“So, Vlad, when did we last see each other?” Marie asked, cocking her head as if trying to remember. I wasn’t buying her act of forgetfulness, and from his response, neither was he.
“Across a battlefield strewn with the bodies of dead ghouls,” he replied in a pleasant tone.
Her gaze narrowed, then she waved a dismissive hand. “Of course. Poor, misguided souls. Those who survived Apollyon’s foolish uprising are following me now, to their benefit.”
Not modest at all, are you? I thought, with an inner shake of my head. Birds of a feather, indeed.
“Jacques told me you have a recording of your marriage,” Marie went on, changing the subject. “May I see it?”
Checking for authenticity? I wondered as Vlad passed his cell phone over. She didn’t seem like the type to ask just so she could ooh and aah with feminine appreciation. Marie took it and tapped the screen. Soon, our voices flowed into the small space, repeating our simple, life-altering vows.
“I wonder why I didn’t see this video before,” she commented as she watched.
If Vlad’s shields hadn’t cracked, releasing a split second of blistering rage, I wouldn’t have noticed her slight emphasis on the word “this.” But they did, and after a moment of wondering why, understanding slammed home.
Szilagyi hadn’t just sent his tapes of me to Vlad. He must have also released them to the entire undead world. Fury flashed through my veins. Of course he’d want everyone to know how he’d snatched Vlad’s wife right out from under him, and then what he’d done to me afterward. To scum like Szilagyi, that would be the same as spiking a football after a touchdown.
“The ceremony was only last night,” Vlad replied, his tone daring Marie to elaborate on what she’d alluded to.
I was still boiling in anger, with humiliation clawing close at its heels. Logic said that I had nothing to be ashamed of, but the thought of everyone looking at me while a mental image of those tapes played in their minds made me want to run for the nearest exit. If I’d suddenly been stripped naked and staked out in public, I would have felt less exposed.
Marie handed Vlad his phone back, a small smile touching her mouth. “It ends rather abruptly, doesn’t it?”
My nails dug into the armrests of my chair. She was making a sex crack now, too?
After Vlad took it, he reached over to clasp my hand. “I never hesitate when it comes to something I want.”
His flesh radiated his usual heat, and the part of me that had fragmented with angry shame soaked it up as if it was the only thing keeping me from shattering into a million pieces.
Marie glanced at our joined hands, at Vlad, and then her brow ticked up. “And what do you want from me?”
Vlad gave her his most charming smile, which was warning enough for me.
“I want to know if you’re the necromancer who cast the spell that nearly killed my wife.”
Marie’s expression went dangerously blank. If the mood in the room had been tense before, it was downright ominous now.
“Why would you suspect me of doing such a thing?” she asked, her Southern accent changing to sugar-coated poison.
Vlad’s genial smile never slipped. “The spell is bound in undead flesh, so only someone skilled in necromancy could have cast it. With your expertise in grave magic, that makes you the most likely suspect.”
My right hand slipped beneath a fold in my long skirt, so Marie couldn’t see me work my fingers to slip my glove off. We might have only seconds before she hit us with those hideous, unbeatable Remnants. I hadn’t knowingly manifested a whip since my capture, but from the burnt slashes in the villa, the ability was still there. If our lives depended on it, I had to do it again. The alternative was unthinkable.
“What if it was me?” Marie’s mouth lifted in a challenging quirk. “What would you intend to do about it?”
“Kill you,” Vlad replied pleasantly.
I tensed, willing all of my energy into my hand for the imminent attack, but Marie only laughed.
“I never pegged you for a fool, Tepesh. You surprise me a third time today.”
With that, a seething gray mass shot up around her before covering the walls of the small room. It took less time for us to be surrounded by the deadly, howling Remnants than it did for me to leap up from my chair, glove off and my hand suffused with glowing, electric white. Vlad remained seated, and to my shock, I saw him regard the Remnants around us with detached amusement.
“Is this supposed to intimidate me?”
He’s lost his mind, I thought numbly. Dear God, Szilagyi had actually managed to drive him crazy.
“Yes,” Marie said, sounding almost as thrown by his response as I was.
He smiled again. “You’ve shown me yours. Now, let me show you mine.”
Fire flooded the room, concealing the Remnants behind bright, destructive bands of crimson, orange, and blue. I only knew that the side door had opened when I heard shouting, but Marie’s ghoul bodyguard couldn’t make it past the flames that were so hot, they began to eat into the stone walls. If Vlad hadn’t held them above the three of us like a gleaming, deadly curtain, only he would have survived.
Just as abruptly, the flames vanished. If not for the smoke and new, charred texture to the walls, no one would have guessed that the room had been a hellish inferno moments ago.
“Now that we’ve compared the equivalent of our supernatural dicks, why don’t you answer my question?” Vlad said, tone as cold as the fire had been hot.