Vanda strode into the club, whip in hand, her eyes adjusting to the dim lighting. Only a handful of customers remained. The others must have teleported away at the first sign of danger. The remaining customers were crowded in a circle, gossiping with hushed voices.
"He's so incredibly strong," a female Vamp whispered to her friend.
"And so handsome," the friend replied.
Vanda snorted. There was no accounting for taste. Her bouncer Hugo was about as wide as he was tall. His massive head sat right on his huge shoulders. She often wondered how he'd ever gotten transformed when he had no visible neck to bite.
"Excuse me." She nudged the two gossiping girls aside.
"Vanda," a deep, gravelly voice spoke behind her.
With a start, she turned to find Hugo. "What? Then who—"
He rested a beefy hand on her shoulder. "I need to talk to you."
"Not now!" She pulled away from him and shoved her way through the crowd. She stopped with a gasp.
Max was flat on his back with Phil sitting on top of him. Phil's fists were planted on the floor on each side of the ex-dancer, and in them he gripped a silver chain that was stretched across Max's chest. The chain not only pinned Max to the floor, but it prevented the Vamp from teleporting away.
Vanda stared at them for several seconds. No wonder the crowd was whispering in amazement. It was practically unheard of for a mortal to be quick enough to catch a vampire and strong enough to hold one down.
On the floor, at her feet, a long dagger gleamed in the dim light. Good Lord. A shudder skittered down her spine. If Max had stabbed her in the heart, she'd be a pile of dust right now. Somehow, Phil had managed to disarm him. Phil had saved her life. And he didn't even look winded.
He glanced up at her and smiled.
Her knees nearly buckled.
The girls behind her sighed.
"What pretty eyes," one of them whispered.
Vanda's grip tightened on the whip, and she stifled an urge to snarl at the girls. But what could she possibly say? Hands off, he's mine? She had no claim to him.
She glanced away, irked with herself for succumbing to jealousy and being so easily flustered by a man's smile and pretty blue eyes. Her frustration flared into anger when she spotted her three dancers watching the scene from behind the bar. Those spineless cowards.
Hugo grabbed her arm and pulled her away from the crowd. "Vanda, I have to talk to you. It's about that mortal."
"I know," she spoke with gritted teeth. "He's incredibly strong and handsome. You want to join the fan club?"
Hugo looked confused. "No. There's something strange about him. He moves too fast."
"Tell me about it. He captured a psycho and protected me from certain death, which is your job, I believe." She glared at the bouncer. "If you're slower than a mortal, maybe I hired the wrong man."
"No, no! I'm going to take care of Max. I just thought I'd better warn you about—"
"What are you planning to do?" Vanda felt a sudden twinge of alarm. She didn't want any more deaths on her conscience.
"I was going to teleport him far away and warn him to leave you alone," Hugo grumbled. "And I thought I might punch him in the gut, if you don't mind."
"Oh. I guess I can live with that." She nudged her way back through the crowd. Everyone moved back when Hugo came through.
Phil was still holding down the struggling Vamp as if he were detaining a small child in time-out. Max didn't seem to be in any pain, since the silver chain was against his clothes. If it had come into contact with his skin, there would have been some nasty, smelly, sizzling flesh.
Phil glanced up at her. "What do you want to do with him?"
"Hugo will take care of him."
On cue, Hugo growled deep in his throat. The crowd jumped back.
Max gasped as Hugo lumbered closer like a huge bear. "No! Let me go. I'll leave Vanda alone, I promise."
"You were told to leave her alone at the coven meeting." Phil glared down at him. "Obviously, you can't be trusted."
"You're in violation of the restraining order." Vanda wrapped her whip around her waist and tied it off. "I believe you owe the court five thousand dollars."
Max spat at her boots. "You bitch! You're the one who owes me money!"
"Enough." Hugo reached down and seized Max around the neck. "I've got him," he told Phil. "You can let go."
As soon as Phil jumped to his feet and lifted the silver chain, Hugo teleported away with Max. Phil stuffed the silver chain into his pants' pocket, and the female Vamps moved in.
"You were amazing." One of the girls pressed close.
"I do declare." Cora Lee wrapped a hand around his arm. "I've never seen such a vigorous, manly display."
"The show is over," Vanda grumbled.
Phil's eyes twinkled with amusement as he leaned over to pick up Max's dagger. "You might want to step back, ladies. This is a dangerous weapon."
