Twice Tempted Page 3

Chapter 1

Four weeks earlier

I stood under a waterfall of flames. Vermilion and gold spilled over me, twining through my hair, separating into rivulets along my body before sliding between my fingers to fall at my feet. The flames were so dense that I couldn't see through them, reducing my world to a glowing arena of sunset-colored hues. Being engulfed this way should have killed me, but I was unharmed. I wasn't even afraid. A strange sense of longing filled me instead. I kept trying to catch one of the flames but I never succeeded. Fire might cover me from head to toe, yet it still managed to evade my grasp.

’’Leila,’’ a voice called, too faintly for me to discern who it was. ’’Leave before it's too late.’’

Logic urged me to do what the nameless person said, but I didn't want to. The flames didn't seem to want me to go, either. They kept gliding over me, caressing instead of burning my flesh. See? I thought in defiance. They wouldn't hurt me.

’’Leila,’’ that voice said again, more emphatically. ’’Leave.’’

’’No,’’ I replied, and tried to clasp the fire to me again. As usual, those brightly lit bands slipped from my hands, but this time, their lustrous color darkened. When they landed at my feet, they looked like ribbons made of tar. Then the waterfall above me abruptly dissipated, leaving me naked and shivering in the sudden, overwhelming blackness.

Fear turned my insides to ice. The voice was right. Something bad was about to happen . . .

I didn't have time to run before fire lit up the darkness again. It didn't spill gently over me like it had before, but crashed into me from all sides. Pain ravaged me as the flames attacked me with all their devastating power, charring and burning every inch they touched.

’’Why?’’ I cried, betrayal second only to the agony I felt.

’’I warned you,’’ that unknown voice replied, safe outside of the wall of fire. ’’You didn't listen.’’

Then I didn't hear anything but my own screams as the fire pitilessly continued to annihilate me.

’’No!’’

In my head the word was howled in anguish;in reality, it left my lips in a whisper. It was enough to wake me up, though, and I jerked away in horror until I realized I was covered in sheets, not flames. The only fire was safely contained in the hearth on the other side of the room.

It took several deep breaths to shake off the aftereffects of the nightmare. After a minute, my heart quit thudding and settled into a more normal rhythm. With a stab of dismay, I saw that the bed was empty. Now I wouldn't have to admit I'd had the same nightmare again, but I didn't like that more and more frequently, I went to sleep alone and woke up that way, too.

If I were superstitious, I'd worry that the recurring dream was an omen, but when I got warnings about the future, they didn't come as vague metaphors in my sleep. They used to come as merciless reenactments where I had a full sensory experience of whatever was going to happen, but I hadn't had one of those in weeks. I'd long wished that I didn't pull impressions - and images of worst sins - through a single touch, but now that I needed the ability, it was on vacation.

That thought chased me out from under the covers. I swung my legs over the side of the mattress and stepped off the raised dais that made the large, curtained bed look even more impressive. Then I went straight to the fireplace and knelt in front of it. Most of the flames had died down during the night, but the collapsed logs still smoldered. I pushed the grate aside, held my hand over a log for a second, and then plunged it straight into the crumbling wood.

The stab of pain made me gasp with relief until I realized it only came from one finger. The rest of my hand felt fine despite being immersed up to the wrist in the hotly glowing embers. I waited another few moments to be sure and then pulled it out. Aside from a splinter jutting from my index finger and a decade-old scar, my hand was unmarred, not a hair singed on it.

Damn. Six weeks later, and it still hadn't worn off yet.

Some women caught venereal diseases from their boyfriends. That was mild in comparison to what mine had given me - an immunity to fire that inexplicably also blocked my ability to psychically discern information through touch. Of course, I shouldn't be too surprised. Dating the unofficial Prince of Darkness was bound to have consequences.

I yanked the splinter out, sucking on my finger despite being one of the few people in this mansion who didn't like the taste of blood. Then I fumbled around until I found a large male shirt, the fabric soft as cashmere. It probably cost more than what I used to earn in a month working the carnival circuit, but it had been thrown on the floor with expectant indifference. I never saw anyone clean this room, but I also never saw it dirty. The servants must wait like ninjas for me to leave so they could render this place spotless again.

They wouldn't have to wait long. I had to pee, and despite the splendor of my boyfriend's bedroom, his bathroom lacked a toilet. Being a centuries-old vampire, he didn't need one.

I put on the discarded shirt. It was long enough that it covered my tank top and panties, though I'd never run into anyone on my way from his room to the one that was officially mine. The lounge that bridged the two bedrooms wasn't used by anyone else. Its privacy and elegance made for a more dignified walk of shame, at least.

Once I was back in my room - a lighter-hued, smaller version of the midnight-green and mahogany magnificence I'd just left - I went straight into the bathroom.

’’Lights on,’’ I said, adding, ’’dim,’’ when the instant blaze of brightness made me squint.


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