Twice Tempted Page 32

’’Where are we going?’’ Please don't say back to your castle, please don't say back to your castle . . .

’’Fine.’’ Glints of emerald appeared in his burnished copper eyes. ’’I won't say it.’’

For the second time in ten minutes, the word shit flew out of my mouth. Vlad only chuckled, the sound as enticing and merciless as the man himself.

Mencheres and his wife, Kira, lived near Chicago, which explained how quickly he'd rendezvoused with Vlad. We stopped by his house first, which relieved me for several reasons. For one, several of Mencheres's staff immediately went to work on Maximus. Two, I got to shower and change out of the oversized wetsuit Hannibal had dressed me in. Kira kindly let me borrow one of her outfits, and judging from the grandeur of their home, she'd be in no hurry to get it back.

I was barely done getting dressed when it was time to leave. Gorgon flew Vlad and me to a nearby private airport where Vlad's jet was fueled and waiting. Maximus . . . well, Vlad was keeping his word, but he obviously hadn't forgiven him. I didn't even get a chance to say good-bye, but insisting on that would only make matters worse. I hadn't meant to cause the rift between them, but I was the reason for it nonetheless.

It was only when we boarded Vlad's sleek Learjet that the full weight of my circumstances hit me. For the second time in my life, I was being hustled to Vlad's home because some unknown person was trying to use me or kill me, in whatever order proved most opportune. And Vlad was only protecting me because it was in his best interest. Talk about deja vu.

When he sat down and held out his hand as he had on my first trip to Romania, something inside me snapped.

’’No.’’

His brow rose. ’’You'd rather take down the plane if you accidentally short-circuit the electrical system? Don't be childish, you know it's this or gloves and we don't have any.’’

’’I don't care.’’

To my horror, tears sprang to my eyes, but I'd used up all my strength freeing myself and then killing my captors, so I didn't have anything left to fight them.

’’In the past month, I've been rejected, blown up, shot at, drugged, and kidnapped, but I'd rather go through all of that again than hold your hand while acting like . . . like everything that happened between us doesn't matter.’’ My voice cracked. ’’Maybe it doesn't to you, but even being around you hurts and I can't pretend that touching you won't be a thousand times worse.’’

As I swiped at those treacherous tears, I braced for mockery. Or another coolly practical admonition about how my condition necessitated this action, but Vlad said nothing. He stared at me, his expression slowly changing from cynical detachment to an almost pathological intentness.

’’I don't want to touch you, either.’’

The words hit me like a slap, but before I could respond, he went on.

’’No one feels like you do, so every brush of your skin is a cruel reminder of what I've lost. I can barely stand the sight of you because you're more beautiful than I've allowed myself to remember, and when I cut that wire off Maximus and smelled you all over him, I wanted to kill him more than I've wanted to kill anyone in my life, yet I couldn't because of my promise to you.’’

His voice thickened. ’’Now sit down and take my hand, Leila. The pilots are waiting for my command to leave.’’

Slow tears continued to trickle down my cheeks, but for a different reason this time.

’’You care.’’

The words were whispered with a despairing sort of wonder. He wasn't willing to rescind his loveless vow, clearly, but I was wrong about the apathy I'd thought he felt. That he admitted all the above was surprising enough;the fact he'd done it within earshot of his pilots was no less than shocking.

Vlad grunted. ’’Don't worry. I intend to kill them as soon as we land.’’

I laughed, something I wouldn't have thought possible five minutes ago. ’’No you won't.’’

’’I will if they repeat any of this.’’

That I believed, and though it only highlighted all the reasons why I should flee from this lethal, arrogant, maddeningly complex man, I sat down and took his hand. I could pretend I didn't have a choice, but that would be a lie. He could send one of the pilots to get gloves. Hell, he could've sent someone to do that when we were back at Mencheres's. For that matter, I could've brought the rubberized body suit my kidnappers had clothed me in;it's not like flying complications were a surprise to me. But neither of us had done those things. Deep down, we both must have wanted this no matter how much it hurt.

His hand tightened around mine and currents sparked into him as though they'd missed him, too. I met his gaze and something else flared between us, not tangible like the electricity coursing from my flesh into his, but just as real. I barely noticed him directing the pilots to take off, and the rumbling of the engines couldn't compare with my heartbeat when he brushed my hair back to stroke my face.

’’You should never have left me.’’

I reached out as well, tracing my fingers over the stubble on his jaw before moving higher to the smoothness of his cheekbone. ’’You shouldn't have made me.’’

His lips curled into something that wasn't quite a smile. ’’You don't really want me to love you, Leila.’’

I let out a soft scoff. ’’Is that what you tell yourself?’’

’’It's what I know,’’ he said, a touch of anger coloring his tone.

’’You remember the dream I kept having?’’ I whispered. ’’The one with the waterfall of fire? I finally figured out whose voice kept warning me to leave. It was mine, and you're the flames I couldn't hold on to no matter how hard I tried. That's why I had to leave, Vlad. If I'd stayed, your refusal to even consider loving me would've ended up destroying me.’’


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