me a few hours, I’m sure I can come up with a better plan.”

“Nay!” Angus thumped a fist on the table. “We doona need another plan. The decision was made. The vote was unanimous.”

“All the Coven Masters agreed.” Roman stood, his expression stern and stubborn. “Gregori, we’re counting on you. You are the plan.”

Chapter Three

They were counting on him. Every freaking Coven Master in the Vamp world. Gregori headed for his office at Romatech, still reeling from the news.

He didn’t let anyone see how tense he was. He even grinned at Laszlo when he passed him in the hall, and gave him a high five. Stay cool. Act like you belong. It’s the best way to fit in. That was the mantra Gregori had adopted eighteen years ago, after the shock of waking up to find himself Undead.

And now he was the plan? He didn’t know if he should be flattered or pissed. Flattered, maybe, if thousands of Vamps were trusting him to keep them safe.

He snorted as he wrenched his office door open. Safe? What a joke! For the last eighteen years, he’d been the one the old warrior guys threatened to kill for the fun of it.

He shut the door, then hit the light switch so hard, it cracked the plastic cover plate in two.

“Shit.” He strode across the office and skirted his desk to peer outside the window. Lampposts illuminated the parking lot, but as always, his gaze wandered to the same dark spot, the place where he’d died as a mortal.

There were no cars to obstruct his view. Most Vamps simply teleported from place to place. Sometimes Gregori drove to work to make sure he remembered how, but as the years slipped by, those mortal skills seemed increasingly unimportant and unnecessary.

Memories swirled through his mind—the dark night, the terror and pain of the attack, the hot burn of blood and icy fear of death, the muted screams from his mother as he’d faded away. The memories haunted him for only a few seconds before he knocked them away. Over the years, he’d learn to react quickly.

He’d been transformed in 1993, six years after Roman invented synthetic blood, so he was something of a rarity in the vampire world. It gave the old guys one of their favorite labels for teasing him. The bottle-fed baby.

A few nights after being transformed, he had realized that if he was going to succeed in his new life, he needed to embrace it. Leave the old world behind. Stay cool. Act like you belong.

So he’d worked hard at fitting into the vampire world. He’d practiced mind control, levitation, and teleportation until he was just as skilled as the old guys. He’d worked hard at Romatech, and in 1998 he’d become vice president of marketing.

In the mortal world, he would have been considered a great success, but in this world, surrounded by crusty old warriors, he could never escape the stigma of his youth. He hated being the new kid, the bottle-fed baby, the one they referred to as the fledgling. That made him feel like a helpless little bird with its mouth wide open, begging the older and wiser birds to bring him a freaking worm.

It frustrated him no end, but he put up with the crap. Why? Because he loved being eternally young.

Who wouldn’t love it? For eighteen years he’d enjoyed the body and energy of a twenty-nine-year-old. He could work hard, play hard, and party all night. Totally forget that if he were still mortal, he’d be a forty-seven- year-old dullard, saddled with a wife and a couple of kids.

Only his mother seemed aware of his true age. She reminded him of it daily when she lamented her lack of grandchildren.

With a sigh, Gregori turned away from the window. What an ironic twist of fate. The same Vamps who had teased him for being young now needed him for his youth.

Flattered or pissed? Flattered, yes. Being special envoy to the president was a big job, and he’d assured the guys in the conference room that he would succeed. But damn! If they were going to hinge their plan of action on him, they should have invited him to the meeting.

Pissed. Definitely. He grabbed a stress ball off his desk and gave it a squeeze. How dare they plan his life without consulting him? The old geezers were centuries old and still thought being a Coven Master was akin to being a king. If they wanted his help, they should have asked. They should have shown a little respect. But no, they believed they had the right to decide things for him.

The fledgling. The new kid who was safe and harmless. Who couldn’t hurt a fly.

Pop! The stress ball exploded in his hand.

“Shit.” He tossed it in the trash where it landed on top of three more exploded stress balls.

He glanced at his watch. Thirty-six minutes till sunrise and so much to do. First, he needed some sustenance, so he retrieved a bottle of synthetic blood from his mini-fridge and popped it into the microwave. While it warmed up, he undid the top buttons of his shirt, then took off his tie and tossed it onto the couch. It landed in VANNA’s lap.

“Hang that up for me, will you?” he muttered, knowing she would just stare into space with her glass eyes.

VANNA was a Vampire Artificial Nutritional Needs Appliance, his brainchild from about six years ago. He and Laszlo had taken a female, humanoid sex toy and filled her with synthetic blood so a Vamp could pretend he was getting his food the old-fashioned way. Unfortunately, VANNA had not proven to be a very good chew toy. Her rubbery skin was hard to puncture and had literally ripped out one of Roman’s fangs.

Even so, Gregori still kept VANNA around for parties. She never got insulted if the guys tried to undress her or nibble on her. Nor was she offended by their crude jokes or belching.

He had dragged her out of his supply closet earlier in the evening and put a red bikini on her and big red bow around her neck. She was going to be a surprise gift to Connor for his five-hundredth birthday.

“Maybe you can cheer up that old grouch.” Gregori saluted her with his warmed-up bottle of blood, then drank while he considered what to do about the commercial. What he needed was someone who could oversee the production in his stead, someone he could trust who was familiar with Simone and DVN.

“Aha!” He set his bottle on the desk and called Maggie O’Brian. She lived on a ranch in Texas now, but a few years back, she and her husband had been stars on DVN’s popular soap opera As the Vampire Turns.

“Maggie, darling! How are you?”

She snorted. “I’m knee-deep in bat guano. How are you, Gregori?”

I’m in deep shit, too. “I’m great! Thanks for asking.”

“Is it true what they’re saying on DVN?” Maggie asked. “That the secret is out, and mortals will want to kill us?”

“Highly exaggerated, Sweetcakes. It’s all going to be fine, trust me.”

“Oh. Then Roman has a plan?”

Gregori gritted his teeth. “Yes. By the way, Maggie, how would you like to earn some extra money? I need someone to finish production on a Vampire Fusion Cuisine commercial at DVN, and of course, I thought of you. Gordon is the director. You’ve worked with him before, right?”

“Yeah. You . . . want me to do it?”

“Sure. You’d be brilliant! And you’d get to see Simone again. She’s the star.”

There was a pause. “This bat guano is starting to look pretty good.”

“Maggie, I need you! And the vampire world needs more Fusion Cuisine. Imagine all those Vamps with sad and miserable taste buds. They’re counting on you.”

She laughed. “Right. Well, with Simone I may need hazard pay.”

“You got it, Toots. And I’ll send a case of Blardonnay to your home. Just come to DVN tonight at midnight, ready to crack the whip.”

“Okay. That works out well, actually, since I’m teaching a drama class at the school tonight at nine.” She

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