"Well done, Cat," Spade said.
"It's more than well done." Bones kissed my forehead. "Getting control of the thirst inside of three days is extraordinary."
"What time is it?"
"Round 12:30," Spade replied.
Less than six hours until dawn. That was the other "side effect" of this transformation. When the sun rose, I conked out. Not just got sleepy, like I'd been accustomed to my whole life, I meant fall down in midsentence out. In a way, that was more concerning to me than my bouts of hunger. If I happened to be in a fight when dawn broke, I'd be toast.
I was working on staying conscious when the sun came up. As of now, I could keep my eyes open a few minutes while my body did an excellent impression of a limp rag. It would go away with time, but I worried about how much time. Right now, I couldn't even move until noon.
"I want to go out," I said. "Drive somewhere, stare at every street sign I pass, read road maps until I go blind, and get directions from anyone within twenty yards. Oh, but I'm taking a bath first. That tiny shower in the basement only had cold water."
Mencheres strode into the room. As soon as I saw his face, I knew something was horribly wrong.
"It's Gregor, isn't it?" I said before he could speak. "What did he do?"
Mencheres put his hands on my shoulders. "Cat, your mother has disappeared."
It burst from me along with a sudden spurt of tears. Bones's arm tightened around my waist.
"How? Was the junkyard attacked?" he asked.
Mencheres shook his head. "Rodney said she disappeared from her room. Her nightclothes were still in her bed."
He'd snatched her from her sleep. Oh God, Gregor had pulled my mother right out of her dreams to kidnap her.
"He said he'd make me suffer," I whispered, hearing Gregor's snarl again from my last dream with him. "I didn't think he'd go after my mother. How could he if he never drank from her?"
My voice trailed off. Gregor could have. I'd assumed he'd just used the power in his gaze to compel my mother to tell me that he was an old friend the night I met Gregor. But obviously, he'd taken her blood as well.
"I need to talk to Gregor," I said at once. "Someone has to know how to reach him."
Mencheres dropped his hands from my shoulders. "You know that's what he wants. He'll want to trade, you for her."
"Then I'll do it," I said.
Bones's grip on me turned to steel. "No, you won't."
"What do you expect me to do? Shrug my shoulders and just hope Gregor doesn't kill her? I know you don't like her, Bones, but she's my mother. I can't abandon her!"
"He absolutely will not kill her, Kitten," Bones replied, his voice hard. "She's the only advantage he has over you now that you're a vampire and he can't dreamsnatch you again."
Fear, rage, and frustration boiled up in me to form a harsh scent, like burning plastic. You could go to Gregor, but then Bones could attack once they know where Gregor is. No, Gregor will expect that and have a trap waiting. If Bones brought enough people to get out of a trap, Gregor would know you were double-crossing him and probably kill her out of spite.
"Mencheres!" I exclaimed, grabbing his shirt. "You could go with me. You imprisoned Gregor once, you could do it again! Or better yet, we'll kill him."
He shook his head. "I imprisoned him before in secret so as to avoid a war between his allies and mine. If Gregor disappears now, everyone would know Bones or I had a hand in it. Gregor's allies would surely attack us in revenge."
I cast around for another alternative. "You could hold Gregor and his men in a vise with just your mind - I've seen you do it. Then I get my mother back and we can escape."
Some of his long black hair spilled over his shoulder from how hard I'd yanked at him, but his gaze was flat - and sad.
"I cannot do that, Cat."
"Why?" I spat.
"Because Gregor has rights to your mother under our laws," Mencheres said quietly. "To attack him for taking one of his own people would bring more than Gregor's allies against us."
"Gregor doesn't have any rights to my mother," I snapped. Then something cold ran over me that had nothing to do with my new temperature.
Yes, he did. Under vampire law, I was Gregor's wife, which meant anyone belonging to me was his, too. And on top of that, Gregor had bitten my mother, making her his property under vampire law if he chose to claim her as such.
Oh, God. No vampire would violate their laws to help me get my mother back, not even Vlad.
"If the laws are so strict, why haven't I been forced back to Gregor?" I asked bitterly. "Why am I free, when she isn't?"
"You haven't admitted in public to being his wife, for one. Even still, some vampires who believe Gregor have advocated your being forced to return to him, Kitten. But most consider it not their business that you've chosen someone else. Attacking Gregor to retrieve your mum would make it their business, however. You know she'd be considered his property one way or the other, so stealing his property opens up the possibility in people's minds that Mencheres and I might try to steal some of their people without cause, too."
"Without cause?" My tone was lethal.
Bones gave me a look. "Cause in their eyes, not ours."
"I can't just abandon her to Gregor, laws or no laws," I stated.
He turned me until we faced each other. "Kitten, neither will I, but we must wait. Once Gregor's dead, your mum will be free. Gregor is expecting you to rush to him with all haste. He won't be prepared for you to use caution. Will you trust me and wait until the timing is right?"
I bit my lip. The blood filling my mouth reminded me that my fangs were out. Amidst everything else, a wave of hunger swept through me. How could I just wait and hope that Gregor wouldn't get impatient and send me parts of my mother as motivation to return to him? And yet how I could just rush into the fray without a plan, or backup? My damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead strategy hadn't been working for me lately.
Bones touched my cheek. "I will find him, luv. And I will kill him. Trust me."
I swallowed, feeling a tear slide down my face and knowing it would be colored pink.
Bones kissed me, quick but tender. Then he turned to Mencheres.
"We will announce her change. A formal gathering is best, so her introduction to vampire society can be done under an all-truce, avoiding the danger of an attack."
"Agreed," Mencheres said. "I'll set it up at once."
"You want to have a party?" I asked, not sure if I was hearing them right. "That's your big idea?"
