The lady is a vamp, p.3
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       The Lady is a Vamp, p.3

         Part #17 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands
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Chapter Three


  "And that's Mommy and me at the family picnic. I was three. "

  Jeanne Louise smiled faintly at the picture Livy was showing her. The child had been an adorable little cherub at three. Her mother too had been a beauty. Tall, blond, with sky blue eyes, a beautiful smile, and the perfect body. It was enough to depress the hell out of Jeanne Louise. She was not tall, did not consider herself beautiful, and did not have the perfect body. At least not compared to her cousin Lissianna, who she did consider beautiful. Jeanne Louise's lips were a little thinner, her eyes large but almond shaped, and her face tended toward round rather than oval. She was also shorter and with less in the boob department. She didn't think she could compete with the perfection of Paul's first wife, especially when that perfection was a ghost whose beauty would therefore never wither in his memory.

  "That's enough of the pictures for now, Livy," Paul said gently. "Set it aside and eat your sandwich, please. "

  "But I don't want it," Livy said unhappily. "It doesn't taste good. "

  "But it's tuna, your favorite," Paul said with a frown.

  "I know, but it tastes funny," Livy said unhappily and then added a plaintive, "Everything tastes funny now. "

  Seeing the deepening concern on Paul's face, Jeanne Louise said lightly, "Maybe your taste is changing. Everyone's taste changes. Here, try this. " She took half her own sandwich and set it before the girl. "It's ham and cheese. That's my favorite and your dad put on just the right amount of mayonnaise. Not too much, not too little. It's perfect. "

  When the child hesitated, Jeanne Louise slipped into her thoughts to encourage her and then stayed there, ensuring she took a bite, chewed, and actually enjoyed the bite. The child was all bone; she needed to eat to build up her strength. The turn was a rigorous attack on the body. Livy needed to be stronger to survive it . . . if she was turned.

  "Good?" Jeanne Louise asked when Livy swallowed, smiled, and took another bite.

  Livy nodded, too busy chewing to answer.

  "Thank God," Paul murmured, the words a heartfelt sigh from his lips.

  Jeanne Louise merely smiled at him, her concentration on ensuring Livy continued to enjoy and eat her sandwich. When the child finished the first half, Jeanne Louise wordlessly passed her the second half and continued to make her eat.

  "Here. "

  Jeanne Louise glanced to Paul to see him holding out a second sandwich from the picnic basket he'd brought out earlier. It hadn't taken him long to put the picnic together. Then he'd returned to the room and cautiously unchained her and led her outside to a little gazebo in the center of the backyard. He'd used two chains to shackle one ankle to a post of the gazebo. Paul had then covered her with a light blanket to hide the metal tethers. After a hesitation, he'd then assured her he'd be right back and headed for the house.

  Jeanne Louise hadn't needed to read his mind to know he'd been worried that she might escape while he was gone. But she hadn't even tried. She'd remained where she was, ignoring the way he kept glancing over his shoulder, and then peering out the kitchen window as he'd gathered the picnic basket and Livy before rushing back out.

  The relief on his face when he got back to find her sitting sedately where he'd left her had nearly made her grin, but she'd controlled herself and turned her attention to Livy as the girl had begun showing her pictures of her dear departed mother.

  "Thank you," Jeanne Louise said quietly as she accepted his offering. She quickly unwrapped the sandwich and took an absent bite as she concentrated on Livy. But the burst of flavor in her mouth made her blink and her efforts on Livy stutter slightly.

  "Is something wrong?" Paul asked, pausing in unwrapping his own sandwich.

  "No," she said quickly, returning her attention to Livy. "It's good. "

  She caught his smile out of the corner of her eye and knew he wanted to point out that she'd told Livy the sandwich was perfect without even trying it first, but he held his tongue. Probably afraid the girl would stop eating, Jeanne Louise thought wryly as she encouraged Livy to finish the last of her sandwich.

  "I brought chips too," Paul announced, setting his own sandwich aside to retrieve two bags of chips from the picnic basket-barbecue and sour cream and onion. "I've seen you eat both kinds, but wasn't sure which was your favorite. "

  "Both are," Jeanne Louise admitted with a faint smile. "Sometimes I prefer barbecue and sometimes the other. It just depends on my mood. "

  "And which would you prefer today?" he asked, arching one eyebrow.

