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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
"Yes. You feel hotter than I am."
A funny look crossed his face. "When I touch you, when I kiss you, I feel as if I've stepped into the sun for the first time in centuries. You smell like sunshine to me. And I feel a warming of the flesh I've not known in far too long. I thought I was being fanciful."
"You're actually warm to the touch." She looked at him curiously. "Is this my magic?"
"I do not know." He frowned, his fingers running through her hair. "I wish you had no magic."
"Because then I could keep you for my own."
Turning away, Arturo opened the inner door of the shower stall and started the water, then stepped back out and began to remove his belt.
Quinn stared at him with disbelief. "You said you were keeping your pants on."
"Pants, yes. Belt, no. I would not ruin the leather."
"Oh. Fair enough."
But the moment he tossed the belt aside, he reached for her, long fingers catching in the waistband of her panties. "Hold on to me."
She did, gripping his shoulders - hard, muscular, lovely shoulders - to steady herself as he pulled her panties down and off. Arturo straightened slowly, caressing her body with his gaze in a wash of sensual heat. With a quick shake of his head, as if to clear it, he opened the door behind him, took her hand, and led her inside under the deliciously warm spray of water.
"Oh, this is heaven," she murmured, stepping into the stream, tilting her head back to soak her face and hair.
"You, cara mia, are magnificent." He dipped and nuzzled her neck even as the water sluiced down the back of her head, neck, and shoulders. Slowly, he straightened, then reached for the bar of soap sitting in the soap dish on the wall. A bar that looked a lot like what she used at home.
"So it says." He thoroughly lathered his hands, then dropped the bar back into the dish. "Step out of the water. Let me wash you."
She did, missing the warmth until his soapy hands slid over her shoulders, cupping her neck and throat, then down to cover both breasts. Tipping her head back, she sighed with pleasure at his firm, slick touch. "This place is such a strange blend of the old and modern. Fire-heated water, hand laundry, and Dove soap."
"And Herbal Essences shampoo."
Quinn laughed softly, happily lost in a haze of pleasure as her vampire companion thoroughly washed one of her arms, then the other.
He turned her away from him, lifting her hands, placing her palms against the wall as he placed a kiss on her shoulder. "Keep your hands there and move back, bend over."
"I don't think . . ."
His hand slid softly up her spine. "Trust me."
"I have no idea why I should do that," she muttered, but did as he asked, the water hitting her lower back, her body beginning to tremble in anticipation of his touch. And she didn't have long to wait. A moment later, soapy hands were sliding over her back and shoulders, down over her hips. But his touch was firm, no-nonsense, as he thoroughly cleaned one leg and foot, then the other. Disappointed, she was beginning to think he truly meant to take no advantage at all. Until his foot tapped her inner ankle.
"Spread your legs." She did, and, a moment later, one soap-slick finger started at the base of her spine and slid down, over her anus, and further, straight into her hot, wet core. She cried out, arching her back at the pleasure.
His other hand, equally slick, corralled her from the other side, sliding across her stomach, delving into her nether curls, finding and plucking at the center of her pleasure. His mouth caressed her shoulder, her back, her neck as both of his hands played her until she was rocking, crying out, screaming with release. And then she was in his arms, her back against his chest, one of his hands covering her breast, the other deep between her legs, finger-fucking her, milking the orgasm for all it was worth.
She reached behind her head, running her fingers through his hair as she arched back into him, rocking, moaning, loving his touch. Gradually, she calmed. Slowly, he released her, turning her around to face him, pulling her back into his arms and kissing her with a passion that threatened to drive her up all over again. Until the water at her back began to turn cold.
Quinn gave a squeak and dove out of the water, looking at Arturo with dismay. "I haven't washed my hair."
His eyes were soft as he watched her. Infinitely warm. "Tip your head forward under the water, then shift toward me, and I'll wash it for you."
