They have lousy security," Phil said as he followed Maggie down a hallway at DVN. No alarm had gone off when they had teleported into a costume room. "You'd think they'd be more careful after that incident last December."
Maggie leaned close and whispered, "These guys aren't exactly grounded in reality."
"I see what you mean," Phil muttered. They passed a group of actors in the hallway, and one of them, dressed as a giant chicken, was practicing his squawk.
"That's it!" one of his companions said. "Now do it again, but with more passion."
Another actor, dressed as a pirate, joined in. "Yaar, me hearty. Ye must believe that ye be a chicken."
Phil snorted. A chicken with fangs.
"This is it." Maggie stopped in front of a door decorated with a giant gold star. Corky Courrant was painted across the star in bright red cursive script.
Maggie listened. "I don't hear any fighting inside."
"That's a good sign," Phil said.
"Unless Corky's already dead," Maggie whispered.
Phil opened the door and marched inside. Corky was very much alive, seated behind her desk, studying photos. In the corner, a little bald-headed man with a camera gasped, then teleported away. No sign of Vanda.
Corky glanced up. "How dare you barge in like that!" She gathered up the photos and shoved them into a desk drawer. "Who the hell are you?"
"Don't you know?" Phil asked. "You posted my picture on your show tonight."
Corky sniffed, then waved a hand in dismissal. Her large jeweled rings glittered under the fluorescent lights. "I'm not interested in the identity of a mortal. Get out of my office."
"I was the man pinning down the dancer at the Horny Devils nightclub. How did you get that photo?"
"I'm a journalist. I never reveal my sources." She glanced at the corner where the little man had teleported away. Her bosom heaved when she sighed with relief.
"Hello, Corky." Maggie strode inside, her cowboy boots clunking on the linoleum floor.
Corky sat back. "Well, if it isn't little Maggie, known for her short stature and her equally short career as a mediocre actress. What brings you to New York?" She eyed Maggie's clothes with disdain. "A little shopping, I hope?"
Maggie approached the desk. "I just had a lovely time at the Horny Devils. Thanks to you, it's the most popular nightclub in the vampire world."
Corky's eyes narrowed into angry slits. "I remember now. You're one of Vanda Barkowski's friends. You can give that crazy bitch a message from me." Corky rose to her feet. "I'm going to destroy her. And her club."
"Try it," Phil said softly, "and you'll regret it."
Corky scoffed. "Am I supposed to quake in fear from a mere mortal and a…miniature cowgirl?" She glowered at Maggie. "Don't think I haven't forgotten how you stole Don Orlando from me."
Maggie glared back. "You had already lost him. You treated him like a slave."
"Ha! I made him a star! I made him famous. What could you ever do for him?"
Maggie smiled. "I make him happy." She turned on her heel and marched out.
Corky sputtered. "I could ruin you. And your ranch. You're just so trivial, I haven't bothered!"
Phil paused by the door on his way out. "Leave Vanda alone."
"What are you," Corky sneered, "her guard dog?"
"Close." He took a deep breath and tapped into his inner Alpha power. He knew it would make his blue eyes glow. His body began to shimmer, his form fuzzy along the edges. He could shift in an instant if he wanted, or remain in human form while retaining all the power of the Alpha wolf.
Corky stumbled back, her eyes wide. "Who—What are you?"
Let her wonder. He shut the door in her face and reined in his power. In an instant he was back to normal. "Okay, where do you think Vanda is?"
Maggie stared at him, her mouth agape. "What was that?"
"The power of my inner…animal." He started down the hallway.
Maggie stood in place, her eyes still wide with shock. "But don't you need a full moon?"
"No. So where could Vanda be?"
"I–I don't know." Maggie ran to catch up with him. "I've never heard of a shifter who wasn't dependant upon a full moon."
"I can shift at any time." They reached the end of the hall, where it led into an intersecting hallway.
"That's amazing," Maggie whispered. "What kind of animal are you?"
He ignored the question as he inspected the new hallway. No sign of Vanda. "Let's split up. You go right, I'll go left."
"All right." Maggie headed right, then pulled back around the corner, grimacing.
