Vanda levitated through the trapdoor, landing on the ground floor of the cabin. A cool breeze prickled her skin, and she rushed to close the window Phil had left open.
She heard a sound behind her and turned. Phil was standing by the trapdoor. "You can jump that high?"
So that was how he had managed to get upstairs at the warehouse in New Orleans. She glanced warily at the windows flanking the cabin's front door. No blinds. No curtains. Welcome to the Wyoming Peep Show. She crossed an arm over her breasts. "Someone could see us in here."
"A lucky squirrel maybe." Phil smiled. "The nearest neighbor is miles away."
"The werewolves are out there." She moved quickly to the kitchen area, which had no windows.
Phil followed her. "Lycans always strip before changing. Nudity is not a big deal for us."
Her gaze flitted down his naked body. "Easy for you to say when you look like that. But I would imagine some of the guys would be a little uneasy about displaying their…shortcomings."
He snorted. "Lycan men don't have shortcomings."
"Right. You're as big as your egos, which is fairly huge." She removed a kitchen towel from a drawer and grasped the pump handle.
"Here, allow me." He worked the pump, and water spewed from the spout onto her towel.
She scrubbed her face and neck, wincing at how cold the water was.
"What happened to you in Poland after you became a vampire?"
She swallowed hard. The coffin of horrors took shape in her mind. "I–I need more water." She held the towel under the spout.
He pumped more water for her. "What happened?"
She washed her chest and torso. "I buried my little sister." The coffin rattled, trying to break open. "More water."
He gave her some more. "And then what?"
She wiped her arms. "I had borrowed a shovel from a nearby farm. I was returning it to the toolshed when the farmer found me. I was instantly overwhelmed with hunger."
"You bit him?"
She leaned over to wash her legs. "I ran outside and bit his cow. For the first few weeks I was so confused. So hungry, and so terrified that I might kill someone. I didn't know what to do. I hid in caves and fed off animals. I felt like I'd become an animal, too."
"Your…sire didn't help you to adjust?"
"Sigismund?" She snorted with disgust. "I wanted nothing to do with him or Marta. I left them the night I awoke."
"There's something I need to tell you." Phil frowned. "The prisoner at Romatech, the one they captured at Apollo's compound—it was Sigismund."
Vanda's breath caught. Her skin chilled. "Are—Are you sure?"
"Yes. He was one of the Malcontents masquerading as a god in order to feed off the girls and…rape them."
She sighed. That had been one more reason she'd fled from Sigismund. She had known he would abuse her. She could tell he had abused Marta, although her sister had seemed to want it. "I ran into him a few times when I was hiding in the caves. He would always laugh at me and say I was doomed. There was no way I could escape the almighty Casimir. Then I would teleport away before he alerted Jedrek Janow." She shuddered. "Sigismund is an abusive pig. I hope you guys made him suffer."
"We did," Phil said. "When I found out who he was, I nearly killed him."
But he didn't, she thought. Phil only killed in self-defense. He was an honorable person, unlike her.
Vanda rinsed the towel. "Marta's in America. I saw her at the warehouse in New Orleans, fighting with the Malcontents."
Phil winced. "That must have been a shock for you." He took the towel from her and rubbed her back.
She closed her eyes, enjoying the feel of his hands.
"How did you get involved with the underground resistance?" he asked.
Her eyes flew open. Good Lord, the man never gave up. "Do you know where your sister put those clothes she bought?"
"The bag's on the kitchen table." He set the towel on the counter. "You're avoiding the subject."
"You bet I am." She strode to the table and removed the items from the plastic bag. Underwear and bra, close to the right size, jeans and a western-style shirt.
"I realize it must be painful."
"Dressing like a cowgirl?" she asked wryly.
"No, talking about your past."
"Oh, do you think so? Can you imagine losing your father, your sister, and four brothers to war? Jozef was only twelve! I couldn't find out if they'd died in battle or were taken prisoner. I hoped they were prisoners, that they were still alive, but when I saw the concentration camps, I almost wished they were dead."
