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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
Quinn thought she was going to be sick.
Make a scene, Arturo spoke in her head. A cowardly, noisy one. He gripped her jaw and said out loud, "I want this one, Franny. She may have taken the lash, but she trembles beneath my hand, her terror thick and lush." He stared at her. "What do you say, beauty? Do you want to come home with me? Do you want to scream for me?" Do it.
"No!" A decent yell, but hardly a cowardly, noisy scene. She'd never been a screamer. "No, please!" He gripped her shoulder where the lash had cut her. The bolt of pain was exactly what she needed. She released the scream that was bottled up inside her, released the tears she'd been fighting. "No! Let me go. Let me go!" She threw a punch at Arturo's middle, which he easily blocked, then another, fighting, kicking, screaming with the pain that ripped up and down her back with every movement, making as much noise as she could.
"Enough!" the woman cried, but Quinn continued. If the female vamp hated screamers, Quinn was going to scream.
"Double the price I paid for her, Arturo. One thousand."
Keep it up, the voice warned. "Six hundred."
Quinn wailed, starting to get into it now. "No, no! Don't hurt me!"
"Eight hundred, and she's yours, my prince."
"Done. Manchester, free the slut. Get her out of here, Arturo."
Moments later, she was free, Arturo's long fingers curling coolly around her upper arm. But she knew better than to stop too soon. The female would know she'd been faking. Struggling in her vampire's grasp, Quinn continued to scream, kicking him in the shin. A bit of retribution for his scaring her half to death the first time he'd found her.
As he steered her toward the waiting Jeep, Quinn glanced back at the other slaves, sick with the knowledge they'd likely all be dead before another week passed, dying horrible, painful deaths.
Arturo opened the passenger door of his Jeep and shoved her in, his hand flat on her torn back. The pain tore a scream from her lungs, and she gave in to it, cutting the night with her misery, reveling in the knowledge that Francesca was probably covering her ears. Take that, you bitch.
Arturo closed her door, and she grabbed for the roll bar with one hand and the top of the windshield with the other, desperate to keep her bleeding back from banging against the seat as he flew over the pitted road. This ride was going to hurt.
On a roll now, she continued to wail as Arturo climbed into the driver's side, started the vehicle, and took off. The ride was every bit as bad as she'd feared it would be. As hard as she tried to keep her back off the seat, she kept slamming into it with excruciating regularity. Sweat rolled down her temples, unwanted tears down her cheeks as she clenched her teeth against the need to cry out, tired of hearing her own screams and pretty sure they were far enough away now that she didn't have to keep up the pretense. The nausea rose, slow and steadily, until she had no choice but to say something.
"I'm going to be sick." The words were little more than a gasp, but the vampire heard. The car came to a slamming halt, and, for an instant, she thought she was about to fly through the windshield, but his arm braced her before she ever saw him move. Who needed a seat belt when you had a vampire?
She fumbled for the door, but he was already there, opening it, lifting her out, keeping her from stumbling forward as she fell to her knees and retched in the dirt. For long, trembling moments, she stayed there, drenched in sweat, feeling like the world's biggest wuss. Yes, her back was a bloody mess, but this was nothing compared to the pain the others would endure . . . were already beginning to suffer. Her stomach didn't seem to care.
When she was fairly certain she wasn't going to heave again, she looked up to find Arturo standing a few yards in front of her, watching her with cool eyes, the charmer once more gone as if he'd never been.
"You did well," he murmured. "My ears are going to be ringing for hours."
"Thank you for rescuing me. Did you? Rescue me? Or am I going to suffer at your hands, too?"
"Have you suffered at my hands, cara?"
"No. But I escaped you. I hit Ernesta." She cringed. "Please tell me I didn't kill her."
His mouth pulled up on one side, but that tiny bit of a smile rose nowhere near his eyes. "You didn't kill her though you gave her a hell of a headache."
Her breath trembled out with relief, and she realized how much that had been weighing on her. "Good. I didn't mean to hurt her. I only meant to get away." She pushed herself to her feet, wincing at the pain that lanced her back with every move.
"Yet here you are."
She shrugged and moaned as that hurt, too, then met his gaze. "I have to find my brother."
He shook his head. "You're a fool to have come back here. He's probably dead by now. Or as good as."
"He's my brother."
For long moments, he studied her, then finally held his hand out to her. "Come."
She hesitated, then started to reach for his hand, only to snatch hers back as she realized his pupils were beginning to turn white, his fangs starting to elongate. "You're hungry."
She shuddered. "Right. Trust me, I'd rather not be."
At his soft snort, she looked at him, surprised to see the smile reach his eyes.
"Do you need to bite me?"
"Wish to? Always. Need to? No. Your blood is far too enticing, and you've been weakened. Again."
Despite the fearsome visage he presented, she placed her hand in his. And held on tight.
As Quinn braced herself, feeling shaken and beaten, Arturo pulled into the alley behind his house. He handed Quinn out of the Jeep and led her into the kitchen as he had when he'd caught her trying to escape him the first time. His hand circled her upper arm to steady her, she supposed. They both knew she wasn't about to try to escape. Not yet, at least. Not after what had just happened. Her back burned from Francesca's lashings, her stomach was still sore and tight from the vomiting, and she felt more than a little light-headed. Another advantage of having a vampire companion - if she stumbled, he'd be able to grab her before she fell.
"Susie!" Arturo led her to the stairs. They were halfway up the flight when the girl appeared in the hallway below.
"Quinn is in need of tending. Gather your supplies and meet us upstairs."
Quinn glanced at her companion. "She's kind of young, isn't she?" He'd already admitted to having sex with her. Every third day.
"She's older than she looks." At the top of the stairs, he ushered her into the room where she'd first found herself tied, spread-eagled, to the bed. "Susie will be up shortly, then I will leave you in her care. I would appreciate it if you would refrain from attacking any more of my servants."
