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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
He settled on the floor, pulling Quinn firmly onto his lap, tucking her head against his neck. For a long, long time, he sat like that, stroking her hair and back, feeling her warm breath against his throat and listening to her heart beat. It would take time for the poison to fully leave her system, but, little by little, she melted against him, and he knew that the worst of the pain was gone.
He pressed his cheek to her sunlit hair and wondered what in the hell he was going to do.
Quinn woke, blinking her eyes against the soft lamplight. She was alone in the small cell, feeling almost human again. Her neck still burned though nothing like before. She'd dreamed Arturo had come and taken the worst of the pain. Had it been a dream?
She pushed herself up, looking around clearly for the first time. Her cell was small, and bare, the floor and walls stone, the door heavy wood slats. This place made her first cell look like a room at the Ritz. On the floor below one wall lay a smattering of dust and stone fragments. In the wall above was a divot the size of a man's fist.
Shoving her hair off her face, she leaned back against the wall, still hurting, trying to remember . . .
Memory returned like a fist to her heart, and she doubled over against a pain a dozen times worse than what she'd felt before.
She didn't cry. She had no tears left, just a cold, dead numbness. For minutes, maybe hours, she sat like that, struggling to breathe through the pain.
A key rattled in the lock, her door swinging open, but she didn't get up. There was nothing they could do to her that would be worse than what they'd already done. Killing her brother.
It was Arturo who came through the door, a tray in his hand, the smell of food wafting in with him. She hadn't thought to see him again. She didn't want to see him now.
Without a word, he placed the tray on the floor, then turned to her, a pensive look on his face. With a frown, he squatted in front of her and reached for her neck.
"Don't." She jerked back.
His fingers stroked her jaw instead. "I'll not hurt you, Quinn. Let me take more of the poison."
She was about to say no when her mind caught the implication of that last word. "Poison?"
"Dragon fire virtually immobilizes a human with pain. Few vamps possess it. Cristoff secretes it through his fangs when he wants to. I took most of it while you slept, but it's not gone. I need to take the rest.
She stared at him, at this male who'd never hurt her with his touch yet had slain her over and over with his actions. Even as she hated him, she trusted him not to hurt her physically. And she was tired of the pain.
His knuckles stroked her cheek. "My fangs will bring you no pain, cara, not even where it already hurts." With gentle fingers, he brushed the hair from her shoulder, then dipped his face to her neck, and she let him. His mouth closed around the flaming wound, but true to his word for once, his bite did not hurt. She reached for him, her hands stroking his shoulders, her instinct to hold on and not let go. But then she remembered who he was . . . Cristoff's snake . . . and dropped her hands to her thighs.
Slowly, the fire ebbed, and a rush of pleasure took its place on the next draw of blood. She fought that rising tide, gripping the vampire's head to dislodge him.
"Don't. No more."
He lifted his head, his breath warm on her cheek. "Let me bring you pleasure."
"No. I don't want that. I don't want anything from you."
He turned her to face him, licking the blood off his lips. "You're still hurting," he said softly.
She jerked away from his touch, spearing him with her hatred.
His jaw hardened, and he turned and picked up the tray from the floor. "You need to eat."
"I'm not hungry." But her stomach rumbled, making a liar out of her. She'd eaten nothing in days.
Arturo set the tray on her lap, then sat across from her, his long legs brushing hers, barely able to stretch out in the cramped space. Dispassionately, she eyed the meal - a roll, a bowl of pasta with some kind of cream sauce, and a chicken thigh. She picked up the mug of beer and took a long, cold sip that tasted far too good going down and only exacerbated her hunger.
Picking up her fork, she twirled a length of pasta on it, then put the bite in her mouth. The food melted on her tongue, and she took another bite, and another, until most of the meal was gone.
Finally, as she picked up the soft roll and dug her thumbs in to tear off a piece, Arturo spoke. "Tell me about Zack."
Her brother's name on the traitor's lips was like a punch in the gut. It left her gasping. "Why?"
"Because I want to know. Because he was important to you."
She stared at him, still struggling to breathe.
"Because I'm sorry," he added softly.
Her eyes teared as she fought back the slug of grief. "He was all I had."
"Tell me, cara."
She ate the roll slowly, sinking within her memories, not wanting to share Zack with this man who could have saved him. Yet she desperately needed to talk about him with someone. And for better or worse, Arturo was it.
"My mom died when I was two," she began. "My dad remarried a year later. Angela and I hated one another on sight. She didn't like that I was the daughter of the woman who'd been the love of my dad's life. But more than that, I think I scared her. Weird things happen to me sometimes. I think it was worse when I was little."
"You had less control."
"I've never been able to control them."
"What kinds of weird things?"
"I don't know. Random things that only happened once. The flowers changing colors or the cat barking like a dog. Or the car horn suddenly playing the tune to 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat.' "
Arturo smiled softly. "And those scared her?"
"By themselves, probably not. But every now and then, my eyes changed."
He nodded. "They glow as if a light has been turned on behind the irises."
She blinked. "How do you know that?"
"It happened when you were trying to fight off those Traders near the gladiator camp."
"That's why you got so mad."
"Glowing eyes are the mark of great power. Neither Grant nor Sheridan's eyes have ever glowed. But their father's did."
"And Cristoff knows," she said dully.
"As a matter of fact, he does not."
She looked at him with surprise. "You didn't tell him?"
"I have not told him, not yet. I'll decide when and if to do so when the time is right." Of course he would. "So your stepmother was afraid of your eyes?"
"And the fact that I pushed her against the wall after she spanked me when I was six."
"You were strong."
"I pushed her without touching her."
He watched her with interest. "You had power."
