"With her human DNA." Austin leaned forward. "I think it's possible the experiment could work on her."
"Have ye told her?"
"No. Her friends are protecting her from me."
"Why?" Connor frowned. "What did ye do to her?"
"I made her lose her job. And I fell in love with her."
"Ah. And ye would prefer to love a mortal than a vampire?"
"I'd be happy with her any way I could get her, but it's not about me. It's about Darcy and her happiness. This needs to be her decision."
Connor set the knife back on the table. "I'll have to check with Roman to see if he believes it could work."
"Then will you tell her? I think it should come from you."
Connor sighed. "I couldna give her a choice before."
Austin handed him the knife. "This time, you can."
At midnight, Vanda and Maggie dragged Darcy into the living room to watch another episode of The Sexiest
Man on Earth. Sly was still airing the show on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The vampire public demanded it. According to Corky Courrant, it was the most popular show since the formation of DVN.
In the week since she'd been fired, Darcy had kept busy helping the ladies start their business and find a townhouse of their own. For now, they were all staying in Gregori's cramped apartment. The ladies were too happy to be bothered about the close quarters. They even invited Darcy to participate in their male dancer club, but she declined.
Now she sat, scrunched on a couch between Vanda and Maggie. The ladies loved seeing themselves on TV, but watching the show and seeing Austin was torture for Darcy. Knowing she couldn't have him didn't lessen her love for him. It only increased the poignancy of her longing. By the end of the show, she was thoroughly depressed. The jubilant ladies filled glasses with Bubbly Blood.
"Cheer up." Maggie handed her a glass. "At least Sly agreed to let us keep all the money."
Gregori snorted. "He had no choice. Roman was the one who put up the funds, and he insisted you all keep it."
"The master did care about us after all." Cora Lee grinned. "You should be happy, Darcy. Your show is the biggest hit ever."
"Indeed," Princess Joanna agreed. "Sly would be a fool not to beg you to do another one."
Unfortunately, Sly was a fool. "He'll just hire someone else," Darcy muttered.
"I don't think so," Vanda countered. "Corky Courrant's been playing your interview over and over. She's making you famous. Sly will have to ask you back."
"Vanda's right." Gregori sipped from his glass. "Corky's taken up the cause of female Vamp liberation, and she's named you the hero of the movement. Sly will look like a complete scumbag if he doesn't take you back."
Unfortunately, Sly was a complete scumbag. Darcy wasn't going to hold her breath waiting for him to call.
"The founder of the female Vamp liberation movement." Maggie gazed at Darcy with admiring eyes. "I knew it. I knew there was a reason for you to be with us. This was all meant to be."
Darcy's heart swelled with emotion. She was meant to be here. Meant to be a vampire. Her eyes misted as she regarded all her friends. At last, she was making peace with her world.
"Being the marketing genius that I am," Gregori continued, his eyes twinkling, "I've decided to take full advantage of your celebrity status. I convinced Roman to start a new line of female Vamp products, and we want you to be our spokesperson."
Darcy's mouth fell open. "You mean, I would have a job?"
"Yes." Gregori smiled. "You would make commercials, go on tours. Be an inspiration to Vamp women all around the world."
The ladies squealed and gathered around Darcy to congratulate her. She was too stunned to do anything but babble incoherently. In the midst of all the noise, the phone rang.
Gregori answered it. "Sure, come on over." He glanced at the women. "Step back, please. We have a visitor coming."
The women crowded against the far wall as a figure materialized before them. Shoulder-length auburn hair. A red and green plaid kilt. Connor. Darcy stiffened.
He immediately focused on her. "We need to talk. Alone."
Her heart pounded in her ears. What doom was he bringing tonight? And why? Her life was finally looking hopeful again.
"Come, ladies." Gregori motioned toward the door. "Let's give them some privacy."
Darcy perched on the edge of an easy chair as her friends filed from the room. Connor paced about, his kilt swishing around his knees. He was nervous, she realized, and that only served to make her pulse race faster.
He cleared his throat. "I've been enjoying yer show."
"I gather ye dinna tell yer boss about Austin working for the CIA?"
"No. Sly was furious enough just to find out he's mortal."
Connor folded his arms across his wide chest. "He came to see me a few hours ago."
"Aye. He had something important to tell you. And yer friends here weren't letting him get through to you."
Darcy's heart stuttered. Austin had tried to reach her? While she remained speechless, she heard muffled whispers behind the door. Her friends were listening in. Her nosy, overprotective friends. "Austin's been trying to reach me?"
"Aye." Connor glanced at the door where the whispers had grown in volume. "I suppose they were trying to protect you."
Darcy raised her voice. "How silly of them. They should know I can take care of myself."
The whispers cut off.
Connor's mouth twitched. "Well done, lass," he said softly.
Darcy motioned to the chair next to her. "What did Austin say?"
"He claimed he was no longer with the CIA." Connor took the offered seat. "We checked on it, and it's true. In fact, Sean Whelan has blacklisted him from any government employment."
"I see." Poor Austin. He was in worse shape than her.
"Ye told him about the experiment to transform a vampire back into a mortal."
"Yes." Darcy frowned. "I told him it didn't work."
"Because the vampire's original human DNA is needed."
"Yes." Darcy wondered where this was going.
"Austin brought me the knife from yer attack four years ago. It was covered with yer blood. Yer human blood."
Darcy fell back against the chair. "You mean... ?"
"Aye. I took the knife to Roman. He isolated yer human DNA. He thinks ye're the best candidate we'll ever find."
She pressed a hand against her chest. Her heart was thundering in her ears. "I - I could become mortal again?"
The whispers resumed outside the door.
Connor leaned forward, bracing his forearms on his knees. "I have to tell ye, lass, there's a possibility ye could perish during the procedure."
"How - how big a possibility?"
"Roman estimates a seventy-five-percent chance of success."
And a twenty-five-percent chance she could die.
The door burst open, making her jump in her chair.
"Don't do it!" Maggie rushed into the room.
"I agree." Gregori marched in. "You shouldn't risk your life, Darcy. You have a perfectly good life here."
The other ladies murmured in agreement.
Darcy's eyes filled with tears. She did have a promising future in the vampire world. But she didn't have Austin. And he still wanted her. That was why he'd brought Connor the knife. "Austin wants me to do it?"
Connor shook his head. "He dinna say. He only said ye deserved to be happy. And ye deserved to have a choice."
He wants me to choose. She could have a bright future as a celebrity in the vampire world. She had wonderful friends who cared about her and a female liberation movement she'd managed to start. On the other hand, she could have Austin. And her family. And sunshine. And a one in four chance of dying.
"Don't do it." Maggie knelt beside her chair. "We need you."
"I'm not sure we're enough." Vanda's eyes glimmered with tears. "There's nothing more sacred than love."
"But we love her!" Maggie exclaimed.
A tear tumbled down Darcy's cheek.
"Enough of yer blethering," Connor stood. "This is Darcy's decision. I couldna give her a choice before, but now, I can."
Darcy wiped her cheeks. "I need to talk to Connor alone for a moment."