  "Barbecue," she decided.

  "And what mood does that mean you're in?" Paul asked with interest.

  "In the mood for spicy?" Jeanne Louise suggested absently, her main concentration on Livy still.

  "Hmmm," he murmured, and she heard the rustle as he opened the chips.

  Livy finished her last bite and Jeanne Louise kept ahold of her thoughts for another moment to ensure the child's stomach wasn't rebelling at being so full, and that all was well, then released her to turn her attention to her own food. Her eyes widened when she saw the small mountain of potato chips on her plate next to the sandwich she'd unwrapped.

  "Thank you," she murmured and picked up a chip to pop in her mouth. The explosion of flavor on her tongue this time made her eyes close. Dear God, she'd forgotten how good these were. Or perhaps they just hadn't tasted that good for a while. Her taste had been fading, Jeanne Louise realized. But it was definitely back. That thought made her open her eyes again and peer at Paul. He was definitely a possible mate for her then. She didn't know whether to be glad or dismayed. This was not going to be easy, any way she looked at it. The chances were better that everything would go sideways and she would lose Paul than that it would work out.

  Realizing Paul was peering at her in question, she forced herself to chew and swallow the now soggy chip in her mouth and then picked up her sandwich.

  "Ah ah ah," Paul said suddenly, and Jeanne Louise glanced to him to realize he was speaking to Livy. The girl had picked up her photo album again and was moving closer to Jeanne Louise with it. "Let Jeanne Louise eat first. "

  "But-" Livy began in protest.

  "Why don't you go let Boomer out of the garage?" Paul interrupted. "I put him in there while Mrs. Stuart was here and forgot to let him out again when I got back. He's probably crazy for a run around the yard. "

  Livy was on her feet and skipping toward the house at once. Jeanne Louise watched her go with a smile and then glanced to Paul with a raised eyebrow. "Boomer?"

  "Shih tzu," he said with a faint smile. "I bought him for Livy when Jer-her mother died. She was only three. Shortly after the last picture she showed you. Livy kept screeching 'boom boom' when she chased him around the night I brought him home, so I named him Boomer. "

  Jeanne Louise grinned at the words, and then gave a startled gasp as a small furry power ball lunged at her, startling and tumbling her backward on the gazebo floor. The fur ball followed, landing on her chest, front paws on her chin as it licked madly at her face with its little pink tongue.

  "He likes you! I knew he would!" Livy squealed with delight and Jeanne Louise burst out laughing, and then quickly cut herself off and closed her mouth as the dog immediately turned his attention there.

  "Boomer!" Paul said in a voice she suspected was supposed to be firm. However, the effect was somewhat ruined by his laughter.

  Realizing it was up to her, she clasped the squirming little body in her hands and eased him gently down to her lap as she sat back up. Boomer wasn't having any of that, however, but kept trying to squirm out of her hold and up to lick her face again. She was vaguely aware of Paul standing and moving off, but he was back quickly and waving a small pink ball in front of the dog's face.

  "Fetch," Paul said and then tossed the ball.

  Jeanne Louise instinctively released the animal as he launched after it.

  "Sorry about that," Paul said wry
ly, handing her a napkin. "He's an affectionate little thing. "

  Jeanne Louise chuckled at the words and quickly wiped her face, then glanced around for her sandwich, relieved to see that it still sat where she'd set it at her side, undisturbed by Boomer's arrival. She picked it up, her gaze seeking out Boomer and Livy to see that the girl was throwing the ball for the dog and cooing happily as he fetched it back to her.

  "Livy hasn't been this lively for a while. She hasn't eaten much the last week or so either," Paul said quietly, watching his daughter play.

  The young girl wasn't exactly jumping around, she was simply standing and throwing the ball, but Jeanne Louise wasn't surprised to hear this was active for the child. If Livy hadn't felt like eating than she wouldn't have had the energy to play at all. They had to get her to eat more.

