Immortal ever after, p.5
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       Immortal Ever After, p.5

         Part #18 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands
 
Page 5

 

  “Perhaps this Igor was dead and was taken because his identity would reveal his boss’s identity,” Leigh suggested.

  “How did you kill him?” Anders asked and for some reason the question made Leigh glance at him sharply.

  “I stake—stabbed him with one of the legs from a broken bench,” she answered and then added, “I’m pretty sure I got him in the heart. ”

  “You made the 911 call right afterward?” Anders asked and when she nodded, added, “And his master returned during the call. That couldn’t have been more than five minutes later. ”

  Valerie’s eyebrows rose at the use of the word master, but she nodded again.

  Leigh and Anders exchanged another glance and then Leigh said, “Then I’m sure he was dead. ”

  The woman was a rotten liar. It seemed obvious that she wasn’t sure at all, but Valerie didn’t know how that could be. Unless everything she’d witnessed, and all the suspicions the other women had spoken were true. A vampire? But that was ridiculous. Wasn’t it?

  “The other women said you arrived ten days before the 911 call,” Anders said now, distracting her from pursuing that line of thought . . . which was probably good. She was pretty sure that way lay madness.

  Nodding in response to his question, Valerie peered down at her soup, staring at the bits of beef and potato half submerged in the thick broth. “That’s my count too. Ten days. ”

  “Where and when did he grab you?” Anders asked.

  “Ten o’clock on Wednesday night. I was walking Roxy before bed and . . . ” She paused at the thought of her dog. Despite her own situation, she’d worried repeatedly about Roxy while in the house of horrors, but this was the first time she’d given a thought to the German shepherd since waking up here. That realization roused some guilt in her. Had anyone found Roxy or fed her these past two weeks?

  “I’d better go look for her,” Valerie said, pushing back her chair.

  “For who?” Anders asked.

  “Roxy,” Leigh explained as he stood and stepped in front of Valerie as she got to her feet.

  Valerie stared at the wall that was Anders’s chest, noting with some distraction that he smelled rather lovely, and that his chest was incredibly wide, his tight T-shirt seeming to highlight the curve of his muscles and—why was it so warm all of a sudden? She wondered as a wave of heat slid over her. Perhaps her fever hadn’t completely passed, she worried, unaware that Leigh had stood up too and moved around the table until she touched her arm, saying, “You can’t. ”

  Relieved by the distraction, Valerie turned to Leigh, but asked with confusion. “Can’t what?”

  “Go searching for Roxy. You’re in no shape to go anywhere just yet. You need to rest and recover,” Leigh said.

  Roxy, Valerie remembered. How could she forget Roxy? Frowning, she gave her head a shake and said, “She’s been out there for two weeks, Leigh. Anything could have happened to her. She might be at the pound. What if they put her to sleep or something?”

  “They won’t put her to sleep,” Leigh assured her firmly, urging her back into her chair. “She has a license, doesn’t she? Maybe even a name tag with your number on it? They’d know she has a home and have probably been looking for you. ”

  “And haven’t been able to find me. I should go—”

  “You haven’t got any clothes, Valerie,” Leigh pointed out patiently. “And you’re taller than me. None of my clothes would fit you. The best thing you can do right now is sit down and eat and rebuild your strength. I’ll call around to the animal shelters myself while you eat. Go on,” she added firmly when Valerie didn’t pick up her spoon right away. She didn’t wait for her to start, but turned away, saying, “Anders, make sure she eats while I make the calls. ”

  Chapter Three

  Anders watched Valerie as Leigh left the room. The woman’s expression was full of concern and dissatisfaction. She obviously cared for, and wasn’t pleased not to be looking for, her pet. His gaze slid over Valerie, noting that her hair was nearly dry and now fell in soft, golden waves around her face. Her clean face, he noted. Anders hadn’t seen Valerie since delivering her to the Enforcer house. The dirt that had covered her then had hidden what he now saw were very fine features.

  The woman had incredible eyes: wide, almost emerald green, with long thick lashes surrounding them. She had a pert nose and lips that were lovely: full and puffy like tiny perfect, pale, rose pillows that needed kissing. Beautiful.

  “Do I have something on my face?”

  Anders’s gaze flickered at the question as he realized he’d been caught staring. Shaking his head in answer to her question, he glanced away, but then he shifted his eyes back and gestured to her bowl. “Eat. ”

  Valerie picked up her spoon, but she didn’t start eating. Instead, she simply fiddled with the utensil and bit her lip, her gaze shooting to the door again. Thinking about her dog, he guessed.

  Sighing, she set down the spoon. “I’m afraid I’m not hungry anymore. I mean, it’s very good, but it is a very thick soup, more like stew, really, and I haven’t eaten much lately. I should be hungry, ravenous even. I’ve always been a healthy eater, and . . . ” She paused, biting her lip, and then muttered, “Sorry. I’m rambling. I guess I’m worried about Roxy. ”

  Anders began loading Leigh’s empty bowl and glass back onto the tray, and simply said, “Drink your milk and finish telling me about the night you were taken. ”

  Valerie nodded, but didn’t speak right away. Instead, her expression became thoughtful and Anders suspected she was mentally taking herself back to the night she’d been kidnapped. It worried him. He couldn’t read or control her. If putting herself back in that moment upset her to the point of hysterics, he couldn’t slip into her mind and soothe her. He was just thinking that it might have been better if he’d waited for Leigh or someone else to be present to ask these questions, when she began to speak. Much to his relief, her voice was perfectly calm.

