MY WICKED VAMPIRE
The Castle of Dark Dreams series, Book 4

July 10, 2017
Spiceland Press

eBook ISBN: 978-0983749271
Print ISBN: 978-0983749288

Original release:
September 2009
Dorchester
ISBN-10: 084395955X
ISBN-13: 978-0843959550

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The Castle of Dark Dreams has it all: nightly fantasies, a homicidal goddess, and a hot vampire.

Cinn expects the fantasies. After all, the Castle is one of the attractions in a theme park for people who want to act out their hidden desires. The naked vampire chained to the wall of the dungeon seems a bit much, though. Sure, he’s breathtaking. If he didn’t scare her witless, he could absolutely fuel a thousand fantasies. But dreams of sexy vampires will have to wait, because a ticked-off goddess is searching for her. Why?

Dacian is a vampire with anger issues. Not a great combination. He has come to the Castle of Dark Dreams to search for his brother. Instead, he meets Cinn. She’s a distraction he doesn’t need. But then, love would always be a complication in his violent existence.

Both Cinn and Dacian have powerful enemies. It only makes sense that they join forces to fight them. She soon learns that getting close to the most dangerously sensual man she’s ever met brings its own risks. Because even a woman with a name that conjures up images of forbidden pleasure has a lot to learn from…

MY WICKED VAMPIRE

 

 


 
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Prologue

"Freaking."

"Pain in the ass."

"Vampire."

Ganymede punctuated each comment by heaving another shovelful of hard-as-concrete West Texas dirt over his shoulder. What the hell was he doing here when he should be home watching whatever crappy movie was on TV and finishing off that carton of Rocky Road ice cream?

"She couldn't send me out to dig up his undead carcass on a warm sunny day. No, it had to be in January in the middle of a bitchin' blizzard." He hauled back his foot and kicked the empty coffin waiting by the open grave. It flew through the air and landed among a pile of boulders a hundred yards away. Snow immediately started to cover it. "The hell with a coffin. I should just drag him out of his Motel Dead and dump him into the light. Then I could warm my toes by the bonfire his burning butt made."

A really entertaining thought, but not doable. Sparkle wouldn't see the humor when he brought back a pile of ashes in her nice new coffin.

He went back to digging... until he broke his third shovel in the hard ground. He hurled the pieces after the coffin. He was the most powerful cosmic troublemaker in the universe, and damn it, cosmic troublemakers never did the grunt work. They had magic or minions for that. But here he was, in human form and digging this guy up.

"How'd you do it, Dacian?"

Night feeders didn't dazzle with their awesome supernatural skills. They were the pissants of the vampire world. So where did this one get the mojo to keep paranormal power from working near his hidey-hole?

"You're testing my kind and generous nature, bloodsucker." By now he was snarling each word. If it weren't for Dacian's damn protective ward, he could sit at the top of the hill and blow a football-field-sized crater right here and wipe out the problem along with any evidence he had ever existed. The thought of violence made Ganymede feel all warm and fuzzy for a minute, and then he exhaled deeply as he picked up another shovel.

And all for a woman. But what a woman. She'd owe him for this. Big-time. He smiled at the thought of how he'd collect. Then he yanked his hood forward to block out more of the driving snow and dug faster.

Finally, he stopped to glance at his watch. Plenty of time before the bloodsucker rose. Even ancient night feeders—not that many of them survived long enough to qualify—couldn't rise before full dark.

He leaned on his shovel. Damn, he was sucking wind. He'd gotten soft lying around the Castle of Dark Dreams, watching TV and chowing down on chips and dip.

Okay, only a few more shovelfuls and he'd be able to jerk Dacian's undead ass out of his grave. He went over to retrieve the coffin. Once the vampire was inside, he'd nail down the lid so he wouldn't have to put up with any crap on the way back to Galveston.

A minute later, with a final grunt of effort, he flung the last shovelful of dirt out of the hole he'd dug...

And found himself staring into the wide-open eyes of one really pissed bloodsucker.

Oh, shit!


