The reluctant vampire, p.16
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       The Reluctant Vampire, p.16
 

         Part #15 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands
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Chapter Sixteen

 

  "That's it," Harper murmured, slowing and pointing to a large two-story redbrick building.

  "Don't stop. I don't want to scare her off if she's here," Drina said quietly. "Drive around the block. We'll find somewhere to park and walk back. "

  Harper eased his foot down on the gas, speeding up a bit to cruise up the road. At the corner, he turned right, then slowed to a stop as they passed the mouth of an alley that ran behind the houses.

  "What do you think?" he asked quietly. "We could park on the road here and walk up the alley. "

  Drina nodded silently and unbuckled her seat belt as he parked. Her gaze slid out the window to the lightening horizon. It had taken them far longer than the expected two hours to get here to Windsor and it was almost seven o'clock. There had been an accident on the highway. Emergency vehicles had blocked off the highway, stopping traffic completely while they'd removed the injured and the cars and cleaned up the mess.

  They'd actually hit the city half an hour ago, but then they'd had to find a pay phone and phone book to look up the McGills. There had been a handful listed, but Drina hadn't known Stephanie's father's name so they'd had to check almost all of them. As it turned out, Stephanie's family's phone number wasn't listed, but eventually they'd hit a McGill who was related and Drina had pulled the address of the family home from the mind of the grumpy man who had answered the door. Now here they were, hours a er they'd set out.

  Drina hoped to God she hadn't made a huge mistake by not calling Teddy's house and le ng Anders call Lucian. If anything bad had happened because she'd made that choice, she'd never forgive herself, she thought, as they got out of the car.

  They were silent as they walked up the dark alley, coun ng houses as they went and watching for the two-story redbrick. Drina didn't know what to expect or even what to do once they got there. Now that they'd reached Windsor, she was beginning to wonder if Stephanie really would have come this way. She must have known they'd think to check here. And if she had come here, would she have approached the house? Walked up and knocked? Was she inside even now, in the bosom of her family?

  They slowed as they spo ed the house ahead. At least three of the second-floor lights were glowing in the early-morning darkness, but they couldn't see the first floor yet. The neighbor's garage blocked their view of the McGills' backyard. They had barely passed the garage in ques on when Harper caught Drina's arm and drew her to a halt. He needn't have bothered. She too had spo ed the slender figure hugging the tree in the McGills' backyard and had been about to stop herself. Drina released a slow breath, a good deal of tension sliding out of her as she took in Stephanie's lonely figure. It looked like she hadn't approached the house but had simply stood in the cold, dark night watching it . . . in nothing but joggers, a T-shirt, and a thick woolly sweater, Drina noted, taking in what the girl was wearing. The kid must be freezing, she thought with a frown, then sighed and turned to gesture to Harper to wait here.

  When he nodded, she turned and started silently forward. Drina was perhaps six feet behind Stephanie, when the girl said, "It took you long enough to get here. "

  Drina stopped, and then grimaced and continued forward at a more natural pace.

  "What took you so long?" Stephanie asked, as Drina paused a little beside and behind her.

  "There was an accident on the highway, traffic was stopped for hours," Drina explained, and then smiled wryly, and asked, "You expected me to figure out you'd come here?"

  Stephanie shrugged. "Where else would I go?"

  "How long have you been here?"

  "Hours. " Stephanie leaned her head wearily against the tree and sighed. "I've just been standing here watching the house. "

  Drina shi ed her gaze back to the McGills' home. There were lights glowing on the ground floor too, she saw, but all the ac vity was in the kitchen. She could see into the room quite clearly through a pair of sliding glass doors that led out onto a deck. The ver cal blinds were open, revealing a dining-room table and a kitchen beyond. There were three kids and a man who she guessed was Stephanie's father at the table. An adult female, no doubt her mother, and more kids, older ones, were moving around the kitchen, pouring coffee and toasting toast.

  "The blinds were closed, but Mom opened them when they got up. She likes to watch the sun rise,"

  Stephanie said quietly.

