The Underworld, Page 8Jessica Sorensen
The dark-haired man ambled over toward Laylen and me, his hands tucked into the pockets of his black pants. The sleeves of his black button-down shirt were pushed up just enough for me to see the mark of immortality sketching his forearm. “So Laylen,” he said, stopping in front of us. “What brings you here on this fine night?” His black eyes flicked over at me, assessing me. “And with such lovely company. ”
Unsure of what to do, I kept my expression blank, hoping that Intimidating Vampire Man wouldn’t be able to pick up that I was scared out my wits.
He gave me an inquisitive look, before moving his attention back to Laylen. “I’ve never seen you with a human before. What’s the occasion?”
“I just decided it was time,” Laylen replied coolly.
“Is it?” The vampire said thoughtfully. He gave me another intrigued look and said, “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Vladislav. ” He stuck out his hand, and even though I really, really didn’t want to, I took hold of his hand to shake it. But instead, he wrapped his ice-cold fingers around my hand and moved it up to his lips, placing a kiss just below my knuckles. Then to make things even freakier, he took a slow deep inhale, breathing in my scent before letting my hand go.
Despite the grossness of the fact that he’d just smelled me, I managed to force a smile.
“So I need a favor,” Laylen said to Vladislav.
“A favor?” Vladislav said, his black eyes still fastened on me. “And what would that favor be?”
Laylen looked around at the group of vampires sitting around the table. They were no longer playing poker, but watching us. “A…Would it be okay if we spoke in private. ”
Vladislav considered this and then, without taking his eyes off of me, he called over his shoulder. “Boys. Could you excuse us for a moment? It seems we must discuss something privately. ”
Without arguing, the vampire men got up, leaving their cards behind on the table, and they headed past us and out the door, ushering the women with them. A few of their gazes landed on me as they walked by, and the severity of the situation I was in hit me like a punch to the stomach, nearly knocking me to the floor. I should have never come here. Laylen had let me choose whether I wanted to come or not, because he thought I should be able to make my own decisions. And he was right—I should be able to. But maybe I should start making better ones because I had this gut wrenching feeling that something bad was about to occur.
After everyone had left the room, taking some of the smoke with them, Vladislav gestured at Laylen and me to take a seat at the table. So we did, and then he sat down in a chair across from us.
“So Laylen, what could possibly be so important that you would need to discuss it with me in private?” Vladislav asked.
“I need to know if there’s any way to find out if someone’s still alive in The Underworld,” Laylen said, getting straight to the point. “And whether there’s a way to get them out of there if they are. ”
Vladislav raised his dark eyebrows at us, asking, “And may I ask who this person is that you want to know about?”
“Her name is Jocelyn Lucas,” Laylen told him.
The mention of my mother’s name seemed to be making my oxygen supply shrink.
“Jocelyn Lucas,” Vladislav pondered. “It wouldn’t be the Keeper, Jocelyn Lucas, would it?”
Laylen nodded. “That would be her,” he replied.
“Hmmm…I have heard of her. ” A wicked look flashed across Vladislavs face, and I had the feeling that getting the information from him was going to end up being quite a challenge.
“So do you know if she’s still alive?” Laylen causally asked.
Vladislavs eyes darkened. “Hmm…I do know if she’s alive or not, however…” He trailed off, looking right at me as he licked his lips. “This woman Jocelyn, I’m guessing is very important to you?”
Vladislav was still looking at me, but Laylen answered him. “Yeah, she is. ”
Then, very abruptly, I could feel it in the air. A condition—something that was going to have to be done in order to find out about my mom.
Vladislav’s dark eyes were smoldering black, and his voice purred. “So tell me, what would you be willing to give up to find out if she is alive or not?”
Don’t freak out, Gemma. Don’t freak out. Which wouldn’t have been as difficult if Vladislav would just stop staring at me as if he was. . . well, like he was hungry.
“I don’t know. ” Laylen answered, biting at his lip ring as he thought about what Vladislav had asked. Then he flashed me a quick what-do-you-think look. All I did was shrug, because I had no idea what to do. I wanted to know, but I was worried what the cost would end up being. And what if Vladislav was lying and we ended up giving him something and getting nothing in return.
“What exactly do you want? Laylen asked evenly, and I was so glad he was our spokesperson cause I’m about ninety-nine percent sure my voice would have shook as bad as my hands were right now.
Vladislav reached toward the middle of the table, toward an old cigar box. He lifted the lid off of the box and removed a cigar. “I want one thing in exchange for telling you what you want to know. ” He dragged the cigar along the bottom of his nose, breathing in the scent.
“And what is it?” Laylen asked.
Vladislav struck a match on the table and lit the cigar. He took a puff, blew out the smoke, and then smiled, his fangs glinting dangerously in the light. “If only things were that easy. They never are, though. Are they?”
