Next thing he knew, that’s all his mind could ponder. Sex. His first time, and he was so glad it had been with her. Someone who understood him, who knew what he’d gone through, what he was still going through. Some one who didn’t judge him and liked being with him.
“I will not talk to you about him,” a woman’s familiar voice suddenly said. “I can’t.”
And yet, there she was. From the corner of his eye, he watched Victoria’s mother twirl in front of him, her black robe dancing at her ankles. For a moment, he wondered if she were a vision courtesy of Tucker, if she had been an illusion all along. If Vlad had told Demon Boy what Edina looked liked and Tucker had taken things from there, just to drive Aden insane.
But, no. The first time the flashes came, Tucker had been with Mary Ann. Not even the demon could be in two places at once, causing problems. At the hospital, Aden had wondered if Edina appeared at times Victoria would have been—was—thinking of her. Now, he discarded that idea, too. She’d made no mention of the woman, and she would have.
What suddenly seemed most likely was his ingestion of Victoria’s blood. He’d drank from her—twice—and he still hadn’t mind-merged with her. What if this was the way their blood connection would manifest from now on?
No one else appeared in the vision, and he didn’t hear the response to Edina’s refusal to “talk about him,” but she said, “No. No! I love him, and that’s all you need to know. I’m running away with him, but I can’t take you with us, darling. Your father might let me go, but he would never let you go. He’s proven that, hasn’t he?”
She was going to leave her kid behind? Victoria behind?
She probably assumed he was listening to the souls, and he didn’t correct her.
“I’ll write you every day, my darling,” Edina said. A ray of sunlight burst through the thick cloud cover and shone directly on her. Like the dust motes around her, she wavered. “I promise.”
“Be my brave little Vicki, and tell your father I’m in my room if he asks where I am.”
Vicki. Victoria. Yeah. Aden’s stomach rolled in tune with the motes as his understanding of his girlfriend deepened. No wonder she’d used her Voice Voodoo so much. Chaos had always surrounded her. Telling humans what to do had been her way of taking charge, of finally eliciting the results she wanted.
In a snap, the vision changed. This time, the rest of the world faded away, black walls closing in around him. No time to react. Above him was a mirrored ceiling, below him a shiny onyx floor.
He lost his connection to his own body, found himself looking through someone else’s eyes. Victoria’s eyes. He knew this sensation very well.
Just in front of him, a man Aden could only assume was Vlad the Impaler sat on a gold embossed throne. Wow, the guy was impressive. Before, all Aden had seen of him were charred remains. Now, the vampire king was a hulking, towering figure of strength, even sitting down.
He had a thick crop of black hair and eyes so blue they were like sapphires burning in a ceaseless fire. Fine lines branched from the corners of those eyes, and rather than age him, they painted an expression of determination and cruelty. His lips were a thin slash, stained crimson and twisted ruthlessly. A scar ran from the arch of one dark brow all the way to a stubborn chin.
Girls would consider him handsome, Aden supposed, in a psycho-killer kind of way. Vlad had wide shoulders, his torso bared and roped with muscle. There was a ring on each of his fingers, making him a man assured of his own masculinity. He wore fawn-colored breeches that molded to his legs and boots that tied all the way up to his knees.
“You dare to challenge me?” Though Vlad spoke in a language Aden had never heard before, he had no trouble understanding because Victoria understood. “Well, I accept.” He stood. Tall…taller…a giant of a man and solid muscle.
The vampire he spoke to was just as tall and just as muscled. “I did not doubt you would.”
Around them was a crowd of people, watching, tense, barely breathing. Except for one man. Sorin, Victoria’s brother. He stood just below the dais where the throne rested, and he was shaking his head in resignation.
Victoria was a few feet away from him. Her gaze skidded over a mirror, and Aden saw that she was a little girl, perhaps two years older than she’d been in the vision of the whipping. Her mother stood on her other side, tears streaking her cheeks, her features tight with fear.
There’d been no hint of Victoria’s emotions revealed in her reflection. She clutched her mother’s hand, however, her knuckles leaching of color. She might have looked calm, but she was a mess of nerves inside and too afraid to let go.
