The bite before christma.., p.15
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       The Bite Before Christmas, p.15

         Part #15.50 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands


  I heard Wraith's voice before I got out of the car. Its melodic cadence combined with my favorite accent should've sounded soothing. Instead, it was like nails on a chalkboard. Don't you ever tire of listening to yourself talk? I wondered irritably, but affixed a bright smile on my face when I came through the door.

  That smile almost cracked when I saw Wraith seated on an ottoman as though it were a throne. He'd moved it so that he was near the large fireplace, the glow from it playing over his features and making him look even more ethereal. Wraith wore another flowery shirt under his jacket, lace spilling out over the cuffs to wreath his hands. I'd first thought he picked those shirts to be pretentious, but now I had another idea about why he wore them, and it had nothing to do with an outdated fashion sense.

  Wraith smiled at me. "Cat. I trust your trip was fruitful?"

  I pulled up a seat next to Bones, who, like everyone else, sat in a semicircle around Wraith, akin to adoring courtiers paying their king homage. It was all I could do not to grab a poker and beat Wraith's head in before I roasted his chestnuts for some real holiday cheer.

  "Oh, yeah, I found a few places that I think would work for the party," I said, sticking to the excuse I'd given for running out this morning. "In fact, I want to take Denise and get her opinion on my favorites. "

  "I'm sure that will be lovely. " Wraith stretched out his legs. "Right, then. We were just talking about-"

  "I meant now," I cut him off as pleasantly as I could.

  His smoky-blue eyes narrowed. "Rather rushed about it, aren't you?"

  "It's almost Thanksgiving, so the best places are booking up fast for the winter holidays," I improvised, trying to sound as sincere and obsequious as possible. "I'd be so embarrassed if we had to settle for a substandard facility to hold your introduction party. After all, this is so much more important than a regular Christmas celebration. "

  It wasn't lost on me that Bones was silent, letting Wraith determine what I would and wouldn't do with my own time. If I'd had any lingering doubts about him being bespelled, that got rid of them. The man I married would tell Wraith to keep his bloody opinions to himself should I ever have an unexpected case of muteness when someone questioned me on my comings and goings. Not sit back quietly and let a stranger muse over whether I was allowed to go out for an afternoon. No one else uttered a peep, either. It was as though they'd been replaced with incredibly lifelike mannequins.

  "Do hurry back," Wraith said at last, with an acquiescing flick of his fingers.

  If I held this fake smile any longer, my face would crack. "You'll barely notice we were gone. "

  Denise rose, shooting me a grateful look once her back was turned to Wraith. Spade didn't glance her way or bother saying good-bye. Neither did Bones, another piece of evidence that nothing but an otherworldly spell could account for this type of behavior from a vampire to his wife. I stared at Bones as long as I dared, wishing I could find an excuse to get him to leave, too. But Wraith wouldn't allow that, and telling him where to shove it would clue him in that I wasn't under his dirty little enchantment. Plus, in Bones's current state, he probably would refuse to leave if Wraith didn't want him to.

  Rage flared through me, which I stuffed back with promises of another time, another place. "See you all soon," I got out, and followed Denise out the door.

  Fabian already floated by the car, to my relief. He would come with us while his ghostly girlfriend, Elisabeth, stayed here to keep an eye on things. "Get in," I whispered at him.

  Fabian disappeared and then reappeared in the backseat in the time it took me to blink. I pulled out of the driveway nice and slow, no telltale squealing of tires or flying gravel to betray my sense of urgency. Denise was also so tense that I couldn't hear a word of her thoughts. A good thing, too, since if I couldn't, then Mencheres and Bones couldn't, either, and they wouldn't relay anything to Wraith. Only when we were miles away did my white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel lessen.

  "Ian's got a theory about what's going on," I said, breaking the silence.

  "Well?" she prodded.

  I got onto the freeway, heading toward Asheville. "You're not going to like it, because it means that neither of us can go back. "

  "What? No!" she said at once. "I'm not leaving Spade with some dick that's got him acting like a robot for God knows what reason-"

  "You think I like leaving Bones?" I cut her off. "I know exactly how hard this is, but if we ever want to see our husbands without them being the equivalent of Wraith's wind-up toys, we need to work together. "

  Her mouth remained mulishly set, but she asked, "What's Ian's theory?" without further argument.

  I sighed and reached out, pulling up the sleeve of Denise's cardigan to expose the dark, star-shaped marking on her forearm.

  "Wraith's spell is rooted in demonic magic, and the reason he can wield it is because under his long lacy sleeves, we think he has a pair of demon brands, too. "

  Denise paled until our skin tones almost matched. I returned my attention to the road, not wanting to add to my woes with a high-speed collision.

  Fabian recovered first. "If Wraith was also branded by a demon, then like Denise, he now has all the powers of that demon. He'll be almost impossible to kill!"

  "Bull's-eye," I noted dryly.

  "We have a knife made of demon bone. Stab it through his eyes and he'll die, same as I would," Denise said, still sounding dazed by the information.

  I gave her a jaded glance. "Where's that knife now, huh?"

  "Spade has it locked up for safety reasons," she murmured, then added, "I don't know where, and I can't ask with him being all spell-addled. Fuck!"

  I nodded. "That's just what I've been saying. "

  Fabian cleared his throat, which, for someone lacking a physical esophagus, was his way of politely telling us to pay attention.

  "That could be, ah, rectified. "

  I met his gaze in the rearview mirror. "I'm glad you think so, because part of our plan involves you helping us search Spade's many houses to find it. "

  A delicate cough. "That's not necessary. The same, ahem, material is right here. "

  "Fabian, get to the point, please? Your beating around the bush isn't making any sense," I said, exasperated.

  "Yes it is," Denise replied, drawing out each word. "He means we have all the demon bone we need in my body. "
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