"Bloody show hound," I grumbled. "How arrogant."
"Bones, I must insist that you behave," Mencheres warned, slowing down the vehicle. "You will not start a feud with Vlad. If she does not wish to come with you, you should not begin a fight with him."
I snorted and gestured to the guards on the roof of the building.
"Whatever you say, Mencheres, but could you do something about them?"
"Of course," said my grandsire, and waved his hand. As one the guards were lifted into the air, their weapons parting company with them.
Inside I heard a mad scrambling, and a single heartbeat stutter, then pick up at almost double speed. Cat.
"Stay here." That was Tespesh's voice barking. A mental swell of protest emanated from Cat, bearing insults that I would have applauded any other time. But her thoughts cut off abruptly, and I saw through her eyes an image of the floating guards.
After a moment, the show hound muttered "Mencheres."
I felt more than heard as Cat froze where she was, her mind careening to a halt. Her heart rate picked up, and her chest tightened. In fear? Not quite, although it was very similar.
"Stay here," Tepesh said again, softer this time. "I'll find out what he wants."
I snorted and stepped out of the car with Mencheres, striding to the large front doors. I sneered inwardly at the tacky dragon door knockers even as I all but threw them against the doors. Moments later, the door opened, and the crusty old vampire stood in the doorway.
"Mencheres. You are welcome in my home and may enter. You—" I heard the heartbeat stutter upstairs at the venom in his voice, likely guessing why it was there—may not."
I laughed, low and condescending. Upstairs, I heard a slight creak as I believe Cat gripped something a little more tightly than it preferred.
"Tepesh, I've come a long damned way to get here, and pretty as your little dragon door knockers are, I don't fancy spending more time outside admiring them."
Mencheres, ever the tactful, diplomatic one, spoke to Vlad patiently.
"Vlad, you know I cannot allow you to forbid entry to the co-ruler of my line. To do so would insult me as well, and I know you don't mean to do that."
"Let my men down," growled Tepesh.
"Of course," responded Mencheres, and several thumps followed the men falling to the ground. Any other time, I may have been amused.
"Very well, come in" he said, his tone that of a petulant child's. "But you'll abuse my hospitality if you venture even a foot up those stairs, and we both know who I'm talking to."
I followed Mencheres inside, laughing again, rudely.
"Really, mate, you're like a hound fretting over his scraps." I at least deserved that quip, all things being considered. "Careful you don't unwittingly combust, or you'll ruin this fetching imitation Persian rug."
Mencheres shot me a warning look, which I ignored. I was just itching for an excuse to have at it with the bloody Romanian Prince. He must have known he'd have it coming.
"And I have had enough of your comments about my home!" he thundered. A few sparks shot from his hands. "What do you want, not that you stand a fuck-all chance of getting it, mate."
I sensed alarm leaking through well-built shields upstairs, as well as suspicion, and curiosity. Clearly she was wondering why I was so enjoying getting her friend riled up.
"I'm here for Cat," I said evenly, proud of myself for keeping the longing from both my voice and my scent.
Emotion crested in the mind upstairs, almost dizzying with its intensity. Anger, hope, denial, sadness. Then, just as stumbling in its effect, it vanished. Locked behind another impenetrable shield.
"If she doesn't want to see you, then you've wasted your time," Tepesh barked, a clear challenge.
Indecision flashed for just a moment, and it wasn't mine.
"You misunderstand Tepesh. I'm not here to see her. I'm taking her with me."
"I'll fry you where you stand," Tepesh rumbled. With a whooshing sound, scarlet flames burst into being on his arms, crackling and smoking.
I drew two knives from my belt and drew them across each other. A thump upstairs told me that someone had just been shoved aside.
"Try it, show dog," I hissed.
All three of us whipped around to look at the source of the voice at the top of the stairs. Bright, scarlet red hair. Flawless skin, with just a hint of the ethereal, vampiric glow. Large, steel gray eyes that revealed nothing. I fought to keep my hands from trembling slightly. I'd missed her. So much, it hurt. But she wasn't about to know that. Fabian drifted behind her, looking anxious.
