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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
Her face paled. Her trembling grew worse, and he hated it.
His fingers tightened, then gentled on her shoulders. "You must let him go, cara. Say good-bye to him in your heart."
Arturo released her. Just as he urged her to cease to care about her brother's fate, so, too, he must cease to care about hers. She was nothing to him but his charge and the potential savior of Vamp City. A thorn in his side, for all that she intrigued him. But that was the way of a sorceress, was it not? To enchant and enthrall, even if she did so unintentionally with her spirit, with her smile, which appeared all too rarely, and with the unaccountable sunshine that lived in her hair, her touch, her kiss. Were she just a human, he would keep her for his slave, but this sorceress was becoming far too much trouble. Cristoff had made him responsible for the woman's safety, but once the magic was renewed, he was done with her. What became of her then was not his concern.
His mind told him to turn away, to leave her to her obsessive thoughts of freeing her brother, but his own obsession reared its head, and he was helpless to deny himself one more taste. He took her face in his hands, her skin like silk beneath his palms, warm, fragrant, seductive. Green eyes snapped, but within the temper rose tendrils of a need that matched his own. Lush lips parted in an invitation he'd no intention of denying.
The moment his lips touched hers, he warmed, feeling the sun on his shoulders and back, and he sighed with pleasure at the way she met his kiss, at the way her arms slipped around his neck. He hauled her into his arms until their bodies molded together, a perfect fit - hard and soft, cool and warm, male and female - as his tongue swept inside her mouth, deepening the kiss, tasting sun-warmed peaches.
He longed to take her. His body throbbed with the need to part her thighs and make them one. His fangs ached to drop, to lengthen, to prepare for penetration of a different kind. His hand cupped her derriere, pulling her against his erection, arching against her as he fought the hunger tugging at his fangs. They still frightened her, as adept as she was at hiding it. And he hated that fear. He would not take her so long as she feared him. But his hunger for her was becoming more and more fierce, more and more difficult to control.
Wrenching away from her, from the temptation he was nearly helpless to resist, he released her and stepped back, his fangs and cock throbbing in equal measure. Her lips were damp and swollen from his kiss, her eyes dark with desire, and he had to fist his hands to keep from reaching for her and finishing what they'd begun. Would she welcome him without fear this time? Was she ready to take him into her body?
With Herculean effort, he turned away. The last thing he needed was to fall even further under the sorceress's spell. And he had a very bad feeling that once they'd become one, he'd find it impossible ever to turn away from her again.
Quinn stared at the door Arturo had just closed, feeling hot and chilled, such a tangle of conflicting emotions. His kiss melted and soothed even as it made her tense and trembling with wanting, a desire that was far from gone. But she was so angry with him, so disappointed that he refused to help her against Cristoff.
Dear God, what have I done? She should never have told them about her brother, never told any of them. Her only remaining hope was that Arturo had been telling her the truth when he'd claimed that snatching Zack from a rival vamp master could lead to war. That alone might give Cristoff pause. Then again, she got the strong feeling that Cristoff wouldn't let anything hold him back if he wanted something. And if he thought snatching Zack would force her to give him what he wanted, he wouldn't hesitate.
She pulled off her boots and sank down onto the soft bed, lying back, her fists to her eyes as she struggled to block out the image of Zack's being hauled before her, his fingers cut off one by one as she was forced to watch. Bile rose in the back of her throat, her stomach clenching, her eyes stinging. Hatred burned inside her for the monster who could threaten such an atrocity with such ease, one who'd done it before and so much worse. So much worse.
In that moment, she hated Arturo, hated him for his loyalty to such a man, such a creature. He would stand there and watch his master torture her brother and refuse to say one word to stop him. She knew it, and she couldn't forgive him for that. Why did she keep letting him kiss her?
Swiping at the tears that were slipping down into her hair, she blinked, staring up at the ceiling. She let him because she liked it. She liked him, dammit. The lesser of a hundred evils, and all that, she supposed. Compared to Cristoff, he was a certified saint. But he was also a manipulator. A liar, when it suited him. And he was utterly loyal to a monster.