"What's wrong?" Phil peered down the hall to the right. A blond woman was talking to the pirate actor.
"It's Tiffany." Maggie raised her gaze to the ceiling as if in prayer. "Must I see every woman tonight who's slept with my husband?"
Phil recalled that the actor Don Orlando de Corazon had been touted as the greatest lover in the vampire world. "I'm sure he never looked at another woman once he met you."
Maggie snorted, then smiled. "I believe you're right. Bless you. So you're a powerful shifter who knows exactly what to say to a woman? Vanda doesn't stand a chance."
"I hope you're right. But we still need to find her. How about I go right, and you go left?"
"Okay." Maggie hurried down the new hallway, moving away from Tiffany.
Phil strode toward the blonde and the pirate. He tried the first door. A storeroom.
"Aar, me buxom wench." The pirate adjusted his eye patch. "Ye be a glorious sight for me sore eye. Would ye care to go below deck with me?"
"To the basement?" Tiffany giggled. "Sure. I just love your accent. It's so classy. You sound like a prince." She led him to a door at the end of the hall.
Phil smiled to himself. Tiffany certainly wasn't pining over the loss of Don Orlando. He spotted a door labeled: CORKY'S DRESSING ROOM. This sounded promising. He quietly eased it open.
Vanda was seated at a dressing table. There was no mirror above it, but rather, a monitor connected to a digital camera. As a Vamp, this was the only way Corky could see herself to apply the mounds of makeup she wore. The camera was turned off now, and Vanda was entirely focused on her task, snipping at clothing with a small pair of scissors.
He closed the door with a click, and she jumped in her seat.
"Phil! What are you doing here?"
"What are you doing, Vanda?"
"I'm busy." She returned her attention to a black brassiere and made a small snip at the shoulder strap.
He stepped toward her. "As your sponsor, I suggest you put the scissors down."
"You are not my…" She paused with a wry expression. "I'm getting a strange sense of d'ej`a vu."
He chuckled. "What exactly are you doing?"
"Nothing." She made a tiny cut between the two massive cups of Corky's bra.
He eyed the pile of clothing on the dressing table. "You're exacting revenge by destroying Corky's underwear?"
"They're not destroyed." Vanda folded several pairs of lacy underwear and returned them neatly to a drawer. "They're just altered a tiny bit. Corky will never notice." She shut the drawer with a wicked grin. "Until it's too late."
Phil sighed. "Vanda, this is not what they mean by anger management."
She folded up a brassiere and stacked it in another drawer. "I don't need anger management. I was sorely tempted to jump that bitch in her office, but then I thought about all the ripped-out hair and black eyes and lawsuits, and I had to ask myself, 'Is it really worth it? "
He couldn't help but smile. "You're thinking before you act. That's an improvement."
"Thank you." She picked up the last bra and showed him the humongous cups. "Can you believe this? Fill it with rice and you could feed a starving family of four for a week." She folded it and placed it in a drawer. "Do men really find such huge breasts attractive?"
"Yes. Some men do."
She shot him a dirty look and slammed the drawer shut.
"But I don't." He moved closer to her chair. "I have seen perfection, so I could never want anything less."
She eyed him warily. "Nobody's perfect."
"You are. For me."
She jumped to her feet, positioning the chair between them. "I need to go. Corky could come in any minute."
"You've been avoiding me."
"I've been busy." She tightened the whip around her waist. "And I don't think there's anything to talk about, really."
He eased around the chair. "Have you thought about our kiss?"
"No." She lifted her chin. "I completely forgot about it. I figured it was an accident and we should never let it happen again."
"You reached that decision after you forgot about it?"
She scowled at him. "Okay. I remember it quite well. But just because it was hot, that doesn't mean we should do it again."
He smiled slowly. "It was hot, wasn't it?"
Her gaze dropped to his mouth. "I…can't remember."
"Strange how your memory comes and goes."
She licked her lips. "Some things are best forgotten."
He slipped an arm around her. "Have you forgotten how I make your heart pound?" He could hear it pounding.
