Twice Tempted Page 5

The thought was depressing, but I wasn't going to sit around brooding. Instead, I'd engage in the most time-tested and venerable of feminine distraction techniques.

I sprinted upstairs to my sister's room. ’’Wake up, Gretchen!’’ I called through the door. ’’We're going shopping.’’

Chapter 2

’’This is the only thing that hasn't sucked so far about Romania,’’ my sister stated as she unloaded a stack of clothes in front of the cashier.

I closed my eyes, not knowing who to apologize to first: the cashier for Gretchen's remark about her country, or Maximus, who now had to add more bags to the half dozen he already carried. This is what happened when you gave my sister someone else's credit card. Vlad had a standing rule that any purchases for his guests went on his card.

He might reconsider that when he got the bill. My attempts to encourage thriftiness hadn't worked, either. They'd only annoyed Gretchen to the point that she quit trying things on before she purchased them.

’’I'm tired. We should go back,’’ I said, changing tactics.

Gretchen's blue gaze narrowed. ’’No way. I've been cooped up in your boyfriend's castle for weeks even though his vamp enemy has to be dead or Marty and Dad wouldn't have gotten to leave.’’

I didn't point out that our father and my best friend, Marty, were less prone to recklessness. The odds were slim, but if Vlad's nemesis Szilagyi had survived, then Gretchen was safer here. She couldn't keep a low profile if her life depended on it, as she'd proved. I glanced at the cashier, forced a smile, and used Gretchen's sleeve to tug her toward me.

’’No talking about you-know-what in public,’’ I hissed.

’’Why?’’ she shot back at the same volume. ’’Half the people in this town know about vampires since Vlad owns it and he uses some of them as blood snacks. As for the rest, Maximus can mesmerize them into forgetting what they didn't already know.’’

My eyes bugged as I glanced at the cashier. She held up a hand to the blond vampire and said something in Romanian.

’’Don't worry, she's loyal to Vlad,’’ he summarized for me. Then his stormy gray gaze landed on Gretchen. ’’You need to show more discretion or the next person I mesmerize will be you.’’

’’You wouldn't,’’ she huffed.

Maximus straightened to his full six feet, six inches, as if his thickly muscled frame wasn't impressive enough. ’’I've done far worse to protect my prince.’’

I still wanted to thump Gretchen, but no one - even a friend like Maximus - got away with scaring my little sister.

’’She gets it,’’ I said coolly. ’’And if she doesn't, I'll be the one who deals with her.’’

Maximus glanced at Gretchen, gave a barely perceptible shake of his head, and then bent low to me.

’’As you wish.’’

My cheeks warmed. Since I was Vlad's girlfriend, the vampires in his line bowed to me as they did to him, much to my dismay. ’’Please stop, I hate that.’’

He straightened, the barest grin tugging at his mouth. ’’Yes, I remember.’’

When his gaze met mine, for a split second, I saw the man who'd pounced on the chance to date me when I first arrived at Vlad's as a reluctant refugee. Then that familiar veil dropped over Maximus's eyes, and my politely formal bodyguard was back.

’’You have another hour, if you wish to continue shopping. Then we need to return to the house.’’

’’Why?’’ I asked, beating Gretchen to it.

’’Because you need to be ready for Vlad's dinner guests. You don't want to be late to dine.’’

Gretchen was faster this time. ’’Dinner guests? Who? Why weren't we told before?’’

’’You weren't told because your attendance is optional,’’ Maximus answered. Then he smiled faintly at me. ’’I waited to tell you because you seemed to have enough on your mind.’’

Embarrassment and resignation mingled inside me. Did everyone know Vlad and I were having problems? Of course they did, I answered my own question. With the hearing abilities of the undead, they probably also knew that Vlad and I hadn't had se* in a week because I'd had my period.

I sighed. ’’Looks like I need to buy something after all.’’ I hadn't yet despite visiting several stores, not wanting to add to the crushing bill Gretchen had run up.

Something I couldn't name flickered across Maximus's face. ’’It's not necessary. Vlad has your dress waiting in your room.’’

First leaving without telling me where he was going. Then unexpected dinner guests, and now a dress picked out for me. My eyes narrowed. What was he up to?

’’You're not going to even give me a hint about what's going on, are you?’’ I asked Maximus.

His smile was a little too tight. ’’As I said, I've done far worse to protect my prince.’’

One look at the dress told me that dinner wouldn't consist of Vlad catching up with some old buddies who'd dropped by. It was a black velvet sheath that had a small train in the back and a low neckline in front that looked like it was encrusted with tiny black jewels. Black heels and similarly encrusted elbow-length black gloves - lined with current-repelling rubber, of course - completed the seductively extravagant ensemble. I tried it on, not surprised that it fit like it had been sewn with my exact measurements in mind. It even managed to give me cle**age - a rare achievement with my small br**sts.

It was the nicest dress I'd ever worn, but I'd exchange it and every other expensive gift Vlad had given me to close the growing gap between us. I stroked the soft fabric, wishing my abilities were back so I'd know if this was his way of making amends for his recent coolness, or simply ensuring that I looked good enough to be on his arm tonight. Either was a possibility with Vlad.

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