Twice Tempted Page 41

’’You're wrong,’’ I whispered. ’’I do love the real you.’’

If Vlad responded, I didn't hear it. A surge of dizziness followed by a blinding pain tore across my mind, and then I felt nothing at all.

Chapter 23

Ever been awake enough to hear snippets of what was going on around you, but too groggy to react to any of it? For what seemed like the next several hours, I remained in that strange, semiconscious state, hearing fragments of Gretchen's voice, my father's, Vlad's, and even Marty's. At one point, they got into a shouting match, but right when things became intelligible, I fell into oblivion again.

When I climbed back out, I was acutely aware of two things: the scent of blood and the sound of drums. Between the smell and the annoying buh-boom, buh-booms, there was no way I could sleep, which sucked because I was really tired. With great reluctance, I opened my eyes, seeing a bright, fuzzy whiteness with silver branches above me.

’’Stop . . . drumming,’’ I rasped.

Something dark filled my vision. It took several blinks before I realized it was Vlad's face. His stubble was thicker and his hair clumpy and stiff in places. I'd seen that same unkempt look on people after a night drinking, but it surprised me to see Vlad looking like he'd been on the losing end of a bout with tequila. And - sniff - HE was the one who smelled like blood? What had happened?

’’Dad, Leila's awake!’’

Gretchen's excited yell sliced through the air. The drums got louder, too, their beats overlapping as if more people had joined the band. I groaned, closing my eyes. Someone, please, make them stop!

’’Both of you, leave,’’ Vlad stated. ’’This is too much for her.’’

’’She's my daughter, you leave,’’ my father hollered.

That made me open my eyes. Hugh Dalton rarely raised his voice, and didn't anyone care that the damn band sounded like it had traded regular drums for steel ones?

’’Go. Now,’’ Vlad bit out, his eyes flashing green.

I would've argued about him using mind control on my family, except three more things became apparent. What I'd first thought were silver branches were tall IV poles, I was wearing new rubber gloves, and once my dad and Gretchen wordlessly left the room, the only drumming I heard came from inside my chest.

’’What's going on?’’ I asked, wincing at how my voice boomed. ’’And why do you look like you rolled in the floor of a slaughterhouse?’’ I added, shocked that my attempt at whispering also came out so loud.

Vlad stared at me, his expression changing from the intractable one he'd leveled at my family to something I could only describe as affectionate rage.

’’I'm covered in blood because you hemorrhaged to death in my arms and I haven't changed my clothes yet.’’

My mouth fell open. ’’I died?’’ I yelled.

The briefest smile flitted across his face. ’’You're not yelling. You've had so much of my blood that your senses are hyper-elevated. That's why you thought your heartbeat was a drum, and why your family's heartbeats sounded like more drums.’’

I glanced at the IV poles again. A bag with clear liquid hung from one of them, but the other had thick red liquid.

’’You're still giving me your blood?’’ I asked/yelled.

’’You only now came out of a coma’’ was his even reply.

I'd died and been in a coma? Could this day get any worse?

’’How long?’’ I asked, lowering my voice as much as possible.

He sat back in his chair, tapping the armrest while his gaze went from burnished copper to bright emerald.

’’In a coma? Three days. Dead? Six minutes, forty seconds.’’

I didn't need super senses to hear the leashed fury in his voice, or to guess the reason behind it.

’’Vlad - ’’

’’Don't.’’

The single word reverberated in what I now realized looked like a very messy hospital room. A defibrillator with char marks was in the corner, hypodermic needles were strewn on the counter, and a darkened EKG machine was on its side by the door.

’’The next time you're tempted to overuse your powers, remember this,’’ he went on in that same steely tone. ’’I will bring you back by any means necessary, so if you value your humanity, don't do that again.’’

Then he rose, giving me a glimpse of the rest of his blood-smeared, wrinkled, and decidedly smelly outfit before leaning down and caressing my cheek.

’’As for why you did it,’’ he said, voice lower and throatier, ’’we'll discuss that once you've recovered. Another day of blood and bed rest should suffice. Now, I have business to attend to and you have another visitor.’’

Marty appeared in the doorway, his expression both relieved and sheepish.

’’Hey, kid.’’

Vlad dropped his hand, leaving without another word. I wanted him to stay, but he probably wanted to shower and change clothes, not that I could blame him. Besides, I had someone to hug . . . and demand an explanation from.

’’Come here, Marty,’’ I said, and hoped it was my supersonic hearing that made it sound like I hollered it at him.

A lump rose in my throat as he approached. I'd never thought to see his stocky, four-foot frame or bushy black hair again, and when he used Vlad's chair so he could lean over and hug me, I couldn't stop a flow of tears.

’’Missed you, kid,’’ he murmured, swiping at my wet cheek. ’’And could you quit with the near-death experiences?’’

’’You should talk,’’ I retorted, sniffing. ’’What happened? I saw the trailer. No one could have survived that.’’


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