"I'm fine. It's been hard, but I'm okay." She'd been so lonesome until she'd entered Roman's world. She missed him already. And she missed Radinka, Gregori, and Connor. They'd become her first real friends since losing Karen.
"I discovered your whereabouts by accident," Sean continued. "My team's been watching Petrovsky for weeks. We have his house bugged, his phone tapped. We heard him make that call to the SoHo SoBright Dental Clinic. I recognized your voice and realized they were coming to kill you."
Shanna shuddered, remembering the terror she'd felt.
"We rushed to the clinic, but you'd already disappeared. We knew Petrovsky didn't have you. I was in a panic, trying to find you. I had Garrett watching Draganesti's house, and he spotted you leaving. Unfortunately, he lost you."
"I was afraid that Russian would kill her," Garrett mumbled.
"Luckily you called that pizza place. We had a tap on their phone, so we found you. We waited outside your hotel, then followed you." Sean glared at Garrett. "But we lost you again."
Garrett's face turned pink.
Shanna almost felt sorry for the young man. It was never good to disappoint her dad. "You work for the CIA now?"
"I always have."
"Oh." Shanna winced inwardly. So her dad had been lying to them for years.
"I was recently given a new assignment - to create a special team for the purpose of eliminating the most dangerous threat mankind has ever faced."
She swallowed hard. "Vampires?"
"Yes." Sean leaned back in his seat. "Five months ago, I was in St. Petersburg when I spotted a man attacking a woman. I drew my weapon. Told him to release her and back away. When he let go, she collapsed in the snow. I fired my weapon, but it didn't faze him. Then this chill came over my mind, and I heard a voice telling me to forget. And then he vanished. I checked the woman. She was dead with two punctures on her neck."
Sean shrugged. "They've probably been spotted many times over the centuries, but they always used mind control to keep humans from remembering what they'd seen. In my case, it didn't work."
"You can resist mind control."
"Yes. We all can. That's why my team is so small. There's only a handful of people in the world with enough psychic power to resist their mind control. We're the only ones who can defeat those demons."
She breathed deeply, letting this new revelation sink in. "How.. how long have you known about your psychic power?"
Sean shrugged. "Thirty years or so. When I joined the CIA, they discovered my talent and trained me to read and manipulate minds. It came in handy when dealing with scum."
"All those years you were working as a spy, you told us you were a diplomat."
"I couldn't let your mother know. It was hard enough on her as it was, with us always moving from one place to another, always living in foreign countries."
Shanna remembered how her mom always seemed cheerful and optimistic. She'd been a pillar of strength for the children, always making the upheavals in their lives seem like grand adventures. "I thought Mom handled everything really well."
Sean frowned. "Not at first. She was a nervous wreck. But in time, I learned how to manage it, and things got much better."
Manage it? A queasy feeling settled in Shanna's stomach. "How did you manage it?"
"I bolstered her mental strength with my own. She was much more capable after that."
The queasy feeling twisted in her gut. "You used mind control on Mom?"
The two guys in the front seat exchanged glances.
Sean shot her an irritated look. "You don't need to make it sound so bad. I merely helped your mother maintain a healthy mental balance. Otherwise the poor woman would have had a breakdown."
Shanna gritted her teeth. "It was for her own good?"
"Exactly. And you kids, too. It was much easier to concentrate on my job when there was peace at home."
Anger boiled inside Shanna. "You.. you controlled all of us? Like a freaking Stepford family?"
"Calm down. You're too old for a temper tantrum."
She clenched her fists and took a deep breath. She couldn't believe it. All these years, she had missed her family so much. But was her family, her entire childhood, all a lie? Was none of it real?
Suddenly a burst of warm air swept across Shanna's brow, encircling her head and pricking at her mental defenses. She closed her eyes and pushed back.
"That's my girl," Sean whispered.
She opened her eyes and stared at her father. The mental assault melted away. "That was you?"
He shrugged. "Just testing your defenses. You always were the strong one. And the more you fought me mentally, the stronger you got."
Her breath hitched. "That's why you sent me away. You sent me to boarding school because I was too hard to control."
"Hey." He pointed a finger at her. "I spent a fortune on you. And you got the best education in the family. You have no reason to complain."
Tears stung her eyes. "I missed my family."
He patted her hand. "We missed you, too. I was always proud of you, Shanna. I knew your abilities could be as strong as mine someday."
She pulled her hand away. Good God. Had she ever known her real mother or brother or sister? Or were they just peaceful robots her father had controlled? All these years, she'd felt bad about being sent away. Now she realized she was the lucky one. She'd been allowed to grow up free and develop her own sense of right and wrong.
And what her father was doing was wrong. Eliminating all vampires was akin to racial purging. It was a crime of hate.
She gazed out the window. What could she do?
"So, tell me," her father continued. "How can Draganesti stay awake and mobile during the day?"
"He's a brilliant scientist. He was testing a formula, at the risk of his own life, in order to rescue a friend."
Sean snorted. "He has you thinking he's some kind of noble superhero. Believe me, if he got hungry, you'd be just another warm meal to him."
She gritted her teeth. "He's the inventor of synthetic blood. He's responsible for saving millions of human lives."
"He probably invented the stuff to give his buddies more food."
Shanna turned to face him. "If you knew him, you would know he was good. But you won't even try. You're just determined to hate them all."
Sean frowned at her. "You're forgetting a very important fact, Shanna. They're no longer human. They feed off humans."
"They are human. Roman and his followers don't bite people anymore. They want to protect mortals. Petrovsky and the Malcontents are the ones who want to attack us."
Sean shook his head. "This synthetic blood is new. Before Draganesti invented it, he was feeding off humans just like the other vampires. They're monsters, Shanna. You can't turn them into saints."
She sighed. Her father had always been so stubborn. "There are two different kinds of vampires out there - the modern-day Vamps and the Malcontents."
"And it's our job to kill them all," Sean concluded.
"There may be some truth to what she says," Austin said as he steered the SUV into a right turn. "I've been listening in on Petrovsky's phone. He hates Draganesti with a passion. There's been some talk about the two factions duking it out."
"A vampire war?" Garrett asked. "That would be cool."
Sean turned to Shanna. "Those explosions at Romatech - do you know who was behind it?"
"It was Petrovsky and the Malcontents. They want to destroy all the synthetic blood in order to force vampires everywhere to go back to biting people."
Sean nodded. "What else do you know?"
"Roman and his followers are opposed to biting mortals. They're willing to fight in order to protect us."
Sean narrowed his eyes. "I find that hard to believe."
"Hey, let 'em fight," Garrett said. "Maybe they'll kill each other off. It would sure make our job easier."
Shanna groaned inwardly. Roman, Connor, Ian, and all the Highlanders risking their lives in battle? It made her sick. If only there was some way she could stop the war from happening.
The SUV pulled into a line at the entrance of nice hotel.
"Are we staying here?" she asked.
"You will," Sean answered. "Austin will remain with you for protection. Garrett and I have some business to attend to."