Destined for an Early Grave nh-4, Page 3Jeaniene Frost
…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.
“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 Vendôme…
“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 maître,” 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.
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 l
asts 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 fucked 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, chérie.”
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 t
oward 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, chérie? 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.”