Although Phil knew about Vanda's nightclub, he'd never been inside before. The entrance to the Horny Devils was hidden at the dead end of a dark alley to keep unsuspecting mortals from stumbling across the place.
A huge bouncer stood guard at the dark red door. His nostrils flared as he took a sniff. Phil knew he didn't carry the usual mortal scent. Since most Vamps didn't know about shape shifters, they didn't realize the significance of his different scent. They simply thought he was a strange-smelling mortal.
"Place is closed," the bouncer grumbled. "Get lost."
"I'm here to see Vanda Barkowski."
"You know Vanda?" The bouncer took another sniff, and his beady eyes narrowed. "You're an odd duck."
"Not even close." Phil showed his MacKay Security & Investigation ID card, knowing the Vamp bouncer could see it in the dark. "I'm returning Vanda's car. She left it at Romatech."
The bouncer still eyed him suspiciously. "I'll have to frisk you."
"Fine." Phil raised his arms to shoulder height so the bouncer could pat his navy polo shirt and khaki pants—the MacKay uniform for guards who didn't wear kilts.
"What's this?" The man patted his pants' pocket.
"It's a chain. Silver."
The bouncer jerked his hand away. He hesitated, then asked, "You're not planning on using it on anyone?"
"No." Phil smiled, understanding the bouncer's predicament. The Vamp couldn't confiscate the silver chain without giving himself severe burns. Luckily for Phil, silver was only painful when introduced internally, as in silver bullets. "You can call Connor Buchanan at Romatech if you want to check on me."
The bouncer shrugged his massive shoulders. "I'll just keep an eye on you." He opened the door. "Go on in."
Phil was instantly bombarded with loud, pounding music and red and blue laser lights slashing across the large renovated warehouse. As his eyes adjusted, he noted the stage was empty. The male dancers must be on break.
A group of Vamp women were writhing on the dance floor. A few Vamp men sat at tables, drinking glasses of Bleer topped with pink-tinted foam while they watched the women dance. Their eyes narrowed when they spotted him. Competition.
He scanned the huge room but couldn't see Vanda. The bouncer was standing just inside the door, watching him. He recognized the woman behind the bar. Cora Lee Primrose, former member of Roman Draganesti's harem. She'd shed her Southern belle hoop skirts in favor of more modern garb—hip hugger pants and a sparkly halter top.
She did a double take when he eased onto a barstool. "Phil? Is that you?" she yelled over the loud music. "Land sakes, I haven't seen you in ages."
"Hi, Cora Lee. You're looking great."
"Why, thank you kindly." With a giggle, she flipped her long blond hair over her shoulder. "Would you like something to drink? We have a few mortal drinks like beer."
"I'll have one of those." He stood so he could pull the wallet from his back pocket.
"No, you don't. It's on the house." She cast a flirtatious look at him as she filled a glass. "Land sakes, you've filled out nicely over the years."
"Thank you." He settled back onto the barstool. "So, is Vanda here?"
With a sigh, Cora Lee set the beer in front of him. "I should have known you'd come to see her. The way she used to talk about you—goodness gracious, we were scandalized."
His first sip of beer went down with a gulp. "Why? What did she say?"
"What didn't she say? I do declare she would describe every part of your manly physique from the top of your head down to your toes." Cora Lee gave him a sly smile. "She was quite poetic about your buttocks."
He gulped down more beer.
Cora Lee wiped the counter, still smiling. "She always claimed you had a crush on her."
His hand tightened around the glass. "Did she, now?"
"According to Vanda, she can make you do anything she wants like a trained puppy."
He downed the last of his beer and slammed the glass onto the bar. "Where is she?"
Cora Lee pointed to a series of doors along the back wall. "The first one is her office."
"Thanks." Phil slid off the stool.
"Don't forget to knock," Cora Lee warned him. "Vanda's got the dancers in there. It could be kinda awkward if you just barge in."
He stiffened. "Why? What's she doing with them?"
