Three blocks away, police cars screeched to a halt in front of the ransacked clinic. Their flashing lights bounced off nearby buildings, waking the inhabitants. Mortals ventured onto the street, hoping to see something exciting. Like a dead body.
It was a thrill Ivan was usually happy to supply, but tonight, Stesha's thugs had screwed up. Incompetent cowards.
Ivan strode toward the two black sedans they had moved away from the crime scene before the police could arrive. "She couldn't have just disappeared. She's only a mortal."
The four thugs followed him. A blond giant with a square jaw replied, "We didn't see her go out the front or the back."
Ivan breathed in the blond Neanderthal's scent. O positive. Too bland. Too damned stupid. "So, you think she did disappear?"
No answer. They watched their feet as they shuffled along.
"We did see the back door swing open," a thug finally confessed, his face stippled with acne scars.
"And?" Ivan waited impatiently.
"I thought I saw two people." Acne Face frowned. "But when we ran to the door, there was no one there."
"I thought I heard something. Like a swoosh," a third thug offered.
"A swoosh?" Ivan clenched his fists. "Is that all you can tell me?" Tension coursed through him, zeroing in on the muscles in his upper spine. With a sudden tilt of his head, he snapped his neck and felt a small measure of relief.
The four mortals winced.
Stesha Bratsk, the local Russian mafia boss, had insisted his own men take part in the Shanna Whelan assignment. A big mistake. Ivan's fingers itched to encircle their thick bull necks and squeeze the life out of them. If only he had used his own vampires. Then the Whelan girl would be dead, and he'd be receiving the bounty money of two hundred and fifty grand.
He was going to get that money one way or another. He thought back, recalling the interior of the dental clinic. No sign of the girl anywhere. The only interesting thing he had found was an uneaten pizza with the name of a deli emblazoned on the box in red and green letters. "Where is Carlo's Deli?"
"Little Italy," the blond thug replied. "Great pizza."
"I like their lasagna better," Acne Face said.
"You idiots!" Ivan glowered at them. "How will you explain your failure to Stesha tonight? His cousin in Boston is serving a life sentence, all because that little bitch testified against him in court."
They shifted from one foot to another.
Ivan took a deep breath. He didn't care what happened to Stesha or his family. They were mortals, after all. But these guys worked for them, so they needed to show more loyalty. And less stupidity. "From now on, I use my own men at night. During the day, you watch the deli and the Whelan girl's apartment. If you find her, follow her. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," they mumbled in unison.
Unfortunately, Ivan didn't have much hope for their success. His own vampires would prove much more capable at finding the missing Shanna Whelan. The only problem was they could work only at night. He needed these damned mortals to carry on the mission during the day.
A third black sedan pulled up beside the other two cars, and two more of Stesha's employees got out.
"Well? Did you find her?" Ivan asked.
A bearded thug with a shaved head came forward. "We spotted another car a block north of here. A green Honda. Two men. Pavel thinks he saw a woman."
"I did," Pavel insisted. "They were sticking her in the trunk."
Ivan raised his eyebrows. Had someone else captured the Whelan girl before him? Crap. Someone else wanted the reward money. His reward money. "Where did they go?"
Pavel cursed and kicked a car tire. "We lost them."
Ivan snapped his head once more to relieve the building pressure in his neck. "Doesn't anyone train you people? Or does Stesha hire you right off the boat?"
The bald one's face turned red. Red and fully flushed with blood. Ivan's nostrils flared. AB Negative. God, he was hungry. He had planned to feast on the Whelan girl, but now he would have to look elsewhere.
"We did get the license plate number," Pavel offered. "We'll find out who owns the car."
"You do that. And report to me in two hours. I'll be at my home in Brooklyn."
Pavel's face turned pale. "Yes, sir."
No doubt he'd heard the rumors. Sometimes people who entered the home of the Russian coven at night were never seen again. Ivan stepped closer to the six men and stared at each of them in the eye. "If you find her, you will not kill her. That is my job. Don't even think about earning the reward money for yourself. You won't live long enough to enjoy it. Understand?"
There was a series of gulps and nods.
"Leave me now. Stesha is waiting to hear from you."
The six thugs climbed into the black sedans and drove away.
Ivan strolled toward the crime scene. Neighbors stood about, huddled in groups while they watched the police. A pretty blond in a pink bathrobe caught his eye. He stared at her. Come to me.
She turned and looked him over. Slowly, she smiled. Foolish woman, she thought she was seducing him. He gestured toward a dark alley. She sauntered toward him, swaying her hips, stroking her fluffy pink bathrobe with long pink fingernails.
He stepped into the darkness and waited.
She sailed into her doom as dumbly as a pink poodle bouncing into a grooming parlor, eager to be admired and petted. "Are you new in the neighborhood? I don't recall seeing you before."
Come closer. "Are you wearing anything under that robe?"
She giggled. "Shame on you. Don't you know the police are just a few feet away?"
"Makes it more exciting, doesn't it?"
She laughed again, her voice taking on a huskier tone. "You are a bad boy, aren't you?"
He took her by the shoulders. "You have no idea." In an instant, his fangs sprang out.
She gasped, but before she could react further, his fangs were deep in her neck. Blood flooded his mouth - rich, hot, and with the added risk of the nearby police, it was extra spicy.
At least the evening had not been a complete failure. Not only was he getting a delicious meal, but this girl's dead body would serve to distract the police from the missing dentist.
Ivan just loved mixing business with pleasure.
Shanna paced the kitchen floor. She wasn't going to do it. No way was she sticking a wolf's canine into that man's mouth. Laszlo had just left with the information she'd reluctantly given him, and now, she was alone in the kitchen of Roman Draganesti's house. True, he had saved her life. Also true, he was generously offering her asylum. But she had to wonder why. Was he so determined to have an animal tooth implanted in his mouth that he wanted her in his debt?
She paused at the table for another sip of diet cola. The turkey sandwich that Connor had made for her was still uneaten. She was just too nervous to eat right now. She'd come so close to being murdered. The full impact of that fact was only now sinking in. She owed Roman her life. But that didn't mean she was going to implant his stupid wolf tooth.
Who was this Roman Draganesti, anyway? Sure, he was about the most handsome man she'd ever met, but that didn't guarantee he was sane. He seemed genuinely concerned about protecting her, but why? And why did he have a small army of kilted Highlanders? Where on earth did a person acquire such an army? Did he place an ad in the paper - Wanted: small army of kilted Highlanders?
If he needed this much protection, he must have made some bad enemies. Could she trust someone like that? Well, maybe. She had some bad enemies herself, and through no fault of her own.
With a sigh, Shanna stopped at the table for another drink. The more she tried to understand Roman, the more confused she became. And adding to the confusion was the fact that she'd come darn close to kissing the man. What on earth was she thinking?
Well, duh. She wasn't thinking at all. The car ride had turned her on. Escaping the Russians and bouncing into Roman's swollen manhood had combined to give her one powerful adrenaline rush. It was a mixture of excitement and lust. That was all.
The door swooshed open, and Connor rushed in. He glanced around the room. "Are ye all right, lass?"
"Yeah. Did you tell Roman that I refuse to put that animal tooth in his mouth?"
Connor smiled. "Doona worry yerself. I'm sure Laszlo will be telling Mr. Draganesti how ye feel."
"For all the good that'll do." Shanna sat at the table and dragged the plate holding the sandwich toward her. According to Laszlo, Mr. Draganesti had insisted on her cooperation, and whatever Mr. Draganesti wanted, he was sure to get. What arrogance! The man was obviously used to being in charge.