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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
"Thank you, Horace."
When she'd finished tying her bootlaces, Quinn rose and joined Arturo at the door. Instead of ushering her out, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her thoroughly one more time, as if he'd read her thoughts as she watched him walk across the room. As if he'd enjoyed the interlude as much as she had. Finally, he ushered her out of the room and down the stairs to the living room.
Kassius waited for them, his body still, yet radiating a coiled tension that had Quinn's trouble sirens blaring. "Cristoff has already discovered that the sorceress is missing," he said without preamble. "He's on a rampage, every guard ordered to search for her."
Arturo spat something she didn't catch, something that sounded a lot like an Italian curse word, then turned toward the door. "Ernesta!" The moment the Slava appeared in the doorway, he said, "Take Quinn. Darken her hair. At once!"
Quinn gaped at him. "What?"
"A disguise, cara," he said impatiently, waving her away. "Go!"
Her pulse skittered as she hurried down the hall after Ernesta. If Arturo and Kassius were this worried, she should be absolutely terrified. What would Cristoff do to her if he found her? And what if he found Zack? Of course, he didn't know Zack was her brother. Yet. But once he figured it out . . . She couldn't finish the thought. He wouldn't find out. But if Cristoff found her here, he'd know Arturo was involved in taking her. Would he kill his snake?
He might not kill him, but he'd probably make Arturo wish he had.
By the time she entered the kitchen, she was shaking.
Ernesta pulled her to a chair and pushed her down, then hurried out of the kitchen, returning moments later with a towel, a comb, and . . . shoe polish? Quinn closed her eyes, trying to remain calm, as Ernesta combed the thick polish through her hair, strand after strand.
"Ernesta . . . I'm sorry I hit you."
The woman didn't reply, just began to rub Quinn's blackened hair dry with the towel. Finally, the Slava pulled Quinn's hair back into a braid with quick, nimble fingers. "There. None will know you, now."
Quinn was kind of glad there were no mirrors around. She wasn't sure she wanted to see what she looked like. Would this dye job really fool anyone? Certainly not Cristoff, but perhaps someone searching for a blonde would look right past her. She could only hope.
Quinn turned to go, but Ernesta stopped her. "Wait. You need a dress." She grabbed one from a hanger in a small alcove off the kitchen, then opened the skirt as if she intended to dress Quinn right there.
Quinn looked at her doubtfully. "Shouldn't I take off my clothes first?"
"No. There is no time." With that, she lifted the dress over Quinn's head.
"Now return to the master."
Quinn buttoned the front of the dress as she retraced her steps down the hallway. The men were still talking when she returned.
"I would prefer to take the Jeep" - Arturo glanced at her, his eyes lighting with surprise and satisfaction, before he continued - "but someone will hear the engine. We'll take the horses."
"And if we're stopped?"
"Cristoff most likely believes she's either run to find another sunbeam or been snatched by a rival kovena. It shouldn't be a problem. And if it is . . ." Arturo shrugged. "I'll think of something." He turned back to her. "Get your brother, cara. We're leaving. You cannot be caught here."
She'd figured that much. It was way too dangerous for Arturo though she wondered where he'd take them. The only part of his and Kassius's conversation she'd understood was the part about her having to ride another damned horse.
Lifting the awkward skirt, she hurried up the stairs to the room where she'd first found herself tied to the bed . . . was it just a week and a half ago? The room where Zack now rested.
She rapped lightly on the door, then opened it and went in when he didn't respond. He remained as she'd left him, his bare, scarred back to the door. "Zack, get up. We have to leave."
When he didn't respond, she bit down her frustration and circled the bed to find him staring morosely at the wall.
"Zack, I know you've been through hell. I get it. But a really nasty vampire is hunting us, and we have to go."
"Leave me here."
"You don't mean that."
Her easygoing brother speared her with hard, angry eyes. "You don't get it. I don't fucking care."
She stared at him, feeling bruised and hurt. But dammit . . . "Zack, get your sorry ass off that bed. We're going. Now."
