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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
Her horse spooked and began to run, with her barely half-on. Oh, hell.
Struggling against the awkward skirt, she somehow managed to fling her leg astride the saddle, shoving her feet in the stirrups even as she clung to the horse's mane.
"Quinn! This way!" Zack was motioning her to follow.
A moment's thrill that Zack seemed to have snapped out of his depression gave way to frustration. She was all for following him, dammit, but how? Her shaking fingers closed around the leather reins, and she gathered them up and pulled to one side, trying to turn the animal. But the horse took the bit in its teeth and fought her.
"Fine! Go where you want to, just go!"
Zack made some kind of clicking noise with his tongue. She watched with surprise as her horse's ears perked up, then she gasped and grabbed the reins and mane as he lunged forward to follow her brother and his mount. Where in the hell had Zack learned that trick? Where'd he learn to ride, for that matter? Probably at one of those expensive summer camps Angela was always sending him to.
She caught up with Zack quickly, and, together, they raced in the direction they'd been traveling earlier, toward the fog and the Boundary Circle. Could she get herself and Zack through that barrier just as she had the sunbeams? There was only one way to find out.
Behind her, she heard the grunts and yells and occasional clang of steel that told her the battle continued to rage. Don't die, Vampire. He had his faults, a ton of them, but there was decency in him, and a gentleness that she never would have expected from such a dangerous creature.
As her horse flew over the soft earth, Quinn hung on for dear life, her heart pounding to the beat of the horse's hooves. Though the unpaved streets remained in this part of the city, whatever buildings had once existed were gone, replaced by thickets of dead trees. As they rode, the fog grew thicker, ghostly fingers probing around them, breaking through here and there to reveal the Potomac gleaming on the left, far closer than it should have been. At the corner where the river turned north would lie the Kennedy Center in her world. And the Boundary Circle in this. They had to reach that point of land before the vampires turned their attention to the escaped slaves. To the escaped sorceress.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, hands gripped her waist as if the fingers of mist had turned real. She cried out with surprise. The reins were ripped from her hands and her body hurled off the horse to land on something hard and narrow. A shoulder. Her forehead cracked against his backbone. "Ow."
She smelled vampire. Not Arturo, which meant she'd been caught by one of Ivan's guards! He must have flown at her on foot, no horse able to carry him as fast as he could move on his own.
Dizzily, she craned her head up to see that Zack, still mounted, was swinging around and heading back to her. What was he planning to do, try to save her? She shook her head at him. He needed to keep going, to run! But he continued toward her as if he meant to rescue her from a freaking vampire.
That tingling, useless heat began to flow up into her arms, and she pointed her palms toward her captor's butt, willing him to fall or go flying . . . preferably dropping her first. But, as before, nothing happened. Her power was useless!
If only she could reach her weapons, but they were in her pockets, beneath her dress, and her dress was firmly pinned to her thighs by her captor's arm. Maybe she could make him shift his hold enough for her to get to the stake in her pants pocket.
"Let me go!" she screamed, and began pounding his back and kicking her feet, accidentally . . . brilliantly . . . landing a direct hit to his crotch with the toe of her boot.
"Fuck!" the vamp cried out, jerking her legs around one of his hips so she couldn't kick him again, his movement grinding to a halt as he bent over in pain. Apparently, even vampires could be brought low by a swift kick to the family jewels.
Unfortunately, he didn't loosen his grip on her enough for her to lift her dress, but she spied the hilt of a knife at his hip. Vamps were too damn fast. Then again, this one was a bit preoccupied.
She went for it, amazed when she was able to snatch the blade from its sheath. With no time to hesitate, she whipped the knife out and down into the bastard's thigh. He yelled a vicious curse in some language she didn't understand and tossed her onto the ground with a bone-jarring thud.
Beneath her, she felt the vibration of pounding hooves. Through the swirling mist, she saw Zack racing toward her on horseback. She scrambled to her feet, but the vamp had already recovered and was stalking her, his fangs long, his eyes white with hunger and blazing with a fury that told her his hunger was for revenge.
