"I don't think so," Oringo said. "We had good head start."
"God, I hope so."
"This reminds me of hunting in the savannah. I love hunting. That is my name, you know? Oringo means 'loves to hunt.'"
Shanna wrapped her arms around herself. "How do you feel about being the prey?"
With a laugh, he veered into a sudden right turn. "Do not worry. If black car comes, I lose them."
Soon they were outside Romatech. A long driveway curved from the front gate to the front entrance of the facility. Then it circled back through the manicured grounds to the front gate. The driveway was completely jammed with black limousines.
"I get in line?" Oringo asked.
Shanna looked in dismay at the line of cars. What the hell was going on? Getting stuck in traffic with no avenue of escape didn't seem like a smart idea. "No, drop me off here."
Oringo pulled to the side of the road. "Must be something big going on inside."
"I guess so." Well, the more, the merrier. A ton of people might be her best security right now. The Russians wouldn't want a bunch of witnesses. "Here." She passed Oringo a wad of money.
"Thank you, miss."
"I wish I could tip you more. I'm so very grateful for your help, but I'm running out of money."
Oringo smiled, his white teeth flashing in the dark. "No problem. I not have this much fun since coming to America."
"Take care." Shanna gathered up her purse and tote bag, then sprinted toward the front gate of Romatech.
"Halt!" A guard strode from the gatehouse. A Highlander.
Shanna froze while the memory of open coffins zipped through her mind. Don't think about it. Just get to Radinka.
The Scotsman's kilt was a dark gray and white plaid. He eyed her suspiciously. "Ye're not dressed in black and white."
Duh. Was there a law against hot pink? "I'm here to see Radinka Holstein. Can you tell her Shanna Whelan is here?"
The Scotsman's eyes widened. "Holy Christ! Ye're the one they're looking for. Doona move, lass. Stay right here."
He stepped into the gatehouse and grabbed a phone. Shanna pivoted, looking at the limousines. Since when did research facilities hold fancy parties?
She caught her breath. Out on the street, a black sedan pulled up in line. Shit.
She turned and ran for the entrance. She could only hope there was a whole regiment of armed Highlanders inside. Forget the damned coffins. As long as they were on her side, she'd manage to put the coffins out of her mind. Well, not completely.
She made it to the front door, where a limousine was unloading men and women dressed in black and white evening wear. They looked down their noses at her. A few of them sniffed as if she had a strange odor.
What a bunch of snobs, Shanna thought as she slipped inside. The wide foyer was filled with elegant men and women, gathered into groups and chatting. She weaved around them, aware of the haughty stares they angled her way. Sheesh, it was like showing up at the high school prom dressed in her grubbies and without a date.
She spotted a pair of double doors on the right, each door held open by a large potted plant. Music and the hum of voices drifted from the room. She made her way toward the doors.
Suddenly she saw a group of Highlanders marching down the hall. She slipped behind a door and potted plant. They spread out, searching the front entrance.
"Are you looking for the mortal?" a gray-haired man in a tuxedo asked.
"Aye," one of the Highlanders answered. "Did she come in?"
"Yes," the gray-haired man answered. "God-awful clothes."
"Definitely mortal," his female companion added with a sniff. "You can always smell 'em."
Oh, please. While the rich snobs kept the Highlanders occupied, Shanna sneaked through the doors and found herself in a ballroom. Couples dressed in black and white appeared to be doing a minuet straight out of the eighteenth century. Other guests wandered about, chatting and sipping from wineglasses.
She threaded her way through the crowd. People turned to stare. Great. With her hot-pink clothes, she was advertising her uninvited status for all to see. She needed to find Radinka fast. She passed a table with a giant ice sculpture of a bat. A bat? This wasn't October. Who did bats in springtime?
She froze in shock when she spotted the open coffin behind the table. It was being used as a giant ice chest. How sick could you get! She pushed her way through the crowd. Where the hell was Radinka? And was that Roman going up on the stage? He'd see her for sure. She hid behind a broad-chested man wearing a black T-shirt. DVN. He was holding a digital camera.
"You're on." The man cued a woman with huge br**sts.
"This is Corky Courrant reporting for Live with the Undead. What an exciting evening! As you can see behind me" - the reporter motioned to the stage - "Roman Draganesti is about to welcome us all to the twenty-third annual Gala Opening Ball. As you know, Roman is CEO of Romatech, inventor of Fusion Cuisine, and master of the largest coven in North America."
Coven? Who met in covens? Witches? Shanna looked around. Were these people all witches? It would explain the black clothing and the gory details like coffin coolers.
"Would you like a drink?" A waiter stopped in front of her, holding a black tray filled with glasses.
Was he a witch, too? And Radinka? And Roman? "I.. uh, do you have something light?"
"Yes! Mr. Draganesti's latest invention." The waiter passed her a wineglass. "Enjoy." He wandered off.
Shanna looked down at her glass. The liquid inside was red. Her attention was distracted by the sound of Roman's voice. God, he sounded sexy. The bastard.
"I'd like to welcome you all to Romatech Industries." His eyes scanned the crowd.
Shanna tried to make herself as small as possible behind the man from DVN, but damn, dressed in hot pink, she might as well be shooting off fireworks.
"And welcome you to the annual Gala - " Roman stopped.
Shanna peeked around the DVN man. Good God, Roman was looking right at her. He motioned with a hand, and Ian ran up onto the stage. The young Highlander turned and spotted her. He hurried down the steps and strode toward her.
" - Opening Ball," Roman finished. "Enjoy." He followed Ian down the stairs.
"Oh, wonderful!" the reporter exclaimed. "Roman Draganesti is coming this way. Let's catch a word with him. Oh, Roman!"
Oh shit. What was she supposed to do now? Trust a Highlander who slept in a coffin? Trust a womanizing Roman who must be some kind of grand warlock?
The DVN man stepped back, bumping into her. "Oh, sorry."
"No problem," she murmured. Suddenly, she remembered the flying bat on the television and the slogan, DVN. On 24/7 because it's always nighttime somewhere. Always nighttime? Was this some kind of witch network? "What does DVN stand for?"
The man snorted. "Where have you been the last five years?" His eyes narrowed. "Wait a minute. You're a mortal. What are you doing here?"
Shanna gulped. If she was the only mortal around, then what were these people? She retreated a step. "What does DVN stand for?"
The man smiled slowly. "Digital Vampire Network."
She gasped. No, it must be some kind of sick joke. Vampires weren't real.
Ian reached out for her. "Come with me, Miss Whelan. It's not safe for ye here."
She flinched. "Stay away from me. I - I know where you sleep." Coffins, vampires slept in coffins.
He frowned. "Now, give me that glass. I'll take ye to the kitchen for some real food."
Real food? Then, what was this? Shanna lifted her wineglass and sniffed. Blood! With a yelp, she threw the glass to the side. It shattered on the floor, splattering blood everywhere.
A woman screeched. "Look what you did! Bloodstains on my new white gown. Why, you - " She glared at Shanna and hissed.
Shanna stepped back. She looked around. Everywhere, people were drinking from the wineglasses. Drinking blood. She hugged her bags against her chest. Vampires.
"Shanna, please." Roman approached her slowly. "Come with me. I can protect you."
She pressed a trembling hand against her mouth. "You.. you're one, too." He even had a black cape like Dracula.
The DVN man shouted, "Corky, you've got to get this!"
The reporter shoved her way through the crowd. "We've had an exciting new development. A mortal has crashed the vampire ball!" She shoved a microphone into Shanna's face. 'Tell me. How does it feel to find yourself surrounded by hungry vampires?"