"I'm at the corner of None of Your Business and Screw You."
His fist slammed down, knocking the armrest off. "Don't test me. You know the gas line explosion wasn't an accident."
"And I also know who might've been behind it," I countered nastily even though I didn't believe it.
His fists clenched and unclenched. If this wasn't a dream, I'd swear I smelled smoke. "You can't think it was me."
Another shrug he couldn't see. "Maximus says your pride might have prompted a little payback for me leaving you."
A noise escaped Vlad that was too visceral to be called a snarl. "He's signed his own death warrant twice, then."
Even imaginary, there was no reasoning with him. "I need to wake up. This dream sucks."
"You're asleep? Is that why your voice is fainter and I can't catch most of your thoughts?"
Alarm bells began to ring. This better be my subconscious being VERY creative.
He must have taken my silence as a yes. Vlad smiled, foreboding expression changing to infuriating satisfaction.
"You won't contact me when you're awake, but you reach out to me in your sleep. That should tell you who you really trust."
I began pinching my arm. Hard. Dream or not, it was too upsetting to keep talking to him.
"Think on this when you wake," he continued, honeyed steel dripping off each word. "Maximus has always wanted you. Since the explosion, he has you believing he's your savior and you can't trust anyone else. A happy coincidence?"
Wake up, wake up! I mentally chanted. Out loud, I said, "Maximus wouldn't hurt me, whereas you kept doing that even when you weren't trying to."
Vlad's smile faded, though his lips remained drawn back, revealing fangs longer than I'd ever seen before.
"I'm coming for you, Leila. If you care for Maximus, then you'll leave him and then contact me with your location. That will give him a chance to run. Otherwise, you'll watch me kill him when I catch up with you."
You wouldn't dare! trembled on my lips, but I didn't say it out loud because I knew very well that he would.
"I don't know why I ever thought I loved you" was what I barked instead, fear and anger making my tone brutal.
Something flashed across Vlad's face that, on any other man, I would've said was pain. But that was impossible. Even in a dream, Vlad didn't care enough for me to hurt him.
That proved true when his expression became detached again. "I'll see you soon," he said, waving as if in dismissal.
A surge of fury had me bolting upright in bed. My abrupt movement startled Maximus, who awoke with far more alertness. I was still processing the fact that my dream was over when he was right in front of me, big hands framing my face.
"Not again," he muttered, cutting his wrist with a fang.
"Stop," I protested when he held his bloody wrist against my mouth, but that and swatting at his arm made no difference.
"Swallow," he said sternly.
I did, cursing vampires and their highhandedness the whole time. When he finally removed his wrist, I shoved him, but it had as much effect as a fly trying to bring down a brick wall.
"What the hell?" I snapped.
He flicked my nose before showing me his red finger. "You started bleeding. I wasn't waiting to see if your heart stopped again, too."
Another nosebleed? But I hadn't been using my powers -
My gaze darted down. Yep, the gloves were still on, plus there was that whole impossibility factor with connecting to someone in my sleep. Still, the coincidences were piling up.
"Call Vlad," I said, seized with a near desperate urge to be proven wrong.
Both his brows shot up. "Why?"
"To see if he" - threatens your life, tells you to put me on the phone, anything like that - "sounds weird," I finished lamely.
Maximus stared at me, skepticism written all over his face.
"It's important," I said, gripping his upper arm.
After another penetrating stare, he went over to where he'd thrown his coat and pulled out his cell phone.
"Vlad," he said after a brief pause. "Sorry. I must've unintentionally redialed the last number that called me . . ."
I waited with indrawn breath, expecting to hear my name amidst an explosion of threats. But although I could make out Vlad's voice on the other line, he spoke too softly for the words to be clear. After a minute, Maximus hung up and shrugged.
"He sounds fine."
I let out my breath in a sigh that seemed to come from my soul. Only a dream! trumpeted across my mind. No matter how it felt or my spontaneous nosebleed, if it had been real, Vlad would've torn into Maximus as soon as he heard his voice -
I froze, claws of doubt skittering up my spine. Or would he? Vlad told me to get away from Maximus and then contact him. If Maximus knew the jig surrounding my purported death was up, he wouldn't let me out of his sight long enough for me to do that. Vlad also insinuated that Maximus might be the one behind the gas line bomb. If he believed that, would he tip his hand about my ability to contact him in my sleep?
No. Vlad was cunning to the point of being a sociopath. He'd never reveal such an advantage until it was too late.
Of course, there was another possibility. Vlad might not reveal that I'd contacted him in my dreams just to mess with me.
"Going to tell me why I just crank-called my sire?"
Maximus's wry voice cut through my musings. Even though I didn't believe the insinuations Dream Vlad had levied, niggling doubts kept me from replying with the truth.
"I, um, had a dream that his plane crashed," I said, managing to hold his gaze despite feeling like I had "Liar!" written in neon lights on my forehead.
A grunt. "You need to get over him. You'll only make yourself crazy if you don't."
Make myself crazy? I thought bleakly. All signs indicated that I was already there.
Sweat dampened my clothes and my muscles screamed, but I kept lifting and lowering my legs in a smooth, controlled rhythm. One hundred thirty-nine . . . one hundred forty . . .
"You've got to stop. This isn't healthy."
Maximus's arms were crossed, his handsome features creased into a scowl. I ignored him, continuing my leg lifts.
Cool hands locked around my ankles, keeping me from my next set of lifts. "I mean it, Leila. Stop."
I glared up at him. "Let me go."
His grip only tightened. "Not until you tell me what's been eating you the past few days."
Laughter came out in pants from my exertions. "Should I start with my best friend being blown to smithereens, or skip to the part where you think his killer may be my ex-boyfriend?"