"Hey, why not me? We're friends," Cat protested.
"Yes, but you tell him everything," Vlad said with a jerk of his head toward Bones. "Kira can come, though."
Kira grinned mischievously at them before linking her arm with Mencheres. "Good to meet you, Leila."
"Yeah, you too," I said, piqued that I didn't get to hear this question, either. It was probably about how best to use my abilities, so you'd think I should at least be privy to it.
The three of them departed, leaving me with the vampiric versions of Ken and Barbie-which I regretted thinking as soon as Cat let out a snort.
"Thanks, I think."
"Sorry," I said while grinding my teeth. "It was a compliment because the two of you are really, uh, pretty."
Perfectly so, and not just their features. Their skin was pale and creamy, not a visible flaw on an inch of it. Just looking at them made me feel as though my scar stretched and widened until it covered half my face and all of my arm.
"Oh, I have scars, too," Cat said, tapping her leg. "Stake puncture, right here. Stab wound in my stomach, another one on my back-"
"Stop, please," I said, holding up my hand.
"Really intrusive when your thoughts aren't your own, isn't it?" Bones stated, giving me a speculative look. "Used to drive my wife barmy before she changed over, but"-here his voice lowered-"there's a way to limit what someone can listen to, if you're interested."
My eyes widened. Was I interested? I'd give all my teeth for some mental privacy right about now!
Bones grinned. "Thought so. See, it takes a rare form of willpower for a human to block a mind-reading vampire from their thoughts, and most people don't have that. But what you can do whenever you suspect you're being eavesdropped on is sing something wretched to yourself."
"Sing?" I repeated doubtfully.
A nod. "In your mind, of course, but remember-it has to be so annoying and repetitive that it distracts the person from breaking past that mental melody."
Cat looked at Bones with open suspicion. "I think I know why you're doing this, and it's mean-"
"Tepesh has it coming," Bones interrupted, his tone hardening. Then he smiled at me. "Go on, try to block me."
I understood that Bones wasn't helping me for altruistic reasons, but if it gave me a shield against Vlad reading my mind whenever he wanted . . . well, then his enemy was my friend. Annoying and repetitive, huh? I thought back to the eighties music my mother had loved listening to. It had certainly made me crazy when she'd play the same songs over and over.
I began to mentally sing the lyrics to "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Bones tapped his chin.
"I like where you're going with this, but dig deeper."
I sighed and began to think of other songs. Madonna's "Like a Virgin" had been played to death, but it was too apropos considering my own state. I decided on Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" and repeated the chorus a few times in my mind.
Bones nodded. "Better, but still not slit-your-own-throat annoying. Come on, Leila. Do you want this or not?"
I let out a frustrated noise while shooting him a dirty look. Then inspiration struck and I smiled. Take this!
After the first few lyrics of the new song, Bones laughed.
"Perfect. Repeat that whenever Tepesh is around you, and he'll run screaming in no time."
Cat shook her head. "You are really twisted, honey."
Bones just smiled. "As I said, he had this coming."
Hours later, I dressed for dinner with more enthusiasm than I had the previous nights. Part of it was because that former lethargy combined with all-over body ache was gone. Even the bruises from my kidnapping and window dive had vanished. Vlad's blood was clearly more potent than Marty's, or I'd had more of it than Marty normally slipped into my shakes. Either way, for the first time in days, I felt great.
I was also anxious to try out my new mental defense. It made me look forward to seeing Vlad even though I berated myself for abandoning common sense with him earlier. To make matters worse, a part of me couldn't stop wondering what would have happened if Maximus hadn't come in right when he did.
As if you don't know, an inner voice taunted.
I sighed. Yeah, I knew. But an affair with him might indeed break my heart. I'd felt lust before-I was a virgin, not dead-and this was more than that. I also wanted to crack Vlad's shell, discover his secrets, and explore the complexities of his personality to find the man beneath the fearsome protector of his people. The fact that I wanted all this after knowing him less than a week was where the danger lay. A lust-based affair was so simple in comparison.
I'd slipped into a conservative yet flattering navy sweater dress when a rap sounded at the door. I opened it, my quizzical expression freezing when I saw Maximus.
"Uh, hi," I said, not sure if I should've started with an apology. Some dating experience would've helped right about now.
"Vlad regrets to inform you that he will not be dining with you tonight," Maximus said, speaking as formally as he had when we first met.
Disappointment coursed through me that I hoped didn't show on my face. Then I forced a smile.
"Will Cat, Bones, and the others be there?"
"No, they've left. You can still dine in the main room, if you'd like, or I can have your supper brought to you here."
I couldn't keep pretending like nothing had happened. "I'm so sorry, Maximus. You have every right to be mad at me. If I were smart, I wouldn't go anywhere near Vlad. I-I don't know why I can't seem to stop-"
"I do," Maximus interrupted with a grim smile. "For the same reason so many Wallachians fought and died for him over the course of three separate reigns when he was prince-because he draws you in even if you know it will end badly."
I grimaced. That wasn't too subtle of a warning. "Hopefully I won't end up like them."
He shrugged. "Either way, you're his now."
That made my brows shoot up. "Oh really? How odd, because I don't remember agreeing to that."
"He offered you his blood and you drank it. I could smell it on you." Maximus looked at me as though I were slow. "What did you think that meant?"
"That I needed it because apparently, without ingesting vampire blood my abilities would kill me," I replied, a chill going through me despite the room being warm.
"Think, Leila," Maximus said coolly. "This house has dozens of vampires. Vlad could have summoned any one of us to give you blood. He gave you his blood instead. That makes you his more than if he'd branded his name onto you."