Mencheres and Vlad stood close together, talking too softly for me to overhear. Still, they stopped as soon as I came back on deck.
Weariness helped me hold back my snort. They weren't even trying to be subtle, were they?
"My associate will be here shortly to transport us," Mencheres stated.
Good. I'd checked on Maximus again, too, since he looked in worse shape than the humans, which was saying something.
"Just drop me anywhere after you take care of them," I said, giving the dead bodies a calculated look. I hadn't cared before in my search for cell phones, but a few of them carried cash. I'd need that to keep up my hunt for the female vampire.
"Robbing them won't be necessary. You're coming with me."
Disbelief snapped my head up. Vlad flashed me a smile that was both charming and challenging, while his expression almost dared me to argue.
I took that dare.
"I'm not coming with you because my problems no longer concern you." Ice was warmer than my tone. "So thanks for the arrogant assumption, but no thanks."
"But they do concern me," he replied, his tone as pleasant as mine had been cold. "If I do nothing when someone attempts to blow up and then kidnap my former lover, my enemies will think I'm weak and attack more of my people."
"I'm not one of your people and I don't need your protection, as all the bodies on this boat should attest."
Vlad's charming smile never slipped. I stiffened, remembering he was never more dangerous than when he smiled.
"As you wish." Then he glanced at the door leading to the cargo hold. "Their heartbeats are faint, and they might not live long enough to make it to the hospital. Pity."
My fists clenched, the only sign of the fury coursing through me. "You promised to heal them."
"No," he replied instantly. "You made me swear not to kill or torture Maximus, but you never bargained for them. Dropping them off at a hospital is free, but my blood comes at a price."
I hadn't thought to bargain for them because Vlad normally wouldn't need to be bribed to help innocent victims. Yet from his expression, he would do nothing more than bring them to a hospital if I didn't go with him, and that might not be enough. Only vampire blood could guarantee their survival.
I glanced at Mencheres, but the other vampire appeared to be fascinated by the waves lapping against the boat. Really? I thought in disgust.
His oblique shrug was my answer. I'd get no help from him, either. Once more, I found myself cursing the limitations of my humanity. Vlad had me cornered and we both knew it.
"Heal them and make sure they're safe, and I'll come with you," I said, jaw clenched so tight I could barely speak.
His teeth flashed in something too feral to be called a grin. "Wise choice."
Probably not, but unless I wanted to kill those people myself, I didn't have any other option.
I stared down at the boat from the helicopter. We were up high enough that the water was no longer white from the churning rotors. Vlad sat up front with Mencheres, but I was in the back with the humans, trying to convince the crying ones that these vampires wouldn't eat them.
My attempts at comfort were interrupted when an eerie blue light suffused the entire boat. For a few seconds, I couldn't figure out what it was. Then a flash of color yanked my attention over to Vlad. He sat as if completely relaxed, a half smile curling his mouth, but his hands were engulfed in flames.
My gaze flew back to the boat. Now I knew what that blue light was. Fire. Vlad never changed his relaxed position, even when the boat exploded with a spectacular boom! that shook the chopper and littered the lake with flaming debris.
"We can go now," he said to the pilot, a muscular blond vampire Mencheres had addressed as Gorgon.
I closed my mouth with an audible click. Vlad hadn't rigged the boat with explosives. He'd destroyed it with his power, and while I'd seen him burn people to death, I hadn't known the full extent of his abilities. Since he'd just made a forty-foot craft go up like a Roman candle, I suppose I should be flattered that he hadn't laughed when I threatened him earlier. The boat explosion was as devastating as the gas line bomb -
"Shit," I burst out as something occurred to me. "We didn't grab any bones off of those vamps."
I'd also lost Adrian's charred body part. Not that Hannibal would have taken it with us even if I'd asked. Kidnappers were notoriously uncooperative.
"They were hired mercenaries; I doubt their bones would contain anything useful," Vlad stated. He didn't ask me to explain the context behind my thought about Adrian. He must have figured out why Maximus and I had carted around a body part.
"I exploded the boat to hide the evidence of what you did, and to send a message to whoever hired Hannibal that now he'll have to deal with me. Or she," he added reflectively.
He must have read that from my thoughts, too. Then Maximus let out an extended moan, turning my attention to him.
"Why haven't you started to get the silver out?"
Vlad's smile remained but his features hardened.
"It will require extensive cutting. If I do it, then I'm guilty of torturing him. Gorgon is flying the helicopter, and while Mencheres could hold him down, you don't have the experience to remove it properly."
I swallowed. Much as I hated the thought of Maximus continuing to suffer, I didn't want to release Vlad from his word not to torture him. Wait it was, then.