"Hello?" Gregori answered.
"I need to speak to Darcy."
There was a pause. "This is Austin, right?"
"Yes. I have something important to tell Darcy."
"Haven't you done enough? She lost her job because of you."
"I wouldn't bother her if this wasn't extremely important."
"I have a better idea. Don't bother her at all." Gregori hung up.
Great. Her friends were protecting her. Austin drove to Gregori's address and parked. He buzzed the apartment.
"Yes?" A female voice came over the intercom.
"Vanda, is that you? I need to talk to Darcy."
"Yes. I have something vital to show Darcy."
"She's already seen it," Vanda replied dryly. "Look, she's cried enough over you. Leave her alone."
Austin released the intercom button with a sigh. He could break into their apartment, but then he'd have a bunch of angry vampires screaming at him. Darcy would be too upset to listen. He needed an ally. Someone who could present Darcy's options to her without breaking and entering. Shanna Whelan? He wasn't sure where she was. She and Roman had moved out of the townhouse to get away from Sean's threats. But the townhouse was still there. And the kilted Scottish guards.
Connor. He was the perfect choice. He was the one who had transformed Darcy. He should be the one to tell her the news.
Austin drove to Draganesti's townhouse on the Upper East Side. The steps leading to the front door were dark, lit only by a blinking red light on a surveillance camera equipped with a night lens. He rang the doorbell and glanced up at the camera to allow the guards inside a good look at his face.
A deep voice, laced with a Scottish accent, spoke over the intercom. "Push the button and state yer purpose."
He pressed the button on the intercom. "I want to speak to Connor."
No answer. Austin waited. He pivoted, surveying the quiet street. And waited. He had pushed the button on the intercom to remind them he was waiting, when the door slowly opened.
An unwanted shiver crept down his spine.
"Come in," Connor said. He smiled slightly. "Ye're just in time for dinner."
They're all bottle-fed, Austin reminded himself as he stepped into the dimly lit foyer. Connor was just trying to scare him. Or maybe, the bastard enjoyed playing with his food.
There were three kilted Scotsmen in the foyer. Connor was in the middle with the youthful-looking vampire on the right. A black-haired Scotsman was on the left. Behind them, there was a large staircase and a reserve troop of six more kilted vampires.
Connor crossed his arms and regarded him curiously. "Well, laddie. Ye have some bollocks coming here."
"I need to talk to you. In private."
Connor tilted his head toward the black-haired Scotsman. "Dougal, search the perimeter. Make sure our wee friend from the CIA has come alone."
"Aye, sir." Dougal and two of the reserve guards went out the front, closing the door behind them. Two more reserve guards zoomed out the back door.
"I'm alone," Austin said. "And I'm no longer with the CIA."
Connor arched a dubious brow. "Raise yer arms, please, so Ian can check you for weapons."
Austin lifted his arms as the youthful vampire circled behind him. "I have a knife in my jacket." In less than a second, the last two reserve guards were flanking him with swords pointed at his chest.
Austin blinked. That was fast. Ian removed the plastic bag containing the bloody knife and handed it to Connor.
"I wasn't going to use it," Austin muttered.
"You wouldna have had the chance." Connor turned the bag over, examining the knife. "This blood is old."
"Four years old. It's Darcy's." Austin noted the automatic flinch in Connor's hands.
A hint of remorse flitted over the Scotsman's face before he resumed his usual blank expression. "Any other weapons?"
Ian finished patting down Austin's legs. "Nay. He's clean."
"This way." Connor marched toward a door behind the staircase.
Austin followed, still flanked by the two armed guards and trailed by Ian. He went through a swinging door to find himself in a kitchen.
"Sit." Connor motioned toward the table. He glanced at Ian and the guards. "You may go."
Austin approached the table, but didn't sit.
Connor set the bloody knife on the table. "So, this is the knife that killed Darcy?"
"No, it wounded her. You're the one who killed her, you bastard." He rammed a fist into Connor's jaw. Austin smiled grimly when the Scotsman stumbled back. The vampire's jaw had been hard as stone, but the pain had been worth it, just to see the shocked expression on Connor's face.
"Why the hell did ye do that?"
Austin flexed his sore hand. "You deserved it."
Connor sat at the table and motioned to the chair across from him.
Austin sat. Apparently, he didn't need to worry about a counterattack. Connor must have agreed he deserved the hit.
"So ye've left the CIA?" Connor asked.
"I resigned a week ago after a major disagreement with Sean Whelan. I wanted to concentrate only on the Malcontents, but he still believes all vampires are evil."
"And ye no longer believe that?"
"No. I got to know some Vamps while I was doing the reality show. They're harmless." Austin sighed. "Sean ordered me to stake them during the day while they're helpless. I refused."
"Sporting of you."
Austin was surprised by the twinkle of amusement in the Scotsman's eyes. "I thought so."
Connor lounged back in his chair. "Rumor has it that ye actually won that contest and all the money, but ye gave the check to the ladies."
Austin shrugged. "They needed it."
"Aye. But so do you if ye're unemployed."
"I intend to find another job."
"Ye worked in Eastern Europe for a while."
Austin swallowed. "How do you know about that?"
"Ian has grown quiet adept at breaking into Langley. Ye're fluent in Hungarian and Czech?"
"Yes." Austin suddenly felt like he was on a job interview. "I'd like to continue the fight against the Malcontents if you know of an organization that - "
"Later," Connor interrupted him. "Several Malcontents have been murdered lately in Central Park. What do ye know of that?"
Austin took a deep breath, but remained silent.
"The Russians have accused us of doing it, but I think it's yer bloody Stake-Out team. Since ye're no longer with the CIA, you wouldna mind telling me if I'm right?"
Austin hesitated. "The Malcontents deserve to die. They attack the innocent."
"Aye." Connor crossed his arms. "Since you and Garrett were involved in the reality show, I'm betting the assassin is either Sean Whelan or one of the females on the team."
Damn. He needed to call Emma and tell her to stop.
" 'Tis one of the ladies, then," Connor said softly. "You wouldna feel the need to protect Sean."
Austin shifted in his chair. This vampire was too sharp.
Connor gestured toward the knife. "And why have ye brought this here? Are ye hoping to torment my guilty conscience?"
"So you admit to your guilt? Why didn't you take her to a hospital? Or to Romatech? They have tons of synthetic blood there. You could have saved her."
Connor's eyes clouded with pain. "She was such a brave lass. She dinna deserve to die."
"But you killed her."
He shook his head sadly. "A vampire can smell how much blood a mortal is carrying. We can hear the beating of their hearts. The knife had nicked a major artery. She was bleeding internally. Only a few more beats and she would have been gone."
"You don't think there was enough time?"
"I know there was not." Connor heaved a sigh. "I know she hates me. But believe me, there was no other way to save her."
"I believe you." The pain in the vampire's eyes was real.
Connor touched the plastic bag. "How did ye get this?"
"I stole it from the police."
The Scotsman's eyebrows rose. "I'm impressed."
"Darcy told me about Roman's experiment to transform a vampire back into a human. She said it didn't work because they needed the human's original DNA."
"Aye." Connor lifted the knife, his eyes widening. "And this is Darcy's human blood."