Is she or isn't she?
She was perfection.
Her long hair was a mixture of golden brown, honey, and sun-kissed platinum. She held it back from her face with combs that sparkled in the dark and begged to be removed. She had to be tall because she was visible over the cars from her head to her sweetly curved breasts. Holy mammary glands, it was enough to turn a face man into a breast man.
She left the car, walking away on seemingly endless legs. Her tight skirt had a back vent that twitched open with each step to reveal a few inches of slender thigh. Good God, it was enough to turn a newly converted breast man into a leg man.
Her hair swayed from side to side in a way that could hypnotize a man and enslave him for life.
Vampire or mortal?
He had to know...
"Eight-twenty P.M., male Caucasian, five-foot-ten, pounds, mid-twenties, leaving a white Honda Civic," Austin Erickson murmured into his mini-recorder. He adjusted the telescopic night lens on his binoculars and zoomed in on the subject across the parking lot. The guy didn't appear to be armed. More importantly, he was carrying a king-sized cup of gourmet coffee and a bag of doughnuts. Lucky bastard. Normally, that would be considered... well, normal. But this was the parking lot of the Digital Vampire Network. Nothing was normal here. Especially after sunset.
Austin exchanged his binoculars for a 35-mm camera and took another look at the guy. "Subject is human. He's going in."
The guy was taking breakfast inside DVN? Didn't he realize he could be breakfast? A shaft of light cut across the parking lot, then slowly disappeared as the door swung shut. It was dark once more. Austin had parked his black Acura in the shadowed corner of this lot in Brooklyn. The large warehouse that contained DVN was dark, all the windows blackened out. Only three letters, DVN, glowed in fluorescent red lights over the black-lacquered front door.
With a sigh, he dropped his camera on the passenger seat. He supposed the guy would be safe. Austin had been watching the vampire-owned television station for four nights now, and every night, several humans ventured inside. His conclusion - DVN actually employed a handful of mortals. Did the poor saps know they were working for demonic creatures? Were their minds being controlled? Maybe the vampires offered a great dental plan. Whatever their reasons for being there, as far as Austin could tell, all the humans left about five in the morning still alive and apparently in good health. It was strange, but then, there were a lot of strange things about the vampire world.
He had learned of their existence about six weeks ago when CIA operations officer Sean Whelan had transferred him to the Stake-Out team. Sean had explained what vicious killers these vampires were, so Austin was eager to protect the innocent. He had expected action, lots of action, ramming wooden stakes into nasty green creatures with rotting flesh and bumpy foreheads. Instead, he'd found himself staking out a television network where the vampires looked and acted too much like humans.
In fact, the only way Austin could tell a human from a vampire was to look through the 35-mm camera. Both the living and the undead showed up in a digital camera, but vampires could never appear in a 35-mm for the same reason they never showed up in a mirror. Their image could not be reflected.
He moved the 35-mm to the floor in front of the passenger seat. The rest of his equipment was there - night-vision goggles, digital camera with night lens, Glock with silver bullets, laptop, and his new favorite, his CV-3 video viewer. God, he loved working for the CIA. He had the coolest stuff.
He'd also been issued a box of wooden stakes. Made in China by a company that specialized in chopsticks. The box was sitting on the back seat of his car, open and ready for emergencies.
He opened his laptop on the passenger seat and typed in the secret frequency for receiving transmissions from DVN. The screen came into focus. Good, the vampire news was still on. And free for the taking. They naturally assumed no one could figure out their secret transmissions, and they didn't post guards around their facility. It was all indicative of what Austin considered their most obvious weakness. Their arrogance. He supped in his ten-gigabyte thumb drive and began recording.
This was his mission - stake out DVN, acquire information, and most importantly, learn the whereabouts of Sean's daughter, who was being held prisoner. The last time they'd seen Shanna was eight days ago in Central Park. She'd been surrounded by an army of Scottish vampires. To Austin, she'd looked like a willing captive, but Sean insisted she was brainwashed. Terribly outnumbered, the Stake-Out team had been forced to retreat, leaving Shanna Whelan behind.
