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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
The remaining blocks passed quickly, the clack of wood on wood and the occasional shout of pain growing louder. Sweat began to dampen her scalp as she half walked, half ran, driven as much by anticipation as fear. Zack, buddy, I'm coming. She wondered how big the camp was, how spread out. Surely, there would be buildings. Maybe even fences, though fences could be climbed. But if the slaves were enthralled, maybe there was no need to fence them. There would be little chance of their escaping.
She hadn't considered what she might do if Zack were enthralled. Would she be able to break through vampire mind control enough to lead him away? So many questions. So many ways for her to fail.
As she turned the next corner, she could see light rising from behind the line of row houses on the next block. She was nearly there. Quinn darted across the street and back into the shadows closest to the houses, then slowed as she made her cautious way to the corner, where she could peer at the encampment without being seen. As she reached the corner, she pressed her fist to her chest, attempting to quiet her stuttering nerves, praying she might, at last, catch a glimpse of her beloved brother.
But as she pressed back against the building and slowly peered around the corner, her heart fell to her stomach. They'd called it a camp. She'd envisioned something open, accessible. Instead, she stared at a freaking fortress. The brick wall, a good twelve feet high, extended all the way down the block and back at least as far, encompassing an entire city block. Maybe two. Halfway down the block, light gleamed from what appeared, from this distance, to be thick iron-barred gates.
Holy hell. She'd imagined grabbing Zack and slipping away unnoticed. There would be no escaping this place. Her lashes swept down, her jaw tensing, as she absorbed the blow of disappointment.
From behind the wall rang the clack of wood and the shouts of anger and pain. She'd almost certainly found the gladiator camp. But the question remained, was Zack within those walls? Grant had claimed he was. At least, that he had been. But what if she got herself captured and taken inside only to discover that Zack wasn't there?
Maybe there was a way to see inside before she committed herself. Gripping her switchblade and stake tightly, she turned back the way she'd come, deciding to go around the block and try to come at those gates from a different angle - one that might afford her a little cover.
An alley provided the path she'd been looking for and led to a building directly across the street from the gates. Perfect. As always, she approached quietly, carefully, in case this happened to be one of the houses that was actually occupied. As she drew closer, she saw that the door hung askew. Clearly abandoned, like most in V.C.
Cautiously, she slipped inside, the old wood creaking beneath her feet. What little light the day provided barely penetrated the house, but she didn't dare turn on her flashlight with the vampires right across the street. And she could see well enough without it, well enough to make out the stairs to her right. From an upstairs window, she might have the best view. The treads appeared to be intact. Hopefully, they'd hold her weight.
She tried the first step, slowly. While it creaked, it held, and she moved up the stairs, keeping to the better-braced ends rather than the middle. The fourth step cracked, and she quickly moved on to the next, but the rest held. At the top of the stairs, she moved just as cautiously down the hall to the front bedroom, where the smell of mildew was rampant, the furniture crumbling and ghostly-looking in the dim light of day.
One of the windows was still intact but too thick with dirt to see through easily, so she moved to the broken one, where she discovered a clear view across the street. And into the surprisingly wide gates.
The interior of the camp was well lit, firelight and shadows dancing on the far walls. She could just glimpse one of the torches hanging in an iron holder.
Movement caught her eye through the bars, a line of bare-chested young men, marching as if in formation. A shout, and they dropped to do push-ups, sweat and blood gleaming on their backs. And that's when she saw him. Zack. She'd know that mop of curly red hair and that long, skinny back anywhere. That back, now crisscrossed with welts and straining with exertion.
As she watched, a thick-armed brute strode up the line, cracking a whip seemingly at random, knocking one recruit onto his chest, then another. Several more withstood the flick of the whip, continuing with the push-ups as if nothing had happened. The whip scored Zack's flesh, and Quinn gasped. But though Zack's form wavered, he didn't crumble. Her own skin crawled with misery at what he suffered even as she cheered on his determination.
