"Certainly," Mencheres said, as if there was never any chance that he would refuse.

Kira released the breath she hadn't been aware of holding. What a strange scenario this was, being a captive who was treated like a guest - most of the time. Radje's hawkish features flashed in Kira's mind. She hadn't been treated like a guest in front of him. In fact, she'd felt like more of an insect under Radje's cold, pitiless gaze.

"Will you be expecting that vampire to return anytime soon?" Kira asked, phrasing her words carefully.

Mencheres arched a brow. "I assume you're not speaking of Gorgon?"

"No, I'm talking about the one with the dark straight hair who looks a little like you."

"Radje," Mencheres murmured. "No, I do not expect him to return here in the near future."

"Good," Kira muttered. "He gives me the creeps."

A tiny smile touched his mouth. "Yet more proof that your youth doesn't preclude you from being wise."

Kira felt an answering tug of her lips. "I'm thirty-one. In my species, once a female is over thirty, she's considered to be well on her way to middle age." Mencheres laughed, startling Kira, and the sound rolled along her spine in a shivery caress. It was the first time she'd seen him laugh, and his relaxed expression combined with his wide smile changed his features from striking into stunning. God, you're gorgeous, she thought, glad the vampire couldn't hear that in her mind - or know how hard it was for her not to stare.

"Such foolish human notions that women are only beautiful in the first flush of youth. My wife was thirty-five in human years when we married, and she was ravishing . . ." Just as abruptly, his laughter vanished, that familiar look of impassivity settled over his face.

Kira reached out to touch Mencheres's arm. "Radje said that your wife was dead. I'm sorry."

A strange, sad smile flickered on Mencheres's mouth. "As am I, but not for the reasons you think."

A dozen questions instantly sprang to Kira's mind at that mysterious comment, but Mencheres changed the subject in the next moment.

"Come, place your call now. The library should be the most comfortable for you." You don't like that topic at all, do you? Kira thought, her investigative instincts still urging her to find out more about the obviously unusual circumstances surrounding Mencheres's late wife. But Kira tamped them down. She wasn't on a case here; she was a captive, albeit a well-treated one. If she asked Mencheres about his wife, and he became defensive, he might not let her call her sister. Tina ranked higher than Kira's curiosity.

"The library sounds good to me," was all Kira said, and let him lead the way.

Mencheres waited in an adjoining room as Kira made her call. He'd let her have the illusion of privacy by leaving her alone in the library, but both of them knew he was listening.

He marveled at how Kira's voice changed when she spoke to her sister. It became softer, gentler, with an undertone of protectiveness. Kira's love for her sister shone through each syllable, and for these brief times that Mencheres listened to their conversations, that love was strangely soothing to him, even though he wasn't the recipient of it.

Why a woman who would soon have no memory of him could affect his mood with just her voice was bewildering. Soon Kira would be gone, and once she was, Mencheres intended to live only until he could find another convenient way of getting himself killed.

He should be spending his final days with the vampires he'd sired, or old friends, or even by asking forgiveness from his co-ruler for the manipulation that had caused such a breach between him and Bones.

Instead, he found himself staying in this house with his thoughts occupied by Kira, even though he tried to give her as much space as possible. It must be her novelty that made her fascinating to him. Kira had known nothing about him when she rushed to his aid at the warehouse, and what she had learned about him since then should only have terrified her. Yet the look Kira had given him the other day when he crouched over her by the pool had been filled with heat. Then she'd casually admitted to her attraction to him, as if that hadn't leveled him where he stood.

It made no sense. Since Mencheres had wanted as much solitude as possible in his last days, but couldn't be completely alone without arousing suspicion, he'd chosen this small, modest house. Gorgon and the humans had been given strict instructions not to tell Kira anything about him, so Kira couldn't know about his status among vampires, how rare his abilities were, that his wealth was far beyond Fortune 500 standards, or any of the other things that had enticed so many others before her. That she would find him desirable based on mere flesh and bone, nothing else, made him equal parts enticed and incredulous.

If things were different, Mencheres might have acted on the draw he felt toward Kira, the first woman in thousands of years - possibly ever - to want him without ulterior motives. But his time was almost finished.

Of course, Kira's flattering comments could also have been an attempt to sway him to release her. Kira hadn't hinted at any desire for him since that day by the pool. It was entirely plausible that she'd first sought to charm him into letting her go, realized it wouldn't work, and thus ceased. Mencheres felt a pang as he contemplated that. Yes.

That was far more likely.

"Treatments again?" Kira's voice interrupted his musings. It sounded like she took in a deep breath as her pulse sped up. "Well, those do help, and I should be able to go with you . . . I told you, I feel better, and I've been on antibiotics for days now . . . Yes, my phone's still acting up at home . . . well, I fell asleep and forgot to charge my cell. Sorry I missed your call. I'll call you tomorrow. Promise. Love you, Tiny-T." A click signaled that Kira had hung up, but Mencheres stayed where he was. The sudden raggedness of her breathing said she was fighting back tears. Kira hadn't been prone to overreactions thus far, so her sister must be quite ill. Mencheres felt a twinge of guilt that he forced back. Whatever her sister's condition, it didn't sound as if it were new, and Mencheres couldn't let Kira leave with her memories intact. With luck, she would only be here another day or two.

"I'm done now," Kira called out, her voice throatier than normal.

Mencheres rose, glad she hadn't tried to covertly make another call. That showed caution and intelligence, two things undervalued in modern times, from what he'd observed. When he came into the library, Kira's eyes were dry; but a frown stitched into her forehead, and her scent was deeper with worry.

He hadn't tried mesmerizing her in the past two days. Maybe enough time had passed that he could erase her memories, even if he still couldn't hear her thoughts.

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