Maximus ran back down the hall and stared at the remains in horror. "That was fifth-century Grecian!"

My surge of fury vanished as I looked at the wreckage. Surprise at what I'd done competed with shame. My sister Gretchen used to break things when she was upset, and I'd sworn never to be that way. Now I'd broken that vow-and a priceless statue along with it.


"I'm so sorry," I began, looking over at Vlad, but his expression stopped me from saying anything else.

"You see?" he said with supreme satisfaction. "A formidable weapon, just as I told you. Now that you know what you're capable of, we'll keep working to improve on it."

Chapter 27

When I finished with my shower, I saw that my bedroom door leading to the sitting area was open. It hadn't been when I first went into the bathroom. Murmured voices drifted in from the other room. Curious, I wrapped my robe tighter around me and peered around the frame.

No one but Vlad on the leather couch, jacket off, feet up, watching a vampire movie of all things. I came inside the room.

"Didn't know you were a fan of those."

He waved at the TV. "These never cease to amuse. If we're not being portrayed as bloodthirsty eunuchs, then we're angst-filled imbeciles whining about our lost humanity."

"Then you must love the cinematic retellings of your life."

"Most of them don't retell my life," he replied coolly, his eyes flashing green. "They retell Stoker's fabrication, which bears no resemblance to me except for the moniker-and even that's incorrect. Dracula doesn't mean son of the devil. It means son of the dragon, as my father was known in his time."

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I shouldn't have brought this up. I blamed it on the fact that I was tired and still upset at Vlad for throwing up my mother's death to me, but two wrongs didn't make a right, as the cliche went.

"Forget it," I murmured.

He rose, walking over with the unhurried grace of a predator who knew his prey couldn't outrun him.

"You have the right to know about the man you've taken for a lover. Much of what history's written is false, but some things are true, even if my motivations are often portrayed incorrectly."

When he reached me, he traced his finger up the sleeve of the mulberry-colored robe. The firelight made deeper hollows out of his striking features, and his coppery eyes seemed to hold their own inner flame.

"Go on," he said with soft challenge. "Ask me something."

I glanced away, both enticed and unnerved by the offer. "Really, Vlad, I only know what the movies say about you, which you confirmed was bull. I wouldn't even know what to ask-"

"Liar," he interrupted, the word more statement than accusation. "You have questions, so ask."

"Is Marty right?" It came out before I could stop myself. "Will you break my heart?"

As soon as I said it, I wished I could take it back. We'd agreed that love wasn't an option between us, and here I was talking about a broken heart like a moonstruck teenager. Maybe this was a sign that I was already in over my head emotionally in this relationship.

He leaned against the door frame, his body so close that a deep breath from me would have us touching.

"Why would I seek to break your heart?"

"Because you can be a merciless bastard at times," I answered honestly.

A smile flitted across his lips. "True, but I want you with me." His head dipped, mouth grazing my neck to send a scattershot of shivers through me.

Even amidst my enjoyment over his actions, I felt a pinprick of disappointment. I hadn't been looking for a promise of forever, but I had hoped to hear something . . . more. He wanted me with him now, but what happened after we caught his mysterious enemy and I no longer needed to live under his roof? Would we attempt a long distance relationship with me back in the States and him here? Would he ask me to stay? If so, would I?

"Do you feel anything for me aside from lust?" I forced myself to ask. Not until the words were out did I realize how much his answer mattered. Yeah, I was in way over my head.

His lips continued to brush my skin with feathery strokes that elicited countless tingles despite my nervousness as I waited for his reply.

"You challenged my authority in full view of the lowest order of my people," he said at last. "And what did I do?"

"You had me electrocute Maximus over and over," I replied, not sure where he was going with this.

"I gave him a lighter punishment while also showing you how to grow your powers," he countered in a seductively smooth voice. "If I felt nothing more for you than lust, Maximus would be on that pole for a week, and you, my lovely interloper, would not be here with me now."

Hardly the words you'd find on a Hallmark card, but they caused a glow of happiness nonetheless. Okay, so this wasn't love, but at least it was something real to him. That was enough for now. Before Vlad asked what I felt for him-a question I wasn't ready to answer with my runaway emotions-I changed the subject.

"How like you to kill two birds with one stone: punishing Maximus and working out my powers at the same time."

I meant to sound glib, but it was tough when each brush of his mouth made my toes curl. Either my distraction worked or he didn't want to know what I felt, because he addressed my statement instead of my mental musings.

"As I told you-due diligence."

His reply reminded me of the only tidbit I'd gleaned from sifting through hours of memories today.

"The puppet master," I began, my breath catching when he nipped my neck with teeth that now had two prominent, sharp fangs. "He had a funky ring. It was kind of like yours, only it had a bird on the front instead of a dragon."

Vlad's mouth stilled. "What kind of bird?"

"Maybe a crow? It was hard to tell since I only saw the ring when he was gesturing as he spoke-"

Vlad disappeared into his room before I finished speaking, my robe fluttering from how fast he'd moved. I blinked in surprise. Moments later he was back, holding a torn page.

"Is this the image you saw?"

I took the yellowed page from him, not understanding the language of the antique writing on it, but recognizing the icon.

"Yeah, that's it. I thought the thing in the bird's beak was a twig, but now I see that it's a little hoop."

Vlad muttered something in Romanian. From his tone, I guessed that it translated into several four-letter words.

"What's wrong?" He'd recognized the symbol, so the ring was a lead. That was a good thing, wasn't it?

He stared at me, and the expression on his face was so fierce, I almost took a step backward.

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