Twice Tempted Page 15

’’Perhaps,’’ he mused.

I didn't care why Vlad hadn't told anyone. My fireproofing was gone, my abilities were back, and someone who'd tried to kill me had murdered my closest friend, an innocent girl, and many others, too. Finding that person and making him pay was my new goal in life.

’’Okay, picking up impressions from an object works. Let's see if I can still find someone in the present.’’

So saying, I stroked the nightstand with my right hand. Tables, doorknobs, and other fixtures were high-traffic areas for emotional imprints. At once, multiple images flashed across my mind. I weeded through them until I found the strongest thread. Then I concentrated on it, seeking the person at the other end of that invisible essence trail.

The hotel room morphed into an office decorated in shades of beige. A fortysomething man sat behind a desk, balancing the phone with his shoulder as he grabbed a notepad.

’’No, that's not what we agreed on,’’ he said as he scribbled away. ’’I don't care what her lawyer wants . . . for f**k's sake, she's already getting half my check in alimony and child support!’’

Even though everything was slightly hazy as images in the present were, the word BITCH on the notepad was clear. You shouldn't have kept cheating on your wife in no-tell motels, I thought, dropping the link and willing myself back to reality.

Maximus stared at me without blinking. ’’Did it work?’’

’’Yes.’’

A ruthless anticipation began to swell in me. Now I could start hunting for the person who killed Marty. I still didn't believe it was Vlad, but if I was wrong . . .

’’Maximus, thank you for pulling me out from under the wreckage, healing me, and bringing me here. I owe you my life.’’ I paused to take in a deep breath. ’’But now you need to go.’’

Both golden brows rose. ’’What?’’

’’If Vlad is behind this, I can't trust you,’’ I said bluntly. ’’You might like me, but we both know you're not going to betray centuries of allegiance over a passing fancy.’’

I expected a lot of responses. Laughter that sounded like stones grinding together wasn't one of them.

’’You don't know me as much as you think you do,’’ he said, and then grabbed my right hand. My power responded, yanking me out of the present into his past.

Multiple wounds covered me, but I was jubilant. The Holy City was once again ours.

’’God Akbar!’’ a voice wailed above our shouts of victory.

Fools. If their god truly was great, we wouldn't have retaken Jerusalem. The survivors of the battle, mostly women and children, stared at us with frightened loathing.

Then my cousin Godfrey's voice rang out. ’’Men of God! Destroy the filth that befouled Jerusalem. Let none survive!’’

I froze. Sunlight glinted off hundreds of swords as the other soldiers raised their weapons. Then the swords fell to the accompaniment of high-pitched screams.

’’Obey!’’ the knight closest to me urged. He showed no hesitation as he hacked at those in front of him.

’’God wills it!’’ Godfrey continued to roar while he joined in the destruction. ’’We must cleanse this city!’’

A form hurtled toward me. By reflex, I caught it, looking down on the tearstained face of a boy, his brown eyes wide as he sobbed out a plea for mercy in his native tongue.

Abruptly, he sagged, blood spurting from his mouth. The knight next to me yanked his dripping sword from the boy's back.

’’We have orders,’’ he barked. ’’Do not refuse. God wills it!’’

I dropped the lifeless boy. Then, jaw clenched, I raised my sword and started toward the survivors.

I snapped back from that gruesome memory with slivers of electricity shooting from my hand. At some point, Maximus had let go, wise since I now wanted to aim those currents at him.

’’I know what you saw,’’ he said flatly. ’’It's forever burned into my nightmares. For the sake of allegiance, I once followed a terrible order. Afterward, the guilt nearly destroyed me. I will not be that man again. Vlad is ruthless when protecting his line and casualties of war happen, but he's never murdered innocent women or children. If that has changed, then so has my loyalty to him, but not for your sake. For mine.’’

I stared at Maximus. I'd expected he had a dark sin - most people did, especially centuries-old vampires - but I hadn't anticipated what he'd shown me.

’’How could you have fought in that battle and been changed into a vampire by Vlad?’’ I finally asked. ’’Didn't the Crusades take place hundreds of years before Vlad was born?’’

He smiled tightly. ’’They did, but the Knighthood of the Temple of Solomon had secret rituals. One of them involved drinking blood instead of wine in a mimicry of the Last Supper. For members of the original eight Templars, as I was, the blood wasn't human, though we didn't know it. We thought our increased strength and accelerated healing came from God.’’

’’You were tricked into drinking vampire blood?’’ Wry snort. ’’I've been there. When did you find out what it was?’’

’’Centuries later when I met Vlad. In truth, it was a relief. I thought I couldn't age because God wanted to keep punishing me for spilling innocent blood in His name.’’

Some of the anger I'd felt melted away. What Maximus had done was awful, but he'd lived with the guilt for longer than I could imagine. He didn't need more recriminations from me.

’’Um . . . all right.’’

Such a trivial response, but too much had happened the past several hours. I rubbed my head, feeling Vlad's essence flare underneath my fingers. He'd left imprints all over me. I dropped my hand, not wanting to accidentally link to him. With his mind reading, he was one of the few people who could tell when he was being psychically spied upon. It was how we met, and in the unlikely event that he had tried to kill me, I wasn't about to let him know he'd failed.


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