"Hand me that knife, Ian."
He passed it over, his turquoise eyes sparkling. Geri looked a little nervous. Cannelle didn't even blink.
"You won't kill me, Catherine. You play the hard woman, but I still see a little girl before me."
Ian regarded Cannelle with amazement. "She's unhinged."
"No, she's just remembering who I used to be. Gregor made that mistake also, at first."
I smiled at Cannelle again while twirling the knife from one hand to the other. Her eyes followed the movement, and for the first time, she looked uncertain.
"Remember that big bad bitch Gregor didn't want me turning into? Well, it happened. Now, I'm in a hurry, so here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to slam this knife through your hand, and the only way you'll stop me is by talking, so please. Please. Don't talk."
She didn't believe me. When Ian held Cannelle's wrist to the bench, forcing her hand flat, she was still giving me that I-dare-you glare. When I held the knife over her hand, giving her one last chance to talk, she still thought I was bluffing. Only after I slammed the blade into her hand between her wrist and her fingers, jerking the blade in a twist, did she get the picture.
And couldn't stop screaming.
"I know that hurts," I remarked. "My father did that to my wrist last year, and damn, it was painful. Crippling, too. When I yanked the blade out, all my tendons were severed. I needed vampire blood to heal the damage. You will, too, Cannelle, or you'll never use this hand again. So you can talk, and a dab of vampire blood'll have you good as new. Or don't talk, and I cripple your right hand next."
"Fix it! Fix it!"
"You'll tell us what we want to know?"
I sighed and yanked the knife out. "Ian?"
Cannelle was still screaming when Ian sliced his palm and cupped it over her mouth.
"Quit wailing and swallow."
She gulped at his hand. In seconds, her bleeding stopped, and the wound in her hand disappeared.
Geri couldn't tear her eyes away from Cannelle's mending hand. She shivered and rubbed her own hands together as if in reflex. I was more concerned with Cannelle's face. Judging whether or not she'd go back on her word.
"Since we've established that I'm in a really foul mood, let's move on to the question-and-answer phase. Oh, and if you make me use this knife again...I'm not healing anything I cut. What was your purpose in the French Quarter with Bones?"
Cannelle kept flexing her hand while staring at me in horror. "I was to f**k him, naturellement, and once assured that you heard of his infidelity, I was to take him to Gregor. Marie wouldn't let Gregor's people into the Quarter, though she did tell Gregor he could come."
That was news. I'd thought no one was allowed in.
Ian was also interested. "If she'd granted him passage, then why didn't Gregor meet Crispin inside the Quarter and fight him there if he wanted to kill him so badly?"
Cannelle's mouth dipped. "Gregor said Bones wasn't worthy of a fair fight."
"Or Gregor was just chicken shit and wanted to stack the odds," I muttered.
"Gregor is stronger," Cannelle hissed, "but why would he allow his opponent to die with honor, considering his crimes?"
I wasn't about to get into a character fight with Cannelle over Gregor. "So Gregor got Marie, the Queen of Orleans, to side with him. Interesting."
Cannelle shrugged. "Marie said Gregor could only ambush Bones outside her city, which was why she didn't let Gregor come with forces into the Quarter. Marie didn't want to participate in making Bones leave, either, but Gregor made her."
"He forced her?"
"Non, you misunderstand. He made her. 'Twas his blood that raised her as a ghoul, and Gregor killed Marie's other sire the night he changed her, so her fealty was only to him. Gregor agreed to release Marie in exchange, and Marie's wanted free of Gregor for over a hundred years."
"And Bones would trust Marie because she always guarantees safe passage in her meetings." That clever, dirty schmuck.
Cannelle actually smirked. "Oui."
My anger turned to ice. "Is that all, Cannelle?"
I turned to Ian. "Think she's got more?"
He met my gaze with equal coldness. "No, poppet. I think that's it."
I still had the knife in my hand, slick from Cannelle's blood.
