It's just sex. Vanda doubled over in her chair, resting her head in her hands. Tears threatened to escape. What a fool she was.
It wasn't just sex. It was glorious sex. The best she'd ever had. Her whole body hummed with residual energy. And she wanted more. You would think experiencing three earth-shaking orgasms in a row would be enough, but no. It was like Phil had awakened a lusty beast inside of her. It had lain dormant for over fifty years, and now it demanded satisfaction. It demanded Phil.
She pressed her thighs together, relishing the pressure on her sensitive, still-aroused sex. Oh God, Phil had been inside her. He'd touched her and tasted her. He'd made her scream.
It should have been just sex. She'd thought the physical act would be a welcome release from all the frustration and anger that had hounded her the past week. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Distract Phil from his anger management duties and curiosity about her past and have a little fun on the side. After all, it was just sex.
She sat up and looked at the table where she'd squirmed and screamed. It had happened. She couldn't take it back.
Damn him. He'd known exactly what he was doing to her. She'd wanted to keep it purely physical and impersonal, but he had demanded that she look at him. And each time she had, her heart had swelled with so much emotion. She could pretend it was lust, admiration, or fondness, but who was she kidding?
Tears streamed down her cheeks. All her attempts to keep the world at a safe distance had been in vain. Phil had swept back into her life and in just a few days, he'd completely overwhelmed her.
There was something different about him. Sure, he'd filled out his large frame with more muscle, and he was more handsome than ever, but there was something else, something deeper and more subtle. Now, he exuded so much confidence and power. An abundance of raw energy and male sexuality simmered beneath the surface, and it called to her. It drew her in, and she was helpless to resist.
She wiped her face. Okay, so the physical attraction was red hot. And her heart was weakening fast. But she still possessed a stubborn mind and strength of will. The coffin of horrors hidden in the recesses of her mind was still shut. There had been a few leaks the last few days, but she would put an end to that. She'd simply refuse to divulge any more information. Her past would be off limits. Her heart would be off limits. And to play it safe, to keep her heart intact, her body would be off limits.
No man would conquer her. Not even Phil.
He was going to win Vanda's heart, no matter how much she resisted. Phil knew she wanted him. She'd responded to his lovemaking so quickly and sweetly. As annoying as it was for her to act aloof now, it was clear to him that it was an act. She was trying to protect herself. She was afraid to fall in love, afraid of making herself vulnerable to more heartache. But love wasn't something she could turn off like a water faucet. It was happening, whether she cared to admit it or not.
The security office was on the other side of Romatech, so on the way, Phil stopped in a restroom to wash off her scent. Vamps had a superior sense of smell, almost as good as werewolves, and he wanted to keep his affair with Vanda private.
He strode into the banquet hall. The band had left, along with Corky Courrant and most of the guests.
"Phil." Maggie approached him, holding both her and Vanda's evening bags. "Where's Vanda? I thought she was with you."
"She was. I took her to an anger management session with Father Andrew, and then we…had a talk. She wanted to be alone for a while to think things over."
"A talk?" Maggie gave him a dubious look, then leaned forward to whisper. "Your pants are unzipped."
Shit. Phil turned toward a wall and quickly yanked the zipper closed.
Maggie looked away to give him privacy. "Is she all right?"
"I know she acts tough, but she's really very fragile. I'll be royally pissed if you hurt her in any way."
"I won't hurt her. I'm in love with her."
Maggie turned to face him. "Did you tell her that?"
"No. I didn't think she could handle it right now."
Maggie nodded slowly. "You're probably right." She peered around the nearly empty room, then stepped closer to him. "I need to tell you something. Earlier, when I was talking to Shanna, I accidentally let it slip in front of Vanda that some of my in-laws are shape shifters."
He sucked in a quick breath. "How did she take it?"
"She turned ghostly pale, and I thought it was from shock, but then she said she already knew about them. I thought you should know."
His earlier spurt of optimism deflated. It might take longer than he thought to win Vanda's heart.
"Where is she?" Maggie asked.
"The room next to the chapel, at the end of the hallway." He motioned to the double swinging doors behind the bandstand. "She said she would come here soon, but you might want to check on her."
"I will." Maggie hurried off.
Phil strode into the foyer, wondering how much Vanda knew about shape shifters.
Phineas zoomed in through the front door and joined him. "I was just finishing my rounds when Connor called," he said in a husky voice.
"How are you feeling?" Phil asked.
"Better. Roman gave me some Blissky on ice, and that helped with the throat burn." Phineas placed a hand over his heart. "But the pain of betrayal—how could my sweet angelic LaToya be so cruel?"
"Give her time." Phil headed down the hall with him. "She just needs to get to know you."
Phineas grimaced. "That's what I'm afraid of. What if she finds my rap sheet? I'll be lucky if she doesn't try to arrest me. How can love be so cruel?"
