I wrinkled my nose as I set the pet carrier down in the small living room of the town house. The former occupants must have been smokers. A lingering scent of tobacco permeated the walls and carpet, but it was better than the garlicky ganja aroma we’d surrounded ourselves with at Spade’s. Not that it had done any good. Kramer was obviously too powerful for that to be a deterrent. But, since I was supposed to be looking on the bright side, last night meant we didn’t have to start looking for Italian chefs and drug dealers in order to layer up this place with a bunch of garlic and weed. How was that for a Glass‑Half‑Full perspective?
The first thing I did even before letting my kitty out was start lighting sage and putting it on some of the many incense burners and glass jars we’d acquired on our trip from St. Louis to Sioux City. We hadn’t gotten any sleep between the drive, picking up supplies, and arranging for our accommodations here, but catching some winks at Spade’s had been out of the question after Kramer’s visit. Spade and Denise packed up just as quickly as the rest of us. Guilt stabbed me that they couldn’t return unless we managed to capture Kramer. Otherwise, who knew if–or when–Kramer might decide to pop back in for another extremely hostile visit. After all, they couldn’t burn sage in every room of their house for the rest of their lives. Or until we caught him, whichever came first.
I knew that Tyler was coming with us, and I expected my mother to tag along as well, but I was surprised when Denise and Spade insisted on coming to Sioux City, too. My question of why was met with pointed stares. Guess Kramer had made two new enemies in his raid, but I didn’t know if Denise’s dragon metamorphosis would work to terrify the ghost a second time. Even a dragon couldn’t harm Kramer, and once he got over his initial terror at seeing one, he’d remember that.
Ian also came along with the comment that he had nothing better to do, and he wanted to see Denise do another “shapeshifter trick,” as he called it. In spite of my personal dislike of him, Ian was crafty, powerful, and practically fearless in a fight. Too bad all that came wrapped up with the conscience of a barracuda, but he was loyal in his own way to Bones and Spade. Ian might claim he was here only because of boredom or the chance to see Denise shape shift into something unusual, but I knew better. The Inquisitor had fucked up when he tried to kill Bones. That , Ian cared about.
Absent from our group were Fabian and Elisabeth. The ghosts had taken their own form of transportation in the form of ley lines. Even though both of them swore that they were careful, and Kramer hadn’t followed them back to Spade’s, it seemed too big a coincidence. This was twice now that Kramer found us, and my borrowed powers were gone, so that wasn’t the smoking gun. In Ohio, I’d blamed it on chance because the state was a supernatural hotspot that naturally drew a lot of ghosts, but St. Louis wasn’t, and I doubted Kramer had gotten extremely lucky in the ley lines he rode last night.
Thus, we were in the Morningside section of Sioux City, but we’d rented an apartment for Fabian and Elisabeth just outside Kelly Park. It was necessary to give them their own place because we’d arranged for a new method for communicating with them, and we couldn’t risk its getting stolen. The ghosts didn’t need furniture or kitchen appliances, so the apartment was empty save for one very important item: a cell phone. Elisabeth could manifest into solid flesh long enough to use it, and who said you couldn’t teach an old ghost new technology? After a few lessons, Elisabeth learned how to send a text since her voice would only sound like white noise if she called me. I’d programmed her phone so it would forward any text she sent to me to all of our shiny new cells. This way, Elisabeth and Fabian could follow Kramer without worrying about leading him back to us when they needed to relay information. In an emergency, they could poof up where we were staying, but unless things got dire, they’d reach us in the new old‑fashioned way.
“Got your mum settled in with Ian,” Bones remarked, coming into the town house.
Spade and Denise were staying together for obvious reasons, and I didn’t trust Ian to fully be invested in protecting Tyler if Kramer found us and managed to brave the sage. That left Tyler with us and Ian with my mom. Bones was going to arrange for another vampire to stay at our cabin in case my uncle showed up with important news, but my mom could fill that position. The prospect of cooling her heels at the cabin shut her up . . . right until it was time to go in the rented town house with Ian, and then I’d done the most practical thing I could: I sicced Bones on her.
“I swear, that woman’s got a mouth on her worse than you do,” Tyler commented, following in after Bones. “Ian gave her the tiniest smack on the rear when she walked by, and she told him to–”
“Ian smacked my mother on the ass?” I cut him off. At Tyler’s nod, I stopped lighting sage and grabbed a silver knife, feeling my fangs pop out of their own accord. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”
Bones blocked my path to the door. “I have it sorted, luv. He won’t do anything like that again, promise.”
I stood there for a moment, debating whether to push past Bones so I could slice and dice Ian before stringing him up by the silver rings he had pierced through his parts, when Bones raised his brow.
“Don’t you trust me?”
“I trust you , not him,” I muttered.
