The cloak room vanished, replaced by Vlad encased in an indigo background that took me a moment to realize was the night sky. Relief made me want to weep, but before I could say anything, his voice cut across my mind.

"Leila, where are you?"

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I didn't answer out loud because I was coughing too much.

In the coatroom at the club.

"Get out," he said tightly. "You must know it's on fire."

Do you think that escaped my notice? I asked in disbelief. My legs are broken and part of the wall is pinning me.

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His eyes closed. When they opened, they were bright green.

"I'm only minutes away. Cover yourself with whatever is near and stay as close to the floor as you can."

A coughing fit kept me from responding because it took all of my concentration to breathe. I wasn't sure if the roaring in my ears was the flames eating through the walls or an indication that I was about to pass out.

Already done, I managed before my mind started to wander even more. Part of me knew that was a very bad sign, but the rest of me didn't care.

"Leila," Vlad said sharply. "Do not pass out."

So arrogant, I thought. As if you can order someone to stay conscious. Bit by bit, my coughing lessened, as did the agony in my legs. The relief from the pain was overwhelming in more ways than one. If I couldn't feel my legs, maybe I wouldn't feel the fire.

"You won't burn." Even amidst my drifting away, I caught the vehemence in his voice. "I will make it in time."

I didn't respond. Vlad said something else, but it was lost in the beautiful roar all around me. If I concentrated on it, I felt like I could fly. I focused on that, and soon everything began to fade away. I was lighter, floating, free . . .

Pain dragged me back into consciousness with pitiless abruptness. I wasn't on the floor anymore, but wrapped inside a hard embrace as Vlad picked me up. Red and orange flames were all around us, their heat blistering, but then the flames extinguished and a path cleared as if by magic. Vlad strode through it and soon the choking smoke vanished, replaced by flashing lights and soot-streaked people. He bit his wrist, and then something warm and wet pressed against my mouth.

"Drink," he ordered.

His dark hair curtained everything else from view as he kept his face close to mine, making sure I swallowed in between fits of coughing. Pain erupted in my legs before fading into a dull ache and then finally an odd itching. My coughing lessened, too, though I still couldn't seem to draw enough air into my lungs. Finally Vlad removed his wrist, and my head fell back against the cradle of his arm.

"You made it," I said weakly.

His smile was brief-and fierce. "I told you I would."

Vlad flew me back to the house, but instead of stopping at the second floor, he strode up to the fourth and deposited me in a stunningly gothic room with a high, triangular ceiling. With its size and grandeur, I would've thought it was his room, but the bed didn't have those distinctive midnight-green drapes.

"What's wrong with the other room?" I asked, still feeling dizzy and worn out even though his blood had healed my injuries.

He pulled my boots off, tossing them to the floor before he whisked back the covers and set me on the bed.

"Someone wanted you badly enough to attack on my territory. It's been a hundred years since anyone dared such a thing, so you'll stay close to me until I find them."

I closed my eyes, guilt and anger swarming me. "Maximus?"

"I saw him, he's alive," Vlad said, to my vast relief.

He settled the blankets over me. I normally hated anyone treating me like I was helpless-I'd had enough of that when I'd been helpless right after the accident-but now, I didn't mind. Having the most dangerous vampire in the world look after me somehow made me feel safe, and after nearly burning to death, I wanted to hold on to that feeling a little longer.

"How did you end up trapped in the cloakroom?" Vlad asked almost casually. "Maximus was supposed to protect you."

I grimaced at the memory. "A silver-haired vampire who looked a little like Anderson Cooper threw me into it after I electrocuted him."

Both dark brows went up. "You attacked him?"

"Maximus was fighting the other three vamps and Silver had just killed Hunter. He was about to jump Maximus, so I zapped him. It gave Maximus time to beat one of the vamps and get out of the way. But Silver Hair was pissed and chucked me through the coatroom wall to show it."

"What were you thinking, risking yourself that way?" Vlad muttered.

Did he miss the part where Maximus was about to get killed? "I'm drunk," I said testily. "I'll try anything if I'm drunk."

His teeth flashed in a quick grin. "I'll remember that. We'll speak more about this tomorrow. Now, you need to rest."

His authoritative tone reminded me of why I'd gone to the club in the first place. Despite feeling like I might conk out, I pushed myself up on the pillows.

"Not yet. We have some things to clear up first."

"Such as?" The question was mild, but his eyes glinted.

"Why have you been avoiding me?"

"I haven't. I was out gathering items with Mencheres and the others. I'd only been back an hour when Ben called to report the attack on the club."

His gaze never wavered, but . . . "Then why did Maximus say you ordered him to shadow me there?"

"He called to tell me what you were doing." Vlad's tone hardened. "Though it seems you did a better job protecting him."

Okay, so he hadn't been ducking me. That left the bigger issue.

"Why didn't you tell me there was a catch to drinking your blood? Maximus said that doing it made me, ah . . ."

"Mine," Vlad finished without hesitation.

My temper rose at his complete self-assuredness. "I didn't agree to that, so forget it."

He sat on the edge of the bed and leaned down, setting his arms on either side of my face.

"You think my blood is the only tie between us?"

His voice was low, yet edged with palpable hunger. It seemed to rub me in places I'd only ever touched before, making my anger fade under a flash of desire. Vlad was so close that his hair was a shadowy veil all around me, and when he began to caress my face with light, sure strokes, it was all I could do not to close my eyes in bliss.

"This is our true tie," he whispered, his breath falling hotly onto my lips. "You're meant for me, and I will have you."

Then his mouth lowered in a hard, claiming kiss. A groan parted my lips and his tongue snaked between them to stroke mine with sensual dominance. He tasted like sin made into wine: dark, heady, and impossible to resist. The raw demand in his kiss and his hard body pressing me into the bed made my nerve endings flare with blinding sensation. Need overwhelmed me, causing an exquisitely painful clenching in my loins. I pulled him closer, tangling my hand in his hair and gasping when I felt his fangs slide out. My trepidation vanished when he kissed me deeper, drawing my tongue into his mouth and sucking on it until the throbbing between my legs matched the pace of my pulse.

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