"I know what you mean. The lady I love is scared to death of wolves. How can I tell her what I am?"
Phineas sighed. "Fate can be so cruel." He shot Phil a curious look. "Who are you in love with?"
Phineas snickered. "You're in love with an it?"
"She's a Vamp. I believe you all claim to be somewhat human."
Phineas scoffed. "Then what's the problem, bro? Don't you big bad wolves live a nice long time?"
"Hot damn, bro, that's the best kind."
Phil smiled. "At least she already knows about shape shifters. It won't come as a total shock when I tell her the news."
"Who are we talking about?" Phineas lowered his voice. "It's not Vanda, is it?"
Phil stopped. "Am I that obvious?"
"Only to the Love Doctor. I'm in tune with sweet love vibrations." Phineas shook his head, wincing. "But I have to tell you, man. I was at Vanda's club when that Jedrek dude attacked and Carlos shifted into a black panther—I mean a real black panther. She was upset, wanted him out of her club. I don't think she likes shape shifters at all."
Phil swallowed hard. "Thanks for the warning."
"Any time, bro." Phineas sighed. "We're so screwed. Vanda hates shape shifters. LaToya hates vampires. How can life be so—"
"Cruel?" Phil finished the question for him, wishing he knew the answer. Life had certainly dealt Vanda some cruel blows. But she was a survivor, and he wouldn't give up hope. He swiped his ID and activated the hand sensor to open the door to the security office.
Inside, it was standing room only. Phil was surprised by the number of nonsecurity people in attendance, like Roman and Jean-Luc and their wives, but obviously everyone wanted the latest news available.
Connor nodded at Phil and Phineas. "I've been catching everyone up. About thirty minutes ago Casimir and two of his cohorts teleported into the main temple of Apollo's compound in Maine. Angus and his team caught them by surprise, and a battle ensued. Casimir ordered his men to defend him, then teleported away while they were left fighting for their lives."
"Typical of the bastard," Jean-Luc muttered.
"Aye." Connor nodded. "One of the cohorts managed to escape, but the second one was captured. All we know about him is that he used the name Hermes. He refuses to divulge any more information."
Jack snorted. "I'm sure Angus can change his mind."
Connor smiled grimly. "They have Hermes tied up with silver chains to prevent him from teleporting away. Angus wants to transfer him here to the silver room at Romatech, where we have tighter security, but of course they canna teleport him here with all the silver on him. So they're driving him here."
Phil figured the trip from Maine had to be over five hundred miles. "I don't think they can make it here before sunrise."
"Nay, that's why Austin and Darcy will be driving the van," Connor explained. "They'll have Hermes chained and boxed in the back to keep him from escaping or getting burned by the sun. Meanwhile, Angus and the rest of his team will remain at the compound in case Casimir returns with more men to try to rescue Hermes."
"How many Vamps does Angus have with him?" Jack asked.
"Three," Connor replied. "Emma, Dougal, and Zoltan."
"Does he want more?" Jean-Luc asked. "I can go."
"Me, too," Jack said.
Connor smiled. "If ye want to go, Angus wouldna refuse you. But 'tis probably unnecessary. Casimir has never been known to rescue any of his followers."
"True," Jack agreed. "He considers them expendable. Still, I'd like to go just as a precaution."
Lara leaned close to him, her expression worried. "Shall I come with you?"
"You're tired. Get some rest." Jack kissed her brow. "Wait for me at the townhouse. I'll be back before dawn."
Jean-Luc gave his wife a kiss, then he and Jack went into the armory at the back of the office to collect some weapons.
"Yo." Phineas held up a hand. "I want to go, too."
Connor shifted his gaze to the young black Vamp. "I appreciate that, but we have a special assignment for you."
Phineas grinned. "Cool! Lots of action, huh?"
"I requested your help." Roman stepped toward him. "I believe you once supplied the Malcontents with the ingredients to make Nightshade?"
Phineas's grin faded. "Yeah, that's why they transformed me. They wanted a drug dealer." He crossed his arms, frowning. "I don't do that shit anymore. I'm one of the good guys."
"I know you are," Roman replied. "But if we had some Nightshade, we could teleport prisoners like Hermes. When the Malcontents kidnapped Angus two years ago, they paralyzed him with Nightshade, so there was no need for silver chains. Then they were able to teleport him."
"I know." Phineas shifted his weight. "I feel really bad about helping them, but they said they'd kill my family—"
"We doona blame you, lad," Connor said.
"It would really help us to have some Nightshade," Roman said. "Unfortunately, I don't know how it's made."
"Oh, bummer," Phineas mumbled.
"Exactly," Roman continued. "But I think I could figure out the formula if I had the right ingredients. Do you remember them? Can you procure them for me?"
"Yeah, I remember." Phineas grimaced. "We're talking some bad-ass illegal shit."