She strode back to the kitchen sink. "I learned how to teleport by accident. I was standing outside a camp one night, staring through the barbed wire and wishing there was a way I could get inside to see if my father or brothers were there. And the next thing I knew, everything went black and there I was, inside the camp."
She pulled off her underwear and rinsed it out in the sink. "I rushed through the bunkhouses, searching for my family, but they weren't there. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. So many prisoners, crammed in so tight."
The coffin cracked open. God, no, she didn't want to remember. All those prisoners, those gaunt, emaciated bodies, those haunted eyes filled with pain and despair.
"What happened then?" Phil whispered.
"A guard caught me." Her eyes blurred with tears. "I was so upset from seeing all the prisoners, and so hungry. I bit him." Tears streamed down her cheeks. "I lost control and killed him."
She glanced at Phil through her tears, expecting to see disgust in his eyes. It wasn't there. This had to be a mistake. He didn't understand the magnitude of her sins. "I had to feed every night. Why torment some poor unsuspecting cow when I could kill a Nazi? And I did. Every night. I joined the underground. I would teleport into a camp, free some prisoners, and kill a Nazi all in a night's work."
Phil said nothing, just watched her intently.
She paced away. Dammit. The coffin was fully open now, and all her terrible sins had crept out. "One night, after I'd killed a guard, a vampire appeared before me. He said he'd been watching me for several weeks. He congratulated me for being a natural born killer. He gave me an ultimatum—join the True Ones or they would kill the leader of the resistance."
"Karl," Phil said softly.
She nodded. "The vampire was Jedrek Janow. He told me about the True Ones, the ones we now call Malcontents. He said they were in league with the Nazis. Once the Germans controlled the world, the True Ones would control the Nazis. I could be a part of it all. I could rule the world."
She rubbed her brow. "All I could think about was my father and brothers who were probably dead from fighting the Nazis. I told Jedrek to go to hell. And that's when he said he would send his personal pets to destroy me." She shuddered. "His wolves."
She paced back to the kitchen. "I ran to Karl to tell him what had happened. Three wolves came that night, and I managed to teleport Karl away. But every month when the moon was full, they would come after us. And there would be more and more of them. Then one night Karl killed one, and it changed into a human."
"And that's when you realized they were werewolves?" Phil asked.
"Yes. Karl bought us some silver bullets."
"Did you ever see the werewolves in human form?" Phil asked. "Other than the one you killed."
He nodded. "That explains it, then."
"Why you never recognized my scent. Shape shifters don't smell like normal humans. But we only have that unique scent when we're in human form. When we're wolves, we smell like wolves."
She sighed. "You talk about it so matter-of-factly, but you're not getting it. I was terrified. Every month we would find a new place to hide, and the wolves would track us down. They were relentless."
"I saw how frightened you were outside."
"I saw them rip Karl apart! They would have gotten me, too, but I managed to teleport away. And then I was all alone, hiding like a rat in the caves, searching for my father and brothers and never finding them, feeding off Nazis every night. I–I killed so many." She slumped in a kitchen chair and covered her face as tears ran down her cheeks. "I'm a monster."
The room was quiet except for her sniffles. She'd done it. She'd let him see inside her coffin of horrors. Let him see her for what she really was. And now he would look at her differently. Instead of seeing love in his beautiful blue eyes, she would see utter disgust.
"Vanda." He crouched beside her.
She covered her eyes so she couldn't see.
"Vanda, you lived through a hell no person should ever have to endure. You lost your family, your lover, your mortality. In those camps, you witnessed the worst kind of cruelty a human can inflict on another. You lived in constant fear and despair."
She lowered her hands. "I killed them. I didn't have to. I acted just like a Malcontent. I'm no better than they are. I know you hate them. So, I know you'll hate me."
