At once I knew I'd made a mistake. His brows drew together, stretching the scar, and his face darkened.
"You mock me? I offer you what Cannelle would kill for, yet you smirk and giggle. Perhaps I should spend my time with a woman instead of a foolish child."
Tears sprang to my eyes. I didn't need to look around to know people were staring as they hurried past us in the hall.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean - " I began.
"No, you didn't mean," he cut me off, his voice thick with scorn. "You don't mean because you don't think. Come along, Catherine. You've been out enough for tonight."
With that, he jerked me by the arm and led me out of the theater. I kept my head down, so that the new people we passed couldn't see I was crying.
Gregor didn't speak to me for two days. I called my mom, only to have her berate me for insulting such a wonderful man. Didn't I know how lucky I was he'd taken me in? Didn't I care that he had my best interests at heart? I didn't mention to her that my heart seemed a little north of what he'd expressed interest in. Maybe I really was ungrateful. After all, Gregor had done so much for me. Without him, me and my family would all be in terrible danger. And he was a grown man - a very grown man. I couldn't expect someone as old as Gregor just to want to hold hands if he was interested in me.
Properly contrite, I waited until the third day to talk to him. I had a plan; I just had no idea if it would work.
First, I put some makeup on. Gregor seemed to prefer me wearing it. Then, I fixed my hair. Next the outfit. Pants were my favorite, but Gregor hated those. I flipped through my new clothes while heaping more coals onto my head. See all these pretty things? He bought them for you. Look at this bedroom. It's almost as big as your grandparents' whole house. No one's ever treated you so well. Sure, Gregor has mood swings, but you're a half-breed freak. Who are you to throw stones?
I chose a sleeveless white dress and worked myself up into an apologetic frenzy. Then I brushed my teeth one last time and headed to his door.
Once outside his door, however, I stopped. What if he'd already decided to send me back home? God, how could I have been such an idiot?
"Come in, I can hear you," he called out.
Oh, crap. Now or never.
I entered his bedroom, and the interior almost made me forget my purpose. Wow. How barbarically antique.
The bed was about twice the size of the king in my room. Curving up on all four sides were twisted, polished tree trunks. They were carved in various shapes, forms interlapping, and they met at the top to provide a complete canopy of sculptured wood. The whole bed looked like it was from one gigantic, steroid-induced tree. I'd never seen anything like it, and I blushed when I studied some of the forms more clearly. There were figures locked in combat, and other things.
"It's over four hundred years old, modeled after Odysseus's bed, and built for me by a carpenter who grew trees to bend and entwine any way he chose," Gregor answered my silent awe. "It is magnificent, non?"
"Yes." I took my riveted gaze from the bed and switched it to him. He was at a desk on the computer. He minimized the screen and sat back with his arms folded. Waiting.
"I'm sorry about the other night," I started. "I've developed a huge crush on you, but I thought it was silly because, because you couldn't possibly be interested in me. So, when you kissed me, then you said...well, you know what you said, I was so blown away I thought...it couldn't be real, because I could never be so lucky."
In forming my mental apology, I'd thought it would go over better if I outed myself over my crush, no matter how embarrassing that was. And it was true. I didn't know why Gregor would want me when there were tons of pretty, gorgeous women who'd be happy to have him. If not for his temper, I'd think he was perfect.
I breathed a sigh of relief that he didn't sound mad anymore and came toward him, stopping about a foot away.
I advanced until my knees brushed his legs.
It was a purred directive while his eyes started to change. The gray in them gave way to swirls of emerald.
I laid my hands on his shoulders, beginning to tremble. His legs opened, and I stood between them.
Nervous about that, but afraid to refuse, I laid my lips on his, wondering if I was even doing it right.
His mouth opened, and his hands came to life. They pressed me to him even as his tongue delved past my closed lips. All the sudden, I was lying on him, the chair tilting backward and Gregor kissing me like my mouth possessed hidden treasures.
I liked kissing Gregor, even though it was overpowering. What had me grunting in protest was him lifting me with one powerful hand and then the mattress flattening against my back.
It was gasped when his mouth moved to my throat. Cool air fell on my legs, with my dress being shifted up.
Whoa. I'd meant to apologize and be on good speaking terms - maybe even do some kissing - but this wasn't what I intended.
"What did you say?"
He almost snapped the question, pausing as he unzipped my dress. I was trembling at the sight of fangs protruding from his mouth. I'd only seen his fangs once before, on my grandparents' porch the night we met and he'd proved that he was a vampire. His fangs scared me, but they also gave me an idea.
"I want you to bite me," I improvised, my heart pounding in fear of that, too, but I needed an alternative and fast. One that wouldn't throw him into a livid tirade. "Drink from me."
Gregor stared at me. Then he smiled. "Oui. Tonight, the blood from your body, and tomorrow, the blood of your innocence."
Oh God. What had I just done?
Gregor sat up and pulled me along with him. His hand swept aside my hair as he tugged the collar of my dress down.
Everything inside me braced. How bad would it would be?
"You're afraid," he murmured. His tongue swirling around my throat made me jump back. His grip tightened to welded steel. "Twill sweeten your taste."
I started to say something - and then it only came out as a cry. Fangs pierced me, and I literally felt my blood exploding out from my skin. Gregor sucked, sending a sliver of pain through me, but smothering that was the heat that broke over me. He sucked harder, increasing the dizziness that had taken hold, and I gave myself up to the blackness waiting for me.
My eyes blinked open to see Cannelle bending over me. She straightened and pointed to a nearby tray.
"Here. Food and an iron pill. You'll need both. You only have a few hours until sundown."
That sat me all the way up. A cattle prod would've had the same effect. Even as her words registered, dizziness swept over me. Cannelle watched with no sympathy.