"There are still ghouls who consider you a threat to their species," Bones replied. "One in particular, Apollyon, has made the most noise about you. Showing him and the others that you're a vampire will get rid of that problem. It will also garner goodwill toward us with the other vampires in the community, which we'll need when Gregor has his unfortunate, gruesome demise."
Cold and practical. Those were Bones's strong suits. If I wanted my mother back alive, they'd better become mine as well.
"Good thinking." My smile was bitter. "If I'd listened to you more often, my mother probably wouldn't be in this mess."
Bones grasped my chin. "Don't you dare blame yourself. How many people you've protected in your very young life is nothing short of remarkable. You place too much pressure on yourself. All the answers don't have to come from you, Kitten. You're not alone anymore."
For all but the two years Bones had been in my life, it felt like I'd been alone. No wonder it was such a hard mind-set for me to break.
"Okay, we'll have my undead unveiling party. I'll even suck on a human's vein in public if that helps, since I assume we're still keeping my eating habits under wraps."
Bones shrugged. "I see no reason to alarm anyone over something so trivial, so yes, we'll be keeping that a secret. But there's no need to do something so dramatic. You're clearly a full vampire now. That's all anyone needs to see."
"Where will this coming-out party be held?"
"Here. We've stayed in this house long enough. We'll have the gathering here, then depart for another place afterward. And then, soon, we'll find a way to rescue your mum."
I was looking forward to that. Right now, slicing through Gregor's guards sounded more fulfilling than anything else I could imagine.
But what if I couldn't slice through his guards? I could be as weak as any new vampire now. There hadn't been time to test my physical strength in the past few days. Only my mental fortitude as I got over the hunger insanity.
"Bones. We need to fight."
To my profound relief, I discovered my strength had not been reduced to that of an average new vampire. In fact, Bones had been stunned in our first fight when I'd taken advantage of his restrained attack and beaten him. He'd gaped in shock at the knife in his chest - steel, not silver - then tossed back his head and laughed before engaging me in a no-holds-barred assault that left me feeling like I'd been dropped off a cliff - and then run over by a train.
My recovery period was now lightning fast in comparison to what it had been as a half-breed, but there was a price to pay for those upgrades. Everything felt more intense. This was great when it came to bedroom activities, but not when it came to brawling. A broken bone or knife wound might heal in seconds, but those seconds hurt with a mind-numbing intensity. Bones explained it was because my body no longer went into shock. No, it just went right from scorching pain into complete healing, assuming I was fast enough to not get any new injuries before the old ones cleared up.
The other thing I discovered was how different it felt to be cut with silver versus another metal. Never before had I realized how strong vampiric aversion was to silver, or how much my being half-human had shielded me from it. When injured by silver, I had all the blasting pain of my nerve endings going into shock, plus an added burning agony that made a steel-inflicted wound feel like bliss in comparison.
I'd have to learn how to control my instinctive reaction to the new, amped-up levels of pain. Right now, they stumbled me and cost me time. Time I couldn't afford with the looming battle to get my mom back.
Four days passed with no word about my mother. I spent them in constant activity - when I wasn't immobilized from dawn's power over me. I found that the more blood I drank from Bones, the more I could force myself to stay awake as the sun crept over the horizon. I was up to being awake for an hour after dawn. Granted, that hour consisted of being in a state of near paralysis, but it was progress, though there was no meter for me to compare my progress to. I wasn't the world's only known half-breed, but apparently, I was the only one who'd been turned into a vampire. No one knew how long a typical new vampire's weakness to dawn would affect me. I could be doing cartwheels at sunrise in a week - or it might take me a year.
The fifth night was my coming-out party. I was in no mood to stand there, smile, and greet a bunch of people who might have been screaming for my head recently, but that's what I'd be doing. If it prevented more tensions between vampires and ghouls, as well as helping my chances of getting my mother back, I'd do it na**d if I had to. Since this was a formal undead gathering, there would be food - all kinds - drinks, dancing, and festivities, while those in power pondered whether or not to slaughter half the people around them.
In other words, like a high-school prom.
I had just finished drying my hair when I heard the downstairs front door slam, then rapid footsteps on the stairs. Bones was back. He'd gone to get me a dress, since for whatever reason, he didn't feel anything in the house was good enough. He came through the door with a garment bag in hand.
"Just in time," I said. "I'm about to curl my hair. So, let's see the dress."
Bones zipped the bag open to reveal a long black dress, spaghetti-strapped, narrowing to a nonde-fined waist but with crystals embedded in the fabric around the bodice. Those crystals would mold around my br**sts, I could tell from the cut, and even in the low light in the room, they sparkled and threw off dazzling colors.
"Beautiful," I said, then smiled wryly. "Can't wear a bra with it, though. I'm sure that was accidental on your part."
He grinned. "Of course."
It really was a beautiful dress. Simple, gothic, yet sparkly. Very appropriate for a vampire coming-out party.
"This'll go great with my fangs," I said, trying for flippancy to cover my nervousness. Even still, I could smell it on me. It was sickly sweet, like an overripe peach. If only there was a way I could cover my tension with the scent of eau de brass balls instead.
Bones kissed my bare shoulder, easy to do since I was still only wearing a towel. "It will be fine, Kitten."
I smiled, ignoring the squeeze in my gut that didn't agree. "Of course it will."
The last receiving line I'd stood in had been at Randy's funeral. This one was almost as cheerful. For one, my conversation with Bones was mostly limited to him saying, "This is so-and-so. So-and-so, may I present Cat, the newest member of my line," and I would shake hands with someone who might just as soon roast me over hot coals.
Rodney was here, looking as grim-faced as I felt. He blamed himself for not waking my mother when Gregor stalked her in her sleep. I'd tried to tell Rodney there was no way he could have known what was happening, but my reassurances fell on deaf ears.