Immortal ever after, p.7
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       Immortal Ever After, p.7

         Part #18 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands
 
Page 7

 

  “Better known as an ass,” Anders muttered and Valerie gave a startled laugh.

  “Marguerite?” Leigh asked, moving to the door to look out. “Where is she?”

  “Julius called as we pulled up. She stopped to speak to him and told me to come on in without her,” Justin said. “She’ll be along in a minute. ”

  “Oh. ” Leigh turned to smile at Valerie. “I should make tea. Do you like tea?”

  Valerie nodded.

  “Good, we’ll have tea then,” she decided and headed toward the back of the house, adding, “You’ll like Marguerite. She’s my sister-in-law, well, Lucian’s sister-in-law really, and just the loveliest lady. Oh, this will be nice . . . tea and a visit on the verandah. ”

  “She doesn’t get out much,” Justin said with amusement when Valerie stared after her babbling host.

  She glanced to him, noting the smile of appreciation was still on his face and he was looking her over again in the nightgown. Her gaze then shifted to Anders as he suddenly bent to pick up the bags Justin had put down.

  “You’d probably like to dress,” he said as he straightened.

  “Oh, yes,” Valerie said at once.

  Nodding, he moved past her to the stairs with the bags. “I’ll take these to your room. ”

  As Valerie followed, he added over his shoulder, “Make yourself useful, Bricker. Help Leigh with the tea. ”

  Chapter Four

  “I’ll wait in the hall,” Anders said, setting her bags on the table they’d been seated at just moments ago.

  Valerie almost said he needn’t wait for her, but then realized that if he didn’t she might have trouble finding the others when she was done. She didn’t know this house, and judging by the length of the upper hallway she’d traveled twice now, it was huge. So she nodded and said, “Thank you,” as Anders left her alone.

  She had her suitcase and overnight bag open and was examining the contents before he’d pulled the door closed behind him. It was strange to see so many of her personal items neatly packed inside. Valerie recognized them, they were all hers, but they seemed somehow alien after her experiences. It made her wonder if everything would strike her that way.

  Shaking her head, Valerie picked out underwear, a bra, a T-shirt, and jeans and began to dress. As she did, she recalled Leigh saying the man who went to fetch her clothes would check with her neighbors about Roxy, but the dog hadn’t been with Justin. He hadn’t found her with one of the neighbors then, Valerie realized, and frowned. She’d have to call about having Roxy’s chip tracked. That thought uppermost in her mind, she finished dressing and then hurried out into the hall to find Anders waiting patiently, leaning against the wall, legs crossed at the ankles and arms crossed over his chest.

  “That was fast. ” He complimented her as he straightened.

  “Yes,” Valerie agreed with distraction, starting up the hall. When he fell into step beside her, she said, “Roxy wasn’t with that fellow Justin or Bricker or whatever his name is. ” Leigh had called him Justin, but Anders had called him Bricker. She wasn’t sure how she should refer to him.

  “His name is Justin Bricker,” Anders said quietly. “But, no, he didn’t have a dog with him. I’ll ask him what he found when we get downstairs. If he’s still here. ”

  They were both frowning at that afterthought as they started down the stairs. But they needn’t have worried, Justin Bricker was still there. Valerie could hear the murmur of a male voice as they started up a hall toward the back of the house.

  “There they are,” Leigh said brightly as Anders led Valerie into a combination kitchen/living room.

  It was a large open area that appeared to take up the entire back half of the main floor. The kitchen was on the left, separated from the sitting area on the right by a long, granite covered island with chair-backed stools around it. Both sides were decorated in wood and earth tones. Like the front of the house, the outer wall here was more glass than anything else with French doors on both sides leading out onto a covered verandah. And Leigh hadn’t been kidding about a nice shady verandah. Vines grew thick and healthy up the posts and along the edges, adding to the charm and providing more shade. The view beyond was as incredible as the view out the front of the house, only here there was also a pool.

  “Come meet Marguerite, Valerie. ”

  Tearing herself away from the view, she moved into the kitchen, where Leigh and a second woman were leaning against the counter on either side of a steaming teakettle. Valerie peered at the newcomer curiously as she approached. Marguerite was almost a head taller than Leigh, with a figure most women would kill for. She wore a summery red dress that looked lovely with her pale complexion and long flowing auburn hair, and she had quite the loveliest face Valerie had ever seen. Like Anders, the woman could have been a model. Also like Anders, she looked to be in her mid- to late twenties, but then so did Leigh and Justin.

  “Hello, Valerie,” Marguerite said smiling widely and offering her hand as Valerie came to a halt before the two women. “It’s nice to meet you. ”

  “Nice to meet you too,” Valerie said politely, shaking the offered hand.

  “I’m sorry we didn’t find your dog,” Marguerite said apologetically as they finished shaking and released each other’s hands.

  Valerie’s shoulders slumped. It was what she’d expected, but was still disappointing. Forcing a crooked smile, she said, “Thank you for trying. ”

  “Actually, I didn’t,” she admitted wryly. “That was Justin. I was packing your clothes while he checked with your neighbors. But not everyone was home. He’s going to go back tonight, so he may yet find her,” Marguerite said encouragingly.

  “Actually, there were more people not home than home,” Justin Bricker said, entering the kitchen through the French doors. “Middle of the afternoon, most people were working. The only people I found home were two houses close to the corner and—”

  “And Mrs. Ribble next door,” Valerie finished for him with a wry smile.

