I fingered the dress in front of me. It was peacock blue and silky, with etched beading down the side of it. Next to me, a young blonde was also looking at dresses, only she was much more enthusiastic. She knocked a few off their perch as she held one and another up before discarding the selected pieces.
"Whenever you're in a hurry, you can't find a thing to wear," she remarked in English.
I glanced around. "Are you talking to me?"
She laughed. "Of course. I don't speak French, and I heard that guy you were with tell you to stay put in English. I'm American, too. Been in France long?"
She seemed harmless, but I knew Gregor wouldn't want me chatting with a stranger. I was supposed to keep a low profile.
"Not long," I answered, pretending to examine a dress across the other aisle.
She followed me. "Hey, is this orange hideous with my complexion?"
I studied the dress. "Yes," I said truthfully.
"That's what I thought!" She swung an accusing glance at the sales assistant. "The French hate Americans. She'd tell me to wear a garbage bag and charge me a grand for it."
From the corner of my eye, I saw Gregor walking toward me. He didn't look happy. ", I gotta go. My fiance's coming. We're ah, late for our rehearsal dinner."
She gaped. "You're getting married? You look so young!"
I started moving toward him, sputtering, "Oil of Olay. It's like the fountain of youth."
"Come along, Catherine," Gregor directed me with an impatient wave of his hand, giving the girl an annoyed scowl.
I hurried after him, hearing her mutter, "Friggin' rude French," as we headed to the elevators with our guard.
Our room was on the top floor. As soon as we entered it, the guards drew all the drapes, cutting off the amazing view of the Paris skyline. Through the open door across from us, I saw the bedroom and shivered. End of the line, my mind mocked me.
"Give me the knife," Gregor ordered, not wasting any time.
A small silver blade, etched with some sort of design along the handle, was passed to him. Gregor sliced into his palm without hesitation and held up his hand.
"By my blood, she is my wife. Catherine." He gave me the blade. "Do as I did. Repeat my words."
For a second, I hesitated. Seven sets of eyes were trained on me. Gregor's mouth tightened ominously. I gave myself a mental shake and cut the inside of my palm, before he exploded.
"By my blood, I am his wife," I parroted, relieved and frightened when Gregor's face relaxed. He clasped my hand, and the tingle when his blood met my wound startled me.
The six men let out a loud cheer. They hugged Gregor and kissed his cheeks before repeating the same gesture with me. He was smiling also, his hand still wrapped around mine, the beginnings of emerald pinpointing in his eyes.
"Enough, mes amis," he cut them off. "Etienne, Marcel, Lucius, spread the news of our binding. François and Tomas, watch the lobby for activity. Bernard, you stay on this floor."
With that, they left. Gregor turned to me. I started to back away.
"M-my hand," I stammered. "I should bandage it - "
"No need," he interrupted. "Tis healed, Catherine, and you are not stalling me."
The hungry way he spoke froze me. So did him kicking off his shoes and removing his shirt. Gregor never stopped coming toward me, even as he stepped out of his pants, and they dropped to the floor, leaving him na**d.
Gregor was big and muscled all the way down to his feet. He was also completely erect, and the sight of that would have staggered me if he hadn't grabbed me. He picked me up, striding into the bedroom and trapping me under his body on the bed.
I tried to wiggle back, but he stopped me. "Don't squirm so, cherie," he chided, unfastening the buttons on my dress. "You know you are mine now, why are you resisting?"
"Couldn't we, ah, wait a little bit?"
"Wait?" he repeated, like he'd never heard the word before. "You think to deny me my wedding night?"
He looked like he'd get mad any second. "I'm really nervous," I admitted.
His hand stroked down my side while one thigh rested over my legs. His body seemed to dwarf mine. God, he was so big.
"It's natural to be nervous your first time, ma femme. Just relax."
With his strength, it was not like I had a choice. I nodded, closed my eyes, and tried to make myself relax. Gregor kissed me again, undoing more buttons on my dress. Soon I felt him tugging it down until it was off completely.