"Come." He took her hand, pulled her to her feet, and led her to the sink. He pumped water onto the kitchen towel. "You were at war, Vanda. War is an ugly monster that forces people to do terrible things they would normally never do."
"It's no excuse."
"Yes, it is." He wrung out the towel. "When you came across those guards in the camps, you were an intruder. They would have killed you if you hadn't killed them first. It was self-defense." With the towel, he wiped the tears from her face.
More tears seeped from her eyes. "You—You can forgive me?"
"Of course. I—" He tilted his head. "Oh, I see."
"See what?" That she didn't deserve to be loved?
He dampened the towel once more. "I see why you have so much anger and frustration. It's not because you need my forgiveness. I have nothing to forgive." He wiped her face again. "Vanda, the problem is within you. You're not able to forgive yourself."
She blinked. "I did terrible things."
"It was war. And you did what you had to do to survive."
"You don't think I'm a monster?"
"No. I think you're an incredibly brave and beautiful woman."
A surge of relief swept through her. It flooded through her, washing away a heavy load of guilt and remorse. "I was so afraid you would hate me."
He smiled. "I love you. And I'll keep saying it till you believe me."
For the first time she actually did believe it deep inside. For the first time in many years she felt worthy of love. She smiled back. "I do believe you. And I love you, too."
Still smiling, he dampened the towel with water. "I'm glad you finally told me everything."
Vanda nodded. The coffin in her mind was wide-open. It was still there, and it always would be, but it didn't look scary anymore.
She gasped when the wet towel was suddenly pressed between her legs. "What are you doing?"
He rubbed the towel against her. "I believe you requested two rounds of lovemaking: one with the beast and one with the gentleman." He rinsed the towel off, then began washing himself. "The gentleman is at your service."
"Phil, wake up." She nudged him. "The phone's for you."
He jerked awake and sat up.
"It's Connor." She offered him the cell phone. When it had started ringing, she'd moved with vampire speed to find it. It had been in his jeans in the cellar.
She'd answered it while levitating back to the ground floor. Then she'd levitated again, to the loft where she and Phil had made love a few hours earlier.
"Hey, Connor." Phil listened on the phone. He sat up straighter. "That's great!"
Vanda perched on the edge of the bed, listening. From what she could overhear, it sounded like Laszlo had completed the tracking device. It would be daylight on the East Coast in about five minutes. As soon as Sigismund was in his death-sleep, the device would be implanted in him. Then they would accidentally let him escape right after sunset. They hoped he would lead them straight to Robby.
"Yeah, I'll fight," Phil said. "Just send someone to get me."
Vanda swallowed hard. Of course, Phil would want to fight. He was probably good friends with Robby. They'd both been stationed at Jean-Luc's place in Texas.
If something happened to Phil, how could she bear it? She'd lost so many loved ones to war.
"I'll need a sword," Phil continued. "I only have a handgun here."
He wouldn't die like Karl had, Vanda told herself. He had super strength and speed. For the first time, she realized how grateful she should be that he was a werewolf. A normal mortal wouldn't stand a chance.
"Right. I'll be ready." Phil hung up.
"So the battle will be tonight?" Vanda asked.
"We hope so." He looked her over. "Your hair's wet."
"I got bored. There's nothing to do here. At least, not when you're asleep." She poked his foot. "I found some shampoo and washed my hair in the kitchen sink." She'd also put on the western clothes Brynley had bought.
She stood. "How do I look?"
He smiled. "You're the best-looking purple-haired cowgirl I've ever seen."
She huffed. "I should take my whip to you."
"I should peel those jeans off you."
Her mouth twitched. "You have a one-track mind."
"I can't help it. I'm an animal." He pulled her onto the bed, and she giggled.
He tugged at her shirt, popping the snaps open.
"Wait." She rested a hand on top of his. "Do we have time? I'd hate for your sister to walk in."