"Cannelle," I said in a steady, clear tone. "I'm going to kill you. I'm telling you this so you can take a moment to pray if you choose, or to reflect, whatever. You lured my husband around with the full intention of taking him to his slaughter, and that's just not forgivable to me."
"Cat, no," Geri said.
I didn't answer her. Cannelle gave me a look filled with malicious defiance. "But Bones isn't your husband. Gregor is."
"Semantics. You're wasting time. Get right with God. Fast."
"I am a human," she hissed. "A living, breathing person. You may have it in you to wound me, but not to kill me."
I ignored that, too. "Marie got her freedom for her role in this. What did Gregor promise? To change you into a vampire?"
Another hostile glare. "Oui. It's my payment for all the years I've served him."
"You backed the wrong horse," I said. "You're not going to be a vampire, Cannelle, but I'll let you die like one."
She stood up. "You wouldn't dare. Gregor would kill you."
Then she looked down. The silver knife was buried in her chest. It even vibrated for a few seconds with her last remaining heartbeats. Cannelle watched with astonishment the handle quiver before her eyes glazed and her knees buckled.
I stood over her and felt more of that awful coldness.
"Maybe Gregor will kill me for this, Cannelle. I'm willing to take that chance."
I went to see Don. He was busy with his own preparations for departure. I didn't know where my former unit was stationed now, and that was good by me. I wouldn't have put it past Gregor to use that information to his advantage. Don wouldn't, either. That's why everyone from our division was clearing out right after I did.
Vlad was in Don's office. As soon as I entered, they both quit speaking. My mouth curled.
"How obvious are you two? Come on, boys, what's the topic? 'Will Cat have a breakdown?' or 'Ten easy steps to talk someone out of suicide'? Both of you can save it. I'm okay."
My uncle coughed. "Don't be so dramatic. I was getting a way to contact you since you can't exactly send me a postcard, and Vlad was informing me that you'll be with him."
I gave Vlad a look that would have been challenging - if I hadn't just spent umpteen hours flying overseas on an empty stomach, lack of sleep, and general hypertension.
Vlad smiled, disdainful and amused at the same time. "It's your choice, Cat. I'm not forcing you."
Don looked back and forth between us, his gray eyes narrowing. They were the same smoky color as mine, and right now, they were glinting with suspicion.
"Is there something going on with the two of you that I should be aware of?"
"Isn't there something going on with you that she should?" Vlad responded.
Now it was my turn to glance between them. "What?"
Don coughed and flashed a single glare to Vlad. "Nothing."
Vlad let out a noncommittal grunt. "Then that's all you'll get from me as well, Williams."
I was about to demand to know what the hell the subtext of this was when Don spoke up.
"Cat, you asked me before to find out if those dream-suppression pills had any side effects. I've checked with Pathology, and they said you might experience depression, mood swings, irritability, paranoia, and chronic fatigue. Have you noticed any of that?"
I thought back to my last few times with Bones and couldn't help but burst into demented laughter.
"Yeah. All of the above, and all at once. This information would have been useful a couple weeks ago, but it's kind of irrelevant now."
I wasn't going to use those pills again. I'd rather be ignorant of my whereabouts than subject to the side effects that had helped drive Bones and me apart. Don must have guessed some of my train of thought because he gave me a sad look.
The moment was broken when Cooper came running in. "B4358 is coming in for a landing."
"What?" my uncle snapped. "They didn't get permission!"
My eyes widened. Those were the call numbers to Dave's plane. The one that was carrying Bones and Spade.
"I know, sir. The tower ordered them not to land, but they said an Englishman got on the wire and said to shut it or he'd beat the seven shades of shit out of him."
Bones. "We have to leave," I said to Vlad. "Now."
"'Run, Forrest, run!'" Vlad mocked.
"Stow it, Drac," I snapped. "With or without you, I'm in the air before he gets off that plane."
"It will be with me. Williams" - Vlad gave a nod at my uncle - "farewell. Few people have your determination to walk their road all the way to its conclusion."
