A Kiss of Blood(A Vamp City Novel)(6)

By: Pamela Palmer
Chapter Five





Quinn found Zack at the dining-room table devouring homemade rolls as fast as he could butter them up and shove them into his mouth. The room was lovely in an old-fashioned fussy kind of way, the walls papered dark red, a gold-and-crystal chandelier hanging above an antique, ornately carved table. Gilt-framed paintings lined the walls, some exact duplicates of originals that would go for millions at auction in the real world . . . if the originals didn’t already hang in museums.

“Your brother looks better,” Arturo commented behind her.

Quinn nodded. “It’s amazing. He really did need to come back here.”

“I have told you the truth, have I not?” Arturo’s cool fingers stroked the side of her neck.

She stepped away from him. “Lucky guess.”

“Educated guess.”

“Regardless, thank God it worked.”

As Quinn reached for the chair at a right angle to her brother’s, Arturo pulled it out for her. She met his even gaze. Whatever else he was, she’d always known him to be a gentleman and a charmer.

With a nod, she took the seat he offered as Micah strode in from the kitchen, a bottle of Corona in his hand. “You need limes, Ax.”

“I’ll have Ernesta run up to the Safeway,” he replied dryly. “A word?”

As the two vampires left the dining room, Quinn reached for one of the rolls from the heaping basket. “You’re hungry.”

Zack nodded, waiting to reply until his mouth wasn’t entirely full. “Starved.” His gaze met hers. “I really felt like I was dying, Quinn.”

“And you don’t now?”

“No. Dying from lack of food, maybe.”

Ernesta bustled into the room with two plates piled high with large slabs of piping-hot lasagna, returning moments later with heaping bowls of salad. It was far more food than Quinn needed. Fortunately, if Zack didn’t slow down, he’d wind up finishing off his portion and hers, too. For a moment, she just watched him, feeling her eyes burn with relief. She’d told herself all along that he’d be fine, that the magic would be renewed in time to save him. But she’d been lying. She’d been gut-ripping terrified that her beloved brother was going to die. And while Vamp City was probably the most dangerous place in existence for a human, there was no denying it was where he needed to be right now.

As Quinn dug her fingers into a warm, soft roll and spread a dollop of what appeared to be freshly churned butter on one side, she eyed her brother thoughtfully.

“What is it?” Zack asked, catching her gaze.

She hesitated to bring up the questions that had been weighing on her since his revelation earlier, but decided if he could eat like a four-hundred-pound weight lifter, he could answer some questions, even tough ones.

“Tell me about Lily, Zack. Was she . . . okay?” In many ways, she didn’t want to know the answer to that. It was hard enough watching the torture of strangers, but hearing about the suffering of a young woman she’d already begun to think of as her future sister-in-law was going to hurt.

But Zack just gave her his customary shrug. “She looked tired.”

Tired. “That’s all?”

“And sad.”

Okay. “But not bruised? Or hurt?”

His brows lowered, then lifted as understanding widened his eyes. “God, no.”

Quinn released the breath she hadn’t even known she was holding. “Good. That’s good.”

She took a bite of lasagna, but Zack’s gaze fell to his own plate, his hand turning a soft roll into a hard ball of bread.

Slowly, he looked up again, staring at nothing. “The first time I saw her, she was standing in the upstairs window with a load of towels or sheets or something. The second time, she was in the kitchen carrying a bucket and a mop.”

“So they were using her as a housemaid.” Quinn didn’t voice out loud her fear that the girl had been used for far more. For far worse. Many vampires were depraved in the extreme. The way Zack was mangling that roll told her he was thinking the same.

“Zack, why didn’t you tell me you saw her?”

For several moments, he didn’t respond, didn’t act as if he’d heard her. “I don’t know.”

When he failed to expound, she suspected that was the only answer she was going to get. In his defense, he probably didn’t know why. She remembered how down on himself he’d been after they were reunited. How Arturo had told her he blamed himself for not being able to save the women he cared about.

