Vlad's mouth was suddenly gone, leaving the spot where he'd bitten me both icy and burning at the same time.
"Do you want me to kill you?" he ground out.
I blinked in confusion, but then I heard Maximus's voice on the other side of the door.
"You'd kill me if I didn't interrupt you with this information."
I hadn't even heard Maximus knock, but he must have. Vlad still held me tight. From the emerald blazing in his gaze and that hard, thick flesh pressed against my belly, he was close to telling Maximus to go away or die bloody. But then he let out a harsh sigh.
Disappointment mixed with the lust that had my loins throbbing. Vlad smoothed my hair back, his mouth swooping down to give my neck a final, lingering lick.
"It must be important or he wouldn't dare disturb me now," he murmured. Then he drew away to look at me. "If it's not, I'll kill him and return to you directly."
I would have laughed, except I wasn't sure if he was kidding. "I understand."
My body didn't. It ached with denied need while my neck continued to pulse with icy hot vibrations. I touched it, feeling the twin holes. Vlad's eyes followed the movement and emerald took over his gaze again.
"I love seeing my marks in your flesh."
If he'd looked smug while saying it, I would have been piqued, but his expression showed unadulterated possessiveness instead. Must be a vampire thing.
A grin bared his teeth. "It's very much a vampire thing." He gave me a hard kiss that took away the breath I'd just started to get back under control. I blamed blood loss on the fact that I had to sit down when he finally let me go.
"I'll be back as soon as I can," he said. Then he flung open the door. "Maximus," he greeted the stony-faced blond vampire on the other side. "This had better be good."
The door shut behind them and I closed my eyes, taking several deep breaths. Less than a minute later, the door opened.
Vlad's foreboding tone made my remaining desire vanish, and I stood so fast that I nearly stumbled.
He came over and took my arm. "You need to come with me."
I walked between Vlad and Maximus down the narrow stone staircase. Every fifty feet or so, we came to a landing where we passed through a metal, guarded doorway that led to another set of descending steps. This part of the house didn't have heat, so my breath came in white plumes. Despite Vlad giving me his coat, I couldn't stop shivering. It also didn't have electricity, so if not for the torches he flamed into light, I would have been blind in the stygian darkness. I knew it was my imagination, but the walls of the tunnel seemed to shimmer with despairing essences, adding to my sense of dread. The dungeon was the last place I wanted to go to, but it was where we were headed.
The last guarded door opened into a cavernous area that was pitch black until Vlad lit more torches with his power. The first thing I saw was several sets of manacles embedded in a huge stone pillar in the center of the area. When we approached it, I saw that these manacles were unusually thick, with silver spikes lining them that faced inward. From their varying heights and sizes, I calculated their purpose.
Side ones were for the wrists. Bar between them, the neck. Lower, wide bar for the waist, the two below that, the thighs, and the ones closest to the floor, ankles. The pillar faced the thankfully empty cells cut into the rock across from us. Knowing Vlad, their positioning was so that any prisoners could see whatever was done to the unlucky person restrained here. Between the pillar and the cells were three deep holes, and from the dark stains lining them, I guessed that they were normally occupied by thick wooden poles. The outdoor area must not be the only place Vlad where got his impalement on.
"I regret that this is necessary," Vlad stated, grasping the wrist manacles.
His words echoed in the subterranean surroundings, ominous and eerie as they bounced back. I wished this wasn't necessary, too, but I said nothing as I took my gloves off, tucking them into his coat. Then I walked over, leaned back against that looming rock wall, and felt the weight of icy, unforgiving metal as Vlad set the clamps against my hand.
I have no idea how long I screamed, but my throat was burning by the time I regained control enough to distinguish reality from other people's memories. My face was also wet from tears, and shudders wracked me so violently that the ache in my limbs wasn't due to phantom pains, but from being so lost in the horrific memories that I'd managed to hurt myself with my reaction-something that had never happened before.
Of course, in all the recollections I'd relived, I had never experienced anything like this. When I realized that I was sagged in Vlad's arms, my first reaction was revulsion so deep that a roar tore from my wounded throat.
He released me so abruptly that I fell onto the floor. Instinct made me curl my right hand to my side instead of using it to break my fall. I sprawled into a heap, but the action meant I didn't pick up any new memories from stained stone ground, which was the most important thing.
"Should I help?" Maximus asked in a carefully neutral tone.
I doubted the question was directed at me, but I answered anyway. "No. Give me a minute."
My voice was still raw. I sat on the floor, trying to paste together my fractured emotions while hugging myself for warmth. That was a mistake I wouldn't have made had I been thinking clearly. As soon as my right hand came in contact with Vlad's coat, another memory assailed me.
I stood naked in front of a closet on the far side of my bedroom. With the press of a button, row upon row of clothes whirled by, some casual, some formal, and a few so ornate they were meant only for ceremonial events. I stroked my jaw as I considered my choices. I couldn't meet her family wearing just anything. She deserved better than that. Finally, I selected a long coat inlaid with black sapphires at the collars and cuffs.
This would do. Perhaps the gloves would also help to soothe her ire. Their completion came not a moment too soon.
That image faded, replaced by Vlad looming over me in this oppressive dungeon instead of gloriously naked in his bedroom. I stared up at him, the memory of his actions shocking me for a different reason this time.
"You dressed up to meet my family?" The unexpectedly thoughtful gesture made me choke on a laugh. "How can you be the same person that did all those other things? You're not just versatile and complex-it's like you're a schizophrenic!"
Vlad knelt next to me, an emerald sheen encompassing his eyes like a cat's when light shone upon them.