No, the problem was the harem. Good God, she was willing to forgive him for everything but that. Why should the harem stick in her craw? She closed her eyes as the tears threatened to overflow. It was simple jealousy. She wanted him to herself.
But he was a vampire. She could never have him.
She glanced his way. He was still watching her, but now he was doing it while he sipped blood. Oh jeez. What could she possibly say? She blinked away the tears and steeled her nerves. "This is a nice room. Why did you have it built?"
"There have been a few attempts on my life. Angus MacKay designed this room as a sanctuary from the Malcontents."
"That's what we call them. They call themselves the True Ones, but in truth, they're nothing more than terrorists. They're a secret society who believes in their Satan-given right to feed off mortals." Roman lifted his glass. "To them, drinking this synthetic blood is an abomination."
"Oh. And since you invented it, they really don't like you."
He smiled slightly. "No. They don't care for Romatech, either. They've launched several grenades at us in the past few years. That's why I have so much security here and at home."
Vampire security guards who slept in coffin dormitories. Shanna hugged herself while she let this new reality sink in. Roman finished his drink and walked over to the kitchen area. He rinsed the glass out and set it in the sink.
"So you're telling me there are two kinds of vampires - the bad Malcontent guys who feed off mortals, and then the good guys like you."
Roman pressed his palms down on the marble countertop, his back to her. He seemed perfectly still, though she could tell he was breathing rapidly, struggling with some kind of inner demon. Himself.
He slammed a fist against the marble so suddenly, she jumped. He whirled around to face her, his face harsh, his eyes gleaming. He stalked toward her. "Don't ever make the mistake of thinking I'm good. I have committed more crimes than you can imagine. I have murdered in cold blood. I have transformed hundreds of mortals into vampires. I have doomed their immortal souls to an eternity in hell!"
Shanna sat motionless, shaken to the core, frozen by the intensity of his eyes. Murderer. Maker of vampires. Good God, if he wanted to scare her, he was doing one hell of a fine job. She leaped to her feet and dashed to the door. She had flipped open two locks before he grabbed her from behind.
"Dammit, no." He shoved her aside and turned the first lock. With a hissing intake of breath, he pulled his hand away.
Shanna saw the welts forming on his fingertips, smelled the terrible odor of burning flesh. "What - ?"
Gritting his teeth, he reached for the second lock.
"Stop!" She pushed his hand away and set the lock herself. Sheesh, what was she doing?
He cradled his injured hand against his chest, his face pale with pain.
"You burned yourself," she whispered. Was he that desperate to keep her safe? She reached for his hand. "Let me see."
He stepped back. "It will heal while I sleep." He glared at her. "Don't do that again. Even if you get out the door, you won't get two feet before I catch you."
"You don't have to make me sound like a prisoner."
He walked to the fridge and grabbed a handful of ice. "You're under my protection."
"Why? Why are you so determined to protect me?"
He stood at the sink, rubbing an ice cube over his seared fingers. Shanna finally decided he wasn't going to answer. She trudged back to the bed.
"You're special," he said softly.
She halted by the bed. Special? She closed her eyes. God, this man made her heart ache. Despite everything, she wanted to hold him in her arms and comfort him. "You could kill me yourself, and the Russian mob would probably pay you."
He tossed the ice into the sink. "I could never harm you."
Then, why did he want her to believe the worst of him? He'd described himself as evil. She sat down heavily on the bed. Oh God, was that how he saw himself? As a loathsome, evil creature? No wonder he suffered from so much pain and remorse. "How long have you been a.. ?"
"A vampire?" He turned to face her. "Say it, Shanna. I'm a vampire."
Her eyes misted. "I don't want to. It doesn't fit you."
He regarded her sadly. "I went through a period of denial, too. Eventually I got over it."
His mouth thinned. "I got hungry."
Shanna shivered. "You fed off people."
"Yes. Until I invented synthetic blood. The purpose of Romatech is to make the world safe for vampires and mortals alike."
She knew it. She knew he was a good man, even if he couldn't see it himself. "What else can you do? I mean, other than teleport or sizzle on a silver platter."
His eyes softened. "I have heightened senses. I can hear at a distance and see in the dark. With a good sniff, I can tell you're Type A Positive." The corner of his mouth quirked. "My favorite flavor."
Shanna winced. "In that case, feel free to use the fridge."
Damn, he was too good-looking for a demon. "What else? Oh, right. You can move faster than a speeding bullet."
"Only when I want to. Some things are better done slowly."
She gulped. Was he flirting with her? "Do you turn into a bat and fly around?"
"No. That's an old superstition. We can't change form or fly, but we can levitate."
"Don't you need to go back to your party? And your friends?"
With a shrug, he leaned against the counter. "I'd rather be here with you."
Now for the killer question. "Did you want to become a vampire?"
He stiffened. "No, of course not."
"Then how did it happen? Were you attacked?"
"The details are not important." He wandered toward the easy chair. "You don't want to hear it."
She took a deep breath. "I do. I want to know everything."
He looked uncertain as he unbuttoned his jacket. "It's a long story."
"Go for it." She attempted a wry smile. "I'm a captive audience."
Roman leaned back in the easy chair and stared at the ceiling. He had serious doubts about this. The last time he'd told this story to a woman, she'd wanted to kill him.
He took a deep breath and began. "I was born in a small village in Romania in 1461. I had two brothers and a little sister." He tried to conjure up their faces, but his memory was too vague. He'd had such a short time with them.
"Wow," Shanna breathed. "You're over five hundred years old."
"Thanks for reminding me."
"Go on," she urged. "What happened to your family?"
"We were poor. Times were difficult." The red blinking light in the corner over the bed caught his attention. The digital surveillance camera was working. He sliced the air with a cutting motion, and within seconds, the red light was off.
He continued with his story. "My mother died in childbirth when I was four. Then my sister died. She was only two."
"I'm so sorry."
"When I was five, my father took me to a local monastery and left me there. I kept thinking he would come back. I knew he loved me. He'd hugged me so tightly before he left. I refused to sleep on the pallet the monks gave me. I insisted my father would come back." He rubbed his forehead. "Eventually the monks grew tired of my complaining and told me the truth. My father had sold me to them."
"Oh no. That's terrible."
"I tried to console myself, thinking my father and brothers were doing well, eating like kings off all the money I earned for them. But the truth was I was sold for a sack of flour."
"That's awful! They must have been desperate."
"They were starving." Roman sighed. "I used to wonder why I was the one my father chose to give away."
Shanna leaned forward. "That's how I felt when my family sent me to boarding school. I kept thinking they were mad at me, but I couldn't figure out what I'd done wrong."
"I'm sure you did nothing wrong." Roman met her gaze. "The monks discovered I was eager to learn and easily taught. Father Constantine said that was why my father chose me. He understood I was the best suited of my brothers for intellectual pursuits."
"You mean you were punished for being the smartest."