 

Chapter One

"We're all about team at the Castle of Dark Dreams, Cinn." Sparkle seemed to think that needed an explanation. "A year ago those words wouldn't have passed my lips. I only cared about sex, clothes, and manipulating other people. I was a 'me' kind of person." She smiled wistfully. "Those were the good old days." She stopped smiling. "Forget I said that. Anyway, then I almost lost the love of my life, Mede. Something like that changes a person. I decided he deserved a honey who was more caring, less self-absorbed, someone worthy of him. So now I'm totally committed to the team, and I'm as happy as I can be."

Cinn could've sworn Sparkle forced that last sentence through clenched teeth.

"You're one of us now, so it's time you met the team managers." Sparkle glanced at her watch. "The guys will be here any moment. They make sure the castle runs smoothly. Of course, I'm the team owner, so I have the final say." She sipped her drink as she watched the entrance to Wicked Fantasy from her perch on a bar stool. She crossed her legs and her short black dress rode higher on her smooth thighs. Every man in the club inhaled at the same time.

Cinn tried not to think too hard about the weirdness of having a boss named Sparkle Stardust. She concentrated instead on the ordinary. This was a small intimate club in a fake castle. The fake castle was part of an adult theme park dedicated to fulfilling fantasies. There were a pirate ship, a Wild West Main Street, and a bunch of other settings that encouraged role-playing. It was just a Disney World for grown-ups. A clever marketing idea, but it didn't wander far from ordinary.

While she contemplated the complete ordinariness of her new job, three men entered the club. Two of them were so gorgeous they could bring tears to the eyes of the most dedicated man-hater. The third? Not so much. His blue robe decorated with gold moons, stars, and assorted other celestial bodies matched his tall conical blue hat. The hat added about a foot to his height, so he didn't look too much shorter than the others. Okay, she got it. The castle was for role-playing, so he was either a customer who liked to live his role or the castle's resident wacky wizard.

She forced her attention back to Sparkle and the team thing. "The team concept is great, but come on, I work with plants, Sparkle. What's the point? Plants don't have team spirit. We're loners. We don't do group activities."

Sparkle raised one perfectly shaped brow. "Now you're scaring me, sister. We? Please don't tell me you're one with your plants."

"No, but what I meant was that I won't be working with anyone. It'll just be me and my plants out there in that little greenhouse you set up. Oh, and thanks for connecting it to one of the kitchen doors so I don't have to run between the raindrops in bad weather."

Sparkle's amazing amber eyes widened. "Wherever did you get the idea that you'll be working alone? I'm sure lots of people will be fascinated by your plants. They already love Jessica and Sweetie Pie." She slid the tip of her tongue over her full bottom lip as she reached back with both hands to run her fingers through her heavy fall of red hair.

The bartender's Adam's apple bobbed at warp speed as he watched the lift and thrust.

"The castle is a hotel as well as a place to role-play. Hordes of guests will be interested once they find out what your plants can do." Sparkle grew thoughtful. "I bet mobs of tourists will sign up for a tour of your greenhouse. You can give them a brief rundown of your plants' talents."

"Hordes? Mobs?" Cinn went into panic mode. "Wait. I thought I was just here to develop a few plants with interesting traits for the castle. I didn't think I'd have to talk to anyone."

Sparkle's expression hinted she was doing a few mental eye-rolls. "I told you that Jessica and Sweetie Pie were huge hits. Everyone will want plants like them in their rooms. Get over your hermit complex, for heaven's sake. You're brilliant. Revel in it. Milk it for all the attention you can get."

Damn. Cinn opened her mouth to argue over her job description, but before she could get a word out, the three men she'd seen enter a moment ago reached the bar.

"Let's go somewhere a little more private." The one with the thick tawny hair jerked his thumb toward an empty corner table.

The guy was big. Toe-to-toe, Cinn would have to look up a long way to meet his gaze. Not that meeting his gaze was on her to-do list. His eyes were the same shade of amber as Sparkle's and had the same predatory gleam. But that was where the similarity ended.