Quinn grimaced. "Sorry. No attacking the other slaves. Promise." She shrugged. "At least, not unless I'm provoked."
"That's what I was afraid of," he murmured.
Susie appeared in the doorway, throwing a sweet smile at Arturo before shifting a wary gaze to Quinn. Seriously? In this kid's eyes, she was more scary than a vampire?
"She'll not hurt you," Arturo told the girl. "I have her word."
Quinn felt about two feet tall.
Arturo met Quinn's gaze. "I will not be far. In case you get another urge to sunbathe."
He wouldn't let her escape again. Part of her didn't want to. Horace's words, that Arturo was the best of the lot, had been soundly illustrated today. Yet, trapped was trapped. Only free would she stand any chance of finding Zack.
Arturo left. Susie remained in the doorway, clutching a basket of medical supplies against her abdomen. Good grief, her hands were actually shaking.
"Susie . . ." Quinn lifted her hands, palms out. "I didn't mean to hurt Ernesta. I mean, I did, but only because I was trying to escape to find my brother, and she'd told me she wasn't human. I figured that meant I needed to hit her hard. But I'm sorry. It wasn't anything against her personally. And I don't want to escape this time." At least not this moment. "I won't hit you, I promise."
The girl stepped forward cautiously. "Where are you hurt?"
"My back. I was lashed."
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Susie nodded toward the bed. "Take off your shirt and lie down." The girl was suddenly all crisp efficiency. And she no longer sounded so young.
Quinn did as she was told, shrugging out of her jacket, then nearly moaning at the pain of peeling her tank top out of the wounds on her bloody back. If the girl had been looking for a bit of retribution for her friend, she was getting it in spades. Quinn forced herself to yank the top free as tears burned her eyes. With trembling hands, she pulled her running bra over her head, peeling it off, too. Finally free of the garments, she lay on the bed, the cotton bedspread cool and comforting against her sweat-damp skin.
The bed sank at her side as Susie joined her.
"The ointment will heal the wounds, but the application may be uncomfortable. I'm sorry if I hurt you."
She doubted that. "It can't hurt much more than Francesca's whip."
The girl's fingers were surprisingly gentle, the ointment cool to the touch, the sting not nearly as bad as Quinn had expected.
"You were lucky the master saved you," the girl murmured, her voice soft. "They say no slave survives Francesca, not even the immortals."
"Immortals? You mean vampires?" Little by little, the pain began to disappear beneath the ointment.
"Immortal humans. They call us Slavas."
Quinn glanced back at Susie with surprise. "You?"
Susie smiled gently, the oil lamp casting a soft light over her young face. "Yes, me. It happens to all of us who've been here a while. If you live long enough, it will happen to you, too." She lifted a lock of her own light brown hair, holding it up where she could see it. "You know you've become immortal when your hair starts to glow."
"What makes it do that?"
"No one knows, but they think it has something to do with the magic of V.C. because no slaves ever had glowing hair before this place was created. Vampire saliva, shared during feeding, has always had a healing effect on humans. But only the humans in Vamp City have ever actually turned immortal."
The girl's skin was perfect, unlined. "You look like you're twenty."
She grinned. "I was born in 1950. That makes me . . . oh, goodness. Over sixty years old."
Quinn gaped at her.
"I was nineteen when I was caught and sold in a slave auction. Within a couple of years, I stopped aging."
"Arturo bought you?"
"No. I was bought for his master's, Cristoff's, slave hall. I . . ." Her face tightened, shadows darkening her eyes. "I didn't like it there. After a few months, Arturo bought me and brought me here, and I've never left. And never want to. He's not like the others. You're very lucky he's chosen you."
Quinn turned back, resting her chin on her hands. Without a doubt, she owed the vamp for getting her out of Francesca's clutches. And he really didn't seem to be like the others. Still, there was no way she could accept that this was it. That she would spend the rest of her life in this house, serving a vampire. She had a brother to save, a job to get back to, a life to live in her world, the real world, where the sun shone and the roads were paved and every man walking down the street wasn't trying to eat her.
It would kill something inside her simply to give up and give in, even if Zack weren't involved. Arturo might not be one of the truly bad guys, but it was highly unlikely he'd simply let her walk away. She was going to have to play this carefully.
"Do you ever leave the house, Susie?"
"No, and I don't want to," she said quickly. "It's safe here. I'm safe here. I like it here."
"You might be able to go home. Back to the real world. I did."
Susie shook her head. "It's unlikely I'd survive. A few vampires have tried to take their slaves with them through the Boundary, but the slaves instantly revert to their true age. Even if they weren't too old to live, the shock of aging that quickly usually kills them. No, there is no going back for me, and nothing to go back to."
"Horace is older than you, isn't he?" Suddenly his comment to her before, that his family had been gone more than a century, made sense.
"He's more than a hundred years older than I am, yes. He was one of the first slaves brought in after V.C. was created."
Quinn closed her eyes, trying to absorb Susie's words. This girl was over sixty. Horace, one of the first brought in, was a man of the 1800s. He must have looked and talked just like he did now, back in 1870. Incredible. She hadn't time-traveled. Not exactly. And yet . . .
"Do the vampires ever let their slaves go? Those who haven't turned immortal?"
"No. They don't let any go. But not all vampires live within V.C. Those who live in the real D.C. need slaves, too."
She looked at the girl with surprise. "How many live in the real world?"
"I don't know. With the magic failing - "
"Thank you, Susie. That will be all, cara mia." Arturo's rich voice had Quinn's attention whirling to the doorway, her heartbeat jumping.
"Yes, sir." Flashing a quick smile, Susie rose, picked up her supplies, then grabbed Quinn's discarded clothes.