"I did. Then. I've tried to call it since I got here, and it's deserted me."
"Your father? Did he protect you from this woman who disliked you?"
"He threatened to send me away if I ever hurt her again."
Quinn shrugged. She'd long ago lost respect for the man who should have been her champion and instead only ever backed her enemy. "When I was five, Zack was born, and as much as I hated Angela, I loved that baby. As he got older, he followed me everywhere. It drove Angela crazy. She'd send me to the corner to punish me, and he'd join me there. She'd spank me, and he'd come put his arms around my waist." The tears started to slide down her cheeks until she couldn't go on. "He loved me, Vampire. He's the only one who ever did." Sobs caught in her throat, the grief rushing up in a crushing wave until she was drowning beneath the weight of it.
The tray left her lap, and a strong arm went around her shoulders, a rough cheek brushing her hair. And she needed that arm, she needed that cheek. She needed to believe someone cared, even a little, that she was dying inside.
The tears refused to abate this time, and she cried until her head ached, until she felt sick to her stomach, until she could barely breathe and didn't want to anymore. Finally, the sobs turned to hiccups, and the storm passed, leaving wreckage in its wake. With a shuddering sigh, she pressed her wet face against the vampire's shoulder, accepting the comfort he offered, needing it badly.
His hand was in her hair, stroking, soothing. "He was always there for you," he said quietly.
She nodded against his shoulder. "Always. We grew up in Pennsylvania, but I moved to the D.C. suburbs after school and never went back. Zack chose his college based on proximity to me. When he got into G.W., I moved into the city and rented an apartment. We've been living together for three years. I thought it was going to kill me when he moved to California next spring to take a job out there." Now he'd never go. "Lily would have gone with him."
"She would have been eventually. They've been best friends for three years, and she's in love with him, but he was too clueless to see it. Sooner or later, he'd have figured out what Lily and I already knew. That they were perfect together. She's the reason I'm here. She went missing. Zack and I were looking for her when I saw your world. He reached into the sunbeam to pick up a pen he recognized as hers. I grabbed him. The magic grabbed us both and sucked us in."
He stroked her hair, over and over, as she leaned against him, absorbing his strength. As usual, she was finding it hard to hold on to her hatred of him. He'd told her from the beginning he couldn't save Zack. That it was impossible. And in the end, he hadn't even tried. But he hadn't lied about that, at least.
He might be seriously lacking, as friends went, but he was the only one she had.
She sat up and wiped her face, then reached for her beer and downed it quickly, wishing she had a couple more.
Arturo stood, lifted the tray, then looked down at her for several moments, his expression pensive. Without another word, he turned and left, leaving her alone and trapped but without pain. And with a heart ever-so-slightly lighter for his having asked about Zack, then actually listened when she told him.
As long as she lived, Zack lived inside of her.
However short a time that might be.
With the pain gone and her hunger satisfied, Quinn's natural restlessness quickly reasserted itself. Pacing was out of the question since the entire cell was barely five feet by five feet. Instead, she did push-ups against the wall and a few dozen squats.
What would happen now? How badly would the shit hit the fan when Cristoff discovered her free of pain again, his dragon poison out of her system? Maybe he'd think it had just worn off. She was, after all, a sorcerer with a few quirks that seemed to surprise them all.
She was doing more wall push-ups when the door swung open behind her, stilling her heart until she saw Arturo. He closed the door behind him, his gaze grabbing hers, his expression strained and tense. "Do you trust me?" he demanded without preamble.
The tension left his face, his eyes crinkling with silent laughter as a smile lifted his mouth. "Smart girl." But the humor fled as quickly as it appeared. "I need you to trust me, now, cara. I am setting you free and risking both our lives in the process. Cristoff can never know it was me who freed you this time."
She stared at him, afraid to believe him. Afraid to leave. "He threatened to cut off my feet if I ever tried to escape him again."
Arturo's grim expression told her he thought Cristoff would probably do it, too. "I won't let that happen."
Could she trust him this time? Did she have a choice? If Cristoff kept her full of dragon fire, feet wouldn't matter. She'd be in too much pain to move, let alone walk.
"Where are you taking me?"
"To my house, for now. Where he'll not hurt you."
Something inside her melted, just a little. "Thank you."
"Kassius will come for you while I attend this evening's banquet. Do as Kassius says."
Her stomach fluttered with excitement and nerves. "I will."
He gripped the back of her head and kissed her, a soft brush of cool lips, warming her from the inside out. Pulling back, he watched her with fathomless eyes. "I want you in my bed. I will have you in my bed. But your screams will be of pleasure, not pain."
He left as abruptly as he'd come, leaving her wondering just what he wanted from her. Sex, certainly. Was that all? Was he risking the wrath of his vampire master to have her to himself for a little while longer? She supposed it wouldn't be the first time a man had risked everything for sex.
If he got her out of here, if he saved her from Cristoff, she'd never say no to him again.
At least, not until the ground began to shake and she once more found a way to escape Vamp City through a sunbeam. Once and for all.
Kassius entered her tiny cell, a big black bag over one broad shoulder. He closed the door behind him, watching Quinn with more wariness than she watched him.
"Has Ax told you the plan?"
"Only that he's getting me out of here and that I'm supposed to trust you." She wrinkled her nose. Something did not smell good.
"Is trusting me going to be a problem?"
"You're a wolf."
Surprise lit his eyes. "How do you know that?"
"I saw it when you bit me."
He studied her for a moment, his expression enigmatic. "I was born a werewolf. Caught by the Romans. Turned into a vampire."
"So you're both."
"A werevamp. We're not common, but I'm far from unique." He frowned. "Having seen what you did, you still don't fear me."