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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
"I may not leave this castle often, but I have a valuable network of spies."
"You don't even know what he looks like."
"No, but Arturo does. It was his spy my own learned this from."
Arturo had probably seen him that day when she and Zack first came through.
"So Arturo knows that he was moved."
Hell. Would the traitor grab him and take him to Cristoff or leave him there to die? She squeezed her eyes shut, pressing her fingers to her eyelids. She wasn't sure which she preferred.
Not the Games. Was there ever a kid less suited to violence than her brother? He had height, but little muscle, and had never been into sports or skateboarding or anything physical. He'd always been a mind kid - video games, computer games, school. He was a great student with a quick, agile brain. And now they were going to put him in an arena and order him to fight to the death.
The cold seeped from her blood into her flesh and down into her organs, a debilitating frost that threatened to strip her of her ability to think, to act.
She turned to Grant. "Tell me how to find the gladiator camp."
"Not until you've fulfilled your part of the bargain."
She blinked. "Not until I've freed all these people?"
Her temper flared. "Do you have any idea how long it can take for the sunbeams to appear? It took me six days . . . six days . . . to get back in after I escaped." From the moment she'd first arrived in this place, she'd been chained, enslaved, ordered about, and punished . . . by vampires. She'd be damned if she was taking it from a slave, too. She closed the distance between them, eyes shooting fire as she got in his face. "We're doing it my way this time. You tell me where the gladiator camp is, and we'll start in that direction, hunting sunbeams as we go. But the Games are in two days. Zack will be dead in two days. Two days that aren't likely to matter one bit to your buddies here."
But Grant wasn't one to be cowed, especially by a sorceress who couldn't find, let alone control, her power. Blue eyes flashed with a temper equal to her own. "You do realize you're not getting out of here without a guide."
Quinn straightened, folding her arms across her chest. "Then it looks like we have a stalemate." She frowned as the implication of his demands hit her for the first time. "Or a trap."
It was his turn to frown. "A trap?"
"If Vamp City's magic fails, you die. Are you convinced I don't have the power to renew it? Is that it?"
"I have no idea what kind of power you possess." But he looked away as he said it, making her think he knew precisely. Making her think, too, that he was a lousy liar.
"If I escape Vamp City with my brother, I'll never be back. You know it, and I know it. So either you think I'm going to be of no use in helping you renew the magic, or you don't think I'll ever escape. Which is it, Grant? Am I powerless, or are you planning for me to be captured once I help your friends?"
He scratched his jaw absently, studying her with those blue, blue eyes. "I have no plan for you to be captured. Escape Vamp City with my blessing." So he did think she was powerless. Or he was just one more liar.
"Where's the gladiator camp?" she persisted.
A muscle leaped in his jaw, but he told her. "Approximately H Street and North Capitol."
That was only a few blocks from Union Station in the real D.C., which wouldn't help her much in this world since she was pretty sure Union Station hadn't been built until long after 1870. Still, she knew the general location. She'd find it.
Quinn met Grant's gaze. "I promise you, I will do everything in my power to see these people free of this place. But my brother is not going to die for it. He comes first. If we run across a sunbeam as we head for the gladiator camp, I'll get them through if I can." She lifted her hands and dropped them again. "You have to understand, I don't know how the sunbeams work. I don't know if I can send them through without going with them. And I can't risk leaving Vamp City and not being able to return for a week, again. But, I'll do everything I can to get them out of here."
The woman, Celeste, moved beside Grant, eyeing Quinn with eyes bright with hope. "I can live with that."
"Me, too," the dark-skinned man said. "If I can help free your brother, I'm down with that, too."
She nodded, then swallowed as she remembered Lily. She didn't even know if the girl was in Vamp City, though her pen's lying on the sidewalk precisely where the worlds collided made it more than likely. Still, how was she supposed to find her, let alone free her? How, for that matter, was she supposed to free Zack from the gladiator camp? Her odds of accomplishing any of it were practically nonexistent.
For one dark moment, the weight of those impossible odds threatened to crush her, stealing her breath, her hope. Leaving either Zack or Lily behind was not an option. Yet how would she ever save them both when twice she'd found her freedom within this world devastatingly short-lived?
Celeste walked over and took Quinn's hand. "Thank you. Bless you. You're the only hope we have."
The dark-skinned man joined her. "Yes, thank you, sorceress. We'll be forever in your debt."
Quinn felt that terrible weight lift slightly, enough for her to take a deep, unsteady breath. "Okay. Who's leading us out of here?"
A guy with a stylishly shaggy haircut and silver reflective glasses unfolded himself from the back wall of the cave. "I'm your guide. Grab your packs and your stakes, boys and girls." He turned and slammed his palm against the wall beside him, and yet another door opened in the stone. "We're going home."
She would never get used to this place.
Grant kissed Celeste's cheek. "Be happy." As she hurried to join the others filing through that back door, Grant turned to Quinn, his gaze probing, his expression enigmatic.
"Thank you," Quinn said quietly.
He nodded once. "Stay out of the Crux." She started to turn away, but he stopped her, his three-fingered hand on her arm. "Good luck."
She might escape, but he never would. And his hatred of this place was palpable. She wasn't sure what got into her, but she found herself leaning forward and placing a quick kiss on Grant Blackstone's cheek. "Thanks, Grant. May you find happiness in some form."
A small smile lifted his mouth, warming his eyes a few degrees. "Go."
And she did.
Quinn left Grant and strode quickly across the cave, to where the dark-skinned slave waited for her by the hidden door in the stone.
The man handed her a twelve-inch-long wooden stake. "Don't lose this. Vamps die if you stake them through the heart with wood."
"So that legend really is true?" She ducked through the doorway into another dimly lit passage through the rock. The other slaves were already a distance ahead.