She rested her hands against his chest. "I seem to recall something to that effect…"
He nuzzled her neck. "Have you forgotten how you tremble at my touch?"
She trembled. "Phil…" Her fingers clutched greedily at his shirt. "I don't want to fall for you."
"But you are." He noted the red glint in her eyes. "I know you want me."
"No." She raked her hands into his hair, closing her fists around the strands as if she never wanted to let him go. "I don't want you at all."
"That's a shame." He kissed her brow. "'Cause I want you."
"You shouldn't." She tugged his head down so she could kiss his mouth.
"Sweetheart, you're giving out mixed signals."
"I know." She pressed her body against his. "I've got to stop this. But God help me, I can't…stop."
He took her mouth, kissing her with all the passion that had simmered for eight long years. Her lips parted with a sweet surrender. But this was no passive surrender, not from his feisty Vanda. She stroked his tongue, then sucked on it with a desperation that made his blood boil. His groin swelled and he pulled her tight against him. With a deep growl he discovered just how well her thin spandex cat-suit hugged every curve of her body from the sweet cheeks of her rump to the small of her back.
She rubbed against him, and his erection throbbed.
He unzipped her catsuit far enough to allow him to slip his hand inside and cup her breast. "You're so beautiful, so perfect." He flicked his thumb over her nipple, and the tip hardened.
She gasped. "Phil…" Her hands rubbed up and down his back.
"Vanda, I want to make love to you."
Her hands stilled. "No." She moved back, breaking his embrace. "I can't…love you."
"I won't hurt you, Vanda. You can trust me."
She shook her head. "I can't…" She zipped her catsuit shut. Her red-tinted eyes glimmered with moisture.
"I understand why you're afraid. You lost everyone in your family. Except Marta. And you probably felt betrayed by her."
"What?" Vanda stepped back, her face pale. "How—How did you…?"
"The interview you did a few years ago for the reality show. Maggie found it at the townhouse and we watched it."
Vanda stiffened with an appalled expression. "Maggie helped you spy on me?"
"We weren't spying. We're trying to help you. If we can find a way for you to deal with the unresolved issues from your past—"
"My past is none of your business!" she snapped.
"It is. I'm supposed to help you learn how to manage your anger, and we can do that by confronting whatever trauma you—"
"No! I am not a psychological experiment. And I have to question your motives, Doctor Phil. Are you trying to help me out of the goodness of your heart, or do you just want to get laid?"
He tamped down on his growing anger. "I want you to have a happy, fulfilled life. It is your fear that is causing you to insult me, and we can get rid of that fear by examining the trauma—"
"You leave my trauma the hell alone!" She adjusted the whip around her waist. "I'm not afraid of anything."
He raised his hands in a supplicating gesture. "It's normal for you to resist reliving those painful memories."
She gritted her teeth. "Don't patronize me. I'm not reliving anything."
"Then you want to stay afraid? Do you want to endure life for centuries afraid to love another person?"
She flinched as if he'd hit her.
"Vanda, I'm sorry." He stepped toward her.
"No." She lifted a hand to stop him. "Do you know how many people I've lost?" A pink tear rolled down her cheek. "My mother and father. My little sister. Every one of my brothers. Karl."
"Who's Karl?" Phil couldn't remember that name from the TV interview.
Vanda's outstretched hand curled into a fist. Her voice shook. "The wolves got him."
Vanda's arm dropped to her side and her face crumpled. "He was my first love. A mortal. The mortals always die." She wiped her face. "Can't you see? I can't go through this again."
Shit. This would be the perfect time to tell her he was a shape shifter who could easily live another four to five hundred years. But she would want to know what he shifted into. "Vanda, none of us are immortal. You came close to dying the other day. Doesn't that tell you that we should seize the moment and live each night like it was our last?"
"But it won't last. And I can't endure the pain. I'm sorry."
She disappeared, leaving his hand extended close to where her face had been.
He lowered his arm. Poor Vanda. She was fighting a war between desire and fear. Her desire for him was strong. It had caused her eyes to glow red. It had made her clutch at him with passion. But tonight fear had won the battle.
"I'm not giving up on you," he whispered.