"Really?" Darcy asked. "You never told me this."
Maggie shrugged. "I didn't last for very long. I was only nineteen and so naive. After a few weeks, I joined the slum brigade, and we went into this seedy area close to the docks. We had baskets of fresh bread, and we were going to feed the poor. But then I got separated from the others and by the time the sun set, I was hopelessly lost." Frowning, she touched the scars on her neck. "I ended up feeding the poor, all right."
Darcy blinked. "You mean literally?"
The ladies looked at each other, then burst into giggles.
"To Maggie and feeding the poor." Vanda raised a full glass.
They clinked their glasses together and drank.
Vanda turned to Darcy. "So, who's the bastard in your life?"
"Austin, but he's not a bastard."
Maggie frowned. "I don't think we know him."
"Oh." Darcy propped her feet against the edge of the coffee table to make her rocking chair move. "You know him as Adam."
"Adam's giving you trouble?" Vanda asked, her expression confused. "But he told me in the hot tub that he's in love with you."
"You were talking about me in the hot tub?"
"Sure." Vanda frowned. "I warned him never to hurt you."
"He's not hurting me. I'm hurting him."
"Hurray!" Maggie slouched on the loveseat, grinning. "Kick his ass."
Vanda gave her an annoyed look. "Darcy isn't enjoying this."
"Oh, sorry." Maggie leaned forward and plummeted onto the floor.
"What did you say his name was?" Vanda asked. "Austin?"
Maggie rolled onto her back and hiccoughed. "I thought his name was Adam. Or Apollo, the sun god."
"Adam is his stage name," Darcy clarified.
"Adam, Austin, Apollo." Vanda shrugged. "A dick by any other name would smell as sweet."
A burst of giggles came from the floor where Maggie was sprawled.
With a snort of laughter, Darcy pushed too hard against the coffee table. Her chair rocked back, then teetered on the edge. "Aagh!" She crashed onto the floor.
Vanda lurched to her feet and stood swaying over her. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." Darcy giggled as she rolled onto the floor. "I'm in love." She burst into tears.
"Oh, great." Vanda helped her up. "We'd better get to a safe place before the sun rises."
"The bedroom." Darcy lurched toward the room, followed by Vanda and Maggie. They collapsed onto the king-sized bed.
The sun must be breaking the horizon, Darcy thought. She could feel the heavy pull of the death sleep.
"You know, there's one good thing about being a vampire," Vanda whispered on Darcy's right.
"What's that?" Maggie asked from Darcy's left.
"No matter how screwed up we are, we'll never lose a minute's sleep over it."
"True." Darcy reached for their hands. "Thank you for being here." With good friends, maybe she could survive this. She slipped into oblivion.
Darcy woke with a monstrous headache. Vanda and Maggie looked equally as miserable as they stumbled back to their rooms on the servants' floor. As Darcy showered and dressed, she realized she couldn't face Austin. If she saw him, she might beg him to take her back. So she stopped by the cameramen's room and asked them to proceed without her.
Maria Consuela was judging the contest tonight. Gregori escorted her to the penthouse library. The rest of the ex-harem, including Darcy, watched from the servants' parlor.
Cora Lee squealed, pointing at the television where the library could now be seen. "There they are!"
"Not so loud," Vanda muttered.
Maggie groaned. Darcy rubbed her throbbing temples.
Gregori smiled at a camera. "Welcome to The Sexiest Man on Earth. There are only four contestants left, and two will be eliminated tonight as we test each man's strength. Our judge tonight is the lovely Maria Consuela of Spain."
Maria Consuela inclined her head toward the camera in a calm, regal manner. Only her tight grip on her rosary hinted at her nervousness.
"Our first contestant tonight is Roberto from Buenos Aires." Gregori opened the library door, and Roberto entered the room.
He looked suave, his black hair slicked back from a high forehead. He bowed to Maria Consuela. "At your service, se?ora."
"Gracias." Maria Consuela stood by the fireplace and motioned to a nearby wingback chair. "I believe this chair would look much better in front of the desk."
"Claw." Roberto lifted the chair high over his head. He walked to the desk and set the chair down. "Is this better?"
"Why, yes." Maria Consuela's dark eyes gleamed with approval. "And that little settee in the corner, I believe it should be here by the fireplace."
"Of course." Roberto easily lifted the antique love seat and placed it by the hearth. He straightened, adjusting his cufflinks. He hadn't even wrinkled his suit.
Maria Consuela beamed. "Gracias, se?or. You may go now."
Roberto bowed. "My pleasure, se?ora." He left the room.
Lady Pamela sighed. "He's most definitely a Vamp."
"Aye," Princess Joanna agreed. "We should keep him."
The ladies turned back to the television when Gregori brought in the next contestant.
Garth of Colorado smiled. "Good evening."
Darcy held her breath. Garth Manly, aka Garrett the CIA man, needed to be eliminated tonight.
Maria Consuela inclined her head to him. "If you would be so kind, would you please move this settee to the corner?"
"No problem." Garrett tried to lift the settee, but it proved too long and unwieldy for him. Finally, he lifted one end and pushed it. The legs scraped across the wooden floor.
Maria Consuela huffed. "You are scratching the floor."
"Sorry." Garrett gave the settee one final shove.
Maria Consuela narrowed her eyes. "Can you lift the desk?"
Garrett frowned at the huge mahogany desk. "Not by myself. You need at least two people. Maybe more."
Maria Consuela pursed her lips. "I see. You may go."
Darcy sighed with relief. Garrett had been found out.
Maria Consuela leaned toward a camera. "I suspect that man is a mortal."
"Hurray!" Cora Lee clapped. "We found another mortal!"
"Quiet," Vanda grumbled, rubbing her forehead.
Lady Pamela sniffed. "You are certainly in a foul mood."
"Shh," Darcy hushed them when the next contestant entered the room. Austin.
"Oh, look, it's Adam!" Cora Lee exclaimed. "I like him."
Darcy wanted to growl, but it would hurt her head too much.
"Hi, how are you?" Austin looked tired. Drawn and tense.
Maria Consuela tapped her chin with her finger. "I believe that chair should go here by the fireplace."
"Okay." Austin strode to the desk, lifted the wing-back chair, and set it down close to Maria Consuela.
Darcy sat up, her heart stammering. He'd made it look so easy. But then, it was only a chair. Mortal men could probably move chairs all day without straining themselves.
Maria Consuela's brows lifted. "And the settee in the corner? Could you put it in front of the desk?"
"Sure." Austin circled behind the settee. He glanced at the camera, his expression harsh with emotion.
Darcy felt alarm bells clanging in her aching head.
Austin leaned over, then straightened with the settee balanced on one hand in the air.
The ladies gasped.
Darcy's jaw dropped. Vanda and Maggie shot her confused looks. They knew as well as she did that he was mortal.
"It must be some kind of trick," Darcy whispered as she watched him walk across the room with the settee in the air.
"I knew it." Princess Joanna nodded with satisfaction. "That man is a vampire."
Darcy sank into her chair. What was Austin doing? He was supposed to get eliminated. He had told her he would. The truth dawned on her with a startled gasp. He intended to stay. He wanted another night. With her.
Austin lowered the settee to the floor. "Anything else?"
"No." Maria Consuela smiled. "That was marvelous. Gracias."
Austin left the room. Dammit. Darcy gritted her teeth. How on earth had he managed such a trick?