"I thought vampires didn't do graveyards," I said with a sigh. I hadn't asked for this fight, but Vlad was right. I was in it now regardless.
He chuckled. "We don't. Graveyards are full of dead people. Vampires want to be where living, drinkable blood is."
I closed my eyes, weariness hitting me all at once. It had been a long, stress-filled day, and according to Vlad, it was only going to be the first of many.
"Where are we going? You never told me."
"My home in Romania."
Wow, this guy wasn't kidding with his Dracula fixation.
I heard a snort but didn't bother to open my eyes. Rustling noises sounded like he was getting more comfortable. I did the same. If we were headed to Romania, we were in for a long flight.
Eleven hours and one stop to refuel later, we landed at a tiny airport that only had one runway and two hangars, one of which our plane taxied into. I glanced down at my bare feet with a mental sigh. Here's hoping we didn't have a long walk to a car. The ground was covered in snow. Vlad had loaned me his coat, but I doubted he'd give up his shoes, too.
My frostbite worries were put to rest when I followed him out of the plane and saw a shiny black limousine waiting inside the hangar. Either Vlad had lots of his own money or he had friends in high places. Of course, he might also have had a vampire associate mesmerize a limo driver into picking us up. That mind-manipulation thing had come in handy when a customs officer asked for our passports during our refueling stop.
A blond man with a Viking-like build opened the limo door when Vlad approached, executing a bow. My brows rose, but Vlad nodded as though having people bow to him was an everyday occurrence. I tiptoed after him, again grateful that I didn't have far to walk. The ground was concrete, but it felt like ice.
The blond man barely glanced at me, which I didn't mind because most people just stared at my scar first anyway. I ducked inside the limo, careful not to touch anything with my right hand. The driver shut the door, saving all the precious interior warmth from escaping. As soon as I sat down, I shoved my bare feet toward one of the lower heat vents.
"On the way to your house, we need to pick up some things," I said. "My leotard will be able to walk around by itself soon, and shoes are a necessity in this weather."
Vlad reached out, pulling my right hand into his. "It's already been taken care of."
I might have spent the past dozen-plus hours like this, but I still couldn't get over having someone touch that hand without jerking back in pain. True to his assertion, he seemed to have suffered no ill effects though I must have dosed him with enough electricity to kill a regular vampire three times over.
"Was ordering me clothes part of what you were doing when you were on the phone?" I asked, slanting a look at him. He might have disparaged cell-aholics, but he'd been on his cell for most of the hour before we landed. Even one-handed, he could text like the wind.
"Among other things," he replied. His fingers grazed my knuckles in a light stroke. "While you're a guest in my home, I'll provide for all your needs, but be careful that you don't abuse my hospitality."
I stifled a snort. What did he think I was going to do, demand only designer outfits? I'd be happy with any clothes as long as they were warm. It looked like we'd landed in an arctic wonderland from the scenery we drove past.
"That's not what I meant."
Damn him for always listening to my thoughts. I couldn't wait until I had my mental privacy back.
His gaze became cold even as he continued to draw little patterns on my hand. "You should be grateful I can hear your thoughts. It's kept me from employing more invasive methods to determine if you were telling the truth about your kidnapping."
I flashed back to the memories I'd relived from the vampires Vlad had burned to death, and a shudder went through me. Yeah, I'd much rather have him read my mind than experience his fiery abilities personally. Even the thought made me want to snatch my hand away from his potentially deadly grip.
"You're still afraid of me," he stated. "Good."
"You get off on people being afraid of you?" Was he some sort of insecure undead killer? Great, then I could look forward to him scaring the shit out of me on a regular basis just to make himself feel better.
In reply, Vlad pressed a button and the dark glass window separating us from the limo driver came down.
"Maximus, do you fear me?" Vlad asked.
"Yes," the blond driver replied without hesitation.
Vlad pressed the button again, and soon that privacy glass was back in place. Once more, I resisted the urge to pull my hand free because the atmosphere between us had changed. Gone was the sense of truce I'd felt for the past several hours, and in its place was tension thick enough to choke on. Invisible currents seemed to circulate around Vlad, making the hair on the back of my neck stand at attention in warning.
"I want you afraid of me for the same reason I want my people to fear me," he said, his voice as much of a caress as his fingers on my hand. "Then you won't attempt to cross me. In the future, someone may try to persuade you to betray me. If that happens, remember this: I find and kill my enemies no matter how long it takes."
I swallowed to relieve my suddenly dry mouth. "I have no intention of switching sides. You're not the one who sent child murderers to snatch me up, and they were going to kill me once they were done with me; I saw it when I touched Jackal. I don't see my death when I touch you, so I'm Team Vlad all the way."
Some of that coldness left his gaze. "Good, because I wouldn't enjoy killing you. Thus far you're not boring or irritating; a rarity. I also reward those loyal to me, so keep your fear of me, Leila, but know this-you need not fear anyone else as long as you're under my protection."
He said those last words with a quiet intensity that sent shivers up my spine. I might not have bought his vow of protection despite the convincing pitch, but the memory I'd relived through him made me a believer. He knew what loss felt like. For loss to be the wound that scarred his soul more than any other made me think he didn't take vows of protection lightly. Slowly, I nodded.
"Once again, we have a deal."
A brief smile curved his lips. "You dislike that I can read your mind, but that pales next to your abilities. I don't need to tell you never to reveal to anyone what you saw, do I?"
You just did, I thought pointedly.
"So I did." Another quicksilver smile. "You'll learn far more once you're in my home. Many of my furnishings are centuries old and must hold numerous memories. I trust you'll treat any new information you glean with the same discretion."