Taunting heat crawled beneath her flesh.
She glanced toward Zack, who was bearing down on them, inadvertently drawing the vamp's attention to her brother. With the swish of metal, the vamp drew his sword. He'd kill Zack with one quick, careless swing!
"No!" The heat flamed inside of her, pulsing, pounding, as if trying to get out. A memory flashed, a dream of a door buckling beneath the weight of the light trying to escape, a light . . . power . . . she'd desperately sought to keep contained. Hidden. From Zack.
And suddenly she understood. God help her, she was the one who'd been fighting her power. Because she'd never wanted Zack to see it. She'd never wanted him to know.
Well, fuck it. He was going to die!
With a cry of surrender, she closed her eyes. Trembling, she released her hold on that door, on the heat that swirled inside her, lifted her hands, and poured her will into stopping the vampire who would kill her brother.
Power blasted from her fingers, sending the vampire flying a dozen feet to land hard on his back. She stared at him, stunned. Euphoric. I did it. But a second later, the vamp leaped to his feet.
Like hell. She knocked him down a second time. And a third. Every time he moved, she blasted him until he was pinned to the ground, struggling, shouting with fury.
She hazarded a glance at her brother and found him sitting still on his horse, staring at her as if he'd never seen her before. As if she terrified him.
Ice formed in her veins, crawling through the heat as she instinctively fought to shut that door again. To hide again. But the power was loose and wild. Out of her control. It turned on her, stinging as it had in the Focus with Grant and Sheridan when they'd tried to pull the magic. The pain ran up her arms, burning, devouring.
But her vampire victim remained as trapped by her power as she did herself.
Behind her, a man cried out in pain, then another, and the sounds of battle went silent.
A moment later, Arturo was at her side. "Quinn."
"I don't know how to stop it!"
"Easy, cara, easy. Can you lower your hands?"
"No. It's fighting me. It's attacking me!"
She felt Arturo's strong arm go around her, his body tensing as if he shared her pain. His cheek brushed her temple. "I'll try to help you. Do not fight me."
"I won't," she gasped. "Not if I can help it." But she had no control over any of it. None. Her vision was beginning to spin, turning bright with light that wasn't there.
She felt Arturo's cool fingers close around her forearm, felt that arm drop, the connection breaking in both. But the power, once directed at the vampire, recoiled, attacking her fully instead. Quinn cried out, pain lancing her, her vision blazing white.
"Quinn, listen to me." Cool fingers gripped her face as Arturo's voice came at her from the front now. "Listen to me! You must turn it off inside, or it will kill you."
"Don't . . . know how."
"Look at me."
"I can't!" All she could see was white.
"Yes, you can," he insisted, his voice turning low, soothing, with that hypnotic tone she'd heard him use on others. "Come, cara, focus on me, on my voice, on my face." He released her, gripping her hands, pressing them against his cheeks as if she were a blind woman trying to see. And she was exactly that.
She pressed her hands to his face, tracing the contours of his cheekbones, his brow, his nose. As her fingers dropped to his mouth, her hands began to shake violently. Her whole body began to quake, as if preparing to implode.
But Arturo only gripped her hands with his, taking them to his mouth. "What do you see, Quinn?"
"White, just white."
"Push pass it, piccola. Through it. I am here, on the other side."
Trembling, Quinn fought the blindness, fought to see Arturo. At last, a shadow moved within the white. Slowly, the whiteness turned to mist, dissipating, leaving her half-blind but staring into Arturo's face.
"I did it," she gasped.
He smiled with approval. "You did. Now look deeply into my eyes, cara, and I will help you douse the fire."
She followed his words, staring deep into those dark eyes, feeling as if he were climbing into her through her own. Instinct had her tensing, desperation battled that instinct as she forced herself to relax, to welcome his help.
"That's a good girl. Find the source of the fire, cara. Can you tell me what it looks like?"
"It's . . . a door. A door I opened and can't shut."
