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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
Struggling with the full load, he tipped the wheelbarrow and dumped the bricks, then turned back for another. He paused, lifting a hand to push his damp hair off his face, his gaze catching sight of someone standing in a window of the second floor of the mansion, a stack of towels or something in her arms. A woman. He couldn't see her face, only her silhouette, the light shining behind her. But she had the same slender form, the same long, sleek hair as Lily. His heart stuttered. Could it be? He'd never been inside, except for the basement dungeon, where the slaves slept. In the three days he'd been here, he'd never seen any women except for the two girls who brought them their meals. Could Lily be here, too?
He heard the whistle of the lash a second before he felt the fire down his back.
Sorry, fucking vampire. Zack tore his gaze from the woman, grabbed the wheelbarrow, and moved.
Even if it was Lily, what difference did it make? He couldn't rescue her. He couldn't escape. He couldn't even take a piss unless a vampire said so.
So, no, it didn't matter. Lily was lost to him, either way.
Quinn glanced at the bedroom door, then strode lightly to the window, her pulse lifting on a rush of adrenaline. If she could get it open, she might just stand a chance of escape.
Solid beige curtains hung, ceiling to floor, blocking the windows entirely. There was little need to let in the light in a place where the sun never shone. She slipped in between the curtains, letting the fabric hang down her back as she reached for the latch on the double-hung. She turned it, then tried to push up the lower sash. Nothing. Not so much as a creak. It was stuck tight.
Rubbing her palms on her jeans, she tried again, bracing her legs for maximum leverage, and pushed with all her might. Unlike at home, she didn't dare pound on the frames. The last thing she wanted was for the vampire to realize what she was up to. Her muscles strained, her palms ached, her teeth clenched, but still she pushed.
Finally, she felt it give, just a little, and she backed off with a relieved exhale. Brushing her damp, aching palms on her jeans, she took a deep breath and tried again. Another, louder, groan of wood, and the window slid open. Finally.
There was no screen, and she leaned out, peering with surprise at the tight crowd of structures, all of which appeared to be in good repair, unlike those she'd seen west of the White House. She could even see lights glowing here and there in some of the large structures back behind. Her eyes narrowed. It was a city block, she realized. Houses, or row houses, along the street fronts. While behind . . . what would they have had in the 1870s? Stables, probably. Maybe a cookhouse or washhouse? Servants' quarters? Whatever they were, this part of Vamp City was apparently occupied. Unfortunately, the occupants were almost certainly vampires.
Her fists clenched at the prospect of trying to escape when vampires could be anywhere. Do they sleep? She had no idea. And if they did, she couldn't begin to guess when. She'd yet to figure out the difference between day and night.
Peering down, she saw what appeared to be a large generator. Over the hum, she could make out other sounds - the cheering of a crowd in the distance that reminded her of the high-school football stadium about a mile from her home when she was growing up.
A shout sounded closer, followed by laughter. A moment later, a man's scream of agony cut the night, stopping Quinn's breath.
Did she really want to venture out into this place alone? No. If she were perfectly honest, the answer was no. The thought of what awaited her terrified her. The vampire had said her blood tasted sweet. If another vamp caught her, she might not survive. But staying here wasn't an alternative. She had to find Zack.
Slipping back between the curtains, Quinn headed for the bed, intending to pull off the linens, then glanced at the dresser and decided to do a quick search of the room first. Pulling open the bottom dresser drawer, she smiled. Sheets, blankets, towels. She grabbed several white, crisp, cotton sheets, opened them wide, then twisted them into ropes as she'd done too many times as a girl. Her stepmother, Angela, used to ground her for anything and everything. Most of the time, Quinn had taken the punishment and retired to her bedroom to do homework or read, but sometimes, especially as she got older, she'd slipped out of the house after her dad and Angela were asleep.
If not for Zack, she'd probably have run away and never returned. What would she have done without him? He'd been the keeper of her heart and the protector of her soul when they were growing up, the only one who'd stood by her, even if it was only to sneak into her room and play GameBoy on the rug while she did her homework after she'd been grounded. It used to drive Angela crazy that she couldn't keep the son she adored away from the stepdaughter she loathed. But she'd never succeeded. Zack had always known when Quinn was angry or hurting, which had been all too often. He'd always come. Always. A silent presence offering unquestioning love.