Sean was furious. He was staking out Roman Draganesti's townhouse every night, but so far, there was no sign of his daughter. He'd ordered Garrett to watch the Russian coven in Brooklyn. Alyssa was watching Romatech Industries. The new girl, Emma, was manning the office in Midtown and scouring police reports for anything that indicated vampire involvement. And Austin was watching DVN - the facility and the transmissions.
He slipped on his CV-3 video viewer. The special eyeglasses gave him a heads-up display that freed him from having to watch his computer screen. He could continue to scan the parking lot while DVN played on a virtual screen in front of his eyes.
According to the DVN newscaster, the Russian coven was in turmoil. Some of the male coven members were refusing to accept two females as masters. A civil war could erupt. Austin smiled to himself. Let the slimy vampires kill each other off.
He poured a cup of coffee from his thermos. Holy caffeine fix, he wished this was gourmet. And a few snacks would be nice. He should have confiscated that guy's doughnuts for evidence. While he drank, a commercial started. A sexy female claimed her yummy drink was low in cholesterol and blood sugar. Blood Lite.
Austin choked, spraying coffee all over his steering wheel before he managed to swallow. Sheesh, demon diet food? He grabbed an old napkin to wipe up the mess. Next was the vampire celebrity talk show, starring Corky Courrant. He eyed the hostess's chest. Those had to be implants.
His attention was diverted when a photo flashed on the screen next to Corky's head. A photo of Draganesti.
"You'll never believe it!" Corky exclaimed with a grin. "The most eligible bachelor in America is getting married! Yes, Roman Draganesti, coven master of East Coast vampires, billionaire inventor of synthetic blood and Fusion Cuisine, and CEO of Romatech Industries has announced his engagement. And you'll never believe who the lucky bride is! Stay tuned!"
Another commercial started, this one for a special vampire toothpaste, guaranteed to whiten your fangs or your money back. Austin wondered if there were vampire ladies at home, bawling their evil eyes out because superbachelor Roman Draganesti was marrying someone else. The whole thing sounded too weird. Could vampires actually fall in love? And where would they make their marriage vows? Surely, demons didn't go to church. And how could they promise "til death do you part" if they were already dead?
One thing was for sure. The bride had better not be Shanna Whelan. Sean would go ballistic. Literally. He'd probably detonate a truckload of C4 on the Upper East Side, where Draganesti's townhouse was located.
Corky's show came back on. Another photo was displayed.
"Oh, crap." Austin grimaced. It was a picture of Draganesti and Shanna Whelan together.
"Can you believe it?" Corky screeched. "Roman Draganesti is marrying a mortal!"
Holy matrimony. Austin pulled the CV-3 video viewer off and dropped it beside his laptop. This was the worst possible news. With a groan, he leaned forward and bumped his forehead against the steering wheel. Sean would want to retaliate. And there were only five agents on the Stake-Out team. They were too outnumbered to do anything overt. And they still didn't know where Shanna was. That damned Draganesti was hiding her.
Austin was too tense to sit in the car. He had to do something. The thumb drive was still recording, so he didn't need to stay put. He looked around the parking lot. There were thirty-seven cars, and most of them belonged to the undead. If he ran their plates, he could get their names and start compiling a database of known vampires.
He grabbed his digital camera and climbed out of the car. He was almost finished taking pictures of license plates when the bright flash of headlights ripped through the darkness. Another car was entering the lot. A black Lexus four-door sedan.
Keeping low, Austin darted from the cover of one car to the next until he had a clear view of where the Lexus had parked. He zoomed the camera lens onto the New York license plate and silently snapped.
The driver's door opened, and a tall male dressed in an expensive suit emerged. Austin took his picture. Then, the passenger door opened, and a young woman stepped out. Young, my ass. Austin gritted his teeth while he snapped her picture. She might dress like a teenager with her plaid skirt and fishnet hose, but if she were a vampire, she could be older than dirt.
Unfortunately, there was no way he could tell if they were alive or undead with the digital camera. He needed the 35-mm. He dashed back to his car, hugging the shadow of a tall brick wall. Then, he heard it. A third car door shutting. He edged around a large SUV and caught a glimpse of blond hair. The last time he'd seen Shanna, she'd been a blonde. Could it be? He inched closer, staying low. His mouth fell open. She wasn't Shanna.
