"Did I mention it was nice to see you again?" I almost purred. "Though you don't remember the first time we met, do you?"
The look Vlad shot me was almost as surprised as hers. Then he went over to Cynthiana, ripping the silver from her mouth.
"If you utter one word of magic, I'll fill you with enough silver to drive you mad before dawn."
Cynthiana stared at Vlad for a long, silent moment before she looked my way dismissively.
"I don't know what you're talking about, dearie. I've never seen you before tonight."
"I don't blame you for forgetting. You were busy staring at a young girl named Dawn who was performing under my stage name. You thought she was me, and that's why you detonated the bomb right after she went into our trailer."
Now her gaze raked over me with calculated intensity. "You used your hair and a hat to cover your scar," she said at last.
"Habit. Now, let's see what your worst sin is."
With luck, it would lead us to whoever else she was working with. I came toward her and she recoiled as much as her restraints allowed.
"Don't touch me."
I didn't reply, but grabbed her arm with my right hand. Only a faint current of electricity slid into her. I'd used most of it up on the ghouls she'd sent to kill me.
Then the dungeon disappeared, morphing into a room that didn't look much different because it consisted entirely of stone walls. It seemed familiar, yet what I experienced next made me forget about that. By the time those surroundings faded and I was mentally back at the stone monolith, I snatched my hand away.
"You sick bitch," I breathed.
"What?" Vlad asked instantly.
I stared at Cynthiana with loathing. "She needed a fireproofing spell, but she wasn't strong enough to do it without crossing into the darkest kind of magic. So she did."
And that magic had required the highest price: lifeblood of a newborn. I'd seen many terrible things through my abilities, but I'd never seen something as brutal as that.
"A fireproofing spell?" Vlad repeated. "Did you think that was the only defense you needed against me?"
She said nothing to that.
Then Vlad sighed. "I know you, Cynthiana. You would never cross me without a protector, so tell me who he is. Refuse, and I'll find out after you've experienced more agony than you can imagine."
She glanced away. "I have no protector."
He laughed in that scary, humorless way.
"Yes you do, although you betrayed him because he wanted Leila alive."
Why would Vlad think that? Every message Cynthiana sent Shrapnel after the bombing had been demands for him to kill me.
Then I remembered what Hannibal said after he'd kidnapped me. You're worth three times as much alive. Dead was the only way Cynthiana wanted me, so Vlad was right. Someone else had been pulling her strings at least part of the time.
She glanced at me. The pure loathing in her gaze I expected; the fear, I didn't. After Vlad's threat, why would she be afraid of me? I'd already done all I could, though finding out her worst sin had revealed only revolting information, not useful -
"Vlad, wait," I said, something about that stone room nagging at my memory.
"Shrapnel told you everything he knew about my abilities," I said slowly, the idea still forming in my mind, "but you know more, don't you? Like, for instance, my ability to feel other people's essences in someone else's skin."
Her gaze widened while her scent changed to a putridly sweet aroma. I knew what that was. I'd smelled it all over this dungeon. It was the scent of fear.
Vlad caught it, too. His expression changed, chiseled features switching from chilling friendliness to sculpted granite.
"Who is he?"
Three soft words that managed to be filled with all the menace of a thousand shouted threats.
I stared at Cynthiana, measuring the spikes of hatred and fear in her gaze as I approached.
"Do you know what I overheard the first time I linked to you? You told Shrapnel, Whatever she might have been worth to him alive, she's less dangerous to us dead."
I let out a short laugh. "At the time, Shrapnel thought the 'him' was Vlad, but you really meant your new protector, didn't you? He was interested in me and you already had the inside track."
Then I glanced at Shrapnel. "Cynthiana came back into your life right around the time I came into Vlad's, didn't she?"
Pain creased his features, but Shrapnel said nothing. Maybe he was still trying to protect her. More likely, he was under the effects of a spell. Maybe he hadn't betrayed Vlad or tried to kill me of his own free will.
A searing hand slid along my arm as Vlad drew near, yet he didn't look at me. His gaze was fixed on Cynthiana.
"Your protector must be powerful or you wouldn't bother with him. He's also an enemy of mine or he wouldn't dare risk my wrath by using one of my ex-lovers to kidnap another. That leaves a small list. Smaller still if he was interested in Leila before Shrapnel told you about her abilities."
A very small list, indeed. In fact, I could only think of one name, and though it didn't seem possible, it fit with the facts, right down to Hannibal's capture-or-kill order. That hadn't been the first time a vampire had been given those instructions regarding me, and while Cynthiana's preference had been dead over alive, her protector disagreed.
Funny thing was, everyone except Maximus and Vlad thought my psychic abilities were gone when Hannibal kidnapped me. Cynthiana's protector was either gambling that they'd come back . . . or he knew another reason why I'd be a valuable hostage.