When it was time to choose a college, he'd told his parents he was moving to D.C. to live with his sister. The years apart had been hard on them both. Angela had been livid, but in the end, she'd been unable to deny her beloved son even that. And when Zack got accepted to George Washington University, Quinn, who'd been living near work in Bethesda, promptly rented an apartment in the heart of G.W.'s main campus. And they'd been living together ever since. Three years.
Now she'd lost him. Maybe even gotten him killed.
The thought twisted like a blade.
No, she couldn't think like that.
With the sheets knotted, she tied one end around the dresser leg and gave a hard tug. The heavy dresser didn't budge. Perfect. Nervously, she glanced at the window, then strode to the washstand and the tray of food. Quickly, she shoveled down a few bites of eggs and ate half of one of the rolls, then slid the knife into her back pocket. It was an eating utensil, not a weapon, but it was better than nothing.
She pulled on her socks and tennis shoes, which were sitting neatly against the wall, then grabbed the sheet rope and carried it to the window. Peering into the dim light, spying no one, she dropped it. The sheets hit the top of the generator with a thump.
Okay. She shook her hands at her side. Nerves were about to crawl out of her skin. I can do this.
Climbing over the sill, she gripped the rope between her legs, then lowered herself slowly and carefully. Sweat broke out all over her body. She began to shake, not with fear, but weakness. Since when was she too weak to climb down a sheet rope? She'd been doing it since she was thirteen!
But she knew the answer to that. Since she'd nearly been sucked dry three days ago. She'd felt fine, but clearly she wasn't fully recovered. Not at all. Holy hell, her muscles were turning to rubber. She started to slip, her arms beginning to shake so badly she feared she might not be able to hold on. Even her legs were beginning to feel nearly useless.
Sliding the rest of the way, uncontrolled, she landed on the generator with a dull thud, then sat there, out of breath, stunned, and dismayed. If she'd had the strength, she might have tried to climb back into the room and try again later, but there was no way in hell that was going to happen. She was committed, now. She was just going to have to go a little slower than she'd anticipated, that was all.
Pushing herself off the generator, she landed on her feet and swayed, her face feeling cold and clammy as she reached for the wall to steady herself. In a minute, she'd be fine.
The sound of footsteps coming at a hard, fast run had her pressing back against the brick. A moment later, a man rounded the corner and dashed across the vampire's backyard without a glance her way. He was shirtless, his hair long and dirty, his body gleaming with sweat and blood from the lash marks striping his back. Terror radiated from him with every movement, every racing step.
Quinn's heart pounded from exertion, from indecision, from the need to get out of there before the vampires found her. The thought had barely formed when a strange vamp male materialized not ten feet in front of her, his fangs long and sharp, his eyes gleaming with white centers, his gaze fixed firmly on her.
Her heart clogged her throat.
A second later, a second vamp, a female, appeared beside the first. "Did you find him?"
"No. I found another. A sweeter one."
Quinn shook her head with disbelief. This escape attempt was a flaming bust. If she didn't do something quick, she was going to die right here, right now. Pulling the knife from her back pocket, she opened her mouth to call for her vampire. Better the devil she knew . . .
He appeared beside her as suddenly and unexpectedly as the others had, startling a gasp from her.
"Arturo!" the male vamp called in greeting. "I didn't know she was yours."
Arturo's arm snaked around Quinn's waist, pulling her close. "She is mine, Salazar. How goes your hunt?" he asked the pair affably.
The woman smiled, her eyes dancing with excitement. "This one is clever, Arturo. He eludes us well. Come join us!"
The vampire's cheek brushed Quinn's temple, and he chuckled. "My breakfast awaits, don't you, cara?"
Quinn stiffened in his hold. Was he toying with her even as he plotted retribution for her escape attempt? Or simply making his excuses?
"While your breakfast gets away," he added.
