Twice Tempted Page 73

I walked through the meadow, adding flowers to the growing pile in my basket. Vlad's staff would be happy to add to the garden outside my room, but I was careful not to have all the spell's ingredients in one place. Just in case someone recognized the significance of these particular flowers.

The beautiful spring day did nothing to improve my foul mood. It had only been six months since the last spell, yet Vlad was already acting distant again. I yanked out a handful of lilacs, damaging them in my frustration. Any other man would be madly, irrevocably in love with me, but after seven spells, I could barely keep Vlad from leaving me.

The problem, of course, was the same reason why he was such a valuable protector. His power. It was why I'd worked so hard to gain his attention in the first place, and also why he was practically immune to my spells. I didn't dare use stronger magic on him. He might dismiss all the flowers as feminine fancy, but he'd notice ingredients for darker magic. What the Law Guardians would do to me would be nothing compared to his wrath if he found out I'd been using spells on him.

I grabbed another handful of lilacs, refusing to dwell on the repercussions of being caught. That wouldn't happen as long as I was careful, and besides, I had no choice. Most vampires had Masters to protect them. Others had enough strength to protect themselves. The rest of us - Masterless with only average power - were left to fend for ourselves. After my sire was murdered, lovers gave me the protection other vampires took for granted. When that wasn't enough, magic made up the difference. The day I became a vampire, I swore no matter the cost, I'd never be helpless again. I had my fill of that as a Scottish peasant living under English rule. I brushed off those memories to give a critical look at my basket's contents. Perhaps more mallow would make the spell last longer . . .

When I morphed back into my own mindset, I stared at the crumbled bits of dried flowers in my hand, torn between rage and incredulousness.

’’Do you know what these are?’’

He shrugged. ’’Lilacs, poppies, amaranth - ’’

’’Ingredients for a spell,’’ I cut him off. ’’Lilacs to prompt love, red poppy for true love, mallow for being overwhelmed with love, blue poppy for the unattainable made possible, amaranth for undying love . . . see where she was going with this?’’

’’I never loved her.’’

His voice vibrated with forcefulness. I smiled grimly.

’’Yes, and it ticked her off that you were too strong for her spell to fully work. Still, you stayed with her for the better part of three decades so her efforts weren't a total bust.’’ Vlad opened his mouth and . . . nothing. I'd never seen him speechless before, but finding out your free will had been messed with would be upsetting for anyone. Finding it out when you had his level of arrogance would be stunning.

’’See if you can find her’’ was what he bit out. I wouldn't want to be Cynthiana for all the money in the world right now.

I stroked the dried flowers again. The memory of her picking them was fainter now, allowing me to push past it to focus on her essence trail.

There. Like a fishing line with her swimming at the end of it. I concentrated, but every time I pulled on that line, I came back with nothing. I kept trying, an internal clock pitilessly noting the passage of time as I continued to fail to reach the other side. Ten minutes. Twenty. Thirty. Forty.

’’Leila, stop.’’

Vlad brushed the floral bits out of my hands. Frustrated, I watched as they scattered to the ground.

’’I don't know why I can't see her. I used to glimpse her before my health went haywire. Now, I don't even get that.’’

’’You've been a vampire exactly one day,’’ Vlad said as he began to unwind my chains. ’’Every cell in your body has been drastically altered. It's remarkable you're able to use any of your abilities this soon.’’

’’Remarkable. That and four quarters will get me a dollar.’’

I had reason for my glumness. Even if Vlad's people didn't breathe a word about Shrapnel to outsiders, any day now, Cynthiana would figure out something was wrong and go into hiding. When she did, it could be years before she resurfaced again. Sure, Shrapnel would eventually break, if Cynthiana hadn't bewitched him into never revealing her location, but she'd be long gone by then. I might have all the time in the world to hunt her now, but my family didn't. I couldn't expect them to stay in hiding for years until we caught her, yet if they didn't, they were walking targets.

It might already be too late. Cynthiana would be expecting new word from Shrapnel already . . .

’’I know how we can get her,’’ I said, struck by inspiration. ’’Send Sandra into town to leave another message, this one telling Cynthiana where and when Shrapnel wants to meet her.’’

Vlad unwound the final chain from me. ’’She's not foolish enough to fall for such a trick.’’

’’Foolish? Maybe not. Arrogant? You betcha,’’ I countered. ’’This woman cast spells on you under your own roof, knowing all the while that you'd kill her if you found out. That's so arrogant it's like she had two boulders in a sack for balls.’’

His lips thinned at the reminder of how she'd manipulated his willpower. I continued on as if I hadn't noticed.

’’No wonder she hates my guts. You said vampires were psycho possessive. In a few months, you offered me more than you offered her after three decades under her magical influence, yet I left because it wasn't good enough. She probably had Adrian making that bomb even before Shrapnel gave her my location.’’

More whitening of his mouth, and then suddenly, he smiled.


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