  Drina focused on the mother, but said, "You controlled the man from the gas sta on and made him drive you here. "

  "Yes," she said simply.

  "You didn't tell me you could control people already," Drina said quietly. Stephanie shrugged. "I didn't really know until I tried tonight. "

  Drina closed her eyes. If making a man drive her two hours to Windsor was her baby step at mind control, the kid was scary skilled. It just made her worry more for her. Pushing that thought aside, she said, "I'm surprised you just stood out here and didn't go in. "

  Stephanie smiled bi erly. "I was going to. That was the plan on the way down here. I'd come home, and Mom would put her arms around me and tell me she loved me and that everything was going to be all right. And Dad would call me his little girl, which I always used to hate, but would kill to hear now. "

  The yearning in her voice was painful to hear, and Drina had to swallow a lump in her throat. Stephanie was just a kid. She wanted her family. She'd asked for none of this. Clearing her throat, Drina asked,

  "What stopped you?"

  "I'd just be messing up their lives," Stephanie said with a shrug. "I know Lucian did something to them to make them forget me. I'd just mess that up. "

  "They haven't forgo en you, Stephanie," Drina said firmly, shrugging out of her coat and moving closer to drape it over her shoulders. The nanos would be using up blood at an accelerated rate keeping her from freezing in this weather, and they didn't have any blood to give the girl. Sighing, she rubbed her arms briefly, and added, "Lucian just sent people to veil their memories and probably alter them a bit. "

  "I know the veiling bit is so they don't suffer so much from losing Dani and me, but how did they alter their memories and why?" she asked quietly.

  "They would have made their memories of your faces fuzzier, more vague, so that they wouldn't recognize you if they came across you accidentally. "

  "Accidentally?" Stephanie asked dryly. "You mean so they wouldn't recognize me if I came knocking. "

  "No," Drina assured her. "If you walked up to the door, and knocked and said, 'Mommy, it's me, Stephanie,' the veil would be torn. They would remember. But if they happened to see you on a street, or bumped into you in passing and never spoke, chances are they wouldn't. That's why it's done. So that you aren't accidentally revealed to be alive. "

  "So if I walked up right now and knocked on the sliding glass door, I could make them remember me?"

  she asked, staring at the people in the house.

  "Yes," Drina admitted.

  "But you'd stop me from doing that, wouldn't you?"

  Drina hesitated, and then shook her head. "No. If you really want to, I won't stop you. "

  Stephanie turned to look at her sharply, her eyes widening with surprise. "You mean that. "

  Drina shrugged. "Why stop you now? If you're determined to do it, you'd just come back and do it at a later date. "

  "Right. " Stephanie frowned and glanced back to the house. "But trying to have any kind of contact with them would be superselfish, wouldn't it?"

  Stephanie said grimly, "They'd have to be taken into protective custody to keep them safe from Leonius in case he got wind of them. My brothers and sisters would lose all their friends, and my parents would lose their jobs and friends, and everyone would lose our aunts and uncles and cousins. No more family picnics, or trips up north. Their whole lives would be disrupted and wrecked like mine was. And it would be my fault. "

  Drina glanced to the house. They looked like a big, busy but happy family from here, like millions of
other families in the world, cha ering and smiling over their breakfast. She couldn't blame Stephanie for wan ng to stay a part of that. But even being here was endangering that very normalcy. Stephanie and Dani had been kidnapped up north, six or seven hours from Windsor. Lucian didn't think Leonius knew where Stephanie and Dani's family lived. But even if he'd sought out that informa on, he hadn't shown up to bother them, probably because he knew the family believed the two females dead and knew nothing. But her coming here could change things if he found out about it. If he didn't already know, Drina thought, suddenly worried that she and Harper might have led the man here from the gas sta on. She had been so distracted by worries for Stephanie, she hadn't considered that possibility.

  "We should go," Stephanie said suddenly, worry now in her voice too, and Drina knew she'd plucked her thoughts from her mind.

