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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
She couldn't summon the will to care.
Outside the doorway, Arturo stopped, pulling her around to face him. She glanced at him, noticing the regret in his expression before she looked away.
"I am sorry, cara. It is a hard world we live in."
She said nothing. What was there to say?
Arturo sighed, touching her hair, then turned her back toward the large double doors, opening one to lead her inside. The room was empty this time but for Cristoff and a pair of guards, one standing on each side of the dais. Dressed in a bloodred silk caftan with intricate gold embroidery on the stand-up collar and cuffs, Cristoff sat upon the great throne with a naked woman draped across his lap as he sucked at her neck. He glanced up, his gaze landing on Quinn, his eyes hardening. He pushed the unconscious woman onto the floor as if she were so much trash, wiped his bloody mouth on his sleeve, and rose.
Quinn's apathy fled. Her heart began to beat a frantic rhythm as the vamp master strode toward her, human-slow, drawing out the moment to a fine-honed edge. Arturo made a sound of pleasure deep in his throat, and she growled and glared at him, jerking her arm free of his hold. To her surprise, he let her go, stepping aside as Cristoff reached her. Anger crackled in the vampire's eyes, and he grabbed her hair. Pain tore across her scalp as he wound it around his fist and lifted her onto her toes. Tears bloomed until she could barely see the cruel face inches from her own.
"How dare you escape me. Who released you?" He jerked her up higher, and she cried out at the pain. "Who?"
"Celeste. And Marcus." Which was true enough. And they were safely out of his reach.
He turned to Arturo. "Call Kassius."
"Yes, Master." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him turn and go, leaving her alone with this monster.
Her fear spiked even as she knew Arturo's staying wouldn't help her, not at all. Because he wouldn't help her. Not against his master.
Cristoff backhanded her hard, splitting her lip. Tears scorched her eyes, blurring his angry countenance, hiding his hand as he hit her again, and again. The coppery taste of her blood ran over her tongue, her cheeks running wet with tears. Finally, he released her, tossing her by her hair. She landed hip first on the marble floor, crying out from the shattering pain. The taste of blood coated her mouth until she thought she would vomit.
She tried to roll off her injured hip, but fell back, biting down to keep from crying out. Damn Arturo. Damn him to hell.
Finally, the traitor returned, Kassius at his side. As she stared at Arturo, hating him, his jaw turned hard, but nothing in his expression gave any indication of regret. Or apology. How she wished she'd gone through that sunbeam with the other slaves.
No, she didn't. She'd have never been able to live with herself if she'd abandoned Zack without one last try to save him. Now, she probably wouldn't live at all.
"Bite her," Cristoff commanded. "Tell me who freed her and how."
Kassius loomed over her moments later, kneeling beside her, compassion in his gaze, at least. "My bite won't hurt, and it will help you heal," he said quietly. Then more loudly, "Think of your escape, sorceress, and it will go more easily for you."
As he lifted her into his arms, Quinn cried out as pain exploded in her hip at the movement. When he bit her seconds later, she felt no pain. And within moments, the fire in her hip began to ease.
Cool lips clamped onto her flesh as Kassius pulled at her blood. The sensation was pleasant enough though without the passion she'd felt the couple of times Arturo had bitten her.
Something began to happen.
Her vision spun and she reached out, gripping Kassius's arm. When her vision cleared, she was seeing through another's eyes in a land . . . and time . . . far, far away. Not only seeing. She felt the sun beating down on her sweating back, tasted dust and her own blood in her mouth. Felt the pounding of her heart and heard the roar of the crowd as she stood in a sunbaked arena, her body moving with strength and speed, her blade swinging, stabbing, drawing blood from her opponent - a man dressed in the short, leg-baring armor of a Roman gladiator. She was strong. Invincible. Her blade swung again, slicing open her opponent's neck. The man went down. Sweat dripped into her eyes as a cheer went up from the crowd, chanting, "Kassius! Kassius! Kassius!"
These were his memories.
