Page 14

Then she went back on her knees, her new tools at the ready.

He lifted his brows as bits of hardware began to fly out from behind the console. Small screws, a cable jack plate, sections of wire . . .

The cable box disappeared from its shelf, yanked back by the peculiar mortal.

Again, he traced closer to see her. He found her lying on her front, fiddling with the box.

"Come on, come on." She bit her bottom lip. "Message button."

She endeavored to send a signal through the cable! No, Lothaire wasn't very often surprised; she continued to take him aback.

Elizabeth had proved . . . trickier than he'd assumed. And the flare of surprise wasn't unenjoyable.

Just when he was about to stop her, she muttered, "No, no. Damn you, Motorola!" She sat up, leaning against the wall, knees to her chest.

Her eyes started to water. Now she'll cry while I gloat about predicting this very thing.

Yet as suddenly as her sadness had appeared, it vanished. She slammed the bottom of her fist against the floor, then began setting everything to rights, at least superficially, hiding the bits she'd removed.

Another determined look lit her face, and she returned to her room. What would she do next?

For some reason, I can hardly wait to know.

She began eyeing the lock on their adjoining door.

No. No way . . .

Though dawn neared, Ellie still didn't hear Lothaire inside his room. And she wanted in.

She tested the lever-style door handle. The lock was a standard pin and tumbler, wouldn't be too hard to pick.

But what if he returned? She recalled how he'd tossed her across the room that afternoon as his eyes glowed red like flames.

He might have a phone in there. Decided.

She rushed to the bathroom for supplies. In a grooming kit, she found tweezers. She pulled them wide like a wishbone, then bent one end against the counter into a ninety-degree angle. Perfect for a tension wrench. An opened hairpin would act as a rake.

Back at the door handle, she inserted her jimmied tension wrench into the lock plug. With her other hand, she eased the hairpin in beside it to rake the pin stacks.

Adjust tension. Rake. Adjust tension. . . .

Click. "Candy. Baby."

She cracked open the door, stowing her tools in her jeans pockets.

Lothaire's room was a twin to hers in size and configuration, but the colors in this one were more masculine, with rich earth-toned wallpaper and carpets. Special lights accented paintings on the walls. The pictures looked classy, like they were one of a kind.

Heavy drapes covered his balcony's French doors. His bed was unmade, his sheets twisted. Was that a metronome sitting on his nightstand?

Across the room, an antique-looking desk was covered with complicated 3-D puzzles. Several were complete, but a few appeared ongoing.

She lifted one that consisted of metal rings and wires. It wasn't a brainteaser-it was a brain paralyzer. Another one was mechanized. Shining silver blocks and triangles made up a third.

Beside them, a book lay open to a chapter titled: "Mechanical Puzzles, the Goldberg Principle." Geometric theory applied to puzzle making? Had Lothaire created some of these puzzles?

Moving on, she gazed to the left of the desk. Strewn over the floor were wadded-up letters in a language-and alphabet-she couldn't read.

Ever fearful of his return, she swiftly investigated his bathroom. Surprisingly, it looked like a normal male's: shaving cream, razor, soap, a toothbrush. Gotta keep those fangs white.

The cabinet contained no medicines. She supposed vampires didn't have ailments.

His closet was filled with expensive clothing-scores of long, lean slacks, tailored button-downs, and jackets, all in variations of black. Polished boots filled the shoe racks.

The vampire loves him some clothes. She leaned in to smell one of his coats, taking in his masculine scent-smooth, woodsy, with the faintest bite of evergreen?

Just as mesmerizing as his looks. When she found her lids growing heavy, she gave herself an inward shake, then dragged herself away from the coat.

In an accessories drawer, he'd precisely organized sunglasses, watches, cuff links, and engraved money clips. Toward the back of the closet, she saw a number of swords laid out on a felt-lined shelf. The bottom of each sword hilt was an inch or so away from another one's tip.

In fact, she'd bet they were exactly one inch apart, as if he'd taken a ruler to them.

These weapons didn't appear to be decorative like the one she'd almost stabbed herself with this afternoon-open mind-but more like useful accessories. A timely reminder that he was a warrior, a deadly male.