"Beautiful," he whispered, tracing a hand up my stomach to cup my breast. I trembled, never feeling more vulnerable.
Gregor suddenly snarled a curse and leapt to his feet. I blinked before rolling away with a yelp. Coming through the open bedroom door were two men. One had power radiating off him so profusely, it seemed like it was choking me.
"You foolish child," said the tall, foreign-looking one.
For a moment, I thought he was speaking to me. But he stared at Gregor like I wasn't even in the room.
"Mencheres." Gregor's voice was defiant. "You're too late."
The vampire shook his head even as I scrambled to cover myself. "Gregor, you've interfered where you shouldn't."
"You do it all the time," Gregor barked.
"I use my visions to stop death, not to try and gain more power. You knew this was wrong, else you wouldn't have taken such pains to conceal it."
"You want her for the same reason I do, but she's mine now. I've bound myself to her." Gregor snatched me from my huddled position and shoved me forward. "Look at the blood staining her hand. Her throat also bears my mark."
The other vampire went into the bathroom and came out holding a robe. He handed it to me with his first words since entering the bedroom.
"Here, put this on."
Still in my bra and underwear, I was glad to have something to cover me, but Gregor flung the robe to the other side of the room. "She'll stay as she is to face the man who would sacrifice her to his murdering, whoring whelp!"
I'd guessed they were associates of the vampire hunting me, but having it confirmed made me feel worse.
"Don't do it," I said fervently. "I want to be with Gregor. Why can't you just leave us alone!"
I clutched Gregor's arm, staring at the two stony faces in front of us. Gregor gave them a triumphant look.
"From her own lips, she denounces your intentions. She's my wife now, and there isn't a thing you can do to change - "
I was thrown backward from the blast of power, landing on the bed. For a stunned minute, I thought it had been aimed at me. Then the sight of Gregor locked in some invisible struggle revealed who it was directed at. His arms moved with unnatural heaviness, like a slow-motion movie. Finally, he was frozen.
"What have you done to him?" I whispered in horror.
Mencheres had one hand out to Gregor. I couldn't see the tunnel of energy unleashing from it, but I could feel it. It was like raw lightning. Gregor could barely even talk.
"You will be punished for your interference," Mencheres said. "She will be returned to her home. You've failed, Gregor. She was never meant to be yours."
"That's a load of, of bullshit," I swore. "I'm not going to be turned into some homicidal slut, and if I ever meet that murderer, Bones, I'll kill him - or myself. I'd rather be dead than be a toy to some bloodsucking psychotic!"
With sudden inspiration, I sprinted into the other room. Both men watched me almost curiously. That changed when I grabbed the small silver knife Gregor had used earlier and held it to my throat.
"If one of you moves, I'll open my jugular," I vowed.
They exchanged a glance between the two of them. I dug the knife ominously into my neck. I wasn't bluffing. He'll kill your family, so you will have no one but him to protect you, Gregor had said about this Bones. Not if I could help it.
And then my arm felt like it was blasted with liquid nitrogen. So did my legs and other arm. The only things I could still control were my neck, head, and torso. That left me pretty much a stump. I could breathe. I could talk. Nothing else.
Mencheres walked toward me, and I spat at him, unable to do more in defense. He took the knife from my paralyzed grip.
"You see?" he said to Gregor. "You can take her from her home, poison her head with lies, convince her you are her savior, try to control her completely...and yet she is still the same inside. What did she do when threatened? She got a knife. It's my proof, Gregor. Yours is as empty as your intentions."
"I hate you," I spat. "You might take me home, but I know the truth. My mother knows. We'll run away from you and Bones."
Mencheres's face was thoughtful. "I believe you."
Gregor forced the words out. Mencheres gave him an inquiring look and flicked his finger. It was like someone switched Gregor's vocal cords back on.
"You can't manipulate her mind," he announced, the words rushing out with savage triumph. "I've tried, but her bloodline makes it impossible. She won't forget me, no matter what."
