternate “middle” version starts on page 207 of the published version of Destined for an Early Grave, or 55% into the ebook, so if you want to familiarize yourself with what was going on back then, grab your copy and brush up. You’ll see some scene overlapping with only small changes at first, then the new content starts after Cat arrives at the military base.

In case you’re wondering, the entirety of the alternate “middle” ends right before Cat is turned into a vampire. After that, the story was pretty much the same as in the published version, which is why I call this a deleted “middle” section of DFAEG. Also, among other notable differences, Spade and Denise are already a couple in this version. Their romance originally happened off page, which changed when I got the green light to write First Drop Of Crimson.

Adult content warning: Some or all of these four parts will contain explicit language, violence, and sexual situations. This is also unedited, so my apologies in advance for any spelling or grammar errors. If you want to point those errors out, do so in the comments and I will correct the posted version.

Bones fangirl warning: His memory of Cat has been stolen, as stated above, so it starts out with Bones acting like he used to before he met Cat *cough, slut, cough*. If you don’t want to see Bones that way, don’t read this.

All explanations, warnings and disclaimers aside, here is Part 1 of the alternate “middle” version of Destined For An Early Grave:

###

The knock at the door didn’t wake me. Must have been too soft and tentative. Only when Vlad said, “Come in,” in a less than pleased tone did I wake up. God, he was right. My reflexes were shit.

Shrapnel stuck his head inside. I mentally berated Vlad for not giving me a chance to disappear into the bathroom. How incriminating did this look?

“Forgive me, Master, but the caller says it’s urgent. May I give you the phone?”

He held it close to his side, obviously nervous. Maybe Vlad was really grumpy when he woke up.

Vlad gestured in annoyance. “Very well, bring it.”

Shrapnel moved like a jackrabbit and then hurried out, closing the door behind him.

“Who’s this?” Vlad snapped into the phone.

Spade’s voice blared out next loud enough to bolt me upright.

“If you don’t put Cat on the line this time, I’m going to roast you alive in your own sodding juices –”

I snatched the phone away from him. “What is it? I’m here, what’s wrong?”

There was a loaded moment of silence. Too late, I realized what I’d done. Vlad lifted a shoulder as if to say, You’re stuck now.

“I was told he couldn’t be disturbed because he was in bed.” Each word was a blistering accusation. “That he was extremely indisposed. Lucifer’s bloody balls, Cat, is this why you haven’t returned my calls?”

“I-I-I didn’t…” Good God, I was stammering.

“Indeed!”

“Look, don’t even!” My anger came to the rescue. “If something’s wrong, tell me, but if you’re just going to play Pussy Police, you should start with your best friend. He’s probably nose deep in one right now.”

“He’s arse deep in mortal danger, if you still care,” was the icy reply.

That took all the hostility right out of me. Spade wasn’t one for hysterical exaggerations. I clutched the phone like it was slippery.

“What happened?”

Maybe I sounded as fearful as I felt, because Spade’s voice lost some of its anger.

“Fabian, your helpful ghost, has been in New Orleans trying to speak with him. From what he can deduce, which is little, Crispin’s mind has been altered. And Gregor’s lying in wait outside the city to kill him.”

“What do you mean, his mind has been altered?” My voice couldn’t get more shrill. Vlad winced.

“Just as part of your mind memory was erased years ago by Mencheres, it appears Gregor’s found a way to do the same thing to Crispin. He doesn’t remember Fabian. He doesn’t even know he’s at war with Gregor.”

I was so stunned, I couldn’t even gasp. How could Gregor have done that? How?

“Crispin went to New Orleans to have a meeting with Marie,” Spade continued. “After it took place, from what I’ve gathered, he started acting strangely. Then Marie closed the Quarter to any more undead visitors, and Gregor’s assembled a slew of forces beyond the city’s outskirts.”

That knocked me out of my temporary paralysis. I jumped up and began rummaging for clothes. Vlad scooted into my spot, unperturbed. “Are you there? On your way?”

“We can’t, that’s the whole bloody problem! Because of you, Gregor has clear rights to take Crispin out under our laws. And now Crispin doesn’t even know he’s under a death sentence. He’d likely walk right up to Gregor with a ‘fancy seeing you here’ before that filthy get slaughters him!”

“He doesn’t remember why he’s at war with Gregor?” The ramifications of that finally began slamming into me.

“Although Fabian’s very careful in what says since Crispin still doesn’t know what to make of the ghost, he’s never mentioned you, either,” Spade brutally supplied.

I sat on the floor, my knees weak. For a second, I couldn’t even breathe. Then I pushed my feelings aside and began to plan.

“He’ll need to be airlifted out of there. A helicopter would be best. We can arm it with silver bullets. We’ll do a midair transport onto a plane. Did you say you’ve been leaving messages for me about this?” I gave Vlad a truly menacing glare.

“I’ve been leaving messages for you to call, but we only found out tonight about Crispin’s condition and Gregor’s ambush.”

Vlad shrugged, unapologetic. “You said you didn’t want to speak to them. This part is news to me. I would have told you had I known.”

I didn’t bitch at him. After all, it was my own fault for hiding, not Vlad’s.

“There’s a problem with your plan, Cat,” Spade said tightly. “Else we would have already done something similar. No one of any line is allowed in the city, and that means above it, too. It would be sentencing them to death by Marie’s decree, and she’s too powerful to dismiss. I’d risk it myself, but if one vampire or ghoul crosses the line into the Quarter, Gregor and his people will follow. It has to be humans of no vampire affiliation, do you understand?”

Yeah, I did. Now I knew why he was in such a twist to get ahold of me.

“Give me your number. I’ll call you right back.”

***

 “…testing three, two, one…you read me, Geri?”

