I was actually starting to feel a little sorry for the necromancer. Sure, he’d tried to kill us and we intended to kill him as soon as we found out what he knew, but I wasn’t comfortable with torture.
Ian, however, regarded Vlad’s handiwork with his usual twisted mentality. “Blimey, if his pipes still worked, he’d be shitting silver for a week.”
“Now bleed him,” Vlad told Maximus, ignoring that.
Maximus took a spare silver knife and then sliced open every artery the vampire had and kept reopening them after they healed. If he’d had anything resembling a normal heartbeat, blood would have been gushing out from the necromancer. Instead, slow red drips began to pool onto the floor. This was to further weaken him once the mirror spell broke, and that might make the difference between him escaping or not. Still, I’d seen enough.
“I’m going upstairs to get some fresh air,” I muttered.
Vlad gave me a look I couldn’t read, then said, “I’ll be finished here soon. Ian, stay with her.”
I didn’t remind him that Marty was also here, or that “here” was in the middle of snowy nowhere. Or mention the fact that earlier, Vlad himself had set up cameras all around the perimeter to make sure that no one snuck up on us. We’d all had a stressful night and all our nerves were stretched. If it made Vlad feel better to have two vampires tasked with keeping me safe in addition to all the above, so be it.
However, some things I was going to do alone. When we left the cellar and entered the main room of the basement, I turned to Ian and said, “I’m taking a shower to wash this soot off, so you can stand down until I’m done.”
He didn’t smirk, wink, or offer to help, which I would have expected. Instead, he shrugged. “I’ll stay outside the door.”
I snorted. “You don’t have to take Vlad’s instructions that literally. Besides, Marty’s watching the perimeter and our only interior hostile is still spellbound.”
“If he wakes up early, you’re the one who trapped him, so you’re the one he’ll most want to kill,” Ian pointed out. “Besides, I’m not doing it for Tepesh,” he added, an eye roll indicating Vlad back in the cellar. “You surprised me tonight. Very few people do that, so I tend to respect the ones who do, and what I respect, I also willingly protect.”
He seemed to be sincere, but that was something I hadn’t seen from Ian before. “You respect me, but not Vlad?”
Now it was his turn to snort. “I said I respect people who surprise me. Your husband’s brutality, ruthlessness, and cunning are not surprising. They’re what I expect from him.”
“There’s more to Vlad than that,” I said quietly.
He met my gaze with a frankness that continued to throw me because it was so unusual coming from him. “There’s more to all of us. Yet most times, we still only see what we expect to see.”
Then his tone brightened and his expression changed into that arch, part-mocking, part-lecherous one I was used to.
“Now, if you insist that I treat you like the luscious little morsel you are, I’m all too happy to oblige—”
“I’ll stick with respect,” I interrupted.
He winked. There was the Ian I knew. “Your loss, poppet.”
I took my time in the shower, telling myself that I kept the water cold because there were six of us and I shouldn’t be greedy by taking all the hot water.
Right, that’s why you’re doing it, my inner voice mocked. It’s totally not because you’re more affected by nearly burning to death than you’re letting on, to the point where you don’t want to feel anything hot touching you.
I hated that bitch, but the few times that she was right, she was really right.
Okay, so I might be dealing with some mild post-traumatic stress after what had happened tonight. Admitting that didn’t mean I was weak; it meant that I was strong enough to own my true feelings, even my traumatized ones. This new issue might end up causing me to stumble or fall a few times, but it wouldn’t break me. And even if it did, I wouldn’t stay broken forever. I’d heal.
Until then, I didn’t need to indulge in an imaginary argument with my hated inner voice. I needed a real conversation with the necromancer who still hadn’t popped up in my mind to either take a bow or tell me that he was okay.
Mircea had to have survived. I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t. So why was he suddenly being so silent?
“Someone’s coming,” I heard Marty shout through the video feed that fed in from the exterior cameras.
I threw a sweater and jogging pants on and left the bathroom. Ian was already on his way up the stairs, a silver knife in each hand. I grabbed one from our weapons cache in the main room and called out toward the cellar, “Vlad, company!”
“I heard,” he replied, saying, “You know what to do,” to Maximus before they both swept out of the cellar.
“You want me to stay and watch him?” I asked, surprised that they were leaving the necromancer unattended.
Vlad grabbed my hand. “He’s fine. Come with me.”
Now I was really surprised. I’d expected him to insist that I stay below in the basement, not half drag me up the stairs with him to meet whoever this new threat might be. Once we reached the main level, the holes in the house’s frame revealed that a car was headed toward the farmhouse.
No one would accidentally stumble across this place. Vlad had chosen it for its remoteness. I started willing electricity into my hand. My psychic powers might be smothered by Vlad’s aura, but my voltage worked just fine.