Twice Tempted Page 53

’’After your breakup, I thought Vlad was still fixated on you because you ended things. Then he brought Mencheres to the boat even though seeking another Master's assistance in rescuing his people makes him appear weak. That's when I knew.’’

’’Knew what?’’

’’That he loved you,’’ Maximus said in the same tone most people used to deliver terrible news.

My mouth quirked. ’’Yeah, he told me. Even if he hadn't, proposing would've been a big clue.’’

Maximus made a harsh sound, releasing my hands to turn in a short circle. ’’You're romanticizing it, but you're trapped now. He didn't allow his first wife to leave him. Why do you think she jumped off that roof?’’

’’Because she thought he was dead and an army was on its way to drag her off to captivity.’’ Even Wikipedia knew that.

’’So she left her young son to face them?’’ Maximus asked, spinning back around. ’’I think not. He was Clara's world.’’

I said nothing, absorbing two facts I hadn't known before. First, Vlad had never told me his first wife's name, and history had forgotten it. But the other detail was more significant.

’’You knew her.’’

A bleak smile flitted across his lips. ’’I was one of the guards Clara brought with her to her new husband's home.’’

Vlad's words the day before rang in my mind. My actions horrified her, as they horrify you . . . It was more than an advancing army that made her throw herself from our roof. It was me . . .

Was Maximus right? Had Vlad's first wife killed herself because death was the only way she could escape him?

I took in a deep breath. ’’Whatever her reasons, I'm not her. I know Vlad's dark side and I can handle it.’’

Maximus sighed. ’’Can you? The scars on your wrists show that darkness broke you once before.’’

I stiffened. ’’If you think Vlad is such a horrible person, why have you stayed with him all these years?’’

His laugh sounded hollow.

’’You misunderstand. I love Vlad and I'd gladly die for him. But whenever he loves something, he ends up destroying it. He can't help it. It's just his nature.’’

Marty threw me a hard look. Clearly, he had the same concerns, but all he said was ’’Do what you came here to do.’’

I stared at Maximus as I punched in numbers on the keypad outside his cell. The dungeon might look medieval, but it had all the conveniences of a modern jail. The bars disappeared into the rock floor with a soft swish.

Maximus didn't move. ’’What is this?’’

’’My bride price,’’ I said coolly. ’’Vlad told me to name anything I wanted. I chose your freedom, as he knew I would.’’

Maximus still didn't move. I swept out my arm. ’’If you're waiting for a red carpet, I didn't include that.’’

Very slowly, he walked out of his cell, looking around as though expecting silver knives to rain down on him any moment. Objective accomplished, I turned on my heel and walked away.

’’Since I probably won't see you again, thanks for saving my life. We're even now, so good luck with the rest of yours.’’

’’Wait.’’

Cool fingers sank into my shoulder. I whirled, anger at his grim predictions making me whip my right glove off.

’’Let go of me or I'll use this.’’

Maximus dropped his hand, a mixture of frustration and empathy skipping over his features. ’’Leila, had I known before how Vlad truly felt about you, I wouldn't have - ’’

’’Convinced me he might be behind the bomb? Lied to him about me being alive? Or kept trying to sleep with me?’’

’’All of it,’’ he replied evenly. ’’But you still need to be wary. You don't know him as well as I do.’’

He's right, you don't, my hateful inner voice whispered.

I turned away again. Whether I was mad at Vlad or not, I wasn't going to listen to any more disparagements about him.

’’He's letting you walk out of here, Maximus. Bet you didn't see that coming, so maybe you're the one who doesn't know him as well as you think.’’

Chapter 31

With all the wedding guests last night, the house should have been bulging with people. Instead, everything looked normal, which was a relief to me. I wasn't up to making small talk with several hundred strangers. Contrary to popular opinion, I did know what I could and couldn't handle. Even though I was a human surrounded by vampires who had napped for longer than I was alive, I was still the best judge of me.

’’Thanks, Marty,’’ I said when we reached the foot of the main staircase. ’’I'm going back to my room now.’’

’’Straight there?’’ he asked, his gaze narrowing.

I hoped he didn't smell the lie when I said, ’’Of course.’’

Another suspicious look was my response, but he left.

As I hurried up the grand staircase, the song ’’Ice Ice Baby’’ blared away in my mind. Let Vlad try to force his way past that to hear my real intentions. Still, I didn't have much time. Soon Vlad would realize I'd ended my farewell visit with Maximus twenty minutes early.

I went straight to the fourth floor, but instead of heading to my new bedroom, I chose a hallway I'd never entered before. Somewhere on this level, the traitor had to have left an essence trail. Then I pulled my right glove off and trailed my bare hand over the first doorknob I passed.

Images of Oscar flooded my mind. Aside from gleaning that the albino vampire was usually tired when he entered his room, nothing notable stuck out. I released the handle, doing a quick inventory on myself. No dizziness or nosebleeds, good. My power hadn't hit the danger zone, so on to the next one.


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