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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
"The streets are laid out the same."
"This can't be Washington. It's ancient." Her jaw dropped. "We did not time-travel."
" 'Course not. Look at this place. It's a ghost town. Even the trees are all dead."
He was right. Though only a few trees stood between the rows of buildings, they were gray and twisted, with few to no leaves. She saw no bushes, no grass. Nothing to alleviate the appearance of a desolate, ruined . . . lifeless . . . place. Except for that shout. And the fact that she'd seen a buggy in one of her visions. And, incongruously, that Jeep Wrangler. There were definitely people here somewhere.
"There's an easy way to find out if this is some weird version of the city," Zack said.
She knew exactly what he had in mind, and they might as well find out. They crossed the next two streets, reached the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue, and turned onto it without hesitation. She wondered if this was a good idea, if the smarter option might be to try to find a place to hide. But hide from what? And for how long? If Lily was here, they needed to find her, though God only knew how. Sooner or later, they were going to need food. And water.
Side by side, they strode down Pennsylvania Avenue, or this empty doppelganger version. Two blocks, three. And then they saw it.
"Jesus Christ," Zack murmured beside her.
Quinn's jaw dropped as she stared at the White House . . . or what passed for it in this place. The once-beautiful president's mansion was as ruined as everything else she'd seen so far. The once-manicured lawns were nothing but dirt and puddles nearly the size of ponds, dead trees sprouting randomly from the swampy ground.
She frowned as she stared at the building. Something was off. It wasn't as big as the version she knew. "The East and West Wings are missing. It doesn't look like they were ever there." Even the east portico was gone although there appeared to be some kind of decrepit shell of a structure where the west portico should have been. The roof had partially collapsed on one side, and the white sandstone walls appeared gray in the near darkness, as if the sandstone had begun to melt and run.
Zack's shoulder brushed hers as they pressed together. "That's what the White House used to look like, back at the time of the Civil War. At least it's what the structure looked like. The East and West Wings were added later. My history professor had a print of it hanging on the wall."
"So we're in the D.C. of the past? But the past was alive, and this place is dead, and appears to have been for a long, long time."
"Maybe we're in an alternate universe."
"There's no such thing as an alternate universe." The words came out before she considered their absurdity in light of the current situation.
Zack grunted. "Do you have a better explanation?"
"Not a one."
"Lily's here. I know it. And we're going to find her. Then she and I are going to create the most kick-ass game ever invented because it's going to be based on a place that actually exists."
Quinn had to hand it to him. Even in the face of insanity, he was keeping his cool.
"Assuming we can find our way back out of here." What if returning the way they'd come didn't work? Somehow, she wasn't holding out much hope for clicking her heels, and whispering, "There's no place like home."
"We'll figure that out later."
Why worry about level seventeen when you've just entered the game? Except, this was no game.
In the distance, another scream slashed the unnatural silence, this one female.
Zack flinched. "Lily."
Quinn grabbed his arm. "No. The voice was too deep." But it was clear there were dangers in that place, dangers they didn't want to stumble upon. "I think we'd better find someplace to hide until we figure out what's going on."
She glanced at the crumbling White House. Was it stable enough to walk into if they dodged the puddles?
"Do you hear that?" Zack whispered.
Quinn stilled, stiffening at the sound of a horse and carriage. The one she'd seen from her apartment window? Perspiration broke out on the back of her neck. Maybe whoever was in that carriage would help them. Her gut instinct screamed hide, but the decision was taken out of her hands as the carriage drove into sight on the cross street a block up, and they were left standing squarely in the open. This conveyance was slightly larger than the one she'd seen in her vision, and even in the low light, she could tell that the couple driving it were dressed as if they'd stepped off the soundstage of Gone With the Wind.
Did this mean they were in the past, or some postapocalyptic version of it?
"Whoa." The carriage pulled up in the middle of the street half a block away.
"Should we run?" Zack asked.
