Now that went well.
Phil frowned at the space Vanda had just vacated. Her scent lingered, something sweet and flowery like jasmine. He suspected it came from the gel she used to spike up her hair, but he might never get close enough to know. She was as fierce as a wildcat, hissing and showing her claws if anyone got too close. That alone made her intriguing. Combine it with stormy gray eyes, sweet lips, porcelain skin, and luscious curves, and the result was a woman who could destroy a man without ever laying a finger or a fang on him.
Entice, then push away. She'd done that for five long years while he'd worked as part of the security team at Roman's townhouse. Harmless flirtation, she'd called it, whenever his boss, Connor, had fussed at her. It had never been flirtation. Nor harmless. It was torture.
He'd always acted with honorable restraint. Honorable, he thought with a snort. That just meant he'd lusted for her in private.
When she'd left Roman's townhouse three years ago, he'd tried to forget about her and move on with his life. Unfortunately, seeing her tonight had unleashed years of pent-up, unrequited lust. All the memories flooded back. Memories of her teasing looks, flirtatious words, and light touches on his arms and chest. God help him, he still wanted her. He wanted her something fierce.
This time it would be different. He wasn't her guard anymore. Let her try that "harmless flirtation" with him now. A few scratches from her sharp claws wouldn't scare him away. He closed his eyes, imagining her soft, naked body beneath his, and her raw, explosive emotions erupting in a frenzy of passion. Yeah, that was the best way to cure her anger problem. He'd turn the raging tiger into a cuddly little kitty. She would be so wild and so sweet-
A door clicked shut, and Phil's eyes snapped open. Shit. He carefully refrained from looking down at the bulge in his trousers. "Father Andrew. Good to see you again."
"Mr. Jones." The priest extended a hand.
He shook it. "Call me Phil."
"Phil, then. Thank you for agreeing to sponsor Vanda."
"Glad to help." How could he have refused her? She'd looked so fierce and defiant when no one would sponsor her. Was he the only one who could see how desperately she had covered up the pain of rejection?
"I tried to help her before," Father Andrew said, "but obviously I failed to get through that thick armor of hers. I hope you'll have better luck than I did."
"I'll do my best." He had an instant vision of Vanda's armor falling off to reveal soft naked skin underneath, but he quickly squelched that image. He couldn't afford the bulge in his pants to get any larger.
"I believe her anger is hiding a great deal of emotional pain," the priest continued. "The poor girl is in dire need of our kindness and compassion."
Now he felt like a dog. Which was fairly close to the truth.
"I'd like to know more about you, if you don't mind." Father Andrew regarded him curiously. "How long have you worked for MacKay Security and Investigation?"
"Eight years. I joined my sophomore year at NYU. I was stationed at Roman's townhouse."
"What was your degree in?"
"Psychology. Animal psychology."
"Ah. You were seeking insight into your own kind?"
Phil glanced at priest sharply. "You know about me?"
"That you're a wolfman? Yes."
Phil winced. "'Werewolf' is the correct term. Or 'Lycan. "
"Excuse me. I find your kind fascinating, of course."
"Of course," Phil said wryly. Which was precisely why his kind wished to remain secret. The curious ones like Father Andrew would pester him with questions. The angry ones would want to kill him. The scientists would study and dissect him, and the government would seek to use him as a weapon. The cost of being fascinating was far too high.
Father Andrew removed a pair of reading glasses from his coat pocket and put them on. "I believe your special dual nature puts you in a unique position to help Vanda learn to control her violent emotions."
"Because I'm an animal?" Phil was beginning to find this conversation annoying.
"Exactly. I believe we all have…baser qualities that we struggle with. And since your struggle must be more tangible, you've probably developed a more practical approach of gaining control—"
"You mean I've learned to tame the beast."
The priest watched him over the rim of his glasses. "Have you?"
Phil returned the man's stare without moving a muscle. He did have control over the animal within, not that it was anyone's damned business. Then he realized what this wily priest was up to. "You're testing me, aren't you? To make sure I can control my own anger before I take on Vanda."
