Twice Tempted Page 29

Lights from three police cars cast a red and blue glow over the ruined exterior of my former hotel room. Most of the window was gone and bullet holes pockmarked the outer walls. With all the gunfire, the inside must look like Swiss cheese, too. Then I noticed the dark-haired figure on the edge of the parking lot, barking furiously into his cell phone in Romanian.

Seeing him at the site of my kidnapping didn't bode well, but if I doomed Maximus and those poor people by not taking this chance, I couldn't live with myself anyway.

’’Hang up, Vlad,’’ I said shortly. ’’We need to talk.’’

Shock flashed over his face. He whirled as if trying to pinpoint my location, hanging up without saying another word.

’’Leila. Where - ’’

’’Are you here to admire your lackey's handiwork?’’ I cut him off, going on the offensive. ’’If so, you'd be proud. Hannibal shot up this place with an utter disregard for innocent peoples'lives, all to make sure Maximus was pumped full of enough liquid silver to make him barely able to move.’’

Fire erupted from his hands. ’’I had nothing to do with this, so tell me where you are. Right now.’’

He could be trying to find my location in case he realized I'd managed to free myself, but as I told Maximus, if Vlad wanted to kill me, I expected him to be a lot less cowardly about it. I was still asking the most obvious question, though.

’’Then why are you here? And put out your hands, cops are crawling all over the place.’’

To punctuate my point, a police officer walked up, looking at Vlad in the suspicious way any sane person would. ’’You. What's wrong with your hands - ’’

’’Shut up and leave,’’ Vlad said with a flash of his gaze, though he did extinguish the flames. The officer headed back to the hotel and Vlad continued as if we hadn't been interrupted.

’’I'm here because I tracked Maximus's cell phone to this area, but I'm not behind this attack.’’

’’Then we've got another problem, because the vampire who grabbed me knew things about my abilities that only you and a few of your guards knew.’’

Vlad's features hardened into diamondlike planes. ’’Oh?’’

’’First things first. You're not surprised that I'm alive, so I really did connect to you in my dreams before, didn't I?’’

His hands didn't light up again, but they briefly turned orange, as if the fire tried to free itself but he held it back.

’’Yes. Perhaps you don't need to physically touch anything to link to me because we've shared each other's blood, perhaps it's because your powers are stronger than you realize. Either way, your 'dreams'were real.’’

I sighed. Deep down, I'd always known that, even when I desperately wanted to deny it. Of course, that meant I had a bargain to work out first.

’’Promise me you won't kill Maximus and I'll tell you what I know of my location.’’

Vlad growled out something in Romanian. I couldn't translate all of it, but I recognized several curses.

’’We don't have time for games,’’ he finished.

’’I know,’’ I shot back. ’’I've got several humans who need medical attention and a vampire going insane from silver poisoning, but you said you were going to kill Maximus. So unless you swear on your father's and son's graves that you're not, I won't give up my location. Oh, and you can't torture him, either,’’ I added, remembering the backhanded way he'd kept his promise not to kill Marty.

Vlad's eyes changed from copper to green, glowing so hotly that I found myself thinking if dragons were real, they'd have eyes just like his. My next thought was We're screwed, because then he smiled in that lethally genial way I'd seen him do right before he burned someone to ash.

’’On the graves of my father and son, I, Vladislav Dracul, swear not to torture or kill Rossal de Payen, the man you know as Maximus.’’ He paused a moment as if letting those words sink in. ’’Now, Leila. Where are you?’’

Vlad was infamous for his honesty, yet that smile made me feel like I'd overlooked something. Still, I'd done the best I could, and Vlad was the only chance Maximus and those humans had.

’’I'm on a boat, and since I wasn't unconscious long, we've got to be on Lake Michigan . . .’’

The sun rose three hours ago, but I had yet to see another boat. In some ways, that was good. I'd never explain the mess on the deck to the Coast Guard, and it meant Hannibal's boss hadn't discovered his ’’package’’ had killed her delivery boys.

I was below deck, alternating between checking on Maximus and doing what I could for the critically drained victims. That didn't consist of much beyond dropping down blankets, duct tape and fabric for bandages, and cups of water for the conscious ones. I'd considered cutting Maximus to give them some of his blood, but the last time I got close, only a quick leap backward kept him from biting off a hunk of my leg. Either the pain made him lash out instinctively or the madness had started to set in.

I found myself praying to anyone who might be listening that help wouldn't arrive too late.

I was on my way back to the cargo hold when all of a sudden, I couldn't move. It was as if an invisible, massive fist squeezed me from head to toe, choking off my breath as instantly as it had frozen me in place. Panic had me mentally screaming, but I couldn't twitch or draw a breath. It even felt like the currents inside me came to a screeching halt.

Buzzing started to sound in my ears, growing louder as the seconds stretched longer. Then, just as abruptly as it had come, that terrible squeezing sensation vanished. I fell forward, sucking in huge gulps of air. I had to blink repeatedly to chase away the tears and black spots in my vision. Once I could see straight again, I looked up - and then froze for a different reason this time.


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