She was perfection.
Holy moley. He'd always considered himself a face man, or more importantly, a man who gazed first into the eyes of a woman for a glimpse of her soul. Not possible with this one, for he could only see her profile. Her nose was petite and girlish, but her mouth wide and womanly. A dyn**ite combination, and it definitely lit his fuse. He took a few pictures.
Her long hair was a mixture of golden brown, honey, and sun-kissed platinum. She held it back from her face with combs that sparkled in the dark and begged to be removed. Hair that pretty deserved a few pictures.
He guessed she was about five-foot-nine. She had to be tall because she was visible over the cars from her head to her sweetly curved breasts. Holy mammary glands, it was enough to turn a face man into a breast man. Thank God for the zoom lens.
She left the car, walking away from him on seemingly endless legs. Her tight skirt had a back vent that twitched open with each step to reveal a few inches of slender thigh. Sheesh, it was enough to turn a newly converted breast man into a leg man.
But then, he noticed how her tight skirt outlined her h*ps and derriere. Holy honey buns. That was worth a picture or two. And certainly enough to turn a leg man into a connoisseur of fine booty.
Wait a minute. That blue business suit didn't look like something a vampire would wear. They usually went for a more flashy look. Of course! She might not be a vampire. She looked too vibrant to be undead. What if she was innocent and the two with her were vampires? They could be delivering her into a den of demons. Dammit. Not on his watch.
He straightened, then paused with a silent groan. Idiot. He was letting his dick do the thinking. The gorgeous woman wasn't a prisoner. She was walking toward the entrance of DVN with determination in her long-legged stride.
He had to know. Vampire or mortal - which was she? The threesome had reached the entrance of DVN. Austin rushed to his car, yanked open the door, and grabbed the 35-mm. He peered through the viewfinder. Total darkness. With a muttered curse, he removed the lens cap and raised the camera once more.
Nothing. The door to DVN was open, but no one was there. He lowered the camera. Now he could see the male holding the door open and the shorter woman going inside. They were definitely vampires. But what about the gorgeous blonde?
Shit! He'd missed her. He climbed into the car, wincing when his jeans cut into his swollen groin. She had to be human. He couldn't be this fired up over a dead demon. Could he?
Darcy Newhart came to an abrupt stop inside the lobby of DVN. She could hardly see the black and red decor, the room was so crowded. There had to be over fifty Vamps here, all jabbering with excitement. Good God, were they all seeking employment?
Gregori bumped into her from behind. "Sorry," he murmured, his gaze wandering about the room.
"I didn't expect so many." Her hands trembled as she made sure the combs were still holding back her long hair. She checked her leather portfolio one more time. Her neatly typed résumé was still there, looking the same as it had five minutes ago. How could she compete with so many? Who was she kidding? She would never get this job. The familiar tentacles of panic curled around her, squeezing the air from her lungs. She would never be free. She could never escape.
"Darcy," Gregori's sharp voice cut through the rising panic. He waited 'til she met his eyes, then he gave her the Look.
In the first year of her forced confinement, Gregori had become a good friend and pillar of support, repeatedly telling her, This is the only world you have now. Deal with it. Now, he only had to look at her to remind her to be strong. She nodded and squared her shoulders. "I'll be all right."
His brown eyes softened. "Yes, you will."
Maggie adjusted the pleats on her short plaid skirt. "I'm so nervous. What if I see Don Orlando? What will I say?"
"Don who?" Gregori asked.
"Don Orlando de Corazon," Maggie repeated his name in a reverent whisper. "He's the star of As a Vampire Turns."
Gregori frowned. "That's why you came? To drool on the stars? I thought you wanted to give Darcy moral support."
"I do," Maggie insisted. "But then, I thought if Darcy can find a job, maybe I can, too. So I decided to audition for a soap opera."
"You want to be an actress?" Gregori asked.
"Oh, I don't know anything about acting. I just want to be with Don Orlando." Maggie clasped her hands to her chest and unleashed a long sigh. "He's the sexiest man on earth."
Gregori gave her a dubious look. "Okay. Good luck with that. Excuse me." He grabbed Darcy's arm and pulled her a few feet away. "You've got to help me. The harem ladies are driving me crazy."