I'd expected him to smirk over my obvious admiration, but his expression didn't change as he stared back at me. His long, tapered fingers stroked the stem of his wineglass, and I flashed to how it felt when he'd caressed my hand as I unleashed all my electricity into him. Warmth spread through me that I told myself was the effects from the wine, but I knew better. Three hours and two kisses with Maximus hadn't made me feel as much as a glimmer of heat, but less than five minutes sitting across from Vlad and I was mentally fanning myself.

Now his expression did change-into a slow, knowing smile.

"You see? You don't react this way with every man," he said with satisfaction.


Nothing would make me happier than to tell him he was wrong, but I did feel something for Vlad that I hadn't felt for anyone else. Maybe he was right and it was that damn darkness in me recognizing a kindred spirit. That didn't make him any less hazardous to my physical or emotional well-being, however.

"Stop," I said quietly. "Find someone else to toy with. We both know I lack experience, so I don't know how to play the game without getting hurt. Besides, I hate games. I prefer knowing straight up what's real and what's bullcrap."

He sat back, something lurking in his gaze that tempted me despite knowing better. I gulped my wine for a distraction.

"It's your directness and refusal to lie to yourself that I find most appealing. And I'm not toying with you. I'm very serious about making you mine."

I held the wine in my mouth for a long moment before swallowing. Not to test the flavors this time, but in an effort to gain control. Two Leilas seemed to be battling it out inside of me. The first was outraged that he still considered it a fait accompli that I'd give in to him, and the second . . . that slutty bitch was wondering what Vlad looked like naked.

His teeth flashed in a wicked grin. "Many women wonder, but few find out. I'm very selective in my lovers."

-- Advertisement --

"Because you're so special?" I couldn't help but ask with open sarcasm.

That grin faded and his expression became serious. "Because at points in my life, I've lost everything. This house, my other homes, the cars, planes . . . they're my possessions, but anyone could own them. My body is the only thing that's truly mine, so I don't give it away as though it's worthless."

I'd lost everything before, too. It was worse than death in some ways, so I wasn't surprised that it had had a lasting effect on Vlad. Loss seemed to haunt him, from the source of his darkest sin all the way to this.

"Again I say my mind reading doesn't come close to your abilities," Vlad said softly. "You saw right into my soul with one touch. How does overhearing a few thoughts compare to that?"

I glanced away, clearing my throat. "I don't know. Some of those thoughts I'd really rather you not have heard."

He chuckled, low and decadent. "Ah, but those were the ones I most enjoyed hearing."

"Any luck rounding up items for me to touch?" I asked, desperately trying to change the subject.

Vlad still had a devilish glint in his eye, but he let the previous topic drop.

"I have enemies, but they're not open in their stance against me. Probably because I tend to kill my adversaries rather quickly, so first I have to determine who's paying me lip service, and who's wishing me dead."

"I could help with that." I leaned forward, anxious to find the person who'd dragged me into this. "Get me items from the top ten people you think might be double-talking you. I'll touch them and tell you who is and who isn't."

His sly grin was back. "Oh, Leila. Now you're just making yourself irresistible to me, aren't you?"

I drained the rest of my wine, wishing he'd stick to being either terrifying or charming. Being both wreaked havoc on my equilibrium. "Serving dinner yet? I'm starving."

I woke up with a groan at the sunlight streaming in. My sleep had been interrupted by dreams that had me waking with my heart pounding and my nightgown damp with sweat. They weren't nightmares where I relived Jackal kidnapping me, but they did feature a vampire. One who hadn't been doing anything against my will, but had left me gasping and pleading for more-and my dream lover hadn't been Maximus.

I swung my legs over the side of the bed. I was no stranger to wanting something I couldn't have, and there were two remedies I knew that could help. One I couldn't indulge in because the mind-reading vampire who haunted my sleep would know what I was doing, and worse-he'd know I was thinking about him while I was doing it. That left the other remedy.

Even though I still felt like a piece of meat someone had hammered for maximum tenderness, I got up and went over to the dresser, pulling out a pair of pants and a runner's bra. Maximus told me this house had an exercise room. I was going to find that room and burn off all my misdirected, useless lust until I was too tired to fantasize about anything except a nap.

Once I was dressed, I went downstairs. The great hall looked empty, but I knew better.

"Hello? I need to know where the gym is," I stated.

Before I could mentally count to three, a figure slipped out from behind one of the tall stone pillars.

"It is below this floor," the vampire said, an Irish brogue adding a pleasant cadence to his speech. "I will escort you."

I'd started to smile in thanks when a familiar, far more subtly accented voice made me freeze.

"No need, Lachlan. I'll show her where it is."

I mentally groaned. It was bad enough trying to exorcise Vlad from my thoughts when I only saw him at dinner. If I ran into him during the day as well, I didn't stand a chance.

And thanks to his damn mind reading, now he knew that.

Lachlan bowed to Vlad and vanished again. I waited, not turning my head. A scarred hand slid along my arm, leaving gooseflesh in its wake more from my reaction to his touch than the result of his heated flesh compared to the hall's chillier temperature.

"Are you always this warm?" I asked, not looking at him.

Something tall and dark filled my peripheral vision. "If I'm utilizing my power, I'm even warmer, but you know that. If I'm asleep, my temperature drops to that of a normal vampire."

So every part of him would be at least this heated. Didn't that invite musings I was better off not having?

"Gym," I managed to say. "Where is it?"

His fingers closed over my arm. "Come with me."

He knew I'd follow him, so his hand on my arm wasn't necessary. He'd chosen my right side, too, so if I wasn't careful, my hand would brush him and I might glimpse that erotic vision again. I never do anything unless I'm sure, he'd said. Was he daring me to see if that vision remained unchanged?

-- Advertisement --