"Let me check." He climbed out of bed and peered out the little window in the loft. He might be looking at the full moon, but Vanda was scoping out the heavenly body. Strong back, gorgeous rump. Her skin began to tingle. Good God, she could get excited just looking at him.
"We have almost an hour." He turned to face her.
She sucked in a breath. He was already thick with arousal. "You started without me."
His gaze drifted to her jeans and his nostrils flared. "No, I haven't."
She struggled to unsnap and unzip her jeans. Meanwhile he strode to the foot of the bed and removed her boots. His bare skin took on a red tint from the glow of her eyes.
He seized the hem of her jeans and yanked them off. "You have five seconds to remove your underwear or I'll shred them."
She wiggled out of her panties and feigned a shudder. "Oooh, I'm scared. The big bad wolf's in town."
With a grin, he stalked toward her on his hands and knees. "My, what sweet legs you have." He nipped at her thigh.
"The better to squeeze you with, my dear." She sat up to remove her bra.
His eyes gleamed blue. "What sweet breasts you have."
"The better to entice you with, my dear."
With a growl, he shoved her back on the bed. He drew a nipple into his mouth and suckled.
She moaned. "What a great tongue you have."
He looked at her with twinkling eyes. "The better to eat you with." He nibbled down her belly.
Moisture rushed to the apex of her thighs just in time to meet his inquisitive, insistent tongue. Within seconds she was squirming and panting. He teased her clitoris with the ruthlessness of an animal.
She squealed as a climax jolted through her. He watched her, a wolfish grin on his handsome face.
"Ready?" He moved between her legs.
"Wait." She rested her hands on his shoulders. "After dressing like a cowgirl, I have a strange desire to ride."
He chuckled and fell onto his back. "Saddle up, sweetheart."
An hour later Vanda sat in bed relaxing and drinking from a bottle of cold synthetic blood. She stretched her legs, feeling the pull of sore muscles. She couldn't even recall how many orgasms she'd had over the course of the night. It had been one long delicious, forbidden night of sex, mixed with heart-wrenching confessions that made the lovemaking even sweeter.
She felt the tug of sleepiness. The sun must be nearing the horizon. She sipped more blood. Phil had brought it up to her in the loft. He'd washed up at the sink and gone to the cellar to put his clothes back on.
From the clunk of cowboy boots and clanking of pans, she could tell he was in the kitchen now. Her nose twitched, catching the smell of coffee.
She hoped morning had already come to Robby, wherever he was. Death-sleep would not only put him asleep, but also his torturers. His body would heal while he slept. She hoped his mind would, too.
With a sigh, she sat up and began to dress. She had just finished zipping up her jeans when she heard booted feet at the cabin's front door.
"Phil!" Brynley shouted. The door shook. The bolt was still in place.
Vanda heard Phil's footsteps approach the door. She slipped on the western shirt and fastened the snaps.
The door creaked open.
"Phil!" Brynley's voice was full of excitement. "You're an Alpha! It's so amazing! How on earth did you do it?"
"Bryn, we need to talk."
"We are talking. You wouldn't believe how excited the guys are. We were talking about it all the way back to the cabin, and the only thing we can figure is that somehow you managed to go Alpha on your own. Is that true?"
"I wasn't alone, but I wasn't with a pack either."
Brynley squealed. "This is so freaking fantastic! No one's ever done that before. Dad is going to be so—"
"Don't tell him."
"I mean it, Bryn. Don't tell him. It's none of his business."
"Of course it is! Phil, every Lycan in the territory is going to want you for the next Supreme Pack Master. I can see it now. Dad will throw you a giant party to welcome back the long lost prince."
Prince? There it was again. Vanda padded to the edge of the loft. Brynley was back in her jeans, tank top, and open plaid shirt, but Vanda noticed a few leaves in her hair and a bloodstain on the shirtsleeve, as if she'd wiped her mouth on it.
Brynley's gaze shifted to the loft and her eyes narrowed. "She's still here."
