Twice Tempted Page 9

Turning me into a vampire would indeed negate my need for a toilet. It would also ensure that I spent the rest of an unnaturally long life loving a man who never wanted me any closer than arm's length. Vlad was known for his mercilessness, but I didn't think he realized what a cruel fate he'd be sentencing me to if I accepted his offer.

Part of that was my fault. I'd let the emotional standoff between us go on too long because I didn't want to lose him. Problem was, I never really had him, as tonight had forced me to acknowledge. Despite my heart feeling like it split apart within me, I met his gaze without flinching.

’’It didn't occur to you that I'd see the ring as a proposal because you have no intention of ever offering me a real commitment. I was okay with that once. I'm not anymore.’’

’’You don't understand.’’

His tone was flat even as the flames nearby shot higher.

’’divorce doesn't exist for vampires. With how people can change over time, few of my kind choose to marry. Feelings may fade, but a vampire union never will.’’

Then his warm, strong hands cupped my face.

’’I am offering you a real commitment - a place in my life forever. Even if our relationship ended, our tie to each other never would. Let me make you a vampire, Leila, and watch decades slide by like days while you're by my side.’’

I wanted to say yes. The word trembled on my lips, but I forced it back with a ragged, indrawn breath. He wasn't offering me anything different, only a longer version of what I already had. The fact that I'd be willing to shed my humanity like an old suit was proof enough that I'd do anything for Vlad, yet he still kept his heart deliberately out of reach.

I couldn't live like that, as a human or a vampire. If it hurt this much now, how would it feel after decades of loving a man who regarded me as little more than a pleasant bedmate?

’’I'll say yes on one condition.’’

He caressed my face. ’’And what is that?’’

I didn't blink. ’’You can read my mind so you should already know. I love you, Vlad, so more than blood ties or the chance to live forever, I want you to say you love me, too.’’

His hands dropped to clench into fists at his side. ’’We talked about this - ’’

’’I remember,’’ I cut him off. ’’The first night we slept together, you told me you'd give me passion, honesty, and monogamy, but not love because you're incapable of it. I believed that then, but I call bullshit now. You remember the last thing Szilagyi said before he detonated that explosion?’’

From the granite set of his jaw, he did, but he wasn't going to volunteer it. I continued on.

’’Szilagyi said he was going to kill me along with him because that would hurt you. Even your worst enemy could see I was more than a mistress to you, but you refuse to offer me anything else. Until you do, I can't - ’’

My voice broke, and despite my resolve, two tears slipped past my lashes. I dashed them away, forcing myself to speak through a throat closed painfully tight from emotion.

’’I can't be with you,’’ I summarized. ’’It hurts too much to be close to you, but continually pushed away.’’

His expression changed to disbelief. ’’You're leaving me?’’

From his tone, the idea was more shocking than hurtful. Another sledgehammer hit me in the chest, causing more tears to leak out that I couldn't suppress.

’’What choice do I have? I know how this will end. With my abilities, I've relived it through countless other couples. I even watched my mother give everything to a man who kept rating her as second-best and I refuse to make that same mistake.’’

Despite knowing every word was true, I couldn't stop the spate of thoughts that ran across my mind.

Tell me you love me and I'll stay. Hell, tell me you'll be open to the IDEA of loving me and I'll stay. Tell me anything except to resign myself to always ranking a distant second to the coldness you keep wrapping around your heart.

He didn't say any of that. Instead, he said, ’’It's not safe. We excavated much of what's left of his mountain lair, yet we still didn't find Szilagyi's remains. If he managed to survive, he'll come after you.’’

That was his biggest concern? Not our relationship ending, but his enemy using me against him again? For a moment, I couldn't breathe from how savagely that tore at my heart. I thought I was braced to handle a rejection. I was so, so wrong.

’’Szilagyi's dead,’’ I managed hoarsely. ’’Even if he did survive, my abilities are gone. No finding people in the present or seeing into the future means he'd have no use for me.’’

Tell me that's not the only reason you want me to stay! burst across my thoughts with all of the vehemence of my last hope. Willpower alone kept me from saying it aloud.

Vlad only stared at me, his gaze changing from copper to emerald and back again while the fire raged on in the hearth. With every continued moment of silence, the tears I couldn't will away kept sliding down my cheeks.

Then, each movement slicing like razors across my emotions, he walked to the door. When he reached it, he paused for a moment, his hand hovering over the knob.

Don't do this! I wanted to scream. I love you;can't you even try to let yourself love me, too?

The fire flared so high that it breached the grate and licked up the wall, but still he didn't speak. When it reached the ceiling, I started toward it with an instinctive urge to douse the flames, but then they vanished in a whoosh that left nothing more than a trail of smoke.

By the time I turned around, Vlad was gone.

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