Once Burned Page 31

’’Use his gloves to make the call,’’ Marty went on, baring his fangs in a fierce grin. ’’He won't need them anymore.’’

I stripped the gloves off Rend's now-shriveled hands and wiped the remains of my blood onto his stylish suede coat. Then I grabbed the cell phone . . . and paused.

’’Do you know Vlad's number?’’

Marty recited it, and ended up punching in the numbers himself because I kept messing them up with the thick gloves. Vlad answered on the second ring.

’’Who is this?’’ No niceties, just a demand. That was my guy.

’’It's me. We were attacked at Tolvai's. I'm with Marty now, but Szilagyi isn't here, obviously, or I wouldn't be calling you on a cell. Marty knows where he is, though, and-’’

’’Where are you, Leila?’’ Vlad interrupted, his tone rough.

I'd thought it would take days to feel like I'd thawed out inside, but hearing him ask where I was before his centuries-old enemy's location made a warm glow spread through me.

’’Actually, I don't know. Marty, do you know where we are?’’

He shrugged. ’’They had me in the trunk with you when they brought me here. But if the phone has GPS, you can hit map and then location to find out where we are.’’

’’Leila.’’ Vlad's voice lost its roughness and became the too-pleasant one he used right before he torched someone. ’’If you're acting of your own free will, then link to me right now.’’

’’Huh?’’ He only wanted to talk the psychic way?

’’Do it,’’ he ordered, and then the call ended.

Maybe he was worried that Rend's cell could somehow be monitored. I took my former torturer's glove off and stroked the skin beneath my thumb. Like before, Vlad's thread leapt out at me. I followed it backward, the wood and straw interior of the stables turning into a cream, peach, and sunshine-colored room that would have been elegant except for the shattered windows, overturned furniture, bloodstains, and multiple char marks. Vlad stood in the center, flames coating his arms, holding up a large blackened hunk of . . . something.

Okay, so where are you? I thought at him. That pastel decor sure wasn't in any room of his house.

The answer hit me even as he spoke. Everything was so trashed, I hadn't recognized it right away.

’’I'm at Tolvai's.’’ Vlad shook the blackened hump he held aloft. ’’He was just telling me how stunned he was by the attack and how he had no idea where you, Maximus, or Shrapnel were.’’

That charbroiled thing was Tolvai?

’’Can you hold off on, ah, questioning him?’’ I said, out loud this time. ’’I've seen enough gross things for one day.’’

Vlad dropped the crispy vampire and slammed a booted foot onto him, holding him down. ’’Are you being coerced into giving me a false location? Is Szilagyi attempting to ambush me?’’

Realization dawned. He couldn't read my mind through the cell, and I'd never contacted him via a phone call before.

I used my thoughts to reply this time. No, I'm not being coerced. When I accidentally linked to Szilagyi at Tolvai's, I told him I'd switched sides so he wouldn't hurt Marty. He didn't believe that, and after the attack, he had a vampire named Rend-someone you disowned a long time ago, apparently-take me and Marty somewhere to torture us into discovering if I was sincere. Long story short, Rend and the other vampires are dead now.

’’It's been seven hours,’’ he burst, grinding his heel into Tolvai with brutal force. ’’I've not heard a word from you in all that time. Why, if you were being tortured, did you not link to me?’’

I closed my eyes, once again answering with my thoughts even if they were starker than I would've put into words.

I was unconscious at least half that time. When I awoke, I thought I might die, so I didn't want you to overhear that when there was nothing you could do about it.

He didn't speak, but the flames covering his arms slowly extinguished until only the faint wisp of smoke remained.

’’Active the GPS in that phone,’’ he said at last.

Marty handed it to me. Seemed he'd done that while I was having my mental conversation. I dropped the link long enough to read our location and then followed his thread back to relay it.

’’Western Romania, in a village called Leurda near the Motru River. Look for a horse stable with a dead vampire outside it.’’

’’I'll send people immediately,’’ he stated.

Tolvai began speaking in that other language. Either he was crying or his vocal cords hadn't healed all the way, because his voice was nothing like the imperious one I remembered.

’’If that's not a confession, he's lying,’’ I said to Vlad. ’’He told Szilagyi where we were, and guarded me during the attack until Rend got me.’’

