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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
She forced her gaze away from Cristoff, then wished she hadn't as she met the gaze of the bald guard standing at his right, a vampire whose gaze felt like rancid fingers stroking her flesh as he looked her over. His eyes gleamed as if he had every intention of throwing her down and having his way with her. She sidled closer to Arturo even though he still gripped her arm.
"Master." Arturo dipped his head slowly, in a show of deep respect that felt somehow wrong. How could a man with any kind of morals bow to such a monster? "I have found you a sorceress."
Arturo pushed her forward.
Quinn's jaw dropped, her head suddenly ringing with his words. With his lie. "I'm not!" She whirled on Arturo. "Why would you say such a thing?" What did he think he was doing?
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of movement, then shrieked as Cristoff grabbed her and bit her neck with a razor-sharp stab of pain. Tears burned her eyes as she struggled against his impossible vampiric strength.
Cristoff lifted his head, a triumphant look on his face as he stared at her, his mouth bloody and smiling. "You've done well, my snake."
"I'm not a sorceress." But the weirdness she'd lived with all her life raised its ugly head and laughed at her denial.
She turned to Arturo for help, saw the apology swimming in his dark eyes, and understanding crashed. This was why he'd brought her here. This. Not, as he'd told her, to search for Zack.
Arturo turned back to Cristoff. "She has a half brother who was taken by one of Lazzarus's vamps. I have a contact within the kovena. I can find out if the brother possesses any magic, if it please you."
She stared at him, her scalp crawling with his betrayal. He knew exactly where Zack was. He'd known all along.
"Do it, but say nothing of the sister. She is our secret, for now."
Quinn stared at Arturo, willing him to meet her gaze. "Will you bring Zack here?"
He didn't turn. "No. He belongs to another."
He whirled on her, all warmth gone from his eyes. "Forget him," he snapped. "He's lost to you."
"You lied to me."
"I said what I must to keep you from trying to escape." And this time she saw only truth in those hard eyes. This had been his intention all along. To bring her to his master.
Cristoff laughed softly, a sound that formed ice crystals in her veins. "I call Arturo my snake for a reason."
On a burst of fury, she tried to get at the vampire who'd betrayed her, but Cristoff held her fast, binding her against him with an iron arm until she could barely breathe. She trembled with outrage and a deep, quaking terror.
"Go, now," Cristoff ordered his snake.
And Arturo did, walking away without a backward glance.
Arturo's gut twisted with guilt as he descended the brick steps, leaving behind the suffocating confines of Gonzaga Castle. The sorceress hated him for what he'd done. Rightfully so. But they'd needed a sorcerer badly, and she was the first they'd found in more than two years of searching.
He'd known what she was the first time he'd tasted her. As Bram said, she carried no scent of magic, but the taste of it in her blood was strong for those who knew what magic tasted like. And Arturo knew.
Ah, her blood was sweet. But she was Cristoff's now.
The guard opened the front gate, nodding as Arturo passed through onto the paved sidewalk, leaving the lit compound behind with long strides. Letting the darkness embrace him.
Cristoff knew her value. He wouldn't hurt her. At least, he wouldn't injure her unduly. He couldn't risk it. But Arturo knew all too well what Cristoff was capable of, and it chilled him to the bone to leave a fully mortal female in his master's hands.
But he'd had no choice. It mattered not if he'd taken a liking to the woman. Or if his blood heated every time he touched her soft, warm flesh, every time he smelled the sunshine in her hair.
There was far too much at stake for a bit of pleasure to get in the way.
He crossed the dusty, empty road as he made his way back to the sanctuary of his home, remembering the look on Cristoff's face as he'd presented his gift, the sorceress. Cristoff had been pleased. Well pleased, and the notion stroked satisfyingly within him. He'd done well this day even as he knew the furious betrayal in those green eyes would haunt him for a long, long time.
Perhaps an eternity.
Zack set down his hammer atop the roof of the small brick building he and the other slaves had been working on since his arrival in Vamp City. Swiping the sweat out of his eyes, he scrambled for the ladder, fighting and jostling with his companions until they were all in danger of falling off the roof. No one wanted to be the last one down. The last always took the brunt of their master's whip.
