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CHAPTER 22

Early that evening, Phil had just finished eating one of the two dozen hamburgers Brynley had cooked for supper when his phone rang.

"Are ye feeling up to a fight, lad?" Connor asked.

"I'm ready." Phil glanced out the window. It felt strange to hear Connor's voice while the sun was still shining.

"Good. We need every available man. We doona want to be outnumbered like that fiasco in New Orleans."

"Did you get the tracking device implanted in Sigismund?"

"Aye. And we let the bastard escape. So far, he's gone to the Russian coven in Brooklyn."

"Do you think Robby could be there?" Phil asked.

"Nay. Sean Whelan has the place bugged and his team watching it. There's been no mention of Robby's whereabouts. Or Casimir's either. We think Sigismund is biding his time, waiting for nightfall in the West before he moves. Och, wait a minute"

Phil could hear Connor discussing something with Howard.

"He just made a big jump on the radar. He must have teleported. Do ye have a fix on him, Howard?"

"Chicago," Howard answered with his booming voice.

"Good," Connor said. "Phil, as soon as the sun sets in yer location, I want ye to call Phineas. He'll pick you up. By then we should know where Sigismund has stopped, and we'll be gathering there to attack."

"Will do." Phil hung up. He drummed his fingers on the table. It would be another hour or two before the sun set in western Wyoming.

As soon as night fell, Phil jumped into the cellar to see Vanda. He heard her first gasping breath as she came back to life. "Hey, sweetheart."

She sat up. "What's going on?"

"I have to leave soon. Phineas will come to get me."

She rose to her feet. "Then the battle is tonight?"

"Yes. I bought you some weapons today, just in case, and a cell phone so you can teleport. I want you to know you can stay here as long as you like. If anything happens to me"

"No!" She dashed toward him at vampire speed and threw her arms around his neck. "Nothing's going to happen to you."

He held her tight. "I love you, Vanda."

"I feel the same way about you," she whispered. "I know you have a great future ahead of you."

He started to kiss her, but she jumped back.

"I need to eat." She levitated up to the ground floor.

He jumped through the opening and shut the trap door. Vanda was already pulling a bottle of synthetic blood from the ice chest. Brynley was standing by the kitchen table, where he'd left his weapons. He embraced her, then strapped on a shoulder holster and inserted his handgun.

He picked up his cell phone and called Phineas.

Within seconds the young Vamp was there. "Yo, wolf-bro." He shared a knuckle pound with Phil. Then he noticed Vanda and winced. "Oops, hope I didn't blow the big secret."

"She knows." Phil looked at Vanda and smiled. "She loves me the way I am."

Vanda smiled back. "Yes, I do."

"This is my sister, Brynley." Phil motioned to her.

"Whoa, a lady wolf. Dr. Phang at your service." Phineas shook her hand.

Phil noticed the boys on the front porch, peering through the windows. "And this is the young wolf pack. Future employees of MacKay S & I."

"Excellent." Phineas waved at the boys. "Looking good, dudes."

Vanda approached the kitchen table, sipping from her bottle of blood. "Phineas, how is Dougal?"

"He's okay. He's learning how to fence with his left hand." Phineas frowned. "He insisted on coming to the battle tonight, and Angus let him. Angus is worried about us being outnumbered, but we have more than seventy Vamps there now."

"Where?" Phil asked.

"A campground just south of Mount Rushmore," Phineas said. "Are you ready?"

"Yes." Phil gave his sister a quick hug and Vanda a quick kiss. "Remember, I love you."

She nodded, her eyes glimmering with unshed tears.

"Let's go." Phil grabbed onto Phineas, and everything went black.

They landed in a small clearing next to a stream. The moon shone overhead, still full. It glittered on the gurgling water and reflected off large gray boulders. The air was fresh with the scent of pine.

"The campground is farther down this stream," Phineas whispered. "Come on, let's get you a sword." He led Phil upstream to a pile of boulders. Dougal was standing guard by a stash of weapons.

Phil greeted him quietly and clapped him on the back.

Dougal gave him a wry smile. "They doona trust me to fight yet, so this is my job."

"It's a damned important job," Phineas muttered. He selected a sword.