Lieutenant Geri Hicks, my replacement with Don’s team, coughed and muttered, “Affirmative.”

She had a receiving line surgically planted under her skin, pumping my voice directly by her eardrum. If I shouted, she’d be in pain. Her microphone was less invasively located in her necklace.

“What’s your location, Geri?”

“Crossing St. Anne Street and heading toward Bourbon. The bird still show he’s there?”

I checked the satellite imagery of the French Quarter on my borrowed laptop. The plane’s turbulence didn’t help, but I could still spot Bones. And the woman next to him.

“Affirmative. There’s a small time delay, as you know, but he should be there. You doing all right?”

Geri was nervous. I couldn’t blame her. She had to bring Bones in without getting him or herself killed. Bones was lethally powerful, plus there was a good chance he wouldn’t recognize her. Yeah, I’d have been wigged, too.

“I’m good,” Geri said.

“Roger that. Now, go show him that he can’t turn you down twice.”

She made a noise that was almost a laugh. On her first mission, she hadn’t known her mock target was also her trainer. “This is so weird.”

No shit.

I was the only person Spade knew who had human connections without direct undead affiliations and who could amass airpower and support complete with cutting-edge weapons and technology. Sure, it could be argued that my old team had connections to Bones, but none of them were under his command anymore since I’d quit. I owed my uncle big for this.

We weren’t sure how “altered” Bones’s memory was. Only a few things were certain. Bones didn’t know about the strife with Gregor. He didn’t seem to be able to read human’s thoughts anymore, either, or he wouldn’t be with the double-crossing skank in the photo. Oh yeah, and he definitely had no idea he was married. What – if anything – he knew about me remained to be seen. Maybe I’d been reduced to old girlfriend status in his mind.

Or maybe I’d been vanished completely.

Since she was human, Geri couldn’t see Fabian. He was there, though, trying to convince Bones he wasn’t deranged while not getting noticed by any of Marie’s people. That wasn’t an easy task. When this was over, I’d owe him big, too. How does one repay a ghost? That was an issue I’d ponder later.

“Approaching target, going silent,” Geri whispered.

On-screen I saw her nearing Bones. He was at Pat O’Brien’s, in the outside area, drinking what I guessed was his usual whiskey. His arm was slung around a pretty brunette, who was almost glued to him. Even now, her hand ran along his hip.

I clenched my fists. Bitch, you and I are going to have a long, bloody chat after this.

Cannelle couldn’t hear my mental warning, but Vlad could. He lounged in the chair opposite me, the jet’s turbulence not bothering him. We were on our way to the rendezvous point if all went well.

“You really don’t like her.”

I didn’t answer out loud. That might confuse Geri, since I was wearing a headset.

No. I really, really don’t.

“I know this is forward,” Geri purred through my earpiece as the satellite showed her reaching Bones and his companion, Cannelle, “but after seeing the two of you gorgeous creatures, I can’t decide who I want to fuck first.”

“Attagirl,” I whispered. God, cheerleading someone to hit on the man I loved! Why couldn’t I have a normal life?

With dark appreciation, I watched Bones set his drink down. Not any line would have worked. The man was a frigging chick magnet, and Geri wasn’t his usual type. But with that opener? She’d gotten his attention, all right.

“Easy decision, luv.” Her necklace picked up every nuance of his accent. “Ladies first. Isn’t that right, Cinnamon?”

Cannelle’s knowing laugh pierced me straight to the heart. The plane’s armrest lost a chunk.

“She looks very fierce, chéri. I was hoping for softer company, non?”

Geri didn’t let Cannelle’s disparagement stumble her. She flicked her fingers in Bones’ drink, then made a good show of licking the alcohol off them.

“I’ll be as gentle as a lamb, honey.”

Geri really had come a long way since the person I’d trained months ago. Cannelle might still be wavering over her, but Bones wasn’t. He caught her wrist, slowly ran his mouth along her palm, and then did something I couldn’t see that made Geri gasp.

“Never let a drop of something precious go to waste.”

His voice was deep with promise, an orgasm for the ears. Hearing it directed at someone else was another stab in the heart, but I masked it. I had a job to do. Everything else was secondary.

Geri sounded promising herself. “Maybe you’ll show me what you mean?”

Bones handed her his glass. “Drink.”

She took a sip. I tensed everywhere when Bones set it aside and then took Geri in his arms. Through Geri’s microphone, I heard his body rubbing against her, her muted moan of enjoyment, and his masculine rumble as he pressed her closer.

A full two minutes later, he lifted his head. By then, I almost wanted him dead.

Vlad watched me without pity. “Someone else could be doing this.”

He was right. I’d insisted on being the relay. I didn’t trust anyone else for something so important, no matter that it was brutal for me.

“That’s what I mean,” Bones told Geri softly.

“You, ah…” she sounded breathless and a little flustered. “You certainly get your point across.”

“You’re doing great,” I said to Geri, very low. She couldn’t be distracted by worrying about how I was taking this. “Get him moving.”

“What was that?” Bones asked sharply.

We’d been worried about this. Vampires had great hearing, hence the receiver being under her skin. It was also why I’d insisted on being the relay. If Bones overheard us, I’d be the one talking him down. No one knew him better than me.

“What?” Geri tried playing innocent.

Bones began running his hands down the front of her, all business now. Cannelle’s confusion showed even on the satellite image. Something had to be done. Now.

“Sorry about this,” I apologized to Geri. Then louder, “Bones! Lean in and listen up, and for God’s sake, can you be less conspicuous?”

That startled him. Apparently a hidden voice snapping at him wasn’t what he expected.

Chéri?” Cannelle inquired. She shouldn’t be able to hear me. She was still human, even after all these years.

“Calm the bitch,” I barked. “She’ll get you killed.”

