Twice Tempted Page 34

It was just after ten a.m., Romanian time, but convert that to Greenwich Vampire Time and it was practically the middle of the night. Therefore, I made no attempt to talk to Vlad. I might have slept on the flight over, but he could've been awake the whole time making sure my hand didn't short-circuit the jet. Besides, I wasn't sure what I was going to say.

I showered and changed into an outfit I selected from the packed wardrobe, not surprised to find it was my size. Vlad's house was always stocked with all the amenities. Then I went down to the first floor, passing by several magnificent rooms in search of one on the farthest eastern corner.

Once inside the kitchen, I was glad to see a familiar face.

’’Hi, Isha,’’ I greeted the rotund, gray-haired woman who was one of the house's several cooks. Vlad's guards were vampires and so was his staff, but he made sure that the human blood donors who lived here ate like kings. So did his guests. I could've ordered room service, but I didn't want to put on airs.

Isha stopped chopping. ’’Miss Dalton,’’ she replied in her heavy Romanian accent. ’’How may I assist you?’’

I blinked. It had been ’’Leila’’ before, and was it my imagination, or was she politely glaring at me?

’’Don't mind me. I just came to grab some fruit and cheese.’’

Isha blocked the front of the huge refrigerator before I made it two steps into the kitchen.

’’Miss Dalton, please indicate where you would like your breakfast served, and I will be happy to have it sent there.’’

Now I stared at her in disbelief. I couldn't count all the times I'd helped myself when I lived here, usually while having a pleasant chat with Isha or one of the other chefs.

’’It's no trouble, I'll get it myself,’’ I tried again.

Isha's gaze narrowed even as she smiled, crinkling lines that showed she'd been in her sixties when she was changed.

’’Nonsense, it will be my pleasure. Shall I send a plate to your bedroom, or to the second-floor lounge?’’

Her tone couldn't have been more civil. Same with her words, and still, I felt like I'd been reprimanded.

’’The lounge is fine. Ah, thank you, Ms. . . .’’ Crap, I didn't know her last name. ’’Call me Isha, dear!’’ she'd said when we met, and we'd been on a first-name basis ever since.

She turned away without another word, going back to her cutting board. Faster than a machine, she julienned a pile of vegetables, the morning light glinting off her knife.

I left, but decided to take the long way back to my room. There was something I wanted to test first.

As I wandered around downstairs, I made it a point to greet every person I recognized. They were all impeccably polite, but people I'd once counted as friends now made Stepford Wives seem warmer by comparison. If I had undead senses, I'd bet the scent of disapproval would've clogged up my nostrils.

No great stretch to figure out why. Guess I'd done the unforgivable by breaking up with their Master. Even if they'd overheard my reasons, obviously they thought I should've been grateful to accept whatever crumbs of affection Vlad offered me.

Now I knew how a pinball in a machine felt - everything I touched seemed to bounce me away as fast as it could. His staff's coldness shouldn't bother me, but it did. My stomach growled, reminding me I hadn't eaten in over a day, but instead of going to the second floor, I went to the small stairway behind the interior garden. Then I followed it to an enclosed stone hallway and opened the second door past the chapel.

The gymnasium. I'd spent most of my childhood in one of these, so the pulleys, mats, weights, trampoline, and uneven bars meant more than exercise. They were time machines transporting me to a carefree past before I touched that downed power line. I went to the trampoline and started a series of flips, but they reminded me too much of my act with Marty. I jumped off and went to a mat, fighting a surge of grief.

There, I began to do the routine I'd perfected back when I was thirteen and had a shot at making the Olympic gymnastics team. My body wasn't as conditioned nor was I wearing the right clothes, but I did the entire set of floor exercises anyway. Then another one, and another. Soon my jeans and T-shirt were sweaty, but I didn't stop. Some days, if I pushed myself hard enough, I could almost hear my mother's voice.

Who's my little champion? I'm so proud of you, sweetheart . . .

’’Leila!’’

The feminine voice didn't come from my imagination. It came from a strawberry blonde across the room.

’’Everyone, Leila's back!’’ Sandra called down the hallway. Then she rushed forward with a grin. ’’Why didn't you tell us?’’

Her genuine happiness was like a balm on a stinging burn. If it wouldn't have electrocuted her to death, I might have hugged her for an hour.

’’I, ah . . .’’ - was afraid I'd get yelled at or rejected again - ’’wasn't sure if you'd be awake,’’ I finished lamely.

Sandra laughed. ’’I wasn't an hour ago, but that would have been fine. Why are you back? Did you and Vlad - ’’

’’There she is!’’ Joe called, cutting off Sandra's question. In no time at all, I found myself saying hi to old friends and meeting the new live-in donors for the a.m. shift of the house's feeding schedule.

’’Come, you must tell us everything,’’ Sandra commanded. Then she grinned. ’’I didn't really want to exercise anyway.’’

I couldn't tell her everything, but I could give her some details. Besides, there was a kitchen down here, too, and unlike the one upstairs, it didn't have any vampires who held a grudge against me in it.


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