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CHAPTER 17

Phil ushered Vanda to a table in the center of the club. Vampire Blues obviously catered to a different sort of clientele than her club had. No bright lights or fast, pounding music. No screaming, bouncing girls demanding the next male dancer.

Vampire Blues was a dark, gloomy place that reeked of spilled Blissky. Vampire waitresses, dressed in black satin shorts and camisole tops, glided around the scarred tables. Above the bar, a television was tuned to the Digital Vampire Network. Stone Cauf-fyn was delivering The Nightly News, but the mute button had been turned on.

In a corner, next to the bar, a small jazz band was playing a slow, sad melody, and a couple on the dance floor swayed to the music.

Vanda sat with a huff. "This place is depressing."

"You're supposed to be depressed." Phil sat next to her. "You just lost your club."

"Don't remind me." She looked over her shoulder. "Where did the guys go? They're supposed to protect me."

"They will." Phil noticed how well Colbert and his friends blended into the dark booths at the back of the club. Robby MacKay, with his bright blue and green kilt, was more noticeable. He was sitting at a table, facing them, to keep the broadsword on his back from being seen.

"The first part of the plan is for you to get on Corky's show," Phil explained. "But we don't want your little army to appear on the show."

"Right," Vanda muttered. "Not only am I bait, but I have to look like totally helpless, vulnerable bait."

"Exactly." Phil motioned to a waitress. "If Casimir sees how well-protected you are, he'll know it's a trap. But if he thinks you're unprotected, he's more likely to attack with just a few men."

Vanda sighed. "Okay. Let's get on with this."

The waitress stopped by their table and looked Phil over. With a smile, she leaned over to show off her cleavage. "How can I serve you?"

"You can put on some clothes," Vanda grumbled.

The waitress straightened and shot her an annoyed look.

"I'll have a beer," Phil said. "And my fianc'ee will have a Blissky."

The waitress turned with a huff and stalked away.

Vanda stared at Phil. "What was that?"

"I know you don't drink liquor much, but you need to appear drunk," he explained.

"I meant the fianc'ee part. Did I miss a conversation somewhere?"

He smiled. "I thought it might keep the waitress from coming on to me. My apologies for using you in such a manner."

Her mouth twitched. "Honey, you can use me in any manner you like." She rubbed a booted foot along his leg.

He motioned with his head toward the other Vamps.

She rolled her eyes. "This forbidden crap is for the birds. I should be able to jump my guard if I want to." She smiled. "And I do want to."

He smiled back. "I want to, too. But we can't allow ourselves to get distracted right now."

A flash of light drew Phil's attention. More flashes. Three Japanese vampires were taking photos of the waitress. She posed for them, smiling.

Tourists, he figured. They each had a digital camera hanging around their necks. They sat at a table close by.

The waitress brought Phil and Vanda their drinks, then turned to the Japanese. "What would you like?"

"We want Brissky! I am Kyo, and I pay."

The waitress nodded. "Three Blisskys, coming up." As she walked toward the bar, Kyo took a picture of her backside.

"Kyo!" One of his friends laughed. "You are too bad."

Vanda sipped her Blissky and grimaced. "Ugh."

"Sorry," Phil murmured. "You're supposed to look like you're drowning your sorrows."

Phineas approached them, talking on his cell phone. "Yeah. Okay, bro. Way to go." He snapped his phone shut and sat at the table with them. "That was Gregori. He's at DVN, pretending to be arranging a new commercial for Vampire Fusion Cuisine, and he let it drop a few times that Vanda was here wallowing in self-pity."

Vanda scoffed. "I don't wallow."

"It's all part of the act, sweetness," Phineas whispered. "Any second now the news will reach Corky."

"And she'll want to show me wallowing on her show," Vanda grumbled. She took another sip of Blissky and made a face.

Phineas frowned. "Sweetness, you don't look very drunk."

"I'm not. And if you call me 'sweetness' one more time, I'll cram my whip down your throat."

Phineas raised his hands in surrender. "Dudette, I'm just saying that I have some experience in matters of extreme intoxication. First of all, you need to look like you're enjoying that Blissky. Let me show you." He grabbed her glass and guzzled down half the contents.

He slammed the glass down and thumped the table. "Damn, that's good. Now, secondly, you need to look intoxicated. Slouch over in your chair and leave your mouth hanging open."

Vanda arched a brow at him.

Phil noticed the bartender answering the phone. A short bald man appeared, teleporting in with a small camera. Corky's spy, the same guy Phil had spotted in her office a few nights ago. The man scurried off to a nearby booth.

"Showtime," Phil whispered. "Corky's spy is here."

"Where?" Vanda turned her head.

"Don't look," Phil growled.

She gazed at him, her eyes wide with worry. "What now?"