Cinn would bet that Sparkle hunted men for a whole different reason than the guy staring at her now. He wore a short-sleeved T-shirt that exposed a grim reaper tattoo on one muscular bicep. It fit. She wouldn't want him hunting her.

Sparkle didn't argue. She slid from the bar stool and motioned for Cinn to follow her. Even though her boss hadn't said a word, Cinn got the feeling that Sparkle wasn't a huge fan of Mr. Big-Bad-and-Scary. Strange. She'd swear it wasn't team spirit zinging back and forth between these two.

Before Cinn could slide from her stool, strong hands lifted her and placed her firmly on the floor. She gasped and turned to look at the man beside her. "Thanks, I..." Forget the first man. Now this was wicked in its most basic form.

He smiled, a flash of white teeth in a face otherwise dedicated to darkness. She didn't know why she thought that. His eyes were deep blue, framed by long sooty lashes. His mouth was a sensual treat. She didn't usually notice men's mouths, but his was hard to ignore. And his face... What to say about it? His features were beautiful, and all that smoky-dark hair framing his face made it... not real? Dumb thought. Of course it was real. She was staring at it. But something hungry crouching behind all that beauty made her uneasy. Evil wearing that face would be deadly.

"You're the plant lady." His voice was warm and welcoming with a touch of sinister hiding in the bushes.

As she let him guide her to the corner table, she decided that his voice could convince sane women to do insane things.

Once seated, Cinn watched all of them watch her. The wizard leaned forward. She'd bet he intimidated lots of people with his narrowed gray eyes and long pointed gray beard.

"You, madam, are a pervert." He glared at Cinn.

Cinn blinked.

"Oh, stuff it, Holgarth." Sparkle sounded more resigned than shocked.

The wizard didn't back off. "You take perfectly nice plants and turn them into cheap voyeurs feeding on sleazy sex."

Okay, he'd gone too far. Cinn didn't look for trouble, but an attack on her plants brought out every one of her maternal instincts. "Now I know why you wear that hat. It's the only one that'll fit your pointy head." Fine, so she was acting immature, but this man triggered her inner brat. "If you knew anything, you'd know I expand my plants' horizons. I give each plant more options in life than just growing and dying." She dismissed him with an angry huff. "Some of them probably have higher IQs than you, but then that wouldn't be much of a stretch."

"Sleazy sex?" Sparkle hadn't gotten past those words yet. "I can't believe you said that, Holgarth. I've experienced some amazing sleazy sex."

Holgarth sniffed. "I'm sure you have." He turned his attention back to Cinn. "As the attorney for Live the Fantasy, I've advised Sparkle against turning mutant plants loose in the park. They're a lawsuit waiting to happen."

"Mutant plants?" This guy was Sparkle's lawyer?

"Exactly. Leafy savages capable of inflicting mental anguish on unsuspecting guests. And I wear many different hats, Ms. Airmid. I also oversee the managing of the castle." The threat was implicit—Work here and I'll make your life miserable.

"Look, we're wasting time." The guy with the grim reaper tattoo glanced at his watch. "Someone, somewhere needs to die, and I have to make sure it happens. So let's get the intro over. I'm Edge."

He reached across the table and offered his hand. Cinn automatically took it even though she was still trying to make sense of what he'd just said. His large hand engulfed hers. A little more pressure and he'd snap a few bones. He evidently wasn't in a bone-snapping mood tonight, because he released her. She dropped her hands into her lap, where she tried to rub away the numbness.

"Sparkle will fill you in on the details." Rising, he strode from the club.

"I'm Cinn..." Her voice trailed off. He couldn't hear her. She turned to Sparkle. "What did he mean by—?"

"That Edge, always joking." Sparkle's laughter sounded forced.

Doubts poked at Cinn's determination to make this job work. The offer had seemed like a great idea when Sparkle made it. With her family all in Oregon, Texas seemed like the perfect place to escape from their constant visits. She was tired of fending off demands that she abandon her experiments and fall in with family tradition. Airmids had always worked with plants, but not the way she did. Generations of Airmids had become horticulturalists, run landscaping businesses, and owned ordinary greenhouses.

