Vanda shrugged. "The worst was yet to come. When the German tanks moved toward our village, the men prepared a resistance. My father begged me to escape with my two younger sisters. I packed some food, and we fled south to the Carpathian Mountains. I... never saw my father or brothers again."
Darcy blinked to keep from crying. "I'm so sorry."
"The trip was very hard on my thirteen-year-old sister," Vanda continued. "By the time I found a shallow cave, Frieda could barely walk. I gave her the last of our food and water. My fifteen-year-old sister, Marta, left to get water and didn't return. I wanted to search for her, but I was afraid if I left Frieda, she would die. Finally, though, I had to go. I found a stream and filled our water bags. I was headed back to our cave when night fell. When Marta stepped from the shadows, I was so happy to see her. But she just stood there, so pale, with an odd look on her face.
"She swooshed toward me so fast, I didn't realize what was happening. She knocked me down and sank her fangs into my neck. I was barely conscious when she carried me - she was suddenly very strong - to a deep cave and introduced me to the vampire who had transformed her. Sigismund. He transformed me that night."
Darcy shuddered. "I'm so sorry."
Vanda sat on the bed. "The next evening, I rushed back to my little sister to see how she was. She had died. All alone."
"Oh, no. How awful." Darcy touched Vanda's shoulder.
Vanda's eyes glimmered with unshed tears. "I found a good purpose for the hunger that plagued me every night. I fed off Nazis and left many of them to die in southern Poland."
Darcy swallowed. "I'm sorry you've suffered so much."
Vanda snorted. "You think I told you all that for pity? What I want to say is I would go through all the pain and horror a million times over if it could only bring my sister back. If you love this Adam, you should embrace the feeling, no matter what. There is nothing more sacred than love."
At noon the next day, Austin wandered into the penthouse kitchen and found Emma heating up some Chinese food. He passed her the anklet. "We need to get this analyzed."
"No problem." She dropped it into her tote bag and looked him over. "You look like shit."
"I feel like shit." He sat at the table.
She spooned some sweet and sour shrimp and fried rice onto a plate and set it before him. "Feel like talking?"
"No." He motioned to a black and green bruise along her forearm. "What happened to you?"
"A bit of a tussle. Nothing I couldn't handle."
He narrowed his eyes. "You went hunting again, didn't you?"
"Eat your food before it gets cold."
"I told you not to go hunting alone."
She rested a hand on her hip. "And who would go with me when you and Garrett are on assignment here? Alyssa isn't up to it."
"Wait until we're done here. It'll only be a week or two."
Her mouth thinned. "I don't like to wait. Besides, I managed just fine on my own."
"You killed one?"
"Killed what?" George wandered into the kitchen.
Emma smiled. "I killed a roach in the laundry room. But don't worry. When I come back, I'll bring some insecticide."
"Good." George heaped his plate full. "I hate roaches."
"I cannot abide any sort of pest." Emma gave Austin a pointed look.
Pest. She would add Darcy to her list of pests. Holy shit. What was he going to do? How could he add Darcy to his list of vampires? It would make her a target for termination. Wasn't getting murdered once in her life enough? He recalled all the tapes he'd enjoyed watching. She'd been so clever, so happy, so full of life.
"You're not eating," Emma reminded him.
"I lost my appetite." I've lost my heart. Holy shit. Reality had become a nightmare. Did it feel this awful for Darcy, too?
With help from her cameramen, Darcy set up the obstacle course in the greenhouse.
Bernie added some potting soil to the puddle to make it muddier. "Guess what, Miss Newhart? I got that aerial footage you wanted." He exchanged a grin with the other cameraman.
Bart snickered as he moved potted plants away from the puddle.
Darcy watched them both carefully. They didn't glance her way at all. "You managed to get a helicopter that fast?"
Bernie snorted. "The guy told me he was booked solid for three months. But after a little mind control, he was much more helpful."
Bart laughed. "Yeah, he even forgot to charge us."
Darcy winced. She hated the way vampires invaded people's minds. "So, everything went well?"
"Oh, yeah. Just great." Bernie shot Bart a knowing look.
"Okay." Darcy exhaled in relief. They weren't smirking at her. They must not realize she was the woman in the hot tub.
"Hello?" Lady Pamela called from the greenhouse entrance. "I was told to come here."
"Yes." Darcy took Lady Pamela through the greenhouse, explaining how the obstacle course worked. "Don't worry. I'll be close by with the cameramen."
She twisted her silk reticule in her hands. "Where will the other ladies be?"
"They'll be watching the whole thing on the servants' floor. We rigged up a direct feed to the television in the parlor. They'll see and hear everything."
"And when it's over, we decide which men to eliminate?"
"Yes, two men." Darcy led Lady Pamela to the stairwell. The cameramen followed. "You're the judge tonight. The other ladies will most likely follow your suggestions on who should leave."
Lady Pamela nodded thoughtfully. "I shall do my best to discover which ones are mortal, so we can rid ourselves of their horrid presence."
Darcy led her down one flight of stairs. "Your actual goal is to test them on good manners and speech."
"I understand. But obviously, it will be the mortals who possess bad manners and speech."
Darcy sighed. "Right." She exited onto the top floor of the penthouse. "Gregori brought the men upstairs to the billiards room. They're right here." She motioned to the room next door.
Bart and Bernie rushed in with their cameras.
Lady Pamela glided in and curtsied to the ten contestants. "How do you do?"
Darcy hovered by the door, watching. Some of the men bowed in return. She scanned the room 'til she spotted Adam. He stood quietly in a corner, next to Garth, regarding the other men with an intense look in his eyes. Anger? Had something upset him?
"Good evening," Gregori began. "Tonight, each of you will take a stroll through the greenhouse with Lady Pamela. You each drew a number from a hat. That number will determine the order for tonight's proceedings. Who has number one?"
One of the male Vamps stepped forward. "I do."
Gregori checked the Vamp's number. "Lady Pamela, your first escort is Roberto from Buenos Aires."
Lady Pamela curtsied. "Charmed."
Roberto escorted her toward the stairwell and opened the door for her. Bernie ran ahead to record the couple from the front. Darcy followed with the cameraman Bart. As they ascended the stairs, Lady Pamela dropped her handkerchief. Roberto picked it up and presented it to her with a bow. He made it through all the obstacles in the greenhouse without incident.
They returned to the billiards room for contestant number two. Otto of Düsseldorf was huge with the neck and shoulders of a professional linebacker. Darcy secretly thought of him as the Vamp on steroids. Obviously, he planned to spend eternity exercising his muscles. He successfully returned Lady Pamela's hanky when she dropped it. They proceeded into the greenhouse.
"Oh, my!" Lady Pamela stopped in front of the manmade mud puddle. "Whatever will we do?"
"Ya, dat is one big mud puddle." Otto had apparently forgotten to exercise the muscle in his head.
"Oh, dear. I would hate to soil my slippers." Lady Pamela looked helpless, which in her case didn't require any acting.
"Do not fret, fraulein. De Otto is here." He hefted her high into the air so suddenly that she squealed. "Ya, you like my big, bulging muscles, don't you?"
Darcy rolled her eyes.
Lady Pamela giggled.
Otto strode through the mud and continued down the path.
"Begging your pardon." Lady Pamela smiled coyly at him. "You can put me down now."
"Oh, you are light like de feather. De Otto forgot he was carrying you." He set her down. "De Otto is very strong." He flexed his biceps.