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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
How long ago had that been? Three hours? Four? She had no idea. She never wore a watch anymore, and her cell phone was tucked into the backpack that had long since disappeared. Not that either of them would have worked in this place. Not that it really mattered. Five minutes or five hours, it would all feel the same.
So she paced, over and over and over, frustration and anger in every stride. And fear. God, she was scared though she'd never admit that to anyone. Though any fear-feeding vampire within feeding distance probably already knew it.
She'd been an idiot to believe that Arturo would help her find Zack after all the times he'd told her to forget him. Not that it would have made much difference if she hadn't believed him. She might have tried to escape last night, but it was doubtful she'd have succeeded. He'd have just caught her and locked her in her room again, then brought her to Cristoff today anyway as he'd clearly meant to do all along. No, it probably didn't matter, but it hurt, as much as she hated to admit it. After he'd rescued her from Francesca, she'd felt a connection with him, as if they were almost starting to become friends.
She was so damned gullible.
She raked one hand through her hair, holding it back from her face as she tried to pull her thoughts away from that bastard. What she needed to do was find a way out of this castle. They called her a sorceress. Was it true? A sorceress? All her life, she'd tried to hide her weirdness. What if she could use it? What if it could help her, for once, instead of ruining her life? She sank down on the side of the bed. And sank until she realized there would be no sitting, so she lay back, propping her hands behind her head, and stared at the lamplight flickering on the ceiling.
If she was really a sorceress, why couldn't she do magic? Only twice had she ever done anything truly extraordinary. The first time was when she was six years old, fighting with her stepmother, mouthing off. Angela had slapped her. Quinn, furious, had pushed Angela back, slamming her against the wall. Without touching her. All she remembered was lifting her hands and wanting Angela to go away. And her stepmother had flown back. She wasn't sure which of them had been more surprised. And she'd never done it again. Not after the spanking her father had given her that night and the threat that if she ever did anything like that again, he'd send her away for good.
At the time, Quinn wasn't sure she cared, except for one thing. Zack. Her baby brother. He'd only been a year old, but from the day her dad and Angela brought him home from the hospital, he'd been hers. And she his. And she'd have done anything to keep from losing him.
Quinn had never pushed anyone like that again even though, as a teenager, she'd tried a couple of times. She'd never understood how she'd done it the first time.
The second time something happened was in high school. Her gut cramped. She'd nearly killed a kid.
Scrubbing her hands over her face, she pushed the memory away before it twisted her up again. She'd never done anything strange . . . magical . . . again.
Maybe it was time she tried.
Struggling out of the rope bed, she stood and looked around the tiny room for something to test her power on. Not the lamp. The chamber pot? She glanced inside, relieved to see it was empty and clean, then picked it up and set it a foot in front of the door.
Backing against the opposite wall, she stared at it. And felt like an idiot. Battling a chamber pot. A new experience, anyway.
So how did this power thing work? Slowly, she lifted hands that felt heavier than they should. As if, on some level, she resisted. It didn't take Freud to figure this one out. For most of her life, she'd denied her power. She'd pushed it down, locked it up, hidden it away. And hated it.
Dropping her hands, she shook them at her sides as she looked at the ceiling. It was time to unlock that door, to let the power out again. If it was still in there. Maybe she'd outgrown it. Maybe she'd never really had it and only thought she had. Angela might have tripped all those years ago. And maybe that kid really had had a heart condition as the adults had claimed.
But if she didn't have any power, why did the vampires insist she was a sorceress?
With a sigh, she pushed her hands out in front of her, stared at the chamber pot, and imagined it moving back, just a little.
So she imagined it flying back, shattering against the door.
Still nothing. Dammit. Maybe she needed some emotion to spur the power.
She glared at the chamber pot and threw up her hands. "I hate you!"
The door swung open, banging into the ceramic pot and sending it rolling. Arturo stuck his head in the room, peering around the door to see what he'd hit.