"One of them is a woman. Maybe they'll help us." As Quinn watched, the couple alighted from the carriage with a strange ease, even the woman, as if all that voluminous material weighed nothing at all. And then, suddenly, they were gone.
"What the . . . ?" Zack exclaimed.
Quinn's heart missed a beat, then took off in a crazy flight, nearly stopping altogether when, seconds later, the pair materialized directly in front of them, not ten feet away. No way in hell had a woman in a full Scarlett O'Hara skirt run faster than the eye could follow down a dirt road.
Her head pounded. Her instincts continued to scream, Run! even as her logical mind knew there would be no outrunning this pair. There would be no escape.
She faced them squarely, lifting her chin. Both were young and attractive, the woman as blond as Quinn herself but far more beautiful, her ringlets swept up beneath an elaborate hat, the bodice of her fancy dress cut dangerously low. A deep breath, and she'd be showing nipple.
Her companion was a good fit for her - young and handsome and dressed like Abraham Lincoln. But his smile as he stared at them was as oily as a mechanic's rag, setting off all Quinn's creep alarms. What in the hell kind of world was this?
Zack sucked in a breath. "This isn't good."
The rev of an engine broke the ominous silence. She glanced behind her, praying her own world had decided to make a reappearance, but no. Nothing had changed.
"And where did you come from?" the woman asked, her tone more delighted than curious.
Quinn took a step forward, placing herself between them and her brother. Zack's hands gripped her shoulders from behind as if he meant to pull her behind him at the first sign of trouble. As if he was too much of a man to let his big sister protect him any longer.
"What is this place?" she demanded.
The man's smile widened. "You don't know?"
"They must have entered through the last sunbeam." The woman stepped away from her companion, eyeing Zack hungrily.
It had been years since Quinn had practiced martial arts, but she still remembered a thing or two. Which might be helpful against opponents who weren't so damned fast. "Stay back," Quinn warned, shrugging away Zack's hands as she went into her fighting stance, her right leg back, her hands forming fists in front of her.
"And why would I step back, sweet one?" The man smiled, his incisors looking more like fangs than teeth. "I've just found dinner."
Quinn gaped. Those fangs were growing.
"No fucking way." Zack's tone sounded more awestruck than horrified. "Vampires."
Quinn scowled. "That's ridiculous."
The man chuckled, his eyes changing, the black pupils turning a milky, startling white as the fangs lengthened, thickened. Sharpened. "Is it?"
The woman lunged first, though lunged wasn't the right word. She flew at Zack. By the time Quinn could move, the woman had Zack on the sidewalk six feet away, straddling him as she struck, burying her own fangs deep into Zack's neck. She'd kill him!
Quinn roared. But before she could even take a full step toward them, the man was on her, whirling her around as if she weighed nothing, slamming her back against him, his arms pinning her to him like bands of steel. She fought against his hold, kicking back, slamming her head back, but he avoided every blow.
And, suddenly, she felt the stab in the side of her neck. Fangs. Pain. This was not happening! There was no such thing as a vampire, no such thing as an alternate universe.
She tried to fight but couldn't budge. He was drinking from her. Drinking! She could feel the rush of blood through her veins and into his mouth, and it felt . . . nice. God. This is all so wrong!
Movement caught her eye, and she watched as Zack's attacker lifted her head, staring at Zack, then rose gracefully to her feet.
Zack followed, his eyes unfocused, clearly stunned. The kid was in shock.
"Zack," she cried out.
A strange lassitude began to flow through her body, leaching the fight out of her. Making her sleepy.
A car engine penetrated her deepening lethargy, and she wondered briefly if the yellow Jeep she'd seen in her vision lived in this world, too.
"Frederick? We need to go." The woman wiped her bloody mouth on a black handkerchief. "You're going to drain her, sugar."
The man only made a sound of enjoyment against Quinn's throat.
Quinn's eyes drifted closed.
