Immortal ever after, p.6
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       Immortal Ever After, p.6

         Part #18 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands
 
Page 6

 

  The sound of the door opening made them both glance toward it. Leigh was back.

  “She’s not at any of the animal shelters,” Leigh announced, waddling across the room to reclaim her seat at the table. “So I called Lucian and he said one of the men was at your house collecting some clothes for you and he’d have him check with the neighbors. I’m sure someone recognized and took her in until your return. He’ll find her and bring her here. ”

  “Thank you,” Valerie said quietly, but worried what she would do if Roxy wasn’t with one of the neighbors. What if the blow that had caused Roxy to yelp had killed her?

  “The good news is that she can’t be dead,” Leigh continued. “Otherwise she would have been taken to one of the shelters to be disposed of and they would have told me. ”

  “That’s true,” Valerie said slowly and felt some of her tension ease. If Roxy was alive, she’d find her. She’d had a chip put in the dog when she was just a pup. If one of the neighbors didn’t have her, she’d call and have the chip tracked.

  “Now, what did I interrupt?” Leigh asked cheerfully.

  “Valerie was telling me what happened,” Anders said quietly, then glanced to her and reminded her, “Igor made you bathe and don the white robe?”

  “Right,” she muttered, memory taking her back to that room again and her terror that she was going to be raped. She hadn’t been raped, but what had happened had been almost as bad. As soon as she was close enough, Igor’s master had caught one of her flailing hands and pulled her out of Igor’s grip and onto the bed.

  At first, he’d just held her in place and laughed cruelly at her terrified struggles. But then he’d toyed with her, playing with her like a cat plays with a mouse, letting her think she was getting loose, that she might escape, then catching her and flipping her back onto the bed before him to laugh some more. He’d seemed to enjoy tormenting her, but when her struggles weakened, he’d grown tired of the game. He’d grabbed her by the scruff of the neck, dragged her onto his lap, smiled into her ashen face and opened his mouth, revealing huge, pointy fangs.

  Valerie had freaked out. It was like some waking nightmare. In fact, she hadn’t been sure it wasn’t one. But then he’d ripped into her throat with those fangs and the agony that tore through her had convinced her it was no dream. The sound of his sucking and slurping away her lifeblood had only added to the nightmare quality of the whole experience.

  As least that’s what she’d thought she’d experienced. When she’d woken up in her cage the next day as Igor had come to hand out the bowls of oatmeal, Valerie had convinced herself it was nuts, a ridiculous hallucination brought on by terror, exhaustion, and the situation.

  Realizing that they were waiting for her to say something, Valerie blurted out, “After the bath and making me put on the robe, Igor took me to his boss who was a whacked-out freak vampire wannabe who gnawed on and tore up my throat with fake fangs. ”

  Valerie paused briefly, noting an exchange of glances between Leigh and Anders, but not terribly surprised by it. She was just surprised they weren’t gasping, “Fake fangs?”

  Since they weren’t, she continued, “I lost a lot of blood the night he kidnapped me, but this was worse. I passed out and when I woke up I was in the cage and Igor was distributing the next night’s oatmeal and taking Cindy away again. ” Her mouth tightened at the memory of Cindy begging through her sobs not to be taken up again. She couldn’t bear it. Please just kill her.

  Valerie swallowed and pushed those memories away, saying, “I wasn’t hungry, and I was too weak to even chew anyway, but I didn’t want to be force-fed, so like I said, I upended the bowl in my jacket, and pushed it in the corner. Then I just curled up in a ball and slept until he came again the next night with food. I was feeling better by then, a little stronger, hungry even, but also clearheaded for the first time since the night I was kidnapped. Which is how I realized they were drugging the food,” she explained.

  It was also when Valerie had decided that, one: the drugs had been playing tricks on her and she hadn’t really seen fangs, at least not real ones. And two: that she wasn’t going to eat again while held in that cage, that she would skip the meals to avoid the drugs and keep enough of her wits about her to escape the next time she was taken for her “night out. ”

  Clearing her throat, Valerie shrugged. “So I stopped eating. I drank the water, because that was in bottles and didn’t seem to be drugged. But I kept dumping the food in my jacket and pushing it into the corner of my cage. ”

  “And this Igor didn’t notice?” Leigh asked with interest.

  “No, though he would have in another day or two; it was starting to stink. ” Valerie fell silent. She’d left out quite a bit, including the fact that the other women had told her they were sure Igor could read their minds. Because of that she’d made sure to recite song lyrics in her head every time he’d come around. It had been hard to concentrate enough to remember lyrics by the end. She’d been so hungry . . . and trying to figure a way to escape with one part of her mind while reciting lyrics with the other had been difficult. The only thing that had kept her going was Bethany and Janey. Their continued silence had worried her. But she’d also counted on their worsening state making Igor skip them that time around, and he had. He’d also skipped Laura, who wasn’t as bad as the other two, but was starting to flag. That was probably the only reason her plan had worked. She wasn’t sure if she’d have been strong enough to pull it off had she had to go another night without food.

  “So you escaped by not eating the drugged food,” Leigh said with a nod. “Very clever. ”

  “That and taking him by surprise. And a lot of luck,” Valerie said dryly, thinking that if that bench hadn’t shattered under her, giving her a weapon, or if he’d tossed her just to the side of it, or if her aim had been off . . . Really, it had been a heck of a lot of luck and now she told them about shooting the shampoo into his face and using the broken bench leg to stab him.

  “How did you end up in the bushes?” Anders asked when she fell quiet again.