With a sigh, the women moved back.
Phil focused on Vanda. "May I talk to you in private?"
"I…suppose." She turned stiffly and led the way to her office. Her nerves tensed at the thought of being alone with him again. But she needed to do this. She needed to apologize for causing him so much pain in the past.
She glanced at him briefly as he strode into the office, then shut the door. "Thank you for protecting us."
"You're welcome." He placed the dagger on her desk. "You might need this."
She stifled a shudder. She didn't need a reminder of how bad things could have been. "At least Max didn't bring that damned snake."
Phil turned to face her. "Snake?"
"A fifteen-foot-long python. Max dances with it. Or he tried to. The snake had other plans." She took a deep breath. Thank God Phil wasn't a Vamp and couldn't hear her heart pounding. There was something about him, and apparently she wasn't the only one feeling it. All of the women were reacting to him. And that was making her feel strangely possessive.
He'd affected her from the start. At nineteen he'd been lean and lanky, but he'd still exuded an earthy sexiness that had appealed to her. Now, at twenty-seven, he'd filled out that lanky form with muscle and an aura of male power. Every nerve ending in her body seemed aware of him, drawn to him, on fire for him.
She had to be out of her mind. Hadn't she endured enough pain in her life? She would apologize and then let him go. She took a deep breath and met his steady gaze.
He stepped toward her. "I need to apologize."
She blinked. He'd stolen the words right out of her mouth. "But—"
He raised a hand to stop her. "I need to say this. I was on the sidewalk, waiting for a cab, when I realized I was a hypocrite. I volunteered to help you handle your anger, but I wasn't handling my own. I was rude—"
"But you had every right to be angry with me. I tormented you. I made you miserable. I shouldn't have treated you like that."
His eyes softened. "I could suffer far worse things than having a beautiful woman come on to me."
The blueness of his eyes made her chest feel tight, like it was hard to breathe. "You're being kind, but I don't deserve it. You were right. I was bored, and you seemed like a safe diversion. I'm really sorry."
"I'm sorry, too. I was coming back inside the club to apologize when Max appeared."
She recalled her bouncer's strange warning. "I heard you reacted very quickly."
"I've been working for MacKay S & I a long time, so I've learned a few tricks." He touched his pocket. "Like carrying a silver chain with me. It's the only way to keep a vampire from escaping." He tilted his head. "Do you have any kind of security?"
"Of course. I have Hugo."
"I meant away from the club. Who's guarding you while you're in your death-sleep?"
She shrugged. "Pamela, Cora Lee, and I share a condo, and the building has really tight security. They never let anyone near our apartment during the day. We're officially listed as day-sleepers."
He shook his head. "That's not enough. Maybe you should move back to Roman's townhouse for a while—"
"No." Vanda lifted both hands as if to ward off evil. "I'm not giving up my independence. I did that once, and it took over fifty years to get it back."
His eyes narrowed. "Why did you join the harem?"
Damn. Now she'd said too much. "It's ancient history. Forget it."
The look on his face made it clear he was forgetting nothing. "I don't think you've seen the last of Max."
"He can't bother me while I'm sleeping. He's just as dead as I am during the day."
Phil frowned at her. "I don't like the thought of you being alone."
"I'm not alone!" she said, louder than necessary, then winced. "I have friends. And I have this club. My life is one big party."
Phil stepped closer, studying her face. "You've been crying."
"I'm fine. Now, if you don't mind—" She flinched when he touched her cheek.
"Vampire tears." His finger traced a line down her cheek. "They leave a faint pink stain."
She moved back. "Good night, Phil. Thank you once again for protecting us."
He stared at her. She looked away, her heart floundering under the searching gaze of those pale blue eyes.
"How about giving me a ride home?"
She swallowed hard. Hadn't she been through enough tonight? But how could she refuse? He'd brought her car back. He'd saved her from Max. But the thought of spending more time alone with him was too disconcerting. Her nerves were completely shot. Her emotions were a tangled mess. She wanted to touch him. She wanted to feel his strong arms around her. And at the same time, she wanted him to go far away and never come back.
She pressed a hand against her brow. "I–I'm very busy."
"It will only take a few seconds for you to teleport me. But then, you would have to let me wrap my arms around you and hold you tight. If that scares you too much—"
"I'm not scared!" She clenched her teeth when he smiled slowly. Damn him. He'd manipulated her into this. "You're still getting even with me, aren't you?"
