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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
"He is my master. He cannot help what he is any more than I can help what I am."
She watched Arturo, his darkly handsome face by far the easiest thing to look at in the room. "There has to be another way for him to feed."
Arturo shrugged. "This is the way he prefers."
"Because he's a psychopath. And a sadist."
"Because he is a vampire who long ago disposed of his conscience."
"And you gave me to him."
His mouth tightened. "I had no choice. We have been searching for a sorcerer to save this city since the magic began to fail. You are the first we've found. Sorcerers are all but extinct."
She turned away, then quickly back again as she remembered why she'd been studiously pinning him with her gaze. "Am I going to survive this? The saving of V.C.? Tell me the truth, Vampire. You owe me the truth."
This time he was the one who looked away, his lips turning in, working, before he slowly met her gaze. "Your death is not needed to renew the magic, no."
"But . . . ? You left a huge but dangling at the end of that sentence."
He opened his mouth, then shut it again, as if deciding against the denial that threatened to roll off his tongue.
"One day at a time, cara. One day at a time."
His words were no comfort at all.
The screams of the woman had finally faded away to be replaced by . . . music? Quinn turned in surprise to find a balcony high above her, where a dozen Slava musicians struck up a lively and incongruous rock beat with piano, guitars, drums, and various brass instruments.
One by one, the vampires around the room rose, leaving their depleted human meals lying limp and pale on the brightly colored cushions, and filed down the stairs to the wide swath of floor that surrounded the vat where the tortured woman remained, presumably healing.
As the music rose, the vampires began to dance in a wild revelry, some jumping, hands in the air, others clinging to one another, kissing, fondling, more sex than dance. A vampire rave.
Quinn shook her head, trying to take it all in. "They never get tired, do they?"
"After a full meal, a human often feels lethargic." Arturo shrugged. "Not so a vampire. The blood energizes. Never do we feel more alive." He glanced at her, a hint of devilment in his eyes. "Would you care to dance?"
She looked at him askance. "You're kidding, right?"
"I tease you. Your dinner is being brought in. Once you've eaten, we can leave. Unless Cristoff demands you stay."
She shuddered. If she ever had to go near that monster again, it would be too soon. "Are you usually down there dancing with them? When you're not guarding prisoners."
"No. Not all enjoy the banquets. I avoid them whenever I can."
"So you're not as depraved as you like to let on."
"Have I shown you depravity, cara?"
"No. But you're always quick to defend it. 'We are what we are' and all that."
He shrugged. "It is best if you understand the nature of the beast. We are not human, cara. Our needs and our morality are very, very different from your own."
As he'd demonstrated with his betrayal. And yet . . . there was morality in this man though it might sometimes be buried deep.
"Here comes your dinner."
She followed his gaze to where a man climbed the stairs carrying a tray, dodging the gyrating vampires as he made his way up the rows toward them, striding as if he owned the place. He was dressed in what might have been considered nineteenth-century landowner casual - an ivory linen shirt, dark brown pants, boots - an anomaly in that room at the moment. His dark blond hair had the phosphorescent sheen of a Slava, but there was nothing cowed or subservient about the way he moved. With a close-cut beard skimming a strong jaw and bright blue eyes, he was strikingly good-looking.
He walked down the row in front of her, meeting her gaze with cool eyes as he handed her the tray. "Your dinner, sorceress."
"Thank you. But I'm . . . really not hungry at the moment." She'd been breathing through her mouth just to avoid the pungent smell of blood and sex for some time, now.
"You'll eat." Arturo's tone said she had no option. "You do not wish to offend Cristoff."
She wasn't sure Cristoff would even notice, but he was right. The last thing she wanted was Cristoff annoyed with her. For any reason.
She took the tray, then glanced down to find a plate of surprisingly-decent-looking food - chunks of ham, potatoes au gratin, a pair of large, fluffy rolls, and a metal tankard with beads of moisture clinging to the outside. Reaching for the tankard, she flipped open the top to find a frothy head of beer.
"Do you drink beer?" Arturo asked.
"I love it."
"We have our own microbrewery," the Slava told her.
She looked at him in surprise. Curious, she took a sip. Cold, crisp, tangy. "This is good."
At her praise, a smile pulled at the edges of his bearded mouth, then disappeared just as quickly. "Everyone needs a hobby. Especially those of us stuck in this hellhole for eternity."
"Where were you, Grant?" Arturo asked, as the Slava climbed over the bench at her feet to sit on the other side of her, the spot Cristoff had occupied earlier. "You're late."
Quinn took another sip of the beer, liking the taste and the way it washed away the bitter fear and misery that coated the back of her throat.
The Slava grunted. "He insists I attend, but that doesn't mean I have to sit through his savagery." When Quinn glanced at him, he thrust out his hand to her. "I'm Grant Blackstone."
Blackstone. Blackstone's ilk. She cut her gaze at Arturo, then turned back to Grant, shaking his hand. "Quinn Lennox. You're a Slava?"
Annoyance flared in his blue eyes. "I'm a sorcerer. Like you."
She frowned. "Then, why . . . ?"
"Why don't I save VC and leave you out of it?"
"If I could, I would. I may be a sorcerer, but I've never had much power. A few parlor tricks, and that's about it. Nothing like my father."
"His father, Phineas Blackstone, created Vamp City," Arturo told her. "Vamp City was designed as a trap to kill every vampire within."
Her jaw dropped as she looked at Grant.
The other sorcerer nodded. "He failed and paid for it with his life. And two of my fingers." He held up one hand, wiggling his remaining fingers and the stubs of his pinky and ring finger.
Quinn's face turned cold. "Cristoff must have been furious."
Arturo nudged her shoulder with his own. "Eat."