“Don’t fret, sweet, it was nothing,” he told her. Then rustling sounds preceded the image of Bones moving closer to Geri, holding her shoulders.

“What a lovely neck you have. Let’s see how it tastes.”

If I were Geri, I’d be gulping at the blatant warning that translated into, Anything goes wrong, and your jugular is mine. Fortunately, it allowed him to be right by the receiver.

“What’s your name, darling?”

Although Geri answered him with a fake one, I knew Bones was really talking to me.

“Don’t you recognize my voice?”

“No.” To Geri, “You don’t look an Alexander.”

A sob almost choked me as my worst fears were realized. I was completely gone from his memory. After everything we’d been through, now I was just an unknown voice.

“That’s the name of the ship that took you to Australia in 1788,” I replied, controlling myself. “You can trust me. I’m a…friend of Spade’s.”

“You’ll have to do better than that,” he said as his hand wound in Geri’s hair.

She began kissing his neck, making it look like he was giving her instructions. Cannelle seemed to be getting fidgety. I had to make him a believer.

“Your mother’s name was Penelope. She died of syphilis when you were seventeen. Madame Lucille poured a bottle of her favorite perfume on Penelope before her body was burned. Every time you smell violets, it reminds you of your mother.”

A highly personal thing to recount with someone else listening, but I had no choice. Loaded silence followed my words.

“Do I meet your standards?” Geri asked.

Bones still had her neck angled. I sucked in my breath.

“You’ll do,” he said at last.

I let out that breath in a sigh of relief. Bones might not know me anymore, but for now, he’d listen to me.

“First things first. Cannelle’s a traitor, and the city is surrounded. You need to get to the top of St. Anthony’s Cathedral as quick as you can, but be subtle. You’re being watched.”

“You’re so gorgeous, baby,” Geri said, catching his shirt in her hands. “Do we have to get to know each other? I just want to fuck like you can’t imagine.”

Bones disentangled himself from Geri to take Cannelle’s hand. “Hate to keep a lovely girl waiting. Come on, Cinnamon. This is who I want tonight.”

“Don’t I get to choose?”

I heard the pout in Cannelle’s voice and it was all I could do not to scream.

“Not this time, luv.”

Chéri –”

“Everyone else has been your choice,” he interrupted, leading them through the crowds. “Keep whinging, and I’ll make you wait until I’m done before you have her.”

“Little French whore,” I spat, unable to help it. Everyone else? Wasn’t that just great!

Bones stopped at a curb. “Careful, Alexander,” he said pleasantly. “Or you’ll trip over your narrow perspective.”

I knew that was directed at me, so I answered it. “Don’t go there, buddy, I married a whore.”

Vlad gave me a look. I waved a hand at him as if to say, I know, I know. I’m trying!

“Keep heading toward the church,” I said, back to business.

Then I removed my headset and spoke into my cell phone.

“Okay, Don. Deploy. They’re on their way. Tell Cooper not to drop the ladder until he’s fifty yards away.”

“Got it, Cat.”

I readjusted the headset. Geri had just been telling Bones that she wanted to have sex on the church’s roof, but Cannelle was protesting.

Non, there could be rats! Why can we not leave here for an evening? I told you I have very beautiful friends in Metairie I want you to meet.”

“Tell you what, sweet. We’ll go tomorrow. You’ve wanted me to meet these lasses for days, they must be terribly special.”

Oui. Tres magnifique.”

“Bitchsticks has been trying to get you out of the city, huh?” I said with rising anger. Maybe Vlad’s impalement thing wasn’t such a bad idea. “Now you know why.”

“Tomorrow we’ll do what you fancy, and tonight shall be my evening,” Bones went on. “I promise you’ll see a new side of me.”

And me, too. I was really looking forward to seeing Canelle in person again.

I couldn’t see the three of them anymore. They were off my satellite since they started walking. “Look around, Bones. Are you being followed?”

“It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it, ladies?” Pause. “I love this city. It’s so deliciously haunted.”

“Don’t worry about the ghost, if he’s the same one who’s been bugging you for days. He’s a friend.”

“I like haunted places,” Geri replied, keeping the conversation going. “You don’t think anyone will catch us climbing up on the roof, do you?”

Bones kissed her again. I couldn’t see it, but I could hear it. “Not at all.”

Okay. It was clear. God, I wanted this to be over soon. Safely, and soon.

“Here’s the score, Bones. A chopper’s going to do a pass over the church about two hundred yards up. He’ll have a chain ladder dangling. When you see him coming, you blast up with both chicks and grab it. As soon as you’re clear of the city, you’ll leapfrog onto the back of another plane. Spade will be on it.”

“Ah, here’s the church,” he said in reply. “Alexander, my lovely, look at me for a moment. You don’t need to fret about my eyes or my teeth, right? You don’t notice anything unusual about them. You’re not afraid, because you know I won’t hurt you. Say it.”

“You won’t hurt me,” Geri repeated. “I’m not afraid.”

So, that’s how he got around the glowy gaze and pointy teeth when he fucked humans. I’d thought as much, but had never wanted to ask. I knew more about his past than I already cared to. This scene was for Cannelle’s benefit, I guessed, since Bones knew Geri was in on his secret. Just going through the usual motions.

I thought I’d puke.

“Cinnamon, shall we?”

“If we must, chéri.”

“We must.”

After a few moments of noisy rustling sounds, Bones spoke again. “The roof at last. No rats, petite, quit cringing.”

Vlad, get the chopper’s ETA, I thought.

He complied with the mental directive and took my cell, hitting redial.

“They’re on the roof,” he informed Don briefly. “How long?…Yes.” He set my cell back down. “Six minutes.”

“You’ve got six minutes, Bones. Remember, you have to have both of them with you when you jump, and Cinnamon won’t want to go.”

