Immortal ever after, p.16
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       Immortal Ever After, p.16

         Part #18 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands
Page 16


  Anders was sitting reading in the living room when Valerie followed Leigh into the room. She cast one nervous glance his way, then focused on the woman in front of her.

  “Go ahead and go see how the temperature of the water is. I’m just going to grab some suntan lotion for us,” Leigh said, suddenly veering toward the kitchen.

  Valerie hesitated briefly, but then continued resolutely to the French doors and outside, Roxy on her heels. It was only as she closed the door and inhaled that she realized she’d been holding her breath since entering the kitchen/living room.

  “You can quit pretending. She’s outside. ”

  Anders glanced up innocently from the book. “What makes you think I was pretending?”

  “Well, it’s that or you’ve taken a sudden interest in The Joy of Pregnancy,” she said dryly, retrieving the suntan lotion from a kitchen drawer.

  Anders flipped the book over with dismay to stare at the cover. It was indeed The Joy of Pregnancy.

  Closing the drawer, Leigh added, “And you were reading it upside down. ”

  Cursing under his breath, Anders tossed the book on the coffee table and stood up. “So, you’re going swimming?”

  “That’s right. You can thank me later,” she added, heading for the French doors.

  “What for?” he asked with a frown.

  “Go change into a swimsuit and come out in about ten minutes. I’m going to be exhausted and get out and you’ll have to stay to watch Valerie. ” She put a hand on the doorknob, but paused and looked back. “But remember what I said and go easy with her. ”

  Anders watched her leave, and then hurried upstairs to his room to change into his swim trunks, glad he’d thought to throw them in when he’d packed his bag. The house had come with the pool when Lucian bought it, and Anders knew he’d often used it at night, but after marrying Leigh he’d put an awning over it that blocked the UV rays and not the sun. It allowed her to swim in sunlight without having to ramp up the amount of blood she needed. It was an awesome experience and Anders had been seriously considering putting in a pool at his place with the same setup.

  That wasn’t why he was eagerly yanking off his clothes and dragging on his swim trunks though. He’d have risked the sun to swim with Valerie. Although, swimming wasn’t what was on his mind. Holding her nearly nude and wet body in his arms in the sun-warmed water was what was making him as eager as a teenage boy.

  Anders padded out of his room and back downstairs, but paused at the French doors. Leigh had said ten minutes. Did that mean he shouldn’t go out before ten minutes had passed? Shifting impatiently, he glanced at his wristwatch, only to realize he hadn’t checked it earlier. By his guess it had taken him thirty seconds to hurry upstairs, thirty seconds to hurry down, and maybe two minutes to change his clothes. Or three, he thought. So he maybe had another six minutes.

  He patted his leg impatiently, eyes narrowing on the women. Both of them were already in the pool, only their heads visible as they talked and laughed. When Valerie turned and suddenly disappeared under the water, Anders checked his watch. Only two minutes had passed since he’d arrived at the door.

  “Screw it,” he muttered and headed out.

  Leigh was mounting the steps out of the pool by the time he reached it. Snatching up one of the towels that lay neatly folded on the lawn chair closest to the steps, Anders carried it over to her.

  “Perfect timing,” Leigh announced as he took her arm to ensure she didn’t lose her footing as she stepped onto the pool surround. “She’s swimming laps, so can’t protest my leaving or announce she’s tired and escape with me. ”

  “Marguerite’s rubbing off on you,” Anders said dryly.

  “Flattery, Anders? Really?” she said, grinning as she accepted the towel he now held out. Leigh didn’t bother drying herself, simply wrapped it around her torso and headed for the house. “Have fun. I’m lying down for a nap. All this fresh air has just exhausted me. ”

  Anders smiled at her exaggerated tone of voice, glad Valerie didn’t hear it. She would have known right away that the woman was just clearing the way for them to spend time alone. Speaking of which . . .

  Turning, he eyed Valerie in the pool. She was on a return lap, swimming toward his end of the pool, her arms knifing through the water, legs kicking below the surface, and body beautiful in a royal blue two-piece swimsuit.

  Anders had always liked women with some meat on them and Valerie had that. She’d never walk the runways in Paris, but she’d featured pretty constantly in the runways in his head since their kiss that morning. Constantly. Only she wasn’t on a runway, and she wasn’t wearing anything, let alone the latest fashions.

  Damn. He was just as bad as the other immortal men he’d seen fall under the life mate spell, Anders acknowledged. He’d been pretty smug as he’d watched the others flounder at work, unable to concentrate and focus on anything but their life mate. It made him grateful no one was here to witness his own idiocy but Leigh and Lucian. Neither of them would tease or taunt him over this . . . much. But Bricker? Oh yeah. The young immortal would love to have something over him.

  Valerie touched this end of the pool wall, took a breath, did a half somersault in the water and pushed off the pool to propel herself toward the opposite end. Anders watched her go, and then walked down the steps into the water, enjoying the cool liquid sliding up over his feet, calves, knees, thighs— Yeehaw! The pool was sun-warmed, but still cooler than his skin and the first splash of it against his groin was a shocking awakening. Damn. It was almost enough to dampen his hunger for Valerie. Almost being the key word in that thought, Anders acknowledged with a wry, self-deprecating smile as he moved through the water to stand where she had turned at the end of her last lap. He then simply stood and waited as she did her flipping thing at the other end and started back.

  Anders was actually disappointed when Valerie paused little more than halfway back and surfaced. Pushing the hair and water off her face, she glanced around, no doubt in search of Leigh as she laughed and said, “Geez, two weeks makes a difference. I can’t do half the laps I used t—”

  Her voice died, her smile fading as she noted that Leigh was missing and Anders was now submerged in the water ahead of her. Swallowing noticeably, she asked, “Where—?”

