I gestured to Mencheres. "You were there, right? Tell him it didn't happen!"
Mencheres shrugged. "I didn't see a blood-binding ceremony. Gregor claimed it occurred right before I arrived. A few of his people said they'd witnessed it, but they could have been lying, and Gregor's honesty is not without fault."
"But what did I say?"
All at once I was afraid. Had I somehow bound myself to an unknown vampire? I couldn't have, right?
Mencheres's eyes bored into mine. "You were hysterical. Gregor had manipulated your emotions, and he was being taken away to an unknown punishment. You would have said anything, true or not, to prevent it."
In other words...
"Bones has stated his position in this matter." Mencheres flicked his gaze around the van. "I support it as his co-ruler. Does anyone have a differing opinion?"
There were instant denials.
"Then this is settled. Gregor has an unsubstantiated claim, and it will be ignored. Cat cannot confirm the binding herself, and she is the only other person who would know if it occurred. Bones?"
A sudden grin flashed across his face, but it was as cold as I felt inside. "Let's see how long someone lasts if they suggest that my wife is not my wife."
"As you wish." Mencheres was unperturbed about the potential thinning of the herd. "We will arrive at Spade's before dawn. I, for one, am tired."
That made two of us. But I doubted I could sleep. Finding out that over a month of my life had been ripped from my memory made me feel violated. I stared at Mencheres. No wonder I've always had a problem with you. On some subconscious level, my instincts must have remembered that he'd manipulated me against my will, even if the exact memory of that event was lost.
Or was it?
"Why can't you just look into my mind and see what happened for yourself? You erased my memory, can't you bring it back?"
"I buried it beyond even my reach, so as to be sure it stayed forgotten."
Great. If Mega-Master Mencheres couldn't pry it out, then it must really be lost.
"I don't care what Gregor or anyone else believes," Bones said in a softer tone to me. "All I care about is what you think, Kitten."
What did I think? That I was even more f**ked up than previously believed. Having a month of my life forcibly removed regarding a stranger I might or might not have married? Hell, where did I start?
"I wish people would just leave us alone," I said. "You remember when it was just the two of us in a big dark cave? Who knew that would be the most uncomplicated time of our lives?"
BARON CHARLES DEMORTIMER, WHO RENAMED himself Spade so he'd never forget how he'd once been a penal colony prisoner addressed only by the tool he'd been assigned, had an amazing home. His house was a sweeping estate with immaculate lawns and high perimeter hedges. With its eighteenth-century-style architecture, it looked like it was built while Spade had been human. Inside, there were long, grand hallways. Ornate woodwork along the walls. Painted ceilings. Crystal chandeliers. Handwoven tapestries and antique furnishings. A fireplace you could hold a meeting in.
"Where's the queen?" I muttered irreverently after a doorman had let us in.
"Not your taste, luv?" Bones asked with a knowing look.
Not nearly. I'd been brought up in rural Ohio, where my Sunday best would have been a dishrag in comparison to the fabric on the settee we just passed. "Everything is so perfect. I'd feel like I was desecrating something if I sat on it."
"Then perhaps I should rethink your bedchamber, see if we have something more comfortable in the stables," a voice teased.
Spade appeared, his dark, spiky hair tousled as if he'd recently been in bed.
Open mouth, insert foot. "Your home is lovely," I said. "Don't mind me. I'll get manners when pigs fly."
Spade hugged Bones and Mencheres in welcome before taking my hand and, oddly, kissing it. He wasn't usually that formal.
"Pigs don't fly." His mouth quirked. "Though I've been informed that you found wings earlier tonight."
The way he said it made me self-conscious. "I didn't fly. I just jumped really high. I don't even know how I did it."
Bones gave me a look I couldn't read. Spade opened his mouth to say something, but Mencheres held up his hand.
Spade clapped Bones on the back. "Quite right. It's nearly dawn. I'll show you to your room. You're pale, Crispin, so I'm sending someone up for you."