Cora Lee shrugged. "The usual. She has to personally check out the costumes and dances before the guys go on stage. Quality control, you know."
Phil's jaw clenched. "You don't say."
"Oh, I do. One time I went in there, and Terrance was prancing around naked." Cora Lee giggled. "Vanda told him to put a sock on it."
"I understand," Phil growled. As he stalked toward her office, the music ended. With his superior hearing, he heard Vanda's voice through the door.
"Oh my God, Peter, it's huge!"
"They don't call me the Printh of Peckerth for nothing," a man boasted.
"You can't let him on stage with that," another man protested. "He'll make us look small."
"You are smaller than me," Peter insisted.
"We are not!" a third male shouted.
"Calm down!" Vanda's voice sounded agitated. "Peter, I'm glad you've come back to dance for us, but this—this is too much. You'll have to lose a few inches."
"No!" Peter screamed. "I won't let you touch it!"
"Don't tell me what I can't do!" Vanda yelled. "Where are my scissors?"
Peter squealed. Like a girl. Which he might be soon.
Phil threw the door open and charged inside. "Vanda, stop! You can't cut off a man's—" He halted, stunned to see Vanda standing behind her desk with her scissors poised on a sparkling red sheath.
It wasn't a dong. It was a thong. With a long sheath stuffed like a sausage.
Vanda's mouth fell open. "Phil, what are you doing here?"
He glanced around the office, noting that the three slender young men were fully clothed and regarding him curiously. "What are you doing, Vanda?"
Her cheeks grew pink as she lowered the thong to the desk. "I was conducting a business meeting."
"Vanda," one of the male dancers whispered. "Won't you introduce us to your handsome young friend?"
"Sure, Terrance." Vanda spoke through gritted teeth. "This is Phil Jones." She gestured to the other male dancers. "Terrance the Turgid, Freddie the Fireman, and Peter the Great."
"I remember you from the coven meeting," Peter said. "You thaid you would help Vanda with her anger problem."
"I don't have an anger problem!" Vanda pointed the scissors at Peter, then at Phil. "And I don't need your help."
Phil arched a brow at her. "As your sponsor, I suggest you put the scissors down."
She slammed them onto the desk. "You are not my sponsor."
Terrance smiled at him. "You can be my sponsor."
Vanda groaned. "Phil, we're trying to have a costume meeting here." She handed Freddie a thong that looked like a fire hose, and Terrance a thong covered with ivy.
Terrance dangled his costume in front of Phil's face. "Isn't it fabulous? I'm doing an ode to Tarzan."
"That's nice," Phil mumbled.
Peter made a grab for the red sparkly thong.
"No!" Vanda snatched it from his hand. "You're not dancing in this monstrosity. I design the costumes, and I'll tell you what to wear."
"That'th not fair," Peter whined. "I had that cuth-tom made to fit me perfectly."
"No way," Freddie grumbled. "You would have to use padding."
Peter huffed. "I never uthe padding."
"You would have to." Vanda set the costume on the desk. "There isn't a man on earth who could fill that thing."
"I'm not so sure about that." Terrance glanced at Phil and winked.
Phil had had all he could take. "This meeting is over." He gave the men a warning look and motioned to the door. "You will leave."
"What?" Vanda's eyes flashed with anger. "You can't do that! This is my—" She paused when Peter and Freddie scurried from the room. " — office."
Terrance stopped halfway out the door and grinned at her. "Be nice, girlfriend. This one's a keeper."
"Out," Phil growled.
"Oooh." Terrance shivered. "Me Tarzan, you Phil." He ran out.
Phil shut the door. "Now we can talk."
Vanda glared at him. "I'm not talking to you. You're acting like a caveman."
"I suppose you prefer those pretty little boys who are easy to control. Easier to control than your own anger—"
"My anger's just fine!" She grabbed Peter's costume off the desk and threw it at him. "Get out!"
He caught the thong with one hand and turned it over as he examined it. "Thank you, Vanda. It's just my size."
