Once Burned Page 28

’’Don't stop.’’

The words were a command;his tone wasn't. It resonated with the intensity of a plea, probably the closest I'd ever come to hearing Vlad say please. Inwardly, I smiled. Who had what the other person wanted now?

His laughter ended on a harsh note as I took him deeper, tasting the faint, not unpleasant tang of soap. My teeth pressed against him from his girth, tongue curving along that rigid flesh as I encased him until I had to stop despite there being more. The cold water made me shiver, but Vlad's warm thighs pressed against my breasts, his scorching hands twisted in my hair, and my mouth was filled with his pulsing, hot length, making those parts of me deliciously burn. Always extremes with Vlad, but right now, I wouldn't have it any other way.

I withdrew my mouth with the same slowness he'd used the first time we made love, things low in me clenching with the memory. Then I encased him again to the accompaniment of another rasping groan. He sounded the same way when he was inside me, and my body responded. My br**sts felt heavier, my ni**les puckered to hypersensitivity, and my loins swelled while wetness slicked my inner thighs. That arousal made me move my head a little faster, draw on him harder. His grip on my hair tightened while that faint tang of soap changed to something salty.

’’Yes. Like that.’’

His voice was almost guttural, and the next thing he muttered wasn't in English. I increased the pace and pressure, and the space between those harsh moans became shorter while he swelled even bigger in my mouth. His h*ps rocked against me, that firm grip on my head exciting because it was reminiscent of how tightly I clutched him when he went down on me. I wanted him to feel that same out-of-control passion so I pressed closer, sucked harder, moaning myself as his thighs rubbed my br**sts to tease my nipples. Saliva escaped to coat the parts I couldn't fit as I moved even faster, my thighs clenching as the throbbing between my legs became unbearably intense.

Suddenly, I was off my knees and in his arms. The tile chilled my back as he yanked my legs around his waist and pressed me against the shower wall. Then his mouth crushed onto mine, muffling my groan at the feel of him against that aching part of me. A deep thrust made every nerve ending flare with blinding pleasure, tearing something very close to a scream from me. I was so wet that he slid in to the hilt, and when he began to withdraw, I shoved against him in wordless demand for more.

I felt him smile wide enough that for an instant, I kissed only his teeth. Then he arched forward so strongly that his pelvis ground against my clitoris, the friction sending more rapture spiraling through me. I whimpered into his mouth, rocking against him, my thighs tightening on his waist and my arms lashed around his neck. Each cleave of his flesh amplified the pleasure, contracting invisible strings inside me until I felt like my body thrummed from ecstasy. Kissing him was a drug I never wanted free from, but when I began to get light-headed, I broke away to gulp in air.

He untangled my right hand from around his neck, bringing it to his mouth. ’’Look at me, Leila.’’

I hadn't been aware of closing my eyes, but as some point, I must have. I slit them open, my breath catching. Vlad's hair plastered to his shoulders in wet, dark sections, his muscles bunched with every moan-inducing thrust, and his eyes blazed so brightly that it was like looking at the sun. That stare held me more securely than his arm under my h*ps as he turned my hand over and then bit into the fleshy mound beneath my thumb.

The sound that came from me was almost animalistic. That was how he made me feel-feral, uninhibited-and as heat slid down my arm to slowly spread through the rest of me, those feelings grew. I needed more of his bite, his touch, his body, and especially the fierce emotion in his gaze as he swallowed my blood, and I needed it now.

That was why I whimpered in protest when, all too soon, he withdrew his fangs and released my hand.

’’Your turn,’’ he said throatily.

Then he bit into his wrist deep enough to leave a gash before holding it to my mouth. Still lost in that primordial state, I swallowed without hesitation, not minding the harsh coppery taste because it was his blood. I licked until every drop was gone and the wound closed on itself. Once it did, he bit his wrist again. This time, I was the one who pulled it to my lips, sucking strongly as I stared at him.

The smile he flashed me was lust at its most savage. His movements became harder, faster, turning my moans into sharp cries. When his wound closed a second time, I let his wrist go and yanked his head down to mine. His tongue invaded my mouth with the same sensual brutality as his thrusts, and I met both with equal fervor. If he hadn't positioned his hands behind my head and hips, the tile behind me might have cracked from how fiercely he drove into me, but I didn't care. His blood slid like fire through my veins, filling me with even more wildness. Nothing existed except this moment, and as my whole body shuddered from the overload of ecstasy, I didn't even notice the cold anymore. All I felt was heat, inside and out.