“Excellent choice.” Vlad glided down the stairs to the floor. “When? Where?”
A nod of satisfaction. “We are of one mind, then.”
Someone from the crowd threw a sword at Vlad and a sword at his opponent. Both caught the weapons with ease. A second later, the man lunged forward, throwing himself into the fight.
Vlad stood completely still. Until, just before the man reached him, he turned, a blur of motion, and slashed.
Blood and guts spilled all over the floor.
The man dropped to his knees, gasping, gurgling, his eyes wide. He clutched at his middle, not yet grasping the depths of his swift defeat. Without breaking a sweat or moving a step, Vlad struck a second time, and off went the man’s head.
“Anyone else?” Vlad asked, buffing his nails on the waist of his pants. “It would be my pleasure to fight any of you.”
Edina burst into sobs and rushed from the room, leaving her little girl behind. A little girl who was shaking as her father turned the force of his displeasure on her.
“Why did you not stop her? ’Tis her lover in pieces on the floor. A man you would have called Father, I am sure. A man you wanted to call Father.”
“I will hear no excuses or false denials from you.” He waved a hand through the air. “Go. Take the head and place it on a pike. The task is yours, and you will complete it or find yourself resting beside him.”
Her trembling increased as she rushed to obey, wading through things no child should ever encounter.
Aden’s first thought had nothing to do with Vlad, fighting Vlad or having no hope of winning against a man like that. His mind concentrated solely on Victoria. Knowing she had endured this undid him.
He wanted to run to the girl she’d been, whisk her away, protect her from such horrors. The man who’d just been gutted was the man Edina had attempted to run away with, leaving her daughter behind. The daughter who then had to clean up her mother’s mess. Literally.
His poor Victoria. Once he would have placed good money on the fact that no one could have a childhood worse than his. Hers had been, though. In comparison, he’d been raised in heaven by doting angels.
The scene disappeared, there one minute, a cloud of vapor the next.
“Aden,” Victoria whispered, shaking him into the present. “Someone’s coming.”
He rapid-fire blinked into focus as the front door of the house creaked open, Tonya peeking out. He hadn’t summoned her, yet here she was. Checking to make sure he was gone most likely, but whatever. He’d take what he could get.
“What do you want?” she snapped when she spotted him. She didn’t step out on the porch, but kept the screen between them. “Why won’t you leave?”
Aden unfolded from the swing. “My friends visited you, asked you about your husband—”
“Yes, and I told the girl not to return.”
“Sorry, but I have nothing to say to you, either.”
She made to close the door, and that’s when Aden caved. Sick of waiting, sick of questions without answers and no longer willing to view his new gift as a curse, he said, “Leave the door open,” putting all of his want into the words.
Victoria had loved her Voice Voodoo, but she’d given it up. For him. Aden wouldn’t make light of that anymore.
Tonya’s eyes immediately glazed over, and she left the door alone.
Victoria stood beside him and twined their fingers, offering comfort.
“Your brother-in-law died, and he left no family behind. Do you have any photographs of him? Any personal effects?”
“Tell her to tell you,” Victoria instructed.
“Tell me what I wish to know,” he added, wanting it, wanting it so badly.
“I—” Though Tonya’s eyes were still glazed, she found the strength to deny him. “I can’t tell you.”
A frowning Victoria shook her head. “That’s impossible. You have to tell him. He commanded you to. I don’t know anything, but even I want to obey him.”
Slowly Aden disengaged from Victoria and approached Tonya, doing his best not to spook her. Tonya remained in place. Though he was younger than she was, he was taller, a lot taller, and he had to look down…down…to meet that still-glazed stare. That’s when he saw something besides a glassy sheen swimming in those gray depths. Something dark, like a shadow.
Julian saw it, too, and gasped in dismay. What is that?
“Don’t know.” Aden drew on every ounce of his need for answers. He let that need churn in his voice box, until his throat nearly steamed from the burn of it, before speaking again. “You will tell me what I want to know, Tonya Smart. Now.”
The shadows coagulated, then broke apart and scattered, and Tonya relaxed a little. “Yes. I do have photographs and personal effects.”