That’s when I noticed that Bones had maneuvered us next to one of the tall windows with a cityscape view. Our way out if we needed it.
As if reading my thoughts, Trove glanced at the window, then swept out his hand.
“Be my guest, but as I said, I mean you no harm. Vampire or not, I want you alive, Catherine. Otherwise, I would’ve killed you long ago. Do you know how many times one of my people stood over your unconscious body after you came back from one of your uncle’s missions?”
At my narrowing gaze, he grinned, showing those prime-time-ready teeth again.
“Does the name Brad Parker ring a bell?”
It did, but I couldn’t remember who . . . wait!
“The lab assistant who worked for Don,” Bones supplied in a growl. “I killed him years ago, after he betrayed her to her father.”
Now I remembered who Brad was. The day Bones killed him had also been the day he’d met Don and revealed to me that my boss was really my uncle. After that, the death of one double-crossing lab assistant was almost incidental.
“Parker’s greed got the better of him, but that’s common for his type. Besides, he’d already served his purpose.”
“Ferrying her blood to Madigan after Don fired him?” Scorn dripped from Bones’s tone. “You failed there, mate. None of his experiments worked save one, and she’s as good as dead once we find her.”
I flinched even though Bones didn’t truly intend to kill Katie. Trove didn’t seem to believe him, either. His smile widened.
“You’re not going to kill that little girl. She won’t let you.”
He was playing the weak female card? I squared my shoulders, making my expression and voice like flint.
“Ending one life in order to save millions? No contest. The girl dies.”
Trove tutted while red gleaned through his amber contacts.
“What is the world coming to when someone would kill her own daughter?”
At the word “daughter,” a roaring started in my ears. I forced it back, laughing as though he’d told a joke.
“I don’t think so. Unlike men, women kinda know if they’ve had children, what with that whole pregnancy-and-labor thing.”
“Oh, you were never pregnant,” Trove said dismissively, his eyes gleaming brighter. “But A80 is your daughter nonetheless.”
Bones had him by the throat before I could react, his pale hand tightening until the demon’s neck broke with an audible sound. All Trove did was wince.
“. . . ausing . . . scene . . .” he garbled.
Even though we were in the farthest corner of the most deserted part of the ballroom’s second level, at any second, it would be clear that more was going on than a private chat. And I was suddenly desperate to hear what the demon had to say even as I reminded myself that it couldn’t be possible.
“Let him go,” I ordered Bones.
“He’s tormenting you for his own amusement,” Bones growled.
I yanked on his arm. Hard.
“I said let him go.”
Bones dropped him. Trove staggered before a sharp sideways yank snapped his neck back into place.
“Touch me again, and I’ll do this,” he hissed.
The demon disappeared for the space of a few heartbeats before reappearing again in the same spot. The only evidence of his remarkable feat was an increased scent of sulfur.
I wasn’t in the mood to comment on his party trick.
“How can I be that girl’s mother if you admit that I was never pregnant?”
Trove flicked a hand through his thick hair, settling it back into place after Bones’s rough handling had mussed it.
“As I said, advances in science. With all the pathology Don ordered when you first started with him, it was nothing for Brad Parker to slip in fertility drugs. It was more difficult for him to extract eggs during the times you came back from a mission unconscious, but when he did, you never noticed the needle marks afterward. With all your other injuries, why would you? In total, Parker netted us over a hundred of your eggs. All were fertilized and implanted in surrogates, but only one survived to term.”
Then the demon leaned closer, smiling.
“Madigan grew impatient with the low success rate of your in vitro fertilization, so he petitioned your uncle to breed you. That got him fired, and Don monitored you more closely. Parker knew he couldn’t risk more extractions, so after a few years, he found another way to make money off you by betraying you to your father.”
I forced the words out despite the emotional whirlwind that made it hard to stand, let alone speak. Then my spine stiffened, and I said them again.
“You’re lying. The little girl I saw had to be ten years old, at least. I started working for Don less than eight years ago.”
“A80 turned seven last month,” Trove replied. “Only took the surrogate five months to carry her, and growth hormones took care of the rest. Madigan wanted to see what his new toy could do, and once he added ghoul DNA to her genetic makeup, my, did A80 deliver.”
That tornado returned to raze my equilibrium. Five months. That was how long my mother had carried me, and I’d been fully developed at birth. If I’d been given growth hormones and an additional dose of undead DNA, I might have looked years older at age seven, too.
Bones gripped my arm when my knees began to buckle despite my resolve not to buy any of this. Demons lie, I reminded myself. Even if what Trove said was scientifically possible, that didn’t make any of it true.
“Madigan’s impatience also made him obsessed with you,” Trove went on cheerfully. “He didn’t want to wait for A80 to mature enough to produce her own eggs, and his attempts to synthetically replicate her tri-nature merely resulted in thousands of dead test subjects. I’m used to waiting, so a few more years meant nothing to me, but then you had to attack his compound and give the brat a chance to escape.”
He paused to give me a tolerant look.
“That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? To see if I know where she is? I don’t, but I won’t stop you from looking for her. In fact, I want you to find her. Once you do, please, run tests to verify that every word I’ve said is true.”
“If it is, why would you tell us this?” I choked out.
The demon only smiled, and with brutal clarity, I understood.
Now that Katie was out from under his reach, he needed me to know she was my daughter. It was his insurance that I would risk everything to keep her alive, and along with me, Bones and his allies. The demon wanted war, and he couldn’t have one if no one was willing to fight. Well, Trove had just given me something I’d kill and die for, as he was counting on. He’d probably been hoping we would show up tonight, so he could spill the beans. If we hadn’t, he might have sought us out, unaware that we had the means to kill him.