“Come here, lovelies. That’s better.”

Bones’s voice changed. Became that luxurious purr that used to melt me. Listening to it now only made me pissed. Worse, next there was the breathiness and the soft chafing noises of kissing.

Then Geri said, “Hey now, sugar. Ease up a bit.”

“Why?” Cannelle’s voice was belligerent. “I am ready for you to please me.”

I glanced at the time. “Two more minutes. Stall but be cool, Geri.”

“Cinnamon, don’t be so greedy. I’ll sweeten her up for you. You’ll like it better for the wait. Why don’t you find a better use for your mouth than complaining, petite? Ah, yes. Like that.”

“Sonofabitch,” I spat. It didn’t require a satellite to know where he’d directed her mouth to.

“You, um, might not want to do that.” Geri sounded rattled.

Cannelle made a reply that was garbled. Vlad got up and started rubbing my shoulders. I was crying now. Silent, furious, useless tears.

“Accomplish your objective,” Vlad said, soft yet stern.

I beat my fists against my legs but didn’t scream like I wanted to. Instead, I watched the seconds tick past and tried to listen with clinical detachment for signs of danger. Unfortunately, most of what I heard wasn’t sounds of danger.

Ninety seconds…sixty…thirty…twenty…

“Ten seconds,” I rasped. “Nine, eight, seven…”

“Know something, Cinnamon?” Bones lost the seductive timbre to his voice and it turned into cold steel. “You’re not any bloody good at that.”

“…one!” I yelled with all the bitterness in me.

Then there were only the sounds of the helicopter before I heard a clanging of metal, a thump, and the words I’d been waiting for from Geri.

“We’re in!”

The chopper had special silent blades, which reduced its normal noise. It made Cooper and the two copilots inaudible, however. Geri still wasn’t, of course.

“Zip up, Bones, and I hope you’re rich.”

He laughed. “Why?”

“Marriage counseling,” she replied. “You’re going to need the best that money can buy.”

“Drop it,” I told her, very softly.

“I don’t know who misinformed you, luv, but I’m not married.”

“Is she still breathing?” Geri asked, wisely changing the subject. “You hit her pretty hard.”

“She’s alive.”

There was a sliding noise, and then Geri said harshly, “Try to shove my head between your legs, huh? Who’s happy now, bitch?”

“She can’t feel you kicking her,” Bones said, no criticism in his voice.

“Yeah, well, I can feel it, and I’m enjoying it!”

“Are you a friend of Charles’ also?”

Charles was Spade’s real name. Vampire never could just pick one. Great, now he was asking questions. That was my cue.

“She’s a friend of mine, Bones. So are the guys flying. Spade will explain everything when you see him. It should only be a few minutes until you’re clear of the city.”

“Then it is you I owe thanks to.” He sounded closer now. Must be right next to Geri. “How did you know my mother’s favorite perfume? I don’t recall ever telling Charles that.”

“Long…long story.” My throat closed off with suppressed tears. What was I going to say? You don’t remember me, but once, we were madly in love?

“You can tell me about it. I’ll take you and your husband out for a grand evening. Former whore, was he? We have something in common.”

Geri gave a bark of laughter. “Boy, you have no idea what you’re saying.”

I couldn’t break down now, so close to the finish line. “Don’t bother. We’re, ah, we’re separated.”

“Oh?” Pause. “Then it shall just be you and I.”

“I’m three hundred pounds, have bad scoliosis, and I just turned sixty,” I snapped.

Bones didn’t miss a beat. “Dinner theater, then.”

I laughed even as the tears started to flow again. I’d wanted confirmation that things were really over between us, and here it was. He didn’t even know me. It couldn’t get more over than that.

“I’m glad you’re safe, Bones. Tell Fabian thank you, he’s the ghost. He’s been a good friend.”

“And who shall I say is thanking him?”

“Cat.” I waited a second, but he had no reaction. “Cat says thanks.”

***

I waited until Bones had transferred to Spade’s plane as planned before unhooking my headpiece. Geri was probably delighted not to have my voice pumping into her eardrum anymore. Only Bones was doing the aerial jump; she and Cannelle were staying in the helicopter. Spade’s plane was supposed to rendezvous with me at one of Don’s locations, but that wasn’t necessary now.

I called my uncle. “Change Bones’s flight plan,” I said. “Don’t tell me where to, but don’t fly him where I’ll be.”

My uncle didn’t ask unnecessary questions. “All right, Cat.”

I hung up. Vlad had been watching me the entire time. I managed to muster what would have been a terrible imitation of a smile.

“That answers that.”

“He doesn’t even remember you, and it’s not as if his prior habits were unfamiliar to you,” Vlad replied, no false sympathy in his voice.

No, they weren’t. But I hadn’t expected to listen while Cannelle found the soft chewy center in Bones’s Tootsie Pop. He’d been on the other plane over two hours now. Spade had called my cell several times, but I didn’t answer. I knew they were safe. Nothing else needed to be said.

We finally landed at the base, though I didn’t know where. From the outside, most military installations looked the same anyway, not that I was looking. I had my eyes shut and my hand on Vlad’s arm as I got off the plane.

“Hello, Commander,” a male voice said.

I smiled still with my eyes closed. “Cooper, I’d say nice to see you, but give me a minute.”

He grunted, which was his version of a belly laugh, and soon I was inside the facility.

“You can open your eyes now,” Cooper said.

His familiar face was the first thing I saw, dark skinned and with hair even shorter than Tate’s. I gave him a brief hug, which seemed to surprise him, but he was smiling when I let him go.

“Missed you, freak,” he said.

I laughed even though it was hoarse. “You, too, Coop. What’s the news?”

“Geri’s chopper arrived thirty minutes ago. The prisoner was secured and awake. Ian is here. He’s been questioning the prisoner.”