Cinn was the exception, the only one who dared to tweak Mother Nature's nose by developing plants that went beyond accepted plant behavior. Mother Nature would eventually bring her hammer down, or at least that's what Cinn's family thought.

"Well, now that you've met Edge, we can move on to Bain." Sparkle's determined cheerfulness was fraying around the edges.

Bain smiled, and Cinn's train of thought derailed.

"Unlike Edge, I don't have places to be and things to do."

The sensual twist of those lips promised that if he did have things to do, they'd be a lot more interesting than what Edge had in mind.

Cinn grasped at something she understood, something familiar. "Intriguing name. The baneberry is an herb with poisonous berries. That's why bane means something that causes death or destruction." And here she'd promised herself she wouldn't bore people with plant stuff. But she refused to feel guilt. She'd bet this man could turn most women into babbling idiots.

He seemed to be giving her comment serious thought. "Different spelling. I spell my name with an a-i-n. Death and destruction, huh?" The idea evidently amused him, because his smile widened. "I like your spelling better."

What did he mean by that?

He leaned back in his chair. "I think your name's a lot more interesting than mine, though. How can a man resist a woman named Sin?"

If any other man handed her that line—and they had—she'd pencil him into her uncreative-jerk column. But there was something about the way the word sin rolled off his tongue, as though it were a gooey chocolate treat, one that he'd savor slowly and then lick off his fingers so he wouldn't miss one drop. It was that kind of feeling. She took a deep breath and tried to wipe the image from her mind. You couldn't tell anything about a man from the way he said one word. Could you?

She handed his answer back to him. "Different spelling. I spell my name with a c and two n's."

"So Cinn is short for...?"

"Cinnamon." She wanted to relax and smile, but she was having trouble doing both, with the chocolate image still clogging up her brain.

Sparkle tapped an impatient rhythm on the table with one shiny red nail. "Fine, so you're both named after herbs or spices or whatever. Awesome. Let's move on."

Cinn chose to ignore her. She was still focused on Bain. His lips and eyes weren't on the same page. Once again she was sure those gorgeous eyes hid darkness, a darkness completely separate from the polite interest he was showing in her. "My parents named my sisters and me after healing plants—Ginger, Belladonna, Willow, and me."

He tilted his head to study her. "Belladonna? Nightshade. Deadly."

"And also a medicinal extract." For the first time during this little meet-and-greet session, Cinn managed a sincere smile. "Many things wear two opposing faces." And if he took that personally, so be it.

His gaze sharpened and then his smile widened into the real deal. No hidden messages or sensual signals. "Very perceptive, Cinn. We'll get along fine." He glanced at his watch. "I lied. I do have someplace to be. I'm acting in the first fantasy."

Sparkle nodded absently, not even bothering to watch as he left. She was staring at Holgarth. "What's wrong? Only a few halfhearted insults? So not like you."

Holgarth took a moment to straighten his hat before answering. "You're right, of course. I have more serious things to think about than a woman who grows plants that feed on sexual energy." He exhaled wearily. "I'm considering retirement, Sparkle."

Sparkle sighed as though Holgarth was heading down a well-worn path. "You just won't let it go. Get this through your head: Ike wasn't your fault. This was a hurricane so huge it almost filled the Gulf of Mexico. Even you can't stop a force of nature that massive. You did what you could."

"That's precisely the point. I couldn't do enough. I saved the castle, but I couldn't help Bolivar Peninsula." Holgarth closed his eyes as if in pain. "I couldn't save the Balinese Room. All wiped away." He shook his head. "I heard Frank Sinatra sing at the Balinese Room." His hat slid to the side, but he didn't straighten it. "It was my pride. I thought I could do it all. I should have called in Ganymede to help. I'm too old, too weak to carry on my duties as the castle's wizard."

Okay, this was officially too far out there even for Cinn. This guy wasn't joking. He thought he was a real wizard. She wondered about the contract she'd signed. Maybe she should've read it a little more closely. Was there an escape clause?