"You do your anger thing," Phineas said. When Vanda did nothing, he added, "Sweetness."

She frowned at him.

"I bet you just hated watching your club burn to the ground," Phineas continued. "I bet it made you really mad."

She took a sip of Blissky.

Phineas leaned closer. "I bet it filled you with uncontrollable rage."

She gave him a bland look. "I know what you're doing."

Phineas huffed. "Do something, Phil. Insult her. Make her mad."

Phil shrugged. "Nothing comes to mind. I think she's…perfect."

She gave Phil an angelic smile. "Thank you."

"Oh come on." Phineas glared at them. "Can't you two have a lovers' quarrel? Is the camera on us?"

Phil glanced at the booth where the short bald man was sitting. His camera was aimed right at them. "Yes, it is."

Phineas smirked at Vanda. "You know, you really shouldn't wear those catsuits. The camera adds ten pounds."

She gave him an annoyed look. "You guys talked me into being a sitting duck, but I didn't agree to be a trained monkey."

"Dammit, woman," Phineas snarled. "Everyone knows you're crazy. Start acting like it!"

Vanda shrugged. "Sticks and stones."

Phineas glowered at Phil. "What kind of anger management sponsor are you?"

"A successful one, apparently."

"Shit," Phineas muttered. He glanced at the Japanese vampire tourists and his eyes lit up. He reached under the table, then heaved it at the Japanese Vamps.

The table crashed on top of the tourists, sloshing them with spilled Blissky and beer. They jumped up, hollering in shock and outrage.

Phineas leaped to his feet, giving Vanda an appalled look. "Vanda! Why'd you do it?"

"What?" She stood.

Phineas slapped a hand against his brow. "You can't attack these people just because you hate Naruto!"

"Who?" Vanda asked.

"She hate Naruto?" The tourist named Kyo glared at Vanda, his face turning red.

"You ruined my shirt!" A second tourist wiped at the Blissky stains on his red silk shirt. He glowered at Vanda. "You evil woman."

"Hey, she did you a favor," Phineas yelled. "That shirt belongs on a woman."

The tourist gasped.

"She has insulted your honor, Yoshi," Kyo declared. "And she insults Naruto's honor."

"Hai!" All three Japanese vampires assumed attack poses.

"What the hell?" Vanda jumped back and quickly untied the whip from around her waist.

Phil glanced at Corky's cameraman. He was still recording. They would have to fight.

The Japanese charged with an impressive series of kicks and spins. Yoshi kicked at Vanda, but she managed to dodge it. She snapped her whip at him, and he backed up.

Kyo came after Phil, but he'd had enough martial arts training to block all the kicks and punches. He quickly discovered that a kick aimed at Kyo's expensive digital camera would always make the tourist jump back.

Still, he knew they needed to put on a show for Corky. Phil slung a chair at Kyo, purposely missing him and shattering the chair on top of a table. Customers screamed and ran from the building. Others stayed and laid bets.

Finally, the cameraman vanished. Phil assumed he had a deadline to keep in order to get the video on Corky's show. Live with the Undead was due to start in fifteen minutes.

"All right!" Phil shouted. "The show's over."

Phineas and Vanda stopped fighting. The Japanese Vamps stood there, panting, with confused looks on their faces.

"Congratulations!" Phineas grinned at them. "You guys just got punked. You'll be on a TV show."

"What?" Kyo glanced at the television. The Nightly News was still on. "We American movie stars now?"

"Television stars," Phineas corrected him. "You're going to be famous. And dudes, we love Naruto."

"Who's Naruto?" Vanda whispered.

"Let me buy you some drinks," Phil offered.

Ten minutes later Phil, Vanda, and Phineas were sharing a table with their new friends: Kyo, Yoshi, and Yuki. Robby, Zoltan, and Dougal came over to introduce themselves and congratulate them on their fine martial arts skills. Colbert and his men introduced themselves and gave the tourists more compliments on their fighting. Colbert paid the club manager for the damages, then bought everyone a round of Blisskys.

When Corky Courrant's show came on, the bartender turned up the volume. The jazz band and all the customers settled down to watch the show, Live with the Undead.

"Greeting, dear viewers." Corky smiled grimly at the camera. "Tonight we have shocking news. As you know, last night we showed you the utter destruction of Vanda Barkowski's notorious nightclub here in New York City."

Half the screen displayed the burned and charred remains of Vanda's club.

Phil patted her leg in sympathy underneath the table.

"It's no secret that I was celebrating last night while Vanda's club was burning," Corky continued. "But I must confess that I had nothing to do with it. It was simply a matter of divine justice. Now, we had thought Vanda had died a horrible death in the explosion. Indeed, everyone hoped and prayed that she was dead, but tonight, in late-breaking news, we can confirm that Vanda Barkowski is still alive!"