She snorted. "A man would have to be aroused to fill that up."
He lifted his gaze to meet hers. "Not a problem."
Her gaze flitted down to his pants, then jerked away. "What—Why did you come here?"
He walked toward her. "You left Romatech in a hurry. We were in the middle of a conversation."
Her eyes darkened to a stormy gray. "The conversation was over."
"You left your car behind."
"Like I had any choice! That damned Connor confiscated my keys." She blinked when Phil jingled the keys in the air. "You—You brought my car?"
"Yes. It's parked across the street."
"Oh. Thank you." She skirted the desk and approached him. "That was very kind of you," she grumbled.
"You're welcome." He dropped the keys into her outstretched hand. "Now, about my sponsorship…"
Her hand fisted around the keys. "There is no sponsorship. You can't force me to take anger management."
"I believe we can. It was the court's decision. If you want the lawsuits against you dropped, then you have to comply."
She tossed the keys on the desk. "Do I look like the kind of person who complies? Only cowards and trained monkeys comply. I'm a free spirit. Nobody's going to tell me what to do."
Phil couldn't help but smile. Vanda's words were almost identical to the speech he'd given his father nine years ago before he'd stormed out of Montana. "Then what do you plan to do about your anger problem?"
"I don't have an anger problem!" she yelled. With a groan, she pressed a hand to her forehead. "Why won't people stop trying to force me to do things against my will?"
"Believe me, I understand." Phil's father had tried to force him into a preplanned life. At the age of eighteen, he hadn't possessed the maturity or strength to fight his father. He'd simply left. Then his father had banished him from the pack. "Things don't always go the way we want them to. And it's very frustrating when there's nothing you can do to change it."
Vanda frowned at him. "Are you sympathizing with me just to get me to agree to the program?"
"I'm saying if you want to talk, I'll listen."
Her face grew pale and she tightened the whip around her waist with a jerky motion. "Why should I believe you care? You haven't bothered to see me in three years."
She'd counted the years? Phil swallowed hard. What if he'd misinterpreted things? He'd felt sure that Vanda had considered him nothing more than a toy to relieve her boredom. Good God, what if she had genuinely cared about him? No, this had to be more of her fun and games. "I didn't realize you wanted to see me."
Her eyes narrowed. "What do you need, an engraved invitation?"
"You opened a male strip club, Vanda. You're surrounded every night with available men. Nearly naked, vampire men." He tossed the costume onto her desk. "I really didn't think you were lacking for companionship."
She lifted her chin. "I get all the companionship I need."
He gritted his teeth. "Good."
"Excuse me for thinking you might want to keep in touch. I had thought we were friends."
"We were never friends."
She gasped. "How can you say that? We…we talked."
"You taunted me."
She stiffened. "I was nice to you."
He stepped toward her. "You were bored, and you tormented me for the fun of it."
"Don't be silly. It was just a little harmless flirtation."
"It was sheer torture." He advanced another step. "I hated it. Every time you touched me, I wanted to rip your little catsuit off and make you purr."
Her mouth dropped open, then shut suddenly with a snap. Her cheeks flushed. "Then why didn't you? Why did you let a stupid rule stop you? Ian didn't let anything stop him from going after Toni."
He grabbed Vanda by the shoulders so quickly, she gasped. "I would have taken you in a second if I had thought you actually wanted it."
Her cheeks grew a deeper red. "How would you know what I really want?"
He leaned close. "I was on to you from the start. You're a tease. You like to get a man hard, then leave him panting. You enjoyed watching me suffer."
"That's not true. I–I really liked you." She winced as if she'd admitted more than she had wanted to.
He brushed his nose across her cheek and whispered in her ear, "Prove it."
She trembled in his arms. He could feel her breath coming in quick puffs against his skin.
He moved his mouth closer to hers. "Show me."
With a small cry, she turned her head away from him.
