Vanda stumbled. Her concentration was off, making for a messy landing.
Phil quickly regained his balance and steadied her. "Are you all right?" He snapped his phone shut and pocketed it.
"I—" She blinked. For a second she thought they were back in Howard's hunting cabin in the Adirondacks. But that couldn't be right. It was daylight in New York.
"Phil!" A young woman ran toward him, smiling.
He turned and grinned. "Brynley!"
She halted with a gasp. "You're bleeding. You've been injured."
He glanced down at his ripped and bloody polo shirt. "Just a few cuts. No big deal."
"It is a big deal." The woman cast a suspicious glance at Vanda, then grabbed Phil's arm and dragged him away. "Let me patch you up. Dear Lord, look at you." She touched his cheek. "You've gotten so handsome."
Vanda's hand curled tighter around the handle of her whip. Who the hell was this woman? With her long, gleaming hair and skintight jeans and tank top, she was bound to be a bitch. How come Phil let her touch him like that?
Phil took her hand and squeezed it. "I missed you."
Vanda cleared her throat.
He glanced at her. "Brynley, this is Vanda."
She noticed this time he didn't call her his fianc'ee. "How do you do?" Bitch. She glared at the beautiful Brynley. What kind of stupid-ass name was that anyway?
Brynley glowered back. "So this is the vampire you mentioned? Somehow, I thought it would be male."
Vanda's temper flared. "Who are you calling an 'it'?"
"Brynley," Phil said quietly, "Vanda and her friends are very good friends of mine."
"Friends?" She motioned at his bloody shirt. "What kind of terrible mess have these 'friends' dragged you into?"
"Phil's more than a friend." Vanda stepped toward the bitch. "He's my anger management sponsor. He can tell you how dangerous I get when I'm royally pissed!"
"Oh yeah?" Brynley stepped forward.
"Enough." Phil put out a hand to stop her. "Vanda, this is my sister. So cut the crap."
Vanda's mouth fell open. His sister? She looked past the gorgeous hair and perfect skin and noticed the pale blue eyes, just like Phil's. "I didn't know you have a sister."
"What?" Brynley stared at Phil. "You never told your friends about me? I'm your twin, dammit!"
"Twin?" Vanda gazed at her, then at Phil. "You hypocrite! Always hounding me to tell you about my past, and you don't even tell me you have a twin?"
Phil shifted his weight and glanced back and forth between the two women. "I–I'm bleeding, you know. I thought you might want to patch me up?"
Brynley crossed her arms. "Patch yourself up."
"Fine." Phil stalked into the kitchen area.
Vanda suppressed a laugh. "Good for you."
Brynley's mouth twitched. "Thanks."
Vanda's smile quickly faded when Phil removed his shirt. Cuts and slashes marked his chest and torso. "Oh no." She ran toward him.
"Damn, Phil." Brynley rushed to the kitchen sink and worked the old-fashioned pump. "Clean towels in the drawer there." She motioned with her head.
Vanda set her whip on the counter, then took a towel from a drawer and handed another one to Brynley. Water spewed from the pump, and she dampened her towel.
Phil winced as she cleaned the blood off his chest.
"How did this happen?" Brynley dabbed at a bad slice on the side of his torso.
He lifted his arm to look at the wound. "A war has started between the Vamps and the Malcontents, or you could say the good vampires and the bad ones."
Brynley snorted. "Since when are there good vampires?" She glanced at Vanda. "No offense."
Vanda ignored her. She was too upset at seeing Phil's beautiful skin all cut up. Too upset that her own sister could have caused one of the wounds. "Phil, you can't do this again. Vampires are too fast and strong for mortals like you. It's a wonder they didn't kill you."
"Mortals?" Brynley narrowed her eyes.
"Are there any bandages here?" Phil asked. "I need to get back to business."
"What business?" Brynley opened a cabinet and pulled out a box of Band-Aids in assorted sizes. She handed a few to Vanda.
"Urgent business." Phil pulled the cell phone from his pocket. "Like I said, we're at war."
"The vampires are at war," Brynley corrected him. "It has nothing to do with you."
Vanda stiffened. "Phil is a very important member of our society. We couldn't manage without him." She stuck a Band-Aid over one of his cuts.
"Enough." He stepped back and punched a number on his phone.
"But you still have cuts," Vanda protested. "And that long one on your side might need stitches."