Phil picked one that felt good in his hand.

"Angus sent Ian to scout the campground," Dougal whispered.

"Ian's back from his honeymoon?" Phil asked.

Dougal nodded. "He and Toni came back when they heard about Robby. In fact, about every MacKay employee I've ever met is here."

"Come on." Phineas led Phil to a nearby clearing where the Vamps had gathered.

It was true. Every male Vamp Phil had ever met was here, plus others whom he'd never met. Even Laszlo was here, nervously fidgeting with a sword. Emma was sticking close to him like a protective mother hen. Colbert GrandPied had come with four men. Phil recalled he'd had six men in New Orleans. Two must have died in the battle there.

Phil stopped next to the other shifters.

"If things get bad, I'm going to shift," Carlos said. "I'll be a lot more effective as a panther."

Phil nodded. He would stay in human form as long as possible, but draw on the power of the wolf for super strength and speed.

"Ian's back," Howard whispered.

Ian, dressed entirely in black, slipped noiselessly into the clearing. With his sword, he drew in the dirt. "The campground has a central open area with a fire that's been lit in the middle. The buildings surround the area like a square. The main lodge is on one side, and there are nine cabins on the other three sides."

"How many Malcontents did ye see?" Angus asked.

"I spotted fifteen Malcontents in the lodge," Ian continued. "They're holding a group of mortals prisonerthe original campers, I assume. Each cabin was occupied with another three or four Malcontents."

"So there are about fifty of them," Jean-Luc concluded.

"And we have seventy-four," Angus said. "Any sign of Robby?"

"Nay, but I did see three Malcontents leaving the campground, going east, so I followed them." Ian drew a line in the dirt. "They went into a cave. I think Robby could be in there."

"They probably use the cave for their death-sleep," Jean-Luc said.

Angus frowned. "There could be more Malcontents in there. We could still be outnumbered." He looked at everyone in the clearing. "I canna guarantee how safe this will be."

Jack waved a hand in dismissal. "Battles are never safe. I came here to rescue Robby. I'm not leaving without him."

The others nodded in agreement.

"Verra well, then," Angus said. "We'll divide into five groups, captained by Jean-Luc, Connor, Jack, Colbert, and myself. My group will attack the lodge. Jean-Luc, Connor, and Jackyour groups will take the other three sides of the square. Colbert, you'll take the fifth group and station yourself here." Angus marked an X in the dirt. "Halfway between the camp and the cave, so you can kill anyone coming or going. Let's go."

There was some quick shuffling while the five captains selected their groups. Jean-Luc asked Roman, Phil, Ian, and two other Vamps from Texas to join him.

All five groups moved stealthily through the woods and into position. Phil crouched behind some bushes between Roman and Ian. He heard Roman murmur a prayer, and he added a silent amen.

When Angus bellowed a war cry, they charged.

Phil rushed through the back door of a cabin. Four Malcontents jumped up from a card table. He skewered one. The other three were quick to grab their swords. Phil and Roman each engaged a Malcontent in battle. The other one ran out the front door, into the central open area.

Phil killed his second opponent. Roman's opponent, realizing he was alone with two swordsmen, teleported away.

"God's blood," Roman muttered.

Phil ran out the front door. Several Malcontents from each of the nine cabins had escaped out the front door when the Vamps had invaded through the back. The Malcontents formed a huddle close to the bonfire. More Malcontents dashed from the lodge, narrowly missing execution by Angus and his group.

Phil estimated about twenty-five Malcontents were left in the open area. They'd lost perhaps half their original number. As far as he could tell, all of the Vamps had survived the initial assault. Seventy-four to twenty-five. Victory was within their grasp.

The Vamps surrounded the Malcontents and closed in.

"En garde!" Colbert ran toward the open area with his three men. He was bleeding from a chest wound. "They're coming from the cave. There must be a hundred of them!"

Phil swallowed hard. He and his friends were in deep shit.

Vanda paced about the cabin. She had a bad feeling about this battle. If the Vamps fell, the war would be over. The Malcontents would win.

And how could she do nothing while Phil fought for his life? How could she live with herself if he died?

