As he crossed the lobby, he waved at the security guard. "Everything's fixed."
Back in his apartment, Austin made labels for each of the disks and downloaded all the data onto his laptop. He now had all the information anyone would ever want to know about DVN. All he had to do was email it to Sean. But if he sent the information, Darcy would be targeted with all the other vampires.
He shut the laptop and looked at the stuff on his coffee table. Videos of Darcy, disks from DVN, and the damned list that said Vampires Must Die. He couldn't take it anymore. The more he tried to do the right thing, the worse he felt.
Sometimes, being the good guy really sucked.
It was Saturday night and time for the debut. Gregori drove Darcy and Maggie to the penthouse. There, they found the lady judges in their parlor, waiting excitedly for the show to begin. The Bubbly Blood was chilling in an ice bucket.
Midnight arrived, and the ladies were glued to the screen. All televisions had been removed from the rooms upstairs. The male Vamps needed to remain ignorant about the mortal competitors, so they weren't allowed to watch the show until it was finished. And of course, the mortals had to be kept completely in the dark. That was easy to do, since the two mortals had left the penthouse entirely.
As the show came to a close, Darcy grew tense with worry. The last scene was the one in the portrait room when the ladies discovered for the first time that some of the contestants were mortal. Soon, the ladies' outrage would explode on the screen. How on earth would Sly react? He'd wanted a big twist, but this might be a bigger one than he could handle.
When the closing credits began, the ladies poured Bubbly Blood and toasted each other. Darcy accepted a glass with a growing sense of doom. Any minute now...
The phone rang. She set down her glass with a sigh.
Gregori answered the phone. "Sure, she's here." He handed the receiver to Darcy. "It's Shanna Draganesti."
Darcy blinked. Shanna? Why would she be calling? "Hello?"
"Darcy, I need to talk to you. It's important."
"Okay." Darcy waited for Shanna to talk.
"I mean in person. I'm at our new house in White Plains. Can you teleport here?"
Darcy's grip on the phone tightened. "Actually, no. Maybe Gregori can drive me - ?" She gave him a questioning look.
"No, that'll take too long." Shanna's voice faded. It sounded like she had covered the receiver to talk to someone else. "Connor wants you here now."
Darcy's heart lurched in her chest. "I - I'd rather not - "
"It's urgent, Darcy. You need to teleport here now."
"I don't... know how. I've never done it before." Her face flooded with heat as she realized Shanna was sharing her inadequacy with Connor. Her eye twitched. "Look, Gregori can drive me. We'll leave right away."
"Keep talking," Shanna said. "Connor's coming to get you."
"No!" Darcy gasped for air. "I don't want to teleport, and I sure don't want to go anywhere with - " A figure materialized beside her. A man in a red and green kilt. "Connor." The phone slipped from her hand and clattered on the floor.
"I'm sorry, lass, but ye need to come with me." The Scotsman wrapped a strong arm around her, and everything went black.
Terror whipped through Darcy. She was trapped and helpless, just like she'd been four years ago. She couldn't feel her body. The only thing keeping her from floating away like vapor into a black void was the steel-like grip of Connor. Once again, he was abducting her against her will. She hated him for it, and she hated herself for being so damned afraid. Good God, if she had any courage in her at all, she'd push herself away and fade into oblivion, never to materialize again.
As soon as her feet touched ground, a room wavered before her eyes and came into view. A living room with two wingback chairs, a television, and a sofa. Shanna was sitting in a chair, watching them. Darcy broke free from Connor and stumbled.
"Careful." He reached out to steady her.
"Don't - " The words touch me stuck in her throat when she saw his face. Regret had etched lines on his brow and dulled the blue of his eyes. The truth scraped at her like overlong fingernails, and she looked away. God have mercy. His decision that night haunted him as much as it did her.
Shanna set her phone down on the coffee table next to her drink. "Thank you for coming, Darcy."
Like she'd been given any choice. Darcy pivoted, surveying the comfortable room decorated in blue toile with yellow accents. "Is this your new house?"
"Yes. Roman wants to keep the location a secret. The Highlanders know, of course, since they do our security." Shanna motioned to the blue velvet couch. "Please have a seat."
Darcy circled the coffee table and sat close to Shanna. "What's wrong? Are the Malcontents causing trouble again?"
"Not so much, now that Petrovsky is dead. I'm afraid our latest security problems are caused more by my father."
Darcy glanced briefly at Connor who was standing still, his arms crossed over his broad chest. "I heard a little about your father the night of your wedding."
Shanna sighed. "At least we were still able to have the wedding. Would you like something to drink?"
"No, thank you."
"I need to go to Roman's townhouse to fetch the file," Connor announced quietly. "I'll return soon." He faded away.
Darcy breathed easier once he'd teleported away.
Shanna smiled. "I saw your show. You did a fabulous job."
"I know the ex-harem probably hates me, but I really do wish them well." Shanna's smile widened. "I just wish them well far away from my husband."
"I understand." Darcy wondered what on earth could be so urgent that she was here. "If it helps, I can assure you that none of the harem ladies ever harbored romantic feelings for Roman. It was simply a matter of convenience."
"Thanks. That's good to know." Shanna sipped from her drink as an awkward silence fell between them.
"Why am I here?" Darcy finally asked.
Shanna shifted uneasily in her chair. "I think we should wait until Connor returns."
Darcy sighed. She really didn't want to discuss anything with Connor around. It was so hard to concentrate when she kept imagining what he had done four years ago. "It doesn't bother you to be surrounded by vampires?" Darcy blurted out. "I mean you're not frightened or... repulsed by us?"
Shanna smiled. "I was a bit freaked at first, but once I got to know Roman and his friends, I knew they'd never hurt me."
"But Roman - I mean - " Darcy was curious how a relationship could work between a Vamp and a mortal. If somehow, Adam could accept her as a vampire, perhaps...
"You're wondering how I could marry a vampire?"
"I was already falling in love with Roman when I found out the truth." Shanna's eyes filled with tears. "And he loves me so much. He's willing to do anything to give me the normal life I want. He's even trying to become mortal for me."
"What?" Darcy sat up. She dug her fingers into the sofa cushion. "Is such a thing possible?" Oh, please, say it is.
"Roman believes it's possible. But even so, the first experiment failed."
Darcy's heart plummeted to her stomach. She slumped back on the couch.
"Oh." Shanna winced. "I should have realized - I'm sorry."
Darcy shook her head. Her throat had contracted too tight to say anything.
"I am sorry." Shanna leaned over to touch Darcy's knee. "Connor told me how unhappy you are."
Darcy swallowed. "He should know."
"I know." Shanna watched her sadly. "But I know Connor very well. He wouldn't knowingly hurt anyone. He's a good man."
Darcy gritted her teeth. "I've heard it before." And yet, here she was, a vampire against her will. He hadn't asked for permission. He'd just assumed she would be grateful to spend eternity as a blood-sucking creature. No matter what the price. She squeezed her eyes shut.
The price had been too high, dammit. She'd lost everything. Her family, friends, career. And she was still losing. She would lose Adam once he knew the truth. But if she could become mortal again... "Tell me about the experiment."
Shanna sighed. "Well, it's basically the reversal of the process that transforms a person into a vampire. During the transformation, a mortal is drained completely of blood. Roman believes a chemical is released from the attacking vampire, and it's this chemical that induces the coma. When the chemical wears off, the person dies a natural death. But if a vampire feeds his own blood to that person, he will become a vampire."