"It's nothing." His eyes glistened with moisture. "This is nothing. I saw a lot worse."
Vanda's skin chilled. Had one of their friends died? "What? Who?"
"Dougal." Phil grimaced. "His hand was cut off."
Vanda gasped. "But—But they can sew it back on, right? It'll heal during his death-sleep."
Phil shook his head. "It was completely sliced off. It turned to dust."
Vanda doubled over as nausea slammed into her stomach.
Brynley touched her shoulder. "I'm sorry. He's a good friend?"
Vanda took deep breaths. "I've known him a long time." He'd been a guard at Roman's townhouse for over thirty years, always shy and quiet, except when he was playing the bagpipes. Now, he'd never be able to play again.
"Howard?" Phil spoke into his phone. "Have you heard what happened?"
Phil launched into a description of the events in New Orleans. Vanda could tell his sister was listening carefully, for she gasped at all the appropriate moments.
For the first time, Vanda had a chance to check out the cabin. It consisted of log walls and a stone fireplace like Howard's cabin, but it was smaller and more primitive.
The water over the kitchen sink had to be pumped. There was no refrigerator, just a big ice chest. As far as she could tell, there was no electricity at all. A fire and a few oil lamps illuminated the room. A tank of propane gas was hooked up to a stovetop. No curtains at the windows. No rugs on the wide-planked wooden floor. No staircase. A wooden ladder led to the loft.
"Where are we?" she asked quietly.
"Wyoming," Brynley answered. "This is Phil's cabin."
"I didn't know he had a cabin."
"Yeah. Well, there's a lot you don't know about him." She frowned at Phil. "But I guess the same goes for me. I had no idea he was involved with vampires."
"He's a day guard," Vanda explained. "We're vulnerable during the day when we're in our death-sleep."
Brynley regarded her curiously. "And who are you, exactly?"
Vanda shrugged. "No one special."
"And yet Phil seems to be risking his life to keep you safe. Are you some kind of vampire…princess?"
Vanda scoffed. "Far from it."
Brynley picked up the whip Vanda had set on the counter. "You're fighting in the war."
"Only because I have to. The Malcontents want to wipe us off the planet."
Brynley handed her the whip. "Why? What did you do?"
"We invented synthetic blood so we wouldn't have to bite mortals. We took jobs so we wouldn't have to steal money from mortals." Vanda wrapped the whip around her waist and tied it off. "We just want to blend in and pretend we're normal. I guess that sounds strange."
Brynley frowned. "No, not really." She wandered toward the ice chest. "I brought some bottled blood. Would you like one?"
"Yes." Vanda heaved a sigh of relief. "Thank you." She accepted a bottle and unscrewed the top. It would be cold, but a whole lot better than biting her hosts.
"All right, Howard." Phil finished relating the news. "Call me if you hear anything." He closed his phone and glanced around the cabin. "The place looks good. Have you been keeping it up, Bryn?"
"Yeah." His sister settled in an old worn armchair and propped her cowboy boots on the coffee table. "I've been coming here every now and then."
"Thanks. I owe you." He began to pace up and down the room.
Vanda sat on the old couch and sipped from her bottle. Phil's sister wasn't so bad after all. She obviously didn't like vampires, but she was loyal to her brother. Vanda couldn't claim any loyalty from her sister Marta.
Damn. She rubbed her brow. How could her sister do this?
"I wonder where they went," Phil muttered. "I wonder how Dougal is doing."
Vanda shuddered. "He must be in shock. And a lot of pain. You don't know where they teleported to?"
Phil shook his head. "It's not like they could tell me when the enemy was all around us."
"Oh, right." Vanda sipped more blood from her bottle. It had been close to dawn in New Orleans, but here in Wyoming she'd acquired more time of darkness. "I heard Colbert tell his coven members to go to their country place."
"He's the guy in New Orleans?" Brynley asked. She'd obviously learned quite a bit from listening to Phil's conversation with Howard.
"He's the Coven Master of New Orleans," Vanda explained.
"And who's your Coven Master?" Brynley asked.
"Roman Draganesti. He's head of the entire East Coast region. And he's the brilliant scientist who invented synthetic blood." Vanda lifted her bottle.
Brynley looked impressed. "That synthetic stuff saves thousands of lives every year."
"They must have gone to Jean-Luc's." Phil pressed a button on his cell phone.
"Who's Jean-Luc?" Brynley asked Vanda.
"Jean-Luc Echarpe. Famous fashion designer."