The other two vamps looked at one another, laughed, and were gone faster than her eyes could track.
Quinn tried to pull out of the vampire's hold, but her strength was nothing compared to his, even when she wasn't clammy and shaking.
"Were you going somewhere?" he asked coolly, the friendliness gone from his voice as if it had never been.
There was no sense in lying. Or telling the truth, for that matter. They both knew exactly what she'd been up to. Her sheet rope hung from the window, the end lying on the generator, where she'd left it.
He released her, took her elbow, and steered her toward the door, the threat of punishment thick in the air. The question was, what form would it take? Would he tie her to the bed again? Or worse? Cold fingers of dread crawled along the back of her neck.
Opening the door, he ushered her into a kitchen oddly incongruous to the times - either the one in which Vamp City had been created or her own. With its olive green fridge and range and the big butcher-block-topped island, it looked more 1970s than 1870s. Over the island hung a rack laden with pots and pans of every shape and size. Recessed lighting on the ceiling and undercounter lights lit the room admirably.
The smell of frying hash brown potatoes filled the room as a girl of perhaps twenty served up a plate. She was cute, with a pert nose and fine features. Unlike Ernesta, she wore modern clothes - a worn sixties retro dress with faded splashes of pink and green. Her light brown hair hung long and straight, parted down the middle and highlighted with a strange, phosphorescent glow.
"Your breakfast is ready, Master."
The hand on her arm tightened. "Did you eat the eggs brought to you earlier?"
"I'm not hungry."
"Two plates, Susie. And have Horace close the window upstairs." He steered Quinn through the doorway on the other side of the kitchen and into a formal dining room complete with gold-and-crystal chandelier, dark red wallpaper, and what appeared to be large golden candelabras casting flickering light on the gilt-framed paintings lining the walls.
Ernesta bustled in, setting a place for Quinn with gold-toned . . . maybe real gold . . . flatware and a linen napkin. Susie followed, setting plates before each of them. Eggs Benedict, broiled tomatoes, and hash browns.
Did he really expect her to eat? Her stomach was in knots.
"Thank you, cara mia," Arturo said kindly to the girl. But when Susie and Ernesta had left, his voice turned cool once more. "Dispense with your fear and eat. I will not punish you for your escape."
She looked at him warily. "Why not?"
"Every slave attempts escape at least once. Now you know what will happen. You will be caught."
Maybe. Maybe not.
He gripped her wrist. "Oh, I will catch you, cara. Every time."
"You can read my mind now?" she snapped.
He smiled and released her. "I can read your expression. Now eat. The food is exceptional, but it will not remain so once it is cold."
The food did smell good. And she was hungry. Cutting a small bite of the eggs Benedict, she lifted it to her mouth and nearly moaned. Perfect. The English muffin was neither too crisp nor too soft, the Canadian bacon perfectly cooked and flavorful, and the hollandaise sauce the best she'd tasted.
She glanced at the vampire, who sat watching her, making no move to join her. "I thought you said you ate."
"At the moment, all I can taste is your fear. I will not be able to enjoy my meal until you calm."
She stared at him. "You're really not going to hurt me?"
"I am not. It would be counterproductive, would it not, when my goal is for you to lose your fear of me?"
The tension slowly fled her body. "I suppose."
"Yet still you tremble."
He straightened, picking up his knife and fork. "I did warn you that you've not yet recovered from the blood loss."
Quinn cut another bite. "Apparently, you were right." Upstairs she heard pounding, as if someone were doing some construction in the house. She chewed the bite, then cut another.
The vampire began to eat as well, but he continued to watch her. Disconcerted, she turned to study the nearest painting on the wall as she chewed. It was a painting of a child that she'd seen dozens of times in prints, but this one looked . . .
"Is that real?" she asked.
"Quite real. They all are, though not quite original."
She turned back to him. "What do you mean?"
"They're duplicates, in a manner of speaking. Vamp City is an exact copy of Washington, D.C. Or at least it was at the time of its creation 140 years ago. Not everything replicated, of course. Almost nothing living - people, animals, even the plants and grass failed to reproduce."