"Go to hell!" Shanna turned, but there at the door stood the Russians.
"You're coming with me." Roman seized her in an iron grip and swirled his cape around them both.
Everything went black.
For a moment of sheer terror, Shanna couldn't feel her feet upon the ground. She was floating, confused, dizzy, but always aware that she was in the clutches of Roman Draganesti. Darkness enveloped her, disorienting and scary. A sudden bump and she was standing. No, stumbling.
"Steady." He kept a grip on her arm. When he lowered the cape, a cool breeze feathered her cheeks and surrounded her with the earthy scent of pine mulch and flowers.
Outside. She was in the garden that surrounded Romatech. Dim landscape lighting illuminated the shapes of bushes and trees and cast eerie shadows across the lawn. How did she get here? And she was alone with Roman Draganesti. Roman, the.. the.. Oh God, she didn't want to think it. It couldn't be true.
She jerked away from him, her Nikes skidding in the gravel of the garden path. Not far away, she could see the brightly lit ballroom through plate glass windows. "How? How did we.. ?"
"Teleportation," he replied softly. "It was the quickest way to get you out."
It must be a vampire trick, which meant only a real vampire could do it. Someone like.. Roman. Shanna shivered. It couldn't be true. She'd never bought into the modern notion of a romantic vampire. A demonic creature, by its very nature, had to be revolting. Surely, vampires were hideous creatures with green, rotting flesh, and fingernails a mile long. Not to mention a case of bad breath that could flatten a herd of buffalo. They couldn't look gorgeous and sexy like Roman. They couldn't kiss like him.
Oh my God, she'd kissed him! She'd stuck her tongue inside a creature from hell. Oh jeez, this would sound great in confession. Say two Hail Marys and avoid further contact with the spawn of the devil.
She stepped onto the grass into the dark shadow of a shade tree. She could see only a silhouette of him in the dark. His black cape stirred in the cool breeze.
Without another thought, she took off in a mad dash, heading for the lights of the front gate. She ran as hard as she could, not allowing the encumbrance of a tote bag and purse to slow her down. Her adrenaline was skyrocketing, her hopes of escape rising, rising. A few more yards and -
There was a whir of movement that shot past her, a blur in the dark that suddenly stopped in front of her. Roman. Shanna skidded to a stop to avoid crashing into him. She gasped for air. He didn't even look winded.
She bent over to catch her breath.
"You cannot possibly outrun me."
"I noticed." She eyed him warily. "My mistake. I just realized I shouldn't do anything that'll give you an appetite."
"You needn't worry about that. I don't - "
"Bite? Isn't that exactly what you do?" An image of a wolf's fang flitted through her mind. "Oh, jeez. That tooth I implanted in you - it really was a fang?"
"Yes. Thank you for helping me."
She snorted. "I'll send you a bill." She dropped her head back to gaze at the stars. "This can't be happening to me."
"We cannot stay here." He gestured toward the ballroom. "The Russians might see us. Come." He moved toward her.
She jumped back. "I'm not going anywhere with you."
"You don't have any choice."
"That's what you think." She shifted her tote bag to her shoulder and opened her purse.
His sigh sounded irritated, impatient. "You can't shoot me."
"Of course I can. I won't even get charged with murder. You're already dead." She pulled out the Beretta.
In a flash, he ripped it out of her hand and tossed it into a flowerbed.
"How dare you! I need that for protection."
"It won't protect you. Only I can do that."
"Well, aren't you high and mighty? Problem is, I don't want anything from you. Especially tooth marks." She heard his frustrated groan. So she was trying his patience. Too bad. He was trying her sanity.
He jabbed a finger toward the ballroom. "Didn't you see the Russians in there? Their leader is Ivan Petrovsky, and the mafia has hired him to kill you. He's a professional assassin, and a damned good one."
Shanna stepped back, shivering as a cool breeze ruffled her hair. "He came to your party. You know him."
"It's customary to invite all coven masters." Roman advanced toward her. "The Russians have paid a vampire to kill you. Your only hope of survival is with the help of another vampire. Me."
She inhaled sharply. He'd admitted the awful truth about himself. She could no longer deny it, even though she desperately wanted to. The truth was just too scary.
"We must go." He grabbed her quickly. Before Shanna could object, her vision went black. The swirling disorientation was terrifying. She could no longer feel her body.
When she became aware of her body parts again, she was standing in a dark room. She stumbled, regaining her balance.
"Careful." Roman steadied her. "Teleportation takes a while to get used to."
She shoved his arm away. "Don't ever do that to me again! I don't like it."
"Fine. Then we'll walk." He grasped her elbow.
"Stop it." She pulled her arm away. "I'm not going anywhere with you."
"Didn't you hear what I said? I'm your only hope for escaping Petrovsky."
"I'm not helpless! I've done pretty good on my own. And I can get help from the government."
"Like the federal marshal in New Rochelle? He's dead, Shanna."
She gasped. Bob was dead? "Wait a minute. How do you know?"
"I had Connor watching Petrovsky's house in Brooklyn. He followed the Russians to New Rochelle and found your contact there. The marshal didn't stand a chance against a group of vampires. Neither will you."
She swallowed hard. Poor Bob. Dead. What should she do?
"I've been looking everywhere for you." He touched her arm. "Let me help you."
She shivered at the feel of his fingers gliding down her arm. Not that it repulsed her. It had the opposite effect. It reminded her of how determined he'd been to rescue her, how kind and caring he'd been, how sweet and generous. His desire to help her was genuine. She knew that deep down in her soul, even though she reeled in shock from this latest revelation. How could she accept his help now that she knew the truth? How could she not? Wasn't there a saying about fighting fire with fire? Maybe the same held true for vampires.
Jeez, what was she thinking? Trust a vampire? She was a bloody food source for them. The blue plate special.
"Is that your real hair color?" he asked softly.
"Huh?" Shanna noticed he had moved closer and was looking at her too intently. Like he was hungry.
"I always knew the brown color was false." He touched a lock of hair on her shoulder. "Is this your real color?"
"No." She retreated a step and shoved her hair behind her shoulders. Oh great. She'd just exposed her neck.
"What is your real hair color?"
"Why are we discussing hair color?" Her voice shook and rose in volume. "Do freaking blonds taste better?"
"I thought a safe, mundane subject would calm your nerves."
"Well, it didn't work. I still can't get over the fact that you're a blood-sucking demon from hell!"
He stiffened with a jolt. Oh great. She'd hurt his feelings. But shoot, she had every right to be upset. So why did she feel bad about lashing out at him?
She cleared her throat. "I may have been too harsh."
"Your description is essentially correct. However, since I have never been to hell, it's not appropriate to say I have come from there." His shadow moved slowly across the room. "Though it could be argued that I'm there now."
Ouch. She'd really hurt him. "I - I'm sorry."
There was a long pause. Finally he responded. "I don't need an apology. You're not to blame for this. And I certainly don't need your pity."
Ouch again. She wasn't handling this very well. But then she didn't have much experience talking to demons. "Uh.. can we turn on a light?"
"No, it would be visible through the window, and Petrovsky would know that we're here."
"Where are we, exactly?"
"My lab. It overlooks the garden."
A curious smell pervaded the room - antiseptic cleanser and something rich and metallic. Blood. Shanna's stomach twinged. Of course, he worked with blood. He was the inventor of synthetic blood. And a drinker of it, too. She shuddered.