  "She likes you. "

  Jeanne Louise glanced to Paul at that comment and noted the way he was looking at her. Half intrigued and half calculating. It reminded her of the proposition he had for her.

  Shrugging, she picked up half her sandwich and raised it to her mouth, saying, "I like her too," before taking a bite. It was the truth. She did like Livy. The child was sweet and loving and pretty as a doll, or would be once she was fattened up a bit and less worn looking.

  "That's good," Paul said seriously, his eyes sliding back to his daughter as she threw the ball for Boomer again and giggled as the dog raced off across the yard after it. It was a large yard with a ten-foot privacy wall made of what appeared to be rose-colored brick all the way around it, which prevented her guessing where they were. She couldn't hear any sounds from beyond the wall that might have told her anything either. For all she knew they could be out in the country or smack-dab in the city.

  "Why the wall?" Jeanne Louise asked rather than ask where they were.

  "I like to sunbathe in the nude. "

  The answer caught her so by surprise, Jeanne Louise choked on the bite of sandwich she'd just taken and Paul burst out laughing and quickly thumped her back to help her out.

  "Sorry, I couldn't resist," Paul said with a grin as she regained control of herself, and added, "We aren't far from the highway and the wall blocks the sound. Besides, Livy's little, and I didn't want to worry about her playing in the back yard with Boomer. "

  Jeanne Louise nodded, but avoided looking at him. She knew she was bright red. Besides, if she looked at him she suspected she'd imagine him naked. If she were honest with herself, she already was, which wasn't helping with her blushing, so she steadfastly peered at her plate and ate her sandwich, one bite at a time. It didn't help much with eradicating the image of him naked from her mind though. Damn the man.

  "How long have you worked for Argeneau Enterprises?" Jeanne Louise asked as she finished the last of the sandwich. It seemed a nice, safe, non-naked subject.

  "Two years and four months now," Paul answered, his gaze still on his daughter. "I started there a little more than a month after Livy's mother died. "

  Jeanne Louise nodded. "How did she die?"

  "She was driving home from work the week before Christmas when a drunk driver blindsided her. Ran her into a telephone pole. She survived a couple weeks; almost to New Year's, but . . . " He let his breath out on a sigh and shrugged unhappily.

  Jeanne Louise was silent for a minute, but then steered the conversation away from his beautiful wife by asking, "So Livy is almost six?"

  "Six next month," Paul murmured.

  He'd watched his wife die over two weeks, and now was getting to watch his beautiful daughter go as well, Jeanne Louise thought solemnly, and could understand the desperation that had led him to kidnap an immortal. Well, if she was right about his motive in kidnapping her, and she was very, very sure she was right, the only question that left was . . . "Why me?"

  He glanced to her with surprise. "Why you what?"

  "Why did you kidnap me?" Jeanne Louise explained. "There are a lot of immortals working at Argeneau Enterprises. Why me?"

  He frowned, watching his daughter briefly, and then admitted, "I don't know. I just . . . " He shook his head helplessly and then glanced to her, looking rather perplexed. "You were the first person to come to mind when I . . . "

  Jeanne Louise watched him for a minute, but he didn't finish that thought. She finished it for him in her mind, "when I decided I needed an immortal to save my daughter. " He wasn't ready to admit that yet. No doubt he wanted to be sure she really, really liked Livy before he put his proposition to her. In his mind, it would increase his chances of her turning the girl. But then he had no clue what he would be asking of her. Or what he would lose if she did as he wished.

  "I had noticed you at work several times," Paul said suddenly, his gaze on his daughter again. "We take breaks at the same time. We've shared lunch, snack breaks, and breakfast without sharing a table for the last almost two and a half years. "

  Jeanne Louise swallowed, but stayed silent. He had been in the cafeteria three times a day for two years and four months and she'd never noticed him. She'd probably walked right past him a thousand times at Argeneau, never stopping to even glance his way let alone try to read his mind. If she had . . . dear God, her life mate had been that close to her all this time, Jeanne Louise thought, with a combination of horror and dismay.

  "You always look so prim and professional from the ankles up, but you wear the damnedest shoes," Paul said suddenly with amusement.

