"We can't leave. George is still here. We can't leave him unprotected. And you know you can't go against Sean's orders."
Austin paced back to the window. He knew Garrett was right. But he wasn't finding out anything about Shanna. All he had was a list of vampires that Sean would want to terminate. How could he put Darcy's name on it? No wonder he wanted to run away from this assignment.
"They're leaving the portrait room." Garrett switched to the camera in the foyer. "The women are going toward the kitchen. Whoa!"
"What?" Austin strode back to the desk.
"The host guy just vanished."
"He must have teleported. Probably back to his apartment."
Garrett pointed at the one figure in the foyer. "Isn't that the director?"
"Yes." Austin moved closer. Darcy was standing alone in the foyer, her hands clenched together. She walked to the base of the staircase, then stopped. She looked at the front door, then back at the stairs.
"What's she doing?" Garrett asked.
"Trying to make up her mind." Austin's heart began to pound as Darcy mounted the stairs. What was she doing? At the landing, the staircase divided in two - one section going east, the other west. Was she coming to the east wing to see him?
She reached the landing and hesitated once again. Holy indecision. It would be better if she went to one of the male vampires. They were her own kind.
"She's coming our way," Garrett said.
Austin's heart raced. Please, come to me. What the hell was he doing? He couldn't have a relationship with a vampire.
Garrett headed for the door. "I'd better get back to my room." He let himself out.
Austin switched the view on the monitor to the surveillance camera in the upstairs east wing hallway. He saw Garrett slip into his room. And a few minutes later, Darcy entered the hallway, headed his way.
He turned off the surveillance equipment and closed the laptop. What did she want? He'd been ugly to her in the pool house. He should dread this meeting. He should refuse to see her. But knowing she was seeking him out made him want to jump with joy.
Darcy questioned herself with every step. Why put herself through more torture? But she'd seen Adam, sitting on the bench. In what he had thought was a private moment, he'd let his true feelings show. He was suffering as much as she.
She'd been the one to decide who would sleep where, so she knew exactly where he was. She raised her hand to knock on his door. Another twinge of self-doubt made her hesitate. He was a mortal. Let the poor man go! She had no right to involve him in the vampire world. He would learn the truth eventually, if he didn't know it already. And he would resent her for it. Just like she resented Connor. She stepped back. If she loved this man, she should let him go.
Love? Did she love him?
The door opened. Her breath hitched. He stood in the doorway, looking at her. His hair was tousled. His jacket was off. His dress shirt was unbuttoned, revealing that wonderfully muscled chest and stomach. And his eyes, there was so much pain and longing there. She knew in an instant - Yes, I do love him.
He leaned a forearm against the doorjamb. "I thought I heard someone out here."
She nodded. Now that she was here, all the words she'd planned to say vanished from her brain.
He frowned. Apparently, he was having similar difficulties.
"How's your finger?" She winced. What a dumb thing to ask.
"I think I'll live."
Which was more than she could ever do. Sheesh. How could she word this? Oh, by the way, have you noticed I'm a vampire?
"I said some rude things to you earlier tonight." He watched her sadly. "I'm really sorry. I never wanted to hurt you."
Tears gathered in her eyes and she blinked them away. "I'm sorry, too. I said some things I shouldn't have."
"I don't recall you doing anything wrong."
"I called you a prick."
The corner of his mouth quirked up. "It was more of an insinuation, but I deserved it."
He deserved more than she could give. She stepped back.
"What's up with the judges?" he asked.
She blinked. "Excuse me?"
"They dress so strange. One looks like a blond Scarlett O'Hara, and some of the others look like escapees from a Renaissance festival."
"Oh." Darcy clenched her hands together. "I admit they have rather odd tastes, but that's their idea of evening wear. Speaking of which, tomorrow night, all the men will be judged on how well you're dressed." She hoped he didn't notice how abruptly she'd changed the subject. Luckily, she wasn't breaking any rules. All the men were being warned to dress their best and be prepared to dance.
Adam shrugged. "I don't have a tuxedo."
"That's all right. The suit you wore tonight will be fine. You looked... wonderful." Good God, she was acting like a gushing teenager. "I - I should go."
He was frowning again. "About the dancing competition..."
"Yes? Cora Lee will be judging that."
"The Scarlett O'Hara knockoff ?"
"Yes." Darcy attempted a smile. "Most likely, she'll expect you to do a waltz or a polka. Those are her favorite dances."
"Not into hip-hop, is she?"
Darcy let out a nervous laugh. "No. I believe most of the men are brushing up on the waltz tonight."
"I won't be."
"You waltz really well?"
He snorted. "I don't waltz at all."
"Oh." Her heart sank. Then, tomorrow would be his last night on the show. Unless... "I could - " No, she couldn't.
"You could what? Teach me how to waltz?"
"No, I can't. I'm sorry."
"I know." He smiled sadly. "It wouldn't be fair to the other contestants, would it?"
She sighed. "No."
"You're basically very honest, aren't you?" he asked softly.
She swallowed hard. The one thing she really needed to be honest with him about, she couldn't manage to do. "Sometimes the truth is too difficult to say."
"I know." He watched her, his eyes growing more intense.
A sudden wave of heat washed over her. It filled her, enveloping her cold, dead heart with soothing warmth. The heat rose to her face, flaming her cheeks and rushing through her head like a fever. She closed her eyes briefly, basking in the glorious heat. How did he do this to her? Make her so hot just by looking at her? No man had ever had such an effect on her. But then, she'd never loved a man as much as she did Adam.
"Oh, God." Adam pushed away from the doorjamb and dragged a hand through his hair.
"Is something wrong?"
He shook his head. "No. Yes. I - I don't know." He grimaced. "I'll probably be eliminated tomorrow night."
"Do you want to be eliminated?"
"I don't know what I want anymore. It's all screwed up."
He looked so agitated, Darcy was tempted to read his mind to find out what was wrong. She'd never read a mind before. She'd always spurned all the nasty little vampire tricks - mind control, teleportation, levitation. She didn't want any part of it. Especially mind reading. It was such a terrible invasion of privacy. "I - I'll be sorry to see you go."
He nodded. "It's what I need to do. It's for the best."
She took a deep breath. He was right. It was for the best. "Then, you'll be gone tomorrow night." And I may never see you again. The last remnant of heat drained from her, leaving her cold and empty once again.
"I'll have to go as soon as the orchid ceremony is over. So, I'll say... goodbye, now."
She swallowed. "Goodbye." She extended her hand.
He frowned at her hand, so she stepped back, letting her arm fall to her side. He couldn't even touch her. How could her heart ache so badly when it was dead?
"Darcy." He reached out and held her by the shoulders. He touched his lips briefly to her brow. "Goodbye." Then, he turned and shut the door.
The next evening, Austin dressed in his dark gray suit with a silver and blue striped tie. Tonight, he'd be kicked off the show for sure. His bags were already packed. He'd ride off in the limo and never see Darcy again. It hurt like hell, but it was for the best.
He headed for the library with Garrett and George. There were five male vampires left in the game - Otto from Düsseldorf, Ahmed from Cairo, Roberto from Buenos Aires, Pierre from Brussels, and Reginald from Manchester. Gregori explained what was planned for the evening as he walked them to the staircase. One of the vampire judges arrived with the two cameramen, Darcy, and Maggie. Darcy looked beautiful, as usual, even though she was only dressed in pants and a T-shirt. Her eyes met his and lingered a moment before she looked away.