Then I closed my eyes, putting a finger to his lips when he drew in a breath to respond.
"I don't want to argue. Right now, I want to do what I tried to do when I dreamed myself onto this plane several days ago."
With that, I rested my head inside the crook of his shoulder, draping my other arm across his chest. He stiffened, but made no move to push me away.
"This is what you sought to do when you came to me that night?" His voice was rough.
I nodded, wondering if he was angry. True, it was a violation of his personal space and Vlad was picky about people touching him, but in my defense, I thought I'd been dreaming . . .
His free arm slid around me and the stiffness left his frame. Then something brushed the top of my head, too briefly for me to tell if it was his chin or his lips. Somewhere deep inside me, that twisted, pain-filled knot began to loosen.
All at once, I wished the flight to Romania was longer than twelve hours.
Either the drugs Hannibal pumped into me were long-lasting, or I hadn't realized how exhausted I was. Whatever it was, I ended up sleeping almost the entire flight. When I awoke, Vlad was back to his usual aloofness, which was for the best, I told myself. Nothing had really changed except the knowledge that I wasn't the only one upset over our breakup - cold comfort for my pride, of no use to my still-wounded heart. We passed the last couple hours in strained silence. Once we landed and transferred to a car, I couldn't wait to get to his house so I could put some distance between us.
Of course, like all of my wishes, this one turned out to be topped with a stink bomb instead of a cherry when it came true.
I'd seen his house many times, but when we pulled up and I got out, my breath still caught. Over four stories of gleaming white and gray stone towered above me, made even more imposing by the triangular turrets that rose from each corner. Ornate carvings adorned every pillar, balcony, and exterior window, while stone gargoyles kept watch on top of soaring towers. The limousine could've fit through the house's twelve-foot-high, fifteen-foot-wide doors with their ancient-looking dragon knockers, not that they were needed. As soon as our vehicle came to a stop, the doors opened wide and stayed open, a guard appearing on each side.
I was admiring how green all the trees had become when a petite girl with shoulder-length black hair came charging through the entryway.
"Gretchen," I said, both surprised and delighted to see my sister. "What are you doing he - ?"
My question was cut off by a ringing slap. Stunned, I gaped at her while cradling my cheek.
"How could you?" she shouted. "You let us think you were dead! Dad and I were planning your frigging funeral when he" - a wild wave at Vlad - "showed up to say you're alive and we have to come back here for our own safety! Then you don't call once and no one tells us anything until ten minutes ago when they say you'll be here soon!"
"Dad's here, too?"
"Yes, I'm here," a steely voice said from behind Gretchen.
I gulped, feeling like time rewound and turned me into a child awaiting punishment. A slim man with salt-and-pepper hair appeared in the doorway, his bearing erect despite leaning more heavily on his cane than the last time I'd seen him.
"You kept your word," my dad said, but he wasn't looking at me. He stared at Vlad.
"I always keep my word," he replied before striding by my father and entering the main hall of the house.
"What do you have to say for yourself?" Gretchen demanded, yanking my attention back to her.
I opened my mouth . . . and nothing came out. What could I say? That I hadn't told them I was alive because I was afraid Vlad would use them against me if he was the one behind the bombing? It had seemed viable at the time, but fell flat now considering that Vlad had been the one to rush them to safety instead.
Guilt hit me harder than my sister's slap moments ago. I hadn't just let my family believe I was dead. I'd let Vlad believe it, too, and while I was off with Maximus doubting him, he was making sure my family was safe while searching for me.
The word sorry didn't even begin to cover this one.
"I didn't mean to hurt you" was what I said, and it sounded as inadequate as it was.
Gretchen gave me a withering glare. Then she turned on her heel and stomped away. Moments later, I thought I heard a door slam.
That left me with my father and the two vampires who continued to hold the massive front doors open, their faces expressionless. Hugh Dalton treated me to a long, wordless stare and then he sighed.
"Vlad said you probably thought you were protecting us by this deception. Is that true?"
"Yes." A lump rocketed its way up my throat. He knew why I did it, too. I couldn't have felt more ashamed.
"Well." My father gave me a wintry smile. "I'd say more, but I think Gretchen's slap covered it. Try to use better judgment next time, will you?"
I swallowed hard, regretting so many things that I didn't know where to start with the self-recriminations.
A vampire named Oscar escorted me to the same room I'd stayed in before Vlad and I started dating. It was on the second floor, a full two levels below Vlad's room. The sight of the lace canopied bed, marble fireplace, enormous antique wardrobe, and indigo walls shouldn't have been depressing, but it was. Months ago, I'd dubbed this the Blue Room because of its color and the psychic impression I'd picked up from the crying woman who'd stayed here before me. Her relationship problems ended up being resolved, as I found out after meeting her and her husband. Mine were irreparable.