  Jeanne Louise blinked at his words and peered down, but her feet were covered with the blanket hiding the shackles on her ankle. If it weren't, she'd be looking at black, five-inch high-heeled shoes with studs on the heels. Damnedest? They were sexy as all get-out, as were all of the shoes she bought. But she'd thought they were hidden by the long pants she always wore. Jeanne Louise supposed when she sat in the cafeteria with ankles or legs crossed that her pant legs rode up and the shoes showed. She'd never considered that. Had never really thought anyone would even notice. Apparently Paul had.

  "Daddy, can Boomer and I watch that dragon training movie?"

  Jeanne Louise smiled at Livy as she approached with Boomer on her heels, a frown curving her lips as she noted the pallor to the girl's face. Slipping into the girl's mind, she was immediately beset with a pain that made her flinch and squeeze her eyes closed. The child had a crushing headache. Jeanne Louise took a moment to try to adjust to the pain, and then opened her eyes again and set about trying to ease it for the girl. If asked, she wouldn't have been able to explain how she did it, but she used the same technique she'd been taught to use when feeding off the hoof to keep her victims from feeling the pain of her teeth sinking into their necks.

  "Do you have another headache, baby?" Paul asked, deep concern obvious in his voice.

  "I . . . " Livy frowned, one small hand moving to her forehead as if feeling to see if it was still there, and then she said with surprise, "It was hurting a minute ago, but not now. "

  "Well . . . " Paul sounded nonplused, but Jeanne Louise didn't glance around, her concentration still on Livy as she continued to work to ease her pain. Unfortunately, being in her thoughts meant that Jeanne Louise was feeling the pain even if Livy now wasn't. It was an unbearable, pounding throb that reverberated through her skull. She didn't know how the child had borne it without weeping and wailing. She wanted to and she was an adult. Biting down on her lip to keep from moaning, she swallowed and tried to ignore the nausea growing in her stomach.

  "Well," Paul said again, getting up now. "Perhaps relaxing with a movie is for the best. Yes, you and Boomer can watch a movie. "

  Jeanne Louise sensed him glancing her way, but was already dividing her attention between trying to keep Livy from suffering and trying to think of how to keep her from feeling it after she'd left her sight. There was no way she knew of. She had to be able to see the girl to continue to control her mind and keep her from feeling the pain.

  "Jeanne Louise? Are you all right?"

," she said tightly.

  "You've gone pale," Paul said sounding concerned again. "Do you need-?"

  Blood, she supposed he was asking. And apparently he thought her fixation on Livy was because she saw the child as a big snack. At least that's what Jeanne Louise concluded when he suddenly stepped into her line of vision, blocking her view of the child.

  Jeanne Louise shifted her eyes to his face, seeing the protective anger there and knew she was right. Paul thought she was eyeing Livy like a big juicy steak. Idiot, she thought, and then tried to see past him to Livy when the child suddenly sucked in a gasping breath. The pain had no doubt hit her full force now that Jeanne Louise wasn't controlling it, and it would have hit like a sledgehammer to the head, she knew.

  Fortunately, Paul heard the sound too and moved to the child, allowing Jeanne Louise to see her again. She immediately slipped back into her thoughts and took control once more; quickly removing the pain again. Jeanne Louis ground her teeth as it began to pound at her own mind.

  "What is it, honey?" Paul was asking.

  "I- N-nothing," Livy said shakily, one hand on her forehead. "It's gone again. "

  Jeanne Louise saw Paul glance her way out of the corner of her eye, but ignored him. The seconds ticked by like hours as he peered at her and she knew he was trying to work out what was happening. Apparently, he didn't think it was anything good, because he suddenly turned, shifting his body so that his back was to her even as he moved Livy in front of him, blocking Jeanne Louise's view of the child once more and again breaking the connection.

  She wasn't at all surprised to hear a moan from the child a bare heartbeat later.

  "Livy?" Paul said with concern.

  "My head," she groaned miserably.

  Jeanne Louise immediately shifted sideways to get a glimpse of the girl again and focus on her thoughts. A second later Livy straightened her slumping body and blinked her eyes with something like confusion.