"Oh, I've seen his stuff." Brynley nodded. "Really nice, but really pricey. Isn't he in Paris?"
"Texas." Vanda sipped more blood. "He's hiding out so the media doesn't figure out he's a Vamp."
Brynley's eyes widened. "Sheesh."
"Billy?" Phil spoke on the phone. "Did the guys come there?" He listened as he paced. "Great. And Dougal, is he going to be all right?" He glanced at Vanda. "They're okay. The sun just rose there."
Vanda nodded. If Dougal was in his death-sleep, he would no longer be in pain. And the wound would heal.
Phil stopped in his tracks. His face paled.
Vanda sat up. She'd never seen him look so stunned. A frisson of fear prickled her skin with goose bumps.
"Are you sure?" Phil whispered.
Vanda's hand trembled as she set the bottle on the coffee table. Brynley set her boots on the floor and sat up.
"Maybe he went somewhere else," Phil said. "Did you check?"
Vanda stood. "What is it?"
Phil swallowed audibly. "I understand. I–I'll get back to you." He closed his phone slowly. He looked at Vanda, his eyes glimmering with pain.
"What is it?" She rushed toward him.
Vanda halted as if she'd been knocked in the chest. "He—He teleported somewhere else."
"No, they checked. Zoltan and Phineas called all the major covens in the West. No one's seen him. And besides, he's Jean-Luc's personal guard. He lives there in Texas. He would have gone there."
Bile rose in Vanda's throat. "You think he's dead?"
Phil shook his head. "Everyone remembers seeing him alive. We…we think he was captured."
Vanda pressed a hand to her mouth. The cold blood she'd just imbibed churned in her stomach. Oh God, no. The Malcontents would torture him.
"I'm sure Casimir considers him a great catch," Phil continued. "He's the only living relative of Angus MacKay, the general of the Vamp army."
Vanda's eyes filled with tears. She wanted to hit something. "I hate war! I hate this! I never wanted to go through this again."
Phil pulled her into his arms and held her tight. "It'll be all right."
"No, it won't." She wrapped her arms around his neck.
"It was almost daylight there. They can't…hurt Robby if they're in their death-sleep." He kissed Vanda's brow. "We have to keep faith."
She nodded. "What can we do?"
Phil stepped back to call another number on his phone. "We'll think of something."
He paced away, talking into the phone. "Howard, it looks like Robby MacKay has been taken prisoner."
Vanda winced. She could hear Howard's booming voice raised in anger.
"Howard, listen up," Phil demanded. "How far along is Laszlo on that tracking device?…That's not good enough. Call Sean Whelan. Get some military experts over there and make them finish it. Then get it inserted in the prisoner while he's in his death-sleep."
There was a pause while Phil listened. "Okay, I realize the army can't tell if the device can be heard by vampires. Listen to it yourself. If you're not sure, use the damned Stay-Awake drug on a Vamp and test it on him. We have got to get it ready today. Then, as soon as the sun sets, you let the prisoner escape. Hopefully, he'll teleport straight to Casimir and that will lead us to Robby. Keep me apprised."
He snapped his phone shut and looked at Vanda. "It's a long shot, but I think it's our best chance at finding him."
She nodded. She'd never realized till now what a born leader Phil was. He was incredible. Strong and decisive, loyal and brave. And so beautiful, even with his torso covered with cuts. "I love you so much."
His blue eyes softened. "I love you, too."
"Oh my God," Brynley whispered.
An hour later Vanda scowled at the old horsehair blanket on the cellar floor. Things were already bad enough with Robby captured, Dougal wounded, and her sister Marta fighting with the enemy. But now Phil's sister was treating her like she'd suddenly grown two heads.
Brynley had lashed out at Phil, but he'd simply told her to hush. He would discuss it with her later.
Brynley had ignored that and blurted, "How can you possibly love her?"
"I do," Phil had replied with a stern look. "And we will not discuss it now."
Brynley had sat in her armchair, pouting, while Phil took Vanda down to the cellar to make sure it was safe for her death-sleep. He boarded up the one small window. Then he'd found the horsehair blanket and spread it on the floor.
"She doesn't like me," Vanda whispered.
"She's not marrying you. I am."
Vanda stared at him, agape.
"Oh, sorry." His mouth twitched. "Guess I forgot to ask. Will this be okay?" He motioned to the blanket.