Her sight twisted, the scene changing, and she was carrying a heavy load into a cage, hunger rumbling in her belly. The door clanked shut behind her, but she didn't care. She tossed her burden onto the dirt floor at her feet. The gladiator she'd just killed. She tore off his armor and clothes, tossing them aside, then stripped off her own. The moment she was naked, she fisted her hands, threw back her head, and called on the power within her, feeling it answer in a primal howl and a rush of glorious pain.
Suddenly, she was on the floor, on four feet, her snout long, her mouth watering from the smell of blood and flesh.
She ripped into the dead man's abdomen, the meat fresh and delicious, the juices running into her mouth.
Her stomach heaved. The room spun again, and she was back in Cristoff's house of horrors, in Kassius's arms, sweating, shaking. Stunned.
Kassius jerked back, his mouth bloody, his dark eyes wide as he stared at her in shock. Then he blinked, hiding his thoughts behind a mask of calm. She'd thought he was a vampire. He was a vampire. But was he a wolf, too? Had anything she'd seen been real? He licked his lips of the blood and set her on her feet beside him, angling that big body between her and Cristoff. Her hip felt bruised but no longer broken. Amazing. She had to get these vampires to bite her more often.
Her gaze found Arturo, who stood stiffly across the room, his face hard as stone.
"Well?" Cristoff demanded.
"Two slaves freed her," Kassius replied. "Marcus and Celeste."
"Who ordered them to do it?"
"The sorceress believes the slaves were acting on their own. There was a group of them looking for escape from Vamp City. They banded together to free her, hoping she could help them leave through a sunbeam."
"How did they get her out of the castle?"
"She has no memory of it. They knocked her out. She awoke in a ruin somewhere in the Nod. A sunbeam broke through nearby soon after, but vamps caught a couple of their group, and they scurried back into hiding."
Kassius was lying. Why? To protect the Slavas? She'd seen how he appeared to care about them. Or was his intent to go after them himself?
"Where are the rest of them, now?"
"A few more were recaptured, a few killed. The rest scattered, and she became separated from them and lost in the Nod. That's where Arturo found her."
He was lying through his teeth. Or making it up. Either way, she was grateful he hadn't implicated Grant or spilled the location of the tunnels. Although he knew about them now, which might still spell disaster. If she ever got the chance, she'd have to warn Grant.
At Cristoff's command, Kassius walked away without a backward glance, joining Arturo. Shoulder to shoulder, they left her with the devil.
In the blink of an eye, Cristoff's hand was tight around her upper arm. His face inches from her own as her heart thudded in her chest.
"You're mine, sorceress. Mine. If you ever try to escape me again, I'll cut off your feet. Then we'll see how far you get." He shifted his hold, pulled her back against him, pushing her head to the side, and struck. His fangs sank into her neck with a fire unlike anything she'd ever suffered - as if he'd stabbed her with a tuning fork red-hot from the coals.
And she screamed.
Quinn moaned, the pain a beast inside her, devouring her with its teeth, searing her with its fire. Life had become nothing but darkness and heartache and agony as she lay chained to the floor of this unlit bare stone cell.
Two days had passed since she had seen Zack in the gladiator camp. Every time the slave arrived to force water down her throat, she asked. Two days. The Games were past, she knew that, too.
Zack was dead.
Pain lanced her heart, the worst pain of all. She'd failed him.
The beast roared, searing through her flesh and mind, devouring all thought, all memory of what she was or had ever been. Even in the midst of the fire, she felt a terrible coldness of the heart, the mind, the soul.
Tears slipped down her cheeks to run into her hair. She prayed for oblivion. Unconsciousness. Death.
Finally, blessedly, sleep swallowed her once more.
Arturo strode through the dark, musty dungeon deep below the castle, his hands fisted at his sides, his heart cold with an anger directed at Cristoff, at Quinn, but mostly directed at himself. He'd told himself he was washing his hands of her. There was nothing he could do for her. She was no longer his concern. Until a few minutes ago, when Kassius informed him she was being held in one of the dungeon cells. His blood had run cold.
Why had he let himself get involved with her, a human? A sorceress. The woman had caused him nothing but trouble from the moment he'd found her. If only someone else had been the one to pluck her from the greedy grasp of that out-of-control vampire.
