The next day, he went to the office. He wasn't there five minutes before he realized how difficult it would be to continue working for the CIA. He could no longer fight every vampire with the conviction they were all evil. He needed to convince Sean that it was only the Malcontents who were attacking people. If he could steer the Stake-Out team's focus toward the Malcontents and away from law-abiding Vamps, then it would be worth keeping his job.
Emma stopped by his desk and looked him over. "You look tired. It must be hard being the sexiest man on earth."
She snorted. "Well, wake yourself up, Lover-boy. Sean wants you and Garrett in the conference room in five minutes."
Austin groaned. Sean probably wanted a report on the reality show and DVN. None of those vampires were a threat to humanity. Even humongous Otto was all bark and no bite.
He wandered over to Garrett's desk. "How's it going?"
Garrett glanced up. "I'm going over my list of vampire contestants. Where was Reginald from?"
Austin frowned. "Reginald? Was he a vampire?"
"Yeah, I think so."
Austin sighed. "I'm having trouble remembering. I think the vampires must have messed with my memory."
"Really?" Garrett's eyes widened. "When did that happen?"
"I don't know. If they erased my memory, how can I remember it?"
"Oh." Garrett shifted his gaze back to his paper. "I remembered these names."
"Can I see your list? Maybe it'll help jog my memory."
"Sure." Garrett handed him the paper.
Austin scanned the list of names. Garrett hadn't been very industrious if this was all he had discovered while working undercover. "You don't have their last names. It'll be hard to track them down."
Garrett shrugged. "We never knew their last names."
"Are you sure?" Austin lifted an eyebrow. "Or did they erase your memory, too?"
Garrett looked confused. "I don't know."
"Did you find out where Shanna is?"
"No." Garrett stood slowly. "Or maybe I did, and they erased it."
"Damn." Austin crushed the paper in his fist. "Sean expects us to give detailed reports, but we can't remember much."
"But I do remember. I remember the penthouse and the five lady judges and - "
Austin listened while Garrett rambled on and on, then slipped into his head without the guy noticing it. Austin couldn't erase memories like a vampire, but he could certainly muddle someone's memory by projecting contradictory images. Garrett stopped talking and closed his eyes as his mind overflowed with the mental pictures Austin sent.
"Hey, are you all right?"
Garrett rubbed his forehead. "It's hot in here."
"Maybe you're coming down with something. Or maybe it's just an aftereffect from those vampires messing with our heads."
"Yeah." Garrett nodded. "That could be it." He wandered toward the conference room.
"I'll be right there." Austin's heart raced as he headed for the shredding machine. Garrett had been pathetically easy to confuse, but still, messing with a fellow agent's head was too much like treason. But what could Austin do? He couldn't let Sean terminate the good Vamps.
Austin fed Garrett's list into the shredder and punched the button. Damn it to hell. He'd just become a double agent.
He rushed to the men's restroom and splashed cold water on his face. He breathed deeply until he was calm. Then, he marched toward the conference room.
Garrett had been easy to manipulate. Sean Whelan would not.
He entered the conference room and gave Garrett and Sean a nod. "Good morning." He shut the door.
"You're late." Sean sat at the head of the table. Garrett sat on the right, his shoulders slumped.
Sean tapped the end of his pen on the table. "We have a problem."
"Yes?" Austin approached the table.
"I want your reports, but Garrett doesn't have one. He says you don't either. He says the vampires messed with your heads."
Austin took a seat. "Yes, I believe they did."
"How could you let that happen?" Sean glared at him. "I can understand Garrett having trouble repelling their mind control, but you - Austin, your power is rated off the charts! You should have been able to stop them."
Austin narrowed his eyes as if in deep concentration. "I do remember some things. But nothing of any value. We don't know where your daughter is. I'm sorry."
Sean's jaw clenched. "What do you remember?"
Austin shrugged. "I can't recall their names, but there were several vampires there. They were harmless."
Sean snorted. "Now, that's an oxymoron, a harmless vampire."
"They would have never harmed us."
Sean slammed his pen onto the table. "They've been messing with your head. That is harming you."
"I remember some names," Garrett offered. "Roberto. No, maybe it was Alberto. And there was a beach house."
Austin shook his head. "No, it was penthouse."
"Oh yeah, that's right." Garrett grimaced. "Why am I remembering a beach house?"
Austin slipped into Garrett's mind and fed him more pictures. "I remember the contest, and there were five judges."
"Poodles," Garrett said.
"What?" Sean shot him a confused look.
"The judges were fluffy pink poodles." Garrett frowned and rubbed his glistening forehead. "That can't be right."
"Those bastards." Sean banged a fist on the table. "They're toying with us." He stood and paced about the room. "This has been a waste of time. We're no closer to finding my daughter."
Austin took a deep breath. "I think we should concentrate our efforts on the vampires who are actually attacking people. The Vamps at DVN just want to entertain each other with dorky soap operas and sell a few bottles of Chocolood. They may be guilty of bad taste, but they're basically harmless."
Sean stopped his pacing to stare at Austin. "If the vampires messed with your head, everything you say is suspect. There is no such thing as a harmless vampire."
"I remember enough from the reality show to know that those vampires would never harm humans."
Sean scoffed. "Is that what you remember, Garrett? A bunch of sweet, harmless vampires?"
Garrett's face flushed with heat. "There was never any biting. The poodles were nice." Sweat beaded on his brow. "I mean, the ladies."
Sean frowned at him. "You look ill. Have you checked your neck for tooth marks?"
Garrett paled. "Oh, my God." He unbuttoned his collar and ran his fingers over his neck. "I'm all right."
"No, you're not." Sean ground his teeth. "You've been brainwashed. Get an appointment with the Company shrink."
"Yes, sir." Garrett wiped his moist forehead. "I do feel strange, like I'm running a fever."
Sean narrowed his eyes. "You may go," he ordered quietly.
"Thank you, sir." Garrett weaved toward the door and left.
Austin stood to make his leave.
He sat back down. A swoosh of hot air surrounded his mind, powerful and suffocating. Austin knew who it was, and he also knew his mind was full of memories he couldn't allow anyone to see. Memories he had claimed were forgotten. And memories about Darcy. Sean's mental forces tightened like a vise. Austin instantly erected a firewall and began gathering his power.
"Not bad," Sean whispered. "You do realize, don't you, that when a human invades your mind, you feel heat? How interesting that Garrett was feeling hot."
Austin's power had reached critical mass. He dropped the firewall and unleashed his power, shattering the vice that had surrounded him.
Sean stiffened with a gasp.
Austin stood. "Don't try that again."
"And you expect me to believe the vampires messed with your mind?" Sean's face was pinched with anger. "As strong as you are, they couldn't do anything to you. Unless you wanted it."
Austin gritted his teeth. He had hoped to steer Sean's focus onto the Malcontents and away from Darcy and her friends. But it would never work. Sean no longer trusted him.
Sean gave him a scathing look. "What happened to you, Austin? Did you let one of those vampire bitches seduce you?"
He balled his hands into fists. "I assure you, I am in complete control of myself."