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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
"The Crux is the term for the inner lands of V.C., farthest from the Boundary Circle, lands not claimed by the kovenas. Within their very heart lies the Focus, the spot upon which Phineas Blackstone stood and cast his magic to create this world. It is there that the magic must be renewed."
"You do know that I have no clue what to do, right?"
"Grant and Sheridan Blackstone will accompany us, along with a dozen of Cristoff's guards."
"You're afraid other vampires may attack us? Don't they want Vamp City saved?"
"Vampires are not always the most logical of creatures. But there are other things within the Crux that would enjoy seeing us dead." He touched her hair. "Nothing for you to worry about."
"Right. Go to sleep and don't worry about the monsters, even though these monsters are real." Arturo turned to go, and she stopped him. "Vampire, what if I fail? What if I can't save this world?"
"We'll try again at the equinox."
At least failure wasn't an automatic death sentence. "And if I succeed?"
He gave her a small smile. "We will be grateful."
"That's it? Will I be freed?"
Frustration glimmered in his eyes. "You will never be free. If you are of no worth to Cristoff, I will offer to buy you from him." His eyes darkened, his hand lifting to touch her hair. "I wish you for my own."
"For your slave."
"For my bed." Vampire-fast, he took the glass and plate from her hands, deposited them on the washstand, then pulled her against him, dipping his cool face to nuzzle her neck, making her shiver with pleasure. His dark, decadent scent filled her nostrils, his soft hair sliding along her jaw. A moment later, he shifted, rising, claiming her mouth in a kiss that was soft and sensual, a tasting, a sharing.
When he pulled away, she stared at him, breathless, trying to make sense of the inconsistencies in him. He could be so hard. Yet when he touched her, so gentle.
His hand cupped her jaw, his thumb tracing her bottom lip. "Such a frown. Did my kiss displease you?"
"No. I just . . . I don't know what to make of you sometimes."
"And why is that?"
She watched him for long moments, debating whether to be honest and deciding she might as well be. "My instincts tell me to trust you, but you've told me yourself that I should never do that. And you've proved it. You lied to me about taking me to find Zack, then turned me over to Cristoff. And you refuse to help me save my brother. I hate you for that. I want to hate you. And I can't."
He mirrored her frown, then cupped her face in his hands, looking at her in earnest. "This is the truth, Quinn. You must understand it. My loyalty is to Cristoff. His needs and desires come first above those of anyone else, including myself." His smile was small, his eyes deep and fathomless. "But I do not hate you either, tessoro. I quite like you. And I would not see you come to harm."
"You'll protect me. But never from Cristoff."
He slid his fingers into her hair, running the blond locks between his fingers. "Correct. And no, never from Cristoff."
He'd protect her from all but the worst of the monsters - the master who ruled them all. Which was little protection. And yet, she believed him.
"Will you continue to lie to me?"
The charmer smile blossomed. "I am what I am."
She laughed despite herself. "A hopelessly unapologetic reprobate."
He grinned, his eyes going tender. "A pretty sound, your laughter. I would hear it more often." He kissed her forehead. "I fear I am a reprobate who cannot stop thinking about you." His lips brushed her cheek. "About the beauty of your breasts or the feel of your satin flesh beneath my hands." His mouth teased the corner of her own. "Or the cry of your passion when pleasure breaks over you." His lips grazed her jaw, then slid to her neck. "The sweet smell of your skin invades my thoughts at the most inopportune times, and your taste." Once more, he rose and claimed her lips, sliding his tongue deeply into her mouth.
Quinn moaned, wrapping her arms around his neck and giving herself up to his kiss.
As he pulled back, she pressed her hand to his cheek, marveling at the feel of him. No longer cool. "Kissing makes you warm."
"Only when I kiss you." He smiled, running his fingers lightly down the sides of her neck. "You may smell like sunlight, but you taste of peaches, utterly delectable." Their gazes caught and held until she thought she might happily drown in those dark pools. "Someday soon, you will open your arms and your thighs and welcome me, cara. But not today." He gave her nose a tiny kiss, then released her. "Sleep, Quinn." A moment later, he was gone, the lock clicking into place.