  “Leigh tires easily right now,” Anders answered, interrupting the question. He started to move toward her through the water, adding, “She asked me to spot you. ”

  “Oh. ” Her expression growing wary, Valerie moved sideways toward the side of the pool. “Well, I should probably get out too then. ”

  “There’s no need,” Anders said, stopping where he was and giving her space. “Besides, if you get out, who’s going to spot me?”

  Valerie paused, looking uncertain. “Leigh said you don’t swim. ”

  “Well she was wrong, and I’d like a couple laps myself if you’re willing to stick around and keep an eye on me. It’s never good to swim alone, and I need the exercise or I get flabby. ” It was a bald-faced lie. Nothing he did would ever make him flabby, but his words had the effect he’d hope for. Her eyes widened and dropped over what was visible of his chest above the water line.

  “You? Flabby? Yeah right,” Valerie said with a snort of derision. “How many hours a day do you work out to get that twelve pack? Ten, fifteen hours?”

  Anders chuckled and shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t take much credit. Just lucky enough to have an extraordinary metabolism. ” That wasn’t entirely true. He did work out some to improve on the lean and mean body the nanos gave him.

  “Really?” Valerie asked with disgust. “Mind loaning me that metabolism for a while?”

  Anders grinned. He’d like to give it to her for life, a very long life, but didn’t say so. Instead he said, “Why? You have a beautiful body. ”

  Valerie grimaced. “No one mentioned you had vision problems. ”

“And no one told me you had body image problems,” he countered gently.

  She smiled wryly. “I don’t think there’s a woman on the planet who doesn’t. If they aren’t skinny and wanting to be bigger, they’re bigger wanting to be smaller. The ones in between want bigger breasts, or think they don’t have hips, or they have a fat butt, or, or, or. ” She sighed. “Truly, we are in an era of women made neurotic about our bodies. ”

  Anders could have told her she was right. He’d read enough female minds to know there were a very few who didn’t have some complaint about their figure. At least mortal women did. Immortal women, on the other hand, were a different creature. They knew the nanos made them their optimal self, with a body in peak condition. It took away the possibility of self-criticism. It was rather like scoring high on an IQ test. With scientific results saying you were smart, it was hard to feel stupid. In the same way, knowing that you had a perfect body made it hard to imagine you were fat, or imperfect physically. Of course, it didn’t stop them thinking they had a big nose, or thin lips or a myriad other imperfections, but at least it cut out a portion of the self-flagellation humans seemed determined to torment themselves with.

  “What’s ‘Anders’ short for?”

  He blinked his thoughts away and glanced to Valerie. She was looking more relaxed now that he wasn’t approaching, and her head was tipped curiously as she waited for his answer.

  Apparently he wasn’t quick enough answering, because she went on, “Or is it your last name like you call Justin by his last name Bricker?”

  “It’s a short form of my last name,” he answered.

  Her eyebrows rose. “Which is?”

  “Andronnikov. ”

  That made her eyes widen. “What’s your first name?”

  He was silent for a moment, but suspected now that she knew she didn’t even know his first name, Valerie would hardly be willing to kiss him again, let alone anything else if he didn’t tell her. Women could be funny about wanting to know the name of the guy sticking their tongue down her throat while groping her. “My first name is Semen. ”

  She blinked several times at this news, and then simply breathed, “Oh dear. ”

  At least she wasn’t laughing, Anders thought wryly, and explained, “It’s Basque in origin. Based on the word for son. ”

  “I see,” she murmured.

  “Everyone just calls me Anders. ”

  “Yes, I can see why,” she muttered, and then cleared her throat and said, “So your father was Russian, and your mother Basque and neither of them spoke English?”

  “What makes you think that?”

  “Well it’s that or they had a sick sense of humor,” she said dryly. “That’s like naming a daughter Ova. Worse even. I’m surprised you survived high school with a name like that. ”

  “Actually, I’ve met a couple of women named Ova over the years,” Anders said with amusement.

  “Dear God,” she muttered.

  Anders chuckled and moved sideways, not drawing any closer, but moving to grip the edge of the pool as she was doing so that they faced each other with their sides to the pool rim.

  Valerie smiled, and then said, “So were you raised in Basque Country or Russia or Canada?”

  “Russia to start,” he answered solemnly, easing a step closer in the water.

  She nodded, seemingly unsurprised and said, “You have a bit of an accent. Not a thick one, but a bit of it. I figured you weren’t raised here from birth. ”

  “No, I came here later,” Anders acknowledged. Much later, but he kept that to himself for now and eased another step closer.

  “And is there a Mrs. Andronnikov?”

  The question startled him, and made him pause mid-step. Affronted by the very question, he said stiffly, “I would hardly have kissed you earlier if I was married. ”

  “Good to know,” she said and glanced away almost shyly.

  Anders took advantage of her lack of attention and closed the distance between them. When Valerie turned back, he was only inches away. Close enough to grab her arm and pull her into his embrace, but he didn’t. This was him trying not to rush and scare her off. His best behavior. It was damned hard. He really just wanted to kiss her, rip her bathing suit off, and take her there in the water up against the side of the pool.

  Of course, he couldn’t do that without endangering her life. She’d surely drown at the end when they both went into the life mate post-coital faint. That knowledge was enough to make Anders behave himself.

  “What made you decide to be a vet?” he asked to distract her from his nearness.

  Valerie smiled faintly, some of the tension that had gripped her when she saw how close he was, easing. “I think every girl wants to be a vet and take care of sick and injured animals when she’s little,” she said wryly and then shrugged. “I just never grew out of it. ”
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