"I think I've got something," I said aloud. "I see two of the vampires from the attack and it looks like they're getting orders, but I don't understand the language."
"I'm fluent in dozens of languages, repeat whatever you hear," Vlad directed.
The other man had spoken rapidly and the language wasn't easy to replicate, but I gave it my best shot. After I parroted some sentences that may or may not have been accurate, Vlad's whistle yanked my attention away from the memory.
"I believe you've found our elusive puppet master."
I disengaged the link to center my attention back on him. "You understood him? What language was it?"
"Old Novgorod." A tight smile twisted his lips. "I haven't heard that since I was a boy. Either he is at least as old as I am, or he's very clever by communicating through a dialect few knew even before it became extinct."
"What was he saying?"
His smile remained, but his expression hardened. "You were missing a few words, but I heard enough to determine that surveillance equipment in the town alerted them to your presence. Once you were spotted, his men were told that if they couldn't succeed in returning with you, they were to kill you."
Considering the silver-haired vampire had broken my legs and left me trapped in a burning building, the "capture or kill" order didn't come as a surprise. Still, it didn't give me the warm fuzzies. Before, I'd wanted to help Vlad catch the mastermind because then I would be safe. Now, I wanted to catch the bastard so he could pay for everything he'd put me through.
"Tell me more and you'll get your vengeance," Vlad promised. "Do you know his name or where he is?"
"No," I said, and explained why. Even their surroundings were of no use. The three men had been in small room with wall-to-wall concrete and not much else. Vlad stroked his jaw when I was finished, his expression thoughtful.
"Maximus," he said at last. "Find out who the world's best sketch artist is, and have him or her here by dawn."
The other bones didn't reveal anything significant. Just more images of their owners' sins and more flashbacks of the distinguished-looking gentleman who spoke Old Novgorod. Vlad left to find the surveillance equipment and to, I assumed, burn the ass off anyone involved with its setup. I kept trying to sort through the deluge of memories to discover more about the people behind the bones, but after several frustrating hours, I called it a day. The truth was that I might be giving myself a headache for nothing. Now that I had a face behind last night's attack, if the sketch artist panned out and Vlad recognized him . . . checkmate would come tomorrow.
That left tonight to settle the other issues between us.
I ate dinner alone in the wood-paneled sitting room that adjoined my new bedroom. Then I stayed there after the plates were cleared away. The modern leather furniture and large flat-screen TV looked out of place next to the antique bookcase containing editions so old, I could barely read the letters on the bindings. Those contrasts in extremes, plus the ancient shield above the fireplace bearing the same dragon design as Vlad's ring, made me guess where the other door in this room led to. Therefore, when I heard it open, I didn't turn my head, but stayed on the couch and continued to stare into the crackling orange flames.
A tall form blinked out of the corner of my eye before I felt warm, strong hands slide down my arms and then the rasp of stubble against my cheek. Despite my resolve to settle a few things first, I couldn't help but think that the heat seemed to travel from his hands down to a specific place in my body.
"Wait," I said, but the word came out wispy.
Dark laughter made my neck tingle where it landed.
"How unconvincing. Try again."
I couldn't stop my eyes from closing when his mouth settled in the same spot where his breath had been. A slow graze of his lips had me exhaling in pleasure, then the sudden firm suction made desire stab me right in the center even as I gasped.
Another chuckle before I felt the dangerously sensual pressure of fangs. Vlad continued to draw on my neck, those sharp teeth grazing my skin without breaking it. My pulse jumped against his mouth as if begging to be bitten, but then I slid off the couch, pivoting to face him.
He stalked over, his eyes glowing with emerald highlights. Now that I got my first look at him, I saw that his cuffs were undone and the top buttons of his black shirt open, that V of hard flesh entrapping my gaze even as I backed away. The most I'd seen of his skin before was when he rolled up his sleeve to give me his blood. I found myself wondering if his chest had the same crisp dusting of hair as his arms, or if the hint of darkness I glimpsed was from the firelight's shifting shadows.
His teeth bared in something too predatory to be called a smile. "You'll soon find out."
I stretched out my hands as if to ward him off. "Not yet. I want to know what your end game is first."
Another flash of teeth, this time showing his fangs. "To have you screaming my name within the hour."
Those words made my pulse pound so strongly that my neck felt like it vibrated. His gaze flicked there and then he reached me in the next stride, catching my hands and using them to pull me closer. Excitement shot through me as he pressed our bodies together, his arms a sensual cage around me. When I felt something hard pulsing against my belly, lust burst forth with enough strength to shove my other concerns aside. I wanted to touch him there. Taste him. Feel him so deep inside me that I screamed out his name just like he promised-
"Not until you tell me the catch to sleeping with you," I managed before those cravings washed away all rational thought.
He'd already slipped his hands under my sweater and unhooked my bra, but at that, he paused.
My rapid breathing made the words come out jumbled. "Yes, the catch, cost, downside, or thing that will make me say, 'Oh, shit' tomorrow when it's too late. Tell me now."
He pulled back to stare at me in the strangest way, like he was amused but also debating whether to ignore me and finish taking off my bra.
"Ah, that catch," he said at last. "To start, if you betray me with another man, I'll burn him to death in front of you."
I'd expected something like that, but I wasn't about to agree without conditions. "Only if you hold yourself to the same standard, and don't pull any of that 'You're mine' garbage if things don't work out between us."
His hands left my back to weave in my hair. Then he leaned down until his face was very close to mine.