There were no women in the group even though a woman had been chosen to represent Cristoff's kovena. Then again, why bother training the ones who were only there to be slaughtered?
Another shout, and the line of men jumped to their feet. Zack rose a beat late, for which he earned another lash. Then they were marching off again, out of her sight.
She had to get him out of there. Getting in herself should be easy. It was getting back out again that was going to be the problem. But that was a worry for later. Right now, right this moment, all she cared about was reaching Zack.
Taking a deep, bracing breath, she retraced her path down the stairs, careful to avoid that missing step. But as she reached the back door, a shadow appeared in the doorway.
Her pulse leaped as a second joined it. And a third. All three male. All three with the faintly glowing orange eyes of Traders.
Her heart plummeted. She refused to return to that slave auction. No way in hell. Not when she was so close to reaching Zack.
Quinn flicked open her switchblade and took a step back. If she could make it out the front door and across the street, would the vampires snatch her from these vermin? Or would they let them take her? She didn't know and couldn't risk their choosing the latter. She was going to have to fight off this lot herself.
The Traders weren't particularly big men - no taller than she was, but they moved into the house with a wiry grace that boded ill for her ability to fight off any of them, let alone all three. She'd expected to have to deal with men today, probably even rape. But at the hands of vampires within the gladiator encampment. Not here!
"What do you want?" She tried to keep them in her sights, but the way they were circling her, it was impossible.
"You." The first one eased closer. "An escaped human fetches a higher price than a fresh one. Though you look plenty fresh." He lunged for her.
Quinn struck with her knife, slashing a bloody line across his arm. "Oh, I'm fresh all right."
The second two attacked at the same time, and she whirled, kicking back at one as she swung at the other, but this time they were prepared, and she missed on both counts. They circled her, laughing, as she crouched, waiting for their next attack, desperately trying to keep them all in sight.
The first one lunged again, and she struck out, but the moment her arm was extended, the other two pounced on her from behind, knocking the knife out of her hand. Quinn slammed her elbow back, connecting with a nose, and heard a satisfying crack. That attacker fell back with a yell as a second lunged. She lashed out with another back kick, but a hand gripped her ankle, a foot swiped her other foot out from under her, and she slammed onto the floor, back first, her head splintering wood behind her. Pain exploded, her sight shorting out for one terrifying moment before returning in sunburst flashes of pain.
Rough hands groped her breasts as another pair pulled off her boots and reached for the waist of her pants. Terror burst inside her, and she struggled to fight them off, but a third set of hands grabbed her wrists and pinned them high over her head.
Heat began to crawl beneath her skin, rushing from her hands down through her body, an unnatural heat that neither warmed nor burned, reminding her of what she'd felt in the Crux when Grant and Sheridan took her hands. Except there was no pain this time, just a hot itchy feel. Of power? Could she do something this time?
She flattened her palms and pointed them toward the Trader who gripped her arms, imagining him flying backward, away from her, willing it with all her might.
But nothing happened.
Instead, a blinding storm of fear and fury roared through her as her pants and panties were wrenched off, as the man who'd taken them pulled a thick, distended cock from his own pants.
He was going to rape her. They all were. Terror hit her in a blinding rush, and she struggled, kicking out, missing.
And suddenly her would-be attacker flew backward, slamming against the wall. Was that her doing? But she'd barely formed the thought when the man who'd been groping her breasts disappeared just as suddenly in a yell of outrage and pain, and the crunch of bone.
She hadn't done that.
The last of her assailants released her hands and leaped up, ready to take on whatever had attacked his comrades.
Only one thing moved that fast. A vampire.
Free at last, Quinn rolled over, away from him, the room spinning sickly as she struggled to crawl away. Slowly, she pulled herself to her feet, wanting her clothes, but choosing escape instead. She stumbled toward the back door, her head pounding, her heart threatening to beat out of her chest.
Behind her, the sound of battle continued, the crack of bone, the cry of pain. Of death. Silence.