And what if he had told her he’d seen Lily right after they’d escaped Vamp City? Would she have tried to go back in after the girl? The thought of it weighed on her like a pile of bricks. Selfishly, she was glad she hadn’t been forced to make that decision.

Until today, she’d suspected Lily was somewhere in Vamp City, but she hadn’t known for sure. Now she did. If Arturo could spring Zack from the gladiator camp, he could find a way to get Lily out of Castle Smithson. And he would. Because they were partners now, God help her.

The next time she escaped Vamp City, it would be with Zack and Lily.

She just hoped there was a next time.

Lily Wang slid her hand across the gold satin sheet, smoothing it across the modern mattress, satisfied that there were no bloodstains. She moved quickly, efficiently, silently, as she changed the sheets in the upstairs bedrooms . . . bedchambers . . . of Castle Smithson, as she had every day since her capture. Changing the sheets, working in the bedrooms at all, was a tricky proposition. She’d yet to be caught, yet to be raped. At least that she knew of. With the vampires’ ability to enthrall and steal memories, it was always possible she’d experienced things she didn’t remember.

But she was nothing if not prosaic. If she didn’t remember, and had been left with no injuries, then nothing had happened. Period.

The trouble was, if she stayed here long enough, something would happen. It was just a matter of time, she knew that. She’d already been bitten several times. That was unavoidable in a coven . . . kovena . . . of vampires. More than once, she’d been grabbed from behind as she walked through the halls, doing her chores. It never took long and didn’t hurt. As much as she hated to admit it, the sensation of vampire sucking was actually kind of pleasant . . . except when the vampire pulled out messily, dripping blood onto clean towels, and she had to send them back to the laundry.

For the most part, though, she was a shadow, moving through the halls silently, drawing little or no attention. And she intended to keep it that way. When the time was right, she’d move silently right out of this castle, out of this hellhole, and find her way home.

Her parents were frantic at her disappearance, she knew that. And she’d missed all of her classes for weeks. She’d have to reenroll next semester, which meant graduating a semester late. And if she did that, Galaxy Gaming might rescind the offer of employment they’d made to her. And to Zack.

Zack.

Pain slammed into her at the thought of him, making her gasp. The tears she’d so far managed to keep at bay burned her eyes. She tried so hard not to think of him, but he was with her always, his presence steadying her, giving her strength. Even though she knew he was probably dead.

Poor Zack.

The first time she saw him in the yard behind Castle Smithson hauling a wheelbarrow full of bricks, she’d felt such a tangle of emotions—joy, shock, regret, despair. Somehow, he’d become one of the missing, too. Eventually, days after he’d arrived, he’d caught sight of her and called to her. And the hurt in his voice when she’d hurried away, ignoring him, still cut her to the quick. But she knew what happened when vampires thought two slaves cared about one another. The pair became the sadistic vampires’ new favorite playthings.

Zack had only ever thought of her as his best friend, but he was as loyal as they came and would have suffered if they’d hurt her in front of him. Her feelings for him went far beyond friendship and had since the first day he’d smiled at her. She loved the redheaded loon. And she’d been terrified that the vampires would see it.

So she’d ignored him. And the next day, they’d sent him to the gladiator camp to be prepared for the Games. In a computer battle, Zack could beat anyone. But in real life, with real swords?

The thought of him in that arena, facing a deadly opponent, was almost too much to bear.

She pulled the satin coverlet over the bed, then replaced the colorful pillows. Top sheets and blankets were never required on vampire beds since the bloodsuckers didn’t sleep. Beds were for two things only—sex and feeding. Often at the same time, from what she’d seen. And heard.

Picking up her dwindling pile of clean sheets, she slipped out of the room, heading for the next. She was halfway down the hall, when a man appeared at the top of the stairs. A vampire with hunger in his now-white-centered eyes. And he was staring right at her.

She froze, her heart beating a fast, frantic rhythm. Maybe he’d only feed from her and not take her to one of the beds.