"Actually, I'm making progress with those negative feelings. I no longer have visions of making you suffer."
"Oh, that's big of you."
His mouth twitched. "How kind of you to notice."
Her gaze flitted south, then quickly away. Good Lord, he was big. How could he be so turned on? He'd only touched her cheek. Her skin tingled, and she suddenly wanted him to touch her everywhere.
He took hold of her shoulders. "Instead of making you suffer, I'm thinking about all the ways I could give you pleasure."
Oh God, don't melt on him. She locked her shaky knees and planted her hands against his chest, more to steady herself than shove him away. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close.
She gasped when his hard shaft pressed against her belly. "Not so close. I have to concentrate to teleport. You don't want to arrive home minus an appendage, and I don't mean your foot."
With a smirk, he eased back. "It is a foot right now."
She groaned. "Caveman." She closed her eyes to focus on Roman's townhouse. Her body started to waver, but when Phil's body remained intact, she stopped. "There's something wrong. You're not coming with me."
"Not enough foreplay, sweetheart."
She swatted his arm. "I meant your body is refusing to teleport."
"Ah." He released her and dug the silver chain out of his pants' pocket. "This must be the problem." He dropped the chain onto her desk. "Now, where were we?"
Her heart executed a little flip when he dragged her back into his arms. She rested her hands against his chest and felt the powerful thudding of his heart. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to focus, trying to block out all the tingling sensations that zipped along her body.
His arms were so strong. His breath stirred the hair on top of her head. And his scent—clean but earthy, and redolent with male power—filled her head and made her wish for the impossible.
But it was impossible. No matter how tempting he was, she couldn't let herself have genuine feelings for him. She'd had all the pain a person could bear in a lifetime. She would simply teleport him home, then come right back. Alone.
She felt her consciousness tumble into a black hole. She wavered, taking Phil with her, and everything went black.
Phil had never been fond of hitching a ride from a Vamp. It placed him in an inferior role of accepting help, which grated on his instinctive need to be dominant. He put up with the situation since the war against the Malcontents was more important than anyone's ego. When it came to teleporting with Vanda, however, he'd simply wanted an excuse to hold her tight.
They landed in the foyer of Roman's townhouse, and Vanda immediately broke free of his embrace.
She grimaced, covering her ears. "What's that awful noise?"
"We must have set off the alarm." Phil strode to the control panel by the front door and punched in the code to stop the high-pitched wailing. Only vampires and dogs were supposed to be able to hear it, so apparently he was more like a dog than he cared to admit. "The guys usually teleport to the back porch, so they can turn off the alarm before coming in."
"Oh, I didn't know about that." Vanda glanced around. "Place still looks the same."
"It is, though it's fairly empty." Phil pressed more buttons to reactivate the alarm. "We had to tighten security. Couldn't have Malcontents teleporting in to attack us."
Vanda nodded. "Will it be okay for me to teleport out?"
"Just a sec." He pulled a cell phone from his pocket and called Romatech. They would have received an alert about the alarm going off at the townhouse. "Hey, Connor. False alarm. Everything's fine." He hung up.
Vanda shifted her weight, looking impatient. "Can I go now?"
He dropped his cell phone back into his pocket as he walked toward her. "There's no need to hurry off."
Her eyes narrowed. "Not happening, Phil."
"What's not happening?"
She crossed her arms. "Whatever you have in mind."
He stopped in front of her. "There's a lot on my mind. Could you be more specific?"
She glared at him. "Given your caveman tendencies, I assume all your thoughts lead to the same result."
"Well, let me see. I've been thinking about kissing that luscious mouth of yours. And I've given considerable thought to peeling that catsuit off you. And then, of course, I would have to kiss every inch of your body." He grinned. "I believe you're right, Vanda."
She snorted, but he noted the blush creeping up her neck.
He took her lightly by the shoulders. "Come sit down with me for a while."
She shook her head. "I can't. I–I want you to forget about me."
He released her as if she'd slapped him. "Forget you? Vanda, I've wanted you for eight years. I could never forget you. And dammit, I don't want to wait another night!"
Her eyes glimmered with tears. "I'm sorry, Phil. I can't." Her body wavered and disappeared.
"What are you afraid of?" he yelled at her fading body.
Why was she running away?
