The lady is a vamp, p.14
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       The Lady is a Vamp, p.14

         Part #17 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands
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Chapter Fourteen


  Paul hurried around the side of the cottage, his heart in his throat. He'd sat down to watch over Livy as Eshe and Nicholas had left, but moments later had become aware of a terrible need to relieve himself. He'd decided that it wouldn't hurt to step into the bathroom next door. Livy was resting peacefully now, and her blood bag had just been changed. Leaving her alone for one minute shouldn't cause any problems . . . or so he'd thought. He hadn't been gone long, just the amount of time it took to go to take care of the matter and then splash cold water on his face and dry it off. But he'd returned to the room to find Livy missing, the fresh bag of blood torn open and lying empty on the floor beside the bed.

  He'd whirled and hurried out of the room then, pausing when he noticed the open screen door that faced onto the lake. While this was technically a basement, the cottage was on a slight incline. The basement was half above ground and a small area had been dug out and reinforced so that a door could be installed along with a short six-step stairwell up to the backyard.

  Cursing, Paul had hurried to the door and out, desperate to find his daughter.

  It had only taken a quick glance to realize she wasn't in the backyard or on the beach. Now Paul was rushing around the side of the cottage, very aware that the sun was hot and strong and Livy shouldn't be out in it.

  A car was pulling into the driveway as Paul came around the front of the cottage, but he hardly paid it any attention. His sole focus was on the two girls by the edge of the road. Livy and Kirsten, standing by the dead bird that they'd thought was just sleeping. Only their focus wasn't on the bird now. Instead the two girls seemed to be tussling, and as he hurried forward, Kirsten managed to push Livy away and ran for home shrieking, "She tried to bite me!"

  Livy was off at once, rushing after her with hands extended and fingers clawed. Her fangs were out.

  "Oh God," Paul muttered and hurried forward to intervene. He managed to catch Livy around the waist just as she was lunging at Kirsten's back. He immediately swung her up into his arms and held her in front of his face, and then froze at his first sight of her. Her eyes were glowing silver, her fangs were out, she was growling like a rabid dog and there was blood around her mouth, whether it was from chewing open the blood bag or biting Kirsten, he couldn't tell.

  "Livy?" he said with amazement, and cried out when she suddenly lunged at him. Paul didn't react quickly enough, wouldn't have been able to stop her. But he didn't have to. She was plucked from his hold before she got to his throat.

  Blinking, Paul stared at the man now holding his daughter-tall, fair-haired, blue eyes burning silver, and his body and stance radiating confidence and strength. He was impressive and intimidating.

  The man took one look at Livy and she suddenly passed out in his hold. He then glanced briefly at Paul before looking past him and saying, "Handle the mortals, Anders. "

  Paul glanced over his shoulder to see the Enforcer nod and turn to follow the path Kirsten had taken. He then peered back to his daughter as the blond man shifted her against his chest and eyed Paul.

  "Not quite what you were expecting is it, mortal?" he asked grimly. "All you were thinking of was Livy healthy and well. A happy ever after. It didn't occur to you that she'd change. That it might be a nightmare rather than a dream. "

  "She-" Paul began, and then paused as a very pregnant brunette reached them and brushed her hand along the blond man's arm.

  "She's his daughter, Lucian," she said softly.

  Paul stiffened at the name. So this was Jeanne Louise's uncle, the man who would decide his fate. The guy was one scary dude.

  "He loves her," the brunette continued. "And Jeanne Louise too. What would you have done to save your daughters in Atlantis? And what would you do to save the child I carry now?"

  Lucian Argeneau glanced to the woman, taking in her pleading expression, and then turned back to Paul. He wasn't exactly softer, but he was more relaxed suddenly. His eyes no longer seemed on fire, and the power he radiated was now muted, still there, but not raging.

  "Livy isn't herself right now," Lucian said quietly. "She's still in the turn. What you just witnessed wasn't really your daughter. She probably wasn't even fully conscious. Once the turn is done and she's recovered she'll be the girl you remember. Mostly," he added dryly, then shifted Livy against his chest so that he only needed one hand to hold her. It freed his other to clasp the brunette's elbow and urge her toward the cottage. "Come. "

  Paul released a shaky breath and followed. He'd now met Lucian Argeneau. And he was still alive. So far.

  Jeanne Louise stared at the empty bed, and then scanned the room as if the father and daughter might be playing hide-and-seek with her, but knew they weren't. They were gone. Both of them and the only thing that made sense was that Paul had grabbed Livy and run rather than risk Lucian's wrath.