"He drank a lot from you," she said, before muttering something under her breath in French.
Even though I still wasn't proficient, I caught the words for "skinny" and "goat."
"What's up, Cannelle?" I asked, not in a good mood at all. "Don't you know it's rude to insult someone in a different language so they can't answer back?"
She put the tray onto the bed, making the tea slosh with her lack of care. "I said I don't know why he'd take so much nourishment from a scrawny little goat," she summarized bluntly. "Now, I suggest you eat. Gregor won't be pleased if you're unable to do more than bleed underneath him."
I blanched at this graphic analogy, seized with apprehension and clueless how to extricate myself. Gregor wasn't the type to take an "I've changed my mind" lightly.
And so that left me with the other alternative: going through with it. Maybe it was the better option, my anxiety aside. Gregor wouldn't get mad, I wouldn't be sent away, and according to him, I'd have no pregnancy or disease worries. Yes, I would have preferred to wait longer, much longer, before taking such a step, but apparently, my time was up.
"Cannelle." I lowered my voice, gesturing for her to come nearer. She did, her expression quizzical. "I was wondering if you could tell me, ah, what to expect."
I had no one else to ask. What was I going to do, call my mother and ask that? Hardly. I'd never had girlfriends, and the things I'd overheard at school wouldn't help now. Sure, I knew what went where. But details on sex with a vampire? Nope.
"What to expect?" she repeated. I gestured for her to keep her voice down, but she ignored that. "Expect to be f**ked, you simple little twit!"
Even in my extreme embarrassment, I had a flash of insight. "Gregor told me you've been with him for sixty years. Says he gives you his blood to keep you young, but you're hanging on for the big promotion, aren't you? You want to be a vampire, and you hate me because you know if I asked him, he'd change me into one. And he hasn't offered the same to you."
Her sky blue eyes narrowed. She bent down with an ugly little smile on her lips.
"You know what you can expect, your first time?" Now her voice was soft. Almost inaudible. "A lot of pain. Bon appetit."
She left. I stared at the tray of food without the slightest twinge of hunger before pushing it away.
The knock came two hours later. It wasn't at my bedroom door, where I'd been watching the clock like an inmate awaiting sentencing. It was at the front door of the house.
Gregor opened it while I peeked downstairs. We didn't get any visitors. The fact that no fewer than six people entered made me come all the way down the hall. They were talking in French at a speed that made it unintelligible for me.
"Merde!" Gregor swore, and then a string of other words followed that might also have been curses. "Tonight? If he thinks to steal her, he's greatly underestimated me. Catherine. Come down at once!"
I did, wondering how much trouble I was in for eavesdropping. To my relief, Gregor didn't seem to care that I'd been listening. He opened the closet and handed me a coat.
"Put this on. We're leaving."
"Now?" I asked. A part of me was singing at my unexpected respite. "What's wrong?"
"I'll tell you on the way," he answered, taking my arm and almost yanking me out the door. "We don't have time to delay."
Two more vampires were waiting with the back open to a black Mercedes. We climbed inside and instantly sped off. The velocity threw me backward. I didn't even have time to buckle my seat belt. Okay, so we were in a big hurry.
"What's wrong?" I asked again.
Gregor stared at me for a long moment. That freaked me out. It looked like he was making up his mind about something.
"Catherine," he said, "you have been discovered. Even as we speak, Bones's allies are searching the city for you. If they find you, they will turn you into the monster I described."
I was stricken. "Oh, please, don't let them! I don't want to be a killer. I don't want to - to become some kind of whore."
For a split second, I'd have almost sworn he looked triumphant. But then his forehead creased, and he shook his head.
"There is only one way to prevent this, ma cherie. You must bind yourself to me. It is the only thing that can't be undone."
"Sure, bind me." Whatever that meant. "Bind the hell out of me, just don't turn me over to those monsters!"
"Lucius, to the Ritz," he barked. The car did a swerve that had my life flashing before my eyes, then it straightened. "Tell the others to assemble there as well. I'm not binding myself in the backseat of a stinking car."
Then he turned to me. "Catherine, if you do this, you'll be protected for all of your days. If you don't, then I can't save you or your family. So when the time comes, don't hesitate."
That sounded ominous. It occurred to me to have him specify what "binding" meant. "Er, what do I have to do?"
He took my hand, drawing his finger down my palm. "You cut yourself here," he outlined simply, "then clasp my hand and declare yourself mine. I cut my hand and do the same."
"That's it?" I was afraid it might have entailed turning me into a vampire. "Jeez, give me a knife, let's do it!"
He smiled and kept my hand in his. "There must be witnesses, and Lucius isn't enough. Furthermore, this isn't the proper place for our first union, and I'm not waiting to claim you once you're mine."
There was no translation needed for that statement. Well, considering the alternative, I'd pay this price.
"So this is like a vampire...engagement, if we're saying we belong to each other?" I couldn't look at him as I asked. Everything was moving so fast.
Gregor paused, seeming to choose his words. "There's no such state among vampires. If you must have a human analogy, 'twould be considered a marriage."
Marriage? I had enough sense not to blurt, But I'm not old enough! We were talking about undead rules, not human ones.
"So it's not like we sign papers or I change my name, right?" With a nervous laugh. "It's just a vampire thing?"
Lucius glanced back at us. Gregor snapped something, and he averted his attention back to the road. Then Gregor smiled.
"Exactly. In your religion or customs, it has no meaning."
"Oh." Now I was just worried about getting away from the fiend chasing us and losing my virginity. "Okay, then."
Two of Gregor's people checked us in to the opulent hotel. Gregor was with six of the vampires who'd come in with us, and I was sent to browse the dress store nearby. Gregor was talking very low, and they stood close together. With all the background noise, I couldn't hear a word.