Connor gave him a wry look. "We have every confidence in you."
"Yeah. Thanks." Phineas leaned close to Phil and murmured, "If LaToya finds out about this, she'll be really pissed."
"No one needs to know." Connor had overheard him. "Once ye have the drugs in yer possession, ye can erase the mortals' memories."
"Look at it this way," Phil said to Phineas. "You'll be taking dangerous drugs off the street."
The young Vamp's eyes lit up. "You're right. I'll be doing the world a favor."
Roman smiled. "Thank you. This could be a valuable weapon in our war against the Malcontents."
"Dr. Phang at your service," Phineas boasted.
"Then off ye go." Connor gave him a pointed look.
"Right." Phineas nodded. "I'll have to drop by the townhouse first to change clothes. Can't go into the hood looking like this." He teleported away.
Connor waved Phil over. "Can ye take Heather and Lara to the townhouse?"
"Sure." Phil frowned. "But I'd rather go with Jack and be where the action is."
"I doona believe there will be any more action in Maine tonight," Connor whispered. "And once Austin and Darcy get the prisoner here, this is where the action will be. I'm counting on yer help with the prisoner, so get yer rest now while ye can."
It was almost like old times with a full house to guard. Phil drove Lara Boucher, Heather Echarpe, and Heather's daughter Bethany to the townhouse. Then he excused himself to go to the basement to get a few hours sleep. He had to stay alert during the day, when he guarded the Vamps.
He was up again shortly before dawn. Vanda, Cora Lee, and Pamela teleported in from the nightclub. Jack and Jean-Luc returned from Apollo's compound in Maine, reporting that there had been no more activity there. Angus and the rest of his team had decided to stay there. Phineas arrived home with good news. He'd managed to find all the drugs Roman needed to figure out the Nightshade formula.
The house grew quiet as the Vamps went off to their rooms to fall into their death-sleep. Around 11:00 A.M., Austin and Darcy dragged in.
Darcy, a former member of Roman's harem, had met Austin Erickson when he worked for the CIA Stake-Out Team. Now a married couple, they were invaluable mortal employees at MacKay Security & Investigation. They'd delivered the prisoner to the silver room at Romatech before arriving at the townhouse. Exhausted, they headed straight to a bedroom.
Howard Barr called around 6:00 P.M. to ask Phil and Austin to come to Romatech and ready the prisoner for questioning. Since the Vamps were still in their death-sleep, Darcy and Lara took over guard duty. Phil regretted that he would miss seeing Vanda. He hadn't had a chance to talk to her since they'd made love. She could call it "just sex" if she wanted, but to him it was making love.
At Romatech, he and Austin went straight to the safe room in the basement. Angus had designed the room, completely encased in silver, to prevent a vampire from teleporting in or out. A wooden crate rested on the floor with Hermes inside.
Phil noted the lid had been nailed shut. A few air holes dotted the lid. Part of the journey from Maine had been in the dark, and during that time the Malcontent would have been alive and breathing.
Austin had left a crowbar in the room earlier, and now he pried the lid open a few inches. Phil grabbed the top and wrenched it off.
The sleeping vampire lay wrapped in silver chains. He looked about thirty-five years old, with a tall, gaunt body. His pale, pockmarked face was accented by deep-set eyes, sunken cheeks, and thinning brown hair. He couldn't have been a very healthy mortal when he was transformed, and now he was stuck looking ill for centuries. But his pasty skin and frail body was deceiving. As a vampire, he possessed superior strength and speed.
Phil peered around the room. "Where do you want to put him?"
"The bed and easy chairs look too comfortable." Austin grabbed a kitchen chair from the dinette set and set it in the middle of the room. "This will do."
Phil helped Austin lift the vampire out of the crate. "He's gotten a little stiff."
They propped the body against the chair with Hermes's feet on the floor and his shoulders against the back of the chair. The body didn't bend to conform to the chair, but remained stiff as a board.
Austin snorted. "Holy rigor mortis."
Phil chuckled. "Maybe we should lay him on the kitchen table. We could chain him to it."
They soon had Hermes chained to the wooden table and the table standing on its edge.
"We could practice throwing knives," Austin suggested. "Like a circus act."
"Good idea." Phil grinned. "But I think it would be more effective after he wakes up." He checked his watch. "That should be in about ten minutes."
"Let's find something to eat." Austin wandered into the kitchen area and rummaged through the cabinets. He found a loaf of bread and some chips.
Phil checked the refrigerator. It was stocked with synthetic blood but also had bottled water and lunch meat.
They sat in the easy chairs, eating their dinner, while they waited for Hermes to wake up.
Austin told Phil about some of the adventures he'd had as a former member of the CIA Stake-Out Team. "One time, I shot a Malcontent full of silver bullets and he was still able to teleport away."
"Really?" Phil bit into his sandwich. "That's interesting."
