“Okay,” I said, the word a little ragged because part of me still couldn’t believe the way he was taking this. “Survival first, no matter what. Promise.”
He smiled while new, much colder emotions began to snake through my own. “Good. Now, since you’ve proven me utterly wrong for stripping you of your abilities before, why don’t you use them to link to Szilagyi so that we can finally kill him?”
It felt like a lightbulb turned on over my head. That’s right; my abilities were back, all of them. I hopped off the counter in my newfound excitement.
“Oh, hell, yes! Why didn’t you prod me to link to him the second I set foot on your plane?”
I’d been so weighed down over my actions with Maximus, I hadn’t even thought of it. Vlad was right; my guilt had been crippling, and when the stakes were life or death, I couldn’t afford those kinds of handicaps.
He came out from behind the bar. “I told you, your survival is my first priority. If you were too emotionally damaged to admit what I believed Maximus had done to you, then you were in no condition to attempt to link to Szilagyi.”
I started running my hands beneath my dress, looking for Szilagyi’s essence trail. I had lots on me from Maximus and a few from Harold since he’d held me down on my new skin to finish slicing off my old. When I finally found Szilagyi’s, I smiled. He’d been so smug about resting his hand near my crotch as he taunted me with my helplessness. Well, look who was smug now?
Vlad saw where my hand had paused. He said nothing, though fury singed my emotions before he closed himself off again. I didn’t object. I wanted nothing to distract me while I attempted to link to the man who’d inflicted so much pain on both of us.
I was surprised when I followed Szilagyi’s essence trail back to him with much more ease than it had taken me to find Vlad. Our mutual enemy was in a car, driving up a windy, steep road with a startlingly handsome black-haired young man in the passenger seat next to him. Maybe being well fed really is the secret to unlocking my abilities, I thought as I walked out of the pub and went into the villa’s version of a kitchen. Then I pulled a knife out of the chopping block on the counter and swung it at my throat as hard as I could—
Vlad grabbed my arm, stopping me before the blade could complete its lethal arc. I tried to hack at my neck again, but all my muscles suddenly lacked coordination. Vlad wrested the knife away and threw it across the room.
“Let me go, I need to do this,” I tried to say, but the words came out unintelligible. Unable to talk, I glared at him. Couldn’t he see that I had to cut my head off? Right now?
His response was to slap me so hard, my teeth ached. The shock of the blow made me lose the last vestiges of my link to Szilagyi. As if coming out of a dream, I realized that Vlad had wrestled me onto the kitchen floor, and the scarlet streaks on me and him were from the blood that had gushed out when I’d half decapitated myself. I was pretty sure I hadn’t just experienced a psychotic break, so I could only come up with one reason for my sudden, uncontrollable urge to commit suicide.
“Oh, shit,” I whispered, able to talk now that my vocal cords had healed with supernatural swiftness. “Szilagyi must’ve done the same thing Cynthiana did: booby-trapped himself with a spell so if I ever linked to him, it would end up killing me.”
“For the hundredth time, I feel fine now,” I called out, yet Vlad’s response was a derisive snort from the other room. “Seriously, you can let me out,” I continued.
No response to that, only more sounds of things being moved around and/or carted out. Well, I hadn’t really thought he’d capitulate. I was dealing with the trauma of my near suicide by refusing to dwell on it. Otherwise, the horror of how close I’d come to killing myself would break the thin control I had over my emotions and I’d fall completely to pieces. As Vlad had said, survival first. Panic, self-recriminations, and hysteria later.
Vlad was employing his own coping methods. I tried to shift into a more comfortable position, but that was impossible, probably because I was at the bottom of the tub I’d admired, with a grand piano and five marble columns on top of me. I could get out from underneath the massive, weighty barriers, but Vlad would hear my attempts long before I freed a single finger.
And then I’d really be in for it.
Vlad hadn’t forgotten that Mencheres was telekinetic when he piled heavy objects onto me so he and Mencheres could clear out any lethal objects from the villa. No, Vlad was sending me a one-ton memo that there would be no more attempts to link to Szilagyi. Yes, I’d reached him easily, and yes, I now knew that Szilagyi was on the move with an unknown young man, but that wasn’t enough to tell me where he was. Vlad wouldn’t consider me trying again, whether I was safely restrained or not.
“You don’t know if the spell is set to reactivate as soon as you have another opportunity,” he’d ground out as he stacked the weighty objects on top of me. “Szilagyi would be laughing in hell if we found him and killed him, then you celebrated by committing suicide under the lasting directive of his spell.”
“Cynthiana’s spells always wore off after I dropped my link to her,” I’d argued.
“Not before they did lethal damage,” had been Vlad’s short response. “You’re only alive now because you were human and vampire blood kept bringing you back.”
“Then let me try linking to Maximus. He left with him, so he might be at whatever place Szilagyi was heading to—”