"I'm sorry, you have the wrong person." After all, I was good at placing people. Half-vampire memory skills, and it had come with my old job.
"It was at the Ritz on Place Vendome, remember?" I still shook my head. She sighed. "No big deal. Sorry it didn't work out with the other guy, but you seem to have traded up, so good for you."
Now I was wondering if she was crazy. Sonya moved closer to me. The girl dabbed powder on her nose before tucking her compact back in her purse.
"You looked way too young to get married anyway, so I don't blame you - "
"Huh?" With open incredulity.
She sighed. "Never mind. Nice to see you again."
She left the bathroom. Sonya started to grab her when I muttered, "Don't bother. She's just got the wrong person."
Pain went off in my head, like little needles were jabbing at my brain. I rubbed my temples.
"Are you well, cherie?" Sonya asked.
"Fine. She had the wrong person," I repeated. "After all, this is my first trip to Paris."
We walked along the Rue de Clichy with our bodyguards trailing several paces behind us. I'd opted against a full dinner and just had a croissant and cappuccino at one of the many charming cafes lining the streets.
Sonya and Noel hadn't joined us, choosing to let us have our quasi privacy. It did seem kind of intimate, escort and hundreds of passersby notwithstanding. We were just another couple, one of countless, strolling the midnight streets of Paris.
Bones narrated along the way about buildings and structures still standing...and what they'd been before. He had me laughing at stories about him, his best friend Spade, and his sire Ian. I could just imagine the hell the three of them must have raised.
We stopped at the end of one of the long streets where the buildings were particularly close together. Bones called out something in French, then led me farther down the narrow alley.
"What did you just say?"
He smiled. "You'd rather not know."
Then he covered my mouth in a deep kiss and molded me to him. I gasped when I felt his hands bunching up my dress.
"Are you crazy? There are half a dozen vampires nearby - "
"None within eyesight," he cut me off with a chuckle. "As instructed."
"They can hear, Bones," I continued to object, facing the building as he spun me around.
He continued to laugh. "Then do be sure to say flattering things."
Bones had an arm around my waist, locking me next to him. My squirming only ratcheted my dress higher as his hands bunched it up. Then the sudden pierce of his fangs into my neck made me freeze. A low rumble of pleasure came from him.
"Ah, Kitten, you love that almost as much as I do. Sink into me, luv, as I do the same."
The blood leaving me and spilling into him felt like it was replaced by sweet fire. Bones was right; I loved it when he bit me. My skin felt hot, my heartbeat quickened - and then I was rubbing against him and moaning at the delay of his unzipping his pants.
"Bones," I managed. "Yes - "
The building hit me in the face so hard I felt my cheek fracture. And then the gunfire registered.
It came in staccato bursts from above us, on all sides...everywhere but from the building I was mashed against. Bones had me pressed into the brick. His body covered mine, and he was draped over me, shuddering while he punched at the wall in front of me. Trying to make a door where one didn't exist.
That's when I realized why he was shaking. He was being strafed with bullets.
It sounded like our guards were taking even worse treatment. From the intermittent spaces without Bones jerking in reflex, they must have formed a perimeter around our crouched bodies. When a concentrated burst of gunfire ended with a scream cut off, I started to struggle in a panic. It was much worse than I'd thought. Whoever this was, they were firing silver bullets.
"We have to run, God, this'll kill you!" I screamed, attempting to unroll myself from the ball Bones had me stuffed in. With his strength pinning me, I was flapping uselessly like an upside-down turtle.
"If we run, they could cut you down," he rasped, almost inaudible over the racket of gunfire. "One of them will have called for backup. We'll wait. Mencheres will come."
"You'll be dead by then," I countered. It was hard to kill a vampire by gunfire, even with silver bullets, because it took too long to shred the heart. Bones had taught me that. No vamp will sit still and pose for you...
His words over six years ago, dismissing the use of guns as effective weapons. Yet Bones might as well be sitting still and posing for them. Backup would arrive too late. He had to know that, even as I did. For once, he was lying to me.
The building's frame gave where his fist hammered away. People inside screamed. Given time, Bones could tear through the structure, and we'd have a shelter from the pitiless firing. But pounding at it one-handed while being riddled with bullets? Bones was already moving slower, his punches taking on an almost drunken quality. God, he'd die crouched over me, right here on this street.
Something savage surged within me. There wasn't even a clear command my brain gave to my body. All I knew was Bones had to get away from those bullets long enough for him to heal.
With that goal in mind, I managed to maneuver around, then shot straight up with my arms locked around him. We made it to the top of the five-story building we'd been huddled against. Once we hit the roof, I rolled with him, but oddly, no bullets whizzed around us.
I didn't bother pondering why the gunmen weren't targeting us at the moment. Not when I felt Bones sag in my grip. Fear fueled me, sent me leaping onto the roof of the neighboring building with him. And then the next one and the next, not even taking the time to be amazed at what I'd just done. When the remaining gunfire sounded fainter, I stopped. With what I had to do, I'd drop like a stone, but Bones needed blood. A lot of it.
We weren't being chased by any flying assassins. Maybe our guards were holding them up for now, but that might not last. I grabbed Bones's slumped head and slashed my wrist on his fangs, letting my blood pour into his mouth.
For a frozen, petrifying second, nothing happened. He didn't swallow, open his eyes, or do anything but let the red liquid stream out of his mouth. Frantic, I used my other hand to work his jaw, forcing the blood down his throat. Tears blurred my eyes, because he had a mass of silver-filled holes all over him, even on his cheeks. Oh God, please don't let him die...