  She could understand that. She was immortal and a relative and her uncle terrified her. Paul was mortal, presently looked on as Public Enemy Number One by her people, and in a heap of trouble. Jeanne Louise could understand his running. What she didn't understand was why he hadn't taken her.

  Swallowing, she turned and moved out of the room, unable to bear being there alone anymore. Moving without thinking, she started upstairs, her mind sluggish and stunned. She had no intention of revealing that he was gone. She'd do what she could to help him make his escape and simply keep quiet, Jeanne Louise decided, but had barely stepped off the stairs onto the main floor when Anders and Bricker were on their feet and rushing past her.

  It was then she realized just how stunned she had been at Paul's abandoning her. She'd forgotten that new life mates were very easily read. She probably also looked rather stricken, Jeanne Louise supposed, and that everyone would have wondered why she was back so quickly. She supposed she probably would have helped Paul more by staying downstairs for a bit.

  "The blood bag is mangled on the floor beside the bed and the screen door is open. "

  Jeanne Louise glanced to Bricker at that announcement as he returned from downstairs.

  "Anders went after them while I came to report," Bricker added, as he crossed to the kitchen door. "I'm going to help him loo-"

  Bricker paused abruptly, then pulled the door open and stepped out of the way as Leigh entered with Lucian behind her, a sleeping Livy in his arms. Paul was right behind them, Jeanne Louise saw. She was torn between being happy to see him and upset that he hadn't managed to get away. There was also a little wanting to smack him silly for leaving her behind. Nice mix, she thought dryly, and had to clutch the back of the chair she'd stopped behind to keep from running to him.

  Her gaze slid back to her uncle as he passed Livy to Bricker.

  "Take her downstairs, hook her back up to the IV and give her more drugs," Lucian ordered. "Take the father with you, and stay until someone replaces you. "

  Bricker nodded and waited for Paul to lead the way, then followed without comment when he started across the room.

  Paul's eyes sought hers as he passed. He offered her a weak smile in passing, but she couldn't respond in kind. Jeanne Louise turned and watched as the two men walked to the stairs and disappeared down into the basement.

  Once they were gone, she turned back to find Lucian eyeing her. She could tell by the way his eyes were narrowed that he was reading her thoughts. Knowing she couldn't stop him, Jeanne Louise simply waited for him to finish.

  "He didn't abandon you," Lucian announced abruptly after a moment. "Livy woke up and went outside while he was in the bathroom and he went out after her. It was stupid. He should have shouted for help, but the man is used to being on his own and the only one responsible for Livy. "

  Jeanne Louise's eyes widened and she sagged briefly with relief at the knowledge that Paul hadn't left her. But then she forced herself to straighten and eye her uncle warily. Lucian Argeneau was the true hard case among immortals, and he would be the one to decide Paul's fate,
which decided her own. She couldn't afford to be weak now.

  "I love Paul, Uncle," Jeanne Louise said quietly when he didn't speak. "He's my life mate, and he loves me too, I think. "

  "I know he does," Lucian said calmly, not looking impressed by the knowledge.

  Jeanne Louise bit her lip, and then added, "I know he shouldn't have kidnapped me, but I was a willing victim the moment I realized I couldn't read him. There were several points I could have left and didn't. I even helped him evade the Enforcers when we returned from dinner and I spotted their SUVs on his street. " She straightened a little and added pleadingly, "Surely, as the supposed victim in this, if I don't wish him punished, he shouldn't be?"

  When Lucian merely raised an eyebrow at the suggestion, she added unhappily, "I can't turn him now, thanks to Bricker. We can never be proper life mates. Isn't that punishment enough?"

  "You can still be together, Jeanne Louise," Lucian said quietly.

  "Sure for ten, twenty, maybe even thirty or forty years if we're lucky," Jeanne Louise said bitterly. "A heartbeat out of my life. And during those few short decades I get to watch him wither and die the slow mortal death of aging. " Her mouth tightened at the thought, and she said, "In truth, that's probably more punishing than anything you could come up with. "

  She felt a hand on her shoulder and glanced around to see that her father had moved up behind her to offer his comfort and support. For some reason his offered strength suddenly made it hard to fight back her tears. Turning back to Lucian, she took a shaky breath and said, "Paul's a good man, Uncle. What he did, he did out of desperation, for the love of his daughter. He didn't know our laws, didn't know what he would be asking of one of us and he never hurt me. In fact, he did everything he could to see to my comfort from the start. The only reason you even figured out it was him was because he was concerned with my comfort and refused to put me in the trunk of his car when he switched vehicles. "

  Nicholas had admitted as much as they'd sat watching over Livy through the night. As she'd speculated, they'd checked traffic cameras around the parking lot where Paul had left her car and switched her to his own. They'd spotted her unconscious in the front seat of his car, got the license number and used that to get his name and address and particulars.

