"Leila." Maximus's voice was unrecognizable from the silver harpoon still embedded in his throat, and he was so covered in dried blood that it took me a moment to realize that was all he had on. "What are you doing here?"

I let out a harsh imitation of a laugh. "Oh, you know. I was in the neighborhood."

Chapter 42

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Marty began to rip out the knives and harpoons that he could reach, muttering something to Shrapnel about karma. I wasn't strong enough to pull out the restraints like he was, but I wasn't helpless. Cold satisfaction filled me as I cut through their harpoons and manacles with a laserlike beam of electricity, allowing the weight of their bodies to do the rest of the work. No, not helpless at all.

Szilagyi had thought I was when he brought me into this fight back when he had Jackal kidnap me. Ever since, I'd been nothing but a pawn to him. Now that pawn had killed three of his people, led Vlad to his hideout, and freed two men who'd risked their lives trying to protect me from Szi-lagyi's latest attack. I only wished I could see the puppet master's face when he realized that all his carefully laid plans had come crashing down around him.

"Leila," a male voice with a distinct accent said from behind me. "We meet at last."

I didn't need to look to know who it was. Be careful what you wish for! rang through my mind. Why hadn't I waited until I was out of the mountain to gloat about my victory?

I turned. As expected, there was Szilagyi, wearing the same sort of nondescript sweater and thick cotton pants that he had the first time I saw him. But what really held my attention were his two guns; one pointed at me, one at Marty.

"Do I really need to say don't move?" he asked pleasantly.

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The current spiking from my hand died away. He'd blast a hole through me before I could even twitch, and from the malevolent gleam in his dark brown eyes, I didn't know why he hadn't already.

"You may want to consider running for your life," I said, speaking calmly the way one did to an unpredictable animal.

His generous mouth curled in derision. "Why? I know who's here, and you already told him about my tunnel, didn't you? So I can't escape." He cocked the guns. "But neither can you."

I didn't say any of the cliche things that sprang to my mind, like You don't want to do this (yes he did), or We can talk (we were way past the talking stage). Instead, a grim part of me wondered if I had enough vampire blood in me to snap out an electric lash while dying from a gunshot wound. If he pulled that trigger, I intended to find out.

Screams rang out from above, so anguished that I winced in instinctive sympathy even though they must've come from Szilagyi's remaining guards. Then a large form appeared in front of me like a shadow come to life. It happened so fast that it took a moment to realize what I was looking at-the back of a vampire, dressed all in black, his hands lit up with orange and blue flames that cast an eerie glow over the inside of the pit.

"Hello, Vlad," Szilagyi said, and to his credit, he didn't sound afraid. "I must admit, I'm surprised. You chose to protect her instead of strike out at me. How unexpectedly soft of you."

I had the option of cringing behind my boyfriend's back or hurrying to get Maximus and Shrapnel out of their restraints. It was a no-brainer. I backed away slowly, but once I reached them, I whirled and yanked, cut, or pried away the last of the silver pinning Maximus and Shrapnel to the stone walls. I glanced over at Szilagyi several times while I worked, but he didn't move, and those two guns were now pointed at Vlad.

"Why would I kill you quickly when I can take you with me and spread out your torment over years?" Vlad replied in a caressing voice. "I owe you for so many things. My captivity after I became a vampire, smearing my name, your betrayal of Romania to her enemies, your murder of my son, all my people you've killed, and finally, your abuse of Leila."

Then his voice deepened, and those flames licked up his arms. "Though she seems to have recklessly set out on her own quest for vengeance, hasn't she?"

Vlad glanced at me during that last sentence, and despite the seriousness of the situation, I cringed. That single brief look said loud and clear how furious he was over me coming here, but if he'd waited ten more minutes before attacking, I could've snuck Maximus and Shrapnel out without Szilagyi even knowing it!

Szilagyi let out a short laugh as he overheard that. "You might indeed have done so. You've shown yourself to be amazingly resourceful, as your presence here and the smell of Rend's blood on your clothes proves."

Maximus and Shrapnel, now free, flanked Vlad on either side. They were weaponless, but they still managed to exude a palpable form of menace. Maybe it was because of how their bodies were covered with dried blood and nothing else. Marty stayed by me, his hand sliding toward the knife still strapped to his belt. Vlad's glance flicked to Maximus, Shrapnel, and Marty in lightning-fast succession before returning to Szilagyi.

"Leave."

The single word was weighted down with immutable command. Maximus and Shrapnel turned to go, but Marty hesitated. At that, the coffee-skinned vampire picked him up and then leapt out, one meaty hand silencing his protests. Maximus moved as if to grab me, but I snapped a warning whip of electricity at him.

"Don't even think of it. I'm leaving with Vlad or not at all."

He glanced at Vlad, who gave me another you're-so-in-for-it glare before jerking his head up. Maximus disappeared out of the pit with a soundless jump and I returned my attention to the standoff between the two remaining vampires.

Vlad smiled at Szilagyi, and that simple baring of teeth managed to be terrifying in its charm. "Now you have only me to contend with, my old enemy. Do you know why? Because I wanted you to remember over the course of the next several agonizing years that you couldn't best me even when I stood alone." His gaze dropped to the guns and he let out a short laugh. "Unless you actually believe shooting me will work?"

"No," Szilagyi said, surprising me as he dropped the guns. Those distinguished features twisted into a mask of hatred. "I know those won't stop you. Our sire willed something extra into you when he changed you. A remaining part of Cain's legacy of power. I knew it the first time I saw how unnaturally strong and gifted you were. Tenoch must have already set his plans for death in motion when he changed you and knew he wouldn't need it anymore."

I didn't know what Szilagyi meant, but Vlad did. His smile widened, changing from icily pleasant to genuinely amused.

"Here I'd thought only Mencheres suspected that. Very perceptive of you, but it makes me wonder why you're not begging for your life if you realize there is no way you can defeat me."

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