Maximus's arms were crossed, his handsome features creased into a scowl. I ignored him, continuing my leg lifts.
Cool hands locked around my ankles, keeping me from my next set of lifts. "I mean it, Leila. Stop."
I glared up at him. "Let me go."
His grip only tightened. "Not until you tell me what's been eating you the past few days."
Laughter came out in pants from my exertions. "Should I start with my best friend being blown to smithereens, or skip to the part where you think his killer may be my ex-boyfriend?"
Or maybe even you? my nasty inner voice added.
I tried to ignore that voice, but it had been growing louder. Maximus claimed he hadn't known about my being fireproof, but he could've overheard that while I'd been living at Vlad's. He'd helped me find the bomber, but what if that was because he knew Adrian would already be dead? Since then, he'd been adamant about me holding off on looking for the female vampire, citing concerns for my health. But what if the heart attack never happened? What if the only repercussions from me overusing my powers were a nosebleed?
"Something else is bothering you," Maximus said, letting go of my ankles. I sat up and carefully picked my words.
"Exercise helps keep me strong and I'll need that to link to the female vampire tomorrow. I've waited long enough."
Maximus grunted. "Some days, you remind me of Vlad."
"Meaning?" I asked sharply.
"Your obsession with revenge. Next you'll want to drive a pole through that vampire once you find her."
The thought was appealing, but . . .
"It's not just revenge. My family will have targets on their backs as soon as the killers find out I'm alive." Then I switched tactics. "Besides, I keep having nightmares about Vlad finding us. Exercise helps me sleep without those."
All true. I'd let myself off easy last night and regretted it when Dream Vlad told me he was closing in on me. It wasn't real, but I woke up with a nosebleed and a sense of foreboding anyway, both of which I hid from Maximus.
His gray gaze became tinged with green. "There are other ways to tire yourself out before sleeping."
This was the first time since our sidewalk kiss that he'd made a pass; pretty chivalrous considering we'd been locked in the same room for the past three days. I was about to let him down gently when that inner voice roared to the surface.
Now's your chance! Take your gloves off and touch him. If the brunette's essence is anywhere on him, he's guilty as hell.
I paused. Could I be so ruthless?
You're swimming with sharks, that pitiless voice snapped. Either grow some teeth or get eaten.
Maximus's gaze grew brighter. Little did he know why I was considering his offer. Guilt competed with cold practicality. Maximus had been nothing but kind to me, but how well did I truly know him? For that matter, Vlad had known him for centuries, yet Maximus was still going behind his back now.
Marty's face flashed in my mind, followed by my dad's and Gretchen's. Someone had murdered my best friend and would hurt my family to lure me out. I couldn't afford to be naively trusting when I could be sure instead.
Very slowly, I stripped off my gloves. Maximus's eyes gleamed brighter, bathing the room in a soft emerald glow. Then he came over and knelt, each movement deliberate, as if anything sudden would startle me into bolting.
It might. My heart beat so fast it made me slightly dizzy. I was about to play a sensual version of Russian roulette with the nearly thousand-year-old, six-and-a-half-foot vampire crouched in front of me. There was a fine line between survival and recklessness, and right now, I wasn't sure which side my actions fell on.
Maximus came closer with that slow, leonine crawl. When he was only inches away, he inhaled, and a frown stitched his brow.
Damn vampires and their ability to decipher emotions by scent. I glanced at my hands and then back at him. Lies were more convincing when peppered with the truth.
"I don't want to hurt you, but I don't want to put my gloves back on." I swallowed a lump that wasn't entirely made up of nervousness. "I - I want to touch you."
A low growl sent icy-hot chills up my spine. Before my next breath, I was in his arms. He kissed me with an intensity that briefly made me forget my objective. Then he pulled me onto his lap, shifting until I straddled him.
A large bulge jutted between my thighs. He grasped my hips and rocked me against it, that hard length rubbing my most sensitive spot. I gasped, but with a touch of despair. It felt good, but also . . . meaningless. With sudden clarity, I understood the difference between lust and lovemaking. If I had sex with Maximus, I'd enjoy it the same way I enjoyed Chinese food - with the knowledge that too soon, I'd feel empty inside again.
Damn Vlad! Even in another man's arms, the memory of that hardhearted vampire tormented me. I tore my mouth away.
His hands stilled, but he gave my neck a long, hungry lick.
For starters, you're not the man I'm still in love with. Besides that, I'm not sure I can trust you. "I . . . it's too soon."
I dropped my head as I said the words, letting my fingers play over his shoulders as if in apology. No trace of foreign essences there. Then I sat back with a sigh, trailing my hands down his arms. An all-too-familiar essence thread popped up, making me silently curse Vlad again. He wasn't only embedded in my skin; he was in Maximus's, too.