Chapter 37

I'd assumed Vlad would accompany me on every scouting mission, but he didn't. Sometimes, he sent me to one vampire's house while he went to another and brought back items for me to touch. It took me days to figure out why. He was sending me to allies least likely to betray him, taking on the riskier vampires himself. In that way, he kept his promise to broaden the search for Marty while still protecting me from situations he considered too dangerous.

It was annoying and touching at the same time, adding further chaos to my already tumultuous emotions. If Vlad was the heartless creature he made himself out to be, he'd utilize me to his best advantage by throwing me into the most perilous situations. But he didn't. Which was the real Vlad? The one whose heart was forever out of reach, or the man who seemed to prize my safety more than the quickest path to vengeance?

I pondered that as the black SUV I was in came to a stop outside a set of tall iron gates. Maximus drove, Shrapnel rode shotgun, and I was alone in the backseat. Another SUV filled with six additional guards followed closely behind us. We were fifteen minutes from Oradea, Romania, but to look around, you wouldn't guess that a bustling city was nearby. This gate was tucked inside thick woods, the long gravel road leading to it nearly invisible from the turnoff-assuming you found the secluded road leading to that. The owner of this property either liked his privacy or he hated having unexpected visitors, which was exactly what the three of us were.

Maximus rolled down his window and pressed a button on the metal console that jutted out a few feet from the ground. I couldn't hear a camera zooming in on his rugged features, but I had no doubt that his image was being transmitted.

’’Vlad Tepesh kuldottei Gabriel Tolvai-hoz jottek,’’ he stated.

I only recognized the name. Gabriel Tolvai, an ally of Vlad's that, as per usual, he didn't suspect of being in league with Szilagyi. Still, it was one more name to cross off a list, even if Tolvai lived in a secluded area where the closest neighbors seemed to be of the animal variety.

The tall gates slid open and we drove through them. After we traveled the length of a football field, Maximus pulled up to a stately, two-story white house with ochre-colored trim. The old world architecture looked like an aesthetic choice rather than the home's actual age, and while the house was large, it was still less than a fourth the size of Vlad's home.

Two bearded guards carrying automatic weapons stood by what looked like the main entrance. Since this was a vampire residence, I guessed the big guns were filled with silver bullets instead of lead. Maximus and Shrapnel didn't seem concerned. When we got out of the car, they didn't even look at the guards who held open the double doors for us, so I mimicked their aloof demeanor. Our other armed escort got out but stayed by the vehicles, their presence as threatening as it was silent. In my usual pattern, once I crossed the threshold into Tolvai's house, I began to recite the worst songs the eighties had to offer. No way would I risk running into another mind reader unprepared.

A slender boy with russet-colored hair walked down the hall toward us. He wore jeans, sneakers, and a black jacket slung over an Ed Hardy T-shirt. He didn't even look old enough to drink in the States, so I was surprised when Maximus and Shrapnel inclined their heads at him.

’’Greetings from our sire, Tolvai,’’ Maximus said formally.

Tolvai responded with a burst of dialog that I didn't understand a word of. It wasn't Romanian-I'd gotten better at recognizing certain words in that language-but my confusion was cut short when Shrapnel held up a hand.

’’Vlad requests that you speak English in front of his guest so she understands everything that is being said.’’

’’Is that right?’’ Tolvai replied, the words richly accented.

Amber eyes swept over me. Once I stared into them, I didn't know how I'd ever mistaken Tolvai for someone younger than me. The weight of centuries reflected in those jewel-colored eyes, and the way his gaze raked me from facial scar to shoes said that a human was less than worthless to him.

’’If Vlad wishes, I shall repeat myself,’’ Tolvai said, smiling at me the way a great white shark would at a plump seal. ’’What has happened that Vlad sent his most senior guards to my house without even a phone call to inform me of their coming?’’