Father Andrew had the grace to look embarrassed. "Forgive me, my son. But I did need to make sure. I fear Vanda will test your control to its limit. She will fight us every step of the way."
"I can handle her." Phil felt a growing curiosity about this priest. "Why do you care what happens to her? Or any of the Vamps? Why do you minister to the Undead?"
The priest's blush crept up to the fringe of silver hair above his brow. "I value all creatures who have been wrought by the Creator."
"But surely they've done things that make you cringe."
"Jesus broke bread with the tax collector and the prostitute. I'm fortunate to be able to follow His example."
Phil's mouth twitched. "In other words, with the Vamps, you've found the ultimate sinners. You must be thrilled."
"Everyone needs to know they're the children of God. That goes for shape shifters, too, I might add." He pulled a small day-timer from his coat pocket. "Now, I'd like to schedule a counseling session for you and Vanda. I may need your assistance to make sure she attends."
"No problem." It would definitely be a problem. Phil knew, from his psychology classes, that you couldn't force therapy on someone. A person couldn't change unless they really wanted to, and Vanda did not want it.
"All right." Father Andrew unhooked a small pen from the inside spine of the day-timer. "Let's see. I have a prayer meeting tomorrow night. Consultations on Thursday. Friday night is Jack and Lara's engagement party here."
"Let's do it then."
The priest glanced up. "During the party?"
"Why not? We could slip away to a conference room for fifteen minutes or so. It's the best way to get Vanda's cooperation. She'll know almost everyone in attendance, so I doubt she'll create a scene in front of them. Her sense of pride is bigger than her anger."
"She could simply refuse to attend the party."
Phil shrugged. "Then we won't tell her what we're planning to do."
"Young man, that is not how I normally do business."
"Vanda is not your normal customer."
Father Andrew winced. "That's true. But counseling should be based on trust. How will she ever trust us if we resort to trickery?"
"If we ask nicely, she'll refuse. Think of this as an intervention."
Father Andrew frowned as he considered. Then, with a sigh, he wrote in his day-timer. "All right, we'll try it your way. But I can't say I feel good about this maneuver. What if it triggers an extreme outburst of anger?"
"Then we'll help her learn how to manage it. That's the whole point, right?"
Father Andrew nodded slowly. "You're not afraid of her rage, then. That could be a good thing." He slid the day-timer back into his coat pocket. "That may be where Gregori and I went wrong the first time. I taught her relaxation exercises, and Gregori tried to keep everything very calm."
Phil shook his head. "You have to confront the beast in order to tame it. Believe me, I know."
"I see your point." Father Andrew extended a hand. "Thank you, Phil."
He shook the priest's hand. "You're welcome."
Father Andrew headed back to the meeting hall, then paused at the door. "There's one more thing. I…hesitate to even bring it up. You're probably already aware of the rules concerning sponsorship, and given the fact that you're two entirely different species…"
"What are you saying, Father?" Phil asked.
The priest removed his glasses and pocketed them. "I'm sure you don't need to hear it, but a sponsor should never get too…involved with his client."
Shit. Phil was careful to show no emotion, even though he was howling inside. Plan A had just gone down the tubes. So much for channeling Vanda's anger into a glorious eruption of lust. He'd have to resort to Plan B.
There was no Plan B. His thoughts had never progressed past the bedroom. The priest was right. He was an animal.
Father Andrew smiled apologetically. "I'm sure it won't be a problem for you. You've already shown that you can honor that rule when you were Vanda's guard. I'll see you Friday." He slipped back into the meeting room.
Phil stared at the closed double doors. Double shit. Once again he was overcome with lust for a beautiful Vamp woman. And once again she was forbidden.
His hands balled into fists. He was an Alpha wolf now, one of the most powerful supernatural creatures on earth. If he wanted a woman, no priest was going to stop him. No ridiculous rules would stop him.
He had always felt a connection to Vanda. She'd never really fit into Roman's harem, just as he'd never fit into his father's pack. While the other harem girls had scurried about, trying in vain to gain Roman's attention and favor, Vanda had made it clear from the start that she answered to no one. She was a loner like him.