  "Fine," Lucian said abruptly, drawing her attention.

  Jeanne Louise peered at him uncertainly. "Fine? What does that mean?"

  "He lives and keeps his daughter as well as his memories," Lucian said, and then added solemnly, "That's punishment enough. "

  Jeanne Louise felt her father squeeze her shoulder, but just stared at Lucian.

  As expected he wasn't done. "However, the minute, and I mean the very minute, that the girl is through the turn I want the three of you on a plane to Toronto. I'll have someone pick you up and take you to Marguerite's. "

  "Aunt Marguerite's?" Jeanne Louise said with surprise, aware that Etienne had gone still at mention of his mother. "Why?"

  "Because she obviously knew what Paul was up to when she ran into him before he kidnapped you, and rather than tell me so that I could do anything about it, she merely gave him a nudge in your direction," he said dryly.

  Jeanne Louise's eyebrows rose at these words. With everything else on her mind the memory of that conversation with Paul hadn't been on the top of her memories. Her uncle had done a thorough search when he'd read her mind. That or the memory had been on the surface of Paul's mind for some reason.

  "Since Marguerite helped bring about all this," Lucian continued dryly. "She can help with the fallout and at least start training Livy to be an immortal. "

  Jeanne Louise bit her lip, but nodded in consent. She liked her aunt, and knew Paul did too. And she was sure Livy would love the woman, but . . . "How long do we have to stay with Aunt Marguerite?"

  "Until I decide what to do with Livy," he said bluntly.

  "Do with her?" Jeanne Louise asked worriedly.

  "Well she can't go back to her normal life, can she?" he asked dryly. "She can't go back to her school, can't play all day outside in the sun with friends in her neighborhood, can't live the same life she had before. But she needs an education. "

  "Yes," Jeanne Louise agreed with a frown. She hadn't really considered that problem.

  "And what I decide for Livy depends on whether you and Paul stay together or not," Lucian added, bringing her eyes sharply back to his. Meeting her gaze he said, "I'm not entirely sure you will. "

  "But he's my life mate," she said weakly.

  "And he's mortal," Lucian said quietly. "We're similar in many ways to mortals, but there are differences, Jeanne Louise, and every minute you spend with him will make those differences clearer to you. He's weaker than you physically, more fragile. He'll get ill, or he'll hurt himself, and even if by some good luck he doesn't, he'll age and wither . . . I'm not entirely sure you can stand by and watch that. It will most likely tear you apart inside. And if he is injured and dying, I'm not positive that in that moment you will be able to resist saving him with a turn as you did Livy. " He paused and then added grimly, "And if you did that, you'd be forfeiting your own life. Until I'm sure you won't do that, I want someone around to protect you from yourself. "

  "I . . . " Jeanne Louise paused and frowned, unsure herself if she could stand by and watch Paul die.

  "Of course, the two of you parting leads to other problems," Lucian continued. "It's difficult for a mortal to raise an immortal. Children pick up skills like reading and controlling mortals faster than adult turns, and faster than their conscience and sensibilities form. Paul trying to raise her on his own would be like a monkey trying to raise a child. Before this year is out, she'll be running circles around him, controlling him and doing what she wants if an immortal isn't there to stop her. I won't allow that either. I have no desire to hunt down a child rogue my niece turned. "

  Jeanne Louise bit her lip. She hadn't considered any of this in that moment when she'd turned Livy. She hadn't considered anything but saving the girl, for Paul, but also for herself, because she'd come to love the sweet little blond child.

  "So," Lucian said quietly, "The three of you will stay with Marguerite until I say otherwise. Or until you part and I make alternate arrangements for Paul and Livy . . . understood?"

  Jeanne Louise gave a jerky nod, her mind reeling under the weight of all the problems he'd just made clear to her. She hadn't thought of a single one of them before this, and wasn't happy to have to contemplate them now.

  "Good. As long as we're clear," Lucian said and then glanced to Anders as he arrived at the cottage door behind them. Urging Leigh out of the way for the man to enter, he asked, "Everything all right next door?"

  Anders nodded. "Livy didn't manage to bite the neighbor girl. I wiped her memory anyway and then checked around to be sure no one else had witnessed the attack. "

  "Good," Lucian said, and then announced, "I want you and Bricker to escort Jeanne Louise, Paul, and Livy to Marguerite's after the girl's done her turn. Call when it's time and I'll send a plane for the five of you. "

  Anders nodded, but Lucian had already turned to the others in the room.