He managed to beat two others down the ladder and took off at a run the moment he reached the ground, determined to stay in front. Following the other slaves, he rounded the corner to the wagon that must have pulled up while he'd been hammering, a wagon laden with crates of fruits and vegetables and boxes containing only God knew what. It didn't matter. He and the other slaves were the ones who would carry it inside even though the vampires could lift a hundred times what the humans could.
Most of the guys were grabbing two crates at a time, but Zack didn't need to prove anything to anyone. He grabbed a single crate of vegetables. But he'd only taken two steps from the wagon when the whip sliced down his back. Fire exploded, and it was all he could do not to lose the crate in his hands.
"More, you ninety-pound weakling!" the vampire yelled.
Gritting his teeth against the mortification as much as the pain of the lash, Zack set down his crate, returned to the wagon for a second, then dropped it on top of the first and struggled to lift them both. Motherfucker. His back bowed, his muscles shaking with strain, he made his way after the other slaves, knowing that if the fucking vampire whipped him again, he'd lose both crates. Then he and Mr. Whip would get to know one another way too well.
Sweat rolled down his temples, his face red with strain. He wasn't weak. Not weak. He'd just never seen much sense in spending hours in the gym like the meatheads. Programmers didn't need muscles. Unfortunately, slaves did. But he wouldn't be a slave forever. He'd find a way to escape - when he was stronger, when he'd solved the puzzle of this place. Then he'd rescue Lily and Quinn. He wouldn't let himself even think about whether or not his sister was still alive.
Struggling to move one foot in front of the other, to keep going, he eyed the door the others were entering, held open by a female slave. He'd never been in this part of the house before and was mildly curious. If he made it that far without dumping his crates.
Twenty more feet. Fifteen. Ten.
Finally, he reached the steps to the back door and stumbled inside without losing hold of his load, miracle of miracles.
A woman grabbed the top crate, swinging it away as if it weighed nothing, heating his face even more. She was probably a vampire. Except she was dressed like a slave.
He set down the second crate beside the others, his muscles burning. He turned to go back outside, and that was when he saw her, walking past the doorway, a mop in one hand, a heavy bucket in the other.
At his call, she slowed and turned. Their gazes met, and she paled, her eyes dark with exhaustion, filling with tears. But she didn't stop, and, a moment later, she was past the door and gone again.
A hand clamped his shoulder. "Shut up, you moron." Reggie, one of the other slaves, leaned in close to his ear. "You have no idea the sadistic games they'll play if they discover two slaves care for one another. Ignore her. Forget her."
Zack paled, his breathing ragged, his emotions soaring and crashing all at once as he looked around the kitchen. No vampires had witnessed his outburst. Not that he knew of.
But Lily was here, just like he'd thought. And she was okay . . . maybe. Kind of.
God help him if the vampires came after them both.
Cristoff gripped Quinn's arm hard enough to cause bruises as he led her past the dais, through a doorway at the back of the throne room, and into a narrow passage lined with manacles chained to the walls. Walls badly stained with . . . blood?
She was shaking with fury, gritting her teeth to hide it. Damn Arturo. Damn him! She'd believed him. She'd liked him. Worse, far worse, she'd begun to almost trust him. Not that she'd had a lot of choice. But she knew better! People couldn't be trusted and, clearly, definitely not vampires.
But she'd trusted him anyway because she'd so badly wanted what he'd offered. To free Zack. Now he'd given her to this pain-feeder, this monster, without a second thought. She hated him! Hated them both.
But it was more than anger that had her body quaking. Fear crawled through her, rank and terrible.
At the end of the hall, Cristoff ushered her into another room, one far smaller than the throne room. A room that seemed wholly out of place in this house of horrors.
If the room had been anywhere else, she might have called it warm, inviting, with its walls lined with bookshelves and the glass cases displaying all manner of intriguing artifacts - vases, ivory statues, a jewel-hilted sword. On a thick-piled Persian rug, before the wide, welcoming hearth, sat a worn brown leather recliner.
"You're a reader?" she asked her captor with disbelief.