"Then we will shut it together. Focus on the door, Quinn, on the handle. Grip that handle tight in your hand. I am behind you, with you. Together we will close it. Are you ready?"
Shaking with pain, with fear, Quinn nodded. "Yes."
"On the count of three then. One, two . . . three!"
Quinn poured her will into closing that door, just as she'd poured her will into opening it. But it wouldn't . . . there! It was starting to move. She could feel strength pumping into her own, Arturo's strength. She could do this!
Perspiration broke out all over her body as she concentrated, as she struggled to close that door, to shut the bright glow of power behind it once more.
"That a girl," Arturo encouraged. "You're doing it. A little more. A little more."
Slowly, together, they pushed until the door finally clicked shut, containing the power. As suddenly as it began, the vibrations fled, and the pain drained away.
With a last quaking shudder, Quinn sank against Arturo.
He gathered her close, his lips brushing her temple. "Are you all right?"
"I think so." She was still out of breath, damp with perspiration, shaken. Stunned. As Arturo stroked her hair, she pulled back to look at him. "What happened to the vampire?"
His gaze was warm and concerned as he studied her as if seeking signs of damage. "The moment you released him, Kassius killed him."
"They're all dead?"
"Yes. Neither Ivan nor his guards will carry tales to Cristoff of our hand in your escape. We need to go." He pulled away, curving his arm around her shoulder as he stepped to her side and started for the two horses that stood docilely now between Kassius's and Zack's mounts.
Her stomach clenched, and she forced herself to look up at her brother, dreading the fear and horror she'd see on his face. Instead, she found him, inexplicably, grinning at her. "That was fucking amazing, sis. Like something out of X-men."
Tears began to run down her cheeks, unbidden.
Zack's grin died, his brows lowering into a frown. "What's the matter, Quinn? Are you still in pain?"
Quinn swiped at the tears fiercely. "I never wanted you to see me like that. I never wanted you to know."
His frown deepened. "That you were a superhero?"
A watery laugh escaped her throat. "That I was so weird."
Zack gave her a brotherly roll of his eyes. "You're not weird, Quinn. You're my sister."
Such simple words. And the fear that she'd lived with for longer than she could remember, the fear that he, too, might turn from her in disgust, slipped away as if it had never been. She brushed the tears from her cheeks. "I love you, Zack."
Arturo squeezed her shoulder. "We need to go, cara. Others could come." He helped her onto her horse and mounted his own, then urged all into a gallop. As they ate up the ground, something ahead caught her eye. It almost looked like . . . a Shimmer. It had the same flowing rainbowlike colors of water mist.
She stared at it, stunned. Of course. The Shimmers of D.C. were the Boundary Circle of the magical Vamp City, shimmers only she could see.
When they were but a few yards from the wall of moving color, Arturo pulled up and dismounted. Turning to her, he pulled her down and into his arms, his dark eyes intense and serious. "This is it, tessoro."
As she stared into his rugged, handsome face, something clenched inside her, a fist of unhappiness. She would probably never see him again. Lifting her hand, she stroked his cool cheek, allowing herself to drown in that deep gaze one last time. "You'll be okay?"
"Of course. All will be as it is meant to be." He brushed a stray lock back from her face. "You'll be safe now."
"I'll miss you, Vampire."
His mouth kicked up on one side. "Will you? I doubt that. Though I will, of a certainty, miss you." He kissed her, his cool lips moving over hers, caressing, sipping, warming. Slowly, he pulled away, then began unbuttoning the front of her dress. "You'll draw too much attention in this where you're going."
Quinn was suddenly glad she'd left her clothes on underneath and began unbuttoning the buttons from the other direction. When they were done, she stepped out of the dress.
Arturo's gaze locked on hers, regret in his eyes. "Be happy." Then he released her and took her hand. "You must be touching me to go through." Just as the Slavas had to touch her as they escaped through the sunbeam. "But I cannot follow."
As Arturo led her to the wall, Zack close behind, the air began to crackle around her, popping and fizzing, lifting the hair on her arms.