Twice Tempted Page 35

Chapter 19

After a pleasant couple hours where I caught up with Sandra and the others, I went back upstairs. There, I spent a not-so-pleasant couple hours with Gretchen and my dad, trying to explain that someone had planted the gas line bomb and that same person would've considered my family excellent bait if he - or she - realized I'd survived. My father, a retired lieutenant colonel, understood and seemed willing to forgive me. I wondered if Gretchen ever would.

At last, I went back to my room and took another shower. Once clean and redressed, I looked out my window at the darkening sky and tried not to wonder if Vlad was waking up. Out of all the people who were angry at me, he had the most right to be. Despite how coldly he'd ended our relationship and how hard it was to be near him, I still owed him an apology for believing that he'd been behind the carnival bomb. The next time I saw him, I'd pay up on that debt.

Until then, I distracted myself by wondering how Maximus was doing. I wasn't about to ask the staff, and asking Vlad might make him blow his lighter fluid. However, I had another way to see if Maximus had recovered.

I ran my right hand over my skin, finding the essence trail Maximus had left. Then I focused on it until the Blue Room vanished and complete darkness surrounded me. For a second, I was confused. Then I saw a green glow and heard Vlad's voice.

’’ - wasn't my preference. I'd rather kill you.’’

A heavy sigh. ’’Then why don't you?’’

Maximus's voice. I still couldn't see him, but he sounded sane, to my vast relief. Where were they that the only light came from Vlad's eyes?

’’Leila.’’ My name hung in the stygian air. Vlad let out a short laugh. ’’She refused to tell me where she was until I swore an oath not to torture or kill you.’’

Maximus laughed, too, and it sounded equally humorless. ’’She left a few things out, like eternal imprisonment.’’

’’She's young,’’ Vlad said, ’’and it may not be eternal. In a century or two, I might get over my anger and let you out.’’

Something clanked together, and then another flash of green filled the blackness. Maximus's eyes, illuminating enough for me to see that his face was pressed against thick metal bars.

’’She'll be long dead by then,’’ he rasped.

Vlad's gaze gleamed brighter. ’’Will she?’’

Now I knew where the two of them were, and rage shot through me. Maximus wasn't back at Mencheres's house. He was about a hundred feet below me in Vlad's underground dungeon!

’’Leila refused your offer to turn her into a vampire.’’ Maximus's tone hardened. ’’She's done with you, remember?’’

Vlad's laughter rolled out, low yet relentless, like thunder during a spring storm. ’’If you believed that, you wouldn't have lied to me about her being alive. You must have guessed that I was letting her leave me, but I wasn't letting her go. That's why you kept her from contacting me by convincing her that I might be the one behind the bomb.’’

’’You could have been,’’ Maximus growled.

Vlad's hands flashed out, closing over Maximus's. Only those thick rods of metal separated their faces as he leaned in.

’’That, you must want to believe,’’ he said softly. ’’Otherwise, you betrayed me for nothing.’’

Their matching glowing gazes showed every nuance of their flinty expressions. Finally, Maximus's mouth curled and he yanked his hands out from under Vlad's.

’’Oh, I wouldn't say it was for nothing.’’

My jaw dropped. His insinuation was clear, as Vlad's hands bursting into flames proved. Part of me was offended by the false intimation while the other cheered Maximus for scoring a hit despite his helpless circumstances.

Which I was going to do something about. Locking him away in a dungeon counted as torture in my book, especially since Vlad intended Maximus to stay there a century or two.

Vlad barked out something in reply, but the room swam around me, blackness giving way to an avalanche of blue as I lost the link. After I was reoriented, I felt dizzy and didn't need a mirror to know what the warmth trickling from my nose was. Fury made that irrelevant. Vlad might think he'd pulled one over on me, but I was about to show him otherwise.

I swiped the blood off my upper lip and stormed out of my room, practically running down the stairs to the interior garden and the staircase behind it. Those steps I took two at a time, making a left turn at the tunnel instead of my usual right. My footsteps echoed in the enclosed space, but I slowed down the last twenty yards. I had a plan to get past the guards, and running up to them wouldn't help.

The hallway curved and narrowed, dead-ending with two vampires in front of an iron door a foot thick.

’’I'm sorry, Miss Dalton, you can't be here,’’ the sandy-haired one said. Then he frowned. ’’You're bleeding.’’

I gave him my best helpless-female smile, hoping he'd mistake the rage wafting off me for something else.

’’I know, that's why you have to let me through. I need Vlad to heal me. It might be serious.’’

The guards exchanged a wary glance. ’’He didn't authorize you to come down here,’’ the beefy, redheaded guard stated. ’’However, I would be glad to give you my blood - ’’

’’Wouldn't that make him angry?’’ I interrupted, widening my eyes. ’’If I drank your blood when he was so close by?’’

The guards exchanged an even warier look while inwardly, I smiled. That's right. Think about how territorial you vampires are and how I only drank Vlad's blood when I lived here before. For further effect, I swayed, and though the sandy-haired guard steadied me, as soon as I straightened, he snatched his hands away while looking around guiltily.

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