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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
Facing the castle, he glanced up as a movement caught his eye. Lily. She stood in the open second-story window, watching him, a scrub brush in one hand and pail in the other. As the torchlight flickered over her face, she looked so sad, he wanted to hit something. When was the last time she'd smiled or laughed? She had the best laugh. Had the vampires stolen that, too?
If only he were some kind of superhero and could whisk them both out of there. They'd find Quinn and escape this sorry world once and for all.
But he was no fucking superhero. Not even close.
One of the vampires started down the line of slaves, handing something to each of them in turn.
Zack gaped. Swords? You've got to be fucking kidding me. What did they think this was? Ancient Rome?
As one was shoved into his hand, he realized it was made of wood, the point rounded off. Okay. His heart started beating again. Just pretend. Sort of.
The head vampire stopped at the end of the line, addressing them. "You will fight your opponent, the man you face."
Zack's gaze flew to the guy across from him, Reggie, one of the ones who'd been here a few months, who always seemed to know what to do. Reggie's expression changed before Zack's eyes, transforming from one of tired resignation to hard-eyed warrior. Fuck. He was supposed to fight him . . . with a wooden sword?
"You may draw blood," the vampire continued. "But you will not kill."
Jesus. Zack gripped the wooden hilt, a frisson of excitement fizzing inside of him. A real battle. If only he had a serious weapon, like a laser gun or a light saber, he'd take them all down, vampires included, chopping off their heads left and right. All the slaves would clap him on the back, and he'd lead them in an uprising like Vamp City had never seen. Then he'd grab Lily and Quinn and get the hell out of there.
The vampire lifted his arm high above his head, then brought it down like he was waving a flag at a NASCAR race. "Go!"
Before Zack knew what was happening, Reggie lunged, swinging the sword, slamming it hard into the side of Zack's head. The next thing Zack knew, he was on the ground, struggling to get up, something wet running down his cheek. He brushed at the wetness with the back of his hand. Blood. He'd lost. As he pushed to his feet, swaying, three Reggies danced in his vision, their swords hanging at their sides.
Where was his sword? His hands were empty. He'd failed.
"Enough!" the vampire cried.
Zack swayed, stumbled back, and caught himself before he fell. Slowly, the three Reggies merged into two, then back to one.
"You've made your decision already?" one of the vamps asked the one in charge.
The first vampire snorted and looked at Zack. "That one, with the red hair."
"He won't last five minutes in the arena."
"Let the Games have him. He's useless here."
Zack's face flamed. Useless? He wasn't useless! He could program circles around every last one of them. But they didn't care about that here. His shoulders sank. It didn't matter here. Nothing mattered but muscle. And he didn't have nearly as much of that as he'd thought he had.
With a sinking gut, he looked up at the window and found Lily standing there still, tears streaming down her cheeks. She'd seen it all.
His humiliation was complete.
Forty-seven, forty-eight, forty-nine . . . Quinn pressed through the push-ups, her hands damp on the unpolished wood floor of her miserable little room. There wasn't much else she could do in here, but she had to do something. Never in her life had she been sedentary. Even at work, she spent more time standing than sitting, moving every chance she got. If she was stuck within these four tiny walls for much longer, she was going to become claustrophobic.
She'd tried, over and over, to access that small burst of power she'd had as a kid, but it was gone, and she had no idea how to get it back.
At the sound of a key in the lock, she jumped to her feet, brushed her hands off on her pants, then pushed back a sweat-dampened lock of blond hair with her knuckle. Arturo pushed open the door and stepped inside. Under one arm, he carried a bottle of wine and an old book. In his hand, two wineglasses and a tray of bread and cheese.
He eyed her flushed and damp state and her uneven breathing with amusement. "Training to take me down?"
She shook out her arms, eyeing him coolly. They'd parted on a sour note after the trip to the food village and the shower. As nice as he was sometimes, nothing she said made a difference in his attitude toward helping her find Zack. And her refusal to give up thoroughly annoyed him. It was a huge sticking point between them. But, dammit, Zack was her brother.
"There's not much else to do in here."
He glanced at the bed. "I can think of something."
A bolt of heat lightning arced through the air between them as she remembered the feel of his hands on her body . . . in her body. The thought had her legs weakening all over again. But it did nothing to ease her anger with him. He wanted her, but he didn't give a damn about her. Not when he knew Zack's loss was killing her, yet he refused to do anything to help. He claimed he couldn't. And maybe that was true. But he could damn well quit telling her to forget about the only person she'd ever loved.
Who was this vampire, deep down? He was definitely attracted to her. She'd felt the way his hands shook every time he touched her. She'd felt the evidence of that attraction pressed against her hip. Still, he had yet to actively seduce her. The moment he touched her, she turned to putty in his hands, and they both knew it.
So, what did he really want from her? Was he carefully working to win her trust, or did he honestly possess a conscience? Maybe even a heart.
A man with a heart could be swayed to do the right thing. Perhaps. If he cared. And if she didn't continually annoy him with her begging him to help.
Arturo set everything on the washstand, then handed her the book. "Grant sent this for you."
Quinn handled the dusty volume with care as she turned it over. A History of Witchcraft in America. "Is this a joke?"
"He said it's important that you understand your heritage in order to call forth your true gift."
"He thinks I'm a witch?"
Arturo's brow lifted in amusement. "And what do you think a sorceress is?"
Something I'm not. She turned the book over in her hands. Could anything look more boring? "It's a history text. Clearly, everyone in this place enjoys torture." She hated history. Absolutely hated it. "I wouldn't mind a novel, though. Maybe a Mary Higgins Clark or Nora Roberts?" Of course, Grant wouldn't have sent her this one if there wasn't something in it she needed to know. Maybe the Blackstones were discussed at some point.