"All great men are readers," he replied coolly.
She wouldn't exactly lump powerful, sadistic vampires with great men, but she wasn't fool enough to offer that opinion out loud. Not to a man who fed on pain. She tried to envision this cruel creature stretched out in his La-Z-Boy, A Tale of Two Cities in his hands, and failed completely.
Behind her, he closed the door and threw the bolt. Her racing heart missed a beat.
A sorceress, he'd claimed. He and Arturo both. A sorceress.
She wasn't. She was just Quinn. Just . . . weird.
Except, she knew better. As badly as she wanted to deny the claim, part of her knew it to be truth. People . . . humans . . . who were simply weird didn't see shimmers in the air and didn't watch their clothes spontaneously change color every time they passed through one.
Was Zach a sorcerer, too? Had she hidden her strangeness from him all these years for nothing?
No. How many times had Angela called Quinn's real mother the witch? Goose bumps rose on her arms. The witch. For the first time, she realized the term had been literal. Angela must have known. Quinn's father must have told her. Yet he'd never told Quinn. He'd let her believe the weirdness was hers alone. Something to be ashamed of. Something to hide. Something evil.
Cristoff gripped her arm. "Now we'll discover the depth of your power, my dear." He looked too young to be using the term my dear. An illusion.
She eyed him warily, trying to remember to breathe through the block of fear that was attempting to wedge itself in her throat. "How are we going to do that?"
Without replying, he steered her to the back wall, to the clear box in which the jeweled sword hung as if suspended on air. He lifted his hand, pressed his palm against the glass, and the top sprung open. As she watched, he lifted the sword as if it really had been floating within that case. How was that possible?
To her surprise, he handed it to her. "Hold it."
She held out her hands, her muscles bunching at the unexpected weight as she took the sword. She considered trying to stab Cristoff with it, but knew she'd never get it lifted before he stopped her. And the thought of what this creature might do in retaliation turned her knees to rubber.
Instead, she studied the beautiful weapon. The steel was etched in intricate vines, the hilt solid gold, inlaid with a row of dime-sized sapphires.
"What is it?" she asked.
"It is the sword Escalla. An old wizard's sword that recognizes great power." His tone turned flat. "Power you do not possess." He took the sword from her hands and replaced it in the case.
"So I'm not going to be of any use to you?" She wasn't sure if that was good news or bad.
He turned so fast that she gasped. Gripping her around the throat, he lifted her off her feet, all but choking her. "A sorcerer's power comes in many forms. You will renew the magic of this city. And whatever else I wish of you." Those black brows, so startling when framed by such white hair, drew together, cruelty leaping into his pale blue eyes. "If you fail, sorceress, I will kill you. Slowly. And very, very painfully."
He released her. "It that clear?"
Quinn stumbled back, coughing, eyes watering, heart pounding like a twenty-person drumline.
"Yes." God help her. She didn't know the first thing about magic, and now her life depended on it? Impossible. She couldn't do this! She didn't know how to do what they wanted. She'd fail, and they'd torture her and kill her, though by then, death would be a blessing.
How could Arturo have done this to her? Damn him to hell. Damn them both. She hoped she didn't succeed in saving their godforsaken city. She hoped the magic did fail, and Cristoff and Arturo both died horrible deaths, then spent the rest of eternity in Hell, writhing in fear and pain.
If not for Zack, she'd be sorely tempted to make certain she did fail. But if her failing might endanger Zack, she had no choice but to fight to save Vamp City. At least until she got him out of there.
Then again, everything Arturo had told her could be a lie. And how in the hell was she supposed to find the truth when she was trapped in the monster's lair?
Quinn paced the tiny room, four steps from one end to the other. Little bigger than a jail cell, the room had bare white walls, a wood floor, a single bed that looked to be little more than a down-filled comforter over a rope-and-wood frame. A small washstand with an oil lamp sat against one wall, a chamber pot on the floor beside it. And there was space for nothing else. The room certainly wouldn't have passed any fire-code inspection. It had no window at all, and the door was firmly locked from the other side and had been from the moment Cristoff deposited her here after showing her his sword.