  “It all happened very fast. I’m not even sure what exactly took place. I remember Roxy going suddenly still and barking, and then I felt someone grab me . . . ” She paused and Anders watched her closely. Several expressions flickered across her face in quick succession. Fear, anxiety, and anger were among them. Finally she said unhappily, “I think he kicked Roxy. I remember her yelping in pain and then he dragged me up against his chest and . . . ”

  Valerie hesitated again and he suspected she was trying to decide what she should and shouldn’t tell him. No doubt she felt mentioning fangs and being bitten might make him think she was crazy. He wasn’t surprised when she suddenly shook her head and muttered, “The next thing I knew I woke up in that cage in the dark. My neck was bleeding and I was weak and disoriented. I couldn’t see anything, but I could feel the bars of my cage and hear a woman sobbing. I called out and . . . ” She closed her eyes briefly before continuing, “They answered one by one, scared voices in the dark; Cindy, Bethany, Janey, Kathy, Billie, and Laura. One of us for every night of the week. ” Swallowing, she met his gaze and said, “Leigh told me Bethany and Janey didn’t make it. ”

  It was a statement rather than a question, but he nodded anyway, verifying that it was true.

  Valerie sagged in her seat, looking more resigned than anything as she said, “Both of them sounded pretty weak and exhausted the night I arrived. They just got worse as the days passed. They’d been there the longest and weren’t doing well. I guess that’s why they weren’t taken up the first week I was there. It was only five days after I was kidnapped that I was taken upstairs myself. ”

  “You ate at first?” he asked, but thought she must have. She’d been there ten days. She wouldn’t have had the strength to do what she had if she hadn’t eaten the whole time.

  Valerie nodded. “The first daily ration of oatmeal and fruit was brought around the night after I got there. At least I’m guessing it was a full day and night after. ” She
shrugged. “Igor took Cindy upstairs after passing out the bowls. I asked the others why he’d taken her and where, but they didn’t want to talk about it and just told me to eat or Igor would force-feed me. I was starved, so I ate. ”

  She grimaced. “Things got pretty fuzzy after that. I know he came back and cleaned Cindy’s cage while she was gone. But I don’t think he collected the bowls until he brought Cindy back. I’m not sure. Like I said, things got fuzzy and all I wanted to do was sleep. ” She shook her head. “I should have realized it was the oatmeal, that it was drugged, but I just thought the exhaustion and constant sleeping were due to the wound on my neck. ”

  Anders nodded, and then asked, “When did you figure out the food was drugged?”

  “After my own first ‘night out,’ ” she answered with a grim smile.

  “Night out?” he asked.

  “It’s what we called it. The night out of our cage. Not a full night, just a couple hours really. ” She shrugged. “Five nights after I got there, everyone else got a bowl but me, and I was taken upstairs. ”

  She paused again, this time holding her breath, and Anders tensed, afraid that these memories might be too much for her, but after a moment, she let her breath out on a small puff and continued, “I don’t usually lose my cool in a crisis. I mean running a veterinary clinic can sometimes be as stressful as a hospital ER. Dogs are hit by cars, or have other accidents or ailments and are rushed in, and we have to be able to jump into action. We can’t freak out, or fall apart. ”

  “Of course,” he said when she fell silent. It seemed to encourage her.

  “By the time Igor came for me it had been twenty-four hours since our last feeding, and the drugs must have been wearing off, but I was still off balance. My vision was affected, or maybe it was my brain,” she muttered grimly. “Whatever it was, everything seemed distorted, my hearing was going in and out like a bad radio station, and my emotions were exaggerated and all over the place. But worst of all, my coordination was non-existent and I couldn’t seem to remember a damned thing from my martial arts training. It was like all those skills I’d honed and practiced for years had just fled. ”

  She sounded bewildered, and maybe even a little betrayed by that fact, Anders noted. He tried to think of something to say to make her feel better, but before he came up with something, Valerie continued wearily, “By the time Igor got me upstairs, forced me through a bath and into the white silk robe, I was a complete mess. There didn’t seem to be a lick of my usual calm, rational self left. I was just this bundle of raw emotion and terror when he dragged me out into the master bedroom. I was sure I was going to be raped. I mean why keep seven women if it wasn’t rape, right? There were no men in the basement. So it had to be rape, and that infuriated me because I wouldn’t be able to stop it. I didn’t seem to have the wherewithal or coordination to fight it. ”

  She was obviously still angry about that, Anders decided, noting the way she was clenching her hands. Her knuckles were white.

  “Igor’s boss was dressed in a red velour robe and lounging against a mound of pillows on this huge king-sized bed like some pasha or something,” she said suddenly with disgust. “I struggled, but . . . damn, Igor was a huge guy. A behemoth. And superstrong too. There was just no escaping at that point. ”

  When she paused again, Anders waited patiently. But this time there was a huge struggle taking place on her face. He didn’t have to be able to read her mind to know that she was having an inner battle over what to say next. And it wasn’t that she’d been raped. Anders knew she hadn’t been. While he couldn’t read Valerie, he hadn’t had any problem reading the other women who had been prisoners along with her. Each of them had experienced the very same thing on their “night out,” so he had no doubt she had too. Aside from that though, Dani had examined Valerie thoroughly. She hadn’t been raped. But she had been terrorized and mauled, her throat mangled by what she would call a vampire. She’d hardly think she could tell him that though. None of the women had felt they could. They’d all said he was crazy. That he thought he was a vampire. That he had fake teeth or something, or maybe it was a knife, but he’d messed up their neck somehow.

  Anders had no doubt Valerie would say the same thing; partially to avoid sounding crazy, and partially because speaking the truth was intolerable. Her mind simply couldn’t accept that such things existed. It was too horrible for most mortals to contemplate . . . and that was his big worry. If she couldn’t accept that vampires existed, he’d never convince her to be his life mate.
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