Twice Tempted Page 30

Vlad loomed over me, dark hair wildly tangled, lean stubbled features a thunderous mixture of fierceness and triumph. His pants and shirt were soaked, their light blue color making them almost see-through. I blinked, wondering if I'd fallen over the edge of consciousness without realizing it.

A faint smile twisted his mouth. ’’I'm real, Leila. See?’’

He grasped my arms and pulled me up. My legs trembled but held, and with ragged pieces of rubber still dangling from my hands, I touched his bare wrists. Heat scalded my flesh at the same instant that a current sizzled into him.

Oh yes, he was definitely real.

Of all the thoughts to cross my mind in that instant, He looks even better than I remembered was the last one I wanted Vlad to hear. It didn't matter. His widening smile told me he'd caught it. I let go, seizing on a more important topic.

’’What just happened? I couldn't move.’’

’’Mencheres is with me,’’ he said, as if that explained it.

My brow rose. ’’And?’’

He dropped one hand but tightened the other. ’’Come.’’

I followed Vlad up the narrow steps. Once topside, I saw the Egyptian vampire, also soaking wet, surveying the remains of my captors with detached admiration. Then Mencheres turned, shading his gaze against the bright, mid-morning sun.

’’My apologies for using my power on you, Leila. We thought it necessary to immobilize the entire boat in case some of your captors had survived.’’

You think I wouldn't notice someone else trying to kill me? I thought jadedly.

’’One could have jumped overboard and then waited to catch you unawares,’’ Mencheres replied, reminding me that Vlad wasn't the only mind reader on board. ’’That's why we swam the last few miles. Less to notice when we're under water.’’

’’So you're the reason I felt like I was encased in invisible carbonite?’’

The vampire shrugged. ’’I can control things with my mind,’’ he said, his tone implying that it wasn't a big deal.

With that incredible ability, Vlad should take Mencheres with him on all his rescue missions. All his assaults, too.

A growl made me glance up. Vlad's expression was closed off, reminding me that this wasn't a happy reunion.

’’Thank you both for coming,’’ I said, my voice turning businesslike. ’’The injured people are in the cargo hold and Maximus is in one of the rooms below.

Another ominous sound from Vlad. ’’I know. I smelled him.’’

’’The humans need blood for healing,’’ I said, ignoring that. ’’And Maximus needs that silver out of him. He's already showing signs of . . . mental instability.’’

With that, I headed downstairs, making sure to sing anything that came to mind as I went. Being near Vlad was so much harder than seeing him in a dream. Every emotion I'd tried to suppress resurfaced with pitiless intensity, and that was only how he affected my heart. My hands still tingled from their brief contact with his skin, and if his wet clothes molded any more explicitly to his body, I'd soon smell like eau de slut to any vampire within sniffing distance.

He'll be gone soon, I consoled myself. Then I could go back to burying those traitorous emotions by hunting for Marty's killer. Hannibal said he didn't know who hired him, but a search through the memories in his bones would show if he was lying.

I'd gone into Maximus's room without thinking about it. He lay exactly as he had before, but with one marked difference. His eyes were open, silver streaking them like hideous veins, and they were fixed on a point over my shoulder.

I turned. Vlad was in the doorway behind me. He stared down at Maximus, his face coldly expressionless. Then, almost casually, he withdrew a knife.

Maximus's eyes fluttered shut, either from resignation or insensibleness. Without my even needing to concentrate, a whipcord of electricity shot from my hand.

’’You promised!’’

Vlad glanced at the glowing strand and his eyes went green.

’’Are you threatening me?’’

His voice was buttery smooth - and deadly. My gut twisted from a mixture of fear and resolve. He could burn me to death before I snapped this whip, but I wasn't about to back down.

’’I am if you're about to break your word.’’

My wrist was suddenly seized in an iron grip. Any other vampire would've been knocked backward from touching my right hand when it was fully charged, but Vlad absorbed the voltage like it was mere static electricity. Then he leaned down, brushing my hair back with his free hand.

The one that still held a knife.

’’I told you before - I dislike being called a liar.’’ Breath from his words fell like the softest of blows against my neck. ’’But more importantly, if I had decided to go back on my word, you wouldn't be able to stop me.’’

Just as blindingly fast, he was kneeling in front of Maximus, slicing through that razor wire with brutal efficiency. The cord of electricity I'd summoned curled up into itself before disappearing into my hand like a turtle seeking the shelter of its shell.

No, he'd proved that I couldn't stop him even if his pyrokinesis was out of the equation. At that moment, I felt like exactly what I was: a woman who was in way over her head with the creatures around her. All at once, loneliness overwhelmed me. I didn't belong in the vampire world, but thanks to my own oddities, I didn't fit into the human one, either.

I turned on my heel and left the room. I couldn't do anything about being an outcast in every society that existed, but I could at least let the terrified survivors know that help had arrived at last.


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