Twice Tempted Page 66

Sandra said the last part like she was repeating a set of instructions. No doubt she was, and they'd been given to her under the same mind-controlling circumstances she was in now.

’’Get to the bookstore,’’ Vlad said without looking away from Sandra. One of his guards bowed smartly and then left.

’’You've never met her, but did he tell you her name?’’

More of that hair-raising energy rolled out of Vlad, until I was rubbing my arms to chase the tingling sensations away. Was this what Marty meant when he told me vampires could measure each others'strength by feeling their auras? If so, then Vlad's had Badass: Do Not Engage written all over it.

’’I don't think I'm supposed to know it.’’ Sandra sounded bemused. ’’But once, Shrapnel called her Cynthiana.’’

Vlad's features hardened as though his face had been transformed into stone. Clearly he recognized the name. It sounded familiar to me, too, but I couldn't place where I'd heard it. Shrapnel closed his eyes, his expression showing more pain than when Vlad rammed a long wooden pole through his torso. Despite everything, Shrapnel still loved her, and his worst fear was now realized because she'd just landed herself at the top of Vlad's most wanted list.

My gaze swung back to Vlad as memory clicked. ’’Cynthiana. Isn't that the name of the woman you dated before me?’’

’’It is,’’ Vlad said, still staring at Shrapnel.

I wracked my brain to recall what else Maximus had said. She'd been with Vlad for a ridiculously long time - that I remembered - and when he dumped her, she did something. What was it? Right, she dated one of his friends trying to make him jealous. Oldest trick in the book, but it hadn't worked . . .

And that friend had been Shrapnel. I goggled at him.

’’Did Cynthiana think if I were dead, she'd have another chance at Vlad? If so, why would you go along with that? You love her;I felt it when I linked to you.’’

Shrapnel said nothing. His silence was further proof of his feelings, but if she wasn't motivated by jealousy, why would Cynthiana risk her own life by repeatedly trying to end mine?

Whatever her reasons, she'd murdered a bunch of innocent people before her linking booby trap had finally killed me - temporarily. Dawn's face flashed in my mind. She hadn't deserved to die before she could find her way in life. Neither had anyone else at the carnival, and Vlad's guards hadn't deserved getting blown up because Shrapnel was making a last-ditch effort to cover his tracks. Finally, I hadn't deserved any of the crap I'd endured because of Cynthiana's murderous intentions.

’’You can go, Sandra,’’ Vlad said, his eyes darkening back to their normal copper color. ’’Your part in this is forgiven.’’

Released from his gaze, she blinked, then said something very fast in Romanian.

’’Of course this is still your home,’’ Vlad replied impatiently. Then he waved a dismissive hand. ’’Go.’’

A bearded guard escorted Sandra out. I was glad to see her leave. She'd done nothing to warrant being here, unlike the vampire suspended on the tall wooden pole.

Vlad stared at Shrapnel. For an instant, a tornado of rage, frustration, and regret assaulted my emotions. Then it was as if a wall slammed down, cutting off everything except my own angry feelings. Even the swirling energy coming from Vlad dissipated.

’’You know what happens now,’’ he said, sounding utterly dispassionate.

I did, too. Bring it on! a vengeful part of me snarled.

Then I remembered the grisly machines in the next cavern. Vlad would show no pity in order to discover where Cynthiana was, but if I could link to the brunette vampire, I could spare Shrapnel some of that. He deserved to die for what he'd done, yet if my powers had hung on through my transformation, I could make it a quicker, less painful death. If I didn't at least try, wasn't I as heartless as the bitch who'd cold-bloodedly murdered several people in her attempts to kill me?

’’Let's try something else first.’’

Only Vlad's eyes moved as he glanced at me. ’’He's come too far to be cajoled into giving her up now.’’

Shrapnel bared his teeth. Not a smile. One predator's warning to another. Then he said something in a language that sounded like Romanian, but more guttural. Vlad grunted.

’’I have no doubt you'll make me work for it, my friend.’’ Then to me he said simply, ’’Leave. You won't want to see this.’’

That, I had no doubt, but I wasn't finished.

’’He's tough as nails, so you can do your worst for weeks . . . or let me do my best in minutes.’’

Vlad glanced at my hands with a hard little smile.

’’It's very likely your abilities won't work so soon after your transformation, if they return at all.’’

’’I'm still filled with voltage. The rest has to be there, too.’’

So saying, I bent and touched the ground with my right hand. Nothing. After a few seconds, a sound escaped Shrapnel;half sigh, half laugh. Even though he knew it meant his torture, he was glad.

My mouth thinned as I touched the ground again. Still nothing but cold, uneven stone. I did it a third time, yet despite how essence-soaked these rocks must be, I saw nothing.

’’Leila.’’ Vlad sounded almost weary. ’’You can't stop this.’’

He didn't realize it, but those words only fueled my determination. All my life, I'd been told, ’’You can't.’’ First it was ’’You can't compete at an Olympic level,’’ yet I won a shot at making the gymnastics team. Then after all the nerve damage from the accident, it was ’’You can't walk again,’’ but not only did I walk, I joined the circus as an acrobat. Then it was ’’You can't touch anyone,’’ but I met Marty, a vampire who became my work partner and best friend. Then later, it was ’’You can't ask me to love you,’’ but now I was Mrs. Vlad Dracul, thank you very much.


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