"I'll be generous," Roman continued, "and say you have a hundred men. That still leaves you outnumbered two to one. Would you care to wager on who's going to win tonight's battle?"
"You stinking svoloch. You can't have two hundred men."
"We teleported some in from the United Kingdom. But don't take my word for it. You'll see us soon enough."
Petrovsky cursed in Russian. "We can do that, too, you know. I'll bring in hundreds from Russia."
"Too late. The sun's already up in Russia. You can call, but they won't be answering the phone." Roman heard his friends chuckling. They wouldn't find his next comment very amusing. "But since you're in a bind, I'm willing to make a deal."
"What kind of deal?" Petrovsky asked.
Angus, Connor, and Jean-Luc approached Roman's desk with wary expressions on their faces.
"What do you want more than anything?" Roman asked. "More than killing Shanna Whelan or a few Scotsmen?"
Petrovsky snorted. "I'd like to rip your heart out and roast it over an open fire."
"Okay, I'll give you the chance. We'll settle this dispute once and for all. Just you and me."
Angus leaned over the desk, whispering, "What are ye saying, man? We canna allow ye to fight alone."
"Let our warriors fight," Jean-Luc said. "It's a sure win."
Roman covered the receiver with his hand. "This is the best way. We won't have to risk anyone's life."
Connor frowned. "Ye're risking yer own. We willna have it."
"What exactly are you saying, Draganesti?" Petrovsky asked on the phone. "Are you giving yourself up?"
"No," Roman answered. "I'm proposing a duel. Silver swords, and we don't stop till one of us is dust."
"What do I get for winning, other than the pleasure of killing your ass?"
"You will accept my death as payment for the safety of all my employees, my coven, the Highlanders, and Shanna Whelan. You will not harm any of them."
"Nay!" Angus thumped the desk with his fist. "Ye willna do this."
Roman held up a hand to stop further objections from his friends.
"How noble of you," Petrovsky sneered on the phone. "But that wouldn't be much fun for me, would it? I want a victory for the True Ones."
Roman considered. "All right. If I die this evening, all manufacture of Vampire Fusion Cuisine will end." After all, he wouldn't be around to invent the formulas.
"Does that include your synthetic blood?" Petrovsky asked.
"No. Synthetic blood saves human lives. Don't you want healthy mortals roaming about?"
Petrovsky snorted. "Fine. I get to skewer your ass, and I put a stop to your crappy Fusion Cuisine. Two a.m., Central Park, East Green. See you there."
"Wait a minute," Roman interrupted. "We haven't established what I get when I win."
"Ha! You're not winning."
"When I win, your people must swear never to harm any of mine again. That includes all my employees, both vampire and mortal, the Highlanders, and Shanna Whelan."
"What? Then your people remain safe whether you live or die. That sucks."
"It's my only condition," Roman said. "If you want a chance to kill me and end Fusion Cuisine, you'll take it."
While Petrovsky thought this over, Angus and Jean-Luc fussed at Roman.
"This is foolish, mon ami" Jean-Luc whispered. "When is the last time you practiced with a sword?"
Roman couldn't remember. "You trained me for over a hundred years. I can do this."
"But ye're out of practice, man." Angus glowered at him. "Ye've been closed up in yer wee lab for too long."
"Exactement," Jean-Luc announced. "I will go in your stead."
"No," Roman answered. "I transformed you, and I will not risk your immortal soul."
Jean-Luc's eyes narrowed. "That is the problem. You still feel guilty for transforming us."
"Dammit to hell," Angus growled. "It is our choice if we want to risk our souls. Who the hell do ye think ye are?"
Roman ignored them and spoke into the phone, "We come alone, Petrovsky. Just you and me, and only one survives. Are we in agreement?"
"Yes. But only because I've wanted to kill you for over five hundred years. Say your prayers, priest. Tonight, you die." Petrovsky hung up.
Roman dropped the receiver into place and stood.
"Ye canna do this," Angus shouted. "I willna have it."
Roman placed a hand on his old friend's shoulder. "This is my choice, Angus. It will save the lives of my friends."
"I am the best swordsman among us." Jean-Luc's eyes flashed an icy blue. "I demand to go in your stead. It is my right."
"Don't worry, Jean-Luc." Roman gripped the Frenchman's shoulder. "You taught me well. Wasn't I the one who delivered the fatal blow to Casimir?"
Jean-Luc scowled at him. "Only because I was watching your back."
"Ye're no' thinking straight," Angus insisted. "Ye're too distraught over that Whelan lass leaving you."
Roman swallowed hard. Was there any truth to Angus's claim? If Shanna were here, would he be so willing to risk himself? Still, he wasn't trying to kill himself. He certainly planned on winning. Killing Petrovsky might damage the Malcontent movement, but it wouldn't put an end to it. He needed to survive so he could continue to protect his people. "My decision is made."
"I'll be yer second," Connor announced.
"No. Petrovsky and I agreed to meet alone."
"He willna honor the agreement," Angus declared. "He canna be trusted. Ye know that."
"I will not break the agreement. And neither will any of you." Roman looked each of his friends in the eye. "You don't know where we are meeting. And you will not follow me."
They gave him looks full of despair. Angus opened his mouth to argue.
"Promise me," Roman broke in before they could object. "You will not follow me."
"All right." Angus glanced at the others with a pained expression. "Ye have our word."
Roman headed for the door.
"Ye once thought ye could save an entire village, and in yer pride, ye fell prey to Casimir. Now ye think to save us all."
Roman paused halfway through the door and looked back at Angus. "This isn't the same."
"Are ye sure?" Angus whispered. "Beware, my old friend. Ye've fallen to pride once before."
Shanna sat up in bed. She looked around, momentarily disoriented.
"Are you okay?" Austin asked.
"I - yes. I must have fallen asleep." She was in a hotel room with two watchdogs. Austin had been joined by a young, brunette woman shortly after they arrived. The clock radio beside the bed glowed 8:20. Darn. She'd slept for too long. But after staying up all night, she'd been exhausted. "Is it dark outside?"
"Sure." Austin pointed to a pizza on the table next to him and the woman. "You want to eat?"
"In a little while." So Roman would be awake now. Was he preparing for war with the Russians? If only she could talk to him to see if he was all right. Her dad had confiscated her cell phone. She glanced at the phone on the bedside table. Still disconnected. Austin had pulled the plug on it when they'd first arrived. She was obviously not to be trusted. She could hardly complain, since they were right. The first chance she got, she intended to go back to Roman.
"Hi, I'm Alyssa," the brunette introduced herself. "Your dad asked me to bring some of your clothes from your apartment." She motioned to a suitcase at the base of Shanna's bed.
Shanna recognized her old luggage. "Thank you."
"We rigged the television to show DVN." Austin picked up the remote and turned up the volume. "The explosion at Romatech was the big story on their news. They're wondering if Draganesti is going to retaliate tonight."
"This vampire television is amazing." Alyssa sipped from a canned cola. "They have soap operas just like we do. And what on earth is Chocolood?"
"A drink made of chocolate and blood," Shanna explained. "It's popular with the ladies, though I heard it's making them gain weight."
Alyssa laughed. "You're kidding me."
"No. In fact, Roman made a new drink to help solve the problem. It's called Blood Lite."