At last he swallowed. His eyes didn't open, but there was suction on my wrist that hadn't been there before. That suction grew, pulling the blood from my veins, and the relief crashing through me numbed the dizziness that followed. Mesmerized, I watched the holes in Bones start to swell, then the spent silver rounds expelled from his body. It made me smile even as the edges of my vision became fuzzy and faded just as Bones opened his eyes.
...WAKING UP NOW..."
"...will be leaving soon, he'll arrive tomorrow..."
The snatches of conversation floated above me. I was warm. Well, everything but my arm. Something soft and cool brushed my forehead.
"Are you awake, Kitten?"
That snapped my eyes open, clearing the lethargy. I tried to sit up, but a firm grip prevented me.
"Don't move, luv, give the blood a few minutes to circulate."
Blood? With a few blinks, Bones focused into view. He still had red smears all over him, but his gaze was steady. That calmed me into sinking back where I'd been, which apparently was draped across his lap. Two empty plasma bags, a hypodermic needle, and a catheter were next to him.
"Where are we?"
"In a van on our way to London," he answered. "You remember the attack?"
"I remember seeing enough silver coming out of you to fund someone's college plans," I replied, glancing around to find Mencheres and four other vampires with us. "You could have been killed. Don't ever do that again."
A breath of laughter escaped him. "That's rich, coming from the woman who emptied nearly all of her blood into me."
"You had too much silver in you to heal. What was I supposed to do, sit back and watch you die?"
"And those gunmen might have blown your head off," was his even reply.
"Who were they? Did they get away?"
I touched my cheek. No pain. It hadn't just been human blood Bones had given me. I might heal faster than the average person, but only vampire blood could mend broken bones this fast.
"I'm sorry, luv," Bones murmured. "Almost got you killed, walking into a gauntlet in such a witless manner."
"How many died?"
"Three out of the six were killed."
There was more than self-blame and sadness in his voice, however. I couldn't pinpoint what.
"Ghouls attacked us, and they were bloody well armed, as you know. Right after you left with me, 'round eight other vampires joined into the fight."
"At least help did come." I smiled at Mencheres. "Thank you."
Bones's mouth twisted. "It wasn't Mencheres's people who came to our aid. Our rescuers likely would have attacked me next if Mencheres hadn't finally arrived with backup."
Maybe the new blood hadn't reached my brain yet, because I didn't understand. "If they weren't your people, whose were they?"
"We were being followed by two sets of people," Bones summed it up. "Those ghouls, and Gregor's people, I suspect. He must have gotten tired of trying to reach you through dreams and decided on the more physical form of a kidnapping."
It didn't escape my notice that Mencheres hadn't said a word. "What's your take on this?"
He glanced at me. "When we arrive at Spade's, we'll be in better surroundings to continue this conversation."
"Now." One word from Bones, spoken with the resolution of a thousand.
"Crispin - "
"And now you address me by my human name, as if I were still that lad," Bones interrupted. "I am your equal under our alliance, so you will tell me everything you know about Gregor."
Bones was daring Mencheres to start a civil war within their ranks by refusing. I hadn't expected Bones to draw a line in the sand like that and practically piss on it, and from Mencheres's startled expression, he hadn't, either.
Then Mencheres gave a thin smile. "All right. I told you I locked Gregor away for planning to interfere with Cat's future so she'd never meet you. What I didn't say was that Gregor had already taken Cat away with him before I captured him."
I jumped up. "I've never met Gregor before in my life!"
"That you remember," Mencheres replied. "You feel pains in your head when you hear of Gregor, right? Those are the stabs of your repressed memory. You'd been with Gregor for weeks before we found the two of you in Paris. By then, he'd managed to infatuate you and confuse you with lies. I knew I had to alter your recollection to fix things, which is why you have no memory of your time with him."
"That can't...but he can't..." There went the hammers in my skull. He is not your husband...Sorry it didn't work out with that other guy...it was at the Ritz on Place Vendome...
"But vampire mind control doesn't work on me," I finally sputtered. "I'm a half-breed; it's never worked on me!"
"That's why I was the only one who could do it," Mencheres said quietly. "It took all my power, plus a spell, to erase that time from your mind. A lesser vampire couldn't have managed it."
Bones appeared stunned as well. "Partir de la femme de mon maitre," he murmured. "That's what one of Gregor's vampires yelled at me before he ran. So that's why Gregor is so obsessed with her."
Mencheres was silent. Bones glanced at him, then at me.
"I don't care," he said at last. "Gregor can shove his claims straight up his arse."
I still wasn't convinced. "But I hated vampires before Bones. I would never have gone away with one for weeks."
"You hated them because of your mother's influence," Mencheres said. "Gregor dealt with her first, compelling her to tell you he was a friend of hers who would protect you."
Bones growled. "How far has word of Gregor's claim spread?"
Mencheres considered him. "You haven't asked me if it happened yet."
I felt like they were speaking another language. "What?"
"Doesn't matter. He'll only get her over my dried, withered corpse."
"What!" Now I jabbed Bones for emphasis.
"Gregor's claim," Bones said icily. "Now that he's free, he's telling people that sometime during those weeks you were together, he married you."
Contrary to popular belief, there have been a few times in my life I've been speechless. At sixteen, when my mother told me all my oddities were due to my father being a vampire, that was one. Seeing Bones again after four years of absence, that was another. This topped both of them, however. For a space of several frozen moments, I couldn't wrap my mind around a vehement enough denial.
I wasn't the only one goggle-eyed. Even in my state, I noticed the other vampires in the van wearing astonished expressions that quickly turned blank after whatever evil glare Bones gave them. Mencheres continued with his same, uncompromising stare, and finally, I voiced the first coherent thought that came to mind.
"No." Just saying it made me feel better, so I repeated it, louder. "No. It's not true."
"Even if it were, it won't last beyond his death," Bones promised.