Immortal ever after, p.26
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       Immortal Ever After, p.26

         Part #18 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands
Page 26


  “Thank you. ” Valerie accepted the cup, and even wrapped her cold hands around it, but didn’t drink any.

  “Right,” Anders repeated, and then sighed. “I don’t know where to start. ”

  “Try at the beginning,” she suggested and for some reason that brought a short laugh from him.

  “The beginning. Right,” he said dryly, and then straightened his shoulders. “Okay, but you have to let me finish all my explanations before you freak out and run. Okay?”

  She blinked. That was one hell of an encouraging way to start.

  “Valerie, I promise I won’t hurt you. I would never hurt you,” he added solemnly. “But what I’m about to tell you might seem surreal, or crazy, or even scary. So, just promise me that you’ll let me finish explaining everything before you react and you’ll sit right there in that chair until I’m done. ”

  Valerie didn’t immediately agree. She did take a moment to consider the promise, but really she was sitting there looking at a man who had not only found her and saved her from the house of horrors, but who had treated her with gentle respect ever since, and had given her so much pleasure she’d actually fainted from it. He was a man she liked, enjoyed spending time with, in and out of bed, and who she really, even then, just wanted to climb like a telephone pole. All of that was enough to trump what she’d found in his kitchen now that she’d got over the first shock of it . . . which made it hard not to make that promise. Valerie just wanted him to explain everything away and make it all better so that she could get on with lusting after the man, which she was doing anyway.

  “I am truly pathetic,” she said under her breath.

  “No you’re not,” Anders said at once and she glanced at him with a start, amazed that he’d heard her whispered words.

  Shaking her head, she waved her hand. “I promise. Go on. Explain. ”

  “Right. ” Anders nodded and then paused, and stared at the dark wood tabletop briefly before shaking his head and saying, “Okay, I guess I can start with what I told you about my family this morning. My father being killed, my mother raising me to twelve and so on. ”

  Valerie raised an eyebrow, half suspecting that he was going to tell her those were all lies.

  “It was all true,” he assured her. “But I left out a couple of pertinent details. ”

  “What details?” she asked warily.

  Anders struggled briefly, and then admitted, “That it all took place in the fourteenth century. I was born in 1357. ”

  Valerie blinked as her brain tried to accept what he’d said, and then she stood abruptly.

  Anders immediately caught her hand. “You promised. ”

  “Well, and I would keep my promise if you’d care to tell the truth, but you can’t expect me to sit here and listen to some nonsense about—” Her voice died abruptly when he opened his mouth and his canines suddenly slid forward and down forming two very long, pointy fangs.

  Valerie sat, not because she wanted to, but because her legs suddenly gave out on her. Memories were suddenly flashing through her head; cruel laughter, flashing fangs, excruciating pain . . .

  “Breathe,” Anders said grimly, rubbing his thumb over her wrist and Valerie realized she was starting to hyperventilate. Trying to drive off the panic gripping her, she forced herself to take several slow deep, steady breaths. Once the threat of hyperventilating passed, she became aware that he was talking in a calm, soothing voice.

  “You are safe with me. You saw the bagged blood in the refrigerator. I will never hurt you. I am not like the man who kidnapped you. He’s a rogue. Lucian, myself, and the others hunt his kind. I would never hurt you. You are safe with me. ”

  Valerie suspected he’d said those things more than once, repeating them like a mantra until she’d calmed enough to hear and accept them. And she did find herself accepting them. He had no need to bite and hurt her, there was a fridge full of blood behind her. Besides, if he’d wanted to hurt her, he could have done that a gazillion times over since she’d woken up in Leigh’s house.

  “Where did the blood come from?” she asked abruptly.

  “A blood bank. ” His answer came swift and without hesitation. She suspected it was true.

  “So, you’re a vampire and so was my kidnapper, but you’re a good vampire who hunts bad vampires, and he’s one of the bad vampires you hunt?” Valerie asked, trying to wrap her brain around the situation. It did sound surreal, she thought grimly. Cripes, was she really going to now believe in vampires just because Anders flashed some fang? They could be as fake as she’d assured herself her kidnapper’s were. Of course, she hadn’t really believed they were fake. It had just been reassuring to think so. It had helped her not feel so crazy.

  “We prefer the term immortals to vampire,” Anders said with a wince. “But essentially, yes, that’s the situation. ”

  “So this enforcement team Leigh mentioned—?”

  “A collection of immortals who enforce our laws and hunt down rogue immortals who break them. ”

  “Enforce your laws,” Valerie muttered, rather startled to think vampires would have laws. She didn’t know why. It just seemed weird. But then a thought struck her and she glanced at him sharply. “Leigh isn’t—”

  “She wasn’t born immortal, but she is immortal now,” Anders answered the unfinished question.

  Valerie stared at him blankly. Sweet, very pregnant and girl-next-door Leigh was a vampire . . . but she hadn’t been. Frowning, she asked, “How did she become a vampire?”

  “She was attacked and turned by a rogue. A different one than yours,” he added quickly. “Lucian rescued her when he and some of our other men raided the nest where she was being held. ”

  “But she’s pregnant,” Valerie protested. “Vampires can’t have babies, can they? Was she pregnant when she was attacked? So will she be pregnant forever? And are she and Lucian really a couple, or was that all just—”

  “Leigh was turned several years ago now,” Anders interrupted. “She was not pregnant at the time. Yes, our women can get pregnant. Her baby is Lucian’s, and yes they are definitely a couple. They are life mates. ”

  Valerie stilled. He’d used that term before when talking about his parents. She’d thought it was just a quaint way of saying life partners, or soul mates or something. But vampires didn’t have souls. “What is a life mate?”

