"A mortal must be drained dry by one or more vampires," Laszlo explained. "At that point, the mortal enters a coma. Left alone, he will die a normal death. But if a vampire feeds his own blood to the victim, the mortal will awaken as a vampire."
"Oh." Shanna swallowed hard. "I don't suppose many people get transformed anymore?"
"Nay," Connor answered. "We doona bite anymore. Of course, Petrovksy and his damned Malcontents do. But we'll take care of them."
"I hope so." Laszlo jerked at a button. "He wants to kill me, too."
"Why?" Shanna asked.
Laszlo fidgeted in his seat. "No good reason."
"Because he helped you escape." Radinka sipped some more Scotch.
Because of her? Shanna's throat tightened, making it hard to breathe. "I.. I'm so sorry, Laszlo. I had no idea."
"It's not your fault." Laszlo scrunched down in his seat. "I was watching Petrovsky on the surveillance camera with Ian. That man is not.. normal."
Shanna wondered what was normal for a vampire. "You mean he's crazy?"
"He's cruel," Connor said from the front seat. "I've known the bastard for centuries. He hates mortals with a passion."
"And he does that creepy thing with his neck." Ian turned the limo to the right. "Verra strange."
"You havena heard that story?" Connor asked.
"No." Ian glanced at him. "What happened?"
Connor twisted in the seat so he could see everyone. "About two hundred years ago, Ivan was still in Russia. He was attacking a village, not only feeding off the people, but torturing them. Some of the villagers found his coffin in the cellar of an old mill. They waited till he was asleep so they could kill him."
Laszlo leaned forward. "They tried to stake him?" "Nay, they were an ignorant lot, the poor sops. They thought burying the coffin would do the trick, so they took it to a consecrated graveyard and buried Ivan under a large statue of an avenging angel. That night, Ivan awoke and tried to dig his way out. He upset the earth so much, the statue tipped over and clobbered him on the head. Broke his bloody neck."
"You're kidding." Shanna grimaced. "Yuk."
"Doona feel sorry for the bastard," Connor continued. "Instead of fixing his neck, he flew into a rage and murdered the entire village. The next day, when his body tried to heal itself, his neck wasna lined up properly, and he's suffered for it ever since."
"He should suffer," Ian said. "He needs to die." Even if they managed to kill the Russian vampire, Shanna didn't know if her problems would be over. The Russian mafia could hire someone else. And a vampire war was erupting around her. She sank down in her seat. The situation seemed hopeless.
Back in her bedroom at Roman's townhouse, Shanna had no choice but to face the truth: She was seriously attracted to a vampire.
She glanced at the pillow where Roman had rested his head. No wonder she had thought he was dead. During the day, he really was dead. But at night, he walked and talked and digested blood. He worked in his lab, using his brilliant brain to produce amazing scientific achievements. He protected his followers. And whenever he felt like it, he had vampire sex. With his harem. All at the same time. And now he wanted to do it with her?
She groaned. What a strange dilemma. She had locked the door after Connor had brought up a tray of food, but it wouldn't stop Roman from trying to enter her brain. A very satisfying experience, he had said.
She put the empty tray on the floor and grabbed the remote control. She didn't want to think about sex anymore. Or his harem. On the DVN channel, she saw Corky Courrant standing in front of a blown-up section of Romatech and reporting on the latest details. Shanna hardly heard her, for she spotted Roman by the crater. He looked tired and strained. His clothes were gray with dust and grime.
The poor man. She longed to touch his handsome face and offer words of encouragement. Just then, the DVN reporter started a series of flashbacks, chronicling the highlights of the Gala Opening Ball. Shanna gasped when her own picture filled the screen. There she was, discovering vampires for the first time. My God, the horror on her face. My face.
She watched herself throwing the glass of blood to the floor. Then Roman grabbed her, flung his cape around her, and she disappeared. The whole thing was digitally recorded so vampires could enjoy watching it over and over.
With trembling fingers, Shanna turned the television off. The full weight of her situation bore down on her. A vampire assassin wanted to kill her. Another vampire wanted to protect her. Roman. She wished he were with her now. He didn't frighten her. He was kind and caring. A good man. Radinka, Connor, and the others agreed. Roman was a wonderful man. He just couldn't see it. He was too haunted by awful memories, memories too atrocious for one person to bear.
If only she could help him see himself as she did. She lay back on the bed. How could a relationship with him ever work? She ought to avoid further contact with him, but she knew in her heart she couldn't resist. She was falling in love with him.
Hours later, in the deep, dreamy moments before sunrise, she felt a sudden chill and snuggled deeper under the covers.
The cold seeped away, and she felt warm and cozy. Desired.
She blinked her eyes open. "Roman? Is that you?"
A soft breath tickled her left ear. A low voice.
Let me love you.
Shanna sat up and peered about the dark bedroom. "Roman? Are you here?"
I'm upstairs. Thank you for letting me inside.
Inside? Inside her head? It must have happened while she was asleep. An icy jab of pain shot from one temple to another.
Shanna, please. Don't push me out. His voice faded till it sounded like an echo coming from the far end of a cave.
She rubbed her aching temples. "Am I doing this?"
You're trying to block me. Why?
"I don't know. When I feel something coming at me, I just push back. It's a reflex."
Relax, sweetness. I won't hurt you.
She took a few deep breaths, and the pain lessened.
That's better. His voice sounded closer. Clearer.
Shanna's heart raced. She wasn't at all sure she wanted Roman in her head. How many of her thoughts could he read?
Why are you worried? Are you keeping secrets from me?
Oh God, he could hear her thoughts. "No big secrets, but there are some things I'd rather keep private." Like how incredibly handsome and sexy he - You're an ugly old toad!
Darn. She wasn't good at this telepathy stuff. The fact that he could read her mind made her want to produce strange thoughts just to throw him off track.
An air of amusement surrounded her like a warm cocoon. Then don't think so much. Relax.
"How can I relax if you're in my head? You wouldn't make me do something against my will, would you?"
Of course not, sweetness. I won't control your thoughts. I'll only give you the sensations of me making love to you. And as soon as the sun rises, I'll have to go.
She felt something warm and moist against her brow. A kiss. Then, soft fingers caressing her face. They rubbed at her temples till the last vestige of pain slipped away. She closed her eyes and felt the fingers tracing her cheekbones, her jaw, her ears. She wasn't sure how he managed it, but it felt so real. So wonderful.
What are you wearing ?
"Hmm? Does it matter?"
I want you naked when I touch you. I want to feel every lush curve, every deep hollow. I want your breath shuddering in my ear, your muscles tensing with passion, tighter and tighter -
"Enough! You had me on the first sentence." She pulled off her nightgown and dropped it into a silken puddle on the floor. Then she nestled into the warm sheets and waited.
And waited. "Hello?" She gazed at the ceiling overhead, wondering what was happening on the fifth floor. "Hello? Earth to Roman - your bedmate is naked and ready for launch."
Nothing. Maybe he was so tired, he fell asleep. Great. She'd never been good at holding a man's interest for very long. And Roman - he could be around forever. How could she be more than a passing fancy to him? Even if their relationship lasted a few years, it would be like a blink of an eye to him. With a groan, Shanna rolled onto her stomach. How could this ever work? They were polar opposites, as in alive and dead. When people said opposites attract, they didn't mean it in such an extreme way.