Twice Tempted Page 78

I dropped to the ground, putting me nose to nose with countless living and dead rats. In the next moment, an inferno roared down the tunnel, blanketing everything that was more than three feet off the ground. As fire rushed over me in searing waves, I covered my head with my arms and pushed my face deeper into the disgusting mass of bodies. Better to be closer to them than the fire shooting out with the force of a hundred geysers.

Seconds later, hands closed over my arms. I tried to jerk away, thinking the crawling ghoul had reached me, but then I realized the hands were hot as a stove. When they pulled my arms away from my head, I didn't resist, and when a booted foot kicked at the swarm of rats around me, I didn't hesitate to sit up despite the continued roar of flames.

Vlad bent over me. Except for a two-foot perimeter surrounding us, fire filled the tunnel from ceiling to floor, burning so fiercely I couldn't hear anything over the crackle of flames. Then he lifted me into his arms and began to walk through that blistering wall of orange and red.

It parted before him like drapes held back by invisible hands. As he walked, I swiped at the rats still chewing on me, knocking them off into the flames. By the time he reached the end of the tunnel where there was a closed door, there were only a few left that I couldn't reach.

Vlad opened the door, carrying me into a far narrower tunnel that could've been an abandoned service hallway. Instead of being filled with flames, this space was filled with Vlad's people. Well, all except one.

Cynthiana had four vampires restraining her, which might not have been enough considering her real strength lay in magic. Yet with one glance, I saw why Vlad wasn't worried about her working any spells on his men. She couldn't utter a word. Her mouth was filled with so much silver that shards of it protruded from her cheeks.

’’Where'd you get that gag?’’ I asked.

He set me down, knocking away the rats that clung to my back before crushing them underfoot.

’’I melted silver knives together and then shoved them into her mouth.’’

Some days, I really loved his dark side.

’’Why didn't you wait in the Crangasi station?’’ he demanded, grasping my shoulders now that the last of the rats were gone.

’’She spelled the commuters into attacking me and one of them ripped my wire. I couldn't tell you which way she went so I followed her.’’

’’Why?’’ he asked with even more emphasis.

I blinked. ’’Because she was getting away.’’

His grip tightened while a wave of frustration and another, far stronger emotion washed over me.

’’When I heard the ghouls coming for you, all I cared about was reaching you in time. How often must I tell you that you mean more to me than vengeance? I can live without defeating my enemies, but I cannot live without you.’’

Before I could respond, he crushed me to him, his mouth covering mine in a blistering kiss. I forgot that I was covered in blood, dirt, and rat hair. Didn't care that a roomful of people were watching, or about anything else. I kissed him back with all the relief I felt at being alive to do so. Now that the fight was over, all the fear I'd held back came rushing forth, reminding me how close I'd come to losing everything. Vlad was right. Enemies would come and go and battles would be won or lost, but nothing mattered more than what we had. Everything else was replaceable.

When he finally drew away, slow tears were running down my cheeks. ’’I love you,’’ I whispered.

He brushed them away, a sardonic smile twisting his mouth. ’’And I love you, which is why I intend to lock you inside the house as soon as we're home.’’

I let out a watery chuckle. ’’You won't need to. I'll gladly stay put.’’

Then I fingered my Kevlar vest, the only thing on me that hadn't been chewed or ripped to shreds.

’’This was a good idea. I must suck at being a covert operative. Cynthiana took one look at me and started shooting.’’

The smile he flashed me reminded me of the fire that was so much a part of him - alluring yet deadly, consuming and yet quicksilver.

’’It was her determination to kill you that doomed her. When she bewitched the tunnel-dwelling ghouls into a mindless murdering state, she cut off her exit behind her, leaving her nowhere to run except straight to me.’’

I turned and stared at Cynthiana with a surge of coldness I hadn't known I was capable of. ’’Time to take her home, and I hope you have a pole with her name on it.’’

Chapter 46

A few of Vlad's men stayed behind to make sure any ghouls who survived the fire didn't make their way to the Metro stations and try to eat the innocent commuters. The rest of us returned to his house via helicopters. As soon as we landed, I followed him and Cynthiana's guard entourage into the dungeon. After being covered in enough rats to give me screaming nightmares, I might long for a shower more intensely than Midas had coveted gold, but I was seeing this through.

Vlad ordered Cynthiana chained onto the large stone monolith. Then he had Shrapnel brought in from the other side of the dungeon to be restrained next to her. He'd done his best to kill me, and yet I couldn't help but feel a twinge of pity at the grief in his expression when he saw her. Cynthiana, on the other hand, didn't seem to be at all upset over her lover's predicament. In fact, her gaze passed over him in a manner that could only be described as annoyed.

’’He really was just a pawn to you, wasn't he?’’ I asked in repugnance.

She didn't answer, of course. Despite being captured, gagged with silver, and facing a truly horrible future, Cynthiana wasn't cowed. Her gaze flicked over me in the way women perfected when they wanted to raze your self-esteem without saying a word, yet all I did was smile wide enough to show my new fangs. I might be covered in filth, blood, and rat hair, but a centuries-old vampire had nothing on the belittling looks I'd received while attending high school with a zigzagging scar, a limp, and the growing ability to shock anyone who touched me.

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