  "Armand, I'm guessing you'll stay till they leave?" Lucian asked.

  "Yes," he said quietly, squeezing Jeanne Louise's shoulder.

  Lucian obviously wasn't surprised. He turned his gaze to the other two couples. "Can you bring back the SUVs Bricker and Anders were in?"

  There were murmurs of agreement at once. While Anders and Bricker had been solo, Nicolas and Jo had ridden together as had Etienne and Rachel, but the couples would drive back separately to return the SUVs to Toronto.

  Lucian didn't thank them or even comment, he merely nodded, took Leigh's arm, and led her from the cottage without even bothering to say good-bye. No one was terribly surprised, but there was a collective sigh of relief amongst the group once the door closed behind the couple. It was rather obvious how tense they'd all been as a g
roup, as if they'd all been holding their breath and were only now breathing again.

  Jeanne Louise, though, wasn't sure she would ever breathe again. She knew she should be happy that Paul wasn't going to be punished, but all she felt was worry, and anxiety and a terrible weight pressing down on her as she contemplated the future. Sighing, she ran one hand wearily through her hair. "I should go tell Paul-"

  "Why don't you go get some rest and let me do that?" her father suggested quietly. "While the rest of us took shifts and caught naps, you didn't sleep at all last night. "

  She hadn't wanted to leave Livy. Jeanne Louise hadn't wanted the five-year-old to wake up hurting and confused to find herself in a room full of strangers. As it had turned out, however, Livy hadn't woken up until after they'd left, and now Jeanne Louise was exhausted. But that wasn't why she was tempted to accept her father's offer. She just didn't think she could face Paul right now without bursting into tears or something else just as weak and ridiculous. Just hours ago she'd been the happiest she'd ever been in her life, sure her future was set, and now that rosy future was a shambles around her and all she wanted was to sleep.

  However, her father was pretty angry at Paul over the whole business and she didn't trust him not to use the opportunity against him.

  "I'll be nice," Armand Argeneau said dryly, obviously still reading her thoughts. He then added, "I promise. "

  Jeanne Louise hesitated, but was just so bloody tired and depressed. She needed sleep . . . and time alone to sort out her thoughts . . . and a good cry. Not necessarily in that order. Sighing, she nodded and then simply turned and left the room to head to the master bedroom and the bed that waited there.

  Paul was seated in a chair on one side of the bed, avoiding looking at Justin Bricker who occupied a chair on the other. The two men hadn't exchanged a word since coming down here. Bricker seemed lost in his own thoughts, and Paul was just too upset at that point to want to talk. That scene with Livy outside just kept replaying in his head like some horrible nightmare and he was left wondering what he'd done to his daughter.

  And it had been him, no matter that Jeanne Louise had turned her. He'd kidnapped her to have her do that. But the blood-covered mad thing that had chased after Kirsten and then lunged for his own throat like some mindless fiend hadn't been his sweet child. And the blond man's words kept playing through his head too.

  Not quite what you were expecting is it, mortal? All you were thinking of was Livy healthy and well. A happy ever after. It didn't occur to you that she'd change. That it might be a nightmare rather than a dream.

  That was exactly how Paul felt, like his life had become a nightmare, and one he'd brought on himself. The man had then said something about Livy not being herself at the moment and still being in the turn. That she probably wasn't even really conscious, and once the turn was done she'd be the girl he remembered. "Mostly. " But Paul didn't find that very reassuring. What had the man meant by mostly? He kept asking himself that, as well as wondering what he had done to his daughter.

  The sound of the door opening caught his attention and he glanced to it, expecting it to be Jeanne Louise. He was actually relieved when it was her father instead. Paul didn't think he could face her right now. He was too upset, and was wondering if immortals were as human as they seemed.

  "We're human," Armand Argeneau said dryly and then glanced to Bricker and said, "Go have your sandwich. I need to talk to him. "

  Bricker stood at once and left the room, leaving the two men alone.

  Paul waited until the door had closed behind the Enforcer before glancing to Armand, who was moving around to take the Enforcer's vacated seat. Once the man was seated, he said, "Let me guess. I've been found guilty of kidnapping and sentenced to death. "

  "No," Armand said quietly. "You've been found guilty of kidnapping and sentenced to live. "

  Paul stared at him, knowing he should feel relieved but he was just numb at the moment, his thoughts so full of horror and confusion he couldn't feel anything else. "So what are they going to do? Take Livy away from me to be raised by immortals?"

  "Is that what you want?" Armand asked.

