"Then prove it. Go back to the penthouse and stake them all while they sleep."
Austin swallowed hard. "No."
Sean planted his palms on the table and leaned forward. "Think twice before you answer, Erickson. Are you disobeying a direct order?"
His heart raced, causing a thundering sound in his ears. "Yes. I am. I'll turn in my resignation today."
"You stupid fool."
Austin shook his head. "You are the one who refuses to learn the truth. There are two kinds of vampires. You should leave the harmless Vamps alone and concentrate your efforts on the Malcontents. They are the dangerous ones."
"They're all dangerous!"
"No, they're not! For God's sake, Sean, talk to your daughter. Shanna will tell you the truth."
"Don't talk to me about her! She turned against me. And now, you've betrayed me, too. Get out of here!"
Austin strode to the door. "I'm going to continue the fight against evil. We will still be on the same side."
"You are evil, you traitor! Get out of here," Sean yelled.
Austin closed the door behind him. Alyssa and Emma were hovering outside, their faces worried. He removed his ID card and handed it to Emma.
"You mustn't leave," she whispered. "You're the strongest one amongst us."
"I'll still be fighting the bad guys." Austin smiled sadly. "Be careful out there." He walked out and took the elevator to the ground floor.
He'd screwed up everything. Sean knew where the reality show was being filmed, and he was furious enough to wreak revenge on the Vamps who were there. Austin would have to go back to the penthouse to make sure Darcy and her friends were protected. There was only one night of recording left. Once it was over, Darcy and her friends would be safe.
And what would he do then? He'd lost his job. He'd lost the girl. He'd tried to do everything right, but it had all fallen apart.
You can either marry me or spend eternity in a drunken stupor. Austin's unfortunate choice of words continued to haunt Darcy. She couldn't marry him. How could she subject him to a life of darkness and a wife who could turn into a monster at any given moment? She still shuddered every time she remembered the pain of her fangs elongating, the powerful urge to use them, and the overwhelming lust for blood.
Fortunately, her reaction of horror and disgust had been just as strong as her need for blood. That alone had helped her maintain enough control to keep from biting Austin. But what if it happened again and again? What if she slowly grew accustomed to it, and the horror faded away? Then, there would be nothing to keep her from biting Austin or transforming him against his will. And then, he would hate her. Just like she hated Connor.
Tears blurred her eyes. As far as she knew, she and Gregori were the only Vamps in the world who were completely bottle-fed. She knew the rest of her friends must have bitten people in the past, but she'd always had trouble imagining it. Sweet little Maggie sinking fangs into someone?
But now, she knew how it could happen. When her fangs had shot out, she'd desperately craved blood. And if it happened night after night, it would eventually lose its aura of terror. It would become normal. In time, it would even become pleasurable.
She couldn't drag Austin into that trap. And spending eternity in a drunken stupor was pathetic. The only recourse she could think of was over-work. She could at least be productive. And it would keep her mind from dwelling on Austin.
Wednesday, she arrived at DVN soon after dusk and went straight to work editing the third show which would air that Saturday. After a few hours, Sly peeked in her office. Darcy was tempted to throw a stapler at him for being so creepy to Maggie.
"Well, Newhart, did you find out who the babe was in the hot tub?"
"No." She concentrated harder on her work so he'd know he was interrupting her. "I'm afraid it will always be a mystery."
"Hmm." He scratched his beard, oblivious to her hints that he was bothering her. "Most of the phone calls and emails indicate that people think it was Cora Lee or Lady Pamela."
Darcy sighed and kept working.
"We're still getting emails about how dowdy the ladies are dressed," Sly continued. "Did you get that taken care of?"
"Yes. They're all thoroughly modernized. It won't show up for a few episodes, but I think you'll be very pleased."
"Good." Sly propped himself against the doorjamb like he intended to stay another five minutes. Darcy stifled a groan.
"Are you still on schedule?" he asked. "You're recording the last show this Friday?"
"Yes, sir. We'll have the winner Friday night." And it had better be Roberto, or her goose was cooked.
"Great! I'm planning to be there for the final ceremony, so I can give away the check. I'm having a great big one made up."
"And I told Corky Courrant to be there, so she can do some post-ceremony interviews."
"Sounds exciting," Darcy mumbled.
"It is exciting!" Sly turned his head, his attention drawn by something in the hallway. "Hey, Tiffany! You're late." He glanced back at Darcy. "I've got a meeting to go to. See you later." He closed the door.
Darcy shuddered. Right. He and Tiffany had something important to discuss. Darcy worked until midnight, then took a break to watch The Sexiest Man on Earth as it aired its second show on international vampire television. It was the one where Lady Pamela took the contestants for a walk through the greenhouse. Watching Austin made her heart twist with pain. When he poked his finger on a rose thorn, the cameramen did an excellent job of showing Pamela's desire to taste his blood.
Darcy's eye twitched. She massaged the jumpy nerve at her temple. She'd made the right decision. Austin could never be safe living with her in the vampire world. It was like dangling a bottle of wine in front of a group of recovering alcoholics. When the show ended, her phone rang.
"Darcy!" Maggie sounded happy. "We all loved the show."
"That's good." She could hear excited voices in the background. "What's going on?"
"We're partying! Bart, Bernie, and Gregori came down to the servants' parlor to watch the show with us. We're all having Bubbly Blood to celebrate. Oh, and Roberto wanted to come. He said he was lonely all by himself in the penthouse, but Gregori told him he couldn't, that it wasn't fair for the contest."
"Vanda's trying to talk Gregori into taking us to another male dancer club. Bart says there's a really hot one close by, though I don't know how he knows."
Darcy raised her eyebrows. Bart liked male dancers? "I see."
"Can you come with us? Gregori could teleport you here in a second."
"No, thanks. I've got a lot of work to do."
"Oh, okay." Maggie sighed. "I just don't want you to be sad because - oh, that reminds me. I guess I should tell you."
Darcy frowned at the hesitancy in her friend's voice. "What's wrong?"
"Gregori heard something outside in the hall, and he went to check it out. It was Adam. Or Austin. Whatever."
Darcy's heart skipped. "What was he doing?"
"Gregori said he was walking around the penthouse, worried about security. He said we needed more guards night and day."
Darcy caught her breath. Did Austin know something? He was, after all, a CIA operative. He might have good reason to be concerned for their safety. "Maggie, let me talk to Gregori."
"Okay." There was a pause.
"What's up, sweetcakes?" Gregori spoke.
"I think you should take the ladies out. Keep Bart and Bernie with you. And call... Connor. Ask him if he can spare a few guards for the penthouse."
"What's going on? You sound as worried as that guy, Adam."
"I'll explain later. But believe me, if Adam is worried, then there's a good reason for it. Be careful." Darcy hung up and went back to work.
She worked long hours again on Thursday night and had two more shows ready to air. When Friday arrived, the ladies dressed in their finest new evening gowns. This would be the night they finally acquired their new master. And it would be the last night Darcy would ever see Austin.
Darcy met Maggie and the five judges in the portrait room. "Tonight, you'll be judging the men according to the last qualification on your list - intelligence. I've prepared a question for you." She handed the paper to Lady Pamela.