"He attacked you?"
"He shoved me back with so much force, I was airborne. I crashed into Jack, and we fell onto the cement. I was okay, but Jack was just laying there with this shocked look on his face. I grabbed the cell phone from my purse and called 911. I told them a woman was being murdered in the back alley." Darcy covered her face. "A woman was murdered. I didn't know it would be me."
"Shh, sweetheart." Austin held her close. "You're all right now."
She lowered her hands and took a shaky breath. "I looked around for some kind of weapon. And then, Jack whispered, 'Vampire.' I thought he was in shock, but he shoved the camera at me and told me to look for myself. While I was getting to my feet, Jack jumped up and ran away."
"You're kidding." Austin's eyes glittered with anger. "That bastard. I should go back and kick his ass."
"No." Darcy touched Austin's face. "He was terrified. He already knew the truth. I picked up the camera and looked through it. I couldn't see the assailant, and Taylor was dangling against the wall like a rag doll with two punctures on the side of her neck. I was so stunned. He was right in front of me - a real vampire."
"What did you do?"
Darcy snorted. "I reacted like a journalist. I pressed the record button. And then, he turned and looked at me. Blood was dripping from his fangs. I knew I had to do something, or he would kill Taylor and me both."
Darcy's eyes filled with tears. "I told him I had proof of his existence, and I would broadcast it all over the news. He would be hunted down like an animal. He dropped Taylor, and she collapsed onto the ground. I asked her if she could move. I told her to run. But she just sat there and cried."
Austin kissed Darcy's brow. "My brave sweetheart."
"I threw the camera at him, but he knocked it aside. And then, he moved so fast, all I saw was a blur. He caught me from behind and pulled me back against him. He stank of blood. I could feel his breath on my neck and the scrape of his teeth."
Austin tightened his hold on her. "The monster bit you?"
"No. The back door banged shut, and Connor came toward us, yelling at the vampire to let me go. He called the vampire a Malcontent and demanded that they stop preying on the innocent. The vampire replied that he liked his meals fresh."
"Then, it's true," Austin said. "There are two factions - the Vamps and the Malcontents."
"Yes. The Malcontents enjoy terrorizing mortals, and they hate the Vamps for trying to stop them." Darcy sighed. "Gregori said he would take Taylor home and erase her memory. He took the tape from the camera with him."
"And what happened to you?" Austin asked.
Darcy shivered. "The Malcontent backed away from Connor, dragging me with him. Connor told him I was going to slow him down, that he should let me go. Connor kept moving toward us, and the Malcontent was scared. I could feel him breathing hard on my neck. And then he said he needed a distraction."
She touched Austin's face and looked into his eyes. "In that tiny moment of time, I knew real terror. Everything seemed to slow down. I opened my mouth to scream, but the vampire was faster. He pulled out a knife and thrust it into my chest."
Austin gathered her into his lap. "I'll kill him. I'll track him down and kill him."
"It's all a blur after that," Darcy whispered. "I remember Connor shouting with rage. I remember so much pain. And shock. I realized I was going to die. The Malcontent disappeared. And Connor knelt beside me. He kept saying he was sorry, that he should have stopped it. I remember his eyes were blue. I was staring at him. I didn't want to die alone. Then, Connor said I was not to worry. He would take care of me."
Darcy slipped out of Austin's lap and curled up on the bed. Shivers coursed through her body.
"Darcy." Austin lay beside her and wrapped his arms around her. Still, the shaking wouldn't stop.
Darcy. He flooded her mind with his strong, warm presence. You're safe. You're with me, now.
She exhaled a long breath. She'd made it through the story. She could shove the horrid memories back into a dark corner of her brain. "I didn't want to become a vampire."
"Of course not."
"I was barely conscious when they transformed me."
"Who did it?" Austin whispered. "Who bit you?"
She swallowed hard. "Connor."
Austin's breath hissed between clenched teeth.
"That bastard. I should hate him, but he saved your life."
She snorted. "He could have teleported me to Romatech or to a hospital, but he was more worried about keeping the big secret than keeping me alive. I lost my family, my home, my job, my savings, my ability to have children. I lost the daylight and any hope of a normal life."
"But you're here now. That's a hell of a lot better than being dead."
"I'm dead during the day," she whispered.
"But alive at night. Let's say the cup is half full instead of half empty. And I'm willing to share that cup with you."
She turned toward him with sad eyes. "You'll lose your job if they find out you're involved with a vampire."
He shrugged. "Maybe. We'll just take it one day - rather, one night at a time. We'll make it work."
"I hope so." She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. A scent tickled her nose. It smelled rich and delicious. Austin.
"If Shanna and Roman can make it work, so can we."
"Yes, but they still have problems." Darcy felt an odd throbbing as if her heartbeat was amplified throughout her body. She struggled to concentrate on the conversation. "Shanna wants to have children, but it may never be possible."
"No, I wouldn't think that could work."
The throbbing grew louder. Darcy wondered if there was something wrong with her heart. "Roman wanted to become mortal again, but that didn't work either."
"What?" Austin propped himself up on an elbow.
Darcy gasped when she noticed the vein in Austin's neck. It wasn't her heartbeat she was hearing. It was his. It was his blood, pounding through his arteries, calling to her.
"Darcy." He touched her shoulder.
She jumped. "Yes?"
"I asked you a question. Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine." God help me, I'm hungry.
"Is there a way to turn a vampire back into a mortal?"
"Roman thought there was, but they experimented on a pig and it died. There's no way Shanna's going to let Roman try it on himself." Darcy's gaze wandered back to the vein in Austin's neck. Good God, she could actually see it pulsing. She could smell the blood. This was terrible. This had never happened to her before. But then, she'd not been around any mortals for the last four years. And now, she was acting just like a... a vampire.
"How does the experiment work?" Austin asked.
"It doesn't work." Darcy gritted her teeth with frustration. A curious ache pinched at her gums.
"Aren't you wearing your anklet?" She glanced down, but the comforter was covering his legs.
"I took it off when I showered. Darcy, why doesn't the experiment work?"
"Something about our DNA. It's mutated. Roman thinks it will only work with the original human DNA." The smell of Austin's blood flooded her brain. His heartbeat thrummed through her body. Good God, what if Austin was right? She had no control over her eyes or her strength. What if her fangs sprang out?
She jumped from the bed and scrambled for her clothes on the floor. She couldn't find her underwear, so just grabbed her shorts and pulled them on.
Austin sat up. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." She located her top and pulled it on. The tingling in her gums was growing stronger. Oh, God, what if she bit him? What if she killed him?
He climbed out of bed. "Don't go. We still have round two."
She donned her bathrobe. "I don't want to fall asleep here. The sun will shine through your windows." She stuffed her feet into her slides. "I'll be more comfortable in the pool house."
He grabbed a pair of underwear from his suitcase and started putting them on. "I'm coming with you."
He glanced sharply at her. "Don't push me off. You made the decision to come here tonight, and it was beautiful. You can't back out of this now."
A sharp pain lanced her gums. "I have to go." She wrenched open the door.