What am I doing in here? Curiosity killed the Ellie.

And for all her searching, she'd garnered little insight to help her against Lothaire-and no new hope of escape.

Now that the rush of breaking in had dwindled, she exhaled with fatigue, picturing her new bed. Though she worried about Saroya rising, nothing could keep her from it. Ellie hadn't slept last night before her execution.

Execution. Memories from the morning surfaced, but she ruthlessly tamped them down. She imagined a rubber band snapping her wrist every time she recalled that injection bench, the clock ticking, the screams. . . . Snap!

Think forward, never dwell.

Somehow, before Lothaire got that ring, Ellie would figure out a way to communicate with her family. Once she was assured that they were good and vanished, she'd finally get to do what needed to be done. Take care of your business, Ellie.

She and Saroya would be no more. I can still die-just might be a few days off schedule.

Whipped with exhaustion, Ellie turned back toward her room. Had any day ever been so grueling-

"What in the hell are you doing in here?"

Chapter 14

The girl's eyes went wide as she pivoted to face Lothaire, her hair a dark wave swinging over one shoulder.

"You picked the lock to my room? Invading my privacy?" he thundered, furious at the intrusion, furious at his reactions to her.

When the mortal had breathed in his scent, going heavy-lidded . . . he'd barely choked back a groan as he shot hard as stone.

Now he traced in front of her, cupping her throat. She recoiled with fear, her heart beating a staccato rhythm he could feel. "I've told you I won't harm this body! Yet you flinch from me?"

In a strangled voice, she cried, "Are you kidding?"

"Calm your goddamned heart!" he bellowed, his instinct to protect her-to comfort her-nearly overriding his need to punish her. Which infuriated him even more!

He knew he should just return her to her room, then sleep-and not only to dream memories. He was strung out, his madness creeping closer at every moment.

But his ire demanded appeasement. "You flinch like a coward. Are you one? Am I to add cowardly to all the adjectives I use to describe you?"

"Fuck you, vampire!" She knocked his arm away-he let her. "I'm no coward. I've got flint in my veins. Don't mistake my reflexes for fear." Her fists balled, her fear ebbing. "And you don't get to play the privacy card! Not while your homeless tramp has set up her cardboard house inside me."

He reacted better to her anger, his vision clearing. Gods, the rumors were true. He was connected to his Bride's moods, responding to them. And Elizabeth was a fragment of Saroya, like a placeholder for his female.

Between gritted teeth, he commanded, "Calm yourself, Elizabeth." He knew one thing that would calm them both. Release. With one bite, she'd be begging for him to ease her.

He wondered if the other rumors about Brides were true. Will she pleasure me more deeply than I'd ever imagined?

Wait for your true one! Saroya will be worth it.

Elizabeth stared at his eyes. "Look at me, Lothaire. I'm calming down, okay?"

"Then answer the question. Why are you in my room?"

"I was curious about you."

"Curious to find a way to thwart my plans? And what did you discover about me that you didn't know?"

"A few things."

What? What? Anticipation teased him-because he had no clue what she'd say. He sat at his desk, impatiently waving a hand at her. "Thrall me."

She took a deep breath, then said, "You're an insomniac. You speak and write at least two languages, but you have difficulty centering your thoughts enough to write anything at length. You're obsessive-compulsive with your possessions, which leads me to think that very little of your life outside of these walls is how you want it to be. You had no friends growing up and that hasn't changed since. You're narcissistic-but I knew that upon first looking at you."

He tilted his head, grudgingly impressed, though his tone was anything but. "First of all, I'm not narcissistic." When she opened her lips to argue, he said, "I know Narkissos of Thespiae-while we might share traits, I came first, so he's Lothairistic, not the other way around. Furthermore, I speak and write eight languages. As for my obsession with order, that's obvious from my closet. Insomniac is easy enough to guess. The sheets are twisted."

"And the metronome. You use it to relax you."

Observant human. "My supposed friendless state?" She had him dead to rights there, other than his young halfling admirer.

Then Lothaire frowned. No, he'd once had a boon companion. Until I was betrayed.

