She couldn't take it. She had to know.
She glanced over her shoulder. A black sedan was pulling away from the curb.
Shit! She jerked her head forward. It looked just like one of the cars the Russians had parked in front of the clinic. Don't panic. There were a jillion black cars in the city.
Suddenly she was struck in the face by the glare of headlights. A car that was parked facing her had just turned on its lights. She squinted. It was a black SUV with dark-tinted windows.
Behind her, the sedan revved its engine. The SUV swerved into the street. It headed straight for her, then screeched to a halt, spinning sideways to block the entire street. The black sedan was trapped. The driver jumped out, shouting curses.
Curses in Russian.
Shanna ran. She reached the end of the block, hooked a left, and ran some more. Her heart pounded. Her skin grew sticky with sweat. Still she ran. She reached Central Park and slowed to a walk. She glanced around to make sure no one was following her.
Good God, she had narrowly escaped the Russians. Her skin chilled from her cooling sweat. She shuddered. If it hadn't been for that SUV, she'd probably be a corpse by now. The thought of dead bodies brought back the memory of coffins in the basement. Her stomach twinged.
She stopped and took deep breaths. Relax. She couldn't afford to get sick now. Don't think about the coffins. Unfortunately, her next thought was just as unnerving.
Who the hell was in the SUV?
Roman wandered across the ballroom, accompanied by Radinka. A small army of janitors was at work. Three men crossed the floor, swinging their buffing machines from side to side, as they polished the black and white checkered linoleum to a glossy finish. Others were cleaning the plate glass windows that looked out onto the garden.
Radinka had her clipboard in hand and was checking off each item on her list. "I called to make sure the ice sculptures would be delivered on time tomorrow. Eight-thirty sharp."
"No gargoyles or bats, please," Roman muttered.
"And what would you have? Swans and unicorns?" Radinka eyed him impatiently. "Need I remind you this is a vampire ball?"
"I know." Roman groaned. Ten years ago, he had insisted on eliminating the ghoulish decorations. It was a spring conference, after all, not a Halloween party. But everyone had thrown such a fit, he was now stuck with the same ridiculous Dracula theme every year. The same gruesome ice sculptures, the same black and white balloons floating along the ceiling. The same guests every year, always dressed in black and white.
Each year, he hosted the event at Romatech. They opened up a dozen conference rooms to make one huge ballroom, and vampires from around the world came to party. He'd started the tradition twenty-three years earlier to please the ladies in his coven. They loved it. He had grown to hate it. It was a waste of time - time that was better spent in his laboratory.
Or with Shanna. She was never black and white. She came in colors. Blue eyes, pink lips, and red-hot kisses. He couldn't wait to see her again, but first he needed to get some work done in his lab. He'd teleported to his office more than forty minutes ago, but he'd been so busy with this nonsense, he hadn't even seen his laboratory. "Did my package from China arrive?"
"What package?" Radinka ran a finger down her list. "I don't see anything here from China."
"It has nothing to do with the damned ball. It's for the formula I'm working on in my lab."
"Oh, well. I wouldn't know about that." She pointed at an item on her clipboard. "We're trying a new band tomorrow. The High Voltage Vamps, and they play everything from minuets to modern rock. Won't that be fun?"
"Hilarious. I'm going to my lab." He headed for the door.
"Roman, wait up!" He heard Gregori's voice behind him and turned around. Gregori and Laszlo were entering the far side of the ballroom.
"About time." Roman strode toward them. "Laszlo, I still have your cell phone." He took the phone from his pocket. "And I need you to remove these wires from my mouth."
Laszlo just stared at him. His eyes were wide and unfocused. His fingers were flexing with jerky spasms as if he wanted to grab a button, but wasn't quite able to master the movement.
"Here, buddy." Gregori escorted him to one of the chairs that lined the walls. "Hi, Mom."
"Good evening, dear." Radinka gave her son a peck on the cheek, then sat beside the chemist. "What's wrong, Laszlo?" When he didn't respond, she looked at Roman. "I think he's in shock."
"We both are." Gregori ran a hand through his thick brown hair. "I've got bad news. Really bad."
Great. Roman called out to the workers to take a thirty-minute break. He waited for them to file out, then faced Gregori. "Explain."
"I offered Laszlo a ride to work this evening, and he wanted to stop by his apartment to change clothes. We went there, and it was a total mess. I mean, destroyed! Furniture broken, cushions shredded. And spray paint on the walls."
"They want to kill me," Laszlo whispered.
"Yeah." Gregori grimaced. "They painted a message on the wall. Death to Laszlo Veszto. Death to Shanna Whelan"
Roman's breath caught. Bloody hell. "The Russians know we're harboring Shanna."
"How did they find out?" Radinka asked.
"It must have been Laszlo's car," Roman said. "They traced the plates."
"What will I do?" Laszlo whispered. "I'm just a chemist."
"Don't worry. You're under my protection, and you'll be living in my house for as long as you need."
"There, buddy." Gregori patted the chemist on the shoulder. "I told you it would be all right."
It was far from all right. Roman exchanged a worried look with Gregori. Ivan Petrovsky would take Roman's actions as a personal insult. He might even encourage his coven to attack. By protecting Shanna, Roman had exposed his own coven to the possibility of war.
Radinka squeezed Laszlo's hand. "Everything will be fine. Angus MacKay is coming tonight with more Highlanders. We'll have more security than the White House."
Laszlo took a deep, shaky breath. "All right. I'll be okay."
Roman flipped open Laszlo's cell phone. "If the Russians believe she's in my house, they might attack." He punched in his home number. "Connor, I want security tightened around the house. The Russians - "
"Sir!" Connor interrupted. "Ye called just in time. We canna find her. She's missing."
It felt like a kick in the gut. "You mean Shanna?"
"Aye. She's gone. I was just going to call you."
"Dammit!" Roman shouted. "How could you lose her?"
"What's going on?" Gregori stepped toward him.
"She.. she's gone," Roman croaked. All of a sudden, his throat didn't seem to work right.
"She fooled the guard at the front door," Connor said.
"How? Couldn't he tell she's mortal?"
"She was dressed like one of yer ladies," Connor explained. "And she pretended she was here with Simone. When she insisted on going out, he let her go."
Why would she leave him? They'd shared a kiss only an hour ago. Unless.. "Are you saying she met the other women?"
"Aye," Connor said. "They told her they were yer harem."
"Oh shit." Roman walked away a few steps, lowering the phone. He should have known those women couldn't keep their mouths shut. And now Shanna was in so much danger.
"If the Russians get her.." Gregori left the sentence unfinished.
Roman lifted the phone back to his ear. "Connor, station someone outside Ivan Petrovsky's house. If he captures her, he'll take her there."
"Send a bulletin out to the coven members. Maybe one of them will see her." He had followers in the five boroughs who worked night jobs. It was possible one of them might see her tonight. Not likely, but it was their best chance at finding her.
"I will. I.. I'm verra sorry, sir," Connor's voice cracked. "I was fond of the lass."
"I know." Roman hung up. God's blood. His lovely Shanna. Where could she be?
Shanna was waiting in front of the Toys "R" Us in Times Square. The area was always brightly lit and jammed with people, so it had seemed the safest place to go. Tourists snapped pictures and gawked at buildings covered with video screens. Streetcorners were busy with vendors selling handbags.