When Bones and Gregor were less than twenty feet from each other, Jacques stepped between them, holding out his arms.
"Both of you, go no farther."
They ignored him. Jacques probably would have been shoved to the side, but then another voice cracked through the air.
"You shall not fight in my city!"
Bones stopped. Gregor slowed, pausing within touching distance of Jacques's still-spread arms.
Marie didn't walk up so much as glide. Bones gave her what could only be described as a frustrated look.
"For Christ's sake, Majestic, if you didn't want us to fight, then why did you tell him we were here?"
While they were focused on the drama, I managed to throw an elbow into Band-Aid's eye before slipping under Hopscotch's loosened hold.
"Don't do that again," I warned them as I dashed away.
"I didn't tell him," Marie replied. "Nor did any of my people."
A flicker of arrogance passed over Gregor's face. In person, he was even more imposing than in my dreams. There was something about him I found unnerving, even though he stared at me without hostility. If anything, there was a longing in his expression that made me stop where I was. Little pinpricks of pain began going off in my brain.
...I'm from a farm as well. In the south of France, but there were no cherries to be found there...
My hands flew to my temples. Gregor's nostrils flared. He took in a long, provoking, audible breath.
"Take your eyes off my wife."
Bones growled it with barely restrained fury. The power seething off him struck me even several feet away. Gregor let out an equally venomous snarl and took a single step forward.
"That's my wife I'm looking at."
When Gregor uncurled his power like a peacock displaying its magnificent feathers, I sucked in a gasp.
Gregor had felt strong in my dreams, but that must have been the watered-down version. With the energy spilling from him in ever-increasing waves, he could have fueled the French Quarter's electricity needs. Oh, shit. He's at least as strong as Bones, if not stronger...
Brakes screeched close by, but neither man took his eyes off the other. I looked, and saw Liza roll down the window of a van. Her eyes bugged, and she made a hasty gesture with her hand.
"Please, Cat, get in."
"Not without Bones."
I said it to Gregor as well as her. It didn't matter that the memory of Gregor's voice had sliced through my subconscious like a knife. Didn't matter that for a split second, as his gaze bored into mine, I'd felt a flicker of yearning. Awake, or asleep, I belonged to Bones, no one else.
"You see? She's made her choice."
Bones said it with luxuriant hatred in every syllable. Even with his back to me, I could just imagine his taunting half smile. Judging from Gregor's livid expression, I was right.
"Despicable whoreson, her choice has been erased by Mencheres. He dragged her screaming from me only an hour after our binding!"
"I don't give a rot if Mencheres yanked her off your throbbing, rigid cock," Bones snarled. "Go dream a little dream, you sod!"
Marie wasn't going to be able to keep them from brawling much longer. Lethal danger to Bones aside, there were also way too many bystanders. People would get hurt or killed if the two of them went at it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Fabian streak into the van.
"Bones." I made my voice calm. Don't startle the rabid beast. "If he knows we're here, others do, too. We need to leave."
"You're only in danger because of his blind arrogance," Gregor said. "Come to me, Catherine. I'll keep you safe."
"Insolent bastard," Bones spat. "I reckon nothing's beneath a man who'd try to steal another man's wife before they even met."
"Bones, leave." Although Marie didn't raise her voice, her tone was dangerous. "Gregor, you will stay here until the following dawn. You came to my city without invitation to provoke violence. No matter our history, you know better."
"Marie - "
"You're in my Quarter." She cut Gregor off. "You of all people know better."
Gregor flexed his hands. For a second, I thought he might hit Marie. Don't do it, buddy. She'll be burying you under her porch in no time!
"As you insist," Gregor said tightly.
Bones inclined his head without turning around. "Get in the van, Kitten. Hopscotch, Band-Aid, you, too. Majestic, I hope more of Gregor's ignorant ramblings won't sway your judgment in the future."
I climbed inside the vehicle, avoiding that smoky green gaze.
"And farewell to you, Dreamsnatcher," Bones went on as he got into the van. "I hope you enjoyed tonight, because it's the last you'll see of her."
"Catherine." Even without looking at Gregor, I felt his stare. "Your memories lie in my blood. They're waiting for you, ma bien-aimee, and I will keep my oath - "
The door slamming cut off the rest of Gregor's statement. So did Liza's peeling out of the narrow street like a drunken Tony Stewart. I closed my eyes so I wouldn't be tempted to look back.
"How do you think he found us?"
I didn't ask the question until much later. Truth be told, I hadn't felt like talking after seeing Gregor. Neither had Bones, from his grim silence. The sun was up. Liza still drove. Ghouls weren't as susceptible to morning tiredness as vampires were. Hopscotch and Band-Aid slept, dark sunglasses fixed over their eyes.
In this new SUV, at least there was more room than the last two cars. In case we were being followed, we'd switched vehicles three times. Bones glared the unknowing other drivers into submission while we hijacked their ride. It was done so quickly, a tail would have to have been right on top of us to catch it. There had been no sign of Gregor yet, and we were almost to Fort Worth.
Bones made an irritable noise. "Unless one of Marie's people went behind her back - and that's unlikely - or one of mine did, I'm at a loss." His fingers drummed on his leg. "Perhaps Don had a hand in it. What name did he use to have those pills delivered to my home, Kitten?"
"Kathleen Smith." I scoffed at the thought that my uncle would be so stupid as to use my real name. "And if you factor in the time frame, just a day from me telling him where we were, it doesn't fit. We know Gregor was in Paris and London when we were there, so he'd have to have left soon after we did to make it here. That rules out Don."
Bones stared at me. "You're right. Only Charles knew where we were bound to when we left his house. I don't reckon he ran an ad about it. Marie knew after we arrived. That leaves few people who could have informed Gregor, and they're all in this car."