’’Oh?’’ Vlad's foot dropped like a wrecking ball. A charred piece of . . . something broke off Tolvai to skid across the room.

’’I-I don't know if anyone else made it,’’ I said, guilt over Maximus, Shrapnel, and the others causing me to stutter this time.

Vlad looked up and sighed. ’’You succeeded in finding my enemy. My men were prepared to die for that, but God willing, some of them are still alive. If they are, I will find and free them. Now, have Martin tell you where Szilagyi is.’’

’’Where's Szilagyi, Marty?’’ I asked.

’’Castle Poenari, tunneled into the rock under the tower.’’

I repeated the information, surprised to see Vlad's face darken. Flames shot back up his arms and an invisible wind blew his hair in brownish-black swirls around him.

’’What's wrong? Is that a friend's house?’’ How crappy if another ally been in collusion with Szilagyi.

’’No.’’ Vlad's tone dripped acid. ’’It's my former home.’’

While the smell indicated that the stable recently contained horses, all the stalls were empty, to Marty's dismay. Since he'd been drained and hadn't been allowed to feed in a week, he truly was hungry enough to eat a horse, making me glad none of the beautiful animals were here.

We weren't in the stables anymore, though. We were about a quarter mile away in Rend's car, the heater turned on full blast. He'd parked it inside a nearby tree line, still giving us a clear view of the stables so that we'd see when Vlad's people showed up. It was also a safer place to wait if unwelcome vampires arrived. After searching Rend's incoming and outgoing cell log, it looked like he checked in around every four hours, but what if he'd been expected to report to Szilagyi sooner about his ’’progress’’ with me? I intended to search through his bones to see if I could find that out, and find out whether or not Maximus, Shrapnel, and any others survived the fight. First, Marty explained to me that Castle Poenari was the home Vlad rebuilt during his initial reign as Prince of Wallachia-and the same place where his wife killed herself.

As if those memories wouldn't be enough to keep him away, the ruins of Castle Poenari were also another Dracula tourist attraction. Much as I hated Szilagyi, I had to admire his cleverness. Of all the ruins Vlad had his people searching, they probably avoided ones where the Dracula legend was hawked like snake oil because they shared Vlad's loathing of that. Plus, who would've expected Szilagyi to make his underground nest in the former home of the vampire he was trying to kill? Twisted didn't even begin to cover it.

’’I am so Googling 'Vlad Dracul'once this is all over,’’ I stated. ’’Wikipedia knows more about his past than I do.’’

Marty grunted. ’’You won't like what you find.’’ Then his look became jaded. ’’Especially since you're sleeping with him.’’

My cheek heated but I didn't glance away. ’’Szi-lagyi told you that?’’

’’No, my nose did. When we were in the trunk together, I could smell him on you even over the chloroform Rend dosed you with. They did, too. That's probably why they didn't believe that you'd really betrayed him.’’

’’They knew before,’’ I replied, shrugging. ’’I told Szilagyi that Vlad seduced me to further cement me to his side.’’

’’Wouldn't surprise me a bit,’’ Marty muttered.

I stiffened. ’’It should because it's not true. Look, I don't blame you for disliking Vlad. He impaled you and coerced you-both unforgivable. Still, there's another side to him.’’

’’Sure,’’ Marty replied flatly. ’’The side that burns people to death.’’

I opened my mouth to reply, and then paused. Now wasn't the time to defend my relationship with Vlad. I'd have to continue this conversation later.

’’Give me the skull.’’

He passed it over and I took my glove off, grimacing. In true death, Rend had shriveled so much that he looked mummified, but enough bits of skin and hair clung to the skull to make touching it unappealing. Still, I ran my right hand over it. As expected, Rend's worst sin made his torturing me look innocent by comparison. The next memory was his death-always a standout event for people-and I felt dark satisfaction seeing it replay before me. Then came countless images as his life passed in front of my eyes with incomprehensible speed.

Discovering Maximus, Shrapnel, and the other guards'fates plus finding out if Rend was supposed to check in sooner than normal with Szilagyi would be like looking for specific snowflakes in an avalanche, but I had to try. Everything I needed to know had happened earlier today. I'd start at Rend's last memory and then work my way backward, if possible. I rubbed his skull, trying to will forth the image of his death. It flickered in front of me before fading, replaced by another unintelligible mess. I tried again, concentrating, and the dark blue interior of the car abruptly fell away.

