Gregori would remain in Roman's home office, then call them before sunrise, acting as their beacon for the way home. The room faded before his eyes, and Roman followed Laszlo's voice to the dental office. As he materialized once again, he heard Laszlo sigh with relief. The dental office was bland, all in shades of tan. The smell of disinfectant filled the air.
"Thank God you made it, sir. Come, this way." Laszlo headed toward the examining rooms.
Roman checked to make sure Shanna was all right. She was slumbering peacefully in his arms. He followed Laszlo, wondering what information Ian would discover about her father. If the man had tussled with the Russian mafia while overseas, that would explain why the Russians had wanted revenge. And if they couldn't avenge themselves on the father, they could pick on his daughter. It would also explain why they had checked Karen's ID, then gotten angry. Roman's arms tightened around Shanna. He hoped his suspicions were wrong, but his gut was screaming he was right.
The Russian mafia didn't want to kill Shanna just because she'd witnessed their murder spree in Boston. She'd been the reason for that murder spree. Their original target was Shanna. And they wouldn't give up until she was dead.
Ivan Petrovsky flipped through the unopened mail on his desk. Electric bill. Gas bill. Here was a stack that was postmarked several weeks ago. He shrugged. What was three weeks when you were more than six hundred years old? Besides, he hated being connected to the mundane, mortal world. He ripped open the first envelope. Oh, his lucky day. He was eligible for life insurance. Morons. He tossed it into the trash.
An ivory envelope caught his eye. Return address - Romatech Industries. A growl vibrated low in his throat. He had the envelope and contents almost completely torn in two when he paused. Why would that accursed Roman Draganesti send him mail? They weren't even speaking to each other. Ivan removed the card and laid the two halves side by side on his desk.
He and his coven were cordially invited to the Gala Opening Ball of the 2005 Spring Conference to be held at Romatech Industries in two nights. Oh, it was that time again. Draganesti hosted this big event every year, with vampires from around the world in attendance, and their coven masters met in secret conferences to discuss relevant issues of modern-day vampire life. Whiny little bastards. Didn't they know vampirism was a superior way of life? Problems were caused by mortals, and there was only one way to handle them. Feed and destroy. No discussion necessary. There were billions of mortals crammed onto the planet, and they kept breeding more. It wasn't like the vampires were in danger of running out of food.
Ivan threw the invitation in the trash. He had not attended their inane conference in eighteen years. Not since that traitor Draganesti had introduced his new, synthetic blood to the vampire world. Ivan had walked out in disgust and never gone back.
It surprised him that Draganesti continued to send him an invitation every year. The fool must still be hoping that Ivan and his followers would change their minds and embrace his new, exalted philosophy of the gentle vampire life. Gag.
Frustration and stress gravitated toward Ivan's neck. He massaged the muscles below each ear and closed his eyes. A vision slipped into his mind - Draganesti and his followers at the Gala Opening Ball, dancing in their elegant evening wear, sipping that slimy, fake blood from their crystal flutes, while they patted one another on the back for their heightened, evolved sensibilities. It was enough to make him puke.
Never would he give up fresh human blood, or the thrill of the hunt, or the ecstasy of the bite. Draganesti and his followers were traitors to the very definition of vampirism. An abomination. A disgrace.
And just when Ivan thought it couldn't get any worse, they managed to sink even lower, plummeting from betrayal into the absurd. Two years ago, Draganesti had introduced his latest invention - Vampire Fusion Cuisine. Ivan groaned. Pain throbbed in his neck. To relieve the pressure,he snapped the vertebrae like a mortal would crack his knuckle.
Fusion Cuisine. It was laughable. Shameful. It was insidious and seductive. It was constantly being hawked in commercials on the Digital Vampire Network. He had even discovered two of his own harem girls sneaking in bottles of Chocolood - Draganesti's perverted fusion drink of blood and chocolate. Ivan had ordered the girls whipped. Still, he suspected his harem was managing to drink the nasty stuff when he wasn't there. For the first time in centuries, his lovely, nubile girls were gaining weight.
That damn Draganesti! He was destroying the vampire way of life, turning the men into cowardly weaklings and the women into fat cows. And if that wasn't bad enough, he was getting filthy rich. He and his coven enjoyed the good life while Ivan and his followers were crammed into a duplex in Brooklyn.
Not for long, though. Soon he'd deliver Shanna Whelan's dead body and earn a quarter-million dollars. After a few more well-paid assassinations, he could be as rich as those other snooty coven masters - Roman Draganesti, Angus MacKay, and Jean-Luc Echarpe. They could take their fancy Fusion Cuisine and stick it where the sun did shine.
A knock sounded on Ivan's door, drawing his attention away from the foul thoughts of Roman Draganesti. "Come in."
His trusted friend Alek entered. "There is a mortal here to see you. Calls himself Pavel."
A stocky, blond male ventured into the small room, his gaze darting nervously about. Stesha claimed he was the most intelligent of his thugs, which probably meant the guy could read.
Ivan rose to his feet. He could have risen to the ceiling, but that was a trick he'd reserve for later. "How did Stesha take the news of your abysmal failure?"
Pavel grimaced. "He wasn't very happy. But we do have a solid lead."
"The pizza place? Did she show up there?"
"No. We haven't seen her anywhere."
Ivan perched on the corner of his desk. "Then what is the lead?"
"The car that 1 saw. The green Honda.I9 traced the license plate."
Ivan waited. "And?" God, he hated how mortals tried to be so dramatic about everything.
"It belongs to Laszlo Veszto."
"So?" A twinge of pain pinched Ivan's neck. This was taking far too long. "I've never heard of him."
Alek narrowed his eyes. "Neither have I."
Pavel's smile was a little too smug. "I'm not surprised. We didn't know who he was, either, but we definitely have heard of his employer. You'll never guess who it is."
Ivan zipped over to Pavel so fast, the mortal stumbled back, his eyes widening. Ivan grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him forward. "Don't be a smart-ass, Pavel. Tell me what you know and be quick about it."
Pavel gulped. "Laszlo Veszto works at Romatech."
Ivan released him and stepped back. Crap. He should have known. Roman Draganesti was behind this. That accursed bastard was always the thorn in his side. A royal pain in the neck. Ivan tilted his head, snapping the vertebrae back into place.
"Does this Laszlo work the day or the night shift?"
"I.. I believe the night shift, sir."
A vampire. That would explain how Shanna Whelan had managed to disappear so quickly. "You have this Laszlo's address?"
"Yes." Pavel pulled a slip of paper from his pants pocket.
"Fine." Ivan grabbed the paper and studied it. "I want two more places watched during the day - Laszlo Veszto's apartment and Roman Draganesti's townhouse." Ivan gritted his teeth. "He lives on the Upper East Side."
"Yes, sir." Pavel hesitated. "I.. I'm free to go?"
"If you can get out of here before my girls decide you look like a snack."
Pavel muttered a curse, then ran to the front door.
Ivan passed the paper to Alek. "Take a few men to this address. Bring Mr. Veszto back in one piece before dawn."
"Yes, sir." Alek stuffed the paper in a pocket. "It looks like Draganesti has the girl. What would he want with her?"
"I don't know." Ivan meandered back to his desk. "I can't imagine him killing a mortal for money. He's too big a wimp."
"Da. And he doesn't need the money, either."
So what was that stinking Draganesti up to? Did he think he could interfere with Ivan's plans to get rich? The bloody svoloch. Ivan's gaze wandered to the torn invitation in the trash. "Tell Vladimir to watch Draganesti's house. The girl is probably there. Go."
"Yes, sir." Alek closed the door as he left.