That woke up Band-Aid and Hopscotch. Liza gave a widened glance into the rearview mirror. I tensed, wondering if one of the two vampires would abruptly attack.
Neither did. They looked back at Bones, and he met their gaze, his expression cold and hooded. Without saying it, I knew he was weighing the option of killing them.
"Sire," Band-Aid began.
"Save it." Shortly. "After Rattler, I don't put betrayal past anyone but three people, and you're not one of them. Still, no need to be hasty. Neither of you will leave my sight until we've arrived, and then you're going to be secluded. If Gregor still finds us, we'll know it wasn't you."
Each of them had a slightly stunned look to his face. Hopscotch recovered the fastest and nodded.
"I wouldn't betray you. I welcome the opportunity to prove it."
"As do I." Band-Aid seconded, giving a furtive glance to Liza.
"Whatever you need me to do," she said softly.
"I won't force you." Bones almost sighed. "Yet I would ask, Liza."
She smiled in such a sad way, it even hurt me to see it. "You'll feel safer. It's such a small thing to do for you."
It sucked giving the people around you a suspicious eye. Big dark cave. It was sounding better and better.
"I know I only just met her, but somehow, I don't think it was Marie," I said.
Bones raised a brow. "Why not?"
"Well...she told me a weird story about poisoning her husband. At first I thought it was just to scare me, but it was after she said if I was married to Gregor, she'd back his side, since vampires can't divorce."
"Really?" Bones mulled it. "That's interesting. Oh, everyone knows Marie killed her husband when she was human. What I've never heard before is how she did it."
"I thought she hit him with an ax," was Liza's response. "That's the story I was told."
"Interesting," Bones repeated. "Why do you believe this makes her sympathetic to our side, luv? Seems she stated whom she'd support."
I'd rather not say.
I shifted on the seat, wishing I'd shut up before.
"You're blocking me." His eyes flashed green.
Yeah, I was keeping him out of my mind with all the mental armor I could muster. Big mouth. Why can't you just leave well enough alone?
It wasn't directed to him; I was berating myself. There were a few things I'd wanted to discuss privately with Bones after meeting Majestic. This wasn't private by anyone's standards.
"We agreed not to do this," Bones went on. "Hide any knowledge or speculation. Whatever it is, Kitten, tell me."
I blew out a deep breath. He wasn't going to like this.
"Marie told me Gregor could return my memories, and that you and Mencheres knew it. She wondered why you didn't want me to remember what happened. On the street back there, she had the chance to demand I get my memories back. We were in her backyard, outnumbered; she could have insisted. But she let us go. I think she did it...because she believes I am bound to Gregor, and she knows she'd have to back him if it was proven."
Bones went absolutely still. His glare intensified until it felt like I was being hit with emerald lasers.
"Do you want to remember your time with him?"
I took another deep breath, longer than the first one.
"It bothers me that there's over a month of my life I don't know about. You should have told me, Bones. You promised you weren't going to hide things from me anymore, either, but I had to find this out from Marie."
"I didn't tell you because I wasn't certain. In any event, I wasn't going to let that filthy cur put his hands on you, have your mouth on him - "
"Are you serious?" I interrupted. "Where in all of this did you think I'd kiss him?"
Bones shot me a harsh glance. "The power to open your mind is in Gregor's blood, as he said. You'd have to bite him."
"I didn't know how it worked."
"Right, but you'd do it if you could," Bones said with such accusation that I clenched my hands to keep from shaking him.
"If someone ripped over a month of memory from your life, you'd want to know what it contained, too." Spoken without shouting. Good for me.
"No, I wouldn't."
His tone wasn't calm. It was almost a snarl.
"If someone took from my memory an event that might unravel our marriage, I wouldn't want to remember it under any circumstances, but perhaps our marriage means more to me than it does to you."
There went my Zen moment of tranquil chi. Blackout rage, aisle five!
"The only person who could unravel our marriage is you. Let's say I did find out I married Gregor. Does the thought that there might be a chance for you to be single again sound too tempting to you?"
"You're the only one admitting to looking for a loophole," Bones replied with equal fury. "Fancy the look of Gregor? Wonder if you might have preferred shagging him to me? Is that what you want to remember?"
I was so insulted, it made me incensed.
"You've lost your mind!"
I shoved him, but he didn't move. "I bled my first time with Danny, got it? Or do you need me to draw you a picture?"
Under normal circumstances, I would never say something so personal with a crowd, but rage is funny. It makes you oblivious to everything else.
Bones drew his face right up next to mine. "That sod could have shagged you all night, and you'd have still bled with Danny later. All Mencheres would have needed to do was give you his blood once he found you. Heals all wounds, right? If they took you from Gregor shortly after the first time he'd bedded you, you'd have had a simple wound that could have been healed."
"That's..." I was so aghast at the idea, I couldn't begin to respond. "That's bullshit!" I finally managed.
"Really?" Bones leaned closer. "I happen to know differently, because I've done it."
The soft way he said the words made them even more emphatic. Fury, denial, and jealousy spat out my words faster than I could think.
"Damn you for being a conscienceless whore."
Bones didn't take his eyes off me, nor was his response any louder.
"That's what you married, Kitten. A conscienceless whore. But if you recall, I never pretended to be anything else."
Yeah, I knew he'd been a gigolo when he was human, but that's not what stung. If only his screwing around had stopped once he didn't need the money to survive, I thought bitterly. But no. After he became a vampire, he did it for fun, as he just reminded me.
I didn't want him to know how much his past still had the power to hurt me, so I drew my mental shields around me. They were my only defense to shut him out. Then I looked out the window. I couldn't bear the sight of his beautiful face at the moment.