Rolling onto her side, she curled into the fetal position and let misery and, finally, sleep, carry her away.
Quinn stood in the frozen food aisle of the grocery store, staring at the door of the ice-cream section, which had begun to bulge strangely. Light suddenly burst out around the edges. Quinn gasped and lunged, pressing against it. No! The light pushed to escape, screaming in her ears, fighting against her until the door pulsed and groaned, threatening to shatter. But she held on tight, turning to push her back against the freezing glass. No! If the light escaped, something terrible would happen. Terrible!
Across the aisle, twelve-year-old Zack sat, leaning back against the frozen-orange-juice door, his legs crossed, head bent low over his GameBoy.
Don't look, Zack.
She struggled against the troublesome, stubborn light until she was panting from exertion, her arms weak with strain. But she couldn't stop fighting. If she pushed hard enough and long enough, the light would die and go away. No one would ever know.
Zack would never know.
Quinn woke with a start, sitting up, groggy and confused.
A sound. At the door.
She tensed as the door opened, then frowned as a woman she'd never seen before slipped inside. A woman with the faintly glowing hair of a Slava.
Quinn struggled out of the pit of the bed and onto her feet, brushing her tangled hair out of her face.
The woman, as tall as Quinn and dressed in black pants and a black T-shirt that had been turned inside out, clasped her hands nervously in front of her. "I'm here to help you escape."
Quinn's flesh tingled. "Why?" She shook her head, trying to clear it. Was she still dreaming?
Impatience crossed plain, sharp features, lightning-fast. "Grant sent me. Do you want to leave Vamp City or not?" With that, she opened the door, looked both ways, and slipped outside.
Crap. Give a girl a minute to wake up before you spring something like that. But . . . hell, yes, I want to escape.
Quinn grabbed her boots and slipped out the door, closing it behind her, then, on silent feet, ran after the woman. She caught up to her just as the woman stopped in front of a door four down from Quinn's own and clicked her fingernails against it, one after the other, in a careful rhythm. A moment later, the door opened.
The woman slipped inside, and Quinn followed, nodding to the man holding the door, a tall, dark-skinned male dressed in the same all-black clothing as the woman, an impressive dragon tattoo curling around his forearm. But his close-cropped curls were lacking that Slava shine. Holy hell.
As he closed the door behind him, she whirled on him. "You're a vampire."
"No way." He turned and lifted his shirt, showing her a back sporting fresh, ugly welts that probably looked a lot like the ones decorating her own back now. "New slave, just like you. Hopefully, a soon-to-be ex-slave. Move," he said stiffly.
Quinn turned back to the room - one identical to her own except for the manhole in the center of the floor. And the ladder leading down.
Escape. If this was a dream, she was going to be thoroughly pissed.
The woman grabbed a flashlight off the washstand as the man started down the ladder. Quinn shoved her feet in her boots and tied the laces with fast, excited fingers.
"Quickly." At the woman's silent urging to precede her down, Quinn hurried to the hole, grabbed the top rail, and swung herself onto the ladder. As she started down, she heard the woman follow, accompanied by the soft squeak of hinges and the click of the hatch. The room's light disappeared, to be replaced by the flashlight beam. How was such an obvious manhole hidden from the vampires' eyes?
Down and down she climbed, damp rock on every side. She knew nothing about these people, whether they were really sent by Grant, whether Grant was even friend or foe. But any risk was worth the chance of escape and the possibility of finding Zack before Cristoff went after him.
She heard booted feet hit the stone floor below her and knew that the man must have landed. A second flashlight erupted behind her, allowing her to see the last few rungs. The man said nothing as she joined him, but his eyes gleamed with excitement. Why? Had these two been sent by another of Cristoff's rivals to kidnap her? Was this guy looking for some kind of reward for bringing her in?
It didn't matter. One way or another, she'd make this work to her advantage.