  "It's gone again, Daddy," she whispered as if afraid speaking at all would bring it back.

  "Gone?" Paul asked and then glanced over his shoulder toward Jeanne Louise to see that she too had shifted to see the girl.

  She was aware of his staring at her, but concentrated on the girl while trying to sort out how best to ease the pain for both of them. Jeanne Louise had no desire to suffer any more than she wanted the child to.

  "What are you doing?" Paul finally asked, uncertainty in his voice.

  Jeanne Louise hesitated and then forced Livy into sleep. It was the only thing she could think to do at that point. Paul caught the child to his chest with concern as she slid limply against him. He then glanced to Jeanne Louise in question.

  "She's sleeping," she said quietly. "She won't feel the pain now. The human body sends out endorphins while sleeping that will prevent her suffering. "

  "You made her sleep?" he asked uncertainly.

  "It was the only thing I could think to do," Jeanne Louise said quietly.

  "Will she stay asleep if you aren't with her?" Paul asked with a frown, easing his daughter into his arms.

  "She should. If you jostle her and wake her up when you put her to bed, come get me and I'll put her to sleep again," she said simply.

  Paul hesitated, but then nodded and stood to carry his daughter into the house. Boomer followed, jogging along at his side, his attention on the sleeping girl as much as Paul's was.

  The moment he was gone, Jeanne Louise raised a hand to rub her own forehead. While in the child's mind, she'd suffered the pain as clearly as she knew Livy normally suffered it. That pain had been unbearable. She didn't know how the child handled it. She'd barely been able to stand it herself and she was not only a grown woman, but an immortal. The nanos would have been flushing endorphins into her system to try to ease her discomfort. She couldn't imagine having such repeated, crushing headaches over days, let alone weeks. Surely there was something they could give the girl?

  Jeanne Louise lay back on the picnic blanket Paul had spread over the wooden floor of the gazebo. She closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead unhappily as the memory of the pain began to fade. She then turned her attention to what had to be done. She couldn't read Paul and food tasted amazing since she'd woken up chained to the bed. She was 90 percent sure that Paul was her life mate. She just needed that last bit of proof. The food she'd eaten since being here was ten, perhaps even a hundred times tastier than it had been a day ago. If it was the same way with sex with Paul . . .

  Well, life mates were said to faint from the sheer passion that overwhelmed them during sex, and she could understand how that might be if sex was a hundred times more powerful too. She would have to find out, and quickly. Jeanne Louise's conscience simply wouldn't allow her to leave Livy to suffer as she was. And she couldn't turn her either. She had to step up her courting. She had to seduce the man and get that final proof that he was her life mate. And then she had to somehow make him love her and agree to spend eternity with her before explaining that she could turn only one, that it would be either Livy or he. But that if she turned him, he could then use his one turn to save his daughter.

  If she succeeded at it, everything would be fine. They would be a family. She would have her life mate, and a daughter too. The thought made her smile faintly. It was like a dream come true. Jeanne Louise had not only always wanted a family of her own, she loved children. She'd been feeling a pining for one the last decade or so. But it had worsened with first the birth of Lissianna and Greg's little Lucy, and then with Uncle Lucian and Leigh's announcement that Leigh was pregnant again. While Leigh had lost their first child in the second month, she was now seven months along and mother and child were apparently well. Everyone was waiting eagerly for the child's birth.

  Jeanne Louise didn't care that she hadn't given birth to Livy. She would accept her as her own and mother her as best she knew how. Which wasn't really well at all, she supposed. She hadn't a clue how to be a mother, other than what she'd seen with Lissianna and Greg.

  Actually, Jeanne Louise realized suddenly, Livy was about the same age as Lucy. They were both beautiful little blondes too, she thought with a smile. They could go through training to feed together, would no doubt be in the same grade, might even end up the best of friends. The fantasy of a happy home life with Paul and Livy was building in her head when the scuff of a foot made her open her eyes. She blinked at the sight of Paul standing over her, his expression grim.

  "You have some explaining to do," he said coldly and Jeanne Louise's fantasies of a happy future burst like a bubble.
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