The bite before christma.., p.9
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       The Bite Before Christmas, p.9

         Part #15.50 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands


  Bones and I were the only ones to enter the resort. The rest of our group stayed in the parking lot, keeping watch to make sure events didn't go from bad to worse with an ambush. Most people at the inn were sleeping this time of night, which I was grateful for. No intrusive chatter barraging my mind thanks to my unwanted ability to overhear humans' thoughts. Just the softer hum from dreams, which was as easy to tune out as your average background noise.

  Once I followed Bones inside the Appalachian suite Annette had rented, however, the tranquil atmosphere shattered. Crimson streaked the walls, wood floors, and, in heavier quantities, the mattress. From the scent, it was Annette's blood, not someone else's. I expected the room to show signs of a fierce struggle, but not a stick of furniture seemed out of place.

  Ian stood in the far corner of the room, his normally mocking countenance drawn into harsh lines of anger.

  "In there," he said, jerking his head at the closed bathroom door.

  Bones reached it in three long strides, but I hesitated. Ian hadn't told us if Annette was alive, just said to get here immediately. If Annette's body waited on the other side of that door, maybe I should give Bones a minute alone. She was the first vampire he'd ever made; her death would hit him hard. But even as I braced myself to comfort him, I heard a feminine, chiding voice.

  "Really, Crispin, you shouldn't have come. You're missing your own party. "

  My brows shot up. Aside from calling Bones by his human name, which only a handful of people did, those upper-crust British tones identified the speaker as Annette. So much for her being dead. Hell, she didn't even sound fazed, as if her blood wasn't decorating the room in enough quantities to make it look like the inside of a slaughterhouse.

  "I'm missing my own party? Have you lost your wits?" Bones asked her, echoing my own thoughts.

  The door opened and Annette appeared. She wore only a robe, her strawberry-blond hair wet from what I guessed was a recent shower. This was one of the rare occasions I'd seen her without her face perfectly made up or her hair styled to the nines, and it made her look more vulnerable. Less like the undead bombshell who'd tried to scare me off when we first met, and more like a woman who seemed on the verge of tears despite her unfaltering smile.

  "What a state this room is in," she said, letting out an embarrassed little laugh.

  "Annette. " Bones grasped her shoulders and forced her to look at him. "Who hurt you?"

  Her hands fluttered on his arms, as if she wanted to push him away but didn't dare. "I don't know. I've never seen him before. "

  Bones studied the room, no doubt picking up nuances that even my battle-practiced gaze had missed. Two hundred years as an undead hit man made him formidable when it came to noticing incriminating details. Annette remained silent, the faint lines on her face deeper from her frown.

  "You're lying," Bones finally said. "No forced entry on the doors, no signs of jimmying, so you let him in. Then you didn't struggle when he cut you, didn't wake the other guests with cries for help, and didn't call me though your bloody fingerprints are on your mobile. Ian, did you see who it was?"

  "No, but I think I scared the sod off," Ian replied. "The window was open, and I heard something too fast to be human dashing away from the balcony, but I stayed with her instead of giving chase. "

  That surprised me. Ian loved few things more than a nasty brawl. Annette must be one of the few people he cared about, for him to be responsible by protecting her and calling for backup instead of indulging in a murderous game of hide-and-seek.

  Though undead healing abilities meant there wasn't a scratch on her now, sometime after the others left to come to my house, at least one vampire had shown up and tortured the hell out of Annette. What made no sense was why she wouldn't tell us who it was, if Bones was right and she knew. Aside from the scent of blood, a harsh aroma hung in the room, a pungent combination of chemicals that seared my nose when I took in a breath. No use trying to determine her attacker by scent.

  Annette remained silent. Bones's tone hardened.

  "An attack against a member of my line is the same as an attack against me, so I'm no longer asking you as your friend. I'm commanding you as your sire to tell me who did this. "

  With those last three words, Bones unleashed his aura, and the weight of his power filled the room. This wasn't the tingling caress of sensations I'd felt from him earlier, but chilling waves of building pressure and crackling currents, like being in the center of an ice storm. Anyone undead within a hundred-yard radius would feel the force of Bones's aura, but most especially those tied to him through blood, as Annette and I were. She flinched as though he'd struck her, her champagne-colored gaze flickering between Bones and the floor.

  "Crispin, I . . . I can't," she said at last, bowing her head. "I told you, I don't know. "

  Anger pulsed in palpable waves from Bones, showing that he didn't believe her. I was torn. Aside from one incident with me when we first met, Annette was as loyal to Bones as the day was long. She was still in love with him, too, and probably always would be. So why would she defy him over someone who'd tortured her? That was beyond my comprehension.

  Unless she thought she was protecting Bones by her actions? I'd thrown myself in front of a few metaphorical trains for that reason. If Bones was right and Annette did know her attacker, maybe she thought whoever sliced and diced her was too powerful for Bones to take on in retaliation.

  "Let's get her back to the house," I said, placing my hand on his arm to soothe away some of that furious energy. "We can figure out our next move there. "

  Bones gave Annette a look that promised he wasn't done with this discussion, but he swept his hand toward the door.

  "All right, Kitten. After you. "
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