Twice Tempted Page 6

That was why I had to confront him later, no matter the outcome. The last thing I wanted to do was primp, but this was clearly a formal occasion. When I was done, my straight black hair hung in thick curls and my makeup was subtle, aside from dark crimson lipstick that contrasted great with the black dress and my winter-pale skin. All those years in carnival show business made me deft at sprucing myself up. It also made me an expert at concealing the scar that ran from my temple down to my fingers. A glossy black wave hung over that part of my face, with more draped on my right shoulder. I'd pulled the gloves up so only a few inches of skin on my upper arm showed evidence of the accident that had given me my unusual abilities.

Abilities Vlad had stunted when he coated me in his flame-repelling aura to protect me from the explosion Szilagyi detonated. Vlad's enemy thought he was taking me down with him, but I'd survived the inferno. Figures my survival had come at a price. Fate didn't let anyone off easily.

I shook my head to clear the past from it. Then, feeling anything but festive, I headed for the main floor.

Vlad was waiting at the bottom of the staircase. His black tuxedo should've been too severe with its lack of accent color, but instead, he looked like a sensual version of the Angel of Death. I couldn't stop my shiver as his gaze swept over me. Emerald briefly shone from his eyes, and when he took my hand, I felt his heat even through my gloves. Normal vampires felt room temperature, but not Vlad. The pyrokinesis that made him so feared among his kind also made him warmer than most humans when his abilities, temper, or desire flared to life.

’’You look ravishing.’’

His low growl let me know which emotion heated him now, and once again I shivered. My feelings for him might be rife with doubt, but my body wasn't conflicted. I'd moved closer before I realized it, my ni**les puckering as soon as his chest brushed mine. Then something lower in me clenched as his mouth grazed my neck, that thick stubble deliciously chafing my skin.

He inhaled, air landing like the softest of kisses on my pulse when he let it out. Then his hands closed over my shoulders, their heat wonderfully potent. A flick of his fingers pushed my hair aside, exposing my neck. I gasped as his mouth lowered and two hard, sharp fangs pressed against my skin. The dark rapture of his bite was second only to making love to him, and I'd missed partaking of both recently. Without thought, I gripped his head closer, almost shuddering in anticipation.

He muttered something unintelligible and drew away, his gaze still lit up with emerald.

’’Not now. Our guests are waiting.’’

I don't care! was my first thought, followed immediately by What is wrong with me? Yes, people were waiting for us, not to mention several guards lurked in this hallway. Even if none of the above were true, I had serious issues to work out with Vlad. Assuaging my libido should be the last thing on my to-do list.

’’Right,’’ I said, dropping my hands and stepping away. I didn't look at him as I brushed my hair back over my shoulder, covering as much of the zigzagging scar as I could. I wasn't ashamed, but the inevitable pitying glances from people who saw it for the first time got old.

’’Leila.’’

The way he said my name made me jerk my head up. Vlad's eyes had changed back to burnished mahogany, the only green in them now the natural ring that encircled his irises.

’’Don't hide for anyone,’’ he stated, pushing my hair off my shoulder. ’’Only fools pity survivors their scars and you should never kowtow to fools.’’

Then he held out his hand, his own faded battle wounds crisscrossing his flesh like tiny pale stripes. ’’Come.’’

I took his hand, forcing back the emotion that constricted my heart with invisible bands. Then I began reciting songs in my head, masking the most dangerous thought before it reached him.

That's one of the reasons I love you. You bend for no one.

Unfortunately, that same trait might also tear us apart.

Chapter 3

As it turned out, I recognized some of our guests, though a lot of new faces were also present. Maximus sat at the dining table next to Shrapnel, Vlad's bald, beefy third-in-command. Next to him was Mencheres, the long-haired Egyptian vampire Vlad described as his honorary sire, a title I still didn't fully understand. The slender blonde next to Mencheres was his wife, Kira. Gretchen was there, too, seated farthest from the head and looking miffed about it. Everyone rose when Vlad and I entered, which made the whole scenario odder. I hadn't been late, so why was everybody at the table already? Weren't the host and hostess supposed to greet guests before they took their seats, not arrive last and have everyone stand at attention before them?

Vampires, I decided for the umpteenth time, had the weirdest way of doing things.

Vlad led me to my usual spot at the head of the table, which caused a few slanted glances among the guests that I didn't recognize. Once there, I stood at the empty chair to his right, uncertain. Did I sit now, or wait for a signal?

’’I am glad that you have come,’’ Vlad stated, the size of the room not diminishing the strong tenor of his voice. ’’I know some of you traveled a great distance to be here.’’

I expected more, maybe a thank-you to those faraway guests, but then he lowered himself into his chair. Before Vlad, I'd never guessed that the simple act of sitting could look regal and intimidating, yet he pulled it off every time.

Everybody else took their seats, so I did, too, wishing I'd been given an Undead Etiquette for Dummies manual. From the too-fluid way they moved, none of his guests were human. I was used to being around vamps in a casual setting - or a violent one - but this was my first formal event. If I screw anything up, it's on you, I thought to Vlad while affixing a pleasant smile on my face.


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