"Yes." Phil crossed his arms. "And you owe her an apology."
Brynley snorted. "For what? Being myself?"
"For purposely trying to scare her away," he replied.
Brynley scowled at him. "I was doing her a favor. She needed to know the truth about you."
"Yes, I did." Vanda was tired of being talked about like she wasn't in the room. She grabbed her bottle of blood and floated down to the ground floor. "Thank you for scaring the crap out of me."
"Any time." Brynley smiled grimly. "So why are you still here? Can't you get a job in Hollywood? I hear vampires are all the rage right now."
"She's under my protection," Phil said. "This is my house, and it will be a sanctuary to Vanda whenever she needs it."
With a huff, Brynley stomped to the kitchen. She grabbed a cup from a cabinet and poured a cup of coffee.
Vanda sat at the kitchen table and sipped from her bottle. Another wave of sleepiness swept through her.
Phil strode to the kitchen. "Who were those puppies with you last night?"
Puppies? They'd seemed plenty big to Vanda.
Brynley sipped her coffee. "They're friends."
"They're underage." Phil sat at the table next to Vanda. "They're supposed to be with their pack when they shift."
Brynley snorted. "Since when do you follow pack rules? The boys can't shift with their pack. They can't even live with their families. Or go to school. They've been banished. I'm sure you understand how that happens."
Vanda gave Phil a questioning look.
He shrugged. "I was banished at eighteen. After a year of near starvation, I found Connor, and he gave me a job and a place to live."
Vanda winced. That was when he'd worked at the townhouse and she'd tormented him. "How could you be banished? I mean, if you're really a prince, who would have the power to do that to you?"
His mouth thinned. "My father."
Brynley waved a dismissive hand. "He just wanted you to learn a lesson. He expected you to come back in a month or so."
"With my tail between my legs," Phil muttered. "What kind of Supreme Pack Master would I make if I was that big of a wimp?"
Brynley sighed. "I know it's hard to submit to Dad's every wish and command. That's the sort of thing that got these boys in trouble. They challenged their pack masters' authority. Then their masters appealed to Dad, the Supreme Master, and he kicked them out."
"Sounds like dear old Dad hasn't changed," Phil murmured.
"They're just teenagers," Brynley continued. "They had nowhere to go. I knew your cabin was empty, so I let them stay here."
Phil snorted. "They're your Lost Boys? Are you sure your name isn't Wendy?"
She made a face at him. "They're more a pain in the butt, actually. It takes half my monthly allowance to feed them. They're bottomless pits. And rowdy as hell."
"Wouldn't you be in big trouble with your father if he knew what you're doing?" Vanda asked.
Brynley's eyes narrowed. "Are you threatening to tell on me?"
"No. I just find it interesting," Vanda said. "It sounds to me like you're rebelling against your father just like Phil did."
Brynley scoffed. "Believe me, if Dad says jump, I ask how high. I…I just felt sorry for these boys. They have nowhere to go." Her eyes lit up. "But that's all changed now that Phil's back. Phil, they want you to be their pack master!"
He looked stunned. "I…can't do that."
"Of course you can," Brynley insisted. "You can't be an Alpha without a pack."
"I have other things to do. Important things. There could be a battle after sunset tonight."
"A vampire battle?" Brynley's eyes flashed with anger. "You're going to help them and ignore your own kind?"
"I'll do what I can to help the boys, but I can't be their master."
Brynley made a noise of frustration. "You haven't even bothered to meet them. They're so excited about you, Phil. You're the first sign of hope they've had in months."
He stood. "Where are they?"
"In the stable. Don't be surprised if they cheer for you when you walk in. You're their hero."
"Great." He gave Vanda a wry smile. "Just what I needed."
She smiled back. "You're my hero, too."
He leaned over and kissed her brow. "I'll be back soon." He strode out the front door.
Brynley refilled her coffee cup, then moved to the kitchen table and sat across from Vanda. "Alone at last. We need to talk."