That made me smile for real. I’d had Ian flown here because he was a cold-blooded bastard – and right now, I liked that about him.

“You can stay here or come with me, it’s up to you,” I said to Vlad.

“I’ll come,” he replied, giving Fabian, who’d just floated up, a cursory glance. The ghost hovered over the ground next to Cooper, who couldn’t see him because he was human.

“Fabian, you’ve been incredible,” I said. “No matter what, I’ll take care of you. You’ll always have a place to stay.”

“Thank you,” he said, brushing his hand through mine in his form of affection. “I’m sorry, Cat.”

He didn’t need to say what for. That was obvious.

My smile turned brittle. “Whoever said ignorance was bliss was shortsighted, if you ask me. But what’s done is done, and now I have an acquaintance to renew.”

The ghost looked momentarily hopeful. “Bones?”

“No. The little bitch inside, and you might not want to follow me for this one. It’s going to get ugly.”

I didn’t have to tell him twice. In a whirl, Fabian vanished. Neat trick. Sucked to have to be a phantom to do it.

Vlad gave me a slanted look. “You’re not intending to see him at all, then?”

“No. We have no official ties anymore, and now he wouldn’t even be able to pick me out of a lineup. Plus, I’m a walking LoJack to the vampire who wants nothing more than to kill Bones. I’d say the best thing I could do is get away from Bones…and go back to Gregor.”

Vlad looked at me like I’d suddenly sprouted a second head. “Don’t be a fool. You can’t trust Gregor.”

I let out a noise that no one would misconstrue as a laugh. “I don’t. But I trust that I can keep Gregor occupied enough to lay off Bones until he and Mencheres can figure out how fix Bones’s mind.”

“You can stay with me. Gregor won’t dare to attack me to retrieve you; he has enough powerful enemies as it is.”

I touched his hand with a sad smile. “I appreciate the offer, really. But then Gregor will only use Bones to draw me out, and no matter how mad I am at him, it’ll work.”

Vlad said nothing, merely staring at me with a look I couldn’t decipher. I didn’t want to hear more arguments, so I headed toward my uncle’s office without waiting to see if Vlad followed.

Turned out, Don was waiting for me in the hallway. He looked…bad.

“Is something wrong?” I asked, instantly worried. Had Bones’s plane been tailed, or attacked, or worse?

“No.” He coughed. “I just have a cold.”

“Oh.” I gave him a hug hello. It surprised me when he squeezed back and held on. We weren’t a cuddly family.

Vlad sniffed the air. “A cold?”

Don let me go and gave him an annoyed look. “That’s right. Don’t concern yourself. I’m not contagious to your kind.”

He said it harshly. Jeez, maybe Don really did feel like shit. My uncle wasn’t normally so surly, even though vampires weren’t his favorite group of people.

Vlad looked him up and down and shrugged, taking out his cell phone to signify that Don didn’t merit a response. His fingers flew over it, texting the fastest message ever.

Don went right to business. It was his defining characteristic. “Dave radioed to confirm that Bones’s memory of you has been completely erased. He was astonished to hear he was married, and now he’s insisting on seeing you. Dave’s requesting permission to come here.”

“No,” I said at once. “You tell Dave to forget changing course. If Bones wants to satisfy his curiosity about me, someone can give him a picture. Gregor’s going to be mad as hell as soon as he realizes Bones has flown the coop, and if I’m with him, it’ll only make Bones easier for Gregor to track.”

“Is that the only reason?” Don asked in a quiet tone.

I had to look away and blink to clear my suddenly fogged vision. “Whatever chance we might have had – which was slim anyway, considering Bones left me and said everything but good riddance – it’s over now. I don’t know how Gregor did it, but when he carved me out of Bones’s mind, he killed any hope of a future for us. You can’t regret losing someone you don’t even remember, so…that’s that.”

My uncle didn’t argue, even though his expression said he was doubtful. “Ian’s been asking the prisoner about how Gregor did it. She hasn’t been very forthcoming.”

Oh, hasn’t she?

“Then it’s time for me to see my old friend.”

***

 Cannelle didn’t appear to have aged a day in the twelve years since I’d seen her. In fact, only her reddish brown hair was different with its new, shorter length. I guessed it was where she got her name. Cannelle. French for cinnamon.

She sat on a steel bench which took up an entire wall in the square, boxlike space. Cannelle wasn’t restrained, since Ian and Geri were in the room with her. Even if by some miracle she got past them, there were still three more guards outside the door. Her eye was black, and blood dripped from her mouth and temple, but she wasn’t cowed.

When I walked in, she blinked, then laughed.

Bonjour, Catherine! It’s been a long time. You finally look like a woman. I am very surprised.”

I felt a nasty grin pull my lips. “Bonjour yourself, Cannelle. Yep, I grew tits and ass and a whole lot more. What a difference a dozen years makes, huh?”

She went right for the throat. “I must compliment you on your lover, Bones. Qu’un animal, non? In this instance, his reputation was…not gracious enough.”

Bitch. I wanted to rip the smirk right off her face.

“Too bad he didn’t seem bowled over by your bedroom skills. I mean, the fact that you couldn’t get him to leave the city for a ménage a cinq doesn’t speak well, does it? And how do you even give a bad blowjob? Those words are usually an oxymoron.”

Ian chuckled with malevolent humor. “Oh, you two ladies have a history, do you? You might want to start speaking now, poppet. I’ve been gentle with you, but Cat has a wicked temper. She’ll likely kill you before I can reason with her.”

“Her?” Cannelle flicked her finger contemptuously at me. “She’s a child.”

Boy, did she pick the wrong girl in the wrong mood.

“Hand me that knife, Ian.”

He passed it over, his turquoise eyes sparkling. Geri looked a little nervous. Cannelle didn’t even blink.

