"After I strangle you, I'm cutting Laszlo's tongue out and feeding it to a dog."
"You don't have a dog." Gregori's voice sounded fainter. "Can you believe it? He's threatening us with bodily harm."
That last sentence must have been aimed at Laszlo. Roman heard an alarmed squeak in the distance.
"Chicken!" Gregori yelled. "Well, Laszlo just ran off to a guest room. I guess he's heard those rumors about you being some kind of wild, murderous beast in the past."
They weren't rumors. Having been transformed only twelve years earlier, Gregori had no idea the magnitude of sins Roman had committed over the centuries.
"Then there are the other rumors, that you were once a priest or a monk." Gregori laughed. "But I know that one has to be bogus. I mean, really. Any guy who keeps a harem of ten hot Vamp chicks is not exactly.."
Roman let the words fade away as he concentrated on the location of Gregori's voice. The dental office wavered before his eyes, followed by blackness. Then he was home.
"'Oh, there you are." Gregori hung up the phone he'd been using. He leaned back in the chair at Roman's desk.
Roman scowled at him silently.
"So the dentist is asleep, huh?" Gregori propped his feet up on Roman's desk and grinned. "Did you wear her out?"
Roman dropped Laszlo's phone on the desk, then wandered over to the chaise. He lowered Shanna onto the blood-red velvet.
"I hear she did a good job on your fang," Gregori continued. "You know, I've been thinking about that exercise program you mentioned, the one where we make sure our fangs stay in good shape, and I had this great idea."
Roman turned toward the desk.
"We could do an exercise video and sell it on the Digital Vampire Network. I asked Simone, and she agreed to be the star of the show. What do you think?"
Roman approached the desk slowly.
Gregori's smile faded. "What's up, bro?"
Roman planted his palms on the desk and leaned forward.
Gregori swung his feet off the desk and gazed at him warily. "Something wrong, boss?"
"You will not repeat anything that happened tonight. Nothing about my fang, and especially nothing about Shanna. Do you understand?"
"Yeah." Gregori cleared his throat. "Nothing happened."
"Good. Now, go."
Gregori headed for the door, muttering beneath his breath. "Grumpy old man." He paused with one hand on the doorknob and glanced at Shanna. "It's none of my business, but I think you should keep her. She'll be good for you." He let himself out.
Maybe she would. But he was definitely not good for Shanna. Roman sat heavily at his desk. The sun must be touching the horizon, for he suddenly felt exhausted. It was a harsh truth that when darkness faded away, so did a vampire's strength. Soon he wouldn't have enough strength to even stay awake.
It was a vampire's greatest weakness, his time of greatest vulnerability, and it happened every damned day. How many times over the centuries had he fallen asleep, worried that his body would be discovered during the daylight hours? A mortal could drive a stake through his heart while he lay there helplessly asleep. It had almost happened in 1862, the last time he'd involved himself with a mortal female. Eliza.
He'd never forgotten the horror of waking after sunset to find his coffin wide open and a wooden stake resting across his chest. This accursed vulnerability had to end. He was working on it in his lab. A formula that would enable a vampire to stay awake and retain his strength during the day. They would still need to avoid the burning rays of direct sunlight, but even so, it would be a momentous achievement. Roman was very close to a breakthrough. If he succeeded, he could change the vampire world forever.
He could almost pretend he was alive.
He looked at Shanna where she slumbered in sweet ignorance. How would she react if she learned the truth about him? Could she pretend he was alive, or would the fact that he was a dead demon drive a stake between them forever? He slumped at his desk, his energy draining away. It could be the sun causing this, but he suspected it was also depression. He dreaded the look of horror that would appear on Shanna's face if she learned the truth.
Shame. Guilt. Remorse. It sucked. He couldn't drag her into it. She deserved joy in her life.
He grabbed a pen and a blank piece of paper. Radinka, he wrote at the top. His secretary would see this on his desk when she checked for messages. Buy everything Shanna will need. Size 12. 36B. I want.. His hand dragged slowly across the paper. His eyelids grew heavy.. colors. No black. Not for Shanna. She was sunshine - sorely missed, but forever beyond his reach. She was like a rainbow, full of color and the sweet promise of hope. He blinked and squinted at the paper. Get her some brownies. He dropped the pen and heaved himself to his feet.
With a groan, he lifted Shanna in his arms. He trudged from the office to the top of the stairs. Slowly, he made his way down, one step at a time. At the landing, he rested. His vision grew hazy, as if he were trying to look down a long tunnel.
Someone was coming up the stairs.
"Good morning, sir," a cheerful voice greeted him. It was Phil, one of the daytime mortal guards who worked for MacKay Security and Investigation. "You're not usually up this late."
Roman opened his mouth to answer, but it took every ounce of his remaining strength to keep from dropping Shanna.
The guard's eyes widened. "Is something wrong? Do you need help?" He ran up to the landing.
"Blue room, fourth floor," Roman gasped.
"Here, let me." Phil took Shanna in his arms and headed back down the stairs to the fourth floor.
Roman stumbled after him. Thank God, these daytime guards were trustworthy. Angus MacKay trained them well and paid them a small fortune to keep their mouths shut. They knew exactly what kind of creatures they were protecting. They didn't mind. According to Angus, some of them were creatures, too.
Phil stopped in front of a door on the fourth floor. "Is this the right room?" When Roman nodded, he turned the knob and pushed the door open with his foot.
Sunlight spilled through the open doorway.
Roman jolted to a stop. "The shutters," he whispered.
"I got it." Phil hurried into the room.
Roman waited. He leaned against a wall, out of reach of the strip of sunlight that stretched across the hall carpet. God's blood, he was tired enough to fall asleep standing up. Soon he heard a metallic click, and the strip of light disappeared. Phil had closed the thick aluminum shutters on the window.
Roman staggered forward till he reached the door. There he saw that Phil had deposited Shanna on top of the bed.
"Is there anything else I can do?" Phil headed for the door.
"No. Thank you." Roman lurched into the room and caught himself against an armoire.
"Good morning - or night, then." Phil gave him a doubtful look and closed the door behind him.
Roman weaved toward the bed. He couldn't let Shanna sleep with her shoes on. He pulled the white Nikes off and dropped them on the floor. The stained lab coat needed to go, too. He leaned over and almost collapsed on top of her. He shook his head. Stay awake! Just a little bit longer. He unbuttoned the coat, tugged the sleeves down her arms, then rolled her onto her side so he could pull the coat out from beneath her. He dropped it onto the floor beside her shoes. He stumbled around the foot of the queen-sized bed, then pulled back the covers to reveal clean white sheets. With effort, he rolled Shanna onto the exposed sheet. He stuffed her feet under the covers and raised the sheet and bedspread up to her chin. There, she was comfortable.
And he couldn't go any further.
Shanna woke up feeling wonderfully refreshed and happy. The feeling soon faded, though, when she realized she had no idea where she was. A dark room. A comfortable bed. Unfortunately, she had no memory of entering this room or climbing into this bed. In fact, the last thing she remembered was venturing inside Roman Draganesti's office. Because of a nasty headache, she'd rested on a velvet reclining chaise, and then - nothing.
She closed her eyes, struggling to remember. A dental office flitted through her mind, a strange one, not the place where she worked. Weird. She must have dreamed about working in a new job.
She pushed back the covers and sat up. Her stocking feet brushed against thick carpet. Where were her shoes? Red neon numbers glowed from a clock radio beside the bed. Six minutes after four. Morning or afternoon? The room was so dark, it was hard to tell. She'd gone to Roman's office after four in the morning. So it must be afternoon.