He flipped the blade before catching it. "Perfectly balanced. Thank you, Cynthiana. It's lovely."
Then he leaned over, his warm lips brushing mine. When he started to pull away, I held on.
"Don't go," I whispered against his mouth.
He drew back with a frown. "One of my people is missing. I won't wait until morning to search for him."
"I'm sorry, of course not, dearie," I said, knowing better than to point out that he could send someone else.
He put the knife away in his coat. "Good night, Cynthiana."
"Good night, Vlad."
I watched him go, masking my frustration with a smile in case he glanced back. He didn't. He never did, and his visits had become more infrequent. I hadn't lived three hundred years without knowing what that meant. He was growing tired of me.
My smile turned brittle. I'd been too long without the protection I deserved and I wasn't about to lose my place by the side of such a powerful vampire. Risky or not, it was time to employ more persuasive means to keep Vlad with me. If I was careful, he'd never know the cause for his newfound affection.
My link to the memory dissolved and I returned to reality to find I clutched the knife so hard, it had cut my hand. Then I stared at Vlad, a suspicion growing.
"Did Cynthiana move in with you shortly after she gave you this?"
His brow arched. "I believe so, why?"
"Just wondering. Did you know she was into magic?"
A shrug. "I knew she dabbled, but magic is against vampire law so a more serious pursuit wasn't worth the risk to her."
"Or she was more involved than she let on."
What if it wasn't coincidence that Cynthiana moved in with him shortly after she decided to use more "persuasive" means to keep him from dumping her? If so, then we weren't dealing with an amateur who dabbled in the occasional spell, but a full-blown witch who might be more dangerous than either Vlad or I realized.
I looked at the knife with more wariness than before. As a vampire, another heart attack or spontaneous hemorrhaging would hurt, but they wouldn't be fatal. Still, if she was a powerful witch in disguise, there was the chance that Cynthiana had rigged her spell to do something lethal to vampires, too.
"Keep an eye on what I do with the knife, okay?"
When I looked up, Vlad's eyes had narrowed. He inhaled and then smiled so pleasantly I should've taken it as a warning.
"If your ex turns out to be more Wicked Witch of the West than we realized, there's a chance that her spell might make me try to stab myself, heh heh, in the heart."
My little laugh to indicate how remote I thought this possibility was didn't work. His whole face began to darken, though that charming smile never slipped.
"You might be the cruelest person I've ever met," he said in a conversational tone.
"What?" I gasped.
"My first wife killed herself. Took me centuries to get over it and love again, yet you weren't going to mention that you might be compelled to slay yourself in front of me."
His casual tone vanished, replaced by one of pure rage. That was nothing compared to the fury that flooded my emotions, abrupt as a dam bursting and so forceful I took a step backward.
"Vlad, I - "
Fire erupted from his hands, climbing up his arms to his shoulders before haloing his whole body with an orange glow. I would've thought he was trying to intimidate me, except from the maelstrom of his emotions, he couldn't stop it.
"I've tried to let you do what you feel you must because I respect your bravery, but you push me too far." Another flare of fire. "Attempt one more time to willfully endanger your life, and I swear I will imprison you."
Before I could voice my outrage at that ultimatum, he vanished, leaving nothing behind except the smell of smoke.
I glanced up to see Marty in the doorway of the stone cell. I hadn't even noticed it opening. I'd shut myself in here because I didn't want to hurt anyone if another hunger attack struck, plus it had the plasma bag delivery system. Drowning my frustrations with blood sounded disgusting in theory. In practice, it was as effective as liquor and ice cream combined.
"Maximus was right when he warned me about Vlad," I said glumly. "Did you overhear him threaten to imprison me?"
A pitying look crossed Marty's face, which was my answer.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," I went on, patting the spot next to me in invitation. "I love Vlad, but sometimes he is so archaic. Can you imagine how he'd react if I told him he wasn't allowed to risk his life for his people anymore?"
"He wouldn't listen," Marty said, sitting by me on the bed.
"Right. So how is that different from me assuming some risk in order to hunt down the bitch that nearly killed me three times and succeeded on the fourth attempt?"
"He's a chauvinist?" Marty offered.
"Exactly." Then I glanced over, seeing the wryness stamped on his features. "What?"
"You're the only one surprised by this, kid. You married a borderline psychotic who conquered the brutal circumstances he grew up in by being even more brutal. Add turning into a vampire and centuries of undead power struggles, and you have the crazy cruel bastard you fell in love with."
He patted my knee in a companionable way. "Did you really think someone like that would let his wife fight his enemies for him? They call him Vlad the Impaler, not Vlad the Emasculated."