Laylen twisted at his lip ring, and I held my breath as I waited for him to respond to Vladislav. “Alright, tell us what you know and we’ll give you what you want. ”
My heart faltered and my legs began to tremble. Why did it feel like Laylen was making a deal with the devil?
Vladislav took another puff off his cigar, before resting it in an ashtray, the smoke still rising off the end of it. “I’ve heard of a Jocelyn Lucas, the one and only Keeper who has ever been sent to The Underworld, and the longest person to survive down there. She has quite the reputation. ”
Whoa…My blood howled in my ears. She was alive. My mother was alive. The prickle showed up, releasing an abundance of eagerness so great it made me go all lightheaded.
“However,” Vladislav said and I swear my heart stopped. “To get her out of The Underworld would be nearly impossible. Not just because getting anyone out of there is nearly impossible—especially without them drowning—but also because I’ve heard that her long survival rate comes from the fact that she is a slave for the Queen, which makes her very valuable. ”
Slave for the Queen of The Underworld. That sounded awful. My breathing had suddenly become erratic and it caught Vladislav’s attention.
Tell me girl,” he licked his lips, “what’s your name?”
I swallowed hard. “Gemma. ”
He eyed me over, staring at my eyes for longer than necessary, which made me even more nervous. “And how do you know Jocelyn?”
My instincts told me to deny, deny, deny. “I don’t know her,” I lied.
He looked unconvinced. “You don’t, do you?” He stood to his feet, putting his arms behind his back. “You know, Gemma,” he said, pacing in front of us as if he was some kind of grand lecturer. “I do not like it when people lie to me. ”
I opened my mouth to say that I wasn’t lying, but Laylen shot me a look that told me to keep my mouth shut.
“I find it hard to believe that Laylen would show up here with a human, for the very first time,” Vladislav continued on, “and you not play a part in why he’s asking about a Keeper who’s been trapped in The Underworld for more than a decade. ”
Laylen started to speak, but Vladislav held up his hand. “Silence. Do not interrupt me. ” He stopped pacing and faced us, his dark gaze shooting a chill up my spine. “Now I’ll ask you one last time. ” He leaned toward us, pressing his hands onto the table. “How do you know Jocelyn?”
> I was scared to death, but for some reason my brain was screaming at me to keep quiet; that if I said that Jocelyn was my mother, that perhaps it could be traced to me being the one with the stars energy in me.
I kept my voice as even as I could. “I really don’t know her, I swear. ”
Vladislav fixed me with a baleful look and said, “Well, then. If you’re saying you’re telling the truth, then you must be. ”
I started to relax a little, but then as suddenly as a lighting blot flashes, Vladislav was charging at me. Before I could even finish my blink, he’d flipped over the table, grabbed a hold of me, and pinned me against him.
Laylen jumped to his feet, starting to run toward us. Vladislav backed away from him, towing me along with him.
“Come any closer,” Vladislav hissed, exposing his fangs, the tips brushing against the skin of my neck. “And I’ll drain every ounce of blood she has in her. ”
Laylen froze, and I pretty much stopped breathing.
“Wise choice,” Vladislav said, his ice-cold hands gripping me so tightly I was sure I was going to have bruises from it…. if I made it out of here alive, that is. “I think it’s time I collect on what I want from you. ”
“But you haven’t even told us how to get her out of The Underworld,” I cried.
Laylen’s bright blue eyes went so wide they practically bulged out of his head, and I realized I should not have opened my mouth.
“Yes, that is true. ” He pressed me tighter into him—too tight—and I winced from the pressure. Moving his mouth to my ear, he purred, “However, if you didn’t know her, then why would it matter whether I told you anything?”
Great. Me and my stupid mouth. I was starting to understand why Alex always seemed to be telling me to keep my mouth shut.
Vladislav let out a deep growl, and then his fangs sunk into my neck. They sunk in deeper and deeper, and I gasped as I was blinded by images flickering through my mind like a flashing picture show. Vampires. Teeth. Stars. Alex. I felt faint. Lightheaded. Dizzy and weak, yet at the same time relaxed. The prickle was poking my neck wildly. My vision went blurry. And then, all of a sudden, I felt content with Vladislav biting my neck.
It was okay….
There was a sharp snap, followed by a loud thud, and my neck was released from Vladislav’s fangs and his grip. I blinked down at Vladislav, lying lifelessly on the red-carpeted floor, a broken chair leg sticking out of his chest.
“What happened?” My voice floated out of me as I turned to Laylen.
“We have to go. ” He took a hold of my hand and the world swayed as he pulled me toward the door.
My fuzzy brain only allowed me to pick up on a few words Laylen was saying to me: careful, normal, don’t panic. He wiped my neck where Vladislav had bit me with the bottom of his t-shirt, before creaking the door open. He peered up and down the hall, and then we stepped out.
Someone was calling me.
The lights were bright. The music loud.