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Authors: Jeaniene Frost

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R
almiel met him at the front of the salon where Becca worked. From there, they had a clear view of the police swarming over the LaLauries' old house and the bomb unit being called in. Blokes didn't want to chance that anything else might explode in the place, not that Bones could blame them.

After a few minutes of silence, Bones turned to Ralmiel. “Why did you come there tonight?”

Ralmiel shrugged. “Jelani offered to pay me double the highest bounty on your corpse, if I let you live instead. So I thought to help you kill the scum fouling my city. It was easy to know where you were,
mon ami
, once the house went
boom
.”

Bones couldn't contain his snort. “Mate, I've got some bad news for you. Jelani's skint broke, and Marie hasn't authorized any of what he's done the past several days, so don't expect her to reimburse you, either.”

Ralmiel stared at him. “There's no money?”

“'Fraid not.”

“He lied to me. I will kill him,” Ralmiel said in outrage, pulling a pouch from his pocket and squeezing it.

Nothing happened. Ralmiel looked down in surprise, then squeezed again. And again.

A slow smile spread across Bones's face. “Having some difficulty, are you?”

Understanding bloomed on Ralmiel's face. “You found Georgette,” he murmured.

“Never underestimate your opponent,” Bones replied. “You know you're not to be trifling with magic, and if anything happens to Georgette for coming to her senses and refusing to participate in your crimes again, I'll be forced to make them public.”

Ralmiel said nothing for a long moment. Bones waited, wondering if now that Ralmiel knew he wouldn't be collecting any quid for “letting” Bones live, he'd dare to take him on in a fair fight, without the chance of one of his magic escapes.

Finally, a faint smile creased Ralmiel's mouth.
“Non, mon ami.
That time is past. Money is not everything,
oui
? One day, perhaps, you might assist me.”

Bones inclined his head. “I hope you're not lying. I rather like you, but if I ever see you on the other side of a silver weapon again, I'll shrivel you.”

Ralmiel shrugged. “Understood.” Then he nodded at the mass of people in the street. “Thirsty?”

Another snort escaped Bones. Did he want to plunge into that crowd and glut himself on the throats of nameless, countless people who'd never know they'd been bitten by the time he was done with them? No. He wanted to take Becca to his townhouse, clean her body up, and then bury her in his courtyard so no more indignities could be committed upon her.

But he couldn't do that. Becca's family had the right to bury her, not him. The best thing Bones could do was leave Becca where she was. The police would do their investigation, tie it into the other murders, and perhaps decide they had a copycat killer who'd taken his obsession with the LaLauries' dark history too far. Since Delphine and Louis's bodies, in death, would have regressed back to their true ages, the police might reckon they were old victims unearthed in that hidden room from the bombing. They'd never realize they were looking at the killers themselves.

So, in truth, he had nothing to do
but
throw himself into the crowd that had no idea of the horrors committed just a block away. Besides, Marie might just try to make this his last Mardi Gras. The scale of her retribution had yet to be determined.
Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,
Bones thought sardonically.

He swept out a hand to Ralmiel. “Lead the way, mate.”

U
nderneath the cemetery, the air was damp and cool, with a heavy scent of mildew. Almost an inch of water stood on the ground. These tunnels never got completely dry, no matter how hard the pumps worked. A single candle broke the darkness, illuminating the face of the woman who sat in the only chair in the room.

Jelani knelt in front of her, which hadn't been an easy task, considering his prosthetic legs. But now his huge frame was in a posture of submission and resignation. He'd just confessed his crimes and was waiting for his sentence.

And after him, Bones was next.

Looking down at him, Marie Laveau's expression was blank, hiding whatever thoughts were swirling in her mind. After several tense minutes she stood.

“You betrayed me.”

Her voice was as smooth as her skin, making guessing her age difficult.

“Yes, Majestic,” Jelani murmured.

Power blasted out from her frame as her temper slipped. Bones didn't react, but he felt like the air had just become littered with invisible razors slicing into his skin.

“You are not sorry.”

Despite her anger electrifying the air, when Jelani raised his head, he was smiling.

“No, my queen. I am not.”

Christ, Bones thought. Intending to go out with a bang, are you?

Something flickered across Marie's face, too quickly for Bones to decipher if it was pity or rage.

“Good. If you are to die for something, then you shouldn't regret what it was.”

Her arm flashed out, so fast that Jelani's smile never had a chance to slip. It was still on his face when his head rolled off his shoulders and his body slumped forward.

Marie didn't move out of the way, even though Jelani's slowly oozing neck was now pressed against the hem of her skirt. That long, curved blade was still in her hand as her gaze met Bones's.

“What about you? Are
you
sorry?”

Bones thought about the question, and not just because he knew his life might hinge on his answer.

