I didn't know what to say. A tiny part of me thought it was chauvinistic that Vlad had had sex with those other women, yet hadn't deemed them worthy to share his bed or the closest room. That, however, was overshadowed by the fluttering of my heart and the sudden urge I had to pump both fists into the air.
But maybe he had another reason. A practical one. Vlad might not want me to relive images of him with other women if I touched the wrong item in one of his usual tryst rooms.
His lips curled. "How admirably jaded of you to think that, but I could always change out the furnishings in another room if I didn't want you to see such things."
That was true. Way to wreck a nice moment, Leila!
"Sorry. You know I'm winging all of this, but even if I'd been a through dozen prior relationships . . . I don't know if any of them would've prepared me for being with you."
"They wouldn't," he said with complete assuredness.
His arrogance really would take some getting used to.
"Then let me say what I should've said in the first place." I placed my hands on his chest and stood on tiptoe. "I'm glad," I whispered near his ear before kissing it.
His arms tightened around me, one hand sliding down to press my hips to his with the same sensual authority he'd shown last night. But we weren't in his bedroom anymore-we were in the large hallway where at least a dozen vampires lurked nearby.
"Stop," I said, glancing around to see if anyone saw that.
When I looked back, Vlad's gaze more than half glinted with emerald. "If that sketch artist wasn't here, I wouldn't stop."
Then he let me go, his eyes changing back to deep copper. "But Hunter's death needs to be avenged, as does your treatment. Come. Her name is Jillian, and she's in the library."
The sketch artist was a petite woman with deep laugh lines and blond hair that had mostly faded to white. Maximus bowed when we came in, but Jillian didn't even seem to notice. She was too busy looking around with the same dazzled expression I'd probably had when I first arrived. The library was two stories tall, a spiral staircase leading to the second level and a massive stone fireplace with crimson Louis XV furniture in the center. Thousands of books filled the shelves, some regular-sized, some so enormous that they must weigh thirty pounds each.
"Madame, les voila," Maximus said, his gaze lingering on me before he glanced away.
Vlad's hand rested on my waist. Even through my sweater, I felt his temperature suddenly spike. I glanced over, puzzled, but when he addressed Jillian in the same language, he sounded perfectly relaxed. Must be nothing, I decided.
I smiled at her while thinking that I should've studied French instead of Spanish in school. Vlad must have told her not to shake my hand because she didn't make a move toward me, but smiled back while speaking in heavily accented English.
"Happy to make your meeting, Leila."
"You too," I said, getting the gist of what she meant.
Several sentences in French were directed at Maximus while she gestured to the chairs by the fireplace.
"She wants you to be comfortable while you describe who you saw," Maximus translated. Then he smiled sardonically at Vlad. "And she wants to be paid in gold instead of euros."
Vlad flicked his fingers as if he could care less. I sat in the place indicated. Then I glanced over at Vlad.
"I'll describe him better if I'm holding one of the bones."
"Maximus," Vlad said, with a nod at the door.
He left. Jillian pulled a large pad and several charcoal pencils out of her satchel, humming to herself. Maximus returned moments later with what looked like a femur. Her brows rose, but Vlad said something to her in French that seemed to pacify her.
"I am ready," she said to me.
Vlad stood behind my chair, resting his hand on my shoulder. "Speak normally. I'll translate."
I took the bone and placed it on my lap. Then I ran my right hand over it, closing my eyes until I found the man who'd ordered the attack.
"He has short dark hair with streaks of gray," I began, "and a square jaw, kinda like comic book heroes have . . ."
An hour later, Jillian handed me her pad.
"Is him?" she asked.
Staring back at me was a man with ash-streaked hair, wide forehead, generous mouth, and piercing eyes of indeterminate color. All set off by a handsome face with lines that on men were called "character" and on women were considered cause for a Botox appointment.
"That's pretty close," I said, pivoting to hand the picture to Vlad. "Well? Do you recognize him?"
Vlad looked at the picture, his brows drawn together. After a long moment, he exchanged a glance with Maximus, who shook his head with an expression I couldn't decipher.
Then Vlad turned to me. "The only person I know that this picture resembles died a long time ago."
"Oh," I said, disappointed. "Well, it's not an exact replica. I'll keep linking through the bones. Maybe there's a detail or two about him that I can describe better."
Vlad handed the picture to Maximus. "Make a copy and show it to Jackal. Find out if he's encountered this man before."
"Jackal's still alive?" I asked in surprise.
"Of course. Where do you think Shrapnel has been?"
"I didn't know he'd been torturing Jackal this whole time!" I blurted, forgetting to watch my words in front of Jillian. Hopefully she hadn't understood that.
No such luck. "Someone is tortured?" Jillian rose, her hand near her mouth. Then a torrent of nervous-sounding French erupted from her as she began to back away.
"Assieds-toi, ce ne sont pas tes oignons," Vlad said, his eyes flashing bright green.
Whatever he told her, that combined with the power in his gaze worked. She sat, her expression changing from horror to placidness. Satisfied, Vlad turned his attention back to me.
"Not just Shrapnel. I spend time with Jackal daily, too."
Some things I would never get used to with Vlad. This was one of them. I picked my words with care.
"But you said Jackal didn't know who'd sent him after me, so why all the, ah, extra effort?"
Vlad shrugged. "Due diligence."
Only he could describe a week of brutal interrogations so casually.
"My father would love you," I muttered.
His grin was so at odds with the topic that if I hadn't gotten used to Vlad's quixotic nature, I would've been startled.
"Most fathers don't."
"Well, mine's a retired lieutenant colonel who swears that water boarding is an acceptable interrogation technique."