Immortal ever after, p.10
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       Immortal Ever After, p.10

         Part #18 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands
Page 10


  The woman had pinpointed exactly what he’d been worrying about. Valerie had suffered nightmares while in her feverish state the last three days. He’d been able to hear her screams all over the house when he was there; they’d haunted his dreams as he’d slept, and every single one had made him want to soothe and reassure her that she was safe and all was well. But the women had been overseeing her—Leigh, Marguerite, and Marguerite’s daughter Lissianna, as well as Marguerite’s daughter-in-law Rachel. They had taken turns, and though he’d offered, he hadn’t been needed.

  The women had worried about Valerie coming out of the fever with her faculties intact. They’d said she was out of her head and there was no calming her. So, when Anders had realized she’d fallen asleep in the passenger seat, he’d worried she might have more of those nightmares. Unfortunately, Valerie had nodded off with her head turned toward the window. He hadn’t been able to see her face and read her expression to know if she was sleeping peacefully or having a nightmare from which he should wake her.

  “I’m sure she’ll sleep a lot for the next couple days while she heals,” Leigh commented. “She’s doing very well though. She hasn’t once complained about the pain she’s in. ”

  “She’s in pain?” Anders asked, glancing sharply to the rearview mirror to eye the woman in the backseat.

  “She has a hole in her back, Anders,” Leigh said dryly. “It’s healed a lot the last couple days, but it’s still sore. ”

  “Valerie has a rather impressive ability to block pain,” Marguerite commented. “It must be from all those years of martial arts she’s taken. ”

  “She’s taken martial arts?” Anders asked with interest, his gaze switching to the reflection of the older woman.

  He saw Marguerite and Leigh exchange a glance and then Marguerite said, “Yes. But I probably shouldn’t tell you any more. Half the fun of finding a life mate is peeling back the layers and learning about them, and we’ve already taken a good deal of that away with our earlier questions on the ride out. ”

  Anders didn’t comment but shifted his attention to Roxy. The dog had remained seated between her mistress’s legs, head on her knee, for the last forty-five minutes. Unlike her mistress, however, Roxy wasn’t asleep. Her eyes were open and alert. Standing guard, he thought, and nodded at the animal. She was a good dog.

  “Anders, we should stop for dinner on the way back,” Leigh suggested suddenly.

  “Oh yeah, dinner sounds good,” Bricker said with enthusiasm.

  Anders scowled at Leigh in the rearview mirror. “We are not stopping for supper. You are pregnant and I am not delivering Lucian Argeneau’s baby on the side of a country road because you wanted a burger. ”

  He saw her roll her eyes and then she said, “I promise I won’t go into labor. ”

  Anders snorted at the very words. That was a promise she couldn’t keep. When the baby decided to pop out, it would, regardless of any promises she had made.

  “Come on, Anders, have a heart,” Marguerite chided. “Valerie was locked in a cage in a windowless basement for ten days. Dinner out will do her good. ”

  Anders’s gaze slid to the sleeping Valerie and he frowned. After delivering Valerie to Leigh and Lucian’s, he’d been sent to collect the other women from the house of cages. The building had been an old farmhouse in the country, probably a good 150 years old, by his guess. The basement hadn’t been finished. The floor had been concrete at the front and dirt at the back, the stone walls had been wet with mold growing in crevices, and the whole place had smelled like death thanks to the bodies they’d found piled up in a room behind the larger one where the cages were. The women they’d found in the cages weren’t the first occupants. And the owners of the old farmhouse had been in that tiny back room along with previous tenants of the cages.