"Let her go," a man's voice said. Not the oily one's. "You do not wish to kill her."
But the vampire continued to drink.
"You wish to let her go," the man said, his voice calm, almost hypnotic.
And, suddenly, she was free, sinking to the ground, crumpling onto the hard sidewalk.
"She's mine!" said the oily one. "I found her."
She heard the sound of a scuffle, a shout of pain, then the clink of horse tackle and the fast clip-clop of a retreating carriage.
Arms scooped her up, lifting her as if she weighed nothing. Her mind screamed fight, but her body refused to answer. With effort, she forced her eyelids open and stared up at the man who held her. Not the one who'd attacked her. A little older, maybe. Not oily. A nice face.
"Zack?" The name barely formed on her lips.
"Your companion is gone."
"Dead?" She stopped breathing, her vision narrowing dangerously.
A flash of yellow caught in her peripheral vision, then she felt herself dropped bonelessly into the front passenger seat of a vehicle. The Jeep. She struggled without success to sit up. She couldn't even find the energy to reach for the door latch. "Have . . . to find him. Have to . . . escape."
"There's no escaping V.C., cara."
She tried to look at him but couldn't manage to turn her head. "V . . . C.?"
"Washington, V.C.," he replied. "Vamp City. Your new home."
Quinn walked down the busy, sunny sidewalk, her arms swinging, low heels clicking on the pavement as she hurried to get . . . where? She slowed, disoriented. Where was it she needed to go? Stopping in the middle of the sidewalk, she looked around, suddenly confused. Nothing looked familiar.
Someone bumped into her, making her stumble. "Move!" he shouted.
A woman strode directly toward her as if she didn't see her, as if she'd walk right through her.
Quinn lifted her hands to keep the woman from running into her, but the woman flew backward, arms and legs trailing her body as she zoomed out of sight.
Around her, everything went still. Every person turned to stare at her, terror on their faces.
"Devil's spawn!" they hissed, making the sign of the cross, backing away.
And that was when she saw Zack, sitting on the sidewalk, his back against the brick wall of a nearby building, his head down as he played his GameBoy. He was younger than she remembered. Twelve, maybe thirteen.
"Don't look up," she whispered to him. "Don't look up."
Slowly, the others turned and fled, the sidewalk and the streets emptying and turning ominously silent. The only sound remaining was the cheery, tinny music of the GameBoy.
"It's time to go home, Zack."
Her brother nodded, rose to his feet, and fell into step beside her, without once looking up.
Quinn tried to roll over and failed, startling awake. Sleepily, she fought to close her legs, spread awkwardly apart, and failed that, too, feeling the same tug on her ankles she had on her wrist.
The last vestiges of sleep fled in a stark wave of fear.
Ropes. She'd been tied.
Her eyes shot open, and she blinked at the floral canopy overhead, framed by plain maple bedposts. Her heart pounded in her chest, her mind darting through memories as she tried to remember what happened.
Where am I?
Shifting slightly on the far-too-soft mattress, she felt the press of clothes against her skin. At least she was still dressed.
How did I get here?
The place smelled unfamiliar - musty, like an old house. The chime of a grandfather clock echoed somewhere below, cut by the laugh track of an old television show. Rolling her head to her left, she spied an old-fashioned washstand complete with porcelain water pitcher. In the small mirror above it . . . the reflection of a man.
She jerked her head the other way . . . and froze. He stood in the doorway, dressed all in black, one broad shoulder propped against the frame. He was tall and lean, well built, his skin possessing a hint of the Mediterranean, his hair a dark brown cut short, framing an arresting, strong-boned face. His cheekbones were high and pronounced, his jaw well-defined, his nose long and straight. His mouth, intriguingly sculpted, was tipped up at one corner, a match for the devilish gleam in his dark eyes.
He looked familiar. He was the one who'd picked her up and deposited her in the front seat of his Jeep. After the . . .