I didn't even spare the time to give my uncle a hug. I was halfway down the hall, tossing a "Thanks, 'bye!" over my shoulder.
"Be safe, Cat," Don called after me.
I'd try my best.
It was so close, I knew I'd be haunted by it, and the ghost on board had nothing to do with that. Cooper had fueled our plane while I'd been dealing with Cannelle, so there was no time wasted there. Vlad strode out, entering it moments behind me, with Fabian clinging to his shoulder. I'd have been all right if I hadn't been compelled to look out the small window of the twin-engine craft as we took off. Our plane hit the skies just as the door to the other Cessna swung open, and an achingly familiar figure came out of it. For a crazy, heart-stopping moment, I felt like Bones was looking right at me.
"Why do I hear Casablanca music playing in my head?" Vlad asked in an ironic voice.
I looked away from the runway. "You're a regular movie encyclopedia, aren't you?"
"And you're the boy who cried wolf. If you say it's over, then let it be over, or quit spouting out false absolutes that you don't believe yourself."
Goddamn merciless Romanian usurper. Why was I on a plane with him, anyway? Why didn't I just go off by myself, trek to a rain forest, and hide there alone until Gregor, the ghouls, and everyone else forgot about me as completely as Bones had?
I gave one more last look out the window. We were up high enough now that I couldn't be sure if he was still staring after us - or if he'd turned his head away, like I had to.
"You're right," I said to Vlad.
His hand reached out. The scars that covered it were mute testament to the decades of battles he'd fought, and those were just when he'd been human.
I took it, glad mine weren't empty anymore and hating myself for feeling that way. How weak I was.
Vlad squeezed once. "I don't want to be alone now either," he said, making it sound very reasonable and not at all like something to be ashamed of.
I sighed. Right again, buddy. That's two for two.
WATER SWIRLED ALL AROUND ME. EVERYTHING was dark and foggy. Where was I? How did I get here? The air had a terrible smell, and the liquid I was struggling in became black and too thick to swim in. Some of it got into my mouth, making me retch. It wasn't water after all. It was tar.
My cry went unanswered. The tar seemed to be pulling me under. I gasped, choking, and felt burning as some of the tar went into my lungs. I was being sucked deeper into it. Drowning. A hazy thought flitted through my mind. So this is how I'm going to die. Funny, I always thought it would be during a fight...
"Take my hand," an urgent voice said.
Blindly I reached out, unable to see past the inky fluid in my eyes - and then the tar was gone, and I was standing in front of the man I'd been running from.
"Gregor," I spat, trying to will myself awake. A dream, you're just trapped in a dream. "Goddammit, leave me alone!"
Gregor loomed over me. An invisible wind blew his ash-blond hair, and those smoky green eyes were glowing emerald.
"You may have swept your lover beyond my reach this time, but I will have him soon enough. How does it feel, my wife, to be cast aside? Ah, cherie. You deserve your pain."
Gregor had a tight grip on my arms. I could feel him try to pull me outside my own skin, and I fought a moment of panic. I'd just arranged for Bones to get away, why hadn't I expected Gregor to be waiting for me to shut my eyes? His power seemed to be seeping into me, slowly filling me up. I wanted to distract him, fast, from coiling that dangerous aura around me.
"You made a mistake sending Cannelle. In case you haven't heard, I killed her. Ian's shipping her body to you with a big red bow. You'll have a harder time getting recruits to do your dirty work when people hear about that."
Gregor nodded, not looking particularly upset. "Oui, that was unexpected, and it will cost you, ma femme. Return to me, and perhaps I will not make the price too steep."
"Why are you so obsessed with me coming back?" I asked in frustration. "We're clearly not compatible. You don't act like you love me. Half the time, I don't even think you like me."
Something flashed across Gregor's face, too quick for me to determine what it was. "You're mine," he said at last. "Soon you will see you belong with me."