“You won’t kill me, Catherine. You play the hard woman, but I still see a little girl before me.”

Ian regarded Cannelle with amazement. “She’s unhinged.”

“No, she’s just remembering who I used to be. Gregor made that mistake also, at first.”

I smiled at Cannelle again while twirling the knife from one hand to the other. Her eyes followed the movement, and for the first time, she looked uncertain.

“Remember that big bad bitch Gregor didn’t want me turning into? Well, it happened. Now, I’m in a hurry, so here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to circumcise you, and the only way you’ll stop me is by talking, so please. Please. Don’t talk.”

She didn’t believe me. When Ian held her and I cut her panties off, she was still giving me that I-dare-you glare. When I used my hips to open her legs, she still thought I was bluffing. Only when I severed the aforementioned tissue with a single upward swipe did she get the picture.

And couldn’t stop screaming.

“Whoa, I bet that hurts,” I said coldly. “Ian’s licking his lips at all that blood. You have a choice, Cannelle. We can put this thing back on and a dab of vampire blood’ll have you good as new. Or…”

“Put it back! Put it back!

“You’ll tell us what we want to know?”

Oui!

After listening to her go down on Bones, I was almost disappointed. “Ian?”

Cannelle was still screaming when he took her severed hunk of flesh, coated it with his blood, and slapped it between her legs like he was playing Pin The Tail On The Donkey. Then he sliced his palm and cupped it over her mouth.

“Quit wailing and swallow.”

She gulped at his hand. In seconds, her bleeding stopped and her flesh knit itself back together.

Geri couldn’t tear her eyes away from Cannelle’s mending clitoris. She shivered and rubbed her own crotch as if in reflex. I was more concerned with Cannelle’s face. Judging whether or not she’d go back on her word.

“Since we’ve established that I’m in a really foul mood, let’s move on to the question-and-answer phase. Oh, and if you make me use this knife again…I’m not putting anything back. How did Gregor do it? How did he steal Bones’s memory?”

Cannelle kept touching herself while staring at me in horror.

“Gregor had Marie perform a spell that erases part of a person’s memory. He thought you deserved to know how it felt to have the person you love forget about you and whore themselves with others, just as you had done to Gregor.”

Oh, how I hated Gregor. He wasn’t content to make me run all over the place with my hands covering my eyes. He had to make sure I did it with my heart ripped out, too.

“Why didn’t he just kill Crispin?” Ian asked. “If he had him defenseless enough for Marie to bollocks up his mind, why didn’t he shove silver through his heart?”

Cannelle’s mouth dipped. “The Queen of Orleans wouldn’t allow it. She said Gregor could only kill Bones outside her city. She didn’t want to participate in the spell or their meeting, either, but Gregor made her.”

“He forced her?”

Non, you misunderstand. He made her. ‘Twas his blood that raised her as a ghoul, and Gregor killed her other sire the night he changed her, so her fealty was to him alone. Gregor agreed to release Marie in exchange, and Marie’s wanted free of Gregor for over a hundred years.”

“And Bones would trust Marie because she always guarantees safe passage in her meetings.”  That clever, dirty schmuck. “Your part?”

“I was to fuck him, naturellement, and once assured that you heard of his infidelity, I was to take him to Gregor.”

She actually smirked as she spoke. My anger turned to ice.

“Is that all, Cannelle?”

Oui.”

I turned to Ian. “Think she’s got more?”

He met my gaze with equal coldness. “No, poppet. I think that’s it.”

I still had the knife in my hand, slick from Canelle’s blood.

“Cannelle,” I said in steady, clear tone. “I’m going to kill you. I’m telling you this so can take a moment to pray, if you choose, or to reflect, whichever. You lured my husband around will the full intention of taking him to his slaughter, and that’s just not forgivable to me.”

“Cat, no,” Geri said.

I didn’t answer her. Cannelle gave me a look filled with malicious defiance. “But Bones isn’t your husband. Gregor is.”

“Semantics. You’re wasting time. Get right with God. Fast.”

“I am a human,” she hissed. “A living, breathing person. You may have it in you to wound me, but not to kill me.”

I ignored that, too. “Marie got her freedom for her role. What did Gregor promise? To change you?”

Another hostile glare. “Oui. It’s my payment for all the years I’ve served him.”

“You backed the wrong horse,” I said. “If you would have told Bones what was happening, he’d have turned you himself. He’s honorable that way. Instead, you tried to get him killed. You’re not going to be a vampire, Cannelle, but I’ll let you die like one.”

She stood up. “You wouldn’t dare. Gregor would kill you.”

Then she looked down. The silver knife was buried in her chest. It even vibrated for a few seconds with her last remaining heartbeats. Cannelle watched the handle quiver with astonishment before her eyes glazed and her knees buckled.

I stood over her and felt more of that awful coldness.

“Maybe Gregor will kill me for this, Cannelle. I’m willing to take that chance.”

***

I took my time in the shower, but the scalding water pouring over me didn’t make me feel warm. It did clean the blood off, however, and that was a start. Finally, I shut it off and grabbed a towel. No more stalling. I had things to do whether I wanted to or not.

The locker room was empty. Geri had left me something to wear, even though she clearly disapproved of what I’d done. Still, she had no recourse since Don just tugged his eyebrow and said it wasn’t civilian business. If she stayed long enough at this job, Geri would lose a lot of her current sense of right and wrong. That wasn’t necessarily a good thing, but it was a fact all the same.

Geri’s clothing donation turned out to be an ankle-length yellow dress with purple flowers. It looked springtime and happy. I felt wintry and depressed. It seemed like months since I’d worn clothes that were mine. I wouldn’t know my own panties if they bit me in the ass.