  “A life mate is . . . ” He paused and then sighed and shook his head. “They are the most valued treasure one of our kind can find. ”

  “Why? How?” she asked at once.

  “To understand that, I need to explain some other things first,” Anders said quietly.

  Realizing he was asking permission, Valerie nodded.

  Anders said, “We are as human as you are. ”

  A snort slid from her before she could stop it and Valerie covered her nose and mouth, and then muttered, “Sorry. Go ahead. ”

  Anders was frowning, but after a moment explained, “We have the same ancestors as non-immortals. As yourself. However, ours were somewhat isolated for many centuries and developed much more quickly, technologically, than the rest of the planet. ” He paused to take a sip of coffee, probably as much to let her digest what he’d said as because he was thirsty, and then continued, “They developed bio-engineered nanos that could be injected into the body to repair damage and fight infection and illness. These nanos had the added benefit of greatly extending our lives. ”

  Valerie’s eyes widened. She’d read an article recently on research being done to use nanos to fight cancer. He was suggesting his ancestors had come up with them long ago. She supposed it wasn’t completely impossible, but he was saying they didn’t just fight cancer. He’d said they repair damage and fight infection and illness. That covered a rather broad spectrum, which she supposed was possible.

  “Extending your lives for how long?” she asked. “Surely you weren’t really born i
n 1357?”

  “Yes, I was. I haven’t, and won’t lie to you, Valerie,” Anders said solemnly, and then said, “As for how long our lives are extended for . . . ” He shrugged helplessly. “No one knows. Barring an accident that results in beheading or burning up the immortal in question, I suppose we might live indefinitely. ”

  “Indefinitely,” she echoed weakly. That was a bit harder to accept. The fountain of youth was a nano?

  Anders remained silent and simply sipped at his coffee as she digested that. He waited until Valerie sighed and said, “Go on,” before continuing.

  “These nanos were a miraculous development. But they had one drawback—well, two, I suppose, since our elders at the time didn’t think that near immortality was necessarily a good thing,” Anders said dryly. Shaking his head, he said, “The other flaw was that the nanos used their host’s blood to perform their work and as a propellant or energy source. Unfortunately, they use more blood than a human body can produce. ”

  “So your scientists gave you fangs and turned you all into vampires?” Valerie asked with disbelief.

  Anders shook his head. “No. Our scientists gave us blood transfusions. The fangs didn’t develop until after the fall of Atlantis. Then the—”

  “Atlantis?” she squawked with disbelief.

  “I take it you’ve heard of it?” he said, his tone dry.

  “Well, yes, of course. But Atlantis was mythical and existed like a gazillion years ago,” she protested.

  “A gazillion is a bit of an exaggeration, but it was thousands of years ago. However, it wasn’t mythical,” Anders assured her.

  Valerie frowned, but after a moment nodded. “Okay. So you had blood transfusions in Atlantis, but it fell, and then your scientists developed fangs for you?”

  “No. The nanos did,” he corrected. “The scientists all died when Atlantis fell; only their guinea pigs, the patients who had been given the nanos, survived. None of them were from the scientific or medical field, so they had no way to get their transfusions anymore. They crawled out of the ruins of Atlantis to join a world much less developed than Atlantis had been. Without the transfusions, many of them died, but in others, the nanos forced a sort of evolution that gave their hosts fangs to get the blood the nanos needed to continue their work and ensure their hosts’ survival. ”

  “Fangs and what else?” Valerie asked, remembering how scary-strong and fast her kidnapper and Igor had been. And the other women had been sure they could read their minds, she recalled.

  “Fangs, strength, speed, better night vision . . . ” He shrugged. “Anything that would make them better predators to get what they needed. ”

  “Things like mind reading?” she asked tersely.

  When Anders nodded, Valerie cursed and tried to stand again.

  “You promised,” he repeated, catching her hand so swiftly the movement of his own hand was just a blur to her.

  “I’m sorry. I know I did. But I’m not very comfortable knowing that you can read my thoughts, and I—”

  “I can’t,” Anders said firmly.

  Valerie hesitated, and eyed him narrowly. “You just admitted that one of the abilities the nanos gave you was mind reading. ”

  “It is,” he acknowledged. “But I can’t read your mind. ”

  She frowned now. “Why? Does that skill skip a generation or something?”

  “No,” Anders said with a faint smile. “I can read most mortals and even most immortals younger than myself. ”

  “Than why wouldn’t you be able to read me?” she asked suspiciously.

  Anders swallowed and then said, “Because you are my life mate. ”

  Valerie stared at him blankly as that word struck her again. His parents had been life mates. Leigh was Lucian’s life mate . . . and she was his? “What is a life mate?”

  “If you would care to sit down, I’ll explain,” Anders said quietly.

  Valerie sat down. She could hardly do anything else. She had to know what a life mate was. She suspected it was important. Vital, even. She just didn’t know why.

  “Mind reading is one of the skills that evolved through the nanos. Immortals can read most immortals younger than them, and occasionally even immortals older than themselves. But they can read all mortals unless they are mentally ill or suffering some sort of ailment like a tumor that might block the part of the brain where thoughts are processed. ”

  “I’m not crazy,” Valerie denied, eyes wide.

  “No, of course not,” he said quickly.

  “Then I have a tumor?” she asked with horror. The news was devastating. Dear God, she was only thirty. Too young to—
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