Quinn leaned back against the door, running her own fingers through her hair, hair he'd been playing with just moments before. He made her feel soft and excited, warm and unsatisfied. At once marvelously content and thoroughly frustrated on so many levels. He was stubborn and unbending and yet . . . sweet. Loving. And what strange, strange words to attribute to a vampire.
With a sigh, she pushed away from the door and poured herself another glass of wine. He'd told her to get some sleep, which meant she wouldn't see him again for hours. And she didn't even have a clock or a window to give her any clue of the time.
She picked up the book Grant sent and sat on the floor beside the washstand. Starting at the beginning, she quickly began to skim, searching for any reference to a Blackstone. Soon, the words began to run together, and she knew she was about to nod off, which wasn't a bad thing. Sleep was the best way to make the time pass. But as she flipped the page to see how many more she had until the end of the chapter, her eyes started playing tricks on her. The type beneath her fingers began to dance and fade.
As she stared at the page, the type slowly disappeared, handwriting appearing in its place - a tight male scrawl she could nevertheless read clearly.
Her pulse began to race.
My dearest Quinn,
I am writing to you in sorcerer's text, which you will be able to reply to by writing over the same page with your finger. Only another sorcerer can see it, so our communication is perfectly safe. It is being said that you escaped V.C. in a sunbeam. Is this true?
Your humble servant,
For long minutes, Quinn stared at the writing, reading it over and over as chills ran down her spine. This was true magic.
Finally, she set her finger to the page beneath Grant's note.
Yes. The sun burst through outside Arturo's house, and I could see my world in it. I ran into the sunbeam and out of V.C.
Now what? She supposed she'd have to ask Arturo to send the book back to Grant and hope - New writing appeared, overlaying the old.
It is rare for one to see either world from the other, even in a sunbeam. Is that how you found your way into V.C. in the first place?
She pressed her finger to the page and replied.
If this is one of the parlor tricks you were talking about, Grant, I can't imagine what kind of power . . .
She stopped. She'd been about to write, a real sorcerer might have, but that would probably offend him. Especially since she was supposedly one herself. Good grief, his father had created V.C. Created this entire world. That was real power.
She started a new line.
Yes. I'd been getting short glimpses of V.C. for several weeks. Then a friend went missing, and as my brother and I searched for her, I saw your world clearly in front of me. My brother and I got sucked inside. After I escaped, I returned to look for my brother and ended up in a slave auction. So much for brilliant plans.
My half brother, Zack. I have to find him and Lily, who is the friend who went missing. I suspect she might be here, too, somewhere.
She stopped writing, then pressed her finger once more to the paper.
Can you help me find them?
She waited for a response. And waited.
Was that it, then? Was the exchange over?
And suddenly the original text reappeared, the finger-written conversation bare shadows on the page. Shadows she suspected only a sorcerer would see.
And now yet another person refused to help her find Zack. Well screw them both. She'd find Zack herself.
The righteous determination left her on a defeated sigh. Who was she kidding? She was trapped as completely as any rat in a cage. Escaping Cristoff would take a miracle.
Or a hell of a lot of magic.
The next morning, Arturo led Quinn out the back of the mansion to where several horses stood, their reins held by vampire guards. The dirt had turned to mud in the overnight downpour. The morning had dawned dark - as they all did around here - and stiflingly humid, a light fog obscuring what little she'd normally be able to see. There was a reason this part of D.C. had been named Foggy Bottom at some point in the distant past.
Arturo stepped off the bottom step onto the muddy ground, but when she would have followed, he held her back with his hand, reached for the reins of one of the horses, and pulled it toward her.
Quinn backed up a step as the massive head swung her way. She looked to Arturo with disbelief. "You want me to get on it?"
