The men looked excited, all except Adam. The lady judges gasped, then smiled at each other.
"Princess Joanna, if you will step forward," Gregori said.
She strode forward and stopped beneath the chandelier. "This orchid is for Ahmed of Cairo."
Ahmed slumped with disappointment and moved down the stairs.
"Santa Maria be praised." Maria Consuela crossed herself.
Darcy winced. She'd have to edit that out.
Ahmed accepted the orchid, then trudged back up the stairs.
Cora Lee joined the princess under the chandelier. She held up her black orchid. "This one is for George from... some place." She giggled. "I forgot."
George Martinez from Houston cursed under his breath as he descended the stairs. After he accepted the orchid, the men dispersed to their rooms.
Darcy and the others went to the portrait room. She removed the flashlight from the wall safe and passed it to Gregori with whispered instructions. The ladies settled on the couches.
"Tonight, you eliminated Ahmed from Cairo." Gregori clicked on the flashlight and aimed it at the Egyptian's portrait. The black light made his fangs magically appear.
"Oh, what a shame," Cora Lee whimpered. "He was a vampire."
Maria Consuela frowned. "He was a Moor."
"And you eliminated George from Houston." Gregori illuminated George's portrait. There was no change.
Cora Lee jumped up. "I did it! I found another one of those rascally mortals."
The women stood and cheered. While Gregori poured glasses of Bubbly Blood, Darcy removed two more portraits from the wall. Now, there were only six men left - two mortals and four Vamps. By a strange turn of events, Adam had survived another round. Even though he hadn't wanted to.
"Congratulations." Gregori raised a glass to toast the judges. "You are one step closer to finding your new master. And your master is one step closer to being a very wealthy man."
"Three million dollars!" Vanda shouted.
The ladies burst into laughter and clinked their glasses together. Darcy set down her glass, unable to drink. When the ladies found their new master, they would all move away. She would lose all of them, just like she had Adam. She slipped out of the room and wandered across the foyer. An endless eternity stretched out before her with no family and very few friends. It was going to be very lonely.
It was four-thirty in the morning when Austin arrived back at his apartment in Greenwich Village. He would have to return to the penthouse in three days, but after he'd learned about their mini-vacation, he'd decided to leave immediately. He needed to get out and clear his head.
He'd watched the celebration in the portrait room via his surveillance camera. Seeing the vampires cheer the removal of another rascally mortal had irked him. Those damned vampires thought they were so superior. And if that wasn't bad enough, he'd seen Darcy's reaction. She hadn't celebrated at all. She'd put down her glass with a forlorn look and wandered off. Dammit, she didn't belong with those vampires. But she couldn't belong with him, either.
He was so pissed off by then, he'd grabbed his bags and hauled ass. Garrett had decided to leave, too, since the other human, George, had been eliminated from the show.
Austin flipped the three deadbolt locks on his door, turned on the alarm system, then collapsed on the couch. Videotapes littered his coffee table. All the videos of Darcy's newscasts. He'd enjoyed them so much when he'd thought she was alive. He slid in the last tape, the one that reported her disappearance. It showed the alley in Greenwich Village, the blood stain on the ground. The reporter explained that the police had discovered a knife with Darcy's blood on it. She was presumed dead.
Dammit, he should have known she was dead. But how could he believe it when he was falling in love with her?
Austin switched the television off. He leaned back and closed his eyes. He'd gone to that alley several times to look it over. The blood stain was gone, washed away by four years of rain and snow. But that must have been where she had died. His beautiful Darcy. Gone.
What was he supposed to do now? He trudged to the kitchen, grabbed a beer from the refrigerator, and wandered back to the couch. The computer disk was still on the coffee table. He inserted it into his laptop. DVN was a joint corporation with several major investors. The president in charge of production was Sylvester Bacchus, Darcy's boss.
Austin's gaze drifted to the legal pad where he was writing his list of vampires. Darcy's friends were on it. Gregori, Maggie, and Vanda. Holy crap, she would hate him forever for turning in her friends. And she could literally hate forever.
With a sigh, he listed the male contestants from the reality show, along with all the information he'd learned about them. Then, he began to list the female vampires. With each name, he felt a twinge in his gut. Dammit. They were vampires. The enemy. Why did he feel like he was betraying them? Because they're Darcy's friends.
He collapsed against the back sofa cushion. How could he do this? Hadn't Darcy suffered enough? She might be one of the undead, but she was also an innocent. He knew that deep down in his bones. Darcy could never hurt anyone.
And her friends? They did believe they were superior to humans, but he couldn't imagine them hurting anyone. They weren't anything like the vampires he and Emma had seen in the park. And they didn't seem to constitute a threat to humanity like Sean insisted. They actually cared about each other. They were capable of love. He'd heard it in Darcy's thoughts. She was in love with Adam. In love with him.
Could Shanna and Roman Draganesti actually be in love?
Dammit, how could such a relationship work? It was impossible. And even if these modern vampires were harmless, they couldn't have always been that way. Darcy's friends were obviously a great deal older than she. They could have been around for hundreds of years before the invention of synthetic blood. They had to have been feeding off humans.
And it was his job to protect humans. The vampires had to go. They were already dead, so why should he care? He was letting his emotions get in the way of his job. Refusing to do his duty was tantamount to treason. He couldn't betray his country or all the innocent people who were relying on him to do the right thing. With a growl, he seized a pen and scrawled Darcy Newhart on the bottom of the list. On the top, he wrote Vampires Must Die.
His heart cringed in his chest. The pen dropped from his hand. Oh, God.
He jumped up and paced across the room. How could he do this to Darcy? Darcy is dead, he repeated over and over as he paced the floor. Darcy is dead.
And he was cursed. For he was still alive and didn't know how he could live with himself.
The next evening, Darcy rushed to DVN to begin the editing process. Sly had arranged for an experienced technician to train her. She needed five segments, each lasting ten minutes. The remaining ten minutes of the hour-long show was reserved for commercial breaks. As part of the rental agreement on the penthouse, Roman Draganesti was expecting free commercial time on each show to advertise his Vampire Fusion Cuisine.
Gregori was going to be busy the next three nights in Studio Three making new commercials for Chocolood, Bubbly Blood, and Blood Lite. This had worked out perfectly for Darcy, allowing her to catch a ride with Gregori to DVN. Maggie was also excited about it, because Gregori had offered to let her star in one of the commercials.
By eight-thirty, Darcy was satisfied with the opening segment of the show - a tour of the penthouse and the arrival of the female judges. She looked up, startled, when Sylvester Bacchus barged into the workroom.
"You gotta see this!" He switched the television on to DVN's live broadcast. "I told Corky to do some promotion for the new show." He turned up the volume as Corky came on the screen.
"Welcome to Live with the Undead! I'm Corky Courrant with the hottest celebrity news in the vampire world. Tomorrow night is the night we've all been waiting for! The debut of DVN's first and only reality show, The Sexiest Man on Earth. But first, let's see what's going on with the sexiest man on the soaps."
"Oh, shit," Sly muttered. "Not this again."
A picture of Don Orlando flashed on the right half of the screen. It had been digitally embellished with a pair of goat horns.
"Is Don Orlando really the greatest lover in the vampire world?" Corky asked. "Or does he change partners every two hours because he's unable to satisfy a woman for longer than that?"
Sly shook his head. "He should have never cheated on her. She's going to crucify him."