Twice Tempted Page 67

I glared at the gray stone floor. No way would a hunk of rock defeat me after everything I'd been through.

I didn't touch it again - I raked my hand over it so hard that I cut it on the tiny edges in the stone. Then I concentrated until I didn't hear Vlad's continued admonitions to stop or Shrapnel's mocking laugh.

There. No louder than a whisper, far more fleeting than a glimpse, but something was there, dammit! I concentrated until all my being was focused on the stone beneath my hand, and then I saw it. Gloriously gruesome images of a charbroiled vampire thudding to the floor where I touched, his mouth open in a final, silent scream.

I rose, only now noticing that Vlad knelt next to me, giving me a look of exasperation as he drew my hand away.

’’Leila, enough - ’’

Whatever he saw on my face made him stop speaking. Very slowly, he let me go. Then he rose while the oddest mixture of pride and irritation peppered my emotions.

’’Good news is, you get out of torture,’’ I told Shrapnel. ’’Bad news is, I'm going after your girlfriend, and now her spell doesn't matter because I'm already dead.’’

Chapter 39

I wanted to start trying to link to Cynthiana immediately, but Vlad said dawn was almost here. I took his word for it since I had no idea what time it was. Besides, Cynthiana didn't know the tables had turned. Now she was the one who'd be relentlessly stalked, and once the sun set tonight, the hunt was on.

We left the lower level and headed for the secured room on the fourth floor. I'd been right that most new vampires were housed underground near the dungeon, but Vlad had the equivalent of a presidential suite for vampires he wanted to show special favor to. Yet as soon as we were back on the main level of the house, a plethora of noises assaulted me.

The clamor of footsteps above and below. Numerous metallic clangs in the kitchen as pots and pans were used to make breakfast. Voices from people or electronic devices, and underneath it all, the rhythmic throb of multiple heartbeats.

My stomach clenched and little daggers poked me in the lip. Almost there, I thought in relief as we passed the indoor garden and headed toward the grand staircase. All I had to do was keep from going blood berserk for a few more minutes.

’’Leila, thank God!’’

My sister's voice made me groan out loud. Gretchen ran down the stairs, looking both relieved and mad.

’’His goons said you were too injured for us to see you, which is a lie since you look fine - ’’

Another sound escaped my throat that made her stop in mid-sentence. ’’Did you just growl at me?’’ she asked in disbelief.

Vlad glanced at me and then his hands closed around my arms. ’’Stay back,’’ he told Gretchen sternly.

Too late. Pain ripped through me, flipping a switch in my brain that made me incapable of seeing the little sister I loved. Instead, I only saw the cure for my agony inside a flesh package that was easy to tear.

The next few moments were a blur of struggling followed by relief as that impossibly delicious nectar slid down my throat, extinguishing the burn that made fire seem blissful by comparison. After I swallowed every drop, I became aware of a scream consisting of the same panicked question.

’’What is wrong with her, what is wrong with her, WHAT IS WRONG WITH HER?’’

’’Nothing.’’

Vlad's voice. Hearing it cleared away the lingering insanity, as did feeling his calmness through the fractured layers of my emotions. He was behind me, his arms unbreakable bands that kept me from hurting her or anyone else. I sagged in relief against him, the mindless haze finally leaving my vision.

Gretchen stood as if frozen on the bottom step of the staircase, eyes wide and expression so stricken I worried that she might faint.

’’It's okay,’’ I said. My voice was hoarser, but at least it wasn't that animalistic growl anymore.

’’It's okay?’’ she repeated. ’’How is it okay when you just tried to kill me?’’

I had no response to that. Gretchen sat down suddenly, as if she'd been yanked, and then she buried her head in her hands.

’’I get it now. He had to change you because you were too far gone to heal. That's why they wouldn't let us see you.’’

Unlike her previous screech, her voice was now almost a whisper. Pangs of a different kind made my insides twist. I hadn't even gotten the chance to tell her this was something I intended to do in the future. Now she found out when I tried to eat her.

’’I understand if . . . if you can't deal with this,’’ I began.

Her head snapped up, blue gaze bright.

’’You don't get it. You saved me, but I couldn't save you.’’ Her voice broke and tears spilled from her eyes. ’’I'm so sorry.’’

Tears welled in my own gaze. She'd soldiered on through our mother's death, my nightmarish abilities, my suicide attempt, and my leaving when I thought cutting ties with my family was the kindest thing I could do. She had her own flaws, but I should've known not even this would prove too much for her.

’’Don't. Without you dragging me away from the car before it exploded, I really would've died.’’

At that, Vlad let me go. ’’You pulled Leila out of the vehicle?’’

Gretchen tensed at his curt tune. ’’After she cut my seat belt off, yeah. She was in bad shape and I was afraid moving her would make it worse, but it was gonna blow.’’

’’You did great,’’ I told her, thinking, Ease up! before remembering he could no longer hear it.

’’Hold her,’’ Vlad stated, nodding at me.

’’What?’’ I gasped.

That was all I got out before two guards I hadn't noticed seized me, giving me faintly apologetic looks as they held me immobile between them.


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