"I might be able to scare you up a Stephen King."
She snorted. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"
A crack of thunder rattled the mansion, followed by the pounding of raindrops against the outer walls.
Arturo poured two glasses of white wine, handed her one, then carried the plate and his own glass to the bed. She was still angry enough to be tempted to tell him to leave. Except she didn't want him to go. Not yet. As much as she hated being trapped in this room, being trapped in it alone was a hundred times worse.
Quinn eyed the sagging mattress dubiously. "We might want to sit on the floor. The bed is a bit . . . soft."
His smile turned devilish. "You just have to know how to sit on it."
"And you do?"
"I've slept on worse, cara. Many a time."
"I suppose you have."
He handed her the plate. "Hold this." She took it and watched as he lowered his long frame to the middle of the narrow bed like one might a hammock, then leaned his back against the wall, looking annoyingly comfortable. He reached for the plate, set it in his lap, then held out his hand again. "Give me your wine."
Quinn hesitated, then, with a huff, did as he asked and managed to join him with a minimum of grace. Arturo handed her the wineglass. Leaning back against the hard wall, she wasn't exactly comfortable, but she wasn't too uncomfortable, either. Especially not with the bed pitching her shoulder to shoulder with Arturo.
The vampire looked at her with approval. "There now. Was that so hard?" He handed her his wineglass, then set about cutting slices of cheese and tearing off chunks of bread. When he was through, he reclaimed his glass and set the plate in her lap, snatching a piece of cheese before he pulled away.
She glanced at him before placing a slice of cheese onto one of the bite-sized chunks of soft bread. "It surprises me every time I see you eat. Vampires should only drink blood."
"Many things you see in the movies are not true. You must know that."
"Like vampires being pasty white? You're not. Your skin tone is . . ." She almost said gorgeous and caught herself in time. "Normal-looking."
He made a sound of amusement as if he knew exactly what she'd been thinking. "Vampires are whatever color they were originally."
His mouth twitched. "Without suntans."
"You're Italian. Clearly. All the caras and piccolas."
"I didn't know there were vampires in Italy."
"And you knew there were vampires in Washington, D.C.?"
"Good point." She took a sip of the wine, making a sound of approval at the smooth, fruity taste. "This is delicious."
"But of course. When one has lived a long time, one learns to appreciate the finer things in life. And has had the time to discover them."
"And to save the money to buy them?"
His eyes danced, a small smile hovering at his mouth that did all kinds of crazy things to her pulse. "That, too."
She took another bite of cheese and bread. The bread was soft and still warm, the cheese delicious. Never would she recommend this place for its hospitality, but the food was another matter. "You're entirely too charming for a vampire, do you know that?"
"Am I, now? I'm not sure I should take that as a compliment. Your vampire legends are rife with charming scoundrels."
"And Cristoff calls you his snake."
He shrugged turning away to take a sip of wine. "I am what I am."
"A fear-feeding, bloodsucking vampire." She glanced at him. "I understand the blood thing. Blood is life. But not the emotions. Even if you drank blood as often as you wanted to, you'd still die if no one feared you?"
"Die? No. But my control would weaken, and my conscience would be overridden by the drive to feed. The more I try to limit my need to terrify, the more harm I'll do, perhaps attacking innocents or children, killing instead of merely feeding."
"Do you ever terrorize children?"
"Never." The word snapped from his lips. "Before Vamp City began to crumble, my friend Micah hunted swine - the humans who preyed on the innocents. Pedophiles, rapists, wife- and kid-beaters. He'd bring them to me before delivering them to Cristoff, and I would delight in terrorizing them. I have an entire dungeon outfitted in the basement of my house for the purpose. I've never actually used the instruments. The sight of them is all that is needed to send such vermin into paroxysms of fear. For decades, I've fed almost exclusively on Micah's offerings, but they've ceased now that we are trapped."
She studied him, considering his words, stated so matter-of-factly. "You're surprisingly comfortable with yourself and what you are, aren't you? No anguish over being a soulless monster."
He grunted. "And why would I be soulless?"
She looked at him curiously. "Do you consider yourself dead? Or undead, maybe?"
"Neither." He took her free hand and drew it to curve around the side of his neck, pressing her finger against the pulse point beneath his ear. His skin was cool, but very much alive. "Do you feel it?"
"Your pulse? No."
"Wait for it."
A moment later, she felt the unmistakable throb of his heart blood, strong and clear. "Yes," she breathed, and waited to feel it again. Seconds passed, perhaps more than seven, before she felt another kick. Withdrawing her hand, she looked at him in surprise. "It beats incredibly slowly."
"Yes. It will beat faster right after I've fed and far more slowly when I'm hungry and depleted of blood. But my heart beats, Quinn. I live."
"And yet when you became a vampire, you died."
"I was transformed. Near death, yes. And without the blood of my maker and the transformation, I would have died. He'd drained far too much of my blood for me to have ever recovered. But, no, I never truly died."
Quinn took another sip of her wine, mulling his answers, overlaying the legends in her mind with the truth as she now understood it. "Why did he turn you?"
Arturo stilled, then slowly lifted his glass and drained the wine. "He did what he did." Without warning, he stood, levering himself up and off the rope bed far too easily, then set his glass on the washstand.
She looked up, starting the awkward scoot off the bed with wineglass in one hand, plate in the other. "Are you leaving?"
He grabbed her glass, then took her hand and helped her up. "I have responsibilities other than you, cara."
"I wish I could say the same. Seriously, Vampire, what's the plan? To keep me locked up here for the rest of my life?" Which, in this place, might not be very long.
He handed her back her glass. "Get some sleep. Night has fallen. In the morning, we shall accompany Cristoff to the Crux to test your power."
That sounded . . . ominous. "What's the Crux?"