"Sounds good." Roman walked toward the door.
Gregori glanced at Shanna. "Hey, you're good at this stuff. Would you like to help with the research study tomorrow night?"
"Yeah. It would be at Romatech, so you'd be safe." Gregori shrugged. "Just an idea. It would give you something to do."
Shanna considered the alternative, which was hanging around Roman's house with the harem. "Yeah. I'd like that. Thank you."
"Sure." Gregori tucked his portfolio under his arm. "Well, I'm off for a night on the town. This cape is cool, huh? Jean-Luc loaned it to me."
She smiled. "You're looking hot, dude."
Gregori strutted toward the door. "I'm too sexy for my cape, too sexy for my fangs. Too sexy." He whirled in a circle, then struck a disco pose with a hand pointing at the ceiling. "Too sexy!" He left with a flourish of his cape.
Shanna grinned. "I think he enjoys being a vampire."
Roman closed the door and returned to his desk. "He's a true modern-day Vamp. He's never had to bite in order to survive."
She snorted. "You mean he's so young, he's completely bottle-fed?"
Roman smiled as he sat behind his desk. "If you ever want to upset him, just tell him disco is dead."
Shanna laughed, but when she looked at Roman, the tragedy of their situation jolted through her and abruptly cut off her laughter. How could their relationship ever work? She would grow old while he stayed young. She doubted she could ever have children with him or the normal life she wanted. And he couldn't make love to her without wanting to bite her. It was impossible.
Roman leaned forward. "Are you all right?"
"Sure," it came out a bit high-pitched and squeaky. Tears clouded her eyes, and she looked away.
"You've been through an awful lot the last few days. Your life has been threatened. Your reality has been.."
He winced. "I was going to say altered. You know about the vampire world now, but the mortal world is much the same as it always was."
It would never be the same. Shanna sniffed, trying to hold back the tears. "All I ever wanted was a normal life. I wanted to set down roots in a community and feel like I belonged there. I wanted a normal, steady job. A normal, steady husband." A tear rolled down her cheek, and she quickly brushed it away. "I wanted a big house, with a big yard, and a picket fence, and a big dog. And.." Another tear escaped. "I wanted children."
"Those are good things to want," Roman whispered.
"Yes." She wiped her cheeks and avoided looking at him.
"You don't think we have a future, do you?"
She shook her head. She heard his chair squeak and ventured a quick glance. He was leaning back, staring at the ceiling. He seemed calm on the surface, but she could see the muscles rippling in his jaw as he ground his teeth.
"Maybe I should go now." She stood on shaky legs.
"A normal, steady husband," he muttered. He leaned forward, pinning her with a pair of angry eyes. "You have too much life, too much intelligence in you for a boring husband. You need passion in your life. You need someone who challenges your mind, who makes you scream in bed." He rose to his feet. "You need me."
"Like a hole in my head. Or in my case, a hole in my leg."
"I'm not going to bite you again!"
"You can't help it!" Tears streamed down her face. "It's in your nature."
He sat in his chair, his face pale. "You believe it is my nature to be evil?"
"No!" She wiped her cheeks angrily. "I think you're good and honorable and.. almost perfect. I know normally you would never want to hurt anyone. But when we're making love, there will come a point where you'll lose control. I've seen it. Your eyes glow red, and your teeth - "
"It won't happen again. I'll drink a full bottle before making love to you."
"You can't help it. You.. you have too much passion."
He clenched his fists. "There's a good reason for that."
"You can't guarantee you won't bite me again. It's just.. who you are."
"I give you my word. Here." Using a pencil, he dragged the silver cross and chain across his desk. "Put this on. I won't even be able to embrace you, much less bite you."
With a sigh, Shanna looped the chain around her neck. "I guess I need silver ring toes and a pair of silver garters. Oh, and a silver belly ring and nipple rings."
"Don't you dare pierce your beautiful body."
"Why not? You did."
Jeez. Now she was hurting him. "I'm sorry. I'm not handling this well."
"You're doing fine, but you've been through too much lately. All that giggling with Gregori - I think you're feeling a bit.. shaky right now. You should get some rest."
"Maybe so." Shanna lifted the crucifix to examine it. "How old is this cross?"
"Father Constantine gave it to me when I was ordained."
"It's lovely." She pressed it against her chest and took a deep breath. "Connor told me what happened to the monks. I'm so very sorry. You have to know it wasn't your fault."
He closed his eyes and rubbed his brow. "You said we were different, but we're not. We're so much alike. You feel the same way about your friend who was murdered. We have an emotional connection and a strong psychic one, too. You can't ignore that."
The tears threatened to overflow again. "I'm sorry. I do want you to be happy. After all you've been through, you deserve happiness."
"So do you. I'm not giving up on us, Shanna."
A tear slipped down her cheek. "It would never work. You'll be young and beautiful forever. And I'll grow old and gray."
"I don't care. It doesn't matter."
She sniffed. "Of course it matters."
"Shanna." He stood and rounded the desk. "You will still be you. And I love you."
Ten minutes later, Roman teleported to Radinka's office at Romatech.
She looked up from her work. "There you are. You're running late. Angus and Jean-Luc are waiting in your office."
"Fine. Radinka, I need you to research something for me."
"Sure." She leaned forward, resting her elbows on her desk. "What is it?"
"I think I should buy some new property."
"For another facility? That's a good idea, what with these Malcontents going around, blowing things up. By the way, I went ahead and ordered a transfer of synthetic blood from your Illinois plant."
Radinka picked up a pen and legal pad. "So, where do you want the new plant?"
Frowning, Roman shifted his weight. "It's not a plant. I need a.. house. A big house."
Radinka's brows lifted, but she scribbled his request on the pad. "Any specifications, other than big?"
"It needs to be in a nice community, not too far from here. Picket fence, big yard, big dog."
She tapped the tip of the pen on the pad. "I don't believe dogs are normally included in the purchase of a house."
"I'm aware of that." He crossed his arms, irritated by the amusement on Radinka's face. "But I'll need to know where to buy a big dog, or maybe a puppy that will grow into a big dog."
"What kind of dog, may I ask?"
"A big one." He gritted his teeth. "Get me some pictures of different breeds. And different houses for sale. I won't be the one making the final selection."
"Ah." Radinka's smile widened. "Does this mean things are going well between you and Shanna?"
"No, they're not. I'll probably end up using the house as a rental property."
Radinka's smile withered. "Then perhaps this idea is premature. If you push her too fast, she might run."
She might run anyway, Roman thought with a groan. "More than anything she wants a normal life and a normal husband." With a grimace, he shrugged one shoulder. "I'm not exactly normal."
Radinka's mouth twitched. "I suppose not, but after fifteen years at Romatech, I'm not sure what normal is anymore."
"I can give her a normal house and a normal dog."
"You're trying to buy normalcy? She'll see through that."
"I'm hoping she'll see that I'm trying to make her dreams come true. I'll try to give her as normal a life as I can."