But her brother still didn't move.
"Is there a problem?" Arturo stood in the doorway.
"Could you take his memories of what happened?"
Zack reared up. "No."
"Zack, think about it. He can make you forget."
"I don't want to forget."
"Are you sure?"
"I said no!" He glared at her. "Will you move so I can piss in the pot?"
Quinn jumped off the bed, getting out of his way, storming out of the room. Where in the hell had her Zack gone? Because this angry, depressed man was not he.
In the hallway, Arturo touched her arm. "He is not the child he was when he arrived here. Do not expect him to be. But if he can accept what has happened, he'll be better off than he would be if he knew there were large chunks of his memory gone. Sometimes, wondering about the things you have forgotten is worse than knowing." His fingers slid into her hair, his eyes gentle and sympathetic. "He will be okay, cara. Give him time. It will be good for you to get him home."
She blinked. "Home?"
"I am sending both of you through the Boundary Circle. Back to the sunshine."
"But . . ." She gaped at him, then narrowed her eyes. "Why? You said yourself that if the magic isn't renewed, you'll die. Which means you've got something else up your sleeve."
He shrugged. "Grant is more powerful than he lets on. He is more powerful than you, cara. You will never be what Cristoff wishes, and he will punish you severely for it." He cupped her cheek, unhappiness darkening his eyes. "I never want to see you in pain like that again."
She saw truth in those eyes, heard it in his voice. Was he really saving her simply because he wanted to?
Dear God, is he really letting us go?
But they'd be leaving without Lily. If the girl was even in V.C. If she was even still alive.
Count your wins. Getting Zack home, getting them both out of Vamp City alive, was huge.
Ten minutes later, Arturo, Kassius, Quinn, and Zack were riding through the swampy White House grounds, due west. Zack rode like he knew what he was doing, though with nothing approaching the grace or strength of the two vampires. Though she'd coaxed him out of the house and into a shirt, he'd said nothing since they left the house. He sat now, riding to her right, silent and morose.
Quinn glanced left, at Arturo. This time he'd trusted her to steer the horse herself though he was riding so close that it was amazing the horses didn't run into one another. Hers and the vampire's knees kept brushing, though she couldn't say she really minded.
"Where is the Boundary Circle?" Quinn asked.
"Most of the southwest curvature falls within the Potomac and is useless unless you want to row out to it by boat. Only a small corner between Water Street and Georgetown crosses land. A point very close to the Kennedy Center."
She frowned, seeing a map of D.C. in her head. "There's a ton of land between Water Street and Georgetown."
"Not the curve I'm talking about. Not in 1870. The Tidal Basin did not exist, nor did the Mall west of the Washington Monument. It was all water, the Potomac Shallows. The shallows were eventually filled to make the land you know as the Mall west of the Washington Monument. That work was never done here. In Vamp City, it is still all water."
"So you're going to drop us at the Kennedy Center?"
"Yes." His expression grew very serious. "You should not travel far from D.C. until the magic is renewed, cara. Most importantly, do not let your brother. The magic is unpredictable in this state and may have laid claim to one or both of you. You could sicken if you go too far though not in a way that any doctor could cure."
"How will I know the magic has been renewed?" But she would know, wouldn't she? When she ceased to see the worlds colliding. "Never mind."
She shook her head, a question bothering her. "You said you can't leave Vamp City, now."
"That is true."
"And humans can't leave on their own."
"Then how are you going to free us?"
He stiffened ever so slightly, as if he hadn't given this escape plan enough thought. She probably wouldn't have noticed if their knees hadn't been a handsbreadth apart.
She looked at him sharply.
But when he met her gaze, his eyes were calm and sure. "I can push you through even if I cannot follow."
His eyes crinkled at the corners. "I am."
She wondered how he could be so certain when everyone kept saying the vampires never let humans go once they were caught. But the last thing she wanted to do was talk him out of trying. Besides, what might be true of other humans often didn't apply to her. She might succeed even where most would fail.