He grasped my shoulders. “Then if you trust me, believe that it’s sorted. If he proves me wrong, I vow I’ll hold him down and let you stab him as many times as you please.”
That image brought a smile to my face. Talk about looking on the bright side! Bones chuckled.
“Then it’s settled. Now, I’ll get us unpacked. Why don’t you go back to lighting enough sage to make sure that ghostly sod gets a proper welcome if he pops up on us again?”
I’d like to believe that wouldn’t happen, but there were two ways Kramer could indeed drop by for an unwelcome visit. One was if he’d returned to Spade’s before we left last night and followed us all the way from St. Louis to here. We’d tried to prevent that by leaving very quickly and having Elisabeth and Fabian keep a lookout the first hundred or so miles, but if the ghost was sly, he could’ve managed it.
The second possibility was more likely, and it sucked on many levels.
“You realize we might need more than sage if Kramer overheard us talking last night about how we were planning to trap him,” I stated.
“Aw, hell. I didn’t think of that,” Tyler muttered.
“I did,” Bones said with a grim glance at me. His voice lowered until it would be impossible for anyone eavesdropping to overhear him. “Means we need to center our attention on his intended victims instead of the accomplice. Elisabeth said he never wavered once he picked his targets. That will work to our advantage.”
My eyes widened, but I made sure to speak as quietly as he despite my surprise. “How, unless we use those women as bait?”
“I hate it when you two whisper like that,” Tyler muttered. “Makes me antsy.”
“That’s precisely what we’ll do,” Bones replied, holding up a finger to Tyler in the universal gesture for wait. “If Kramer expects us to concentrate on finding and mesmerizing his accomplice, he’ll either be extremely zealous in concealing that bloke’s identity, and we’ll never discover who he is. Or he’ll lie to the accomplice about where he’s intending to hold the bonfire, sending us on a wild‑goose chase while he’s off somewhere else having his spot of gruesome fun. Either way, he avoids our trap.”
“But if we have the women,” I mused, “then Mr. No One Else Will Do would come to us to try and get them. Or he’d send his accomplice for the same purpose.”
Bones nodded. “And then, either way, we’d get our chance to nab Kramer or the accomplice. In any event, the women would be safer with us than on their own.”
Safer, but not safe. I heaved a mental sigh. Nothing I could do about that. Once they’d been targeted by Kramer, they wouldn’t be truly safe until the Inquisitor was rotting in a trap somewhere. We might be able to protect them this Halloween, but the ghost had proven to be more than deadly in his noncorporeal form, too. Even if we returned those women safe and sound to their homes on November 1, with strict instructions to keep sage burning at all times, they had to leave sometime. And when they did, Kramer could poof up and poltergeist them to kingdom come.
If we didn’t find a way to trap Kramer–which would be damn hard even if he did come right to our door–we could be saving these women on Halloween only to have them murdered in a different way later, and the same pattern would repeat the year, and the next, and the next . . .
I heaved an actual sigh this time, fixing Bones with a tired, jaded look. “We might need to see Marie.”
Bones’s face became as hard as granite. “No.”
“Who’s Marie?” Tyler wondered. I’d said that last part loud enough for him to catch it.
I mimed “wait” at him and lowered my voice again, trying to convince Bones that an audience with a woman who’d been both ally and adversary in the past was worth trying.
“Probably no one in the world knows more about ghosts and the afterlife than the ghoul queen of New Orleans. What if there’s a spell that could boot Kramer right off this plane of existence?”
“Then Marie would want too much in return for it, not to mention practicing black magic is against vampire law,” was his immediate reply.
“Since when did you worry about being law‑abiding?” I scoffed.
His dark gaze was steady. “Since I fell in love with you and assumed Mastership of a line. If it was proven that we practiced black magic–and I don’t trust Marie not to mention it–the Law Guardians could sentence us to death. That’s a chance I’m not willing to take, Kitten.”
I disagreed that Marie would tattle on us, but I remembered all too well how lethally efficient Law Guardians were when it came to death sentences. I’d briefly been under one of those, and only some quick thinking combined with misdirection had prevented my head from parting company with my shoulders less than five minutes after a Law Guardian pronounced that sentence.
The only other way Marie could help us would be to give me another wineglass full of her blood, but for me to admit that my Remnant‑summoning powers had run their course held its own set of unacceptable consequences.
Damn. Back to square one: trying to catch someone who was made of air and for all intents and purposes, immortal. You don’t have a chance in hell , an insidious inner voice whispered.
Fuck you; pessimism never helped anyone , I told it.
“All right,” I said, forcing a smile. “We concentrate on finding the women and let Kramer or his accomplice come to us once we do.”
And if they do , that relentless inner voice continued to taunt, you’re going to need a helluva lot more than burning sage to save the day.
Yeah, I knew that, too. But I’d resolved to believe that things would work out, and that was what I was going to do.