A picture of Vanda flashed on the screen.

"Ah, Vanda." The Japanese bowed to her. "You are famous celebrity."

She groaned and shook her head.

"You see, dear friends," Corky continued, "I have exclusive footage that proves Vanda is still alive. And not only is she still breathing, but she's engaging once again in disgusting and violent behavior! Just moments ago my operative filmed this scene at the Vampire Blues club in New Orleans. Vanda was there, so drunk and disorderly that she attacked three unsuspecting tourists from Japan!"

The video played. The Japanese cheered.

"We're famous!" Yuki shouted.

"Brisskys for everyone!" Kyo yelled.

Phil stood. "Guys, I hate to break up the party, but we need you to leave. We're expecting trouble any minute now."

"Trouble?" Kyo asked. "What kind of trouble?"

Yuki lifted his chin. "We do not run from trouble."

"Dudes, the Malcontents are coming," Phineas explained. "They want to kill Vanda."

Kyo jumped to his feet. "No one kills Vanda."

"We will fight!" Yoshi punched the air with his fist.

"They'll have swords," Phil warned their new friends.

"We not afraid," Yuki declared. "We fight."

Colbert and the other Vamps gathered around the table, their swords drawn and ready. The remaining customers ran from the building.

Two hours later they were still waiting.

Vanda sighed. "I was scared to death a few hours ago, and now I just want to get it over with."

"What's taking them so long?" Phineas asked.

Phil shook his head. "I don't know. Maybe they smelled a trap."

"Or they were busy doing something else." Robby called Angus, then reported that no bombings had occurred. The Malcontents appeared to be taking the night off.

"They're up to something," Zoltan muttered.

But three hours later it looked like they weren't.

Phil had started drinking coffee to try to stay alert.

"Maybe they missed Corky's show," Phineas suggested.

"Some Malcontent somewhere must have seen it," Robby said. "Perhaps it's a problem of getting the news to Casimir. He may be hiding so well, some of his own people doona know where he is."

"That could be it," Colbert agreed. "I say we come back here tomorrow night. Casimir could still come, looking for Vanda."

The Japanese stood and bowed. "Then we will come back tomorrow to fight."

They headed for the door, but Phil stopped them on the way. "Are you serious about helping Vanda?"

"Of course," Kyo said. "She famous American celebrity."

Phil whipped out his cell phone and added Kyo's cell phone number to his directory. "Thank you. If I ever need your help, I'll call."

"It would be an honor." Kyo bowed and left with his friends.

Vanda sat on her assigned cot in the upstairs section of the coffee warehouse where the New Orleans coven lived. She unwound her whip and set it on the cot while Scarlett and Tootsie perched on a neighboring cot, entertaining her with stories of their crazy antics.

She glanced across the dormitory at Phil, who lay sleeping on his cot. The poor guy was so exhausted, he was sleeping with all the noisy Vamps chattering around him.

But not all the Vamps were talking. Vanda had spotted a few private rooms behind the kitchen. Colbert and Giselle had retired to their own room. Vanda had been tempted to ask for a private room for her and Phil, but there were too many MacKay S & I employees here. She couldn't let them know she was indulging in a forbidden affair with her assigned guard.

Scarlett stood. "I'm going to have a warm cup of Chocolood before bed. Would you like some, Vanda?"

"Yes, thank you." Vanda leaned over to unzip her boots.

"Intruder!" a man by the surveillance monitors shouted. "Intruder alert!"

In seconds the Vamp men had grabbed their swords and were dashing out the door. Vanda hurried to the monitors to see what was happening. A dozen men, armed with swords, had arrived in the huge room on the ground floor.

Colbert ran into the dormitory, barefoot, his shirt unbuttoned, but with a sword in one hand. Giselle followed him, wrapped in a bathrobe. The coven women gathered around her.

"Oh my God!" Scarlett grabbed Tootsie. "What do we do?"

Colbert glanced at the two men as he hurried out the door. "Guard the women!"

Tootsie gasped. "I thought we were the women."

Phil sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "What's going on?" He grabbed his shoes and quickly put them on.

Vanda ran to him. "The Malcontents are here."

"Shit." He strapped on a shoulder holster and inserted his handgun. "Stay here." He grabbed a sword from the stash by the surveillance monitors, then he sprinted for the door.

"Phil!" Vanda ran after him. The damn balcony was about three stories up. She'd had to levitate him up earlier. "Wait." She reached the balcony just in time to see him leap. She squealed. Good God, he'd kill himself.

She peered over the edge and gasped. He'd landed nimbly and was already challenging a Malcontent with his sword. How on earth had he managed that jump?