  She slipped her arm around the girl's shoulders and turned her to walk back to Harper, saying, "Don't worry. We'll call Lucian before we leave town and have him send a couple of men over. They'll watch for trouble and get your family out of here if there's any sign of Leonius. "

  "What if he's here now and does something before they get here?" Stephanie asked, suddenly stopping. Drina frowned and glanced back toward the house, torn.

  "What's wrong?" Harper asked, moving to join them.

  "Leonius may have followed us from Port Henry," Drina pointed out unhappily. Harper shook his head. "I was watching for anyone following us. We weren't. "

  Drina stared at him blankly, both embarrassed and angry at herself for not thinking of it. She was supposed to be the professional here.

  "Thank you," she breathed on a sigh. "I should have thought to watch for it myself. "

  Harper smiled crookedly. "I told you I'm good with details. "

  "Yes, but I'm the rogue hunter here," she pointed out with vexa on, as he caught her free hand and tugged to urge them to move again. "I should have - "

  "Hey," he interrupted, squeezing her fingers gently. "You were worried about Stephanie. "

  "So were you," she pointed out dryly, as they approached the end of the alley.

  "Yeah, but you haven't slept in more than forty-eight hours. I have," he countered.

  "Has it been that long?" Drina asked with a frown.

  "I'm afraid so," Harper said.

  "Actually it's forty-seven hours and ten minutes right now," Stephanie murmured. "We got up at eight the day before yesterday and you sat up on the stool all night while Harper and I were healing from the fire. "

  "Right," Drina murmured with a shake of the head, and then they'd spent the day playing cards, looking for Stephanie, and then driving down here to search for her. Harper and Stephanie hadn't slept in almost twenty-four hours. Stephanie could sleep in the backseat on the way back, but Harper . . . She glanced to him, and asked, "Are you okay for driving?"

  "I think so. Besides, we don't have blood. We have to get back," he pointed out quietly. The reminder made her glance to Stephanie, and she frowned when she no ced her pallor. Unless they wanted to find emergency donors, they had to get back.

  "I can't feed on people the normal way," Stephanie pointed out grimly, as they reached Harper's car.

  "And I am so not cutting up some poor person to feed. Let's just go back. I'll survive two hours. "

  "Sounds like a plan," Harper said, as they reached the car.

  It took them several minutes, but they found a pay phone at a corner store. While Stephanie and Harper stocked up on junk food for the trip home, Drina called Teddy. The police chief was relieved to hear they'd found Stephanie and promised his first call, even before he started calling in the search party, would be to Lucian to have him send someone to Windsor to keep an eye on the McGills for the next li le while just in case. He then asked what their ETA was and assured her he'd be wai ng up to see they got back okay.

  Drina had expected Stephanie to sleep for the journey home, but she didn't. Drina was determined to keep up a lively cha er to help Harper fend off sleepiness, and Stephanie joined the effort. It made the sudden silence that hit the car when they passed the Port Henry limits sign that much more noticeable. It was nine thirty on the nose when they arrived at Teddy's. Both SUVs and Teddy's car were in the driveway. Drina had to smile when Harper parked behind Anders's SUV, blocking it in.

  "Nice," Stephanie said from the backseat.

  "What?" Harper asked innocently, and Drina chuckled softly as they all got out of the car. Mirabeau had the front door open before they reached the porch. She peered over them with amusement and shook her head. "You all look exhausted. "

  Drina smiled wryly. "Probably because we are. "

  Nodding, she stepped to the side to let them enter, squeezing Stephanie's arm as she passed.

  "I smell food," Stephanie said, sniffing the air as she paused in the front hall.

  "We made breakfast. It should be ready in a few minutes," Mirabeau said with a grin as she followed Drina and Harper into the house.

  "We?" Stephanie asked, eyeing the woman dubiously as she kicked off the overlarge shoes Teddy had loaned her when she'd left with Anders.

  "Well, all I did was toast the toast and butter it," Mirabeau admitted with a grin. "But it's a start. "

  "It's more than I know how to do," Drina said dryly as she removed her borrowed boots.

