I closed my eyes and dropped the emotional shields I’d erected to protect myself from the pain of thinking about him. At once, memories began to rip through me. His scent, like cinnamon mixed with wood smoke. The emerald rings around his copper-colored eyes. How thick his hair felt in my hands. The heat that radiated from his skin, and the stubble on his jaw that gently rasped me every time we kissed . . .
Dark gray walls fell away, revealing the panorama of a deep blue sky. I let the vision take me, until I wasn’t in the dank, depressing cell anymore.
I stood like an invisible shadow next to Vlad. He, Mencheres, Bones, and Cat were in front of a large, luxurious-looking farmhouse. Trees surrounded it on three sides, and I didn’t see any other houses along the long gravel road that disappeared over the hill behind it.
“Tell the child to come out, I already know she’s in there,” Vlad was saying to the beautiful redheaded vampire.
Cat swung an accusing glare at Mencheres. “You told him?”
Bones also glowered at him, but Mencheres lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “I didn’t.”
Now that I felt centered in the vision, I started yelling at Vlad with my thoughts, but he didn’t appear to hear me.
“As if he needed to,” Vlad replied curtly. “You forget that I know several of your secrets, Cat, such as your being best friends with a demon-branded shapeshifter. As soon as I heard you’d secluded yourself in grief after the Law Guardians ‘killed’ your daughter, I knew what had really happened.”
“Then you also know we’d do anything to protect our child from those who’d harm her if they knew she was still alive,” Bones said, recovering from his surprise quicker than Cat.
Vlad smiled for the first time. “Oh, I’m counting on it.”
“What do you want?” Cat asked in a low voice.
“To call in every favor you owe me,” Vlad responded bluntly. “Since I don’t expect that to be enough, I’m also offering your daughter honorary status in my line. I know why you hid her survival from me and you were correct. Under extreme circumstances, I would choose my people over her despite our friendship, but if she’s an honorary part of my line, you don’t have to worry about that anymore. When she wearies of hiding herself away—and that day will come—you’ll have yet another powerful ally in your fight to keep her alive.”
Wondering why people would want to kill a little girl made me pause in my mental attempts to get Vlad’s attention. Then I redoubled my efforts. I had a solid link to him. All I had to do was make him hear me.
“In exchange for what?” Bones asked, his tone steely.
“Grave power,” Vlad stated, and from their reactions, they knew what that meant even if I didn’t.
“No,” Bones said at once.
Vlad ignored him, staring at Cat. She glanced back at the house twice before she replied.
“I’m sorry, Vlad. To do that, I’d have to leave with you for who knows how long, plus that could expose me to the same people we’re hiding from. I know you’re at war, but—”
“Have you ever seen an animal skinned?” Vlad interrupted, his voice icily pleasant. “It’s a bloody, brutal business under normal circumstances, but imagine if the animal were alive and screaming. Then imagine that it wasn’t an animal, but the person you loved being repeatedly slashed and hacked so that their skin could be ripped away faster than it could heal.”
Cat gasped, her hand flying to her mouth. Vlad seized her by the shoulders, his tone sharpening into razor wire.
“That’s the first tape Szilagyi sent me to prove that he had captured Leila during his attack on my home. The second showed my oldest friend raping her while she was manacled to a wall. Now, ask yourself if you’d rather have my undying gratitude and promised support for helping me save my wife from further suffering, or if you’d rather have me as the merciless enemy I will become if you refuse.”
Cat didn’t take her eyes off Vlad as she held out a hand to Bones, whom Mencheres had needed to restrain as soon as Vlad grabbed Cat. Then her gaze started to shine with green.
“I didn’t know that Leila had been taken captive. I’m so sorry, but what you want me to do . . . it’s too risky to do more than once, so you need to decide if you want it for her, or for the vampire responsible for everything that’s happened to her.”
Vlad’s mouth twisted. “Do you really need to ask?”
Cat smiled back with equal coldness. “Good choice.”
Vlad let her go and she turned toward the house, raising her voice. “It’s okay, Tate and Mom, you can put the guns down now. Katie, come on out and meet your Uncle Vlad—”
“Sleeping already?” Szilagyi asked, crashing into my vision like an unwelcome visitor. My eyes snapped open and I released my link. Szilagyi was in front of me, his head cocked as he stared at me. I’d been so deep in the vision, I hadn’t felt him come in. What if he could tell that I’d been linking to Vlad?
“I can only play I Spy With My Little Eye so many times before it gets boring,” I replied, attempting to throw him off. “Or maybe I was ignoring you because I really, really hate you.”
Szilagyi smiled, letting his gaze slide over me in a way that made my skin ripple as if it were trying to scoot away. I listened for Maximus, but I didn’t hear him anymore. Please, don’t let him have left already, I found myself thinking.