"Don't worry," Darcy spoke over Maria Consuela's head to Maggie. "One of the qualifiers is strength. There's no way any mortal is going to be stronger than a vampire."
Maggie exhaled in relief. "Good."
They reached the servants' parlor, and Maggie took Maria Consuela to her room to change.
"Land sakes, all that dancing has left me positively famished." Cora Lee sauntered into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of Chocolood from the refrigerator. "Would anyone like to share this with me?" She popped it into the microwave.
"I will." Lady Pamela retrieved two tea cups and saucers from the cabinet.
Darcy filled a glass with ice, then took another bottle of Chocolood from the fridge. "Have you decided who should be eliminated tonight?" She poured the chocolate and blood mixture into her glass.
Lady Pamela shuddered. "How ghastly. I cannot fathom how you can drink that stuff cold."
Darcy shrugged. She usually added some chocolate syrup, too. "The colder it is, the less I can taste the blood."
Vanda snorted. "But that's the best part."
"I know who needs to go." Cora Lee removed the Chocolood from the microwave and poured the warm liquid into the tea cups. "That clumsy George trampled my feet three times. And he never apologized for it, even when I yelped in pain."
Lady Pamela gasped. "What appalling behavior."
"I agree." Princess Joanna put a bottle of Type O synthetic blood in the microwave. She liked her meals simple. "As for the best-dressed contest, I wish to eliminate Ahmed of Cairo."
Darcy frowned. "You're not doing that just to please Maria Consuela? I realize she had quite a scare this evening."
"Nay, though I can certainly sympathize with her. I was frightened out of my wits a fortnight ago when I was badly burned." The princess cast a disparaging glance toward Cora Lee.
Cora Lee winced and rushed into the parlor with her tea cup.
"My reasoning is sound." Princess Joanna withdrew her bottle from the microwave and poured the contents into a glass. "The man was wearing scruffy brown loafers with a black suit."
Lady Pamela gasped. "Horrid, simply horrid."
"Ghastly!" Vanda added sarcastically as she popped a bottle of blood into the microwave.
Princess Joanna stiffened. "Prithee, you should take this more seriously. This is our new master we are choosing."
Vanda shrugged. "Aren't we doing fine without a master? I mean, we haven't killed each other." She grinned at the princess. "Though we did come close."
Princess Joanna huffed and stomped into the parlor. She sat in an easy chair. The ladies gave each other worried looks.
"If we didn't have a master, who would make decisions for us?" Cora Lee asked.
Darcy sat next to her. "You made a decision tonight to eliminate George."
"Oh." Cora Lee sipped from her tea cup. "I suppose I did."
"But who would pay the bills?" Lady Pamela asked.
Vanda removed her dinner from the microwave. She sauntered into the parlor, drinking straight from the bottle.
Princess Joanna frowned at her. "Such manners are a disgrace. We need a master to keep us in line."
Vanda swallowed. "Seems to me, all we need is money."
Lady Pamela set down her tea cup with a clink. "A master would take care of us."
Vanda sprawled on the couch beside her. "I think an occasional dose of vampire sex is all we need. And we wouldn't have any trouble finding lots of Vamp men for that."
Princess Joanna's frown deepened. "Are you suggesting we consort in a promiscuous manner? I assure you, I am far too dignified for such behavior."
Vanda rolled her eyes. "I'm just wondering what a master is really good for, other than sex and money."
The ladies sat there, silently. Vanda's question seemed to have them all stumped. Darcy watched, fascinated. The women were starting to question things they never would have before.
"I wouldn't mind a master if he was brave and heroic," Cora Lee whispered.
"Like Adam," Lady Pamela said.
"Did you see his face during the fashion contest?" Cora Lee asked. While the princess was judging, the other ladies had watched the competition in the parlor on the television.
"You mean when he stopped under the chandelier?" Lady Pamela asked. "He had the saddest look on his face. I thought I was going to cry."
"I wonder what made him so sad." Vanda gave Darcy a questioning look.
Darcy felt a blush creep into her cheeks.
Luckily, at that moment Maggie strode into the parlor. "Good news. Maria Consuela wasn't injured. She's just a little shaken by it all."
The women murmured their relief.
"Tell us what happened last night at DVN," Vanda demanded.
"Oh, yes! Do tell." Cora Lee exclaimed. "Did you see Don Orlando?"
Maggie grinned. "I did a screen test with him."
The ladies all sighed. Except for Vanda. She was frowning.
"How did it go?" Darcy asked.
Maggie leaned against the wall and hugged herself. "He looked deep into my eyes and asked for my phone number."
The ladies sighed again.
"Did you hear what Corky Courrant's been saying about him on Live with the Undead?" Vanda asked.
Maggie scoffed. "I don't listen to such vicious gossip."
"What did Corky say?" Cora Lee sipped from her tea cup.
"She said he goes through women like Kleenex," Vanda said.
"That's not true!" Maggie cried. "He's just looking for the right lady Vamp."
"Then he must be looking in every coffin in America," Vanda grumbled.
"What is Kleenex?" Princess Joanna demanded.
Vanda gritted her teeth. "It's a disposable handkerchief."
The princess sniffed. "I don't believe in disposable things. They are evil."
Vanda snorted. "Right. They're garbage. And Don Orlando treats women like garbage."
"Stop it!" Maggie shouted. "I won't let you talk that way about him."
Darcy was waging an internal battle, debating whether or not to tell Maggie the truth. But poor Maggie looked so hurt. Darcy decided she would wait until later. Maggie needed to know about Don Orlando's affairs with Corky and Tiffany, but she deserved privacy for the dismal news. "Did you pass the screen test?"
"Yes, I did," Maggie announced defensively. "And I'll be a star with Don Orlando, too. Just wait and see."
"What happens next?" Darcy asked.
"I have one more interview before they make their final decision. I have to talk to your boss."
"Sly?" Darcy stifled a groan. She'd have to warn Maggie about him, too.
"I am ready." Maria Consuela entered the parlor.
"Okay." Darcy went to the refrigerator to retrieve two more black orchids. "Let's go."
As they took the elevator to the first floor of the penthouse, Darcy explained the upcoming schedule. "After tonight, we're taking a break for three nights. You can all stay here if you like."
"Where will you go?" Maggie asked.
"I'm going back to Gregori's," Darcy answered. "Tomorrow night, I have to go to DVN to edit the first show. It'll make its debut the next night on Saturday."
"How exciting!" Cora Lee clasped her hand together. "We can watch ourselves on television."
"Yes." The elevator opened onto the kitchen. Darcy led the ladies to the foyer. "The show is scheduled for midnight Wednesdays and Saturdays. I'll be editing the second show this Sunday. You guys will have the day off. Then, we'll start shooting again Monday."
They filed into the foyer. Gregori had the men ready on the staircase in two lines of four. As usual, Darcy looked for Adam first. He was now wearing dry clothes. He didn't look up as the ladies arranged themselves in a line. Was he upset with how things had turned out?
The cameramen got into position. Bernie focused on the women, and Bart on the men.
Gregori began, "Tonight, two men will receive black orchids. If you receive one, you will be expected to leave immediately. The limo is waiting for you outside."
The eight men nodded. Bart panned slowly over their faces.
"One more announcement before we begin," Gregori continued. "The prize money for the winner has risen once again. The Sexiest Man on Earth will now receive three million dollars."