With a sigh, he trudged down the hall. Father Andrew was right. She needed his understanding and compassion. Unfortunately, his strongest feelings for her right now were lust and anger.
He'd been a starving, nineteen-year-old student, desperately trying to pay his way through college, when Connor had hired him. He would have put up with anything to keep a job that paid well, gave him free room and board, and allowed him to finish school. And he had put up with a lot. All from Vanda. For five long years she'd tortured him with her "harmless flirtation."
He'd tried his best to ignore it. The Vamps were his friends—more like his family, actually, since his father had disowned him at the age of eighteen. There was no going back. And over time, Phil had come to realize how valuable he was to the Vamps and their struggle against the Malcontents. He was protecting not just his Vamp friends, but the entire world.
He swiped his ID card outside the door to the security office, then pressed his palm against the hand sensor. These were a newly added security measures, reminding him how much the Malcontent problem had worsened over the past few years. The indicator light turned green as the door unlocked, and he entered the office.
Howard Barr, head of daytime security, was seated behind the desk, watching the wall of monitors connected to surveillance cameras. Because of the Coven Meeting, Howard was working late. Seated in front of the desk was Phineas McKinney, a young black Vamp from the Bronx. He'd been making a round earlier, when Phil had first arrived, so Phil had missed him.
"What it is, wolf-bro?" Phineas stood and raised a hand for a high five. "Lay a furry paw on me."
Phil smacked his hand. "How's it going, Dr. Phang?"
"Can't complain," Phineas said.
"Want a doughnut?" Howard pushed the box across the desk.
"No thanks." Phil shook his head, smiling. Howard Barr always had a box of doughnuts on hand, and he never seemed to gain weight. It must have something to do with having the metabolism of a bear.
Phineas settled back in his chair. "So are you stationed here now?"
"Yep." Phil was glad to be back in New York, where he could be more useful in the war against the Malcontents. He'd come earlier in the summer to help another MacKay S&I employee, Jack, rescue his fianc'ee, who had been kidnapped by Malcontents.
For the last year Phil's official assignment had been in Texas, where he'd served on the security team protecting Coven Master and famous fashion designer, Jean-Luc Echarpe. "I had to go back to Jean-Luc's place for a few days to take care of a problem."
"What kind of problem?" Phineas asked. "Did you have fleas, man? They make collars for that, you know."
Phil gave them both a bland look. "It wasn't fleas. It was Billy."
"Billy?" Howard selected a bear claw from the doughnut box. "Isn't he Jean-Luc's new day guard?"
"Yes. He was the local sheriff," Phil explained, "but he retired, so he could work for MacKay S & I. I had a little trouble training him. He was sorta angry with me."
Phineas snorted. "Well, you did bite him, you know."
"He shot me first," Phil muttered.
Phineas grinned. "You looked at him funny."
"So what's the problem with Billy?" Howard munched on his bear claw. "He doesn't like being a werewolf?"
"He was shocked at first," Phil began.
"I'm sure he was." Howard stuffed the last of the bear claw in his mouth. "It can be a tough adjustment for those who become shifters as adults. It's a lot easier for us who were born into were families."
Phineas snickered. "So you had a Mama Bear and Papa Bear? Was your porridge too hot or too cold?"
"It was just right." Howard smiled as he licked the sugar off his fingertips. "So what happened with Billy?"
"After I took him out on his first hunt, he seemed okay," Phil said. "He was excited about having extra strength, superior senses, and a much longer life span. Everything was fine till about two weeks ago when Billy's girlfriend left him and he decided his life was ruined."
"Hey, I remember his girlfriend. She was hot!" Phineas sat up. "Do you have her number? She might need a little comforting from the Love Doctor, if you know what I mean."
Phil snorted. "If she rejected a werewolf, she'd probably reject a Vamp, too. Personally, I don't think she would have stayed with Billy even if he didn't go furry with the full moon. She was used to being a celebrity fashion model in New York and Paris. Life in a small town in Texas would have never suited her. I told Billy that, but he was convinced his life was over."
"What did you do?" Howard asked.
