"If you're referring to yourself, I agree." Darcy stood in the kitchen, her arms crossed, her expression harsh with anger.
A blade of emotion stabbed at his heart. Not now. He pushed the pain aside and strode toward her. "I can explain."
"Don't bother. I already know everything, Austin." She wielded his name like a weapon, and each time she said it, it slashed at him, marking him as a liar.
A series of loud pops erupted from the microwave.
"What are you doing?" He ran to the kitchen and punched the button to open the microwave door. All the computer disks lay in a melted heap of plastic. Thank God he'd already downloaded everything onto his laptop and a memory stick. Still, it looked like the carousel plate in his microwave was ruined.
He gave her an irritated look. "Cute."
She glanced at his boxers. "I could say the same thing."
Sheesh. Of all the nights to be wearing these stupid SpongeBob briefs. Splashed across his groin was SpongeBob proudly claiming to be boss of his pineapple. "My little sister gave these to me for Christmas."
Darcy arched her eyebrows. "You have a family? I thought something like you slithered out from under a rock. Or maybe, you were hatched in a green, slimy pond."
"I know you're angry."
"Oh, wow. You really do have psychic powers."
"Not psychic enough." He wasn't thrilled with how things had turned out, either. He'd found the perfect woman only to lose her. "I actually thought you were human until a few days ago."
She stiffened. "I am human."
"I meant alive." He set his gun down on the counter within his reach. "I thought you were an innocent mortal trapped in the vampire world. I wanted to save you."
She tilted her head, studying him. "You thought I was a mortal? You couldn't tell the difference?"
"No! You had a pulse, dammit. How can a vampire have a pulse? And you were drinking cold chocolate. And whenever I read your mind, you were thinking about beaches and the sun and your family. What kind of vampire longs for the sun?"
She gritted her teeth. "I do."
"You had me completely fooled. I thought you were in terrible danger. I thought you needed rescuing."
"And you were going to be the hero and save me?" She stepped closer, her eyes glimmering with pain. "You're too late."
He flinched. He was too late. She could never be his.
"I saw the title on your handy little list. 'Vampires Must Die.' So now, instead of saving me, you want to kill me?"
The pang dug deeper at his heart. "I could never hurt you."
"You're lying again! You have hurt me."
"I didn't mean to. I thought you were alive when I - but when I discovered you were dead - "
"Do I look dead to you?" She jabbed a finger at his chest. "Did I feel dead when you were touching me? Did I taste dead to you in the hot tub?"
"I thought you were alive, dammit!" He shoved her poking finger aside. "But when we got out of the hot tub, I could see my shadow. And you didn't have one. That's when I realized the truth."
Her eyes narrowed. "And that's when you dumped me."
"What did you expect me to do? Make love to a dead woman?"
She gasped, then drew back her hand and slapped him hard. "Can a dead woman do that?"
He tasted blood on his lip. Sheesh, he should have known not to insult a female vampire. Darcy was incredibly fast and strong. He wiped his mouth and saw the red streak on his hand.
She stiffened, staring at his hand.
"What's wrong, Darcy? Did you forget to eat before coming?"
Her eyes blazed with anger. "I've never bitten anyone. If you knew me at all, you would know I could never do that."
"But you have the urge, don't you?" He stepped toward her. "You can't help it. It's what you are."
"Stop it!" She shoved him back and strode from the kitchen. "I'm not like that. I'm not evil. And neither are my friends."
He followed her into the living room. "I've seen your kind in action. They attack people, rape and murder innocent women."
"Those are the Malcontents." She paced across the room. "The rest of us aren't like that."
"You have the same urges, the same thirst for human blood."
"Aagh!" She lifted both hands in frustration. "How can you be so blind? You've seen my friends on the show. You have to know there's nothing evil about them."
He was so damned frustrated, he had to lash out. "Your dear friends predate the invention of synthetic blood. So, they must have preyed on the innocent. That makes them evil."
"What gives you the right to judge what is evil?"
"I represent the innocent. The victims."
"You don't believe I was a victim?"
His heart stuttered. Of course she was a victim. And an innocent. Dammit, he wanted this to be simple. Either right or wrong. Not this murky mess that didn't make any sense.
She paced toward him. "I never lied to you about my name or my profession." She pointed at the videotapes. "I never investigated you behind your back. I never invaded your workplace, pretending I wanted to kiss you when all I wanted was information. I never invaded your head. I never put your best friends on a hit list. I never betrayed you or planned to stab you in the back. So tell me, Austin, which one of us is evil?"
He fell back onto the couch. Holy shit. He'd tried so hard to convince himself he was on the right side - the human side. But was he the one being inhuman?
He looked at the stack of videotapes. He'd fallen in love with the human Darcy. When he'd found out the truth about her, he'd thought he could simply turn off those feelings. Announce her dead, bury the feelings, and go on with the assignment. But he couldn't. Holy crap.
He was compromised.
And he was still in love. Even though he knew who she was.
"I have to go." She trudged toward the door. The last few steps, she closed her eyes and frowned with concentration.
She bumped into the door. "Damn," she muttered, then leaned her forehead against the door.
His sweet Darcy. "Not much of a vampire, are you?"
She shot an angry look at him over her shoulder. "I'm having trouble focusing." She flipped the first deadbolt lock.
She was leaving him. Leaving, feeling betrayed. He couldn't let her go like that. He watched her turn the second and third deadbolt lock. "You were all I ever wanted in a woman."
Her hand stilled. "Don't lie to me."
"The way I felt was never a lie. It was real."
She turned to face him. Her eyes glistened with tears.
He gestured toward the tapes. "At first, I was curious. I wanted to know what had happened to you. But the more I got to know you, the more intrigued I became. The more fascinated and attracted. The more I realized I was in love with you."
Her face crumbled. "And now, you can't bear to touch me. You think I'm repulsive."
He winced. God, he wished that was true. It would be easier if he couldn't stand to touch her. But now, even knowing who she was, he still wanted her. "Darcy." He stood. "You were the most beautiful woman I've ever known."
"Past tense." She closed her eyes and looked away. "You don't believe this can work, do you?"
"No. I don't."
"I told myself that so many times. I tried to resist you. But I wanted you so much."
Austin sighed. They were both suffering. Somehow, that knowledge didn't help much. "If you want Garrett and me off the show, I understand."
She drew in a shaky breath. "It would be hard to explain this mess to my boss. Sly's going to be mad enough that I let mortals on the show, but hiring two vampire slayers - "
"We never planned to hurt anyone. We were only gathering information."
"Which you planned to use against us."
He groaned inwardly. He couldn't deny that. "My boss is desperate to find his daughter."
"And murder his son-in-law?" Darcy shook her head. "Roman and Shanna are very happy. You should leave them alone."
"You don't think she's in any danger, married to a vampire?"
Darcy scoffed. "You don't understand how much they love each other. But then, I don't suppose you know much about love."
Ouch. He knew it hurt like hell.
Darcy sighed. "If you and Garrett can get yourselves eliminated in the next round, that would help. Then, you'd both be gone, and I'd still have a job."