"If I'm pale, it has little to do with lack of blood," Bones said in a bleak tone. "When I came to, she'd drained most of her blood into me. If Mencheres hadn't arrived with those plasma bags, she might have changed over before she was ready."
We followed Spade up the stairs. "Hers isn't just human blood, as has been more than evidenced, so I'm still sending someone up."
"I have other things on my mind than feeding."
Spade hadn't heard yet about the cherry on the sundae of our evening. He only knew about the ghoul attack.
The door opened into a spacious bedroom with period pieces of furniture, a canopied bed Cinderella might have slept in, after the Prince carried her away, of course, and another large fireplace. A glance at the wall enclosing the bathroom showed it was made entirely of hand-painted stained glass. Once again I was struck with unease about touching anything. Even the silk-stitched blankets on the bed looked too beautiful to sleep under.
Bones had none of my qualms. He threw off his jacket to reveal the bullet-riddled shirt and pants he still wore, kicked off his shoes, and flopped into a nearby chair.
"You look like a piece of Swiss cheese," Spade commented.
"I'm knackered, yet you need to be informed of something."
Spade cocked his head. "What?"
In a few brief, succinct sentences, Bones outlined the revelation of those lost weeks when I was sixteen...and Gregor's claims that I was his wife, not Bones's.
Spade didn't say anything for a minute. His brows drew together until, finally, he let out a low hiss.
I mumbled it while I looked away from Bones in his bullet-pocked, ruined clothes. All because of you, my conscience mocked.
"Don't you dare apologize," Bones said at once. "You didn't ask to be born the way you were, and you didn't ask Gregor to pursue you so ruthlessly. You owe no one an apology."
I didn't believe that, but I didn't argue. It would take up more energy than either one of us had.
Instead, I masked my thoughts behind a wall, something I'd perfected in the past year. "Spade's right, more blood would be good for you. I'll take a shower, and you can drink from whatever bar's open."
Spade gave a nod of approval. "Then it's settled. Some items that should fit you have already been placed in here, Cat, and for you, Crispin. Mencheres, I'll show you to your room, then we'll sort out the rest of this kettle later."
Death chased me. It kept tireless pursuit through the narrow streets and cramped alleys I ran along. With every panting breath, I screamed for help, but I knew with horrible certainty that there was no escape.
There was something familiar about these streets, even deserted as they were. Where had everyone gone? Why wouldn't anyone help me? And the fog...damn that fog. It had me stumbling on concealed objects and seemed to cling to my feet when I dashed through it.
I knew that voice. I turned in its direction, doubling my efforts to run toward the sound. Behind me, Death muttered curses, keeping pace. Every so often, claws would swipe into my back, making me scream from fear and pain.
"Just a little farther."
The voice urged me toward a shadow-draped figure that appeared at the end of an alley. As soon as I saw him, Death fell behind, dropping back several paces. With every lengthened stride separating me from the evil that chased me, relief spread through me. Don't worry, I'm almost there...
The shadows fell from the man. Features solidified, revealing thick brows over gray-green eyes, a crooked patrician nose, full lips, and ash-blond hair. A scar ran zigzag from his eyebrow to his temple, and shoulder-length hair blew in the breeze.
"Come to me, cherie."
A warning clicked in my mind. All at once, the empty cityscape around us disappeared. There was nothing but the two of us and oblivion on all sides.
"Who are you?"
This didn't feel right. Part of me wanted to fling myself forward, but another piece was cringing back.
"You know me, Catherine."
That voice. Familiar, yet utterly unknown. Catherine. No one called me that anymore...
As soon as his name came out of my mouth, my confusion was broken. This must be him, and that meant I was dreaming. And if I was dreaming...
I stopped just short of his outstretched hands and backed up. Motherfucker, I'd almost run right into his arms.
