Into the Fire Page 3

Branson was staring at the screen that showed Vlad and me next to the smoking, misshapen remains of the Porsche. Then he looked at the steel walls of his panic room, and an expression of horror crossed his features.

“He’s watching us, and I think he just realized you can melt your way into his hideout,” I narrated.

Vlad’s hands erupted into flames and he gave Branson a cheery wave while mouthing the words, Here I come.

Vampires were naturally pale, but Branson blanched a shade I’d only seen on someone dead dead. Vlad began striding toward the manor, and I watched as Branson reached into a drawer. He came up with a gun, and with shaking hands, he checked the clip to make sure that it was loaded. It was, and from the look of them, they were silver bullets.

“He’s got a gun filled with silver,” I told Vlad, who was now at the front of the manor.

He snorted. “Branson just saw me melt a car. Doesn’t he realize I can melt a gun, too?”

“I’m sure you can,” Branson said, and though Vlad couldn’t hear him, I could through my psychic link. Then, very calmly, Branson put the gun to his chest and pulled the trigger.

“Oh shit!” I shouted, seeing Branson continue to shoot himself although his movements were becoming stiff and uncoordinated. “Hurry, Vlad, he’s killing himself!”

Vlad flew the rest of the way, blasting through walls to get to the second floor. Then, with an expulsion of power that knocked me to my knees even a hundred yards away, he tore a molten hole into the panic room. He was kneeling by Branson’s prone form less than thirty seconds after my warning.

It was still too late. My link to Branson weakened as he began to wither, his body reverting to its original age as all vampires did when true death overtook them. When the link dropped completely and I felt nothing but emptiness on the other side of Branson’s essence trail, I spat out a curse.

Branson had been our best chance to find Mircea. With him dead, we were now back to square one, which was having no idea where Mircea was.

Vlad had had powerful enemies before, but Mircea was unique. He was a powerful sorcerer, though necromancer was a more accurate term since Mircea could bespell the undead as well as humans. That and a spell linking us together meant that Mircea could find me any time he wanted to. I gave one more look at the smoking car and the still-burning mansion. Yeah, I had no doubt that I’d be hearing from Mircea soon. Very soon.

Chapter 2

Vlad and I didn’t speak much on the flight back to Romania. He also had his emotions locked up, but I figured that was more to shut out the pilots than me. They were also vampires he’d sired and thus could feel him the same way I did. I’d spent several hours of the flight looking through the memories locked inside Branson’s bones—another handy perk of my psychic abilities—but I hadn’t found anything useful.

Memories in bones were more erratic and imprecise, like trying to understand a movie if you watched it backward at a high speed. All I’d been able to glean from his bones was that Branson had been in league with Mircea for at least a few months, which we already knew from Vlad’s diligent spies. Yet those spies hadn’t been able to discover where Mircea was, and if Branson knew, he’d taken that secret with him to the grave.

I’d spent the rest of the flight trying to diminish the grimness of our coming back empty-handed, but Vlad had brushed off my attempts at optimism. When we arrived at the magnificent castle that was an exact replica of the one that Vlad had destroyed several months ago, he announced that he had business to attend to and he’d see me later.

I knew him well enough not to argue. He needed some time to blow off steam, and I needed time to shower and feed, preferably in that order. I nodded to the few vampires I saw as I walked up the four flights of stairs that led to our bedroom. Even though they weren’t on display like the various works of art in this house, Vlad had a lot of his people on guard here, and the ones I walked by bowed to me as I passed.

I’d never get used to that, but I’d tried asking them to stop, and it was the only request of mine they didn’t obey. Many of them still considered Vlad their prince in addition to the master of their line. So, as his wife, I got bowed to the way they bowed to him, no matter my preference on the subject.

I entered the midnight-green room that Vlad and I shared. I went right into the bathroom, ignoring the marble tub in favor of the large glass shower. I spent the next several minutes enjoying the hot water and the clean, herbal smells of the specially formulated shampoo, conditioner, and body wash I used.

I was out of the shower and dressed in one of my favorite caftans when a metaphysical knife suddenly slashed me across the shoulder. Magic sucks! I thought, scowling at the crimson stain that instantly appeared on my dress. Figures I’d be wearing white when my batshit nephew-in-law decided to carve into me.

Hello, Leila, said an all-too-familiar voice, his words slithering across my mind as if they were a snake.

Hello, Mircea, I thought in reply, allowing my hatred of him to invade my mental voice. What an unpleasant surprise.

I heard his laughter as if he were on the other end of a cell phone. In a way, he was, except this was a magical connection and I hadn’t figured out how to hang up on him yet.

You didn’t miss me? he mocked. How strange. Most women do.

Yes, Mircea was beautiful in a stop-and-stare way, complete with copper-colored eyes that had obviously run in the family. Mircea was Vlad’s nephew by blood and his stepson by marriage, thanks to Vlad’s second wife getting it on with Vlad’s brother, Radu. But Mircea was also as vicious as he was pretty. I had this tie to him after the most powerful of his magical attempts to murder me had backfired, linking us together in a way that no one seemed to know how to break.

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