  After her nightmare stay there, he had no doubt Valerie would enjoy dinner out. Certainly she deserved it. She was a hero. She’d saved herself and those other women. But if his long life had taught him one thing, it was that you don’t always get what you want or deserve and he couldn’t agree to dinner out . . . especially when he suspected Valerie had seen Igor across the street from her house. Marguerite had told him what Valerie hadn’t when the three of them had powwowed in front of the van. She said Valerie had spotted Igor across the street, but convinced herself it was her imagination when he’d disappeared so swiftly. He’d wanted the three of them to spread out and search for the man when he’d heard the news, but it hadn’t taken him long to realize that was a bad idea. Igor might have been bait to take him, Bricker, and Marguerite away to search while his master went after Valerie. Leigh would have been next to useless in her present state and both women would have been vulnerable. As much as he wanted to catch the bastard who had hurt Valerie, safety came first. He’d kept a sharp eye out on the way home though, but hadn’t seen anything to indicate they were being followed.

  “If we can’t actually go eat in a restaurant, maybe we could just go through a drive-thru,” Leigh suggested, her tone now wheedling. “Swiss Chalet is on the way home. It would only take a couple minutes and we can eat it out on the verandah. I’m sure Valerie would enjoy that almost as much. ”

  “Christ,” Anders muttered under his breath with frustration. Give him rogues to deal with any day. He had no problem saying no to them, and if they didn’t listen, he could shoot them. But Leigh and Marguerite were a different matter altogether. They saw “no” as a challenge, and when they put their minds to it, they could be a real pain. Sadly, he couldn’t shoot them.

  Rather than say no, he tried reason. “Are you sure you want more junk food, Leigh? We’ve already had it twice today and you should be eating healthier. You have the baby to think of. ”

  “Ice cream and coffee are not junk food,” Leigh informed him stiffly.

  “Then what are they?” he asked dryly.

  “Necessities. ” That answer came from Valerie and drew his gaze her way as she straightened in her seat and ran her hands over her face to wipe the sleep away. Turning, she smiled at him sleepy-eyed and said, “Coffee is always a necessity. Ice cream less so. But coffee definitely is. And Swiss Chalet isn’t really junk food. It’s more like a Sunday-dinner-type meal. Chicken roasted over a spit, potatoes, and a bun. ” She shrugged. “It’s relatively healthy, certainly healthier than a burger, and that way we don’t have to cook. ”

  The last part was the nail in the coffin of Anders’s resistance. Valerie was injured and still recovering and Leigh was pregnant and had been complaining of swollen feet. Neither woman should be on her feet working in a kitchen. As for him, he didn’t know a damned thing about cooking. It made stopping for dinner the logical solution. Anders liked logic.

  “Very well. We’ll stop for takeout at Swiss Chalet,” he said and was rewarded with a smile from Valerie.

  “Don’t bother ordering meals for Bricker and me,” Marguerite said moments later, putting away her phone as Anders pulled in to the Swiss Chalet drive-thru. “Bricker has to take me back to the Enforcer house to collect my car. Julius just texted and his plane lands in an hour. I want to go home and spruce myself up before he arrives. ”

  “Julius is Marguerite’s husband,” Anders told Valerie as Bricker groaned in the backseat about missing out.

  “Oh. ” She smiled at him and then turned to pet Roxy as the dog shifted restlessly and tried to look out the window as the SUV came to a halt.

  “Not home yet,” Valerie told the animal, rubbing her ears as she added, “Soon. ”

  The dog settled back and eyed Anders balefully, as if blaming him for the delay in getting somewhere where she could get out and stretch her legs. Shaking his head at the thought, Anders glanced around. “What am I ordering?”

  “A quarter-chicken dinner, white meat, for me,” Leigh announced.

  “Me too,” Valerie said.

  Nodding, Anders turned to the speaker box as a muffl
ed voice asked what he’d like. Unsure what he’d like, he simply followed the ladies’ lead and said, “Three quarter-chicken dinners. All white meat. ”

  “Make it four, Anders,” Leigh piped up suddenly. “Lucian will probably be hungry when he gets home. ”

  He changed the order. If they were lucky, the food might mitigate some of Lucian’s anger over his taking the women to Cambridge. He doubted it, but one could hope, Anders thought as he drove around to the window to pay and claim their order.