"Am I interrupting something?"
"Go away." Just looking at him hurt.
He entered the room and closed the door behind him, glancing at the pot. "I heard you yelling." He quirked a brow, wry humor crinkling his eyes. "Pretending it was me?"
She refused to gift him with an answer. "What do you want?"
He lifted his hands, then dropped them in a gesture that almost seemed . . . helpless. "I am sorry, cara, for deceiving you." His tone sounded genuine, but it hardly mattered. "My loyalty is to Cristoff first and always."
"I don't like being lied to."
"Understandable. In the future I will endeavor to - "
"Spare me the false promises, Vampire. Snake." She was playing with fire, but she no longer cared. If he wanted to retaliate, he could have at it. What difference did it make? What difference did anything make, now?
But if her words annoyed him, he hid it well.
"I sent word to my contact within Lazzarus's kovena. About your brother."
Her gaze snapped to his. She wanted to turn her back on him and his tantalizing words and pretend they didn't matter. But they did. Far too much.
"I should hear back within a day or two," he said softly.
"The kovenas are enemies, cara. And there are no telephones within Vamp City. Communication takes time, particularly when one must be very careful."
"What will your contact be able to tell you?"
"If your brother lives. And if he possesses sorcerer's blood. The vamp masters are very careful to screen all new slaves for sorcerer's blood. We have been looking for a savior for a long time. If your brother is a sorcerer, my contact will know. And, soon, so will I."
"If he is one, will you bring him here?"
"No. Lazzarus will not give him up." He tilted his head, studying her. "Do you believe your brother possesses power?"
Quinn looked away, debating what to tell him. Even if she lied, it wouldn't change anything. "No. My mother was the one they called a witch. Zack and I share the same father."
"That is too bad." He held out his hand to her. "Come. Cristoff wants you to attend him."
She shuddered at the prospect, remembering all too well the woman, bloodied and burned, in his throne room. "I don't suppose that's an offer I'm allowed to refuse?"
Arturo's eyelids dropped, his expression softening with pleasure. "It is not."
"Dammit, you're feeding on me again!"
He shrugged. "I am what I am."
"A fear-feeder? A liar?"
His lashes lifted, and he pinned her with that dark gaze. "I cannot help the way I feed. But I do not wish to feed from you in that way. Not from you."
"The feeding of emotions is not a choice. If there is fear, I will feed. I cannot turn it off."
"I don't know why you care one way or the other. You told me you don't want your slaves afraid, but I'm never going to be your slave. So what in the hell difference does it make?"
"I don't know." He caught her wrist and pulled her off balance, into his arms. As she struggled to right herself, he buried his nose against her temple. "Your fear offends me."
She forced some space between them and slammed her fists against his chest. "Well, your lies offend me. Let me go."
His arm tightened around her waist, holding her hips flush against him as his breath teased the rim of her ear. "It is your body I crave, piccola, your touch, your passion. When you are near, I can think of little but getting you beneath me and burying myself inside you."
His nearness, his warm breath, his words, sent damp heat pooling between her legs. The last thing she wanted was to be affected by him, to desire him. But her body had a will of its own. "Vampire," she said through clenched teeth. "Let me go."
Instead, he pressed his mouth to her neck, a kiss, not a bite. And a gentle one at that. Then he straightened and released her.
Quinn stepped back, out of his reach, struggling to get control of her unruly pulse. She hated that he still had this effect on her.
Arturo turned and opened the door. "Come."
She stared at him, her feet refusing to move, every bone in her body suddenly too heavy to push forward. Fear of the unknown, of what Cristoff might have in mind for her, had welded her to the floor.
Arturo turned back and met her gaze with surprisingly gentle eyes. "I do not believe he'll hurt you, cara. He will not wish for anything to happen to you before you renew the magic of Vamp City. And Cristoff, for all his vices, is a man of extreme control."