She nodded. Phil seriously wanted to marry her? Why would a mortal want to marry a vampire? Sure, some of the Vamp guys were marrying mortal women, but the women would probably change over eventually, and for now they could give the guys children. She couldn't give Phil anything. She wasn't rich and charming like the Vamp guys. She was a neurotic, barren Vamp with purple hair and a nasty temper.
She felt the first tug of sleepiness as the sun neared the horizon. "I'm tired."
"Good night, then." He kissed her cheek. "I'll check on you every now and then."
She hugged him tight. "I'm not going anywhere."
"I love you, Vanda."
How can you possibly love her? His sister's words echoed in Vanda's mind. "Good night."
She watched him climb the ladder and step through the trapdoor onto the cabin's ground floor. He hauled the ladder up, then lowered the trapdoor shut. The cellar turned pitch-black.
In a moment Vanda's eyes adjusted and she scowled at the scratchy blanket. If Phil married her, they could never share a bed like a real couple. Unless he didn't mind sleeping next to a corpse.
How can you possibly love her?
Vanda paced across the small cellar. She had no doubt that Phil loved her. For now. But what if he discovered her darkest secrets? What if he learned about her terrible sins? He hated the Malcontents who fed from mortals, killing them in the process. He hated the Malcontents enough to risk his life fighting them.
But she'd done the same things a Malcontent did. Good Lord, he would hate her, too.
Another pull of sleepiness swept through her. She trudged toward the blanket.
Then she heard Brynley's voice overhead, loud with anger. Phil responded, much more quietly. It was a private conversation, none of her business.
But they were talking about her. Damn. She moved underneath the trapdoor, then levitated close to the ground floor.
"You can't marry her," Brynley said with an urgent tone. "Dad will never accept her."
"I don't give a damn what he thinks," Phil replied. "He has a narrow mind, and a narrow vision of the world."
"He's got a lot of power."
"And what does he use it for?" Phil demanded. "Raising cattle and sheep. Buying more land. Raising more cattle. More sheep. And the highlight of his existence is going out once a month to kill a defenseless animal."
"It's what we do. You enjoy hunting, too."
"It's not enough!" Phil shouted. "There's a whole world out there."
"A world of vampires?" Brynley sneered. "No thanks."
A wave of sleepiness hit Vanda, and she dropped a few feet. She shook it off and levitated once more to the trapdoor.
Phil was explaining how important it was for the Vamps to defeat the Malcontents. "This is huge, Bryn. If the Malcontents win, they could take over the entire world."
"Fine," Brynley snapped. "Help your good Vamps win. But don't marry one of them! This is crazy, Phil. You're a freaking prince, for God's sake."
Prince? Vanda shook her head. She couldn't have heard that right.
"And what about Diana?" Brynley continued. "You were betrothed to her years ago."
Vanda gasped. Her concentration broke and she tumbled to the floor. "Ouch." She winced as she stood up. Her ankle had twisted.
She limped to the blanket. At least the stupid ankle would heal during her death-sleep. She stretched out on the blanket. Prince? Prince Philip? Engaged to Diana? This was Wyoming, not bloody Britain. This couldn't be right.
Death-sleep tugged at her again, stronger and more pervasive. She yawned and closed her eyes. Images flitted through her mind. Phil pinning down Max the Mega Member. Phil leaping off the balcony and landing neatly. Phil fighting the Malcontents and surviving. Moving so fast.
Too fast. She gave up the struggle and succumbed to death-sleep.
Vanda awoke with a jolt. She stared into the darkness, unsure for a few seconds where she was. Oh, right. Phil's cabin in Wyoming. She fumbled beside her and found her whip.
A heavy feeling of dread swept over her, so heavy it took some effort to sit up. The war had started. Robby was captured. Marta had betrayed her once again. Dougal was handicapped for life. And Phil's sister hated her.
She rose to her feet. The ankle had healed. She tied the whip around her waist. It was quiet upstairs. Quiet outside. She levitated to the trapdoor and pushed. It creaked open a few inches.
"Oh, you're up." Phil pulled the door open the rest of the way and smiled at her. "I don't suppose you need the ladder?"
"No." She levitated through the opening in the floor.
He took her hand and pulled her toward him. Her feet landed on the floor, and her arms wrapped around his chest.
"You look like a cowboy." She smoothed a hand over his plaid western shirt.
"Brynley went into town today and bought us some clothes." He kissed her. "Do you want to look like a cowgirl?"