Sparkle reached across the table to put her hand over his. "Of course you're not too old. The castle would be so much less... dynamic without you."

From the little she'd seen, Cinn thought the castle would do a happy dance if Holgarth left. But that was just her.

Holgarth opened his eyes. "No, you're not changing my mind. Starting tomorrow, I'll begin interviewing possible replacements—a nearly impossible task—for my job." Pushing his chair back, he stood, wrapped his robe more tightly around him, and swept from the room.

Sparkle turned troubled eyes Cinn's way. "Hurricane Ike devastated him as well as Galveston Island. Before the storm he was so secure in his power." She sounded like she actually believed all the wizardry talk. "Now he's just a shadow of his former self. Would you believe that you're the first person he's worked up the energy to insult since the storm?"

"Yay for me." Cinn didn't know if Sparkle heard her muttered sarcasm, because her boss was already standing to leave.

"Well, the intros didn't go exactly as planned." She guided Cinn out to the hotel lobby and toward the door that would lead to the castle's great hall. Sparkle held the door open for her.

Cinn marveled at how guests could step back in time just by passing through this door. Behind it was an authentic-looking great hall complete with a massive fireplace, a long banquet table set on a dais, and stone walls covered with tapestries and ancient weapons, among other things. Customers could really get into their fantasies here. She knew from the brochure left in her room that several other areas of the castle were also reserved for fantasy sessions. Cinn hadn't been here long enough to explore anything but her room, the castle's restaurant, and Sparkle's Wicked Fantasy club.

But as exciting as everything around her was, Cinn's common sense was telling her there was something really weird going on. She needed to find somewhere else to work with her plants. "You know, now that I've had time to think, I've decided that maybe this job might not be the perfect fit for me."

Sparkle didn't seem surprised. "Look, I know the guys didn't make a great first impression, but I want you to meet one last manager. Then if you want out of your contract, you can give me the usual two-weeks' notice."

"Two weeks?" Not good. "I can still send you my plants no matter where I go, so why can't I just leave? I know you spent money on the greenhouse, but I can pay for that." Eventually. With many, many monthly payments.

"I've already put you on the castle's list of attractions. I'll need time to replace you." Sparkle attempted to look aggrieved while casting Cinn a sideways glance. "By the way, a good stylist could do wonders with your hair, and a few sexy outfits would..." Her voice faded away and she stood staring at nothing for a moment. Then she smiled as she returned her attention to Cinn. "I'm in control again. It's tough to break the habit of centu—, uh, years."

The mystery of what the hell Sparkle was talking about followed Cinn across the great hall to a dark doorway and down winding stone steps—lit only by wall sconces—that ended in a shadowy hallway. "Why wasn't this manager at the meeting?" Not that Cinn cared. She was counting on Sparkle releasing her from her contract before the two weeks were up. Then she'd get on the phone and beg for her old job back. Her family would be thrilled if she were once again close enough to harass daily.

"He has a few emotional issues right now, so he's pretty much keeping to himself." Her gaze skipped away from Cinn's. She stopped in front of a heavy wooden door. "This is the dungeon. We use it in our fantasies, but it's off limits until Dacian feels able to cope." She pulled out an old-fashioned key and shoved it into the keyhole.

This didn't sound promising. Emotional issues? Cope? Cinn noted the click of the lock. To keep Dacian in or others out? "Umm, maybe I should wait to meet him until he's feeling better."

"No, now is the right time."

Shadows played across Sparkle's face as she pushed open the door and stepped aside for Cinn to enter. Cinn barely registered Sparkle following her in, relocking the door, and then coming to stand beside her, because shock had frozen her in place.

A man was chained spread-eagled to the stone wall. No, not a man. Nothing human had fangs like that or eyes completely black with no white showing. Whatever he was, he was tall and muscular with long matted hair and wore nothing but what looked like a black silk scarf around his hips. A light sheen of sweat threw every straining muscle into relief, highlighting the scars crisscrossing his chest and stomach. Not bullet wounds. These had been slashing wounds. She shuddered.