She flinched when a sword thrust narrowly missed him. Her heart lurched up her throat. How on earth could he possibly survive in a battle against a vampire? Good God, Hugo was right. Phil moved incredibly fast.

Her blood chilled as she surveyed the scene. Vamp fighting vampire. Swords clashing. Shouts of victory and screams of defeat. Men howling in agony before crumbling into piles of dust.

"Revenge!" someone yelled over the clash of swords.

She spotted the shouting man. He was completely surrounded by armed Malcontents. They fought furiously around him while he remained safely cocooned. He held a sword in one hand, his other arm cradled against his chest at a strange angle.

"Casimir," she whispered.

A scream jolted her. One of Colbert's men had been skewered. He turned to dust.

Hands grabbed Vanda's shoulders and she jumped.

"Come inside." Giselle pulled her back from the edge of the balcony. "Don't let them see you."

"But I have to know…" Vanda searched the flailing arms and swinging swords, looking for Phil. He was still all right. He had a different opponent now. He must have killed the first one.

She spotted a Malcontent lurking in a dark corner with a cell phone to his ear. A dozen more Malcontents appeared around him. "Look at that!"

Giselle gasped. "We'll be outnumbered!"

"We need to call for backup." Vanda grabbed Giselle's arm. "Get me a phone. We'll call Angus."

"It's already daylight on the East Coast." Giselle's eyes filled with tears. "They can't come."

Damn. That was probably why the Malcontents had waited so long before attacking. Vanda grimaced when another group of Malcontents teleported in. Good God, there had to be twenty of them.

Casimir barked with laughter. "Revenge for the Massacre at DVN!"

Giselle burst into tears. "God help us. This is a massacre."

Vanda stood frozen on the balcony, afraid to watch, afraid not to watch. Her heart raced, pounding in her ears. If only there was something she could do. But she'd never trained with a sword. It would be suicidal to jump down into the melee.

She spotted Robby and Phil fighting their way through the newly arrived batch of Malcontents. Robby skewered the guy with the cell phone. The Malcontent turned to dust, his phone falling to the floor. Phil stomped on it.

A flash of brown hair caught Vanda's attention. One of the newly arrived Malcontents spun about to ward off an attack. A long brown ponytail whipped through the air. A woman.

Vanda stepped closer to the edge of the balcony. There was something about the way the woman moved. She turned again, and Vanda's heart lurched.

Marta.

As if Vanda's thoughts could be heard, Marta glanced up at the balcony. Her eyes narrowed.

Vanda stumbled back. "No, no."

"Are you all right?" Giselle dragged her into the dormitory.

Scarlett hovered just inside the door. "You look like you've seen a ghost."

"I have." Vanda stumbled to her cot. Her heart ached in her chest. Marta. Fighting for the Malcontents.

Tootsie screamed.

Vanda spun around. A Malcontent had entered the room.

Giselle ran to the huddle of whimpering women at the back of the room.

The Malcontent spotted Vanda and raised his sword. She grabbed her whip off the cot.

With a shout, he charged. She leaped over a cot and snapped her whip at him.

Scarlett threw a pillow at him, then squealed when the Malcontent turned and stalked toward him. Scarlett pressed against the wall, trembling.

Tootsie teleported, landed right behind the Malcontent, and clonked him on the head with a Blissky bottle. The Malcontent tumbled onto the floor.

Scarlett leaped into Tootsie's arms. "You saved me!"

Giselle and the women screamed. Two more Malcontents had entered the room.

Colbert charged after them, killed one and engaged the other in battle. "We called a retreat!" he shouted. "Teleport to our country place now!"

The women began teleporting away.

"God be with you." Tootsie hugged Vanda, then he and Scarlett teleported away.

With a quick thrust through the heart, Colbert turned the second Malcontent to dust. He spotted the unconscious Malcontent on the floor and finished him off, too.

"Colbert!" Giselle ran into his arms.

He hugged her, then extended a hand to Vanda. "You should come with us."

"No!" Phil sprinted into the room.

Vanda grimaced at the bloodstains on his shirt. But thank God he was alive. But how he'd managed to get to the second floor on his own, she couldn't imagine.

He grabbed his cell phone he'd left on his cot. "Go ahead, Colbert. Leave while you can. We're leaving, too."

"God be with you." Colbert teleported away, taking Giselle with him.

Phil opened his phone and punched a number. "We've got to go, Vanda."

"But where?" she cried. "We can't go east."

He put the phone to his ear. "Brynley? Keep talking. We'll be right there." He wrapped an arm around Vanda and pressed the phone to her ear. "Trust me."

Vanda heard a strange woman's voice on the phone. Three Malcontents charged into the room. She gasped, and everything went black.


CHAPTER 16 | Forbidden Nights with a Vampire | CHAPTER 18



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