Phil had tried reasoning with Billy, but the new werewolf had sunk into a depression that logic couldn't reach. "I took him to New Mexico. I have an old friend on a Navajo reservation. Very old. And wise. He'd helped me before, so I figured he could help Billy. And he did."
"What did he help you with?" Phineas asked.
"He helped me undertake a…spiritual journey about six months ago. Hard to explain."
Phineas's brown eyes widened. "You got high, didn't you? What were you smokin', man?"
Phil crossed his arms. "I'd rather not discuss it."
Phineas snorted. "Ate some of those mushrooms, huh? Did you dream you were a giant iguana?"
Howard grinned, then cast a curious look at Phil. "I think that's when he became an Alpha."
"Cool," Phineas whispered. "Are you still keeping that Alpha stuff a secret?"
"Yes." Phil took a deep breath. "So, where did Connor go?"
"Oh, that was smooth, bro. We would have never noticed you changing the subject." Phineas motioned toward the monitors. "Connor's making the rounds."
Phil scanned the monitors and noted a blur of movement through the trees west of the parking lot. Connor was moving at vampire speed. "He's fast."
"Like the Flash, man." Phineas cocked his head. "I think he's slowing down. He must have seen something."
"There." Howard pointed at another monitor. "Someone's just teleported onto the grounds."
All three guards tensed, ready to spring into action.
Phil relaxed. "It's Jack."
Phineas lounged back in his chair. "I guess he's just getting back from Venice."
Howard helped himself to another doughnut. "You two going to his engagement party on Friday?"
"I am." Phil watched the monitors. Connor had met up with Jack in the woods.
"Me, too," Phineas added. "Man, have you noticed how many of the guys are getting lucky? Roman, Angus, Jean-Luc, Ian, and now Jack—they're all hooking up with hot-looking babes."
Phil edged behind the desk to fill a cup of coffee from the pot Howard kept on a credenza. "I'm happy for them."
"So am I, but where the hell is my hot babe?" Phineas stood and planted his fists on his hips. "I'm the Love Doctor. The chicks should be climbing all over me."
Howard shoved a small canister toward Phil. "Sugar?"
Phil shook his head.
"Not for a long time, man." Phineas paced across the room. "It's been months since I had any sugar."
Howard offered Phil a canister of Coffee-mate.
Phil shook his head. "I like it black."
"I like 'em black, too." Phineas suddenly halted. "But I'm not prejudiced, you know. I have never failed to jump a woman's bones based on her color or religion. The Love Doctor never turns a lady away."
"That's real sporting of you, Phineas." Phil took a sip of coffee. He noticed on the monitor that Jack and Connor had reached the side entrance. Connor swiped his card, then activated the hand sensor.
Phineas's shoulders slumped. "I just don't get it."
"Get what?" Howard poured himself a cup of coffee, then dumped in a huge amount of sugar.
"All the married Vamps seem really happy." Phineas resumed his pacing. "With just one woman. When there are so many hot chicks in the world, how can you settle for just one?"
"She has to be really special." And of all the women Phil had met in his twenty-seven years, it was Vanda who came to his mind. She didn't wear the facade of indifferent superiority like most Vamp women. She was raw, passionate, and painfully honest. She was in your face. She'd intrigued him from the start.
"I think it's called love," Howard said.
Phil flinched. "I wouldn't call it that. Infatuation, maybe."
Howard gave him an incredulous look. "You don't think Jack loves Lara? Or Roman loves Shanna? Or—"
"Oh, yeah." Phil realized he'd lost the trail of the conversation. "That's definitely love. I–I was thinking about…someone else."
Howard eyed him curiously. "Like who?"
Phil was saved when the buzzer sounded at the door. Connor had activated the security measures outside, causing the door to unlock. Connor and Jack walked in.
Jack smiled and shook hands as he greeted everyone. "You're all coming to the engagement party, yes? I want Lara to feel welcomed in the Vamp world."
"We're coming," Howard said.
"Where is Lara?" Phil asked.
"At her apartment," Jack answered. "I teleported her there first, so she could get some sleep. She's worn-out from sightseeing all day in Venezia."
"I'm glad ye're back." Connor stood next to the desk and folded his arms across his chest. "Phil just arrived tonight, too, so I'd like to catch everyone up to date."
