The Vampire With the Dragon Tattoo (Love at Stake) (10 page)

“Really crazy,” she muttered, blinking away the tears. If she had any sense, she would avoid this man like the plague.

She rushed from the room, closing the door behind her and not looking back.

ougal jolted back to life right after sunset. His vision adjusted quickly to the dark room. This wasn’t the opulent basement of Jean-Luc’s house in Texas but the old, familiar basement in Roman’s townhouse. And tonight, he started his new job. If he was lucky, he’d see Leah again. He might even get to teleport her to Romatech.

He still felt bad about eavesdropping on her the night before, but his guilt was overshadowed now by his admiration for her. She’d remained so strong and brave while her safe world had crumbled around her. And then she’d shown even more courage with her decision to stay. Even though she was wary of Vamps, she was still willing to work with them in order to save lives.

She had a good, honorable heart. And she was bright, beautiful, and brave. Just thinking about her made him smile. He hadn’t felt this excited in years. Centuries. He wanted to know more about her. What made her happy? What were her dreams? Could she fall for someone like him?

As he sat up, he noticed his nightshirt was unbuttoned and gaping open. Who? He glanced around quickly, but the room was empty. He peered into the billiards room, but it was empty, too. Whoever had unbuttoned his shirt was gone.

He caught a slight whiff of perfume. Jasmine. His heart raced. Could it have been Leah? Was she curious enough about him that she’d examined him during his death-sleep?

He jumped in the shower as he considered other possible culprits. Heather Echarpe? No way. Fidelia? He shuddered at the thought. The woman was always trying to peek under his kilt whenever he levitated.

It had to have been Leah. He winced, imagining her reaction to his old-fashioned nightshirt. Maybe he should do as Gregori suggested and go to that fancy stylist over at DVN. The other guys always teased him about his old nightshirt. They had modernized to the point that most of them slept in underwear or less. He clung to the old shirt because it completely covered his tattoo, and he didn’t want to answer any questions about it.

Leah must have seen it. He groaned at the thought. How could he explain it to her?

When he stepped out of the shower, he turned on the digital camera and monitor so he could see to shave. Normally, he didn’t bother much with his appearance, but tonight he might see Leah again.

Would she confess to unbuttoning his shirt? If not, how could he ask if she had?
By the way, lass, did ye molest me during my death-sleep?

Before dawn, he had teleported back to Jean-Luc’s house to gather up his belongings: his clothes, tartan blanket, bagpipes, Uilleann pipes, and old tin whistle. So now he was able to dress in a fresh white shirt and kilt and tie his damp hair back with a new leather strip.

Upstairs, he found Jean-Luc in the kitchen, drinking a bottle of synthetic blood while his family ate dinner.

“Félicitations, mon ami
.” Jean-Luc handed Dougal a bottle from the fridge. “You start tonight?”

“Aye.” Dougal popped the bottle into the microwave.

Bethany gazed at him sadly, her bottom lip sticking out. “I’m going to miss you.”

“Och, lass.” He patted her shoulder. “Ye’ll be fine.”

“I’ll miss you, too.” Fidelia winked at him.

He stiffened. Had she been the one unbuttoning his clothes? He removed his bottle from the microwave and took a sip. “Where is Leah?”

“She left over an hour ago,” Heather replied.

“I watched a movie with her when the twins were taking a nap,” Fidelia added. “She had to go to work and couldn’t finish it, but she said she’s seen it a jillion times.”

Heather stood and gave him a hug. “We’ll miss you, but we’re happy about your promotion. I know you’ll do great!”

With a smile, Dougal nodded. “Thank you.” He stepped back, his bottle in hand. “I should be going now.”

He went back to the basement to slip his dagger into the sheath beneath his knee sock. So Leah had spent the afternoon watching something she’d seen many times before? What kind of movie would inspire such devotion?

Upstairs, he ventured into the parlor. It was empty, the television turned off. On top of the DVD player he found a plastic case.
An Affair to Remember.

Curious, he read the synopsis on the back of the case. It sounded a bit sappy to him, but at least she wasn’t watching a movie about slaying vampires.

He teleported to the side door at Romatech, then pressed his palm against the sensor to unlock the door. An alarm system had been installed years ago that detected anyone teleporting into the facility, so he and the other Vamps routinely teleported to one of the entrances.

He strode down the hall, drinking from his bottle. Outside the MacKay security office, he punched in the code to unlock the door. Inside, Austin was putting on his coat.