Now she was Cristoff's prisoner, possibly their savior. Kassius had told him what happened when he'd bitten her a couple of days ago. How her magic had reached out and grabbed him, how he'd sensed a vast store of power in her, rippling in the darkness. Untapped. Possibly unreachable.
Kassius had kept that to himself, sharing it only with Arturo. Kas's loyalty to his master was not as absolute as Arturo's, but, then, it never had been. And while Arturo's loyalty to Cristoff was solid, he would never betray his friend.
He opened the small cell door and stared in dismay at Quinn, lying unconscious on the stone floor in the dark, her face swollen and bloody. Her neck . . . Jesus. He fell to his knees beside her, touching her skin. She was burning up, not with fever, but with dragon fire. Cristoff had bitten her, using his unique poison to enflame the flesh until the puncture wounds were bright red and swollen to the size of a ripe plum. He'd seen Cristoff use this particular form of torture before. The pain he caused with it was excruciating, and Cristoff always fed well off that pain. But Cristoff wasn't anywhere near close enough to feed off Quinn's. He'd poisoned her for the pure satisfaction of knowing she suffered. Knowing her mind could never be cleared of the memory.
Fury tore through him and he flew to his feet, slamming his hand into the wall, shattering stone. He never questioned Cristoff's actions. Never.
He couldn't blame his master for punishing her. The sorceress had escaped them, knowing many would die if she failed to save V.C. But this was beyond unnecessary. Still, she'd thwarted the most powerful vampire in Vamp City. If she hadn't been needed to renew the magic, Cristoff would have killed her for that offense. If her magic proved useless, he still would.
With a shake of his head, he forced himself to harden his heart as he'd done all too many times over the centuries. How many times had he looked away? How many times had he turned a blind eye or a deaf ear to the torture, to the barbarity? Too many to count, and he would continue to do so because he was a vampire. An Emora. This is what they were.
And he was loyal to his kind, to his kovena. Above all, to his master.
Quinn Lennox, like so many before her, could not be his concern.
But as he turned toward the door, she stirred, the low sound of misery in her throat damning him.
He couldn't help her. She was suffering as Cristoff wanted her to, and he must leave her the way he'd found her.
Golden lashes fluttered up, her brows drawn in terrible pain above green eyes swimming in agony.
Her fear poured forth, sinking into his pores, sliding down his throat, easing his terrible hunger. A fear he both craved and detested. He didn't want her fear. Not hers.
The darkness. He could see perfectly well despite the lack of light, but with her human eyes, she could not. All she knew was that someone was in there with her.
"It is me, cara. Let me find a light." He lit the oil lamp that had been left in the corner for her, a lamp she'd probably not even known was there.
He turned to find her watching him as her fear slowly began to fade. In her eyes, he saw no damnation, no hatred, no bitterness. Nothing but a terrible emptiness. And an unbearable pain that killed something inside of him.
All his reasoning fell away as the sheer need to relieve her suffering slew his better judgment. Kneeling beside her, he gathered her into his arms, aching at the sound of her agony as he moved her that small amount. Dipping his head, he bit into her wound, sucking out the poison, which could not hurt him, as he drank a small amount of her blood. His feeding on her should alleviate some of her pain and promote the healing of her other wounds.
He couldn't think about the anger, the betrayal, he'd see in Cristoff's eyes when his master realized what his loyal one had done. The only thing that mattered at this moment was Quinn.
As the horrible tension in her body slowly eased, he drew back from the sweetness of her blood before he stole too much and found her gazing at him with confused, weary eyes.
He brushed her damp hair back from her face. "Sleep, cara. You are safe."
Her eyes softened with a pain of a different kind. "Please don't make me believe in you again. It hurts too much when you betray me."
Her words sliced him open. "I have warned you over and over against trusting me."
"And yet I keep doing it anyway."
"Don't." His muscles bunched to push her away, to rise and leave her there. But before he could lower her back to the stone floor, her eyes drifted closed, and she slept again.
He stared at her throat, at the slowly healing wound. Never had he gone against Cristoff's wishes. Never. His master would not be pleased. But what was done was done.