She stopped at the table and looked through the weapons he'd bought for her. In an instant she knew what she had to do. She rolled up a leg of her jeans, strapped on the sheath, and inserted the knife.

"Are you going?" Brynley asked.

Vanda nodded. "I have a bad feeling about it."

"Then I'm going, too. You can teleport me, right?"

The door swung open and all the boys barged in.

"We want to fight," Davy announced.

"No," Brynley said. "You're too young."

"But we can shift," Griffin insisted. "We can really tear into them as wolves."

"You can shift?" Vanda asked. "I thought that was last night."

"The full moon cycle affects us for three nights," Brynley explained. "On the first night we shift involuntarily for the whole night. On the next two nights we can choose whether or not to shift."

"And we want to shift!" Davy looked at Vanda. "If you can get us there, we'll fight."

"Please," Gavin pleaded. "Mr. Jones believes in us. We want to show him we're worthy."

Brynley sighed. "Okay. But if any of you gets wounded, you pull out. You stay safe." She turned to Vanda. "How many can you teleport at once?"

Vanda winced. "Just one."

The boys groaned.

"Wait a minute." Vanda grabbed her new cell phone. Relief swept through her when she saw a long list of contacts. Thank God Phil had planned ahead. She called Maggie. "Maggie, this is Vanda. I need you and Pierce to come here right away. Bring some weapons."

"Are you in danger?" Maggie asked. "We'll be right there."

Within seconds Maggie and her husband appeared in the cabin. Maggie was holding a cell phone and a revolver, while Pierce was toting a shotgun. They both had knives stuffed in their belts.

Vanda quickly explained the situation. "You don't have to fight if you don't want to, but we need you to help transport."

"Not a problem." Pierce looked at the group of boys. "You're sure you want to do this?"

"Yeah, let's go," Davy insisted.

"Where exactly are we going?" Maggie asked.

"Phineas said it was a campground south of Mount Rushmore. I thought we'd call some of them and teleport straight there."

Pierce frowned. "If they're fighting, they're not going to answer their phones."

"We've got to try." Vanda studied the list of contacts on her cell.

Brynley whipped out her own cell. "There's got to be a wolf pack living around there. I'll try to find them."

Vanda's eye caught on the name Kyo. The Japanese tourist and his friends had offered to fight before. She punched in his number.

"Kyo, this is Vanda. I don't know if you remember"

"Ah, Vanda, the famous celebrity. I am honored."

"Kyo, could you and your friends teleport to me? And if you have any weapons, could you bring them?"

"You in trouble? We be right there." Kyo, Yuki, and Yoshi appeared, all with samurai swords.

Vanda explained the situation once again and introduced everyone.

The Japanese gaped at Pierce.

"You Don Orlando de Corazon!" Yuki shouted. "You very famous."

"We are honored to fight with you." Kyo bowed.

Brynley covered her phone with one hand. "I called my sister, Glynis. She's looking up the phone number for the nearest wolf pack to Mount Rushmore."

"Mount Rushmore?" Yoshi asked. "Big mountain, big heads?"

"We were there," Kyo said. "We have very nice photos. You want to see?"

"We want to go there." Vanda wrapped her whip around her waist and shoved the handgun under the waistband of her jeans. "Do you know the way?"

"Hai." Kyo nodded. "We take you."

"Never mind." Brynley told her sister, and hung up. "Let's go."

For the first trip, the three Japanese teleported Vanda, Maggie, and Pierce. Then they all teleported back. It took them two more trips to transport Brynley and all the boys.

They heard the clashing of swords to the south and ran toward the sound, weaving through trees. The clashing sounds grew louder, punctuated every now and then with a shout of victory or a cry of pain.

Vanda saw the light of a bonfire ahead. She stopped behind a cabin and peered around the corner. Brynley looked over her shoulder.

Phil and the Vamps were completely surrounded and fighting for their lives. A panther was dashing around the perimeter, taking down Malcontents and dragging them away to maul them to death.

"The panther's on our side?" Brynley asked.

"Yes." Vanda narrowed her eyes. "Where did the bear come from?"

"That's Howard," Maggie whispered.

"Sweet Howard is a bear?" Vanda winced when the huge bear took a swipe at a Malcontent with his mighty paw and ripped the vampire's head off.