She snorted. "How are you? Are the cuts still hurting you?"
"I'm fine. I got some sleep during the day, while Brynley was here."
Vanda looked around, but the cabin was empty. "Where is she now?"
"She's…taking a hike outside."
"In the dark?"
"It's a full moon. Do you need some breakfast?" He led her toward the ice chest. "Brynley brought us some more ice."
"That's good." Vanda grabbed a bottle of blood from the ice chest. She thought about asking Phil if he was really engaged to some lady named Diana, but she didn't want to admit that she'd been eavesdropping.
She took a long drink. "So what's the latest news?"
He leaned against the kitchen counter, frowning. "They weren't able to finish the tracking device before sunset. So we have no idea where Robby's being held prisoner."
"Oh, God. Poor Robby." She set the bottle down on the counter. She didn't feel like drinking when Robby was probably being tortured. "What will they do to him?"
"Make him go hungry, for starters. I've heard it's very painful."
Phil tilted his head, studying her. "Maggie told me you used to go without. You made yourself suffer. Why?"
"I–I don't want to talk about it." Vanda walked across the room. "Is there a bathroom around here?"
"There's an outhouse behind the stable."
She scoffed. "You have a stable but not a bathroom?"
He shrugged. "The stable is empty. And I haven't needed a bathroom. I haven't been here in over four years."
He gave her a wry look. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Well, aren't we a secretive pair?"
"Yeah, we are. I think it's time we had a long talk." He motioned to the couch just as his cell phone rang. "Hello?…Yeah, Howard. I'm sure Angus is beside himself. Any progress with the tracking device?"
While Phil talked, Vanda paced about. She really needed to go. Mortals didn't usually understand that, but a vampire only needed the red blood cells to survive. The plasma part of blood became waste, along with any added ingredients like the whiskey in Blissky.
She could find the outhouse on her own. She stepped outside onto a wide front porch. A cool breeze swept past her, making an old wooden rocker sway with a creak.
A small pasture spread out in front of the cabin. The full moon shone down, gilding the grass with a touch of silver. In the distance, a forest of tall trees reached to the clear, starry sky. The air was crisp and cool.
She rounded the cabin and saw the stable. It was almost as big as the cabin. She strode past it and found the outhouse. Just like the old days in Poland. She took a deep breath and did her business as quickly as possible. A roll of toilet paper sat on what looked like the end of an old broom handle.
She left the outhouse and strode past the stable, adjusting the whip around her waist. An eerie howl echoed around her. She gulped. Okay. So there might be a wolf or coyote in the woods. That was normal for Wyoming, right? She hurried around to the front of the cabin.
Was that something moving out of the woods? She inched toward the front porch steps.
Another movement captured her attention. And another. Animals. Perhaps a dozen. They moved from the dark shade of the trees and into the moonlit pasture. She stiffened.
The moonlight gleamed off their silver gray coats. They slowly stalked toward her. Their eyes glinted. Their teeth were bared. A low growl rumbled across the pasture, freezing her with fear.
Light spilled suddenly onto the porch. Phil had opened the door.
"Vanda, come inside," he said quietly.
She willed her feet to move but they remained frozen to the ground. The nightmare was back. She was hunted once more. And the wolves had been sent to kill her.
They inched closer. Her heart stilled. This was it. They would kill her.
"Shit." Phil strode down the porch steps and into the pasture. "Go inside, Vanda."
She jolted out of the fear that had paralyzed her. Oh God, no! Phil would try to protect her just like Karl had. The wolves would kill him.
She ran to him and grasped his arm. "Come with me. Hurry."
He peeled her hand off. "I'll handle this. Trust me. Now go inside." He pushed her gently toward the stairs.
She hurried up the steps. The wolves howled. With a shudder, she turned to watch.
Phil had pulled off his shirt. All the cuts on his torso had healed. How had he managed that? His body began to shimmer.
She gasped. What was he doing?
The wolves charged.
Phil spread his arms wide, threw his head back, and howled.
Vanda stumbled back, knocking against the cabin wall. Light from the open door illuminated Phil. Fur sprouted across his back and shoulders, then spread down his arms. His hands turned into paws with long sharp claws. His head crackled, the jaw elongating into a long snout.
The wolves stopped in their tracks and hunched down to the ground. They were afraid, Vanda realized. But not as terrified as she was.
Phil was a werewolf.