Immortal ever after, p.21
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       Immortal Ever After, p.21

         Part #18 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands
 
Page 21

 

  Pedro Alvarez had been eleven like himself that summer. He’d also had a bit of the devil in him, as they’d called it then. Now they would have called him a troublemaker or hell raiser. Pedro was forever escaping his nanny and tutors and slipping away from the castle his family inhabited. Which was what he’d done the night Anders had encountered him. Anders himself had been sent out to find wood for their campfire while his mother was on the hunt. She’d taken him out earlier in the evening to oversee his feeding, and then had returned him to their camp, suggesting he find some firewood while she went out to find her own meal.

  He’d barely begun his task when Anders came across Pedro fishing perhaps a quarter mile along the lakeshore from their camp. After an initial start at his sudden appearance, Pedro had greeted him fearlessly and cheerfully and invited him to share in the cheese, bread, and wine he’d smuggled with him from the castle kitchens.

  It had been the start of a firm friendship. The two had quickly become as close as brothers. Pedro would sneak out of the castle every night and Anders would be waiting for him. The two would then run through the forest and fields, always ending at the waterside, where they lay in the grass, stared up at the stars, and shared their dreams for the future. Pedro planned to be a brave knight and lord to his people, and Anders dreamed of a day when he would slay the evil Alecto, avenging his father and ensuring his mother wouldn’t have to run and hide anymore and they could stay in one place at least for more than a matter of weeks. Pedro was the only person Anders had ever revealed his history to. Not all of it, of course. He hadn’t told him he was immortal. Just that the jealous Alecto had killed his father and now hunted him and his mother as punishment for his father loving his mother. Pedro had solemnly vowed to help him slay Alecto.

  Every night when Pedro had left, Anders had returned to the camp he shared with his mother, terrified it would be the night she’d say they had to break camp and move on. In the end, nearly an entire summer had passed before she’d made the dreaded announcement. When he’d instinctively tried to protest and convince her to stay, she’d revealed that she knew about his friend, knew it would be hard to leave him, but they’d stayed too long as it was and their pursuers had caught up. She’d spotted one of Alecto’s men in the village that night. They had to move on. Anders hadn’t even got the chance to say good-bye to his friend. They’d left at once.

  Looking back, Anders suspected that his mother’s kindness in letting him have a friend for that summer had been the beginning of the end for them. For all of them, including Pedro and his family. Alecto and her people had caught their scent in that village and had been on them like a pack of hounds, constantly nipping at their heels over the following six months until she’d caught up to them on his birthday and butchered his mother. Six weeks later, Anders had found himself back by that lake in Spain, waiting for Pedro.

  On hearing of his mother’s death, Pedro had insisted he come home to the castle with him. He’d been sure his parents would welcome him as his friend. Anders had been less certain. Kindness hadn’t been a commodity he’d much experienced in his life, but Pedro’s mother had felt sorry for him being orphaned, and on learning that his mother had taught him to read and write, Pedro’s father had decided he would make a fine page after some intensive personal combat training to catch him up to other pages of his age. He could then squire for him and eventually become one of his knights, Pedro’s father had assured him.

  What had followed was the most wonderful six months of Anders’s life. With a little mind control he’d managed to arrange his training so that he had as little exposure to sunlight as possible. But he’d also worked hard to please Pedro’s father as page, and had been treated with kindness and affection . . . right up until the night Alecto and her men had tracked him there, slid into the castle during the night and butchered the entire family, including Pedro’s three younger sisters.

  Anders and Pedro had been out running, playing at battle and then fishing as they did most nights when it happened. It wasn’t until they were slipping back into the castle that they realized anything was amiss. It was the blood. Anders had smelled it the moment Pedro had pushed open the stone door from the secret tunnels into the upstairs hall where the bedchambers were. His mortal friend hadn’t caught the scent, but Anders, with the exceptional olfactory sense immortals possessed, had, and the scent had made him stop abruptly in the opening and sniff the air with sudden alarm.

  It wasn’t until Pedro had hissed, “Come on, or we’ll be caught,” that Anders had realized while he’d stopped to scent the air, Pedro had continued and was now at his bedchamber door. Even as Anders had opened his mouth to hiss a warning and call him back to the safety of the tunnels until they knew what was about, Pedro’s bedchamber door had opened and one of Alecto’s men had been on his friend. There had been no questions, no threats, no warning. The bastard had caught the startled Pedro by the scruff, lifted him, and ripped out his throat in one blurred motion.

  Anders had frozen in shock and horror. While he’d spent his entire life running and hiding from these people, he’d never actually seen Alecto and her men in action. Even with his mother, the attack had been over and she’d been dead by the time he’d crept up on the cabin. The cruelty and violence of this attack was unfathomable to him, breathtaking. It had left him shaking and unable to move . . . until another door had opened and Alecto had led several men out of the bedchamber of Pedro’s mother and father. He’d barely counted six men pouring out of the room when a thump had drawn his wide eyes to where Pedro’s lifeless body had been dropped on the hall floor like so much trash. One of the men had spotted him then and shouted, and Anders had jumped back, letting the stone door slide closed between them.

  He’d begun to run then, taking the stairs in the secret passage two at a time until he burst out into the tunnel under the castle. It led out to a cave on the edge of a clearing far beyond the castle walls and Anders had fled through it, his mind in utter chaos. Fear, fury, and loss had battled in his brain, leaving him unable to hold on to any one of the emotions. He’d run until he couldn’t run anymore, and then he’d collapsed in the woods and lay weeping until the sun had risen.