Shit. He had been right all along. He'd been nothing but a game to her. He dropped his hands from her shoulders. "Admit it. You flirted with me because you were bored and I was safe. I desperately needed the job, so I was going to follow the rules no matter how much you tortured me."
She pressed a hand to her forehead. "I–I didn't mean…"
"To make me ache for you? Tell me, Vanda, did you ever feel anything? Did you really care about me, or were you just being a cold-blooded bitch?"
With a gasp, she pulled her hand back and slapped him. "Get out!"
He rubbed his jaw and smiled. "I guess you're not too cold-blooded."
She pointed at the door. "Leave!"
He considered taunting her some more. God knew she deserved it after torturing him for five long years. But he noticed her hand was trembling and her eyes glimmered with unshed tears.
Now he felt like a dog. He'd only wanted to turn the tables on her and give her a taste of her own "harmless flirtation." He hadn't meant to hurt her.
He trudged toward the door, where he paused with his hand on the doorknob. "You've always intrigued me, Vanda. From the moment I met you. I could never figure out why a free-spirited woman would confine herself to a harem. What were you hiding from? And why would a rebellious, beautiful woman flirt with the one man she considered safe?"
She folded her arms and gave him a wary look. "So now you want to analyze me, Doctor Phil?"
He smiled slowly. "I want to do a lot of things to you, Vanda. You see, with me, you made one big mistake. I was never safe."
Vanda stood alone in her office, blinking back tears. Dammit, she wouldn't cry. She was tough. But she'd made Phil suffer. She'd never intended to do that. How could a little harmless fun go so wrong?
She circled the desk and collapsed in her chair. He'd seen right through her. He'd known she was bored out of her skull. When she'd first joined the harem in 1948, she'd welcomed the peace and serenity. But over time, boredom had set in, and she'd been desperate for a diversion.
Poor Phil had seemed safe. It was against the rules for him to fraternize with her. He'd made it clear from the start that he would honor the rules.
And she'd tortured him.
She bent her head and rested it on her hands. The coffin tucked away in the shadows of her mind slowly creaked open. Mental pictures floated out.
Mama, who had died in 1935 when Vanda was eighteen.
Frieda, her youngest sister, who died four years later when they fled from the Nazis. Frieda, with her chestnut curls and big blue eyes.
Jozef, her baby brother, who at the age of twelve insisted on joining his father and three older brothers to fight the incoming invasion. Vanda's eyes stung with tears. Jozef with his black curly hair and laughing, blue eyes. He'd marched off to war so proudly. And she never saw him again. A tear rolled down her cheek.
Ian had always reminded her of Jozef. She hadn't meant to become attached to Ian, but he'd slowly started to symbolize all the brothers she had lost. And she'd come so close to losing Ian last December. Ever since the battle at DVN, her nerves had been on edge.
More pictures drifted out of the coffin. Papa and her three other brothers—Bazyli, Krystian, and Stefan. Fuzzy and unclear.
A sob escaped. Oh God, she couldn't remember their faces. Her shoulders shook. How could she forget? After Mama died, she'd taken care of all her brothers and sisters. They'd been her entire life. How could she forget?
She squeezed her eyes shut. No! She wouldn't do this. She didn't need to punish herself just because she felt guilty for tormenting Phil. Mentally, she shoved all the pictures back into the coffin and slammed the lid shut.
She wouldn't let herself think about the past. How she'd lost everyone she loved. Her parents, her brothers, her sister. Even Karl, her first love and leader of the underground resistance.
She took a deep, shuddering breath and wiped the tears from her face. She should have never flirted with Phil. He was a mortal with a short life. If she fell for him, she would only lose him, too.
It didn't matter that he intrigued her and excited her. It didn't matter that she wanted his arms around her, comforting her. It didn't matter that she admired his strength and intelligence. Or that she was so tired of being alone.
Screams erupted from the club, jerking her back to reality. What now?
"Vanda!" Terrance flung the door open. "Max the Mega Member just teleported in. He says you're going to die!"