She did as he directed, enjoying the feel of his long fingers massaging her scalp before she shoved her head back under the now-chilly water for a quick rinse and repeat. When her hair was clean and clear of the fragrant shampoo, Arturo turned off the water, reached through the door for the towel, and wrapped her up snugly. How strange to feel taken care of by a vampire.
He towel-dried her hair, then helped her back into her clothes. As she pulled on her boots, he donned his shirt, not appearing to care that his pants were soaking wet.
A shriek split the air from one of the buildings nearby, a loud wail that had Quinn turning rigid as stone. "Not again."
"No one is being tortured."
"Sounds like it to me." She tied her second boot and rose.
"That is a cry of anguish, not pain."
"You know your screams."
His expression turned wry, but he took her hand and led her out of the shower shack, to a low, wooden structure that looked like it belonged in a campground packed full of day campers. He ushered her inside. The interior was open, furnished only with a couple of long trestle tables. Built into one wall was a huge stone hearth, unlit.
Firelight flickered on the walls from half a dozen lamps, and on the faces of half a dozen stricken women, one of whom was in full-blown hysterics.
Quinn watched as Kassius strode up to the group, grabbed the hysterical girl by the jaw in a grip that appeared surprisingly gentle, and forced her to look into his eyes. Instantly, she calmed, her tears ending, her expression falling into one of sleepy indifference. As a woman put her arm around the girl and led her away, the others followed, eyeing Kassius with an odd mix of fear and gratitude.
She glanced at Arturo and caught the look of pleasure on his face. "You're feeding."
"I am," he said unapologetically.
One woman remained behind, a woman with a thin, pinched face and the shimmering hair of a Slava, who eyed Kassius with a haughty belligerence. Kassius turned on her with a look that Quinn thought warranted a little fear.
"You enjoy the hysterics," Kassius accused her. "You should be one of us."
"They are weak."
He stared at her until she began squirming beneath his gaze. "Perhaps I'll recommend to the council that the next game's theme be dark-haired bitches."
She closed her mouth with a snap and whirled away.
Kassius growled low in his throat, then came to join them. "The Games," he spat. "They should be for warriors, not women."
Arturo shrugged. "They are what they are."
"You are too damned complacent, Ax!"
"And you care too much, Kas. You grow fond of them, and they die."
Kassius glanced at her. "And you don't?"
"Caring has never changed anything."
"I can't stop. Not anymore, though, gods, I wish I could." He turned toward the door and strode out, anger vibrating in every step.
"What just happened?" Quinn asked softly.
Arturo's expression told her she wouldn't want to hear it. And he was probably right. But Zack was caught in this place somewhere, and the more she understood, the better her chance of getting him back.
"I want to know. The truth, Vampire."
He frowned. "She's been chosen for the Games."
He gave a snort of frustration. "One of Vamp City's prime selling points, over and above the fact that the sun never shines, is that it is a place where vampires can engage freely in our favorite sports."
He met her gaze, warning her not to press. She stared at him, insisting he finish.
"The hunting, terrorizing, and torturing of humans."
Quinn shivered. "The Games." He was right. She didn't wanted to know this. "Tell me the rest."
Arturo swung away from her, staring at the cold hearth. "You are familiar with the gladiator games of ancient Rome?"
"Of course. At least superficially."
"Soon after V.C. was built, the coven masters joined together to build a coliseum, though on a far smaller scale. Once a month we hold the Games, often with different themes, though one thing remains the same. Humans fight. Humans bleed. Humans die. Each kovena sends a pair of their freshest slaves, humans who have not yet turned to Slavas, have not yet turned immortal. The girl who was crying had just been told she will be going, I suspect. Though it's possible someone close to her is to be sent."
Quinn stared at him. "So she'll be forced to fight. With no training? Will she even be given a weapon?"
"Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on the whim of the organizers. The males chosen are often sent to a gladiator camp in the city for training. The second and third rounds are generally between at least minimally trained combatants and tend to be good fights. But the first round . . ." He shook his head.
A slaughter. "Zack could be involved."
