Vlad's voice jerked my attention back to him. He didn't bother to hide his grin as he glanced down at my feet.


"Don't you want to come inside before you catch a chill?"

I followed his gaze as if I needed proof that I was standing barefoot on the icy ground. I'd forgotten about the cold, being so caught up in the splendor around me, but now sharp needles of pain pricked my feet.

"Coming," I said at once.

Two huge double doors opened and Vlad entered through them, nodding at the men who bowed to him as he passed. This time, the obsequious gesture didn't seem out of place. Anyone who lived in a palace like this would expect to be bowed to. Hell, it was bigger than some royal castles I'd seen on TV.

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I followed after him, unable to keep from looking around like a kid. We were inside an enormous hall with ceilings that were decorated with artful beams, frescos, and shields. Off to the right, the ceiling lowered and became domed glass. Below it, an indoor garden with plants and flowers arranged around chairs, couches, and a marble fountain.

Vlad strode by the garden and I followed, catching glimpses of more magnificent rooms as we continued down the main hall. Finally he stopped in front of a staircase that was wider than the trailer Marty and I had lived in.

"Maximus will show you to your room," Vlad stated.

I hadn't noticed the blond driver behind me, but he appeared before my next blink, so he couldn't have been far.

"Wait. Is Marty here? I want to see him." Vlad had promised not to kill him, but what if something happened with the other vampire on their way?

"I'll send him up after you've showered and eaten," Vlad said without hesitation.

Relief filled me. He must've confirmed that Marty had arrived in one piece for him to sound so sure.

Vlad turned and began to walk away, but my second "Wait!" stopped him.

"I, um, can't shower until I release all my excess electricity," I said with a shrug. "Don't suppose you have any lightning rods?"

"I'll get some," he replied, coming closer. "Until then, use me."

"I can find something else," I hedged.

A brow arched. "I insist."

He grasped my hand with those words. His coppery eyes stared into mine, silencing my next protest before I voiced it. He was so close that I imagined I could feel his unusual heat in the scant space between us. The warmth from his hand was certainly real. It seemed to slip inside my skin, teasing me with memories of what it felt like to be enveloped in his embrace, that hot, hard body pressed along every inch of me.

I cleared my throat to distract myself from the unexpected tightening of certain parts down below. It didn't help that he stroked my skin as he waited for my response, even that small touch sending more pleasant tingles through me.

"Are you sure?" I had to drain myself in order for this to be effective, and though he was fireproof, it might still hurt.

He leaned down, his long hair brushing my face. Those dark strands shouldn't have felt like teasing caresses, but they did, and again, I cursed my strange reaction to him.

"I never do anything unless I'm sure."

His voice was lower, and his fingers tightened on my hand. A bolt slid into him that I hadn't meant to send, but he didn't appear to mind. A slow smile spread across his lips.


The soft word was filled with challenge, as if he were daring me to hold anything back. Still bewildered over how he affected me, I took in a breath and then released the hold I kept over myself. Those inner currents unleashed in a burst of power that would've made the ground shudder from its intensity, but Vlad absorbed it without flinching, emerald sparks in his gaze the only visible indication that he felt anything. I was the one who swayed, feeling slightly dizzy at the expulsion of so much energy, so fast.

"I-I think that's enough," I said, the words uneven from the sudden weakening in my knees. I didn't usually feel like this after releasing my excess voltage. Maybe it was just because I hadn't eaten in almost two days.

Vlad stared down at me, not moving. "Are you able to manage the steps, or do you need assistance?"

My knees still felt wobbly, and though the idea of being in his hot embrace was dangerously appealing, I was not going to be carried to my room like some sort of war spoils. "I'm fine."

He let go of my hand and stepped back, nodding to Maximus. "Prepare her food immediately after you show her to her room." Then to me he said, "I'll see you at dinner."

I used the banister for balance as I followed Maximus up the curving staircase. Thirty hard-fought steps later we came to a landing. I was relieved that Maximus exited there instead of continuing up the staircase. Maybe I was suffering from jet lag combined with an emotional crash from all the stress of the past couple days.

Off the landing was a wood-paneled sitting room with views of the forest and mountains from windows that took up most of one wall. A long hallway was at the end of the lovely space, and I fought the urge to touch the walls to see if the material covering them really was velvet.

Maximus opened the third door in the hallway, standing aside to let me enter. I tried to act nonchalant when I saw that it was just as opulent as the rest of the house. I'd originally hoped it wouldn't take long to help Vlad find the person who directed Jackal and the others to kidnap me-if he was right and there was a mastermind behind the plot. But now, the idea of the hunt stretching out a few weeks didn't bother me. I couldn't get used to this kind of luxury because I was going back to my borderline-poverty life as soon as this was over, but in the meantime . . . life was too short not to enjoy a windfall.

"This is amazing," I told Maximus, who seemed to be waiting to see if the room met with my approval.

"I'm glad you're pleased," he replied. His formal manner seemed at odds with his formidable appearance and direct gaze. Maximus was a foot taller than my five-six height, and his thick muscles and rugged features made me think "scary bodyguard" more than "mild-mannered butler," but who was I to judge?

"You will find a change of clothes in the wardrobe," he went on. "Also, the electricity in this room was rewired to be voice activated. Lights on," he commanded, and sure enough, the bedside lamps and wall sconces flared to life.

I was stunned. "How did you-?" Then I stopped. Vlad.

He'd not only made good on his promise to provide me with clothes, he'd also managed to have his guest room rewired since without my glove, I couldn't touch a light switch without frying it.

Maximus waited to see if I would complete my sentence. When I didn't, he continued on as if I hadn't spoken. "You can also say 'dim' or 'lights off' when you want to retire. Dinner is served at nine in the main dining room on the first floor. Will you need me to show you where it is?"

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