  "Lucky you, then, that I'm a chef. " Harper kissed her on the forehead as he reached past her for a hanger.

  "Lucky both of us that we landed with life mates who could cook," Mirabeau said with amusement, and then tilted her head, and said, "Hmm. The nanos couldn't have known - " She shook her head. "Nah. "

  "Where's Anders?" Drina asked as she took the bomber from Stephanie and hung it in the closet.

  "Here. "

  She turned to see him standing in the doorway to the dining room, and slipped her arm protec vely around Stephanie even as Harper slid his arm around her.

  "Relax," Anders said dryly. "We're eating and sleeping, then we'll talk. "

  Drina heard Stephanie's relieved sigh and squeezed her shoulders, but her eyes went to Mirabeau in question.

  "He said he was going to take Stephanie to Toronto as soon as you guys got back," Mirabeau said grimly.

  "But Teddy piped up and said he suspected Anders would have a mu ny if he tried it. But it didn't ma er anyway, because if Anders tried to drive out of here when he hasn't slept in over twenty-four hours, Teddy'd have to arrest him for dangerous driving and - as he put it - throw his immortal arse in the clink for twenty-four hours. "

  Drina smiled, thinking she really liked the police chief of Port Henry.

  "So," Mirabeau said with a grin, "Anders backed off and agreed to wait un l everyone has eaten and slept before heading back to Toronto. "

  Drina sensed the tension in Stephanie and clasped her shoulders knowingly as she assured her, "You won't be going back alone. I'll beat the crap out of Anders if I have to, but I'm coming with you. "

  "Can you beat the crap out of him?" Stephanie asked dubiously.

  "Hey, she used to be a gladiator," Harper told the girl encouragingly. "Besides, I'd help beat the crap out of him. But we won't need to. I'll call my office a er we've eaten and arrange for my helicopter to pick us up tonight a er we've slept. That way Anders can't refuse us. In fact, he'll be lucky if we let him come with us. "

  "Thanks," Stephanie said huskily, but her expression was troubled as she slipped out from under Dani's arm and made her way into the dining room.

  "She's worried about turning no-fanger and being put down," Harper murmured, watching Stephanie walk away.

  "We're all worried about that," Mirabeau said on a sigh, and then shook her head with frustra on. "It isn't fair. She's a good kid. There has to be something we can do to help her. "

  Drina leaned against Harper, her gaze slipping through the door to the dining room and the kitchen beyond, where Stephanie was retrieving a bag of blood from a
cooler on the kitchen counter and asking Tiny if she could help him with anything. "I've been thinking about that. "

  "So have I," Mirabeau admi ed. "We need to find older edentates and see if any of them had to deal with this and how they did. " She paused to frown, and then added, "But that can take a while, and I don't know how long Stef can handle being bombarded with thoughts and energy. "

  Drina nodded. She'd considered the same thing and the same problem. "We have a li le me before we leave. We'll just keep thinking, maybe have a brainstorming session after we eat. "

  "Good idea," Mirabeau said.

  "Speaking of ea ng," Harper murmured. "Just the sight of that bag of blood Stephanie's puncturing with straws is making my fangs ache. I need blood. "

  "Me too," Drina admitted on a sigh, allowing him to urge her out of the entry. Harper hung up Teddy's phone with a weary sigh and stood up to stretch in front of the desk in the dining room. He'd been making calls for the last hour while Tiny and the women brainstormed in the living room with Stephanie over ways to help her. He knew that Drina had included the girl in an effort to reassure her and give her some sense of hope, but when he entered the room, he found Stephanie curled up on the couch sound asleep and the others gathered in chairs at the other end of the living room talking quietly.

  "Any luck?" he asked quietly as he settled on the arm of Drina's recliner and rubbed her back.

  "We had a couple of good ideas, I think," Drina said, pping her head up to smile at him crookedly. "But we're all so exhausted . . . " She shrugged, and then said, "You were on the phone a long me. Was there a problem arranging for the helicopter?"