  Paul turned to peer at his daughter. She looked as sweet and innocent now as she had from the day she was born, like the same child he'd been willing to give his life for as recently as that morning. The scene in the front yard had taken him aback though. He wasn't sure who or what she was anymore. Except that she was his daughter, his little Livy. He hoped.

  "No," he said finally.

  Armand relaxed back in his seat. "Lucian was telling the truth when he said what you saw in the front yard wasn't her. She's still in the turn. Her brain is scrambled at the moment. She wouldn't have been capable of cognitive reasoning or even realize what she was doing. Once it's done she'll be your Livy again. "

  "Mostly," Paul muttered bitterly.

  "There will be some differences, of course," Armand allowed. "She'll be stronger, faster, resistant to illness and even death. And she'll need to feed like the rest of us do. "

  Paul grimaced at the word feed.

  "On bagged blood," Armand said dryly. "Though she'll need to be trained in feeding off the hoof too so that if there's ever a situation where she has no access to bagged blood and needs to feed from the source, she can do so without unduly harming or even killing her donor. "

  "Right," Paul said wearily.

  "But there won't be any change in her personality," Armand said quietly. "She'll wake up liking the same things she did before and she'll still love you. "

  Paul swallowed and nodded, relieved to hear that.

  "So, Lucian decided you wouldn't be punished," Armand said solemnly. "He's arranging for you, your daughter, and my daughter to be flown back to Toronto once the turn is done, and taken to Marguerite's. "

  Paul blinked at this news. "Bastien's mother, Marguerite?"

  Armand nodded. "My sister-in-law. The three of you will stay with her while Livy is trained. "

  "And then?" Paul asked.

  Armand hesitated and then said, "That depends on you and Jeanne Louise. "

  Paul's eyes narrowed at the words. "What do you mean?"

  "Whether you decide to stay together or not," he said solemnly.

  "I love her," Paul said simply and it was true. While he was confused about the difference between immortals and mortals right now and worried about how it would affect Livy, he did love Jeanne Louise.

  "And she loves you," Armand said. "But sometimes love isn't enough and this could very well be one of those times. "

  "Why?" he asked at once, anger beginning to stir in him at the very suggestion.

  "Because you're mortal. "

  "So I'm not good enough for her," Paul guessed.

  For some reason that amused Armand, and then he pointed out, "When I entered the room you weren't even sure immortals weren't a bunch of monsters after all. "

  "That was just because Livy-" He shook his head, not even wanting to remember her in those moments. "But you said that wasn't her. That she'll be fine. "

  "So now you think my daughter is the woman you thought she was after all," Armand reasoned and nodded. "She is. Jeanne Louise is smart, sensible, loving, and compassionate. And she loves you. And you're mortal. "

  Paul stared at him blankly, uncomprehending.

  "What do you think she would do if you fell in front of her and broke your back, or neck, or if you were hit by a car, or just anything of that nature happened?"

  Paul frowned. "She'd try to help me. "

  "She'd probably turn you," Armand said grimly. "She wouldn't even think, she'd just rip open a vein and turn you on the spot rather than lose you. And if she did that she'd be put to death. "

  Paul sat back in his seat weakly.

  "On the other hand, most mortals live their whole lives without deadly accidents occurring and live to a ripe old age," Armand said on a sigh. "And then she'd simply have to
stand by and watch you die of cancer, heart disease, or just plain old age. "

  "People die of old age all the time. It's the natural way," Paul said quietly.

  "For mortals it is," Armand agreed. "But Jeanne Louise isn't mortal, and time seems different to us. Because we live so long, time doesn't pass for us like it does for you. Or perhaps it doesn't really for you either. "

  "What do you mean?"

  Armand hesitated and then said, "Twenty years seems like a long time, doesn't it?"

  Paul nodded.

  "But twenty years ago you were-What? Nineteen?" When Paul nodded, he asked, "Does it really feel like twenty years have passed since then?"

  Paul blinked at the question. In truth it didn't. Sometimes he wondered where the time had gone.

  "If you stay together, Jeanne Louise will have to watch you wither and die over decades, something you couldn't bear to do even for weeks with Livy," he pointed out.

  "You think I should let her go," Paul said solemnly, and felt his heart pang at the very thought.

  "No," Armand said. "My daughter loves you. You are her life mate. And she gave up her turn for your daughter after all. She should get something out of it, even if it's just a couple of decades with you. " He sighed and then straightened his shoulders and said grimly, "But if you love her, you'll make it clear that you don't ever want her to give up her life to turn and save you. And you'll make sure she never does. "
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