Home > Into the Fire (Night Prince #4)

Into the Fire (Night Prince #4)
Author: Jeaniene Frost

Chapter 1

Flying at high speeds through a forest is less dangerous than it looks. At least, that’s what I told myself the few times I opened my eyes. Mostly, I kept them shut. Not just because it was easier to maintain my psychic link with the man we were hunting, but I also didn’t need to know how close we came to the countless trees Vlad maneuvered us around as we flew through the thickly wooded countryside.

You’ll survive if he hits one, I reminded myself. We were both vampires, so we could heal almost any injury in seconds, but I hoped I wasn’t about to find out how much it would hurt if we splatted into a tree at over a hundred miles an hour. I already knew more about pain than most people ever would, and I didn’t want to add to that repertoire.

“Is Branson still in the manor?” Vlad said, raising his voice so the wind couldn’t snatch away his words.

I ran my fingers over the belt buckle I’d been holding on to this entire time. It had once belonged to Branson, and Branson was in league with Vlad’s nephew/stepson/new worst enemy, Mircea. We’d been looking for Mircea for months, yet had come up empty. Branson was our best lead on him, and soon we’d find out exactly what Branson knew about Mircea.

I concentrated on the essence trail that Branson had imprinted upon the belt buckle until it sharpened my inner focus. Once I had followed it back to its source, my surroundings changed, taking on the look of an odd double exposure. Part of me saw the forest we flew through while the rest of me saw a long, ornate room with high ceilings and tall, fancy paintings lining both sides of the walls.

“Yes. He’s pacing now, and he keeps checking his cell phone.”

I felt Vlad’s chuckle as it vibrated against my forehead, and it held the distinct undercurrent of a predator’s growl. “He won’t be waiting long for my reply.”

With that, we broke through the tree line. I dropped my link so I could see the imposing structure I’d only glimpsed before through my psychic connection. The large house was made entirely of gray stone, with the main building over two stories high and ancient lookout towers over the formal entryway. The tall trees hid the city beyond, and the vast grounds kept the other views of civilization away, making it look as if we’d been dropped back in time several hundred years.

Since Vlad had been born in the fourteen hundreds, he ought to feel right at home in this medieval setting. Since I was only twenty-six, I didn’t.

Vlad slowed down, dropping us onto the manicured part of the lawn that surrounded the fortress. “Stay here,” he said, striding toward the entrance.

I caught up to him instead. “What part of ‘we do this together’ did you translate as ‘leave Leila behind’?” I hissed, keeping my voice down since we weren’t the only ones with supernatural hearing.

His aura broke through his inner shields. Even though he’d released only a sliver of his power, it still felt as if I’d just gotten subconsciously scalded. If I were anyone else, I’d be terrified at pissing off the legendary Vlad Tepesh, meaning “Impaler,” aka Dracula, aka don’t-ever-call-him-Dracula-if-you-want-to-live, but I was Mrs. Vlad Dracul, thank you very much. Uncrowned prince of darkness or no, Vlad wasn’t pulling this crap with me.

“We can fight about it until Branson hears us, or we can get him together quietly,” I went on, narrowing my eyes. “Your choice.”

The high-arched portico covering the fortress’s main entrance suddenly exploded, jetting out fire and pieces of stone. I ducked from instinct, but Vlad walked right toward the burning chaos, the fire parting to let him pass.

“Does that answer your question?” he asked.

Before I could respond, a wall of fire sprang up, spreading until it encompassed the entire castle. Guess he’d changed his mind about being stealthy. Worse, now I couldn’t follow him. Unlike Vlad, I wasn’t fireproof.

“That’s cheating!” I shouted. No need to talk softly now.

I thought I heard him laugh, but between the roar of the fire and the cracking of stone from the crumpling entryway, I couldn’t be sure. Damn Vlad and his archaic ideas about women in combat. He’d rather I be under heavy guard back at his castle in Romania. I probably would be, if an enemy hadn’t blown up his castle and kidnapped me from its rubble months ago. Otherwise, Vlad would never have agreed to go back on his no-wife-allowed-on-killing-missions rule.

Or, I thought, eyeing the wall of fire that only he could pass through, it seemed he’d only partially gone back on it. My teeth ground. I could stand here and seethe, or I could make myself useful. Besides, revenge was a dish best served cold, and I would get him back. I just had to wait until everything around me wasn’t on fire.

I rubbed the belt buckle again, seeking the essence imprint. Once I had it, my surroundings changed into the richly furnished room that our quarry was still standing in. Branson wasn’t looking at his phone anymore. He was staring out the window in horror at flames that leapt all the way up to the roof. Branson knew only one vampire in the world could control fire this way, and it was the same vampire that he’d been caught betraying.

Then Branson ran, which I expected, but he didn’t head for the door. Instead, he pressed a panel near one of the room’s many paintings. A hidden door swung open, and he darted inside a steel-lined room and closed the door before I could mentally switch channels.

Branson has a panic room! I sent to Vlad once I was tuned in to him.

Vlad paused on his way up a long, curved staircase, giving an amused glance toward the second floor.

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