“Hey, Dougal.” Austin slapped him on the shoulder. “It’s good to have you back.”

“ ’Tis good to be here.” Dougal glanced at the monitors. Leah and Abby were in a lab, hunched over some papers on a table. The captive soldier was still in the silver room. Tino was on the basketball court, playing with his father, Angus, and Carlos.

Dougal’s gaze shifted back to Leah, and his tattoo itched. She seemed even more beautiful tonight. “How’s everything?”

“Good. Freemont’s making the rounds right now.” Austin grabbed his keys off the desk. “I gotta run. Matthew has soccer practice tonight.”

“I understand.”

“See ya tomorrow.” With a smile, Austin left.

Dougal finished his bottle of breakfast blood while he watched the monitors. Austin was hurrying out the side door to his car in the parking lot. He lived nearby in White Plains with his wife and kids.

It seemed like everyone was having bairns these days. Dougal’s gaze shifted back to the monitor showing Leah and Abby. Even Abby and Gregori were starting a family.

Laszlo entered the lab, sporting a fresh white lab coat, a striped shirt, and a bright red bowtie. His hair was neatly combed, and his round face gleamed a rosy pink, as if he’d scrubbed it too hard. The two women glanced up at him and smiled.

Dougal’s prosthetic hand tightened around the bottle, and he glared at it.
Doona act up tonight
. He finished the bottle and tossed it into the recycling bin.

The office door opened, and Gregori sauntered inside. “Hey, dude. What’s up?”

Dougal inclined his head. “Good evening.”

Gregori peered at the monitor showing the lab and grinned. “Laszlo’s looking less nerdy tonight, don’t you think?”

Dougal shrugged.

“I made an appointment for him with Wilson,” Gregori continued.

Dougal wondered if he should do the same.

“And I gave him some advice on how to charm the ladies,” Gregori added. “The most obvious way to win a woman’s heart.”

It didn’t seem so obvious to Dougal. He waited, but Gregori was entirely focused on the monitor.

“Isn’t Abby beautiful?” he whispered. “She’s practically glowing.”

“What is the way?” Dougal asked. When Gregori gave him a blank look, he added, “The obvious way to win a woman’s heart.”

“Oh, that.” Gregori waved a dismissive hand. “It just takes a sense of humor. You gotta make the lady laugh.”

Dougal swallowed hard. “Laugh?”

“Yep. Let’s see if Laszlo pulls it off.” Gregori turned the volume up on the lab.

“ . . . an alarming amount of genetic mutation,” Leah was saying, pointing at a printout.

Laszlo sat next to her at the table. “I’ve always found genetics fascinating.”

Leah nodded as she read.

Laszlo twisted a button on his lab coat. “Before I was transformed, I was a student at the University of Vienna. I was able to visit Gregor Mendel a few times in Moravia.”

Leah turned to him, her eyes wide. “You knew Gregor Mendel?”

Laszlo blushed. “Yes. He was very kind. He would discuss his theories with me for hours.”

“Holy crapoly,” Leah whispered. “I can’t believe you knew him.”

“That is so cool!” Abby added.

“And he would invite me to sup with him.” Laszlo fumbled with another button. “Of course, we always had pea soup.”

Leah and Abby laughed.

Gregori punched his fist in the air. “Way to go, Laszlo!”

Dougal’s prosthetic hand clenched.

Laszlo’s blush deepened. “I-I was serious. Mendel had over twenty-nine thousand pea plants.”

Abby and Leah chuckled.

The office door opened, and Freemont sauntered inside. “What’s up, dudes?” He nodded at Dougal. “Finished my rounds. Everything’s clear.”

“Good.” Dougal ordered his fist to relax and it slowly obeyed, making a few clicking sounds.

“Your robot hand is so awesome.” Freemont grabbed a donut from the box on the sideboard. “You look like a Terminator.”

Dougal winced inwardly. “Thank you.”

“Oh, that reminds me,” Gregori told him. “Abby is expecting you to see her tonight, so she can examine your hand. She wants to do an X-ray or a CAT scan, I think.”

Dougal stifled a groan. “ ’Tis fine now.”

“Orders from Angus.” Gregori gave him a wry look. “And you don’t say no to big Mongo.”

On the lab monitor, Abby rose to her feet. “All this talk about pea soup is making me hungry.” She nudged Leah. “Why don’t we head to the cafeteria for some supper?”