He lifted his lips away from his fangs in a silent snarl. No need for him to make scary noises. He was already the star of her next fright fantasy.

"He's a big man." Sparkle slid her gaze the length of his body, lingering where the black scarf slowly slipped lower, inch by torturous inch. "And oh so dangerous. Dangerous men are sexy." She glanced at Cinn. "Don't you find that's true?"

Cinn's heart began beating again with a solid thunk. She turned to face Sparkle. "Okay, you got me. I bought into the reality for a moment. But if I were going to fantasize about a vampire, I'd make damn sure he looked better than that." She refused to turn to look at "that" again.

Something in Sparkle's smile made Cinn swallow hard.

"You're right. Most vampires are gorgeous, but I guess there's always the exception to the rule. Although who knows what he really looks like under all that hair, dirt, and scars? Mede brought him here directly from his grave." She moved closer to the "vampire."

"He's a little crazy right now. I hope he comes out of it soon." Sparkle sighed. "I hope he comes out of it at all. He has a brother, Taurin, who's searched for him a long time. In fact, Taurin and his wife have just finished running down another false lead."

Behind her, the fake vampire hissed, and Cinn controlled the urge to bolt. Things were getting a little too bizarre for her.

"Mede got a tip on Dacian's location three days ago and went to check it out. He showed up at the castle with Dacian a few hours ago. We're not quite sure where Taurin is right now, so we can't give him the news. Considering Dacian's condition, maybe it's better this way. Taurin and his wife will be back at the castle in a few days."

"Uh..." No words came. Sparkle wasn't joking. She was freaking serious.

"Then Mede and I will have to make a decision." Sparkle's expression said it wasn't a decision she looked forward to. "If we can get Dacian coherent and cleaned up, we'll reunite him with his brother."

"And if not?" Cinn didn't know why she was whispering. A quick glance at the guy—she would not accept that he was anything else—didn't show any awareness gleaming in those scary black eyes.

"We'll destroy him." Cold and emotionless, this was a new face of Sparkle Stardust. "Right now he's a danger to himself and anyone near him. It would devastate Taurin to see his brother like this." She shrugged. "It would be kinder to allow him to keep searching and to never find Dacian."

Cinn felt like Sparkle's words had sucked every bit of air from her lungs. Her boss was calmly discussing murder. "You can't kill him." She edged toward the door. If she escaped, she wouldn't stop running until she got to the police station.

Sparkle looked puzzled. "Of course I can't. He's already dead. I can destroy him, though. If nothing's left of his mind, it would be a kindness to Taurin and to him." She watched Cinn's slow creep to the door. "I wouldn't bother if I were you. The door's locked, and I have the key."

Cinn ignored her in favor of yanking on the door. Right. Locked. She pounded on the wood and shouted, "Help! I'm locked in here with a maniac. Someone get me out!"

"The wood's a foot thick and the room is soundproofed. No one will hear you," Sparkle offered helpfully.

Cinn abandoned the door. She pulled her cell phone from her pants pocket and blessed the habit that never allowed her to go anywhere without it. Frantically, she hit 911.

Sparkle had a patient expression pasted on her face. "You won't get a signal down here."

Cinn shoved the useless phone back into her pocket. She eyed Sparkle. The woman was taller than her, but Cinn was in good shape from digging, planting, and toting bags of fertilizer.

Sparkle smiled. "Don't even think about it, sister. You along with all your friends and family couldn't take me down. But hey, if you want to try, knock yourself out."

Cinn wanted to try. She flung herself at Sparkle. About a foot from her goal, she smacked into an invisible wall. She couldn't see it, but it was damn well there. After pounding her fists on it and delivering a few kicks that only served to hurt her toe, she backed away from Sparkle.

"Good. Now that you've gotten that out of your system, we can get down to business." Sparkle hopped onto a table with a bunch of ominous-looking straps. Crossing her legs, she motioned for Cinn to join her.

