Lothaire Read online
Instead, he again looked interested. "I enjoy a good bargain. Yet I also enjoy making my enemies beg. "
"You need me alive, but you need more than that. Youll be needing my cooperation. So what had you planned for me to do after I got through pleading?"
"Id planned for you to dine. "
She narrowed her eyes up at him. "I sure am hungry, Lothaire. Could eat a horse right now. See how easy we can be together?"
He pinched her chin, hard. "Careful, little pet. If you play with me, you wont like it when I join the game. " He tilted his head at her. "And for this easiness, what do you want in return?"
"Dont let Saroya kill. "
After a considering moment, he said, "Until youre gone? Agreed. And youll obey my commands without question, or your next infraction equals your familys end. Try to prevent Saroya from rising or harm yourself in any way and you might as well peel their heads from their necks with your own hands. Do you understand me, Elizabeth?"
"I-I understand. " Then she added, "I understand that my entire family is safe from you and anyone who works with you, so long as Im cooperating. "
He quirked a brow as if amazed by her temerity. She suspected she was a novelty to him.
So what would happen when the novelty wore off?
"I wondered if you were crazy. Have now decided you must be. " He turned and strode toward another room. "Follow me. "
Having had a victory of sorts, she trailed after him. At every turn, she was confronted with more examples of his wealth, luxuries like shed never imagined-art, oriental rugs, newfangled electronics. But not a single phone or computer.
This place was a paradise compared to jail. The air was drier here, not laden with humidity. While her ward had been ripe with the odor of urine and mace, everything here smelled new.
The apartment had two wings with sprawling terraces between them. One terrace even had a pool.
A paradise compared to anywhere. "How many rooms are in this place?"
"More than a dozen throughout the three floors. "
"You live alone?"
"As of today, I live with Saroya and one temporary prisoner. "
Then a thought struck her. "Are we fixin to eat together?"
"Dont want to see me drink my dinner?"
Shed never been squeamish around blood, had hunted deer with her uncle all her life, eventually guiding her own hunting trips for his business. Then Saroyas crimes had hardened Ellie further.
Not to mention when the bitch had drunk buckets of blood. . . .
But Ellie hadnt negotiated that Lothaire couldnt kill. Nor that he couldnt drink from her. "The blood in itself isnt an issue. Im more concerned with where you get it. "
"From a pitcher in the refrigerator usually. For tonight, youll eat alone. Im here only to ensure you put on weight. Fill out your curves more. Saroya finds you lacking. "
There wasnt a damn thing wrong with her curves! "Then maybe you two ought to go kidnap a plumper girl, a ready-made one who already meets your requirements. "
He appeared beside her in an instant, his hand closing over one of her elbows. "You are mine. Your body is mine by right. I do own you. The sooner you accept this, the better off youll be. "
She tried to free herself, but his grip was like a vise. "Youre the one whos crazy!"
"Shall I return with your mothers head? Perhaps Ill place it as the tables centerpiece. "
"Im still cooperating!" He was the scariest person shed ever encountered! No one in the backcountry mountains or even on death row could compare.
His smirk deepened. "And who owns you?"
Say the words! Force yourself to say them! "You-do. "
He released her. "Good girl. "
"Sit. " Lothaire pointed to the dining room. Atop the extended table were silver-covered dishes and two place settings-with enough utensils to confound the girl.
Elizabeth glanced around. "Who cooked this?"
"A chef came earlier," Lothaire said evenly, surprised by his lingering lucidity. Before Elizabeth had woken, hed watched the even rise and fall of her chest, his lids growing heavy.
"Howd the cook get past the force field?" she asked. "I thought it was impenetrable. "
"It is. " In theory, the boundary could never be breached, protecting her against the legions of immortals who would give anything to kill or capture her-just to punish or coerce Lothaire.
If they could even find this place.
But Lothaire wouldnt take any chances. In his long life, hed found that whenever one described something in the Lore as always or never happening, fate usually proved him wrong. "I can open it at will, of course. "
When she chose the seat to the right of the end, he snapped, "Ah-ah. Not that one. You do not sit there. " Hed had no control over Stefanovichs mortal whore all those years ago, but now, in his own home, he would make the rules for this human.
"Okay, okay. " She moved the place setting one spot, then sat.
With a glare, she unfolded her napkin and placed it on her lap, then spooned portions onto her plate. As she began her meal, taking dainty bites of various dishes, he noted that her table manners werent as crude as hed expected.
She chose that moment to lift a forkful of foie gras, letting it plop back to its plate. "What is this?"
"Its not the provincial fare youre accustomed to, but youll make do. "
"Im full. "
Her meal was barely touched. "Eat. More. "
When she began nibbling the garnish, he said, "Thats parsley. "
"Only thing I recognize. "
"Eat more of everything else. "
After a pause that would have gotten others gutted, she cut into a succulent lobster tail, took a hesitant bite, then furtively spat it into her napkin.
Two things struck him. Shed never had lobster; the foolish chit didnt like lobster. Even he remembered the taste of it.
The salmon fared no better. Soon thered be more food in her napkin than in her stomach.
"The meal smells delicious, or at least it would to a human," he said. "Especially one who could eat a horse. Do you challenge me yet again?"
"I was born and raised on a mountain. Then I went to prison. Ive never eaten food like this. Fancy seafood like this. If you wanted me to eat fish, it shouldve come out of a Long John Silvers bag. "
Ah, just so. "Then eat the bread. "
She began buttering a flaky roll. "Saroya really wants me to put on weight?" When he nodded, she said, "And youre on board?"
He thought her lovely now, nearly irresistible, but he had no marked preference. More flesh meant more of what he already liked. And Saroya would be the one inhabiting the body for eternity. "If my Bride wants it, then Im in accord. "
"Alrighty, but dont say I didnt warn you, cause too much bread and my assll get huge. " She took a bite.
"You talk funny. Is your accent European?"
He rolled his eyes. "Its Russian-"
"Wait! You said bride?" Elizabeth sputtered. "You married her?"
The vampire exhaled impatiently, sitting at the head of the table. "Marriage is unnecessary to my kind. Our bond is much stronger. "
"A Bride is a vampires mate, the female meant only for him. Saroya is mine. "
Ellie processed this information-keep an open mind-then asked, "How do you know she is?"
He tilted his head in that appraising way, as if considering the pros and cons of answering her. "She blooded me. " At her questioning look, he said, "Each adult male vampire walks as the living dead until he finds his mate and she bloods him, brings him back to life. Saroya made my heart beat again, made my lungs take breath. " In a husky tone, he added, "Among other things. "
"How do you know its not me whos . . . blooded you?"
A muscle ticked in his jaw. "Because fate would not slight me so unspeakably. Id seek a noon-day sun if