“Okay.” Leah stood. “I could use a break.”

Laszlo eased to his feet, a hopeful look on his face as he twisted a button.

“We’ll be back in about thirty minutes,” Abby told him as she strolled toward the door.

“Bye.” Leah left with Abby.

. Laszlo’s button popped off.

“Damn, Laszlo,” Gregori muttered. “You missed your chance.” He adjusted his tie. “Well, I need to get to work. Though I might stop by the cafeteria for a few minutes.” He grinned.

“I’ll come with you,” Dougal said. He wasn’t going to miss his chance. When Gregori gave him a questioning look, he added, “I need to make the rounds.”

“I just did that.” Freemont stuffed half a donut in his mouth.

Dougal’s jaw shifted. “I need to set up an appointment with Abby.”

“Oh, right.” Gregori slapped him on the back. “Well, let’s go.”

As Dougal marched toward the cafeteria, he resolved to impress Leah and win her heart. According to Gregori it was simple. He only had to be charming and make her laugh.

His prosthetic hand clenched. He was doomed.

Chapter Eight

eah was drizzling more dressing onto her grilled chicken salad when Abby looked toward the cafeteria door and grinned.

“Gregori’s here!” Abby set down her soup spoon and jumped to her feet.

“Hi, sweetheart.” Gregori hugged her, then motioned to her bowl of potato soup. “Don’t let me stop you. You’re eating for two now.”

Leah concentrated on her salad to give the two lovebirds some privacy.

“I missed you,” Abby whispered.

“I missed you more.” Gregori nuzzled her neck. “I woke up from my death-sleep, and you were gone.”

So the Vamps called it death-sleep? Leah took a big bite of salad. Was Dougal awake now, too?

Abby swatted her husband’s shoulder. “I told you I was coming to work early and bringing Leah.”

Gregori seemed to notice her for the first time. “How are you today, Leah?”

“Fine,” she mumbled, her mouth full of lettuce.

“Oh.” Abby glanced toward the door. “I didn’t see you there, Dougal.”

Leah stiffened. He was alive! She gulped down her food, then swallowed some water, her eyes watering. She peered over her shoulder and saw him coming toward them. Alive. And as handsome as ever.

She turned back, focusing on her salad.

“I think I need more food,” Abby said. “I’m going through the line again.”

“I’ll go with you.” Gregori accompanied her.

Leah pushed her salad around with her plastic fork. He was still behind her, staring at her, she could feel it. His presence seemed to engulf the room.

“Good evening,” he said in a deep, lilting voice that caused a delicious little shiver to run down her back.

“Hi.” She looked up as he moved to stand beside her.

He leaned forward, his nostrils flaring, then he straightened, his mouth curling into a slight smile. “How are you?”

“Fine.” She paused. “How are you?”

“Well, thank you.”

She fiddled with her plastic fork. If only she could come up with something brilliant to say. Would he want to hear about the research she did for her doctorate degree? Probably not. “Would you like something to eat?”

“I had a bottle when I wakened at sunset.”

He doesn’t eat, dummy
. She slapped herself mentally. Her gaze drifted to the window, where she could see the basketball court outside and the game still in progress. “I recognize Angus, Roman, and Tino, but who is the man they’re playing with?”

Dougal glanced at the window. “That’s Carlos. He’s a were-panther.”

“Another killer cat?”

“We could give him a CAT scan to be sure.”

She winced.

With a sigh, he shifted his weight. “I doona have the gift of blarney.”

Did he feel socially awkward, too? “I was never good at meaningless chatter, either,” she muttered.

Time stretched out as he eyed her intently. What on earth was he thinking? She filled the awkward pause by taking a bite of her salad.

“Then perhaps we should say something meaningful,” he said softly.

She swallowed her salad without tasting it. “Meaningless is safe.”

“If ye wanted safety, ye would have run away.” He sat in the chair beside her. “Why did ye decide to stay?”

“Many reasons.”
But mostly you
. She sipped some water. “I have an opportunity to save lives. It would be cowardly of me to refuse that, don’t you think?”

“Ye’re a brave lass, to be sure.”

Her heart swelled. Not only did he compliment her but he also did it in a way that sounded like sweet music. She picked up her plastic knife to saw on one of the grilled chicken strips. “Another reason—as a scientist, I’m naturally curious about this new world I’ve stumbled into.”

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