Cinn shook her head. "I'll stand." She tried to quiet her frenzied thoughts so she could think. But her mind refused to stop circling the invisible wall. "Say what you have to say so I can get out of here." She wouldn't think about the possibility that Sparkle might not intend to release her. But just in case, she scanned the area for a weapon. Whips, chains, and a bunch of other torture implements. Hmm. She could do some damage with that small ax.

Sparkle laughed. "Give it up, Cinn. The only real things in here are the chains keeping Dacian from trying to suck us dry."

Cinn slanted a quick glance at Dacian. Who knew that eyes so black could look like they were burning? She swore she could almost see the flames behind his enraged glare.

"So here's the deal. Yes, vampires do exist, along with lots of other nonhumans. Edge and I are cosmic troublemakers. My specialty is creating sexual chaos throughout the universe. Edge is the cosmic troublemaker in charge of death. You can guess what he does. Bain is a demon, and yes, Holgarth is a real wizard." She held up her hand to stop Cinn from interrupting. "Let me finish."

Cinn had no intention of interrupting. No way could she talk with her jaw dragging on the floor.

"I sense a kindred spirit in you." Sparkle dangled one lethal-looking stiletto from her toe as she swung her leg back and forth.

"I don't think so." Somehow Cinn had ended up between Sparkle the psycho and Dacian the undead. At least Dacian was in chains, so she took a step back toward him.

"Cinn, Cinn." Sparkle shook her head. "Self-deception is always sad." She leaned forward.

Cinn took another step back. She thought about the weird things that Edge, Bain, and Holgarth had said. Now Sparkle seemed just as crazy. Mass delusions? Uh, remember the invisible wall? Felt sort of real. Nope, couldn't be real. She slammed shut the door in her mind that might be open to possibilities and folded her arms under her breasts to keep her pounding heart from leaping out of her chest and bouncing around the dungeon. How the hell was she going to get out of here?

Sparkle laughed, a soft husky sound that right now seemed pretty threatening to Cinn.

"Calm down. All I want you to do is to hear me out and then think about what I said. I intended to do the big reveal gradually so I wouldn't scare you to death, but now that you want to quit I don't have a choice. When I'm finished with what I have to say, you can leave the room."

Sparkle tried to look harmless, but Cinn figured Sparkle never had a harmless minute in her life. "Fine. Spit it out and then I'm out of here." Right now her pushy family was looking good.

As Cinn waited for Sparkle to spout more lunacy, she felt a tentative fluttering in her mind. It was questioning and unsure, but it was a definite presence. Vince? Was it possible? Had he sensed her fear over the distance between the dungeon and the greenhouse? Had her fear finally driven him to reach out?

"I'll try to say this in a way that won't terrify you." Sparkle pursed her full lips, making the act of thinking into an erotic invitation. "But there are some things that just have to be said with no sugarcoating."

There it was again. Stronger this time. Cinn held her breath as the fluttering became a careful probing. Vince was trying to analyze her emotions. She was sure of it. She forced herself to relax, to send peaceful thoughts his way. And after a few seconds the presence receded and was gone.

"You, Cinn Airmid, have supernatural powers given to you by your family's namesake, the Celtic goddess Airmid." Sparkle held up both hands. "Now don't start crying and going hysterical on me. Let me explain..." She frowned. "Why are you smiling? You're supposed to be overcome with panic and disbelief."

Cinn shook her head, bemused by the wonder of what had just happened. "I'll be overcome with panic and disbelief in a moment. Something incredible just happened."

Sparkle didn't look happy. Evidently she'd been hoping for a lot more frenzy and fear.

"Vince just connected with me mentally." Cinn knew she must have a silly grin pasted on her face. "He sensed my emotional turmoil."

"Vince? Is he an assistant? I don't remember agreeing to pay an assistant." She looked outraged at the thought.

Cinn's breath caught at the wonder of it: all. "Vince is my vinca minor."

Sparkle looked blank.

"A periwinkle, Sparkle. He's one of my plants."

 

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