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 notaccept 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.