"Good." Jack perched on the far corner of the desk.
Howard sat behind the desk, while Phineas and Phil took the chairs in front. When everyone was focused on Connor, he began.
"The latest information we have indicates that Casimir has moved to North America. We have no idea where he's setting up his base of operations, but we do know that he liked to visit his friend Apollo, in Maine. We're assuming he doesna know that Apollo and Athena have been killed."
Phil drank some coffee. Earlier in July he had helped Jack rescue his fianc'ee, Lara, who was being held captive at Apollo's Malcontent compound in Maine. Jack had killed Apollo, while Phil had teamed up with Lara to kill Athena. "We left the compound empty. Most of the mortals had their memories erased and were sent back home."
"What happened to the girl who wanted to keep her memory?" Jack asked.
"She's at Shanna's school," Connor replied. "She's going to be a teacher there. Carlos is doing security. Now my point is, there's no one at the compound to tell Casimir no' to come anymore. So Angus figured there's a good chance that Casimir might return."
"Are we setting a trap?" Jack asked.
"Aye." Connor smiled. "Angus arrived there two weeks ago to do just that. He has a team of seven with him. That should be enough to capture Casimir."
Phil felt a twinge of envy. He would love a piece of that action. "What are our orders?"
"We're to stay here," Connor said. "Romatech is still a prime target. If Casimir decides to avenge the massacre at DVN, he knows he can always find a few enemies right here."
"We'll need to be extra careful the night of the engagement party," Jack said.
"Aye. We'll all be on duty that night. Any questions?" When no one spoke, Connor continued. "Good. With any luck, Casimir will be destroyed soon, and another vampire war will be avoided."
Jack glanced at the monitor that showed the coven meeting coming to an end. "I need to talk to Shanna about the party. See you all later." He rushed out the door.
"Phineas, will you make sure everyone attending the coven meeting leaves?" Connor asked. "We doona want anyone roaming about the facility."
"Gotcha." Phineas hurried out the door.
"Howard, see if Shanna and the children need a ride home," Connor said.
"Yes, sir." Howard lumbered out the door.
"Phil, ye're off for the rest of the night." Connor sat behind the desk and shuffled through some papers. "I'm glad ye're back, lad."
"Me, too." Phil finished his coffee, then returned the empty cup to the credenza. As a day guard, he was expected to sleep at night so he could be on duty during the daylight hours. He usually slept at Roman's townhouse in the Upper East Side. Phineas and Jack would show up there shortly before dawn to fall into their death-sleep.
"Good night, sir." Phil headed for the door.
"Good night. Oh, I was wondering…" Connor gave him a curious look. "I saw on a monitor earlier that you were talking to Vanda and then she teleported away."
Phil paused with his hand on the doorknob. "She was a little upset."
"Of course she was upset. Three of her former dancers were suing her for damages. Do ye know what Roman decided?"
"He insisted she take another session of anger management."
Connor snorted. "Like that will help. Vanda's been angry for as long as I've known her."
"How long is that?" Phil asked.
"Since Roman became Coven Master and inherited the harem in 1950."
"So she was already in the harem? She must have joined when the previous Coven Master was in power."
"Aye." Connor nodded. "Why are ye so interested?"
"I agreed to be her sponsor."
Connor's eyebrows rose. "Why would ye do that?"
Phil shrugged. "Someone had to do it."
Connor studied him a moment, then shifted his gaze to the monitors. "She left her car behind."
Phil glanced at the monitor that showed the front parking lot. "Which car is hers?"
"The black Corvette. I have the keys."
Phil's heart leaped in his chest. He could see her again tonight. "I'll be happy to return it to her."
"If she wants it, she can teleport back for it. Ye're officially off duty now."
"But I can drop it off on the way to Roman's townhouse," Phil insisted. "I really don't mind."
Connor removed the keys from his sporran. "She's probably at her club."
"I know where it is."
Connor handed him the keys. "Be careful, lad."
Phil snorted. "I know how to drive."
"I wasna referring to the car."
"I know what I'm doing."
Connor frowned at him. "That's what they all say."