The woman completed her descent, then led the way down a long tunnel deep beneath the castle as Quinn followed, the man bringing up the rear.
Finally, the woman stopped, rapping softly on what appeared to be solid rock. How were there tunnels in the rock this far below D.C. . . . and no water? She thought this part of D.C. had been built on a swamp. Then again, this wasn't D.C., was it?
To her surprise, a narrow, short strip of rock swung open. A door. For midgets.
The woman bent low and swept under. Quinn hesitated only a moment before doing the same. In for a penny, in for a pound.
On the other side, she straightened, taking in a cave easily three times the size of her apartment back home, the walls unadorned except for the three lanterns sitting on various natural shelves, their light flickering over the damp walls. Around the cave, close to a dozen people stood watching her, as many men as women, all dressed similarly to the first two in varying shades of black and navy, some with shoes or boots, others barefoot. None of them had hair with that phosphorescent glow except the woman who'd come for her.
And Grant Blackstone.
He stepped forward, the only one still dressed in nineteenth-century landowner garb, his expression no more friendly than it had been any other time she'd met him. "I have a proposition for you, sorceress."
Nice to see you, too, Grant. "What's the proposition?" And really, was she likely to say no? Even if she wanted to, she probably couldn't find her way back to her jail cell. And she certainly didn't want to.
"I want you to free these slaves." His hand waved to encompass the entire lot.
"And how am I supposed to do that?"
"Send them through a sunbeam."
Quinn frowned. "They can't walk through on their own?"
One of the slaves stepped forward, a petite young woman with a bit of a weight problem. "I heard how you escaped. So a couple of days ago, I was in the right place when a sunbeam broke through, and I ran right into it and out the other side, still in V.C. Three times. It didn't work."
"Could you see the real world in the light?"
She looked surprised. "No."
Quinn turned to Grant. "Why can I do it, and she can't?"
"Because you're a sorcerer."
"What about you? Are you able to see the other side through the sunbeams?"
Grant lightly scratched his beard, his nails clicking at his whiskers. "I don't know. I rarely leave the castle and haven't seen the sunbeams." A wistful look crossed his face. "I should like to. It's been far too long since I've seen the sun."
Quinn frowned, turning to look at the girl thoughtfully. "Even if she couldn't see the outside world, she should have been able to run into it. The sunbeams are the real world breaking through."
"True," Grant replied. "But perhaps it takes a sorcerer to lead a human."
She was a human, dammit. He made it sound like she was one of the weirdo creatures that inhabited this place.
"Was your brother touching you when you came through together?"
"Yes." She'd been holding his arm. She glanced at the hopeful faces, then back at Grant. "You want me to help them escape."
A chorus of whispered yeses and sighs echoed off the cave walls.
Grant nodded. "The ten in this room."
She took a quick count. There were eleven in all - nine with normal hair plus the woman and Grant. With understanding, she met the sorcerer's gaze. "Not you."
"No. I can never leave."
"What about her?" Quinn glanced pointedly at the woman who'd sprung her from her room, the other one with the glowing Slava hair.
"Celeste only turned Slava a year ago. She should be able to escape."
Celeste stepped forward, her features pinched. "I don't care about the risk. My children were left orphans when I was captured. I have to get back to them."
Quinn's heart went out to her and the children whose mother had been missing for . . . what? Three years, now? She turned to Grant. "If I can hand them through without going myself, I will. But I'm not leaving Vamp City." She resisted adding without my brother. It was time she started keeping that to herself.
"Good enough. But if you're going after your brother, you should know he's no longer at Smithson Castle."
So much for the secrecy. "Smithson Castle?"
So, had Arturo lied about that, too? Or was Grant lying, now? Was there anyone she could trust to tell her the truth? "Where is he now? And how do you know?"
"He was moved yesterday to the Gladiator camp."
Her eyes widened, her blood turning cold. "The Games?"
"Yes. He was the one chosen for this week's."
She swayed. Her head began to pound. "How do you know?"