She’d left her toiletry bag out, too. Guess that was a hint. I helped myself to the toothbrush and toothpaste, although I didn’t care if Gregor was offended by my breath. The only makeup I bothered with was lipstick because my lips felt like sandpaper. Then I looked into the mirror. Now that I was clean, I looked like death warmed over instead of cold, grim death.

Cannelle’s face kept flashing in my mind. Cold, grim death. That’s what I’d given her.

A knock sounded at the door. “Can I come in?”

Geri. I sighed. “Sure.”

She came inside the locker room, and from her expression, she was still upset with me.

“Before you say anything,” I began, “you should know –”

“I’m not here about that,” she interrupted. “Well, yes, but not how you think.”

“Oh. Um, if it’s about what you did with Bones, I realize –”

“Good Lord, Cat, quit guessing.” Geri began to pace. Her ash blonde hair was in its usual bob, and the muscles in her legs flexed with her movements. “It’s not about that, though Bones makes out like a demon, doesn’t he? I want this off the record before I go any further.”

I was intrigued. “All right. Just between you and me.”

“I heard you say that you and Bones were finished. Is that true?”

That widened my eyes and raised my hackles.

“Why? Now that you know he’s single, you want more of what he gave you? Liked what you saw when he pulled his dick out?”

She stopped pacing. “Ease up, Catzilla. I’m not after your man. I was wondering if you’d be after mine.”

Huh? “What are you talking about?”

Geri flounced on a nearby chair. “I’m seeing Tate.”

That one I hadn’t anticipated. I stared at her for a moment before finding my voice.

“How long?”

“A few weeks. Don doesn’t know. Neither does the rest of the team, though I think Dave and Juan suspect. I know Tate’s still hung up on you, but I’ve let it slide. You’re married and never around, so I just figured he’d get over it. Then last week, he jetted off as soon as he heard that you and Bones were having problems. Now Bones doesn’t remember you and you’re not going to re-introduce yourself, so I want to know if that opens up the field for Tate.”

Professionally, I was annoyed at Tate for fraternizing with a junior officer. On a feminine level, I felt bad for Geri. She clearly had strong feelings for him to be discussing this with me, because we didn’t know each other that well.

“I don’t see Tate as anything more than a friend, and that’s not going to change,” was all I ended up saying.

She cocked her head. “You might want to tell him that.”

“Believe me.” I opened the door, suddenly anxious to leave. “I have.”

***

I didn’t make it to the end of the hall before I was grabbed from behind, my senses picking up the inhuman power in the air too late. I let out a yelp, wondering how a vampire could’ve breached the base’s defenses –

“Hallo, Cat,” a voice I recognized said.

Spade. I quit kicking, dread washing over me. If he was here…

“How in the hell did you get here?” I snapped, looking around as soon as he released me. Thankfully, Bones was nowhere in sight.

“Someone with far more sense than you texted me your location,” Spade replied.

“Who?” I began, then stopped as I remembered Vlad texting someone right after arguing that I shouldn’t return to Gregor. Damn that meddling Romanian.

“Crispin wants to speak with you,” Spade went on. “He’s just showering now.”

I let out a bitter laugh. “With bleach, I hope, and a strong germicide.”

A flicker of remorse shadowed Spade’s expression before it hardened. “Good thing you showered as well, else I suspect you’d reek of Vlad.”

I was about to correct his false assumption about me and Vlad when I stopped. Why should I? “Could be worse,” I settled on. “I could have made Bones listen to us.”

Spade closed his eyes. “Crispin’s incredibly sorry about that. He would never have done such a thing if he’d known who you were.”

Even though I wanted away from Spade – and the compound – before Bones got out of the shower, I had to ask. “How much is gone?”

His eyes opened. “Anything to do with you. That has consequences to quite a lot of the past several years. Crispin wasn’t aware of his new status as co-ruler of Mencheres’s line. He thought he was still under Ian. It appears his powers have been affected as well. He’s not as strong and he can’t hear humans’ thoughts. In short, he is as he was before he met you.”

That only solidified my resolve to return to Gregor. Gregor had been stronger than Bones before the effects of this awful spell. If Bones was back to his power level of seven years ago, he’d be toast against Gregor.

“Is this – is this permanent?”

“We’re not sure. Mencheres doesn’t think so, but it will take time. How long, no one knows.”

Spade cocked his head. I didn’t hear anything alarming, but then Spade grabbed my arm.

“Crispin’s done. You’re coming with me.”

“No,” I said, tugging hard. I wasn’t nearly ready to see Bones again.

“He’s in the conference room,” he went on, not letting go. “Your uncle arranged for the two of you not to be disturbed.”

Was everyone against me? I tried logic next, since attempting to wrest away wasn’t working.

“Come on, Bones has enough to worry about without adding me to the list –”

“Bollocks,” Spade snapped. “Now, shall it be kicking and screaming, or under your own power? Either way, you’re going to see him.”

I knew him well enough to know that he meant what he said, and if I kept resisting, this would turn into a fight that would draw Bones’s attention long before I could run away.

I drew my shredded emotions behind a shield that I hoped was strong enough to keep me from falling to pieces.

“Fine. You can let go of my arm.”

He gave me a jaded look. “Consider me overzealous.”

Smart of him not to let me go, because when we came to the door and I could feel Bones on the other side, I began to panic. Spade must have sensed that. He whipped the door open, shoved me inside so hard that I almost tripped, and slammed it behind me.

I froze after I regained my balance, then slowly turned around.

***

Read Part 2 next Saturday, August 2nd, right here on my website blog.