  “Damn, that smells good,” Bricker said as Anders set the bags of food on the floor between the front seats several moments later.

  Anders didn’t respond, but silently agreed. It smelled damned good and made his stomach tighten with what he suspected was hunger. That was something he hadn’t felt in a long time. He wasn’t sure he liked feeling it now. But he was beginning to understand how finding a life mate could mess with a man’s instincts. Smells that he used to hardly notice now seemed to bring about physical reactions in him that were extremely distracting. And Valerie? He glanced to her to find her looking at him. When she smiled, he felt his own lips crack into a crooked smile in response, and then he quickly turned forward again.

  This life mate business wasn’t anything like he’d expected. In fact, he wasn’t at all sure Valerie really was his life mate. His gaze slid to her again. She’d taken the sweatshirt off as they’d left Cambridge, leaving her in her own T-shirt and jeans. She had a good figure and he thought she was pretty, but he’d met thousands of prettier women in his life. And then there was the fact that Decker, Mortimer, and the others he’d witnessed with life mates couldn’t seem to get enough of their women, but he didn’t look at Valerie and have any great urge to “jump her bones,” as Bricker would call it.

  However, he was eating again, and when he’d taken her hand to help her into the truck earlier, he had felt a strange shock of awareness race up his arm and through his body. She’d felt it too. He was pretty sure about that. It hadn’t been the first time either, and it made him want to touch her again and see what would happen.

  Anders shook his head at his own confused thoughts. Was she a life mate or not?

  “Of course, she is,” Marguerite said softly behind him, and Anders grimaced at her being able to read his mind. Another sign of meeting a life mate. Damn.

  “I’ll help you bring Valerie’s things in before I take Marguerite back,” Bricker offered as Anders parked in front of Lucian and Leigh’s house several minutes later.

  “No need,” Anders said, turning off the engine and opening his door. “I can handle it. ”

  Leaving Bricker to open the side door and help the women out, Anders walked around to the back of the SUV to retrieve the backpack, computer case, and duffel bag they’d brought back. He slung those over one shoulder, then reached for the bag of dog food and the grocery bag holding dog dishes and other doggie accessories as well.

  “You can’t carry all that,” Valerie protested, coming around the back of the SUV with the Swiss Chalet bags in hand and Roxy at her side. She grabbed the dog bed and tried to take a bag from him, but he shook his head.

  “I’m fine,” he assured her, nudging the SUV door closed with his elbow, and then nodding her toward the house.

  Shaking her head at his stubbornness, she turned toward the house, but paused beside Leigh at the front of the SUV to say good-bye to Marguerite and Bricker and thank them for all their help today. Anders waited patiently for the women to finish their nattering, and then followed Leigh and Valerie inside the house as Marguerite and Bricker got back in the SUV.

  “Roxy might need to go out,” Valerie said with a frown as Anders set down her bags and closed and locked the front door.

  “That’s okay. We’re going out too,” Leigh said cheerfully. “I thought we’d eat on the verandah. ”

  “Oh, that sounds nice. ” Valerie smiled and followed Leigh toward the back of the house with Roxy trailing her.

  Leaving Valerie’s bags for later, Anders grabbed the dog food and the bag with Roxy’s things and followed the women.

  While the women headed out onto the verandah, Anders stopped in the kitchen to fill one of the dog dishes with water and the other with food before joining them.

  “Oh, that was nice of you. Thank you,” Valerie said with surprise when she turned from watching Roxy nose curiously around the backyard and saw that Anders had brought food and water for the dog. Grimacing, she added, “I should have thought of it myself. ”

  “You were carrying the human food,” Anders said with a shrug as he set the dishes on the edge of the covered verandah. Straightening, he glanced to Leigh, who was setting out the plastic containers on the patio table. “I’ll get drinks. What would you ladies like?”
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