His words eased the simmering panic. A little. "And afterward? After I've renewed the magic?" Assuming she ever managed that feat, which was exceedingly doubtful.
"I am privy to neither Cristoff's plans nor his thoughts." He motioned to the open doorway with a nod of his head. "One day at a time."
And she really had no choice. If she refused to accompany him, Arturo would simply sling her over his shoulder and carry her out. Her pride was all she had left and he'd take that, too, if he had to.
Quinn took a deep breath and squared her shoulders before stepping toward the door. As they started down the long, narrow passage, side by side, she glanced at him sharply. "I don't believe you. You know exactly what's likely to happen to me; you're just not saying."
To his credit, he didn't reply, didn't compound his lies.
The passage was completely unadorned, lit only by a gas lamp every hundred feet or so, making the walk spooky. She should be glad to be leaving that miserable little room. And she was, or would be, if Cristoff wasn't waiting for her at the other end.
Arturo reached for her shoulder, squeezing it lightly before she shrugged him off. "Control your fear around Cristoff. He cannot taste it, as I can. As any fear-feeder can. But he'll see it in your face plainly enough if you let him. Cristoff may feed on pain, but he enjoys fear. The more he knows he distresses you, the more interest you will be to him. Ignore him, and he might do the same to you."
Eventually, their path led back to the grand foyer, which appeared all but deserted. She could hear voices and the clatter of billiard balls in the other room, but the grand party appeared to be over. "Where is everyone?"
One of the guards she'd seen in Cristoff's throne room - the bald one who'd made her skin crawl, strode into the foyer from one of the side rooms yanking a whimpering girl along beside him by her hair. The girl's mouth had been bloodied, and there was blood smeared between her thighs, visible beneath the skimpy uniform all the castle slaves seemed to wear. But unlike the Slavas, her hair had no glow. Did that mean she was still new to Vamp City and not yet immortal?
Arturo halted their progress, turning to the guard, a fine vibration tensing his body. Anger? "She's not yet a Slava, Ivan. She'll not easily or quickly heal your abuse."
Ivan sneered. "She lives, doesn't she?" As if the girl was lucky he hadn't killed her.
And suddenly Arturo was no longer by Quinn's side, but standing squarely in front of the sadistic guard, his blade buried hilt deep in the guard's stomach. "Be happy you do, too. Now release her."
Quinn watched them, stunned. If Ivan were human, Arturo would have killed him, stabbing him as he had. Instead, as Arturo removed his knife, the guard merely straightened, hatred flashing in hard eyes. But he did as Arturo demanded, flinging the girl to the marble floor, eliciting a cry of pain from her.
Fury burned in Quinn's gut, and she started toward her. But before she could reach her, vampires began to flash around her as if she were standing still. Ivan disappeared. Arturo was suddenly at her side, taking her arm to hold her back, and a third appeared out of nowhere.
"Kassius." Arturo greeted the new arrival warmly.
"Ax." Kassius had to be close to six and a half feet tall, his shoulders as broad as a linebacker's. His dark hair was on the short side, but curly and untamed, several days' whiskers and a strong Roman nose giving him a rough look. But the expression in his eyes belied that roughness as he went to the girl, lifting her into his arms with surprising care.
The girl began to cry with great wracking sobs, trembling harder than before. Both Kassius and Arturo tipped back their heads, clearly drinking her fear, before eyeing one another again.
"I wish you'd killed him," Kassius said. "I've ordered them not to touch the fresh ones. They can't take the abuse."
"Ivan's day will come," Arturo replied darkly. "But he's a favorite of Cristoff's."
Kassius scowled. "That's no surprise." He turned to Quinn, eyeing her with interest. "Is this her, then? The sorceress?"
Arturo led her forward with a nod. "Quinn Lennox."
Kassius watched her curiously. "She doesn't react to me."
"Nor can she be enthralled."
"She's strong, then." Relief softened the hard lines of his face.