Because she knew he wanted to have sex with her. He had too much pent-up lust to be satisfied with a few little kisses. And no doubt, Vanda knew that, too.
He felt reasonably sure that she was attracted to him. He'd been the one she'd wanted to flirt with years ago. And if Cora Lee could be believed, Vanda had spent a lot of time talking about him. His sense of hearing wasn't quite as good as a Vamp's, but he could still hear her heart pounding whenever he was near.
So why was she afraid of getting involved with him?
He wandered into the kitchen to have a bedtime snack, then proceeded downstairs to the guardroom in the basement. The dormitory looked strange without any coffins in it. The older Scottish Vamps had preferred to sleep in coffins lined with their clan tartan, but they had all gotten reassigned, or in Ian's case, married.
Phineas McKinney, the young black Vamp from the Bronx, slept in a twin bed with red satin sheets. Photos of his family rested on the bedside table.
A second twin-sized bed had been set up for Phil. He'd left his suitcase beside it earlier. He quickly unpacked, hanging his spare uniforms in the walk-in closet that looked oddly bare without any kilts.
There had been a time when the townhouse was a busy place, occupied by Roman, visiting Vamps, a harem of ten women, and a full contingent of guards, both Vamp and mortal. Now, Roman was married with a family, living in White Plains with Connor and Howard Barr as their bodyguards.
Phil showered and set the alarm beside his bed. He'd have to get up at least thirty minutes before Phineas and Jack fell into their death-sleep. It was his job to guard them during the day and provide any assistance they needed in guarding Romatech.
Like any soldier, Phil had learned to fall asleep quickly. Even so, he tossed and turned. At first he assumed it was a case of too much pent-up lust. As the night wore on, he realized it was more worry than lust. He was worried about Vanda being alone and unprotected.
He punched his pillow and went back to sleep. She wasn't alone. Hugo would protect her.
When the alarm went off, he jerked awake and checked the time. It was still dark outside, but the sun would rise in thirty minutes. Vampires all along the East Coast would be seeking shelter. Phineas and Jack would be arriving soon. Vanda would be going to the apartment she shared with two former members of the harem. Her apartment with inadequate security.
And Max would have a window of opportunity to kill her.
Phil threw on his uniform, then ran into the armory as he dialed Romatech on his cell phone. Jack answered.
He quickly explained the situation while he armed himself with a few knives and an automatic pistol loaded with silver bullets.
"I think you're right to be concerned," Jack said. "Go ahead and check on her. I'll have Lara take your place at the townhouse."
Twenty minutes later Phil pulled into a parking space close to Vanda's apartment. He sprinted toward her building as the sun touched the horizon. Shit. He was too late.
He ran into the lobby and stopped at the security desk. The uniformed guard slouched in his chair, his body limp and his eyes closed.
Phil checked the guard's pulse. Still alive. No sign of injury. He appeared to be in a deep sleep. Could be the result of vampire mind control. Max had beaten him here.
Phil paced in the elevator as it slowly ascended to the tenth floor. How could he have been so careless? He shouldn't have slept at the townhouse. He should have camped out in front of Vanda's door. He should have never left her side.
He'd let his lust scare her away. What a fool he was. If lust was all he felt for her, he wouldn't be so frantic right now. His hands clenched into tight fists. If Max had hurt her—
The elevator door opened, and he charged down the hall to Vanda's apartment. The door was locked, but that wouldn't have stopped Max from teleporting in.
Phil kicked the door in. The interior was completely dark, all the windows covered with thick aluminum shutters. He flipped on the lights, half expecting to see bloodstains and piles of dead vampire dust.
The room was spotless. Undisturbed. But it was too soon to feel relieved.
He opened a door and turned on the lights. Cora Lee and Pamela Smythe-Worthing lay on twin beds, motionless in their death-sleep. There was no sign of struggle. The women were neatly tucked in, their hands clasped, their faces peaceful. They must have fallen into their death-sleep without knowing that Max had snuck in.
Phil went back to the living room. There was an odd pattern on the carpet, as if someone had vacuumed in a serpentine fashion. The path led straight to another door, which was slightly ajar.
Max had not come alone.
Phil pulled a knife from the sheath buckled to his calf, then slowly pushed the door open wide. Light from the living room spilled into the bedroom, illuminating Vanda's bed. His skin chilled with a shudder.
Max's fifteen-foot-long python was slowly coiling itself around Vanda's motionless body.