"Cool," Davy whispered. "Come on, guys, let's shift."

"Make sure you attack the bad guys," Vanda warned them. "Our guys are in the middle."

"Yeah, they're surrounded." Davy pulled his shirt off. "But not for long."

Brynley and the boys stripped and started shifting.

Vanda grabbed Maggie and ran to hide behind another cabin. "Maybe we can find Robby."

Pierce followed them, carrying his shotgun. "I'm not letting Maggie out of my sight."

A series of howls and war cries echoed through the camp. Vanda peered around the cabin. The werewolves and Japanese had attacked.

The Malcontents, taken by surprise, suddenly found themselves fighting on two fronts. Their line thinned and faltered. Screams of pains filled the air. The grass was littered with piles of dust that were quickly scattered as the warriors trampled over them.

Vanda saw a group of four Malcontents break away and run down a path. She narrowed her eyes. She'd recognized Casimir and Sigismund. They might be escaping, fearing that the battle had turned against them, or they could be going to Robby.

"Let's follow them," she whispered to Maggie and Pierce.

They stayed in the shelter of the trees and followed the path Casimir had taken. It led to a cave where two Malcontents were standing guard at the entrance. Sigismund and Casimir must have gone inside.

"How good are you two with knives?" Vanda asked.

"Very good." Maggie took the knife from her belt. "I've got the one on the left."

Her husband held a hunting knife. "On the count of three." He counted softly, then the knives spun into the air. They landed with a thud in the chests of the two Malcontents.

Pierce's was a direct hit to the heart, and the Malcontent turned to dust. Maggie's victim fell to the ground. Pierce rushed forward at vampire speed, yanked the knife out, and plunged it into the surviving Malcontent's heart. He turned to dust as well.

He handed the knife back to Maggie before they entered the cave. A lit torch was attached to the cave wall every ten feet. They progressed quietly, then halted when the main tunnel divided in two.

"You guys take the right," Vanda whispered. "I'll go left."

"Are you sure?" Pierce asked.

"Yes." Vanda removed the knife from the sheath on her calf and hurried down the narrow tunnel. It grew darker, so she removed a torch from the wall to light her way. The tunnel opened into a room with stalactites dripping from the ceiling. She weaved through the stalagmites. No Malcontents. No Robby.

She heard a moan and whirled around.

"Robby?" She barely breathed the name, hoping the sound wouldn't carry too far.

She heard the moan again. She held up the torch and peered around slowly. There, a narrow crack in the wall. She turned sideways and squeezed through.

It was another room. And there, in the middle, was Robby tied to chair.

"Robby," she whispered, rushing to him.

He lifted his head, and she halted with a jolt. Good Lord, they'd beaten his face black and blue. One eye was swollen, the other one cut above the brow. Blood trickled down.

"Oh Robby." She wedged the torch between two rocks. Bile rose in her throat as she saw the slashes across his chest.

"Hungry," he whispered.

Oh no, she should have thought to bring some bottled blood. "Don't worry. I'll teleport you out of here straight to a supply of blood." There was plenty at the cabin. She could take him there.

She set down her knife, then grabbed at the chain across his chest. She cried out when it burned her fingers. Of course, silver, so he couldn't teleport away. She winced at the burn marks on Robby's chest.

She looked around for something to insulate her hands. Socks? She glanced down at Robby's feet. They were barefoot and bloody. Dammit. Was there no part of this man that they hadn't tortured?

"Hungry," Robby whispered.

"I'll get you out of here." She pulled off her shirt and wrapped it around her hands. Then she unfastened the chain around his chest and neck. She saw his hands, tied with silver behind the chair. They were burned and dripping blood.

He started to shake, and she realized he was fighting a compulsion to bite her.

"Just a little longer, hang in there." She unhooked the chain that strapped his thighs to the chair.

"No!" Robby cried.

"It'll be all right," she assured him.

Something sharp poked her in the back, and she straightened with a jerk, glancing over her shoulder.

Sigismund stood behind her, his sword pressed into her back. "We meet again, Vanda. For the final time."


CHAPTER 21 | Forbidden Nights with a Vampire | CHAPTER 23



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