"I knew by the puzzles," Elizabeth said. "They're a solitary recreation. A couple look very old, so I'd guess you've been interested in them for some time, probably since you were a boy."

Again, how unexpected. She was actually entertaining him.

"Look, Lothaire, this won't happen again. I'll just go back to my room-"

"Sit." He pointed to a settee beside his desk. After a hesitation, she perched on the very edge of the cushion, with her back ramrod straight.

"Relax, mortal."

"How can I when I have no idea what you're going to do?" Her gaze flitted over the side of his face.

He reached up, daubing at the slashes he'd forgotten. Fucking wraith. "I'm going to attempt to wind down from this day and night."

Still Elizabeth held herself stiffly, though she was exhausted. Smudges colored the skin under her eyes.

"How did you learn to pick locks?"

"On the weekends, my father worked as a handyman who did lock-smithing on the side."

"Before he died in the mine? All that work and you were still mired in poverty?"

She lifted her chin, her eyes flashing.

So proud. So little reason to be. "Did you enjoy searching my home?"

"How long were you watching me?" she demanded.

"How long do you think?"

"Do you ever answer a question straightforward-like?"

He made a habit of oblique replies. His inability to lie had made him skilled at misdirection. He didn't often get called on it, though. "And you? You're nearly as bad as I am."

"Fine. Yes, I enjoyed snooping around your apartment. I got to see things I never had before. I'll probably dream of that chandelier tonight." She bit her bottom lip. "Right after I get done dreaming of those jewels."

He'd surprised himself by showing them to Elizabeth, by wanting to see her reaction. Or perhaps he'd merely wanted any reaction whatsoever, any response to his gift.

Saroya's had been . . . lacking.

"You truly think that's what you'll dream of?" he asked. "It's more likely that you'll relive the events of the past twenty-four hours." He didn't think she'd fully comprehended all that had happened to her. Her mind had been too busy futilely planning an escape-or suicide.

But once she truly accepted that she was doomed . . . ? Everything she'd endured would catch up with her.

All miseries catch up eventually.

Would he experience Elizabeth's near death in dreams? He'd taken enough of her blood earlier.

"I'm not allowing myself to reflect about today," she said.

"Simple as that-your mind does as your will commands? Mind over mind?"

She shrugged. "Something like that, yes."

He leaned forward in his seat. "So tonight, I have learned that you are unjustifiably proud. You believe yourself strong of will and keen of mind-"

"I'm not unkeen or weak-willed."

"-and you like to analyze things. I wonder what you would make of this?" He traced to his safe, retrieving his weighty ledger book.

Never had he shown another person his accountings. But Elizabeth would soon be dead, and now he was curious to see what she'd say.

He sat at his desk once more, opening the tome. "Come. View my ledger."

She hesitantly rose, then stood beside him. "I've never seen an account book like this."

It contained only two columns: Indebted and Targeted. "And you've reviewed so many from your trailer in Appalachia?"

"Funny thing about Appalachia jokes-unlike all other jokes, they just never get old."

He raised a brow. "It's an accounting of blood debts from Loreans."

"There are so many entries."

He inclined his head. Everything to serve his Endgame. "This represents thousands of years of . . . accounting." Again and again, he'd used his ability to predict others' moves, ensuring he was always in the right place at the right time to exact blood vows.

If Nix was the queen of foresight, then Lothaire was the king of insight.

White queen versus black king. He recalled his last encounter with the soothsayer, on that prison island. He'd told her, "Until our next match." But she'd answered, "There won't be a next match, vampire."

What did she mean?

"Explain to me how it works," Elizabeth said, drawing him from his thoughts.

"If an immortal is in dire straits, I'll agree to help him, but only for a price. Then I'll make him vow to do anything I want. The saying make a deal with the devil comes from me." If he sounded proud, well . . .

I am.

"So that's why you seemed interested when I offered a bargain."

"Just so." Again he was finding it easy to speak with her, as if the words were pulled from him, as if he'd waited all his life to reveal these things.

I must have needed a confidante, one who could never tell my secrets. Most legendary men do.

"But you do help others?"

Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.