His face twisted in frustration, then he took a step toward me. "Come to me, my wife."
"No way. I know what you're trying to do, Dreamsnatcher."
My voice was my own again. Hard. With every word I retreated, mentally railing at myself to wake up. Open your eyes, Cat! Wakey, wakey!
"You know only what they've told you."
His accent was French, no surprise there, and the words were resonating. Even dreaming, I had a sense of his power. Oh, shit, you're not a weak little hallucination, are you? Stay back, Cat. This puppy bites.
"I know enough."
He laughed in challenge. "Do you, cherie? Did they tell you they stole me from your memory because that was the only way they could keep you from me? Did they tell you they dragged you screaming from my arms, pleading that you didn't want to leave?"
He kept coming closer, but I kept backing away. Figures - in this dream, I wasn't armed.
"Something like that. But I'm not your wife."
Gregor stalked nearer. He was a tall man, almost six-five, and there was a beautiful cruelty to his features that was amplified when he smiled.
"Wouldn't you like to know for yourself instead of being told what to believe?"
I regarded him with more than suspicion. "Sorry, buddy, the trash has already been taken to the curb in my mind. Mencheres can't pry back the lid to see what's inside, and it's only your word that says we're married."
"They can't give you back your memories." Gregor stretched out his hands. "I can."
Gregor will attempt to coerce you in your dreams. Mencheres's admonition rang in my mind. He hadn't been wrong.
I spun around, sprinting in the opposite direction, only to have Gregor appear in front of me like he'd been magically transposed.
"I'm not lying."
My gaze flicked around, but there was only useless pale fog. I had to wake up. If this guy got his hand on me, I might find myself waking up in a load of trouble.
"Look, Gregor, I know Mencheres locked you up for a long time, and you're pissed about that, but let's be reasonable. I'm blood-bound to the man I love, and there are plenty of fish in the sea. Let's say adieu, then you can go find another girl to dreamsnatch."
His gold head shook sadly. "This isn't you talking. You didn't want to be a killer, to spend your whole life looking over your shoulder. I can take it back, Catherine. You had a choice before. You chose me. Take my hand. I'll return what you've lost."
"No." I heard a noise behind me, like a low snarl. Fear tickled up my spine. Death had come for me again.
Gregor's hands clenched, as if he heard it as well.
"Now, Catherine, you have to come to me now!"
The growls were louder. Death was behind me, Gregor in front of me, and I had to go to one of them. Why couldn't I wake up? What had woken me the last time? I'd been running, then, too, chased by a monster...
I whirled, ignoring Gregor's shout, and ran headlong into the horrid figure of Death. Either this would work or -
A slap stung my face, then another. I was being shaken so hard, my teeth should have rattled out. Bones was talking to me, so engrossed in shaking me that it took my third yelp to get his attention.
He gripped my face, eyes bright green and wild. I batted at his hands, shivering, and realized I was wet. And cold. And sore. With an audience.
"What have you been doing to me?"
I was on the floor, Bones was next to me, and from the soaked carpet, various items nearby, and worried spectators, I'd been out for a while. A glance down told me what I already suspected. I was still as na**d as I'd been when we fell asleep.
"God, Bones, why don't we just invite everyone in the next time we have sex, that way they can stop seeing things piecemeal!"
Spade, at least, wasn't nude like he'd been the last time I'd wakened from a nightmare to an audience. Next to him stood Mencheres and an unknown human woman.
"Bloody hell, if I never go through this again, it will be too soon," Bones growled, running a weary hand through his hair. "This wasn't like the other ones, Mencheres. What does that mean?"
Bones was totally unconcerned about being na**d. Vampires had no sense of modesty. I grabbed for the nearest covering, which was the bedspread, and tugged at his hand.
"Find some pants for you and a robe for me. What - ?"
Just the act of moving made pain arc on my back, then intensify into a steady throbbing. My mouth tasted like blood, too, and my head was pounding.