His mouth kicked up on one side. "I wish you to mount, yes."
Great. Okay, she'd seen Westerns on television. She could do this. When Arturo had the horse parked parallel to the step, she reached up and grabbed the pommel, lifted her knee nearly to her shoulder, and managed to get her foot in the stirrup. With a lot less grace than she'd have liked, she swung aboard the big animal.
Arturo handed her the reins. "Don't move," he warned, then mounted another horse, a big black one, with an ease that made her envious.
A chill went through her as she caught sight of Cristoff, a short distance away, already mounted and waiting. Today he was dressed in what appeared in the low light to be a purple silk shirt. Were those really purple pants? Mounted on another horse near him was a young man, perhaps a few years older than Zack, dressed in the style of the nineteenth century, his shirt white, his sleeves wide, his pants black. His dark blond hair brushed his shoulders, framing a good-looking, if ill-tempered, face.
Arturo brought his horse beside hers and took the reins from her hands. "Since you've never ridden, I'll lead."
"You don't think I can drive this thing?"
His eyes laughed at her. "I'll teach you to ride when the ground is no longer mud."
She supposed that was fair, especially since she didn't need anything else to worry about today. Not with Cristoff so close, the threat of magic breathing down her neck, and the threat of failure and what that might bring.
When Arturo didn't kick his horse into gear, she looked at him with confusion. "What are we waiting for?"
"Oh. Who's the guy with Cristoff?"
"That is Sheridan Blackstone."
"Grant's brother?" Holy shit, that young man was over 150 years old. She could see the family resemblance between the two brothers, each with that dark blond hair and the strong, attractive features. But Sheridan still possessed the leanness of youth while Grant had filled out into a man.
"They look so much more than a year apart. Is that because Sheridan was turned?"
Arturo nodded. "Slavas sometimes continue to age for a time, even after they've turned immortal. Not always, and those who do, generally quit aging by thirty or thirty-five. Grant was one of the latter. Vampires remain whatever age they were when they were turned."
"How old was Sheridan?"
"That's kind of young."
"He was not given the choice."
Perhaps that's why he looked so sullen. Although after 130 years, she'd have thought a guy would get over something like that. Maybe not.
Several minutes later, the back door opened, and Grant descended the stairs unhurriedly, as if he were the first one there instead of the last.
"Nice of you to join us, sorcerer," Cristoff drawled from across the courtyard.
"This is a waste of time. She'll never pull the magic on a null day."
"We'll find out, will we not?"
Grant mounted the remaining horse with an ease that rivaled Arturo's. Immediately, Cristoff and the Blackstone brothers started toward the gate.
Arturo followed after them, leading Quinn on her horse. She felt like a five-year-old. It was true that she'd never tried to drive something that had a mind of its own. Well, other than the ancient Oldsmobile she'd had in high school that refused to start whenever the temperature dropped below freezing and had a nasty habit of stalling at stoplights whenever she was late. But she was pretty sure she could figure it out. Really, how hard could it be to snap the reins, and say, giddyap?
Then again, Arturo rode as if he and the horse were one, with a beautifully flowing motion and strength, while she bounced along, her butt slapping the saddle with every stride of the beast. She was definitely going to need lessons if she got stuck here too long.
As they left the gates, a full dozen of Cristoff's vampire guards joined them, half leading the way, the other half bringing up the rear. Clearly, Cristoff was taking no chances, though whether he feared his rivals or one of the other creatures that made its home in the Crux, she didn't know. They headed north, and it only took a few blocks before the remnants of old buildings gave way to open mud fields interspersed with dead forests. The City of Washington in 1870 hadn't extended much past modern-day downtown, apparently. The rest of D.C., she was beginning to realize, had been distinctly rural.
Quinn glanced at Grant. A dozen times last night, she'd opened the book he'd sent her, hoping to find another message, but none had appeared. There wasn't much chance they'd be able to talk today, certainly not privately. Not surrounded by fifteen vampires.