’’Recently, four vampires set fire to one of Vlad's businesses in southern Suceava,’’ Maximus stated. ’’Three of the perpetrators were killed, but one escaped. Vlad is asking all of his allies to assist him in finding this last arsonist.’’

The barest smile touched Tolvai's lips. ’’Of course I will offer my assistance. Any attack on a vampire's territory must be swiftly avenged lest his enemies take it as a sign of weakness.’’

I was surprised by the veiled taunt. Tolvai hadn't been on Vlad's suspect list, but maybe he should reconsider. Shrapnel also didn't seem to appreciate the subtext. His glare could have burned holes into Tolvai's deceptively young-looking features, but the vampire didn't show the slightest amount of concern. In fact, when his gaze dipped dismissively to me again, either he was loyal-albeit sarcastic-or word of what I could do hadn't spread to him yet.

Both were put to the test when Shrapnel said in a mild tone, ’’Then you won't mind if Leila touches a few things in your home.’’

Tolvai's expression registered confusion, but not alarm. ’’Miert? But why?’’ he amended in English.

’’Because Vlad asks you to,’’ was Maximus's reply.

Anyone could discern the challenge wrapped in the large vampire's silky tone. Tolvai's lips tightened, and if it weren't for those ancient eyes, he'd have resembled a teenager about to have a full-on temper tantrum. For several tense moments, I wondered if he'd refuse. But then he swept out his hand.

’’If Vlad wishes, then she may do so. But to quote the American saying, if she breaks anything, she buys it.’’

I glanced at Maximus and Shrapnel as I took off my right glove. ’’I'll let you know if I find anything.’’

’’Anything like what?’’ Tolvai asked sharply. ’’Do you suggest that I am involved with this arsonist?’’

’’Of course not.’’ Butter wouldn't have melted in Shrapnel's cool reply. ’’But wouldn't you want to know if one of your people went behind your back and broke truce with Vlad?’’

I walked farther down the hall, letting the vampires handle this power contest themselves. After a tense silence, Tolvai bit out, ’’Vlad and I will have words about this.’’ Then he swept past me in a blur, disappearing up the staircase. If I were a vampire, I imagined the scent of his anger at having his home searched would have clogged my nostrils.

I glanced back at Maximus and Shrapnel, shrugged, and then continued on my way. They knew by now that I concentrated better if they didn't hover over me. Tolvai's entrance hall wasn't nearly as impressive as Vlad's, but I liked the pastel palette more than Vlad's tendency toward darker, gothic colors. I detoured at the first room, an elegant lounge with a white marble fireplace and ceilings three times as high as I was tall.

Once inside, I ignored the fancy figurines or other objets d'art. Years of training myself on what not to touch made it easy to choose the most essence-heavy objects. Despite their high traffic level, light switches and lamps were out of the question, but that left doorknobs, handles of any kind, drawers, armrests, pens, glasses, and the like. After I handled various objects that showed images of feeding, se*, and some harsh discipline of Tolvai's staff, I moved on to the next room. Then the next one. Maximus and Shrapnel stayed in the hallway, allowing me my space while the constant collision of memories versus reality made me feel like I was on a vivid acid trip.

I had just stroked a sunshine-colored couch in the fourth room when the lounge dissolved, turning into bare concrete walls with a single wooden door. Two vampires I recognized were inside. One was nailed to the wall with silver, the other typing on an iPad while seated on a bed of furs.

Szilagyi cocked his head and then rose. I'd been mentally singing as a defense against any mind readers in Tolvai's house, and the lyrics had announced my invisible presence before I could disconnect.

’’My little psychic spy, I wondered when you would return,’’ Szilagyi purred. Then he walked over to Marty and a knife appeared in his hand as if by magic. ’’You've missed some of the fun, but not all of it.’’

You don't need to hurt him, I thought, willing to say anything to stop what I knew was about to happen. I, ah, already want to switch sides.

Szilagyi gave me a smile so hard that it could cause ice to fracture. ’’If that's true, then why are you blocking your thoughts behind that song . . . Leila?’’

I ignored his use of my real name. As Vlad said, it was only a matter of time until Szilagyi picked up my paper trail.

There could be other mind readers here, I improvised. If so, they can't pick up all my thoughts under the music, but I'm risking my life contacting you and that should show I'm serious.

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