And suddenly cold hands gripped her shoulders, shoving her back against the nearest wall. She lashed out, struggling against a grip five times stronger than the Traders' had been.
A familiar scent filled her senses - that intoxicating scent of almond liqueur. Arturo.
The relief hit her hard, weakening her knees. Tears burned her eyes. But when she would have reached for him, his hold on her shoulders tightened, a punishing grip. She blinked back the tears, her vision clearing, only to be assaulted by his face inches from her own, by the fury in his eyes. Clearly, he hadn't forgiven her for escaping.
She wanted to yell at him that she didn't need this right now. She was shaking, the adrenaline of the attack ricocheting inside her, trying to find a way out.
He gripped her chin, his cold fingers biting into her cheeks as he forced her to look into those furious eyes. "What game are you playing?" His voice radiated with barely leashed violence.
What game? How was she supposed to answer that? It was too much. She was shaken, hurting, naked. The tears started to slide down her cheeks. "I found . . . Zack." Her voice caught on the last.
But Arturo wasn't sparing her an ounce of sympathy. His grip on her only tightened, painfully so. "You have power. Loads of it. When I found you just now, your eyes were glowing with it."
She just stared at him and began to sob.
"If . . . if . . . I had power, don't you think I would have stopped them?"
For long moments, he didn't say anything, but she felt his grip on her jaw ease. Then he was pulling her into his arms, holding her tightly against him where she so badly needed to be. She clung to him, burying her face against his neck, as the storm of tears swept through, leaving her beaten and exhausted.
Finally, when the storm had passed, she pulled back, swiping the moisture from her cheeks, horribly embarrassed. Naked, crying, helpless - was there anything she was missing to make her humiliation complete?
The vampire's hand slid down her hair. "We need to talk."
A sigh trembled out of her. "I'll tell you everything I can, but it's not much. If I have power, I don't know how to access it." She met his gaze, willing him to understand. "I tried, Vampire. When they had me pinned, when he was unfastening his pants, I tried to push him away. I tried."
He gripped her face with gentle hands this time. "Shh. You're safe now."
"Did you kill them?"
She nodded, bowing her head again, needing her clothes.
As if she'd spoken the thought aloud, he released her and went to fetch them, then helped her dress with quick, clinical movements.
As she sat on the floor and pulled on her boots, she looked up to find him watching her, frowning. "I saw Zack. He's in the gladiator camp."
A look of disgust crossed his face. "And I suppose you were planning to ask them to let you in?"
She returned her concentration to her boots, choosing not to answer that derisive question.
"Do you know how many would have raped you? And drank your blood? They'd have killed you!"
Boots on, she rose and met his gaze, knowing there was desperation in her own. "Help me get him out of there. Please?"
But all she got was a scowl in return. "You ask the impossible." He clasped her arm in a steel grip and steered her through the front door, where his yellow Jeep sat.
The last hope that he might still help died as he shoved her into the front passenger seat, then drove off, gripping her wrist to keep her from escaping again.
Quinn turned away, her elbow on the window opening, the wind raking her hair back from her face as the tears once more began to roll. He refused to bend. And she'd lost this fight one too many times.
Deep within, her soul withered, crumbling, as the last hope of saving her brother slowly died.
Quinn's head pounded, her heart cold and aching, as Arturo led her up the steps of Gonzaga Castle and into the grand foyer. She should be terrified to be back here, but she felt nothing. Empty.
She'd failed. Cristoff would never allow her to escape a second time. And Zack would soon be dead.
The castle once again streamed with music and laughter, the foul joyousness of a savage and dangerous race.
"Where is Cristoff?" Arturo asked one of the guards strolling through the foyer.
"In the throne room, Arturo."
Arturo gave a nod, took her upper arm, and led her up the wide staircase and down the hall to the room where she'd seen the burned and naked woman being fed on by four vamps. That might end up being her fate if she failed to call the magic a second time.