Once Burned Page 34

I stared at him for a long moment. The dirt and soot made him look fiercer, darkening that se*y stubble along his jaw and making his cheekbones more prominent. His lips were parted, showing a glimpse of white teeth that could tease and terrorize with equal skill. Firelight added a hint of gold to his copper-colored eyes, and those encircling rings of emerald grew as his brows drew together in a frown.

’’What's wrong? You smell distraught.’’

I glanced at the fire. If not for Vlad willing his aura into me, I would have died from flames last night, but my survival had come at a price neither one of us had anticipated.

’’I already tried looking for Szilagyi,’’ I said, glancing back at Vlad. ’’There's nothing to link to anymore.’’

He started to smile. ’’Then he truly is dead.’’

I savored his expression because it might be the last time he looked at me this way. Then I forced myself to continue.

’’I don't know. It's not just Szilagyi's essence that I can't link to anymore. It's everyone's.’’

I stroked the ornately carved wood around the fireplace for emphasis. ’’I'm not picking up impressions from what I touch anymore. Coating me with your aura did more than make me fireproof, Vlad. It also covered my abilities like some sort of supernatural glove and nothing gets in.’’

Very slowly, he rose, his expression changing from satisfaction to absolute inscrutability. Neither of us spoke the words that seemed to scream in the silence. Was if this wasn't temporary? It might be a cure for the psychometric abilities I'd long wished to be rid of, but they were also the main reason Vlad had been drawn to me in the first place. If their loss was permanent, I'd gained some of the normalcy I longed for, but it might cost me the man I was falling in love with.

And his enemy might still be out there. The explosion should have killed Szilagyi, but he'd cheated death before, and a bone-deep pessimism warned me that we hadn't seen the last of him.

’’Don't worry,’’ Vlad said, repeating his earlier words with less conviction this time. ’’I'll double the guards at Poenari. Either my men will find Szi-lagyi alive, or, once your powers return, you can verify that he is truly dead.’’

I didn't dispute his belief that I'd get my abilities back. Right now, we were both guessing on that count.

’’Reading my thoughts again?’’ I asked dryly.

He flashed me a tight smile. ’’Always.’’

Then he put his boots back on, leaving his coat where it lay. ’’I'll notify my men to double the watch, and now I intend to take one more sweep of the area before I rest.’’

He kissed me, and when we drew apart, something I couldn't name flickered over his face as he stroked my right hand. But all he said was, ’’Get some sleep, Leila. I'll return soon.’’

After he left, I realized he'd taken the time to reassure me over Szilagyi, but hadn't said a word about my thought that I was falling in love with him. Was he avoiding that topic because he was incapable of love-something I now doubted-or because my power loss had indeed made him reevaluate our relationship?

In the very near future, I'd put both possibilities to the test. I didn't want to lose Vlad, but I wouldn't start running from my problems again. I'd confront them despite their potential cost, and with or without any additional abilities.

’’Get ready, Vlad,’’ I whispered into the empty room. ’’This is far from over.’’

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