Her stormy gaze took in first Tepesh's flaming arms, then my knives, then Mencheres, and finally flickered to me. I'd gotten a haircut since she'd last seen me, and it was cropped close to my head now. I looked at her with a hooded gaze, and something flashed across her face, too fast for me to be sure what it was. The only scent that hung around her was the hot, bitter scent of anger, and I was sure that was intentional.
"What do you think you're doing?" she demanded. Her voice was cold. That was the hardest thing to hear.
"Getting you," I responded, and raised an eyebrow in a silent dare.
The angry scent around her spiked and thickened. She narrowed her eyes.
"And what if I don't want to be gotten?"
I looked between her and Tepesh, then gave a menacing smile that was more a baring of teeth.
"Then, as his guest, Tepesh will feel honor-bound to defend you. That means he and I will have to fight, and he's quite brassed off already. I reckon he'll try to burn me to ashes straightaway. Of course, that's if I don't rip his heart open with silver first." Personally, a selfish part of me hoped that she would refuse to come, just so that I would have the pleasure of doing exactly what I said. "So, if you refuse to come with me, one of us will be dead in the next few minutes. Or, you can come along and we'll both live."
Tepesh ground out a curse that rose Cat's eyebrows before she turned to me.
"Are you fucking serious? We've already been over this—you left me. Now you're about to fight to the death over me? What the hell kind of game is this?" she demanded furiously.
"No game, luv," I answered. "Just retrieving what's mine. You might want to decide soon. Vlad looks as though he's about to explode."
She glanced over at Tepesh. I hadn't been exaggerating. The ancient Prince did indeed look ready to detonate at any moment.
"You come into my home to blackmail my friend?" he snarled, the fire licking all the way up to his shoulders. "I'll—"
Tepesh threw an incredulous look at Cat. She reached out, completely ignoring the fire on his hands. A flicker of anger sparked in my chest at the gesture, and at the fact that the flames on his hands faded so that he could take her outstretched hand.
"Don't," she said. "I couldn't…"
I caught a couple words that she undoubtedly only want Tepesh to hear. Couldn't…something…happened…
A few of her thoughts—shadows, really—leaked out of her mind again, but I caught the gist of it. She was furious with me as sure as hell was for the damned, and she'd like to burn me a bit herself. But she wasn't about to stand by and watch either me or Vlad get killed because of stubborn testosterone.
Clearly she understood from the look in my eyes that if it came to a fight between Vlad and I, I wouldn't strike to wound.
Tepesh tugged on his beard. The look he gave me may have frightened someone of less experience than I, but I just smiled mockingly.
"I won't forget this."
"I certainly hope you don't."
Scowling, Cat brushed past both of us, and if I had been human, my own heart may have jumped at the feather-light touch of our shoulders.
"Are you coming, or not?" she said, already outside.
"Of course," I answered.
She didn't wait for me, instead taking the arm that my Grandsire offered her. Fabian trailed after them as they walked out to the car.
"Love your home," I told Vlad with a scornful bow, before heading out after the others.
His response was hurled at my back, and I smirked even as Cat shook her head in front of me. She raked a hand through her crimson hair.
It was a half an hour before Cat spoke, taking off the headphones I'd given her right when she got in the car.
"What the hell do you think you were doing? Vlad may have burned you to nothing more than a smear on his floor if I hadn't gone with you."
I snorted, momentarily both amused and exasperated. There she went again, with her irritating habit of forgetting that, as a Master vampire, I was more than capable of taking care of myself. Then again, would I ever have fallen in love with her, if she had been any different than she was? Which was protective, crazy, and completely irrational.
"I didn't doubt your actions for a moment. You've never been able to turn down playing the hero to rescue me."
I was allowed that quip, when one considered what she had put me through by continuously doing just that. I don't think it was any accident that the word Bastard slipped from behind her shields, as well as a slew of conflicting, maddening emotions that I wished heartily I could read the reasons behind. Not that I couldn't guess.
"You'll regret this," she sighed, settling back in her seat. Just like I will.
I snorted again, not bothering to glance back at her.
"I don't doubt that either, Kitten."
But there are so many things I regret more.