July 2014

Jeaniene’s tour schedule to celebrate THE BEAUTIFUL ASHES release is now available:

August 30th, 3:pm Malaprops

55 Haywood Street
Asheville, NC 28801

September 4th, 7:00pm BooksAMillion

125 South Hampton Drive
Clarksville, TN 37040  Ph: 931-648-1100

September 5th, 6:30pm. Joint signing with J.A Redmerski (Song of the Fireflies)

The Booksellers of Laurelwood
387 Perkins Road Extended
Memphis, TN 38117 901-683-9801

September 18th, 6:30pm. Joint signing with Ilona and Gordon Andrews (Magic Breaks)

Book People
603 N. Lamar
Austin, TX 78703

September 19th, 6:00pm. Joint signing with Melissa Marr (Made For You)

Katy Budget Books 

2450 Fry Rd
Houston, TX 77084

September 20th, time tbd. Fresh Fiction event, details to come.

Fresh Fiction
Dallas, TX

September 22nd, 7pm. Joint signing with author Melissa Marr (Made For You)

Barnes and Noble, Tyson Corner Mall 
7851 L. Tyson’s Corner Center
Mclean, VA 22102

September 23rd, 6pm. Joint signing with author Melissa Marr (Made For You)

Barnes and Noble
1035 Emmet Street, Suite A
Charlottesville, VA  22903

September 24th, 6:30pm. Joint signing with author Melissa Marr (Made For You)

Fountain Book Store 
1312 East Cary Street
Richmond, VA  23219

Contest winners, tour schedule and Cat & Bones special announcement

TBA cover 2 First, let’s get to the contest winners from last week’s giveaway featuring Arcs of The Beautiful Ashes. Almost a thousand people entered (yes, you read that right – my jaw dropped! :)) but I only had ten Arcs to give away, so apologies in advance to most of you who didn’t win. Ten people did, however, and here they are:

Jocelyn Barnette, Rachel Schneider, Debbie Richardson, Joclyn Davis, Judy Glaser, Penny Noble, Heather Shadix, Elizabeth Chapson, Teresa Kleeman and Elizabeth Chin.

Congrats, all! Replies have been sent to your entries with instructions. Hope you enjoy the book!

Speaking of The Beautiful Ashes, I just received my tour schedule from my publisher. I’ll be traveling to several cities to celebrate its release, and we’re even breaking up the stops to accommodate for Labor Day. Some of the signing feature only me, but several of them are joint signings. To be honest, joint signings are my favorite because then we can turn it into a panel-type event for readers. And hey, if you’re going out to meet an author, why not meet two for the same time and effort, right? *wink*. So, mark your calendars if you’re in any of these cities! I would love if you were able to come out:
.

August 30th, 3:pm Malaprops

55 Haywood Street
Asheville, NC 28801

September 4th, 7:00pm BooksAMillion

125 South Hampton Drive
Clarksville, TN 37040  Ph: 931-648-1100

September 5th, 6:30pm. Joint signing with J.A Redmerski (Song of the Fireflies)

The Booksellers of Laurelwood
387 Perkins Road Extended
Memphis, TN 38117 901-683-9801

September 18th, 6:30pm. Joint signing with Ilona and Gordon Andrews (Magic Breaks)

Book People
603 N. Lamar
Austin, TX 78703

September 19th, 6:00pm. Joint signing with Melissa Marr (Made For You)

Katy Budget Books 

2450 Fry Rd
Houston, TX 77084

September 20th, time tbd. Fresh Fiction event, details to come.

Fresh Fiction
Dallas, TX

September 22nd, 7pm. Joint signing with author Melissa Marr (Made For You)

Barnes and Noble, Tyson Corner Mall 
7851 L. Tyson’s Corner Center
Mclean, VA 22102

September 23rd, 6pm. Joint signing with author Melissa Marr (Made For You)

Barnes and Noble
1035 Emmet Street, Suite A
Charlottesville, VA  22903

September 24th, 6:30pm. Joint signing with author Melissa Marr (Made For You)

Fountain Book Store 
1312 East Cary Street
Richmond, VA  23219

Don’t live near any of these cities? Feel like you keep missing out on the cool stuff? Well, if you’re reading this, then you have an internet connection, so I have something for you :).

DFAEGBBBMy first four novels went through extensive rewrites, probably because they were also the first four books I’d ever written. Because of that, I have a lot of deleted scenes from them, and in some cases, alternate versions. Many of you have said that you miss Cat and Bones now that their story came to an end in Up From The Grave, so I decided to post a never-before-seen, deleted alternate version of the middle of Destined For An Early Grave. Because it’s so long (over 30K words!) I’m going to post it in four parts on my blog. Part One will go up this Saturday, July 26th, with the remaining three parts to release on August 2nd, August 9th and August 16th. So for the next month, there will be free reading on my blog on Saturdays. Hope you enjoy!

How did I end up with an alternate middle version of Destined For An Early Grave, some of you may be wondering? Because I changed my mind about a subplot. In the original version, when Bones left Cat after the infamous “piano scene” to go to New Orleans, Gregor found a way to erase Bones’s memory of Cat, similar to how Mencheres had erased Cat’s memory of Gregor when she was a teenager. As you can imagine, having Cat erased from his mind changed Bones’s behavior dramatically, and thus the original middle of the novel was very different from the version that was later published. I decided to take that subplot out because so much had already happened to Cat and Bones in DFAEG that the memory loss seemed too burdensome. However, I’m sentimental, which is why I took the chunk out of the final manuscript, but didn’t delete it from my computer.

So, if you want to see Cat and Bones interacting with each other while Bones has no memory of their previous life, come back on the above dates. For context, this alternate “middle” version starts on page 207 of the published version of Destined for an Early Grave,  or 55% into the ebook, so if you want to familiarize yourself with what was going on back then, grab your copy and brush up.You’ll see some scene overlapping with only small changes at first, then the new content starts after Cat arrives at the military base.

That’s it from me for now. Hope you’re enjoying your week so far!