That turned out to be Lachlan's old room, useless since he'd been killed in an ambush by Szilagyi months ago. After another health check, I still didn't exhibit any warning signs, so I felt safe enough to try the third doorknob.
It was Maximus's room, and the deep loneliness imprinted on that handle took the sting out of my anger over his dire predictions. Was that part of the reason he had lied to Vlad over me? Because being with the wrong woman was better than spending another aching night alone?
I let go of the handle. Whatever Maximus's reasons, what was done was done, and I didn't have time to ponder why. I went to the fourth door, but before I could touch the handle, it opened. Shrapnel stared at me, surprise creasing his features.
"Leila. What are you doing?"
I snatched my hand back. "Uh, I . . ."
Maximus's door opened, further startling me, but it wasn't him. A beautiful redheaded woman came out instead.
"I said to meet me at the third door, Leila," she said, flashing Shrapnel a brilliant smile. "Not that it isn't easy to get lost in this huge place."
I'd first met her months ago. Vlad counted her as a friend, which was why she'd been one of our wedding guests, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember her name. Still, I gave Shrapnel an apologetic shrug and seized on the excuse, tucking my hand into my skirt pocket. He'd run straight to Vlad if he knew what I'd really been doing.
"Sorry, wrong door." Then to the redhead I said, "Ready?"
She flashed another dazzling smile. "Sure am."
Her Barbie-doll perfect looks jogged my memory. Right, her name was Cat and she was married to Bones, the vampire that had taught me how to block Vlad's mind reading by mentally singing. That's how Cat had known I was about to be busted by Shrapnel. She could read minds, too, and her helping me showed that she could be trusted. Otherwise, she would've let Shrapnel bust me.
Thank you, I sent to her.
She waved an airy hand. "I can't wait to see the communications room," she said, as though continuing a conversation we'd had before. "It's on this floor, isn't it?"
That question was directed to Shrapnel, whose frown was back. "Yes, but only authorized persons are allowed."
Cat snorted. "Vlad's wife isn't considered 'authorized'?"
Shrapnel opened his mouth . . . and nothing came out. Now that I'd married his boss, he couldn't be certain if anything was off-limits to me. Cat took my arm, whistled at the current that shot into her, and then went on with her cheery chatter.
"I bet Vlad's got the most high-tech stuff available to protect his people, so the communications room should give you great ideas for what you want in voice-activated software."
It was all I could do not to kiss her. Where would the traitor have likely left the most incriminating essence trail? In the room that would've been used to locate Maximus's cell phone signal. Cat must've been listening to my thoughts this morning for her to know exactly what I was after.
I controlled my grin with effort. "Great. I'm sick of not being able to use any tech stuff." Then I turned to Shrapnel. "Which way is it again?"
Those generous lips pursed in disapproval, but he said, "Left at the end of this hall, then it's the first door on the second hallway to your right."
As soon as Cat and I were out of his sight, I stopped her.
You don't have to go any further, I thought rapidly. If Vlad finds out you helped me do this, he'll be pissed.
"That's why Bones is packing now," she said with a little laugh. Then her voice lowered and she leaned in close. "But you don't shelve your best weapon just because using it is risky. Vlad told me that once. He's just too deep in Overprotective Male Mode now to remember it."
"You nailed that one," I said dryly.
An eye roll. "I've had lots of experience with it. One night we'll swap stories over drinks. But be smarter than I was, Leila. Know your limits, and when you reach them, ask for help."
"Believe me, I'm not looking to jump into the grave."
The stare she gave me made me wonder if I'd misjudged her age. It seemed to hold the weight of centuries even though I'd pegged Cat to be recently undead.
"Sometimes the grave finds you whether you're looking for it or not."
I said nothing, once again covering my thoughts with Vanilla Ice's one-hit wonder. Even if it did bring the grave one step closer, I was doing this. Until we found the traitor, no one in this house was safe, least of all me.
The communications room looked like a smaller version of something NASA would have. A dozen manned computer stations were spread out around a large map of the world with multiple pinpoints indicating safe houses for Vlad's people. Another interactive map could be rearranged by grabbing things out of thin air, and a third 3-D image was a digital recreation of this house. Right now, all the lines on it were green. If any of them turned red, it indicated a security breach.
When Cat and I opened the door unannounced, the area for this room went red. Then, much like Shrapnel, Vlad's staff decided they didn't want to be the ones to tell me I needed better clearance than the wedding ring on my finger and it returned to green.
"Check this out, Leila," Cat said, pointing at the screen nearest to her. "The different sections on this security grid indicate that it checks for trespassers on the grounds, in the air, and a hundred feet below the ground, too."