"Can you push other vampires through?" she asked. "Could you get Bram out of here?"
"No. The magic holds us. It has bound us to it."
"Ax," Kassius said, his voice low and urgent. "Four o'clock. Ivan and his troop."
"Merda." Arturo suddenly grabbed the reins of her horse. "Fight me, cara. Ivan has seen you up close. There will be no deceiving him."
Quinn swung at him, understanding that they had to put on an act, to pretend he'd caught her and wasn't helping her escape. But, oh my God. Did this mean the escape was a bust? Was he going to hand them back over to these men? To Cristoff?
Her gut twisted, her neck burning, her feet tingling.
Fear, cold as steel, sliced her heart in two.
"So this is it?" Quinn cried, struggling, as Arturo hauled her off her horse and onto his own, setting her in front of him, his arm clamping around her, pinning her own arms to her sides. "Are you going to give me to them?" Cristoff would torture her, fill her with dragon fire again. Maybe even carry out his threat and cut off her feet! "Kill me here, Vampire. Don't send me back. Please."
"Your fear is good, cara. Be afraid, as any escaped slave should. They will taste it."
No problem. Ice was forming in her veins so quickly, she might soon be sparkling with frost.
She glanced at Zack, who sat silently on his horse, staring at nothing. As if he'd already given up. Had he been paying attention to anything? Was the brother she knew and loved even in there anymore? Then again, if he'd kicked his horse into gear and taken off, Kassius would have gone after him and quickly taken him down in one of those vampire faster-than-the-speed-of-light moves. This way, he could potentially be passed off as a slave accompanying Arturo rather than one involved with her. The last thing, the last thing, she wanted was for Cristoff to figure out he was her brother.
She hazarded a glance at the approaching vampire guards, recognizing the bald Ivan. He certainly appeared to be the leader of the bunch.
Oh, this is not good.
Arturo turned his horse around and started back the way they'd come, riding straight for Ivan and company, leading her empty horse behind him as Kassius and Zack followed.
Quinn's pulse thrummed with fear, her head pounding with frustration. They'd been so close!
That weird, unnatural heat began to crawl beneath her skin again, and she wondered if her eyes were starting to glow. She swept her lashes down, hiding her eyes, at once hating her power and desperately wishing she could find a way to harness it.
"Arturo." Ivan nodded as the two parties converged. Quinn felt his gaze on her, heard him grunt as if noticing the change in her hair. "I see you've . . . found . . . her."
They hadn't fooled him about her identity, as they'd known they wouldn't. But his questioning tone made her doubt they'd fooled him about anything.
"I have found her. Just this moment," Arturo said smoothly, that hypnotic quality in his voice she'd heard a couple of times before. "You saw me capture her."
The suspicion slipped out of Ivan's expression. "I saw you capture her," he repeated almost mechanically. Holy cow. Did Arturo actually have the power to affect a vampire's mind?
But a moment later, the suspicion rushed back into Ivan's eyes as he cocked his head. "I wonder, though, why you were riding toward the Boundary Circle, a friendly little foursome."
Quinn felt Arturo tense. "You are mistaken, amico mio. We had only just ridden upon the escaping slave."
But Ivan was no diplomat. And whatever mind games Arturo had attempted had clearly failed. "I know what I saw. And I saw you and Kassius riding toward the Boundary Circle with the sorceress and another slave, thick as thieves. Cristoff will be very interested in my story, I've no doubt."
Arturo's voice sounded in her head. Hold on, cara. Then take the horses and go.
What in the hell did he have in mind?
Suddenly, he was no longer behind her, no longer holding on to her, and she grabbed for the horse's neck, nearly slipping off his back before she managed to right herself. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something large and round go airborne in a spray of . . . blood. As the thing landed on the ground in front of her, she stared in horror at Ivan's head. Her eyes went wide as vampire warfare erupted around her, flashes of movement, cries of fury and pain, splashes of blood.