"Oh, look." Cora Lee pointed at the TV. "Who is that?"
When Darcy glanced at the television, her breath caught. One of the cameramen had gone to the roof and was aiming his camera through the glass panes of the greenhouse. Adam was sitting on the bench, hunched over, his head resting in his hands.
"I think it's Adam." Vanda gave Darcy a curious look.
Cora Lee sighed. "The poor man. He looks so sad."
Darcy swallowed. He looked absolutely miserable. That should have made her sad, but a small kernel of satisfaction curled in her heart. Yes! He was hurting, too. He really did care.
"You should have let me taste his blood," Lady Pamela grumbled. "I would have known in an instant if he was mortal or Vamp."
"He is one of us," Princess Joanna announced. "He must be. He was too knowledgeable about our nights."
"That was odd." Vanda exchanged a worried look with Darcy.
Darcy's throat went dry. She glanced again at the television. Adam was rubbing his forehead with his hand. Had he discovered their secret? Was that why he couldn't look at her or touch her all of a sudden?
"I agree." Maria Consuela said. "Adam must be a Vamp."
Darcy sighed. "Since you know which men to eliminate, let's go ahead with the orchid ceremony. Take two orchids from the fridge and meet us in the foyer in five minutes."
They agreed. Darcy took the elevator to the second floor of the penthouse and asked all the men to come to the foyer. She sent Gregori to fetch Adam and the second cameraman. She arranged the men in two lines on the grand staircase. Then, she quickly moved across the foyer so she could be far away when Adam arrived.
The five lady judges marched into the foyer, their heads held high. They formed a line under the huge chandelier.
"Gentlemen," Gregori announced, "two of you will be going home tonight. The limo is waiting downstairs. You'll know you're leaving when you receive a black orchid. Are you ready?"
As the men nodded, Bernie panned the camera over their faces.
"One more announcement before we begin," Gregori continued. "The amount of the prize money has just gone up. Now, the winner of The Sexiest Man on Earth will receive two million dollars."
The women gasped. Bart caught their reactions on his camera, while Bernie recorded the men's.
"Lady Pamela, you may begin." Gregori motioned for her to step forward.
She moved forward, holding two black orchids. "We look forward to furthering our acquaintance with those of you who will remain. Now, for the orchids." She took a deep breath. "Nicholas of Chicago."
Nicholas, dressed in a clean set of clothes, trudged down the stairs to accept the orchid. "Sorry I dropped you." He went back up the stairs and accepted condolences from the other men.
"Antonio of Madrid," Lady Pamela announced.
With a crestfallen expression, Antonio accepted the orchid. "I am tho thorry."
Darcy glanced at Adam. Of all the remaining men, he alone looked sad. He wandered off to his room without looking back. The judges, host, and cameramen went to the portrait room for the final revelation of the evening. Darcy joined them.
"Two million dollars!" Cora Lee grinned. "Land sakes, our new master will be filthy rich!"
"Yes, but we must make sure he is a vampire," Princess Joanna warned.
"Oh, Darcy, do tell us that after tonight, we will be rid of all the pesky mortals," Lady Pamela begged.
"I can't say." Darcy retrieved the special flashlight from the wall safe. She handed it to Gregori and whispered in which order to reveal the men. Then, she dimmed the lights.
The women settled on the couches, their faces bright with excitement.
Gregori approached the portraits. "Tonight, you eliminated Antonio of Madrid." He flipped on the flashlight. Instantly, Antonio's white fangs appeared.
"Oh, dear." Lady Pamela winced. "I was so sure a vampire would never have a speech impediment."
"And you eliminated Nicholas from Chicago."
Gregori shone the light on Nicholas's portrait. For a tense moment, the women stared at his picture. Nothing happened.
"Yes!" Cora Lee bounced to her feet. "He's a mortal!"
"I did it!" Lady Pamela jumped up, grinning. "I discovered one of the mortals."
The women hugged each other, laughing.
Gregori popped open a bottle of Bubbly Blood. "This calls for a celebration." He poured seven glasses full. Darcy helped him serve the judges. Then, Gregori handed her one and kept one for himself.
"Congratulations, ladies!" He raised his glass. "You are one step closer to choosing your new master. And your master is one step closer to becoming a very wealthy man."
The women laughed and clinked their glasses together. The cameramen focused on their happy faces.
"You're not drinking." Gregory looked at Darcy. "You really should, you know. The show is turning out great."
Darcy looked down at the mixture of champagne and blood in her glass, Yeah, great. She was helping the ex-harem find a new master. And she was helping them learn to make their own decisions and stand up for themselves. But it all seemed empty without Adam.
In his bedroom, Austin observed the ladies' celebration on his laptop. With his roommate Nicholas gone, his spying had become much easier.
Garrett stood behind him, watching the scene. "So, that's the game they're playing. They're trying to figure out which of us is human, so they can get rid of us."
"It sure explains why the anklet is so important."
Austin tugged at his pants leg to look at his new anklet. Maggie had brought it to him right after sunset with a warning that he had to put it on immediately.
"Yeah." Garrett rested a hand on the back of Austin's chair as he leaned forward. "What's that they're drinking?"
"Something with synthetic blood in it." Austin watched Darcy lift the glass to her mouth. She took a sip, then licked her lips. Lips he had kissed. A mouth he had explored. Shit.
He jumped to his feet so fast, the chair tipped backwards and Garrett caught it. He strode toward the window and looked out. He couldn't see much of anything in the dark, only his reflection in the glass. Darcy wouldn't even make a reflection.
Holy crap. Did everything have to remind him that he was alive and she was dead? Or worse, she was undead. Dead during the day, but walking and talking and crying real tears during the night. She was alive just enough to torture him.
And tempt him. She was still so damned beautiful. Still so smart. Still so Darcy.
"Something wrong?" Garrett asked.
"Everything's wrong." Austin paced across the room. "This is a waste of time. We're not learning anything useful."
"I know the names of a bunch of vampires. That's more than I knew a few days ago."
"We were supposed to get friendly with them and learn about Shanna. It isn't happening." Although Austin had to admit he had certainly been friendly with one of them. Unfortunately, he'd forgotten all about Shanna when Darcy was in his arms.
"Well, it's hard to be friendly with a pack of murderous creatures," Garrett muttered.
"Oh, come on. Those women are harmless. They just want to wear pretty clothes and have someone take care of them. Sheesh, they get bent out of shape if your manners aren't impeccable."
Garrett snorted. "You're getting soft. Do you think the men are harmless, too?"
"I talked to a few of them tonight. Roberto owns an aluminum shutter company in Argentina. Otto runs a health club in Germany." Though Austin couldn't quite see a correlation between being healthy and undead.
Garrett frowned. "They probably commit crimes all the time. I bet they use mind control to steal money from people."
"Then why would they want the prize money so bad?"
"I don't know," Garrett mumbled. "But if they ran out of synthetic blood, they'd bite you in a minute."
Maybe so. Austin shook his head. But wouldn't he do the same if it was the only way to survive? "The point is they do drink synthetic blood. So, their intent is not to harm humans. Meanwhile, the really vicious vampires are trolling Central Park for victims as we speak. And here we are, picking up hankies."
"It's our assignment."
"It's stupid! We should go to Central Park and stop innocent people from getting attacked."