“I'm sorry I didn't kill the LaLauries sooner,” he said at last, holding Marie's stare without flinching. “Sorry an innocent girl met a horrible end because I involved her. Sorry for the bloke at your feet, who felt revenge was worth more than his life. But if what you're asking me is, would I do it all over again to stop Delphine and Louis…the answer is yes. And I'm not sorry about that.”

Marie tapped the knife against her leg. Bones glanced at it and then back to her dark eyes.
If you want my head, I won't kneel for you to take it,
he thought coolly.
You're not my sire and I didn't betray you, so you'll have to fight for it.

With a knowing look, Marie wiggled the knife. “Do you think I need this to kill you? Do you think I need any weapon at all?”

She dropped the knife and stepped around Jelani's body. The air around her changed. It thickened with power, becoming icy, despairing, and angry. A faint keening noise seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once.

“You know what happens when a voodoo queen becomes undead?” Marie asked. Her voice echoed, like multiple people were somehow speaking through her vocal cords. “My ties to the otherworld were strengthened. Those consigned to the grave filled me with their power. Listen to them roar.”

Marie opened her mouth and there
was
a roar, rage-filled and eerie enough to make Bones shiver. Dark swirls appeared around her, as if her shadow had multiplied. Those swirls moved to curl around Bones, stroking him with freezing, malevolent, hungry hands. His strength seemed to melt out of him with their touch while the memory of his death, so long ago, flashed in his mind. He felt the same way he did then; cold, weak, succumbing to that inevitable slide into nothingness.

Then the power around Marie faded. That unearthly keening stopped, the shadows curled back into her, and in a rush, the strength returned to Bones's body.

Marie watched him, a small, brittle smile on her mouth. “I wish you would have lied to me. Then I could have justified killing you.”

Bones recovered enough to shrug. “You already knew the truth. Lying would only have insulted us both.”

She studied him again, her expression giving nothing away. “You are banned from New Orleans for five years,” she finally stated. “If you violate this ban, I will kill you. If you speak of these events to anyone, I will kill you. As far as what everyone else will know, I contracted you to take care of the LaLauries while I was out of town, and Jelani was killed by them in defense of his city. Furthermore, you owe a debt to me equivalent to the value of a life, since I'm letting you keep yours.”

Bones didn't argue Marie's assertion that she could kill him. Her display of power moments ago made it plain that there were things about New Orleans's queen that few people knew—or lived to tell. All things considered, Bones was getting a slap on the wrist. Then again, it was also in
Marie's best interest to leave Bones alive to back up her version of events.

As for Jelani, at least Marie was giving him an honorable legacy. There were worse things to die for than securing a long-denied revenge. Sooner or later, everyone died. It just took death longer to catch up to those it had already visited, like vampires and ghouls.

“Done,” Bones said.

Marie dropped her gaze to look at the dead man near her feet. “Get out.”

Her voice sounded huskier. She knelt by Jelani's withering frame to stroke his shoulder. Even though she'd killed him, her grief was clear. That sort of ruthlessness combined with her level of power made Marie truly frightening. If meting out Jelani's death had meant nothing to her, Bones wouldn't have found her chilling. But even though it had hurt her to kill Jelani, that hadn't stopped her from doing it.

Yes. Best be going quickly.

Bones left without looking back. His flight out of the city was already booked. By tonight, he'd be on his way to Ohio, searching out the undead accountant he'd been tracking before he got involved in this mess.

This was over, but it was time for the next hunt.

JEANIENE FROST
lives with her
husband and their very spoiled dog in North Carolina. Although not a vampire
herself, she confesses to having pale skin, wearing a lot of black, and sleeping
in late whenever possible. And while she can't see ghosts, she loves to
walk through old cemeteries. Jeaniene also loves poetry and animals, but fears
children and hates to cook. She is currently at work on her next paranormal
novel.

To know more about Jeaniene, please visit her website at
www.JeanieneFrost.com.

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www.AuthorTracker.com
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Also by

Jeaniene Frost

T
HIS
S
IDE OF THE
G
RAVE
, O
NE
G
RAVE AT A
T
IME
,

D
ESTINED
FOR AN
E
ARLY
G
RAVE
, A
T
G
RAVE'S
E
ND
,

O
NE
F
OOT IN
THE
G
RAVE
, H
ALFWAY
TO THE
G
RAVE

E
TERNAL
K
ISS OF
D
ARKNESS
F
IRST
D
ROP OF
C
RIMSON

Reckoning
originally appeared in the print anthology
Unbound
, published in paperback in 2009 by Eos, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

“Reckoning” copyright © 2009 by Jeaniene Frost.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

Adobe Digital Edition May 2011 ISBN 978-0-06-210632-2

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