A cord of pure white lashed out, slicing through Rend's shoulders as easily as a sword through water . . . Me, streaked with blood, writhing under the point of an ivory knife . . . Marty's anguish as silver knives drove into his flesh . . . Me and Marty in a trunk, him restrained with silver, me with rope . . . A large hall decorated in pastel hues, its opulence marred by glass, blood, and multiple bodies on the ground . . . Two vampires being forced into a van, both of them pierced with silver harpoons. One was bald and dark-skinned, the other pale with shoulder-length blond hair . . .

’’They're alive!’’ I shouted, so excited I dropped the link.

’’You can tell that already?’’ Marty asked in disbelief.

He had a point. I'd spent days unsuccessfully trying to glean more details from the bones of the vampires who'd attacked the club. Why were Rend's memories so much easier to navigate? Only one thing had changed since then. Like a magnifying glass could amplify a ray of sunshine, drinking large quantities of vampire blood must kick my psychic abilities into hyper drive. I'd already seen what it did to my voltage, but I hadn't expected it to affect my other powers. I didn't want to dwell on the ramifications of that because it brought up possibilities I wasn't ready to consider. Instead, I touched Rend's skull again, focusing my energy on that last image I'd seen of Maximus and Shrapnel. It took two tries, but once I found it, I centered my attention on seeing what came before that . . . and before that . . .

I let out a gasp that had Marty demanding, ’’What, what?’’ while shaking me.

I dropped the link-and the skull-to grasp Marty's hand.

’’We need to go to Castle Poenari.’’

Chapter 41

’’Watch it, for God's sake! You'll get us killed!’’

’’No, I'll get me killed. You're already dead,’’ I corrected.

Okay, so I'd almost sideswiped another car, but for my first time driving, I was doing pretty well. I hit the gas, ignoring the glare Marty shot my way. Yes, I was speeding, but we were in a hurry. Besides, he had a lead foot, too.

’’I'll be all the way dead when Vlad realizes what you're doing and blames me for not stopping you,’’ Marty said gruffly.

I had to use Rend's cell so Vlad couldn't read my thoughts when I called him an hour ago. I told him I'd glimpsed something from Rend's bones that made me think it was best to leave immediately instead of waiting for his people to get us, and that I'd see him later at the castle. Both things were true. I just hadn't mentioned what I'd glimpsed or which castle I'd meet him at. If I had, he would have ordered his men to drag me back to his home using any force necessary, and that wouldn't do. As I'd told him before, I wanted revenge against Szilagyi, too. Right now, I was on my way to get it.

’’No, he promised never to hurt anyone I cared about unless that person attacked him or his people. You're doing neither.’’

’’I bet he'll make an exception,’’ he muttered as I fishtailed a little on my turn off the highway. The road must be icy. Couldn't be me taking the turn too fast.

Rend's gloves combined with Marty not having his usual modifications to reach the pedals meant that I had to drive. I'd avoided learning in the past because I could never get a license with my electricity issues, but having people's lives on the line made for great motivation.

’’You'll get pulled over,’’ Marty warned when I roared past the other traffic.

’’Then you'll mesmerize the cop into letting me go. You're not going to talk me out of this, so quit trying.’’

’’I should make you drop me off at an airport and take the first flight back to Florida,’’ he grumbled under his breath.

I flashed a look at him before turning my attention back to the road. ’’You want me to do this without you? Say the word.’’

’’Over my dead body’’ was his instant reply, followed by a muttered ’’It's the off season for performing, anyway. Slow down or you'll miss the turn.’’

I slowed, taking the street that led to Castle Poenari. Once we were off the main road, streetlights became scarce until it seemed like the darkness had swallowed us. The narrow lane, tall trees, and steep terrain all seemed to advise against going forward, but I kept my foot on the gas. The ominous atmosphere worked to our benefit. By day, Castle Poenari would be populated by tourists, but this late at night, I doubted anyone would be there except Szilagyi and his men, burrowed in rooms they'd dug out before Bram Stoker penned the first words of Dracula.

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