“It isn’t what Maximus did that’s eating me up with guilt,” I forced myself to say. “It’s what I did. Maximus didn’t rape me. He did exactly what I told you, only . . . that’s not the only time he did it, and the second time wasn’t against my will.”
He stiffened and pulled away. The instant chill from the absence of his body struck me almost as much as a physical blow.
“Explain,” he bit out.
I hugged my knees for more than better balance on the bar’s narrow counter top.
“I lost most of the blood in me when Harold skinned me, and Szilagyi kept me starved. I got so weak, so hungry that I couldn’t concentrate enough to link to you even after I realized that it might work. Maximus was rarely allowed near me and he was watched every time he was, so he couldn’t sneak me blood without . . . extreme pretense.”
I started to tremble, but now that I’d begun to tell him what happened, I wouldn’t allow myself to stop.
“I had told Maximus that I needed blood, so he told Szilagyi he wanted to fuck me again. Szilagyi didn’t mind that; he loved how it had driven you to burn your house down. They made Maximus keep the door open and only let him bring in a couple pieces of tape. He put one on my mouth and the other he snuck, um, below. Then h-he did what you saw in the video, only this time, he took the tape off and kissed me to regurgitate the blood he’d just drunk back into me.”
Vlad made a low, visceral sound. My trembling increased and I could barely see from the tears flooding my eyes. This was the part I hadn’t wanted to remember, let alone ever tell Vlad.
“I was so hungry; it threw me into a feeding frenzy. I sucked on his mouth and-and ground against him and pleaded for more. It was like the blood made my body go nuts from need and I-I didn’t care about where I was, who I was with, or what I was doing.”
I whispered those last few words, gripped by the same shame that had plagued me since then. The last thing I wanted to do was to admit what came next, because it was the worst part.
“Maximus played it off like I was getting into his screwing me, which the guard thought was hilarious. When I finally got enough blood that the feeding frenzy lifted and I was back in my right mind, Maximus asked if I-I wanted him to sneak me blood this way again and,” I raised my head and looked square at Vlad despite the pain of the admission, “I said yes.”
He stared at me, his gaze so green it was as though firelit emeralds had replaced his eyes. “And?”
“And?” I repeated in disbelief. “I said yes, didn’t you hear me the first time?”
Shame scalded my tone, making the question almost a scream. Vlad waited, giving me a chance to say something else, then he dropped his fists onto the bar, which shook as though it had been hit by twin sledgehammers.
“Unless you are leaving something out, what you’re telling me is that you’re wracked with guilt over responding to blood the same way every other newly made, starved vampire would.”
I stiffened. The last thing I expected was that I’d need to explain why he should be furious with me!
“I agree I wasn’t responsible for my initial reaction, but I knew exactly what I was doing when I told Maximus to come back. I knew the blood would probably make me whore-out again. I also knew that Maximus might not be able to use tape on me at all the next time, but I didn’t care. All I cared about was getting more blood, even if it meant practically or possibly literally cheating on you to get it. Now is it clear?”
He made that low, guttural sound again. The one I’d taken for an overabundance of rage before, but when he let his walls down and his feelings flooded into mine, I was shocked.
“If I hadn’t heard the word Abkhazia in my mind, Szilagyi would still have you. Cat’s ghosts would’ve searched for you, but it would have taken weeks or months since I didn’t even know what side of the world you were on. Szilagyi would have killed you by then, or at least broken you from the horrors he inflicted on you to torment me. Next to that, Leila, I wouldn’t care if you fucked Maximus, every guard assigned to watch you, and Szilagyi himself, if the result was you getting the blood you needed in order to tell me your location.”
I couldn’t speak. Not because of his words, though they vibrated with vehemence, but because of the emotions that continued to surge into mine like waves breaking over rocks. They contained none of the recriminations I’d heaped upon myself. Instead, I felt the most savage sort of pride, as if he’d been hoping that I had it in me to do whatever was necessary to survive, and now he knew that I did.
If I had any lingering doubts, the way he caught me to him and kissed me put them to rest. When he finally lifted his head, my body throbbed and my lips felt almost blistered from the heat that seemed to pour out of him and into me.
“Besides,” he said, his voice rough. “Even if I did feel wronged by your actions, you were more wronged by mine. I insisted you stay at the castle, I smothered your abilities with my aura, and I turned you into a target by marrying you. If I—”
“Don’t,” I interrupted at once. “Don’t ever again say you wish you hadn’t married me. Szilagyi brought me into this fight before we met, remember? Then later, he knew that you loved me before you did. Whether you had married me or not, we’d still be right where we are now.”
He stared at me with such intensity that I had to blink to keep my eyes from feeling burned.
“Perhaps. I will always have enemies, and though I intend to crush them all, I want your word that you will continue to do whatever it takes in order to survive. You can’t let yourself be crippled by guilt, fear, or hesitation ever again. Promise me.”