"What's wrong with that?"
"Do I look particularly joyful?"
"No." What an exasperating man! "So you're making yourself miserable just to prove her wrong?"
His eyes flashed. "I am not. I was miserable for years before I met Radinka. She has nothing to do with it."
"Well, hurray for you. You've made a lifelong commitment to misery."
"I have not."
He crossed his arms. "This is childish."
She crossed hers. "Is not." She bit her lip to stop from laughing. It was just too much fun to goad this man.
He eyed her carefully, then the corner of his mouth twitched. "You're trying to torment me, aren't you?"
"You like misery, don't you?"
He laughed. "How do you do this to me?"
"Make you laugh?" She grinned. "Is it a new experience for you?"
"No, but I've been out of practice." He regarded her with wonder. "You do realize how close you came to being killed tonight?"
"Yeah, I do. Life can really stink sometimes. You can either laugh about it or cry, and sometimes I'd just rather laugh." She'd cried enough already. "Besides, I was very lucky tonight. Just when I needed one, I found a guardian angel."
His body stiffened. "Do not think that of me. I am far from.. I am hopeless."
Remorse simmered like molten gold in his eyes. "Roman." She touched his face. "There is always hope."
He stepped back. "Not for me."
Shanna waited, hoping he would say something, confide in her just a little, but he remained silent. She pivoted, looking around her. Another guard stood in a dark corner. There were two doors along the hallway, and between them, a large painting. She moved closer to study the landscape. It portrayed a sunset over a green, hilly land. Down in the valley, a mist hovered among the ruins of stone buildings, fashioned in the Romanesque style.
"It's beautiful," she murmured.
"It's.. it was a monastery in Romania. There is nothing left of it now."
Nothing but memories, Shanna suspected, and not very good ones judging from the harsh expression on Roman's face. Why would he keep a painting of Romania here if it disturbed him? Oh, right. Duh. The man liked misery. She took a closer look at the painting. Romania? That would explain his slight accent. Perhaps the buildings had been destroyed during World War II or the Soviet occupation, but somehow, the destruction looked much, much older than that. Strange. What could the ruins of an old monastery have to do with Roman?
He moved toward the door on the right. "This is my office." He opened the door and waited for her to enter.
A sudden impulse streaked through her, urging her to bolt down the stairs. Why? The man had saved her life tonight. Why would he harm her now? Besides, she still had her Beretta. She removed her purse from her shoulder and held it against her chest. Damn, after all she'd been through the last few months, she was incapable of completely trusting another person.
And that was the worst part of all. She would have to be a loner for the rest of her life. All she had ever wanted was a normal life - a husband, children, good job, a nice house in a nice neighborhood, maybe a white picket fence. Just a normal life, dammit. And it would never happen. The Russians might not have killed her like they did Karen, but they had still managed to steal her life.
She squared her shoulders and walked into the large room. She looked around, curious about Roman's taste in furniture, when a movement across the room caught her eye. Out of the shadows emerged two men. Connor and Gregori. She should have felt relieved, but their stern expressions worried her. The room felt suddenly cold. Too cold, with icy air swirling around her head.
With a shiver, she turned toward the door. "Roman?"
He locked the door and slipped the key into his pocket.
She gulped. "What's going on?"
Roman stared at her, his eyes wavering like golden flames. Then he stepped toward her and whispered, "It is time."
Vampires had been using mind control for centuries. It was the only way to seduce mortals into being a willing food source. And it was the only way to erase their memory afterward. Before inventing the formula for synthetic blood, Roman had used mind control on a nightly basis. He'd never felt any qualms about it. It was a matter of survival. It was normal.
These were the facts he'd told himself when he'd led Shanna up the stairs to his office. He had nothing to feel guilty about. Once he, Gregori, and Connor took over Shanna's mind, he could command her to implant his fang. Then, when the job was done, he could erase her memory of it. Simple. Normal. Then why did he get more frustrated with each flight of stairs? By the time he reached his office, he had serious doubts about this plan. Three vampires ganging up on one mortal? It might be the only way to break through Shanna's mental defenses. It might be the only way to get his damned tooth fixed. But it was starting to feel like a vicious assault.
Now, as she stood in his office at their mercy, guilt surged inside him. There was no other way, he told himself. He couldn't be honest with her. If she found out he was a demon, she'd never volunteer to help. Without waiting, Gregori and Connor pounced. He could feel their psychic power swoop across the room, zeroing in on Shanna's mind.
Her purse fell to the floor. She moaned and pressed the heels of her palms against her temples.
Roman hovered over her mentally to see if she was all right. She was. She had erected a shield with more speed and energy than he thought humanly possible. Amazing.
Gregori reinforced his attack, blanketing her with icy determination. Your thoughts will be mine!
And mine. Connor's mind chiseled at her defenses.
No! Roman shot his friends a warning look. They recoiled, staring at him, stunned. They had expected resistance from Shanna, not him. But the truth was, he wanted her thoughts to himself. And he wanted her safe. That much psychic force might be needed to crack her defenses, but once her shield crumbled, all that power could rip through her mind, leaving it in shreds.
He strode toward her and pulled her against his chest. "Are you all right?"
She leaned against him. "I don't feel good. My head.. I'm so cold."
"You'll be okay." He wrapped his arms around her, wishing his old carcass could produce more body heat. "You'll be safe with me." He covered the back of her head with his hand as if to protect her mind from further assault.
His two friends exchanged worried looks.
Connor cleared his throat. "Could I have a word with you?"
"In a moment." They expected an explanation, but damned if Roman knew what to say. How could he explain all these strange feelings that were consuming him tonight? Lust, desire, fear, amusement, guilt, remorse. It was as if meeting Shanna had woken his heart from a deep sleep. He hadn't realized how dead he was before meeting her. And how alive he felt now.
A shudder jolted through her body. "Come and rest." He guided her toward the velvet chaise where he had fed on VANNA earlier that night.
She curled up on the chaise, wrapping her arms around herself. "I'm so cold."
He considered dragging in the suede comforter from his king-sized bed in the adjoining room, then he spotted a burgundy chenille blanket draped over one of the wing-back chairs. He never used it, but Radinka had bought it for his office, declaring the room needed more warmth. He grabbed the soft afghan and stretched it out over Shanna.
"Thank you." She pulled the fringed end up to her chin. "I don't know what came over me, but I just had the worst chill."
"You'll warm up soon." He smoothed back her hair and wished he had time to smooth away all her fears. But Connor was pacing back and forth in front of the wet bar, and Gregori was leaning against a wall, glaring at him. "Gregori, would you make sure Dr. Whelan is comfortable? She might want something from the kitchen. Maybe some hot tea."
"Okay." Gregori sauntered toward her. "Hey, sweetcakes. What's up?"
Sweetcakes! With a grimace, Roman walked across the room to confer with Connor.
The Highlander turned his back to Shanna and spoke very softly. Only a vampire with acute hearing would make out his words. "Laszlo claimed the lass was different. I dinna believe it, but now I do. I havena ever come across a mortal with that much mental fortitude."
"I agree." Roman glanced back at Shanna. Gregori was apparently pouring on the charm because she looked amused.