He smiled, tipping his head back in pleasure, clearly a fear-feeder enjoying her anxiousness. Slowly, he lowered his head and peered at her curiously. “Why the fear, little human? Still taken aback by the eyes?” He smiled, revealing sharp twin incisors. “And the fangs? Have you ever felt them pierce the tender flesh between your legs?”

Her heart rate spiked, and he felt it, his smile broadening.

“I have,” a brash, tart, and wonderfully dear voice said behind her. “And what I like even more is some vampire mouth sucking on my huge-ass tits. Forget that scrawny-ass Asian. She’s flat as a board and as cold as you are. What you need is some warm, soft Jazlyn.”

The heavyset, dark-skinned Jazlyn brushed past Lily, heading straight for the vampire.

The vampire’s expression turned amused. “She fears me, Warm Soft Jazlyn. You don’t.”

“No. But once you show her the real joys of vampire-loving, she’ll lose that fear. Which would be a shame, wouldn’t it? ’Sides, I’m in the mood for some vampire cock-loving. Ain’t never sixty-nined with a vampire.”

Jazlyn was too wise, and far too experienced, for her eighteen years. Lily only had a vague idea of what a sixty-nine meant, but the vampire’s eyes lit with interest.

“Come, then.”

Jazlyn threw Lily a wink over her shoulder, then walked right up to the vampire and slid her hand between his legs. With a grin, he took that hand and led her into the nearest room and closed the door.

Lily darted into the next bedroom, pulling the air in through her nose, fighting to settle her racing heart before she had every fear-feeder in the castle hunting her down.

That was too close.

She exhaled deeply, at once relieved and sad for her friend, although Jazlyn had assured her she really did love sex with the vampires. Despite Lily’s being three years older, Jazlyn had usurped the role of protective older sister the first night Lily arrived. She’d taken one look at Lily, and said, “Damn, girl! You still a virgin?” Lily hadn’t replied, but it hadn’t mattered. Jazlyn had gone on to tell her she hadn’t been a virgin since her cousin raped her when she was eleven. The girl was often prickly and tough, at least with others. But she was always there for Lily. They exchanged confidences on their pallets at night, and whatever extra food one or the other had managed to stash away. Most nights, they fell asleep pressed back to back, sharing body heat in the cold storeroom where the female slaves slept. And more than once, Lily had felt Jazlyn’s hand slip into hers, the girl-woman seeking a child’s reassurance that she wasn’t alone. That everything was going to be all right, when both of them knew nothing would ever be right again.

Lily knew it was ridiculous to care about her virginity in a place like this when most were struggling just to hold on to their lives. But Jazlyn was fiercely determined she should protect it, especially after Lily had told her about Zack. Jazlyn refused to accept that he was gone, preferring to think of him as some romantic hero, a David who’d undoubtedly slain Goliath.

But Zack was just a young man, and an inexperienced one at that. Lily had known he was the one for her the first time she met him. She’d recognized him on some gut-deep level, as if she’d always known him and had simply been waiting for him to show up in her life.

He hadn’t recognized her in return, unfortunately. Not in the same way. As friends, yes. Totally. But he’d been dating a girl at the time and had continued to for a while longer. Even after he broke up with that girlfriend, he’d dated others, though never seriously. And less and less. In the past year and a half he’d dated no one, spending all of his time with her. But never once had he made a move to indicate she was anything but his best friend.

She’d believed that eventually, when he was through with school and settled in his career, he’d begin to think about finding a wife. And when that happened, when he was finally open to the idea of love and marriage, he’d realize what Lily had always known. That they belonged together.

Now that would never happen. Because Zack was lost to her. Even if he hadn’t died in the Games, she didn’t have any idea how to find him. All she could do now was survive and find a way to escape this place. She would do it for her parents, who she knew were heartbroken at her disappearance. And she’d do it for Quinn, who had to be frantic at her brother’s vanishing.

Mostly, she’d do it for Zack. Because as long as her love for him lived inside of her, Zack lived.