"It's true," he said, following her in.
"Who built all these tunnels?" The tunnels were barely tall enough for her, let alone anyone taller than her own five-foot-nine. "I would think we should be up to our eyeballs in water down here."
"Slaves built them about fifty years ago. With Grant's help."
"Your guess is as good as mine."
"Are they hidden from the vampires?"
"Concealed. If the vamps find the tunnels, they can get into them. Grant's magic is good, but it's not that good."
Parlor tricks, he'd said. Yeah, right. The man was a wizard. Literally. And yet he couldn't renew the magic of Vamp City. But they expected her to? They were crazy.
"I'm Quinn, by the way," she said quietly.
"Marcus. They say you walked into V.C. on purpose."
She glanced at him. "The second time."
Understanding entered his eyes. "Your brother."
She nodded. "I lost him."
Marcus squeezed her shoulder lightly from behind, a warm gesture that strengthened and settled her more than any number of words could do. She'd thank him for it. Later. By finding a way to get him home.
As they rounded the next curve, Quinn saw the rest of the group ahead, the guy with the silver reflective glasses holding up a lantern, waiting for the stragglers. Was he really wearing sunglasses in the dark?
When Quinn and Marcus caught up, the leader began to speak, his voice low-pitched and quiet. "We'll come out of the tunnel in an abandoned row house about a block from the castle. Getting out of the Gonzaga kovena lands may be the most dangerous part of the journey. I'll go first to ensure that the coast is clear. Stay here until I give the signal. Once you're topside, don't go near the windows and don't make any noise. Not a sound."
"Jeff?" Celeste asked. "If the coast isn't clear?"
"If there's trouble, follow Celeste deeper into the tunnels. She knows them almost as well as I do." Jeff turned and started climbing a wooden ladder that rose straight up.
Quinn glanced at Marcus. "Is it day or night, now?"
"Why not wait until full dark?"
"The vamps can see perfectly fine in the dark, and we can't. The little bit of daylight provides an even playing field." He shrugged. "Though not fucking much." He lifted his finger to his lips, his gaze following Jeff as their leader slowly pushed open the trapdoor above.
Quinn and the others turned silent as stone, barely breathing as they listened, tense and ready to run. If the vampires found them, they'd almost certainly catch them. Vampires were way too fast.
A soft click sounded, a tap similar to the one Celeste had made on the two doors. At the sound, Celeste grabbed the ladder and started climbing. One after the other, the remaining slaves followed until only Quinn and Marcus remained. As before, he waited for her to go, then brought up the rear.
Moments later, she emerged into a small, dark room, deep with shadows, that might have once been the living room of a small town house. The remains of rotted furniture littered the wood floor while the smell of mildew and decay thickened the air, along with swirls of dust.
Jeff, his back pressed against the wall, peered out a window so dirty it let in only the faintest of light.
Quinn followed the woman in front of her into the shadows at the back of the room while Marcus closed the trapdoor. Did they really think there was a chance that a group this large could pass through the city unnoticed by the vampires? They must.
Jeff slowly opened the front door, but only far enough to slip through. Halfway out, he nodded, then disappeared. One followed, a second, a third. Seven of them were out the door, Quinn only two back, when the house began to shake just as it had right before the sunbeam burst through the last time.
Upstairs, something crashed. Timbers creaked, one snapping. The whole damn house was going to fall on top of them!
Marcus grabbed her arm with one hand and yanked open the hatch with the other. "Down," he hissed.
Quinn hesitated. The others didn't, diving for the hatch like rats escaping a fire. "But this is it," she hissed back.
"No. Not here." He pulled her to the floor, until she was on her hands and knees. "There are too many vamps around. We'd never make it."
The others were rushing back in the door, bending low as they, too, dove for the hatch. Marcus shoved her into line between two of the men. Just as she started down, Jeff slipped into the house, shutting the door a split second before sunlight erupted into the room from the street outside in a blinding, fiery burst.
Quinn scrambled down the ladder, speeding up simply to keep her fingers from being stepped on by the bare feet of the man above. She felt hands at her waist and allowed herself to be pulled aside as the man above her jumped. Someone turned on a flashlight, but she was still sunblind and would probably remain so for several more minutes. Vaguely, she was able to make out Marcus's solid form coming down the ladder.
A shout sounded from above, then a woman's scream.
Quinn's eyes widened, her heart beginning to pound.
Jeff closed the hatch and quickly joined them. "We lost Crystal and Rick."
"How?" one of the women demanded. "You left them up there?"
"Crystal fell over a fallen beam," Jeff said, as if discussing the weather. "Rick stayed to help her. Apparently, they were caught."
Marcus grunted. "Because you closed the door."
Jeff scowled. "And if I hadn't before the light erupted, we might all have been found. We might still be. All it takes is one vamp to ask the right questions, and we're all dead. Let's move."
"Back to the castle?" Quinn asked no one in particular.
Marcus answered. "No. There is a maze of tunnels down here. Jeff and Celeste and I are the only ones who've been down here though none of us are experts. Far from it."
"This way," Jeff said. And now only eight followed.
Quinn started at the sound of Arturo's voice, her heart catching, then racing as she looked around.
"What's the matter?" Marcus grabbed her shoulder.
I do not know who took you, but I'll find you.
Holy shit. Could he really speak to her from this distance, or was he a lot closer than he should be? If he could sense where she was, they were in deep trouble. She wondered if he could read her mind. Vampire, can you hear me?
I will find you. The words sounded as much promise as threat. And they hadn't answered her question.
Marcus squeezed her shoulder. "Quinn?"
"Nothing. I just . . . nothing." Her heart racing as much from Arturo's contact as the near miss, she followed the others. Dammit, it was as if she hadn't escaped him at all.