Twice Tempted Page 14

’’Did it work?’’ I couldn't help but ask.

’’Aside from cutting off his protection for Cynthiana because she callously used Shrapnel for her own gain, he didn't care.’’

’’How long was Vlad with her?’’

Maximus thought for a moment. ’’Around thirty years.’’

I was incredulous. ’’That's longer than I've been alive! If Vlad walked away from that relationship without a backward glance, he's probably forgotten me already.’’

Maximus slanted a look my way before resuming his pacing. ’’Not likely. Regardless of what he does or doesn't feel for you, your double rejection will burn him for years.’’

Enough to incite him to murder me? The thought made me feel like a drowning victim who'd been dunked under one more time.

’’Let's say Vlad does want me dead. I doubt he'd be so cowardly as to fake a gas line explosion when he could've killed me while I was still at his castle.’’

’’Yes, but then he'd have to kill Gretchen and your father, too, making the whole business look very emotional on his part.’’ A weary sort of cynicism replaced the pity on his face. ’’Being emotional is seen as a weakness among vampires. Vlad knows his enemies would fall on him like wolves if they suspected that weakness in him.’’

First Marty's death, then realizing the explosion was meant for me, now the suggestion that my ex-boyfriend might be behind it. I closed my eyes. How much more could I take?

’’You're Vlad's right-hand man’’ was what I said after an extended pause. ’’Wouldn't he tell you if he planned to kill me?’’

Maximus was silent so long, I opened my eyes. ’’What now?’’

’’I don't think he would,’’ Maximus finally said. ’’He'd know I would have a problem with it, and why strain my loyalty if he didn't have to? Instead, he could've ordered someone else to make your death look like an accident. If I hadn't been here, I might've even believed it.’’

Back to that question. ’’Why were you here?’’

He sighed, returning to the bed across from mine. ’’Partly because I wanted to make sure Marty really did let you stay with him even though he'd replaced you with that other girl. You need vampire blood to keep your electricity levels from killing you. If Marty wouldn't have kept providing it, I would have made other arrangements. But mostly, Leila, I didn't go back to Romania because of how I feel about you.’’

If I wasn't overloaded from grief, I would've been shocked. As it was, I could only muster up faint surprise.

Maximus leaned forward, brushing my hair back.

’’I told you when we met, you're beautiful, ballsy, and your abilities fascinate me. I've also seen your courage, your loyalty, and your strength in leaving a man you loved because you knew he'd never love you.’’

More surprise, but that was trivial compared to my anguish and the growing need I had to avenge my best friend and the young girl who'd never had a real chance at life.

’’Maximus, you're very attractive and I'm flattered, but I can't even think about this right now.’’

He leaned back, a hard little smile curving his mouth. ’’I know, but we are having this conversation again.’’

I didn't argue. I was too busy trying to figure out who was behind that explosion. I still doubted it was Vlad, but if Maximus thought it was possible, I shouldn't throw caution to the wind by automatically discounting the idea.

Besides, even if I was right and Vlad wasn't behind this, I doubted news of my alleged death would rock him. He'd gone out of his way to prove that I didn't mean much to him.

I shook off that thought before it brought me even lower than my rock-bottom state. ’’I need some clothes.’’

Maximus got up and rummaged through the suitcase on the dresser. Then he pulled out a shirt and a pair of boxer shorts.

’’These won't fit, but the fire burned your clothes off and I haven't had time to get you new ones.’’

’’This is fine,’’ I said, accepting the bundle. As soon as I touched it, colorless images exploded across my mind.

I stuffed my clothes in the suitcase and then slammed it shut. Time to take Leila home. No one expected her to leave Vlad, yet she had, and soon she'd be an ocean away from him. I smiled at the thought. She might have refused me once, but that was before she realized Vlad couldn't give her what she needed. I could, and now I finally had a real chance to show her that.

’’Maximus,’’ I whispered once the hotel room with its putrid yellow walls surrounded me once again. ’’It's back!’’

Chapter 8

Maximus pulled out a lighter, turning the flame up. I held my hand over it - and immediately snatched it back with a yelp.

’’That hurts!’’

He flipped the lighter closed. ’’You're saying for several weeks it didn't, because Vlad's aura rendered you fireproof?’’

’’That's right. Fire skipped over me like it does with him. How else do you explain me surviving an explosion that was so intense, it destroyed the trailer I was in?’’

And killed another vampire, I didn't say aloud. If I dwelled on Marty's death, I'd start sobbing and wouldn't stop.

’’Being in such intense flames must have used up the remains of his aura in you,’’ Maximus said in a thoughtful tone. Then he frowned. ’’Vlad told me about your psychic abilities malfunctioning. Why didn't he tell me this?’’

I sighed. I didn't want to think about Vlad now. ’’Maybe because he'd never done it before and he wanted to keep his ability to render someone temporarily fireproof a secret?’’

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