The thought of it, of her sweet, smart, nonathletic brother thrown into a gladiator ring filled her with a cold and silent terror. He wouldn't survive for five minutes. Yes, he could battle with the best of them when it came to computer games, but in real life? He wouldn't even know how to hold a real weapon.
"I have to free him."
"I've told you . . ."
"I know! I know you won't help him."
"Not won't. Can't. The politics of this world makes the machinations of your own political parties look like kindergarten squabbles. I'm Cristoff's chief negotiator, but I do nothing without his will because if I fail, war ensues. And I will not risk that kind of disgrace over a human. Any human."
"Can you at least ask your contact if Zack's been chosen for the Games?"
The vampire gripped her by the shoulders, hauling her around to face him, all softness gone from his expression. "If he is not a sorcerer, he is dead, Quinn. Or will be soon." His grip tightened, and he gave her a small shake. "Fewer than one in five slaves brought into Vamp City lives long enough to turn Slava. He may die at these Games, or the next, or in a fit of anger or hunger at the hands of one of his masters. He is lost to you. I do not know how to say that any clearer. You must mourn him and move on."
Her eyes burned as a shaking started deep inside her. She would never move on. Never. "Do you go to the Games?"
He growled in frustration. "All Cristoff's most trusted accompany him. Anytime the kovenas gather, there's the risk of war."
"When are these Games?"
"You are the most stubborn female . . ."
"It's a simple question."
"Three days hence," he snapped. "Come." He started toward the door, once more the master with his slave. Discussion over.
Three days. And if Zack was involved? She might never know. He is lost to you.
No. As long as she drew breath, she would fight to find him. Or, at the very least, to learn his fate. Then, perhaps, she would find the strength to move on.
But not a minute before.
"In the yard, bloodsacks. Now!"
Zack gave a silent groan, pushing off the narrow rug that served as his bed on the damp floor in the Dungeon. It looked like a dungeon, with its stone walls and damp stone floor, but it was really just the basement of the Smithsonian Castle . . . Castle Smithson, the vampires called it, now. This place was so fucked up.
Around him, the other new slaves stumbled to their feet looking . . . and smelling . . . like hell. Not a one of them had seen a shower, comb, toothbrush, or razor since they'd gotten here. He didn't care. At least, he wouldn't have cared if Lily weren't here somewhere. He hadn't seen her since the kitchen yesterday. Thank God none of the vamps appeared to have overheard his lapse as he'd yelled for her. She hadn't looked bad, not like he suspected he did. She'd looked . . . tired. And kind of shell-shocked. But still so fucking pretty.
The vampire's whip snapped through the air. The slaves rushed for the open door, pushing and jostling one another, none wanting to be last. None wanting to feel the lick of that lash. Zack clamped down on a groan of pain and stumbled after them. One sorry bastard remained asleep on the floor. Or, maybe dead. Zack hoped he was just sleeping, mostly because if he was dead, that meant Zack was last in line.
He was becoming as cold-blooded as the vampires.
Exhausted and starving, every one of his muscles ached as if it had been wrenched and twisted a hundred ways, then left to harden that way. But the worst part, by far, was the constant, gnawing hunger. All they ever fed them was oatmeal, canned stew, or canned chili. Cheap stuff. And never, ever enough.
Behind him, he heard the whistle of the lash, then the cry of pain of the guy who'd been sleeping. Not dead.
As he pushed through the door into the torchlit yard, he saw that two more sadistic vampire guards were already pushing them around. "Line up! Two lines, facing one another." One of them grabbed Zack and shoved him to one side. "You in this line." Still more asleep than awake, Zack stumbled as he found his place in one of the lines, righting himself at the last minute.
Why two lines? Since he'd gotten here, he'd done more physical labor than he'd done in his entire life. He'd hauled bricks, hammered shingles onto a roof, carted boxes and crates, and dug a trench for a new water line. Lining up like this was new. Were they going to be carrying something long and heavy?