  Valerie glanced his way, noticing only then that while he’d brought food and drink for her and Leigh, he had neither. She was frowning over that as she answered, “I put down the phone and went out the window when Igor’s boss came home. But I was injured and the best I could do was crawl ten feet or so away along the house and roll myself under the bushes before passing out. ”

  “Okay, enough of this unpleasant business,” Leigh announced abruptly. “It’s time to relax and—” She cut herself off and frowned as she saw Valerie’s soup bowl. “You didn’t finish your soup. ”

  “I’m afraid I’m full,” Valerie said apologetically, and then quickly added, “But it was very good. Thank you. ”

  Leigh nodded, but gestured to her barely touched milk. “Not a big fan of milk I take it?”

  “No. Sorry. Never cared much for it. Even as a child,” Valerie admitted.

  Leigh nodded and stood. “Then let’s go down and find you something else to drink. We need to replenish your fluids as much as we can and we can have it on the verandah. After being stuck in a cage all that time, some fresh air will do you a world of good and we have a lovely shaded verandah where we can enjoy this sunny day. ”

  Valerie stood and reached out to collect her bowl and glass, but froze when her hands collided with Anders’s as he reached out to do the same thing. She stood completely still for a moment as a strange sort of charge sparked through her hands from the point of contact, then sought out his eyes. But his head was bowed, his gaze focused firmly on the tabletop. She couldn’t tell if he was experiencing what she was or not. Biting her lip, she withdrew her hands, breaking the contact, and he quickly set the items on the tray and picked it up.

  “Come on,” Leigh said cheerfully.

  Valerie swallowed, and moved quickly to follow as the other woman led the way to the door.

  “To
tell you the truth, I could do with some fresh air myself,” Leigh added dryly as she started into the hall. “My husband is fussing over the baby and hasn’t let me out much the last three weeks. He’s afraid I’ll go into labor in the car or something. ”

  She said it as if the idea were ridiculous, but as Valerie followed her up the hall, she decided she didn’t blame the man for his worry. Leigh did look ready to pop. She didn’t say as much though, but asked, “When are you due?”

  “Last week,” Leigh said dryly, one hand moving to her stomach. “Little one here is as stubborn as her daddy though, and taking her own sweet time. ”

  “You know it’s a girl?” Valerie asked with a smile.

  “Yes,” Leigh answered even as Anders said, “No,” behind them.

  When Valerie raised her eyebrows and glanced over her shoulder at the man following them, Leigh drew her attention back by admitting, “We didn’t know what an ultrasound would do so didn’t want to risk it, but I’m sure it’s a girl. ”

  “I’ve never heard that ultrasounds are bad for babies,” Valerie said with surprise as they reached a set of stairs.

  “Oh, I’m sure they aren’t for mort—”

  “Leigh. ” The warning growl came from Anders and stopped the woman abruptly.

  She blinked once or twice, then forced a smile and said, “Oh dear, I forgot. The men insist I hold onto the rail when I go down the stairs,” as if that was what the growling of her name had been about. She then made a show of grabbing the rail and started down the stairs saying, “I’m sure ultrasounds are fine, but you know how modern technology is. They say one thing is good or bad for you one minute, and then change their tune the next. Butter was bad and we should all eat margarine and then it turned out margarine was bad and we should use olive-oil-based spread and so on. And then there’s that drug that was supposed to be fine and then got pulled off the market because pregnant mothers were miscarrying or having mutant babies or whatever. It’s just better to be safe than sorry. ”

  Valerie followed the woman, amusement curving her lips. Leigh had babbled that all out in one go and without taking a breath. Amazing, she thought.

  In the next moment, her attention was diverted by her surroundings. The bedroom she’d woken up in had been nice, and the hallway had just been a hallway, but halfway down the stairs she noted that dead ahead of her was a two story wall of windows around a set of double doors. Beyond the glass was a huge yard with trees, ponds, pagodas, and gardens. It was gorgeous, and a far cry from the dark, dank basement she’d spent ten days in.

  “It is beautiful, isn’t it?” Leigh said, pausing two steps below her to look outside herself. “I’ll never tire of this view. ”

  “I don’t imagine you will,” Valerie said softly, noting that beyond the manicured lawn was what appeared to be a forest of trees. “Is this the back of the house?”

  “No, the front,” Leigh said. “The road is beyond those trees and the driveway is just out of sight to the right there. ” She gestured with her hand and then explained, “What looks like a forest is only about twenty or thirty feet deep. The true forest is behind the house. It goes for miles there. ” She continued down the stairs, adding, “There are trees lining the sides of the yard too, so you don’t have to worry about the neighbors seeing you in my nightgown. ”

  Valerie glanced down at herself, suddenly aware that she’d been sitting around in the thin cotton for the last half hour or so with two complete strangers. She should have been uncomfortable. She hadn’t been. Although, now Valerie glanced self-consciously back at Anders and felt herself flush when she saw the way his eyes were skating over her figure in the thin material.

  Turning abruptly forward, she hurried after Leigh, who was already stepping off the last step and turning right. Valerie had reached the bottom step herself when a doorbell suddenly chimed out, seeming to echo through the house. She stared at the large double doors before her, able to see a young man in black leather through the glass windows of the door.

  Anders slipped past her with the tray. He set it down on a table beside the stairs, and then moved to unlock and open the door to the tall, smiling man carrying a suitcase and overnight bag that looked remarkably like hers.

  “Justin!” Leigh returned to stand at the foot of the stairs beside her. “Are those Valerie’s clothes?”

  “Yes ma’am,” he said cheerfully, stepping into the house and smiling at Valerie. His eyes traveled appreciatively over her in the nightgown as he set down the cases. “Everything from skivvies to shoes. Marguerite came along to do the actual packing,” he added with a reassuring smile for Valerie as he straightened and looked her over again. “I’m just the beast of burden. ”
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