Austin swallowed a bite from his sandwich. "I asked Angus about it, and he said silver needed to be external to keep a vampire from teleporting. It acts like a boundary that they can't get through. But silver inside a vampire would hurt like hell and eventually kill him. I guess silver bullets would kill your kind, too?"
"Yeah. Silver inside me is like poison. But externally, it's not a problem. I can touch it without it burning me."
"Roman can touch silver, but he's the only Vamp I've ever known who can." Austin took another bite from his sandwich.
"I've noticed that the older Vamps can do things the younger ones can't," Phil said. "I've seen Angus teleport two mortals at once. And Jack and Ian have both managed to teleport me while I was armed with silver bullets." He recalled how Vanda had been unable to teleport him with the silver chain in his pocket.
"Yeah, the older they get, the more powerful. I wonder how old this one is." Austin motioned to the prisoner. "Oh, look. He's waking up."
The prisoner's body jolted. His chest heaved, straining against the silver chain as he sucked in his first breath. His eyes opened, then narrowed on Phil and Austin. His nostrils flared. He struggled against his chains, shaking the table.
"You know." Austin grabbed a handful of chips out of the bag. "I think he wants to bite us."
Phil drank some water. "I've noticed they're extremely hungry when they first wake up."
"Yeah," Austin agreed. "I heard it can get really painful."
Hermes glared at them. "You are inferior creatures," he grumbled with a thick accent. "You think you can hold me? Where have you taken me?"
Austin gave Phil a confused look. "Is he asking questions?"
"Looks that way." Phil finished his sandwich. "Maybe he hasn't realized yet that he's the prisoner, and we ask the questions."
Austin nodded. "They can be amazingly stupid sometimes. You would think they'd acquire a certain amount of wisdom over the centuries, but no—"
"Silence, mortal!" Hermes growled.
A surge of cold air pressed against Phil's brow. The prisoner was attempting to use vampire mind control on them.
You will release me at once.
Phil quickly tapped into the power of his inner wolf to keep his mind protected. He glanced at Austin to make sure he wasn't affected. He'd heard Austin was psychic but wasn't sure how strong he was. "Are you all right?"
"Oh, yeah." Austin lifted a hand, and a bottle of water flew from the kitchen counter to land in his hand.
Phil drew in a sharp breath. "You're telekinetic? You must have more psychic power than vampires."
"Yep." Austin unscrewed the top of his water bottle. "It really pisses them off when they realize they can't control me."
"I will not be ignored!" Hermes thundered. "Obey me."
He hissed at them, and his fangs sprang out.
"Now that's just nasty." Austin drank some water.
"Really." Phil helped himself to some chips. "Someone should tell him about whitening strips."
Another wave of cold air circled about the room.
Come to me, mortal. I must feed.
Austin gave Phil a wry look. "Do I look like breakfast to you?"
Phil studied the prisoner. "I think the hunger's getting to him. He's sweating."
"And his legs are quivering," Austin added. "I think he would fall down if we didn't have him chained up."
Hermes hissed at them. His arms strained against the chains, his hands fisted.
"If he wasn't so rude, I might offer him a sip of synthetic blood." Phil passed the chips back to Austin. "We've got plenty in the fridge. But he hasn't even told us his real name."
"You will get no information from me," Hermes snarled. "I'd rather die than drink that synthetic piss."
"I guess he wants to die." Austin took the chips back to the kitchen area.
"Well, technically, he's already died once," Phil said. "He should be pretty good at it by now."
The door to the silver room opened and Phineas sauntered inside. "What's up?"
The prisoner glowered at him. "I know who you are. The traitor. Your time will come."
Phineas studied him with a wry look. "Oh yeah, I'm scared."
"Want some breakfast?" Phil walked toward the refrigerator. "We've got Type O, A, AB, whatever you like."
"I'll take some AB Negative. Thanks." Phineas sat in one of the easy chairs. "Can you warm it up, bro?"
"Sure." Phil popped the bottle in the microwave.
The scent of blood permeated the room. Hermes's body racked with a shudder. His face glistened with sweat.
"Here you go." Phil handed Phineas a glass filled to the brim with warmed-up blood.
Phineas guzzled down half the glass, then licked his lips. "Damn, that's good."
"So where's Connor?" Austin sat next to Phineas in the second easy chair.
"He's in the security office with Jack. They're watching us." Phineas motioned toward the surveillance camera above the bed. "Connor's looking through the Malcontent database to figure out who this Hermes dude is."
"I'm done," Connor announced as he strode into the room. He gave the prisoner a challenging look, then referred to the clipboard in his hand. "Hermes is Polish, about four hundred years old, and he fought on the wrong side of the Great Vampire War of 1710."
"Fuck you," the prisoner growled.
Connor arched a brow. "As you can see, his English is somewhat limited."
"What's his name?" Phil asked.