Her friends trudged slowly from the room and shut the door.
Darcy drew a shaky breath. "If I go through with this, I might not survive, so I want you to know how I feel."
Connor sat heavily in the chair next to her. "I know ye hate me. I doona blame ye for that."
"I've been telling myself I should hate you, but I realize now I was angry with myself. I was... ashamed." More tears slipped down her cheeks, and she brushed them away.
"Why, lass? Ye were verra brave to rescue that young girl."
Darcy shook her head. "I was a coward. I blamed you for transforming me, for not giving me a choice. But the truth was I had a choice. When you poured your blood down my throat, I could have refused. I could have turned my head and died with dignity. But I didn't. I was afraid. I didn't want to die."
"No one wants to die, lass."
"I drank your blood." Tears streamed down her face. "I was so appalled with myself."
Connor grabbed her hand. "You did what ye had to do to survive. And ye made the right choice. Look at all the good ye've done. Our world is a better place because ye're here."
"I made the right choice," she repeated to herself. A sense of peace filled her heart. Maggie was right. Her life as a vampire had been meant to be. And if she hadn't survived, she would have never met Austin. She squeezed Connor's hand. "Thank you."
His blue eyes glistened with tears. "Have ye decided, lass?"
"Yes. I took the cowardly choice before. This time, I choose to be brave."
Monday night, the phone rang, jolting Austin from a deep sleep. The clock read only eleven-thirty. He'd gone to bed early after an exhausting day on a new construction site. His nerves clenched as he fumbled for the receiver. A call this late usually meant bad news. "Hello?"
"The procedure is scheduled to begin in twenty minutes."
Procedure? "Who is this?" he asked, although the caller's Scottish accent made it fairly obvious.
"Connor. I thought ye might want to be here for Darcy."
"She - she's doing it?" Austin's heart lurched in his chest. "She's going to be changed back - "
"Aye," Connor interrupted him. "They're prepping her now. All her friends are here, so - "
"Where?" Austin jumped out of bed.
"Romatech. Ye know where it is?"
"Yeah. White Plains. I'll be there. Tell Darcy I'm coining." Twenty minutes? Damn, he'd never make it in time.
"Ye should know there's a possibility she'll no' survive."
His heart plummeted into his stomach. He could have sworn both lungs had collapsed cause he couldn't breathe. He heard a clicking sound. "Wait!" Too late. Connor had hung up.
He dropped the receiver back into its cradle. Holy crap. He should have never given them the knife. Darcy could die.
He threw on some clothes, grabbed his wallet and keys, and charged out the door. Try to think positive. The elevator took an eternity to reach the ground floor. Think positive. She'll be mortal. He sprinted to the parking garage. His hands shook as he fumbled to unlock the car. He climbed in and started the engine.
She could die.
He sped out of the garage and zoomed north on the West Side Highway. His gaze darted to the dashboard clock every few seconds. Was she afraid? Dammit, of course she was afraid.
She could die.
His heart hammered when twenty minutes had passed. They were starting the procedure. And he wasn't there. He sped past a police car in the Bronx. Holy shit. He glanced in the rearview mirror. No flashing lights. Thank God. He turned north onto the Bronx River Parkway.
She could die.
Finally, he reached the outskirts of White Plains. He swerved into the entrance of Romatech, ignoring the guard station and the kilted Scotsman who shouted at him. He screeched to a halt by the front door and ran inside. Two Scottish guards grabbed him.
"Where's Darcy?" He struggled. "I have to see her."
"Ye're Austin Erickson?" The first guard restrained him while the second one removed Austin's wallet and checked his ID.
"Yes." Austin yanked his arm free from the vampire's grasp. "I'm here to see Darcy Newhart."
The second guard returned his wallet. "Connor told us ye were coming. This way."
Austin followed the guards down a hallway, around a corner, and down another hallway. Finally, they opened a pair of swinging doors.
Austin rushed inside and halted when he saw Gregori and all the ladies from the reality show. Gregori was leaning against a wall, his arms crossed. He shot Austin a hostile look. Vanda was pacing about the room. Maria Consuela and Princess Joanna were kneeling together with a priest, all of them praying in Latin. Maggie took one look at him and started crying. Lady Pamela and Cora Lee sat on each side of Maggie, whispering assurances. Then they looked at Austin with accusation in their eyes.
He should have never recovered that knife. It would be his fault if Darcy died. He cleared his throat. "How is she?"
"How do you think she is?" Gregori growled. "They're draining every drop of blood out of her."
Vanda slowed to a stop in front of him. "Connor comes out about every five minutes to tell us what's happening."
Austin strode toward Gregori. "Tell them to stop. It's not too late to keep her a vampire, right?"
Gregori snorted. "Why would you want to stop it? She wasn't good enough for you as a vampire, was she?"
Austin clenched his fists. "I love her just the way she is. Now go in there and tell them to stop!"
Gregori hesitated, so Austin strode toward the door. "Darcy! Don't do it!" The door was locked. He pounded on the door. "Don't risk your life for me, dammit!"
The door opened suddenly as Connor exited. Austin tried to go in, but the Scotsman shoved him back and held him against the wall with one hand. Austin strained against Connor's grip, but the Scotsman was incredibly strong.
"Ye're making too much noise out here," Connor growled.
"You have to stop the procedure," Austin whispered.
"She's entered the vampire coma," Connor announced softly. " 'Tis too late."
Maggie burst into tears. Cora Lee and Lady Pamela joined her. Vanda stumbled to a chair and collapsed. Gregori slumped against the wall, his eyes closed.
Austin's eyes filled with tears. What the hell had he done? He had no right to take Darcy away from these people who loved her. "You can still let her stay a vampire."
Connor shook his head. "It was her choice. She deserved to have a choice, and ye know it."
"Listen! If things go badly, if she's dying, I want you to make her a vampire. She'll be safe that way."
Connor dropped his hand, releasing Austin. "I asked her about that, and she said no. If she dies, we have to let her go."
"No!" Austin paced away, refusing to accept this. He marched back to Connor. "I won't let her go. You'll change her back into a vampire." He leaned closer. "And then, you'll change me."
Connor's eyes widened. "Are ye serious?"
Austin pulled down the collar of his shirt. "What are you waiting for? Go for it, you bastard!"
Gregori strode toward them. "You're willing to become a vampire to save Darcy?"
"Yes. I'll do whatever it takes."
Connor exchanged a look with Gregori. "I wasna certain she'd made the right choice. Or that this man was worthy of her. But now, I see that he is."
Austin's vision blurred with tears. "Don't let her die."
"We'll do our best." Connor slipped back inside the operating room.
Austin leaned forward, pressing his forehead against the door. Live, Darcy. You have to live.
"I misjudged you," Gregori spoke behind him. Austin turned. The young vampire extended a hand, and Austin shook it. They waited by the door in silence.
After a few minutes, Gregori perked up. He pressed an ear against the door.
"What is it?" Austin asked.
"They're getting excited," Gregori whispered. "I can hear them. She... she's responding. She's breathing on her own."
"I'm going in." Austin wrenched open the door and marched inside. Darcy was lying on an operating table with bright lights illuminating her pale face. Roman Draganesti and the short chemist named Laszlo were hovering over her.
"Ye shouldna be here," Connor muttered.
"Buzz off," Austin growled.