Pity we hadn’t brought the bone knife. Right now, I’d love nothing more than to shove it through his eyes for gloating over the horrible way he’d used, and still intended to use, a child who might be mine.
With how close he stood, I felt Bones’s cell phone when it vibrated in his pocket. He ignored it, and a few seconds later, mine went off in my tiny clutch bag.
Trove glanced down with a knowing smirk.
“You might want to answer those. It’s important.”
Before I could respond, he disappeared.
“How bad is it?” were Bones’s first words when he strode into his co-ruler’s house.
Mencheres glided up to the entrance, his expression grim as he held out an iPad.
“Very bad,” he said simply.
Bones took the tablet. One look at the screen explained Mencheres’s urgent summons. Despite our shock at Trove’s revelation, we’d flown until we were exhausted, then commandeered cars after that to get here. Now we knew that Trove hadn’t merely been hoping Bones and I would show up at the fund-raiser tonight. He’d been preparing for it.
VAMPIRES AMONG US! screamed the headline on the Web page. More damning, as Bones scrolled down, were the pages and pages of status reports on Madigan’s experiments, complete with video clips showing a glowing-eyed child murdering several fully grown opponents on command.
Since the hard drives had been fried, only one person would have had this information, though of course, the former White House chief of staff’s name wasn’t anywhere on the documents.
“Trove,” I hissed. “While he was droning on, we weren’t the only ones being filled in on the full scope of Madigan’s experiments. So was anyone with eyes and an Internet connection!”
“More sites are appearing as conspiracy theorists and cryptozoologists repost the information,” Mencheres said in somber agreement. “Tai is attempting to take them down to slow the progression of information, but . . . there are too many.”
To illustrate his point, Mencheres minimized that page and opened a new one.
WE ARE NOT ALONE, BUT IT ISN’T WHO YOU THINK, the new headline announced, followed by extensive pathology reports on Katie’s tri-species nature—and what had made that merging possible.
I was too devastated to even curse as Mencheres opened site upon site filled with even more information meant to inflame ghoul and vampire relations. He was right; it was too late to contain this. It had gone viral, just as Trove intended.
Granted, most people viewing these scanned documents wouldn’t know who Specimen A1 was, let alone believe that in vitro fertilization from a half-vampire egg would result in a quarter-vampire child who’d been able to absorb ghoul DNA into her genetics. I mean, I was Specimen A1, and I still had a hard time believing it. Throw in the fact that most humans didn’t know that vampires or ghouls existed, and the reaction, judging from the comments, was open derision.
But the problem wasn’t humans, who’d think all of this was a hoax. It was everyone else who’d know that it wasn’t.
At last, Bones handed back the tablet even though I’d still been reading with a growing sense of doom.
“We need to—” he began, then stopped abruptly when a slender blonde with porcelain-doll loveliness opened the main door without knocking.
“Need to what?” Veritas asked coolly.
I didn’t groan out loud, but it was close. A Law Guardian barging in? Things had gone from horrible to tragic.
“Veritas,” Mencheres said, his tone now smooth as iced butter. “Welcome.”
She gave him a look that said she knew she was as welcome as a festering case of herpes but nodded at the greeting. The pretty blonde might look like she was the same age as Tai, but she was older than Mencheres and almost as powerful. She also had the full weight of the vampire ruling council behind her. For her to show up unannounced mere hours after the leak meant that they were as freaked as Trove had hoped.
No matter what happened, I had to kill that demon for all he’d done.
Then the Law Guardian’s gaze landed on me. For a second, I thought I saw pity in her sage green eyes. Before I could be sure, whatever it was vanished, leaving nothing but granite resolve.
“You know why I am here,” she stated. “The council has already ruled, and their decision is final. Tell me where the child is. It must be destroyed.”
“It is a little girl who didn’t ask for any of this!” I burst out.
Her measured stare didn’t waver.
“Neither did you, according to the documents released, which is why you’re not under arrest for treason.”
I advanced forward until Bones’s hand on my arm stopped me.
“You’re saying the council would have considered it treason if I’d knowingly had a child when I was a half-breed?”
Now I was sure about the sympathy that flashed across Veritas’s face.
“People like you and I don’t get to choose our fates.”
A wistful note tinged her voice before it, and her features, hardened once more.
“If you don’t know that yet, in time, you will learn. Now, tell me where the child is.”
Even if she weren’t my daughter, even if she’d been brainwashed beyond repair and we would never succeed in hiding her, I couldn’t sentence her to death by answering with the truth.
“I don’t know.”
Katie deserved what she’d never been given before. A chance. I knew what I was risking by doing this, but what choice did I have? Maybe it was faith that made me believe God wouldn’t let our races destroy each other over not killing a child for the crime of being different.
Then I glanced at Bones, noting how tightly he’d closed down his aura and how stony his features were. He didn’t look at me, either. His gaze was all for the Law Guardian, whose stare grew pointed.
My soul seemed to suck in a fearful breath. I will do anything to protect you, he’d sworn. Would he betray Katie’s location in order to stop me from trying to save her? It might cost me my life, and both of us knew it.
Don’t, I thought, wishing desperately that he could still read my mind. Please, Bones. Don’t.
“If you’re looking for the child,” he said in an even voice, his power freezing my mouth when I began to interrupt him, “start with Richard Trove. He’s the demon that funded her creation. As for Madigan, take him with you when you leave. We’ve gleaned nothing useful from him. Perhaps you’ll have better luck.”
Then he turned his back, effectively dismissing her.
I still couldn’t speak since he hadn’t released his telekinetic gag, but Veritas wouldn’t know that. I turned around with him, gripping his hand to convey thankfulness that words wouldn’t cover anyway.