Pulling her attention from the sorcerer, she pulled apart the soft roll, taking a bite that practically melted on her tongue.
"He was furious," Grant confirmed. "And more furious still when he realized neither of Phineas's sons had their father's power."
"There are two of you?"
"Grant and Sheridan, named by our mother after Civil War generals. Union, of course."
"Of course." But, good grief. "Were you born back then?"
"Right after. In 1865. Sheridan in 1866. He was turned when we were in our twenties."
"Turned? Into a vampire?"
"What else?" The man didn't have the most winning away about him, but she supposed he had a right to sound aggravated. She hated to think what she'd be like if she was still stuck here a hundred years from now. Immortal. It was hard even to comprehend what that meant. Forever youthful, yet . . . for what? To hang around in the dark, to try to avoid being tortured? To brew beer?
For the next few minutes, she ate in silence, surprised at how easily she devoured every bite of food on her plate. When she was through, she turned to Grant. "I don't know if I have the power to renew the magic. If I do, I don't know how to access it."
"Cristoff seems certain your power's strong enough. It'll come."
"Do you know what I have to do to save this place?"
Arturo's shoulder brushed hers. "Grant and Sheridan were there when their father renewed the magic that first time. They'll be able to help you."
The sorcerer frowned. "Sheridan will have to help you. Did I mention I lost two fingers that day?"
His words finally caught up with her. "You were . . . five?"
"But, I thought Vamp City was created in 1870."
"It was." Grant gripped his knees, hunching over slightly in a way that told her he didn't like reminiscing about that time. Understandably so. "It wasn't until 1878 that my father pulled the plug on the magic to bring it all tumbling down. Cristoff demanded he restore it. Dear Old Dad refused, of course. Cristoff's cutting off one of my fingers didn't make enough of an impression, so he took a second. Finally, my father saw the error of his ways. By then, I'd passed out." He rose and took her tray. "If you'll excuse me, I've made my appearance and now intend to get the hell out of here."
"It was nice to meet you, Grant."
He paused, met her gaze, a hint of warmth entering his blue eyes. "My pleasure." With a formal nod, he left.
Quinn turned to find Arturo watching the sorcerer's retreat with a small frown between his eyebrows.
"What?" she demanded.
He shook his head, his expression clearing as he met her gaze, then he rose and held out a hand to her. "We should go before Cristoff joins us again."
She placed her hand in his. "You'll get no argument here."
A smile lit Arturo's eyes as his fingers closed around hers. She followed him down the stairs to the nearest exit and took a deep breath when they'd escaped into the empty hallway, leaving the noise and horrors behind.
Her hand was still caught firmly in Arturo's, but she had no desire to tug it away. There was safety here, with him, or at least the closest she was going to get to it in this place.
She glanced at him. "Now what?"
"Now . . ." He gave her a rueful look. "I take you back to your room. I'm sorry to have to leave you there, but I have responsibilities elsewhere." Together, they started back down the hall.
"I thought you were the one guarding me."
"No one will bother you here. No one would dare cross Cristoff in his own castle." He glanced at her, and their gazes met, his expression unreadable. "I can bring you books or a deck of cards when I return," he offered after several quiet moments.
"Both, please. If there's anything that might teach me about sorcerers, I'd like to start there. I know nothing."
"I'll ask Grant."
"You don't get along with him very well." It wasn't a question.
"Grant Blackstone has never been particularly good at hiding his hatred of vampires."
"Then why doesn't he leave?" But she knew. "He'd revert to his true age, wouldn't he?"
"That wouldn't be pretty," she murmured.
Arturo laughed, surprising her. "No, it would not."
His smile burrowed inside of her, warming her. It was a mistake to like him. He was such a complex, contradictory man. Yet in a lot of ways she did like him. And she'd been attracted to him almost from the moment she'd first realized that he didn't intend to kill her.
As they descended the stairs to the prison level, the thought of returning to that tiny room sent a flutter of claustrophobic panic to flight in her mind. Locked up there, she'd never find a way to escape.
The vampire stopped, taking her arm and pulling her around to face him in the empty hallway. "What is it, cara? Something disturbs you." He acted like he cared.
Quinn shrugged. "Everything about this place disturbs me. I was just thinking about my home sweet jail cell."
"You do not wish to return just yet?"
"You're kidding, right?" She raked the hair off her face with both hands. "I'm going to go stark raving mad if I have to spend much more time in there. I need to run. I need some fresh air to clear my lungs, then a hot shower to wash off the depravity that feels like it's coating my skin half an inch thick."
"A run is impossible, of course."
Quinn rolled her eyes and dropped her hands. "Of course." Unless she found a way out of here, then she would never stop running.
A gleam entered his dark eyes. "The shower, however, might be arranged."
She looked at him with surprise. "Are you playing with me or telling me the truth?"
His mouth kicked up on one corner. "I would very much like to play with you, tessoro."
"Don't, Vampire. Don't even tease about sex right now. Not after what I just saw."
His expression lost all hint of playfulness. "I wish you had not looked."
"Trust me, so do I. I'll never get that vision out of my head."
He turned back, waiting for her to follow, and she fell into step beside him, a decided bounce to her stride. He led her down another, far shorter hallway to a door, then ushered her outside, onto a brick patio. Outside! Quinn had begun to wonder if she'd ever see the steel gray of day again. The air was warm and humid, gusts of sun-heated breeze brushing against her skin interspersed with cooler air, as if night and day had tried, unsuccessfully, to mate.
"Where are we going?" she asked warily. While she was thrilled to be outside the castle, even if only for a little while, she was still firmly within the castle's walls. Cristoff's prisoner.
"The showers are outside."
She gave him a hard look. "Open showers?"