One Grave at a Time

Page 10

I glanced around, looking for any afterlife-themed names in the businesses lining the front of the L-shaped complex. The closest thing I found was Deena's Heavenly Cheesecake, but I doubted that was the place.

"Are you sure this is it?"

Bones pointed. "Helen of Troy's Garden is right over there."

"But that's a florist," I said, as if the obvious had escaped him.

He answered me as he parked the car. "Maybe he fancies communing with flowers as well as ghosts."

It shouldn't surprise me that a medium would have a regular day job, but it did. Then I gave a mental shrug. Several years ago, I'd gone to college during the day and hunted vampires at night. Just because people were connected to the paranormal in one way didn't mean they had to be involved with it in all parts of their lives.

When I got out of the car, a smash of voices assaulted my mind, as abrupt as a switch being flipped. My hand flew to my head in an instinctive yet totally useless gesture of defense against the sudden deluge of chatter.

"Aw, crap," I muttered. "Give me a second."

Bones came over to me without asking what was wrong. He'd seen this response enough before to know. His gaze flitted between me and the rest of the parking lot while coiled, dangerous energy leaked from his aura-a warning to anyone without a pulse that approaching us would be a bad idea. I was at my most vulnerable in those first few moments, when I used all of my concentration to turn down the roar of voices in my mind, courtesy of my mind-reading abilities suddenly kicking in.

Once I was able to dim the carousel of conversations to a level similar to annoying background music, I gave Bones a thumbs-up.

"What's my time?"

"Seventy-two seconds," he replied.

Bones didn't have a stopwatch, but I knew his quote was accurate. I blew out a sigh. On the plus side, that was my fastest recovery time to date. In the negative column, if we'd been under attack during those seventy-two seconds, I could've been killed several times over. Not by another human, sure, but a midlevel vampire or ghoul could clean my clock while my attention was so dangerously divided.

"You were right. The voices are easier to control when I'm used to them being there. Wish this on-again, off-again garbage would stop already."

He ran his hands down my arms in a slow, firm caress, his touch conveying both strength and resolve.

"It's happening less, and you're rebounding faster. Soon you'll master it completely, just like you've done with every other challenge that's been thrown at you."

I wish I had half his confidence in my abilities, but there wasn't time for me to wallow in uncertainties. For now, I'd follow the sage mantra of fake it 'til you make it. I smiled and changed the subject.

"There's a man inside the florist's shop thinking you're way too hot to be straight. Think he's our medium?"

Bones's mouth curled, but he didn't bother looking over my shoulder at the shop behind me. No doubt he'd picked up on those same thoughts himself, but was too polite to admit it.

"Let's find out."

The plethora of scents inside Helen of Troy's Garden had me breathing almost as often as I had before I became a full vampire. Fresh floral fragrances washed away the acridness of oil, exhaust, and chemicals from my occasional breaths on the drive over, making me feel like my lungs had just gone through a quick cleaning. For practicality's sake, it also gave me a chance to scent out any potential dangers. Undead Masters might be able to cloak their auras, but no one could fully erase their scent. A couple sniffs told me that no other vampires were in the store but me and Bones, and I didn't catch the earthy scent of any ghouls, either. Sure, we were here on Spade's referral, but waltzing in without our guard up was akin to asking Fate to send us an unpleasant surprise, in my opinion.

Once I established that the only danger the florist shop represented would be to someone with allergies, I turned my attention to the chicly dressed, smiling African-American man who continued to check Bones out as if he was an orgasm for the eyes.

In fairness, he was, but it still raised my instinctive vampire territorialism even though Bones was faithful, not to mention he didn't swing that way.

"You Tyler?" Bones asked at the same time that I loudly cleared my throat. Both served to cut off the beginnings of a mental fantasy the man was having about Bones that would take days to scrub from my mind.

"That's me," Tyler replied with a quick, engaging grin.

"We have an appointment," I said, fighting my urge to grip Bones's arm while hissing and flashing fang. "I'm Cat, and this is my husband, Bones."

Amusement wafted over my subconscious, but Bones's expression didn't change from its mask of cool inscrutability as he regarded Tyler.

"Just my luck you couldn't be a brother and sister shopping for some flowers for Mom," Tyler said in a disappointed tone. Then he winked at me. "That's right, honey, state your claim on Mr. Yummy Pants. I'd do the same if I were you."

A grin ticked at my mouth. I swept my gaze over the muscled roundness of Bones's ass, which his black jeans only highlighted. Then I gazed at the snug fit of the front that had nothing to do with the cut of the denim. Finally, I met Tyler's chocolate-colored eyes and winked back.

He laughed.

"Nice shop," I said to change the subject. "Everything's so fresh and beautiful."

Tyler waved a hand. "Being a medium might sound glamorous, but creditors are only impressed with one thing, sweetness. Payments. Besides"-he shuddered dramatically-"when they find out about my other job, they always want proof that I'm not faking, and telling someone their dead Aunt Tilly hates their skanky new girlfriend just leads to your power getting shut off."

I couldn't stop my laugh at that. Bones's mouth quirked. "Indeed. Now, mate, you know why we've come. Shall we chat here, or elsewhere?"

"Here. Just let me close up."

Tyler bustled over to the entrance, flipping the sign from OPEN to SORRY WE MISSED YOU! before locking the door. On his way back, he gave another open leer at Bones's ass before meeting my gaze and fanning himself.

"Rawr!" he stage-whispered.

My initial spurt of territorialism had changed to humor. Tyler reminded me of another affable pervert-my friend, Juan. If it was female, Juan was attracted to it. Aside from a switch in gender, Tyler seemed to be the same way. From his thoughts, I knew he had no serious interest in hitting on Bones now that he knew he was married. He just couldn't seem to help himself. Tyler's thoughts bounced around between wondering what sort of ghost was giving us trouble, to pondering whether we were human, to guessing that Bones tasted like vanilla frosting.

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