"Aaargh." Roman had wires poking the inside of his mouth. This was not the time for Laszlo to obsess over death threats.
"Oh, sorry." Laszlo resumed his work. "I still don't have my car. We left it at the dental office last night with VANNA in the trunk. So I don't have anything to work on tonight."
Roman remembered his unfortunate conclusion regarding the Vampire Artificial Nutritional Needs Appliance. That toy had propelled him into a powerful state of blood-lust. She would remind every Vamp how glorious it was to bite. He hated to tell Laszlo his project would have to be scrapped, especially when the guy was going through hell. Maybe after the conference.
"There." Laszlo removed the last of the wires. "All done, sir. How does it feel?"
Roman ran his tongue along his teeth. "Good. Thanks."
Now, he wouldn't have to attend the conference with wires in his mouth. And Shanna wouldn't be able to use the splint excuse to avoid kissing him. Not that he had much hope for future kisses.
He glanced at the clock in his lab. Three-thirty a.m. He'd been calling Connor every thirty minutes for an update, but no one had seen Shanna. She'd pulled a great disappearing act.
Roman knew she was tough and smart. And she had his crucifix to protect her. Still, he worried. He couldn't concentrate on work. His package from China had arrived, but even that couldn't distract him from his growing sense of frustration and anxiety.
"Is there something else I can do?" Laszlo was back to plucking at his buttons.
"Would you like to assist me on my current project?" Roman gathered a pile of papers from his desk.
"I'd be honored, sir."
"I'm working on a formula that would enable us to stay awake during the daylight hours." Roman handed the papers to Laszlo.
His eyes widened. "Fascinating." He examined the papers.
Roman returned to his desk and opened the package. "This is a root from a rare plant that grows in Southern China. It's supposed to have remarkable energizing effects." He dug through a mass of Styrofoam peanuts and pulled out a dried root encased in bubble wrap.
"May I see it?" Laszlo reached for the dried plant.
"Sure." A week ago, the project had fascinated him. But now Roman had lost interest. Why bother to stay awake during the day if he couldn't share the time with Shanna? God's blood, she had affected him more strongly than he had realized. And now that she was gone, there was nothing he could do about it.
Two hours later, Roman returned to his townhouse. His guests from Europe were safely tucked away in guestrooms on the third and fourth floors. His so-called harem had been chastised for their rudeness to Shanna. They were skulking in their rooms on the second floor.
He entered his office and headed to the wet bar for a bedtime snack. While the bottle warmed up in the microwave, he wandered toward his desk. Memories of Shanna filled his mind. He could see her resting on the blood-red velvet chaise. He could see them kissing by the door.
He stopped with a jerk. There on his desk was the silver chain and crucifix. "Shanna, no." He reached for the cross, but it instantly seared his flesh.
"Shit!" He dropped it and examined the burned skin on his fingertips. Just what he needed - a painful reminder that God had abandoned him. Damn. He would heal overnight, but what would become of Shanna? Without the silver cross, she had no protection from the Russian vampires.
This was his fault. He should have been more honest. Now, in her anger, she had rejected the one thing she needed most to survive.
Roman squeezed his eyes shut and concentrated hard. He'd been connected to her mentally just the night before. And it had been an amazingly strong, two-way connection. Perhaps some of it remained.
He reached out for her. Shanna! Shanna, where are you ?
God's blood, he felt so alone and helpless.
Shanna moaned in her sleep, haunted by a strange dream. She was at work, and Tommy was in the examination chair, telling her to chill. Then he transformed into Roman. He raised his hand, palm up. A wolf's fang rested in a pool of blood.
Shanna rolled over. No, no blood.
In her dream, she picked up her instruments and looked inside Roman's mouth. She glanced at the dental mirror. What? The mirror showed an empty chair, but Roman was in the chair. Suddenly he caught her hand. He wrenched the dental mirror from her grasp and tossed it onto the tray. "Come with me."
Instantly they were back in Roman's office. He took her in his arms and whispered, "Trust me." Shanna felt herself melting.
Then he kissed her, kisses that she never wanted to end, kisses so hot that she kicked the blanket off the bed. He led her to his bedroom and opened the door. His king-sized bed was gone.
In the middle of the room sat a black coffin. No. Shanna stared at it in horror.
Roman held out his hand, beckoning her forward. She retreated to his office, but the harem was there, laughing at her. They had a new member - the dead blond from the television newscast. Blood trickled from two punctures on her neck.
With a jolt, Shanna sat up in bed, gasping for air. Oh God, even in her sleep she was a basket case. She dropped her head forward into her hands and rubbed her temples.
Shanna! Shanna, where are you?
She looked around the dark room, half expecting one of the dark shadows to move toward her. The clock on the bedside table glowed the time. Five-thirty a.m. She turned on the lamp.
No one there. She took a deep breath. Just as well. Roman couldn't help her. He couldn't be trusted. Tears of frustration threatened to overflow.
Dear God, she had never felt so alone and helpless.
Shanna hid in her hotel room most of the next day, waiting until it was time to meet Bob at the safe house. Her thoughts eventually gravitated back to Roman. How could she have been so wrong about him?
He was a brilliant scientist and a gorgeous-looking man. He'd rescued her without a concern for his own safety. He'd been kind and generous. And there had been something else she'd sensed inside him. A great well of remorse and regret. She'd understood his pain. God knew she lived with guilt and remorse every day of her life. Karen had been alive when she'd first found her, but out of fear, she'd done nothing to help her.
Her gut instinct had told her that Roman suffered from the same kind of torment. She'd felt connected to him in a deep-rooted, elemental way, as if their two souls knew how to comfort each other more than anyone else's ever could. He'd given her hope for the future, and God help her, she had sworn she was giving him hope. It had felt so right with him.
So how could he be a womanizing bastard with a harem? Had her loneliness and fear skewed her perceptions so that she no longer read people correctly? Had she somehow projected her own feelings of guilt and despair on him, making him appear totally different from his real self? Who was the real Roman Draganesti?
She'd been so sure about him. She had thought he was the perfect man. She had thought he was a man she could fall in love with. A tear rolled down her cheek. To be honest, she had already started falling for him. That was why it had hurt so much to discover his harem.
In the afternoon, she visited the hotel's computer room and did a search. She found nothing on Roman, but the website for Romatech Industries came up, complete with a picture of the facility near White Plains, New York. It looked lovely, surrounded by manicured gardens. She printed the page and folded it up in her purse. Why? She didn't want to see him again. He was a womanizing pig. Wasn't he? She sighed. Whatever he was, he was driving her crazy. And she had more important matters to worry about. Like staying alive.
By seven-forty-five that evening, she was ready for her trip to the safe house. The clothes Radinka had purchased were not designed for blending into the woodwork. With her hot-pink pants and camisole, and a big cotton shirt of neon orange and pink plaid, she could be spotted a mile away. Oh well. She would just think of it as a disguise. No one would expect her to look like a hot-pink version of Marilyn Monroe.
She packed up her belongings and took the elevator down to the lobby. She waited a few minutes in the taxi line in front of the hotel. The sun had set, but the city was still bright with lights - bright enough that Shanna spotted a black SUV parked across the street. She caught her breath. A coincidence, that was all. There were hundreds of black SUVs in New York City.
The next cab was hers. She climbed in and was instantly assaulted by the smell of hot pastrami. She leaned forward to give the driver the address and noticed his half-eaten sandwich resting on a sheet of crumpled foil in the front seat. The taxi lurched forward, making her fall back.