Twice Tempted Page 21

I couldn't help it - I sucked in an audible breath. Maximus frowned at me before responding with ’’Last week, when I dropped her off at Marty's trailer in Atlanta.’’

Nothing from Vlad for so long, I wondered if he was speaking too softly for a nonvampire to overhear. Then Maximus asked, ’’Are you still there?’’ dispelling that idea.

’’Yes.’’

One word, bit out so harshly that I flinched. Something had Vlad furious. I wanted to grab the phone and demand to know if he'd tried to kill me, but of course, I didn't. I waited, breathing as shallowly as I could despite my heart racing.

’’Why did you ask about Leila?’’ Maximus prodded, still doing a great job of sounding guileless.

Another loaded silence. Then Vlad replied, ’’She's dead,’’ in a tone so casual that tears sprang to my eyes. Even if he hadn't ordered it, he didn't care. Hearing the apathy in his voice cut me in places I didn't even know I had.

I must've made some sound because Maximus scowled while holding his finger to his lips in the universal command for silence. Then he said, ’’What? How?’’ with such believable shock that I mentally upgraded him from Good Liar to Fantastic One.

’’A gas line ruptured near Martin's trailer. I'm told both of them were killed instantly in the explosion. I leave for America tonight to return Leila's remains to her family.’’

Oh shit! In the midst of everything, I'd forgotten Gretchen and my father would also think I'd been killed. I began to mime at Maximus that we needed to stop Vlad, but he clapped a hand over my mouth, tightening it when I grunted.

’’That's terrible,’’ he said, rolling down the car window with his other hand. Traffic noises soon merged with my grunts, muffling them. If he hadn't saved my life twice in the past week, I would've taken off my gloves and dosed him with enough electricity to make him glow, but he had so all I did was glare.

Well, that and I bit him. He deserved it.

’’Yes, tragic,’’ Vlad said, sounding bored this time. ’’Meet me in Atlanta tomorrow. We'll fly from there to Gretchen's.’’

’’That might be difficult,’’ Maximus replied, flashing his fangs at me when I continued to chomp on the fleshy part of his hand. I took that as Keep it up and I'll bite you back so I stopped after one final, angry nip.

Iciness returned to Vlad's voice. ’’Why?’’

’’I told you I was checking on some of my people while I was in the States. Seems a couple of the younger ones have taken to feeding in the open. I have to deal with that, of course.’’

’’Of course,’’ Vlad all but purred. ’’If you don't punish their disobedience now, who knows what betrayals they'll inflict on you in the future?’’

From the way Maximus's features hardened, he, too, thought those comments were more warning than instruction.

’’Pass on my condolences to Leila's family,’’ he said, mouthing, Don't make a sound at me.

Since his hand was still clamped over my mouth, I couldn't, but my glare promised that we weren't done with this.

’’I will,’’ Vlad replied.

Then they hung up. Vampires weren't big on saying good-bye, as I'd learned after years of living with Marty. Once he double-checked that the call had truly ended, Maximus took his hand away from my mouth.

’’We can't let my family believe I'm dead’’ were my first words. ’’That's too cruel.’’

’’What's more important? Their safety, or their temporary sadness?’’ he retorted, nailing me with a hard stare.

’’Safety? They have nothing to do with this!’’

’’Not yet,’’ he countered ruthlessly, ’’but they will, if you reveal that you're alive. You think they can fool Vlad? One sniff and he'll know they're only faking grief.’’

Despite his logic, I was torn. My dad was strong, but I didn't know how much Gretchen could take. She still had emotional scars from finding me after a failed suicide attempt a decade ago when my new abilities had nearly broken me.

’’I still don't think Vlad is behind the bomb. He might not care that I'm dead, but if we play on his pride, he'd be a hell of an ally while we looked for the real person responsible.’’

The look Maximus gave me was both annoyed and pitying. ’’He'd also be a worse enemy if you're wrong, and then what do you think will happen to your family?’’

I banged my fists against the car seat. Yeah, I knew. Vlad would use them against me. Even if he wasn't behind this, the real killer would, if it leaked that I was alive. The best way to protect my family was to let them think I'd died - and hope one day they'd forgive me for the deception.

I sighed. ’’They're going to hate me for this.’’

’’But they'll be alive to hate you,’’ Maximus pointed out, and that was the most important thing.

I shot him a grim look as something else dawned on me.

’’Even if Vlad isn't responsible, what are you going to do when he discovers you've been lying to him this whole time?’’

From the way Maximus's expression closed off, he'd already thought of this. ’’I'll have to convince him not to kill me,’’ he said, voice light as if he were discussing a game.

I closed my eyes, struck with a sudden, irrational urge to pray. That would be easier said than done, as we both knew.

Chapter 12

Maximus green-eyed a passing motorist into taking us to a Motel 6 inside the Indiana border. Once there, I forced myself to eat the drive-through food Maximus had gotten me even though traveling with a body part had killed my appetite. Then I showered before tumbling into the unoccupied second bed.


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