He motioned to the zombie marshal. "I assume you have the Whelan girl in a similar state? Where is she? Upstairs?"
Katya stepped back, a wary look in her eyes. "She has not yet arrived."
"What?" Ivan advanced toward her.
Katya flinched, clearly expecting to be slapped.
Ivan fisted his hand. Tension coiled in his neck, the pressure building till it became unbearable. When he snapped the vertebrae, there was a distinct pop. Katya blanched. Maybe she feared he'd do the same with her pretty neck.
She bowed her head. "I am devastated to have disappointed you, my lord." She reverted to the old form of address.
"You told me the Whelan girl would be here by eight-thirty. What happened to her?"
"I don't know. Bob told her to come here, and she agreed."
Ivan gritted his teeth. "And yet she is not here."
"No, my lord."
"Has she tried to contact him?"
"I had planned to feed on her before the damned ball." Ivan paced across the room. His plan had been brilliant. Not only would he make a quarter-million dollars, but he'd have the pleasure of watching Roman Draganesti suffer. First he'd suck the Whelan girl dry, then he'd go to Draganesti's ball and toss the dead girl's body at his feet. While Draganesti and his feeble friends flew into a panic, Alek and Vladimir would sneak off to execute the grand finale for the evening. It was perfect. It should have been perfect. Where the hell was the girl? He hated it when his meals were late.
"Stupid bitch!" Ivan cricked his neck to the side.
Katya winced. "She might come. She could be running late."
"I can't wait all night for her to show up. We have to go to that stinking ball. It's our only chance to get inside Romatech without those Highlanders stopping us." Ivan paced to a wall and punched a fist through it. "Now I'll have to go to that damned ball hungry. And there won't be anything fit to eat there."
"I'm hungry, too." Galina stuck out her bottom lip. A former prostitute from the Ukraine, the sexy redhead knew how to pout and how to please.
"There's plenty of blood left in Bob," Katya offered. "I only had a snack."
"Mmm. Yummy." Galina straddled him, licking her lips.
Ivan glanced at his watch. "We have five minutes." He watched as Galina sank her fangs into the marshal's neck. "Leave some for me." The man had outlived his usefulness.
Gregori checked his watch. "Almost nine o'clock. We'd better get to the ballroom."
Roman rose from the chair behind his desk. He dreaded this ball. How could he party while Shanna was in danger? Just the thought of drinking Bubbly Blood made his stomach churn. And now this latest news - Shanna's father was the head of a group who wanted to kill him.
God's blood. Was history doomed to repeat itself? This was too much like the debacle he'd experienced in London in 1862. He'd met a pretty young lady named Eliza. When her father uncovered Roman's secret, he demanded Roman leave the country. Roman agreed, but he hoped Eliza would understand his dilemma and elope with him to America. So he confided in her. The next evening, he woke up with his casket open and a wooden stake resting on his chest.
He went to confront the father, but discovered it was Eliza who had left the stake. Her father had stopped her from killing him out of fear that other demonic creatures would wreak vengeance upon his family. Sickened by the whole affair, Roman erased their memories of him. Too bad he could not erase his own. He started a new life in America, but the sad affair haunted him. Never, he swore, would he risk another involvement with a mortal female. And yet Shanna had entered his life and filled the dark recesses of his heart with hope.
How would she react if she learned the truth? Would she, too, try to kill him while he lay sleeping? Or would she simply wait for her father to do the job?
How had the CIA learned the truth about vampires? Some fool must have performed a vampire trick in front of mortals without clearing their memory of it afterward. However it had happened, it constituted a serious problem. He, Angus, and Jean-Luc would spend most of the conference deciding how to handle the matter.
Roman walked toward the ballroom, accompanied by the men who had been in his office. "Ian, how much did you find out about the Stake-Out project? How many agents are on the team?"
"There are five of them, including Shanna's father."
"Only five?" Angus asked. "That's not too bad. Do ye have their names? Maybe we can get to them first."
Roman winced. Kill Shanna's father? Now that would certainly boost his chances for a happy romance.
"It doesn't make sense to me." Jean-Luc tapped his walking stick on the floor as he walked. "No mortal can attack us while we are awake. We can instantly take control of their minds."
Roman paused in mid-stride. Was that it? Shanna had shown remarkable resistance to mind control. And her ability to read his mind while they were linked was uncanny. It was very possible she had psychic ability. Inherited psychic ability. God's blood. A team of vampire slayers, sanctioned by the government, who could resist mind control - it was unnerving.
"They must be planning to kill us during the day," Angus said. "I'll have to train more daytime guards."
"Mr. Draganesti is working on a formula that would enable us to stay awake during the day." Laszlo glanced nervously at Roman. "Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned it."
"Is that true?" Angus gripped Roman by the shoulder. "Can ye do it, man?"
"I believe so," Roman replied. "It hasn't been tested yet."
"I'll be your guinea pig," Gregori offered with a grin.
Roman shook his head. "I can't afford to have anything happen to you. I need men like you running the business so I can work in my lab."
Jean-Luc pushed open the swinging double doors to the ballroom, then with a gasp, he retreated back into the hallway. "Merde. It's that horrid woman from DVN. I think she saw us."
"A news reporter?" Roman asked.
"Not exactly." Jean-Luc shuddered. "It's Corky Courrant. She hosts the celebrity magazine called Live with the Undead."
Angus huffed impatiently. "Why is she here?"
"You guys are celebrities." Gregori gave them an incredulous look. "Didn't you know?"
"Yes." Laszlo ducked his head. "You're all famous."
Roman frowned. His inventions might have changed the vampire world, but he still spent long hours every night working in his lab. In fact, he sorely wished he was in his lab right now.
"Doona let her smile fool you," Angus warned. "According to my investigations, she once ran a torture chamber in the Tower of London for Henry VIII. She was called Catherine Courrant back then. They say she's personally responsible for wrenching the confession of incest from Anne Boleyn's brother."
Jean-Luc shrugged it off in his usual way. "And now she works for the media. But of course."
"The lads and I call her Porky Implant." Ian was met with questioning looks. "Ye know, Corky Courrant - Porky Implant. Tis a jest."
"I like it." Gregori raised his hands like he was holding two casaba melons. "She has huge tits. They got to be fake."
"Aye," Ian joined in. "They're enormous."
"Okay." Roman gritted his teeth. "Thank you all for sharing. But the fact remains that regardless of the woman's questionable background or her even more questionable.. foreground, we cannot remain hiding in this hallway all evening."
"Aye." Angus squared his shoulders. "We must face the dragon."
Ian took a deep breath. "We must be the dragon."
The double doors burst open.
The men shrank back without emitting a single puff of smoke.
"There you are!" the dragon lady announced, her dark eyes gleaming with victory. "You cannot escape me now."
Corky Courrant motioned for her crew to take their positions. Two men held the doors open. A large crewman wielded the digital camera, while a female crew member performed last-minute touches to Corky's makeup. Each of the crew wore black jeans and T-shirts emblazoned with white letters that read DVN. Guests, dressed formally in black and white, gathered in a crowd behind the reporter, effectively blocking off that means of escape.
We're trapped. The only avenue of retreat that Roman could see was back to his office, and no doubt the voracious reporter would simply follow him there.