  Somewhat dazed and completely uncaring of the damage the sun might cause him then, Anders had returned the way he’d come. He’d known Alecto and her men would be gone by then and he’d hoped to find that Pedro had somehow survived. He’d also wanted, needed to know what had happened to the rest of the family who had welcomed him to their bosom.

  He hadn’t even had to leave the tunnels. The hall had been crammed with weeping servants when he’d unlocked the opening to the secret passage and a quick read of the nearest one had told him all he needed to know. Alecto and her men had slaughtered every member of the family down to their three-year-old daughter, and even some of the servants.

  Anders had let the stone door slip closed and then simply sank to sit in the dust and cobwebs of the tunnel, overwhelmed with loss and guilt. He had brought this on Pedro and his family by being here. It had been a hard lesson. He’d learned that no one would be safe near him so long as Alecto hunted him, and he’d realized that Alecto would never stop hunting him so long as she lived. The woman was obsessed to the point of madness.

  After two days and nights huddled in that dark, cold passage with his grief, Anders had descended to the tunnels and made his way out into the clearing, reborn with a purpose. He would never again let anyone close to him. He would never stay anywhere long enough for Alecto and her people to catch up to him. He would grow, and train in combat, and when he was strong enough and had learned enough, he would kill that bitch and every one of the bastards who rode with her.

  “I’m sorry. ”

  Anders glanced to Valerie then, and managed a smile. “It was a long time ago. ”

  “Not that long,” she said sounding incredibly solemn, but then she was thinking that it had only been a decade or two when in
reality it had been centuries. More than 644 years. A lot had happened since then, including his sending Alecto and every one of her men to join his father and mother in death. That had happened ten years to the day after his mother’s death, and in the clearing where the cabin his mother had been killed in had once stood. He’d chosen the place and date, and simply allowed Alecto and her men to catch up with him.

  Anders doubted Alecto had even recognized the clearing or its significance. Finding his horse in the clearing where he’d left it, she’d sent her men out to search the woods for him and he’d taken them out one at a time until there was only her left.

  Anders had dreamed about that day so often over the years . . . He’d thought he would feel relief or vindication when it came. But in the end he hadn’t felt anything at all once he’d confronted, fought, and beheaded the bitch. It hadn’t brought back his mother, or Pedro and his family, and had taken away the only purpose he’d had for the last decade. He’d left there feeling like a hollow man, only half alive and going through the motions. He’d continued to feel that way for a very long time. For centuries he traveled around, joining various groups of mercenaries and spending his life knee-deep in blood and corpses, hiring himself out for the coin, and never really caring much about the cause or his comrades. That had gone on right up until he’d encountered Lucian.

  Lucian Argeneau had a way about him. When he looked at you he seemed to see right down into your soul, and he’d looked into Anders’s soul and offered him what he needed: a purpose. Lucian had convinced him to become an Enforcer and help not only to keep mortals like Pedro and his family safe, but to prevent what had happened to his mother and father from happening to other unfortunate immortals. That purpose had helped him begin to feel human again. He was still reticent and careful about opening himself up much to others, but he counted Lucian as much a friend as a boss, and there were others he worked with that he called friend . . . And then there was Valerie. He thought he could open up to her. He wanted to. Certainly, he’d told her more than most knew about his history. The problem was that once again someone he cared for was in danger. The only difference was that this time he didn’t bring the danger.

  “We need to change the subject,” Valerie announced.

  Anders glanced her way at those words, smiled wryly, and arched one eyebrow. “Too depressing for you?”

  “Yes,” she admitted, and then patted his arm, adding, “But thank you for sharing. ”

  For some reason that made Anders want to laugh, which wasn’t something he often did. But then he’d found himself amused and smiling a great deal since Valerie’s arrival in his life . . . which he liked . . . and didn’t want to lose. He had to succeed where he’d failed with his mother and Pedro and his family. He had to keep her safe.

  Chapter Eleven

  “I suppose it will be a while before Leigh and Lucian get up,” Valerie commented as they approached the house.

  “No doubt. They usually sleep through the morning,” Anders said. “I suppose we’re on our own for breakfast. ”

  “You don’t think Leigh would mind if we helped ourselves?” she asked.

  Anders shook his head and reached out to open one of the French doors into the kitchen for her. “She said we were welcome to whatever we like. ”

  Valerie let out a little relieved breath as she stepped through the door. The walk had made her hungry, and she’d worried that they would have to wait to eat until Leigh and Lucian got up.

  “What do you feel like for breakfast?” Anders asked, closing the door once Roxy trotted in.

  Valerie shrugged. “I’m not sure what’s available. I guess some toast will do. ”

  “Toast? After that walk?” Anders asked with raised eyebrows, pausing in front of her. As Roxy walked around him, sniffing the floor, he asked, “We have more choices than toast. There’s bacon, eggs, sausage, cereal, grapefruit, or toast, if you like. But I liked those sausages we had with the pancakes yesterday and I was thinking of having those. ”

  “Those sausages were good,” she agreed with a grin, and then stumbled a step forward, putting her hands up to Anders’s chest to catch herself as something pressed into the back of her knees, throwing her off balance. Glancing down and around, Valerie saw that it was the leash. Roxy had walked around both of them and then back behind Anders to get to her dish.

  “Did you train her to do that?” Anders asked, hands clasping her waist to steady her.

  “No! Of course not,” Valerie gasped, horrified that he might even think that. She relaxed though, when she saw the teasing twinkle in his eyes.

  “Well you did say you like my kisses,” he pointed out, his voice a husky taunt as his hands crept around her back and urged her closer. “Perhaps you were hoping for more. ”
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