Manipulate my mind? Gregor tried to do that?
Mencheres made a sound that was almost a tssk. "Just because you don't know how to do something doesn't mean it can't be done."
He turned away from Gregor, another twitch of his fingers cutting off Gregor's shout of rage in midhowl. Then Mencheres considered me next, like I was a project that needed finishing.
"Get away from me," I hissed.
Those charcoal eyes stared into mine. For a moment, I thought I saw compassion. Then he came forward.
I was terrified. What was he going to do to me? Was he going to take me to the vampire who'd end up killing my family? Would they kill Gregor, too? Was there anything I could do to stop this?
I stared at Gregor, speaking my last words before those cool hands wrapped around my forehead.
"If I get away, I'll come back to you. If you get away, promise me you'll come back to me, too."
Then I felt and saw nothing at all.
HIS EYES WERE THE FIRST THING I BECAME aware of, gray-green and lighted with emerald. Next was his face, hazy but discernible, features clarifying with every second. Finally, his body, and being held in his arms as tightly as if I'd never left them. In the fragmented moments of returning consciousness, it didn't even seem like I had.
"Gregor," I breathed, dizzy from the deluge of memories.
"Yes, cherie," he whispered. "We are together again."
His mouth sealed over mine. Relief flooded me, and I wrapped my arms around him, kissing him back. Even as he held me tighter and I trembled with the memory of those last horrible moments when I'd thought Gregor was about to be killed, the rest of my life clicked into place.
The emotions I felt for Gregor were buried under an avalanche. My memories of Gregor had wormed their way into my heart, true, but Bones already owned all that space.
I turned away, cutting off Gregor's kiss. "No."
His whole body stilled. "No?"
I pushed on his shoulder with firmness. "No."
His brows drew together, that scar stretched warningly, and his next words were a disbelieving bellow.
"You refuse me?"
My first reaction was to flinch at his anger. Gregor took that as a sign of surrender and pushed me back onto the pillows. I'd been sitting up when this whole trip down memory lane began, but he'd maneuvered the covers off me at some point and put himself conveniently on top of me.
He started to kiss me again when I struck. I might care for him, but this was not going to happen. Too bad Gregor had forgotten I still had a knife.
"Let me tell you something you must have missed these last several hundred years - no means no. I suggest you don't try any strenuous moves, Gregor."
The silver knife, the same one I now knew had been used to bind us, was stuck in his back. My hand was wrapped around the etched handle as firmly as I'd ever held a weapon. No way would I betray Bones with Gregor, no matter what residual feelings I might still have for him.
The knife hadn't pierced Gregor's heart, but the blade was close. He must have felt that, because he froze.
"Ma femme, why would you hurt me this way?" he said in a much softer tone. "If you truly don't want to make love, of course I will not force you."
"Of course?" I repeated with a snort. "Did you think I'd only remembered certain parts? The blade stays."
"You were needlessly hesitant from your maiden fears, any man would have acted the same," he began to sputter.
"Bullshit. You didn't do what any man would do. You did what you wanted to do, as usual. I don't want to hurt you, Gregor, but I don't trust you enough to take out this knife, so here's the deal. I remember everything, just like you wanted me to...and now I want to leave."
Gregor looked shocked. "To go back to that hit man?" he spat. "You want to return to Bones, the dog who made you into this - this Red Reaper?"
He flung the name at me like the foulest insult. Far from being insulted, I laughed.
"Bones didn't make me anything. I'd killed sixteen vampires by the time we'd met. Bones just made me better at it, and he never made me his whore, either. You're far more of a tramp than I am; how many people have you slept with?"
He gave me an indignant look. "I'm a man. It's different."
"That sums up right there why the two of us would have never worked, regardless of Bones," I muttered. "Call Lucius, have him come in here. Despite the fact that it would take care of a lot of problems, I don't want to kill you, Gregor. But if you try anything, I will do what comes naturally, and we both know what that is."