  Harper shook his head. "It's coming for us at midnight. That gives us . . . " He automa cally glanced down at his wrist, but recalling that his watch had been another vic m of the fire, glanced around the room for a clock. He spo ed the digital me readout on the DVR beside Teddy's television. It was 10:58. "Thirteen hours to sleep, take turns at the shower, and get ready. We should also be able to fit in another brainstorming session before it arrives. "

  "Good thinking," Tiny rumbled, catching Mirabeau's hand and standing up. "We'll be more clearheaded then. "

  "Yeah," Mirabeau sighed, slipping her arm around Tiny, and then glancing to Drina and Harper with a grimace. "Are you two going to be all right in the recliners? I feel bad that we get the bed. "

  "Don't," Drina said, a wry smile curving her lips. "I'm so exhausted I could sleep on a bed of nails. "

  "We'll be fine," Harper assured them. Teddy had decided the sleeping arrangements; Tiny and Mirabeau got the spare bedroom, Stephanie, Drina, and he got the living room, and Anders was presently sharing Teddy's bed. Or possibly sacked out on Teddy's bedroom floor, Harper thought with amusement as he recalled Anders's expression when Teddy had made the announcement. He hadn't looked terribly pleased, but it was Teddy's house, so his rules.

  No one was fooled. The police chief had made Anders share his room so he could keep an eye on him and ensure he didn't try to slip away with Stephanie while the rest of the house slept. Drina's and Harper's sleeping in the living room with Stephanie was the second safeguard against that as well as the possibility of another attack by Leonius.

  Harper sincerely hoped there wouldn't be another a ack. He was exhausted. They all were. If they could just make it through the next thirteen hours without Leonius trying something, they would get Stephanie away from here and at least that risk. Then they'd only have to worry about helping her handle her new gifts and convincing Lucian to give her the time to do so.

  "Well, good night then," Mirabeau murmured, as Tiny turned her toward the door and urged her from the room.

  "Good night," Drina and Harper whispered together.

  He watched them out of the room, and then bent to press his lips to Drina's forehead. At least that was the inten on, but she li ed her head to say something just as he did, and his lips landed on her mouth. Exhausted as he was, his body immediately responded to the contact, and Harper found himself thrus ng his tongue eagerly into her mouth to taste the passion bursting to life between them. When she moaned and arched her back in response, thrus ng her breasts upward, he couldn't resist reaching for them. They both groaned at the excitement that bounced between them as he palmed her breasts, but Harper forced himself to release her and break the kiss.

  "Christ," he whispered, leaning his forehead against hers. "I'm so red I can't see straight, and I s ll want to rip your clothes off and sink myself into you. "

  Drina gave a li le sigh, and then pulled back to glance toward Stephanie. Her smile was wry when she turned back, her voice a mere whisper as she said, "Sleep. "

  He nodded and started to rise, but she caught his hand, and said, "Thank you. "

  "For what?" he asked with surprise.

  "For coming with us to Toronto. When you asked at the house if I'd stay here if Lucian decided to replace me, I wanted to say yes, but Stephanie - "

  "I know," Harper assured her quietly. "It took me a minute to reason it out, but we're life mates. We'll be together. We just have to work out the particulars of where and so on. "

  She smiled, and he caressed her cheek gently, and then pushed himself wearily to his feet. Drina shi ed her chair into a reclining posi on as he walked to his own. He got in the second chair, shi ed it into the reclining posi on, and then reached across the end table between them for her hand. She smiled at him gently and squeezed his fingers, and they both drifted off to sleep.

  It was something cold and hard pressing against his forehead that woke him some me later. Harper frowned and blinked his eyes open. His head was turned to the side, and the first thing he saw was Drina in the next chair, her eyes open and narrowed in concentra on on something beyond him. Bending his neck to the side, he turned slowly to see what had been at his forehead and s lled when he saw the woman standing over him, pointing a gun at his head.

 
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