I let out a scoff. "I'm not trying to fight his enemies for him."
"In his eyes you are, and worse, you're ready to die to do it." Another pat. "Like you already did once, baby vamp."
I leaned against him, angling my head so it rested on his shoulder. "What am I supposed to do? Let him dictate my every move because he's the medieval version of old-fashioned? I didn't sign on for that."
He chuckled dryly. "No, you signed on for something harder. Marriage."
"Smartass," I said, but my voice lacked rancor.
Deep down, I knew he was right. Marrying a dragon meant dealing with the times he breathed fire, but I wasn't giving up. I was in this for the long haul, so it was time to quit brooding over how rough the road was and brace for the bumps while keeping my foot on the gas.
I kissed Marty on the cheek. "Thanks."
He grunted. "For what? I told you not to get involved with him and I haven't changed my mind that it was a bad idea."
"Thanks for being a good friend."
Then I stood, filled with renewed determination. Vlad might be a crazy cruel bastard, but he was my crazy cruel bastard and we were going to work this out.
"Since you were eavesdropping, did you catch where he went? Oh, wait, never mind. I already know."
I descended the narrow staircase, wrinkling my nose as the smell got more pungent. Piss off a modern guy and he'd likely go to a local bar. Piss off a vampire with an impalement habit and an in-house dungeon, and it was a no-brainer where he'd go.
"Hi," I said to the guard who eyed me cautiously as I approached. "Please tell Vlad I'd like to speak with him."
The guard bowed, looking relieved that I didn't try to barge past him, I guessed. Then he pinched something in his collar and spoke into it in Romanian. Ah, the wonders of technology. I'd need a full-body rubber suit to wear a wire without frying it.
My new super senses meant I heard the reply the guard got, but as it was also in Romanian, I didn't understand it.
"Please wait here," he finally said in accented English.
I said nothing, wondering if that meant Vlad was coming, or I was waiting to be escorted out by someone else.
About ten minutes later, Vlad appeared. A fine layer of ash darkened his clothes, skin, and hair, which was cause for comment since it was impossible for him to catch fire. The added swarthiness to his appearance made him look even more dangerous, as if his expression wasn't already foreboding enough.
One word meant to send me on my way with its curtness, and he'd done that lockdown thing where I couldn't feel any of his emotions. I straightened my shoulders and planted my feet. If he really didn't want to see me, he wouldn't have come.
"I have a solution that will work for both of us," I said.
A brow arched. I glanced pointedly at the guard.
"You want to do this here?"
Vlad's mouth tightened, but he swept past me and started up the stairs. I followed him to the enclosed hallway that was the main corridor for the basement. There, he stopped and faced me.
Still abrupt, but his tone was less curt. I closed the distance between us and started brushing the ash off his clothes. He tensed, yet made no attempt to stop me.
"From your mood, you haven't gotten Cynthiana's location from Shrapnel yet," I noted casually. "He's tough, plus she may have bewitched him so he can't tell you where she is."
His gaze followed every move I made, yet he held himself completely still. "That also occurred to me."
"Of course it did." I ran my fingers through his hair to brush the residue from it. "You've been doing this a lot longer than me."
His smile was so cold it could've turned steam into dry ice. "If flattery is your solution, don't bother. You're not using her knife to link to her. I've already disposed of it."
I continued dusting the gray film from him. "That's fine."
His gaze narrowed at my easy compliance. "You're not touching Shrapnel to link to her, either."
"Don't want to," I said breezily. "I can do without psychically reliving your interrogation techniques, thanks."
At that, he grabbed my hands and pulled me closer. "Stop lying, Leila. You haven't given up and we both know it."
His face was mere inches away, stubble darker from ash and lips thinned into a hard line. I stared up at him, unbowed by the fierceness in his gaze.
"All Shrapnel has to do is hold out a few days until Cynthiana realizes he's been caught and she bolts. He knows it and you know it. But she lived here, so her old room must be filled with essence-laced objects I can't possibly kill myself with. If you really want to go overboard ensuring I stay safe, chain me up before I try using one of those to link to her."
At that, both his brows rose. "Chain you?"
I flashed him an impish smile. "Come on, I'm sure you've fantasized about it."
"More and more each day."
Muttered in a sinister tone, but the wall around him cracked and I felt a flash of his emotions. He was still angry, yes. Frustrated, too. Yet under that was a hint of appreciation. If anyone could understand my single-minded determination to take down an enemy, it was Vlad.
Then he let out a harsh sigh. "That occurred to me as well, but in her room, you might see things I don't want you to see."
Blind rage shot through me at the thought of psychically experiencing Vlad making love to another woman. I'd never known I was the jealous type, but clearly I had some issues. Then I forced those feelings back, replacing them with the coldest, darkest part of me.