Once Burned

Page 16

"No, I think I remember seeing it," I said, still taken aback by this unexpected kindness from Vlad.

"Then I will leave you. Your lunch will be delivered shortly, but if you have need of anything in the meantime, pull this cord."

He illustrated the statement by pulling on a long tassel that hung near the door. I didn't hear anything, but I took him at his word that it worked.

"Thank you," I said, feeling like I should tip him. Not that I could. My wallet was back in Florida.

He inclined his head. "My pleasure."

I waited until he closed the door behind him before going into the bathroom to check it out. It had a glass shower big enough for two and a sunken garden tub I could almost swim in, plus various other amenities.

I'd longed for a shower, but the thought of soaking my aches away in that tub changed my mind. "Lights on," I said, and then used my left hand to turn on the water.

Chapter 10

Several covered dishes were on a tray in the sitting area when I came out of the bathroom. Good thing I'd closed the door or I'd have given whoever brought it a free show. I flipped the lids off to find a four-course meal spread before me. I glanced around, almost expecting people to pop out of woodwork and join me. I have ample food, Vlad had said. No shit. If his blood donors ate like this at every meal, they must weigh three hundred pounds each.

My stomach yowled, a warning to stop staring and start eating. I sat down and dug in without bothering to get dressed.

By the time I was finished, I was so full that all I wanted to do was nap, but Vlad had said he'd send Marty up after I'd showered and eaten. The antique wardrobe turned out to be filled with clothes that were new or rarely worn from the pristine look of them. They were all my size, too, as were the shoes at the bottom of the solid wood piece. I began opening drawers in the nearby dresser and found more of the same. Even the cup size on the bras was correct. Either Vlad had been staring real hard at me while I slept, or he had a lot of experience guessing women's sizes-and a lot of chick's clothes stockpiled at his house.

The latter was no doubt true, but the thought of him checking out my br**sts made things stir in me that I normally kept locked down. Then I reminded myself that Vlad might as well have a "Hazardous to Your Health!" label stamped on him and chose a sweater, slacks, and thick socks. The fireplace was lit, making this room cozily warm, but the rest of the mansion might not be as comfortable. As soon as I was dressed, I tugged on the tassel. Less than a minute later, a knock sounded at the door. I opened it to reveal Maximus in the hallway. I wondered if his speed meant he was a vampire, or just extremely attentive.

"Do you know where my friend Marty is?"

"Yes. Shall I bring him up?"

Relief filled me. Vlad was now four for four on his promises. "I can go to him," I told Maximus. I still felt a little drained, but I wasn't nearly as woozy as I'd been before.

"I will bring him to you," he stated. "Wait here."

Then he was gone in a blur of motion. All right, that answered whether or not Maximus was a vampire. I waited, sitting on the bed after ten minutes standing in front of the empty doorway. Ten minutes into waiting in there, I was starting to get nervous. What was taking so long? Maximus had produced a gourmet meal faster than this!

After thirty minutes, I raced down the staircase to the first floor, trying to remember which direction Vlad had headed off in. The huge hall with its multiple adjoining rooms that had so impressed me before seemed like a maze designed to confound me now. I didn't see a single soul, either. What had happened to all the bowing guys? Where the hell was everyone?

"Maximus!" I shouted, a hard knot forming in my stomach. Something was wrong. I just knew it. "Where's Marty? I know you're a vampire, so don't pretend you can't hear me!"

"I'm here, Frankie."

The words came from directly behind me. I whirled and almost smacked into Maximus, but what filled me with relief was seeing my friend. Marty stood next to the blond vampire, a small, tired smile on his face.

"Glad you're okay, kid-"

He didn't finish the rest of his sentence because I grabbed him, crouching down so I could hug him. A shudder wracked him as my previous fear sent a current into him, but he tightened his arms and didn't let me pull away. I might be almost twice Marty's size, but he had ten times my strength.

"You really okay, Frankie?" Marty whispered against my ear.

"Fine," I whispered back, surprised at the strain in his voice. "Didn't you hear? I arrived at least two hours ago."

He let me go, glancing up at Maximus. "I was busy."

The edginess in his tone made me take a good at him. Marty wasn't in the same charred clothes he'd worn the last time I saw him, but his new outfit didn't look much better. Both his shirt and pants were splotched with suspicious dark stains, not to mention his shirt had a big, ragged hole in the middle of it . . .

I darted behind him before Marty could guess what I intended. By the time he spun around, I'd already seen the matching hole on the back of his shirt. It didn't take much imagination to figure out what had caused the bloody entry and exit hole.

"What. The. Hell!" I spat.

Marty grabbed my arms. "Calm down. I'm fine."

"You're not fine," I shot back, waving at him as much as his grip would allow. "You've been stuck through the torso with a huge frigging pole! Where is Vlad? Did he know about this?"

Marty glanced at Maximus again, and fresh fury shot through me as the other vampire's countenance became stony.

"He ordered it, didn't he? Son of a bitch, he had you impaled! Why? To act out one of his crazy Dracula fantasies?"

"Shhh, he'll hear you!" Marty gasped. His face paled, too, something I'd never seen before.

I was too pissed to worry about Vlad's feelings. "I don't care. It's one thing to pretend with the name and the big Romanian castle, but this is insane-"

"For the love of God, shut up!" Marty interrupted.

"Good advice," Maximus muttered.

I couldn't believe Marty was more upset about me calling out Vlad for his sick role-playing than being speared like a fish. Maybe Vlad reacted violently to anyone questioning his fantasy. If so, he wasn't just a little deluded, he was a madman-

"I can't listen to this anymore," an annoyed voice stated.

Marty's face managed to drain of more color. Even if I hadn't recognized Vlad's voice, that alone would've told me who had come up behind me.

"Don't hurt her, she didn't mean anything by it," Marty said at once, moving to stand between me and Vlad.

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