"Wait." I held up a hand even as I continued to shake my head in denial. "Marty has been secretly giving me his blood for years. If I belong to anyone, it's him!"
"Marty didn't claim you. Vlad has. Earlier today, he rescinded his offer to let me court you, as if I hadn't figured out for myself that you were his now." Maximus gazed at me almost pityingly. "And if you care for your friend, you will never tell Vlad you think you belong to Marty. He'll kill him."
This was too much. I closed my eyes, drawing in a deep breath.
"Where is he? I need to talk to him."
Maximus's face closed off into polite stoniness. "He's detained at present."
My teeth ground. "Please stop the formal talk, and tell Vlad that he needs to undetain himself."
He snorted. "That's not how it works. No one gives Vlad orders. When he's available, he'll see you. Having a fit in the interim won't change anything."
"I'm not having a fit." I would, that was for sure, but I'd save it for the vampire who'd declared me his without asking my opinion on the subject.
"Then would you like to eat here, or the main room?" Maximus asked, returning to his original query.
I was too mad to have an appetite, but refusing to eat would only be churlish.
Vlad continued to be "regrettably detained" the next morning and afternoon, too. I was torn between being madder than hell and worried. I didn't know if he was here and refusing to see me-Maximus wouldn't say, and neither would any other vampire I asked-or if he was out somewhere. It was ridiculous to worry about Vlad considering his age and power, but people were out to kill him. That was how I'd been thrust into his life in the first place.
By evening, when someone other than Maximus came to tell me that Vlad was still "regrettably detained," I'd had enough. He might not want to see me, but I wouldn't sit here stewing any longer. I changed clothes and then almost ran out of my room.
I went down to the level where Ben and the others lived. I hadn't gone far past the chapel when I heard voices. I followed the sounds to a kitchen where several people were gathered.
"Leila," Ben said in surprise when he saw me poised by the open door. "Hey, come in."
I gave Ben a big, almost desperate smile. "You know that club you mentioned? Are you guys going tonight?"
He came over, scratching a hand through his curls. "Yeah, but I thought you couldn't go because of, you know. Your condition."
"I can't dance," I said with a short laugh. "But I can drain my excess energy into something safe, keep my right hand holstered, and drink with whoever else is knocking 'em back."
"That'll work," Damon said, his mouth still full of whatever he'd been eating.
"Well, then, sure." Ben smiled. "I'm glad you're feeling better. What was wrong, anyway?"
My abilities are killing me and vampire blood is the only cure.
"Low iron? I'm okay now. No bleeding or fainting, promise."
"All right, we'll be ready in a minute."
Then a depressing realization suddenly filled me. "Wait. I don't have any money, and I'm not about to hit up one of Vlad's staff for some."
"Money?" Ben laughed. So did everyone else there. "You don't need money," Ben went on. "Vlad owns the town and we're his special plasma kabobs. Everything is free for us, and as his guest, same goes with you, too."
My eyes bugged. "He owns the whole town?"
"The counties surrounding it, too. Romania has communes, and while most people don't own the ones they oversee . . . Vlad has his own way of doing things, doesn't he?"
He does indeed, I thought, remembering how he hadn't told me the implications behind drinking his blood. Then I forced that thought back and smiled.
"Then I'm ready whenever you are."
Eight of us piled into a different limousine than the one Vlad and I had arrived in. Due to the freezing temperature, I wore a long, thick coat over my dress. It also acted as a protective barrier for my right hand, which I kept tucked inside it. Once we were all in the vehicle, however, it didn't move though the driver sat at the wheel with the engine running.
"What's the hold up, Hunter?" Ben asked.
"Getting authorization," Hunter replied, and then rolled up the privacy glass.
"Authorization? Since when?" Ben muttered.
Since me, I thought, tensing in anger. If Vlad was available to forbid me from leaving, he'd damn well better be available for me to speak with.
From their glances, everyone began to figure out that I was the reason for the delay, but they chatted as though nothing was amiss. After about ten minutes, the privacy glass came down. Maximus now sat in the passenger seat, glaring at me.
"Did you really think you could sneak away?"
That brought the conversation to a halt. I stared back at him, my temper flaring.
"I'm not sneaking anywhere. I'm going out with the other residents of this house. I notice they didn't have to check in with anyone before leaving, so why should I?"
"Because you belong to Vlad," Maximus said at once.
My fists clenched. Not this again.
Ben caught my frustrated clenching. "Hey, it's cool. We all belong to Vlad," he said, patting my knee in a comforting way.
Maximus's gaze went from gray to bright green in an instant. "Not like she does, so remove your hand or I will remove it from your body. No one touches her except Vlad."
Ben's hand flew off my knee as if I'd channeled lightning into him. Maximus's meaning could not have been clearer. I was torn between wanting to sink into the seat in embarrassment-or leaping forward and electrocuting him. The latter was more appealing, but then it would ruin my plans for the evening.
"Now that you've marked your master's territory for him, can we leave?" I asked, icicles hanging off every syllable.
He nodded at the driver, and the car took off. Sandra nudged Joe and hissed, "Raise the glass." He pressed the button, and the front seat was once more blocked off.
As soon as it was up-as if that would keep Maximus from overhearing us-Sandra grinned at me. "Leila," she said in an admiring voice, "you must tell us everything!"
I was getting drunk. Rip-roaring, stinking, worshipping-at-the-porcelain-altar drunk. Damn Maximus for his big mouth, and damn Vlad for his incomprehensible arrogance.
"It's not like that," I muttered, looking out the window rather than at the seven sets of eyes fixed on me. "Nothing's happened between us."