Gretchen looked mollified, but my father's stern gaze told me he wasn't buying much of anything I'd said this past hour.
"I want to speak with whoever's in charge of your sequestering, Leila."
Vlad's smile was languid and challenging. "You are."
"Then I want to speak with someone else," my father replied curtly.
"I'm sure we can arrange that," I said at once. Vlad could get one of his people to play the part of Romanian WitSec, and if all else failed, mind control could be employed. I hated to do that, but my dad's life was more important.
After a moment of loaded silence, Vlad rose. He hadn't let go of my hand, so I got up with him, feeling the weight of my father's stare even as I pasted a false smile on my face.
"We'll talk more at dinner," I said. "Until then, I'm sure you want to unwind, unpack, and, um, freshen up."
"Shrapnel, please show our guests to their rooms," Vlad stated, his pleasant tone in stark contrast to the tension swirling in the air.
The large, mocha-skinned vampire appeared in the doorway. Gretchen stood, shaking her head at me.
"This is so messed up, Leila."
You don't even know the half of it, I thought.
As soon as we were out of my family's sight, I pulled my hand from Vlad's and headed up to the fourth floor. Then I went straight into the paneled sitting area instead of my bedroom.
"If there's any chance of salvaging things between us-and I must be crazy to even consider that-you need to start off with a huge apology," I stated without preamble.
His arms folded across his chest. With that stunning jewel-encrusted coat adding to his already commanding presence, I felt like I'd somehow shrunk several feet, but I refused to be cowed. I stood straighter and began to tap my foot.
He glanced down. "Is that supposed to intimidate me?" he asked, his voice edged with satin-covered steel.
"It's supposed to show that I'm serious," I ground out.
When we'd entered the room, the fireplace hadn't been lit. Now flames shot up in the hearth like a bomb had detonated. I glanced at those, at Vlad, and crossed my own arms.
"Now who's trying to be intimidating?"
"Because of my actions, your family is safe from Szilagyi." The fire nearby blazed higher. "Yet you give ultimatums and demand that I beg your pardon?"
For so many years, I'd been an expert at keeping my temper at bay. Less than two weeks after meeting Vlad, and I felt as volatile as the currents running through my body.
"I get that you come from a time when using a person's family as blackmail was probably all the rage," I snapped, "but it's not cool to do in the twenty-first century! Seriously, how is this surprising to you?"
His brow arched. "We weren't lovers when I first put your family under surveillance."
"You're trying to get off on a technicality?" My voice rose in disbelief on the last word.
"Do you know the last time I let someone strike me without retaliation?"
"You're changing the subject," I muttered, but shame pierced me. Violence had no place in a relationship for any reason. I had no excuse for what I'd done and I knew it.
He stalked closer. "Aside from last night, there hasn't been a single instance. You've seen the scars on my body, but not all are from battles. Many were from when I was imprisoned as a boy and repeatedly beaten. In the centuries since, I've let few people touch me in friendship, fewer still as a lover, but none in anger without extracting my vengeance . . . yet you struck me, and I did nothing." His voice deepened. "If you don't find sufficient apology in that, then you don't know me at all."
Confusion added to the other emotions roiling inside me. Vlad's eyes were lit up with emerald, the ever-increasing fireplace flames an indication of his temper, but when he cupped my face, his touch was infinitely gentle. I leaned into his hand without thought, feeling the weirdest mixture of despair and elation. Logic said I should run screaming away from this relationship, but the truth was that I didn't want to.
"Swear to me on whatever you consider holy that you will never harm anyone I care about. If you can't do that, then this has to end, Vlad."
I might not want to let him go, but neither was I willing to take anyone else down with me in this potential quicksand.
His head bent, the rough silk of his stubble grazing my cheek. "Unless they try to harm me or mine, I swear it."
A vow with conditions, but everything had conditions with him. I closed my eyes as he pushed my turtleneck down, his lips sliding to my neck while his strong, scarred hand still cupped my face. The touch of his tongue sent delicious shivers through me and I moved closer, grasping his collar. He made a low, guttural sound and pulled me tighter against him, his other hand kneading my back while his mouth continued to sensually tease my neck.
Then a brush of teeth made me gasp. Fangs pressed against my throat, their hard, extended length adding friction that was both threatening and overtly carnal. The pressure of his mouth increased, tongue, lips, and fangs manipulating my most sensitive spots until my heart pounded and I rubbed against him with a need I couldn't articulate. Another rumbling noise came from him, so primal that my ni**les scraped painfully against my bra and I was wet and aching with desire.
"Leila." His arms tightened around me, and his voice was darker. Predatory. "It's time."
I thought he meant sex, which I was on board with. But then his fangs slanted, their tips pressing against my neck instead of their length. My skin broke under those sharp points and a longer, harsher gasp escaped me as they penetrated deep.
That gasp turned into a moan at the sensations that spilled over me. Heat seemed to pour from his mouth, flashing through my veins to envelop my whole body. I felt fevered, dizzy, while the most unexpected surge of pleasure made my head fall back and my knees weaken. I knew vampire bites transmitted a venomlike substance, but I had no idea it felt stronger than morphine and more erotic than foreplay. My pulse throbbed under his mouth, and when Vlad drew in that first long suction, rapture shot from my neck to my loins with such intensity that my inner muscles clenched and I almost came.
Something like a growl sounded against my throat. Then his hand slid through my hair and drew my head farther back while another suction sent more pleasure cascading through me. Everything around me seemed to fall away, narrowing my world to nothing but the indescribable sensation of my blood emptying into Vlad. Strength abandoned me and I would have fallen had he not held me against him with that steely grip. Another suction made my panting break on a cry and I dug my nails into his back, clawing at him in growing need. I wanted him inside me, and I ground my hips against him in silent, explicit invitation.