  “No. The house across the street from yours,” Bricker corrected.

  Valerie’s eyebrows rose at this news and she said, “But Mrs. Ribble is at least eighty years old. She’s always home. ”

  Bricker’s pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Which next-door neighbor is she? The left or right side?”

  “The right side if you’re facing the house from the street,” Valerie answered.

  “There was no answer there,” Bricker said firmly, and then added thoughtfully, “But a dog barked when I knocked. ”

  “She doesn’t have a dog,” Valerie said with a frown.

  “Bricker, I think you may have found Roxy after all,” Anders commented.

  Valerie glanced at him with surprise, but then realized he was probably right. He had to be . . . unless Mrs. Ribble had got herself a dog in the last two weeks, it was probably Roxy that Bricker had heard barking. Straightening, she said, “I have to go see if it’s Roxy. ”

  “No. You have to stay here,” Anders said firmly. “Bricker will go back. ”

  “She didn’t open the door to him the first time, what makes you think she’ll open it for him if he goes back?” she asked impatiently.

  “What makes you think she’ll answer to you?” Anders asked. “You only moved in next door a week or so before being kidnapped. ”

  Valerie scowled. “I wasn’t asking permission to go. I’m not a prisoner here . . . or am I?” she added grimly.

  “No, of course not,” Leigh said at once, moving to her side to add her support. “And I think we should all go see if it’s Roxy. ”

  “Oh, no,” Anders said at once. “Lucian would have my hide if I let you out in your condition. ”

  “So Valerie isn’t a prisoner, but I am?” Leigh asked sweetly.

  Anders scowled. “Neither of you are prisoners, but it’s in your best interests to remain here. You, Leigh, because you co
uld go into labor at any moment, and Valerie because—”

  “I’m sure a quick drive to Valerie’s house and back wouldn’t be a problem,” Marguerite interrupted soothingly.

  “I’d believe that if I didn’t know that Valerie lives in Cambridge, Marguerite,” Anders said dryly. “That’s a forty-five minute drive and if Lucian came back while we were gone—”

  “He won’t,” Marguerite assured him. “A couple of new hunters flew in today and he’s meeting with them. He told me to tell Leigh to call if anything happened, but otherwise he’d be a little late. ”

  “We have new hunters?” Anders asked with surprise.

  “Yeah,” Bricker said with a grin. “Lucian said with his men dropping like flies we needed the extra support. ”

  Valerie frowned. How dangerous was the job of hunting men like the one who had held her captive? Pretty dangerous, she guessed, but pushed that aside in favor of her worry over Roxy. The German shepherd was her responsibility . . . and she loved the dog. She wanted to know if she was all right and where she was. Shifting impatiently, she asked, “Leigh, can I use your phone?”

  “Yes, of course, Valerie,” she said at once. “But what for?”

  “I’m calling a taxi to take me home,” she answered, spotting the phone at the other end of the kitchen and heading for it.

  “Oh. ” Leigh smiled uncertainly at her and then turned to Anders and snapped, “Well?”

  Valerie was picking up the phone when she heard Anders release an exasperated sigh.

  “Fine,” he said curtly. “Hang up, Valerie. I’ll take you. ”

  Valerie hesitated, but then hung up and turned to face him. “Thank you,” she said quietly.

  “Great,” Leigh said happily. “Maybe we can stop for ice cream on the way. I know this great place that sells Rocky Road sundaes with marshmallow topping and—”

  “You’re not going,” Anders interrupted firmly. “I’ll take Valerie, but you’re staying here with Bricker. I’m not risking the wrath of Lucian so you can have ice cream. ”

  “That’s all right, Leigh,” Marguerite said reassuringly. “We’ll wait till they leave and then get Bricker to take us for ice cream . . . and maybe some shopping. ”

  “All right,” Leigh said, suddenly smiling, and then added excitedly, “Oooo, if Lucian’s going to be late, dinner out would be nice too, don’t you think?”

  “Bricker is not taking you anywhere,” Anders said firmly.

  Marguerite shrugged. “Then we’ll wait till he’s busy and take Leigh’s car and go ourselves. ” She smiled sweetly at Anders and added, “He can’t watch us every minute. He’ll have to go to the bathroom sooner or later. ”

  Much to Valerie’s amazement, Anders actually growled under his breath with frustration. But then he threw up his hands in defeat and turned to head out of the kitchen saying, “Fine. Come with us. But it’s straight there and back. No stopping for ice cream. No lunch. No shopping. There and back and that’s it. ”

  “Mmmm, this really is good,” Valerie murmured, dipping her spoon into her ice cream and scooping out a large mouthful.

  “I told you it was. ”

  Valerie shifted around in the front seat and smiled at Leigh. The pregnant woman was seated between Bricker and Marguerite on the SUV’s backseat where all three of them were each gobbling up their own Rocky Road sundae with marshmallow topping, nuts, and a cherry.

  “You were right. ” Valerie assured her and then settled back in her seat, her gaze sliding to a scowling Anders in the driver’s seat. The man had been scowling since leaving the house. Her gaze dropped to the sundae sitting on the floor between them and she said, “You really should pull over and eat yours before it completely melts, Anders. It will only take a couple minutes. ”

  “I don’t have a sundae,” Anders said grimly. “That’s Leigh’s. She said she wanted two, so she has two. ”

  “And I told you I lied so you could have one because I knew you were too annoyed to order one for yourself,” Leigh said patiently. “Pull over and eat it, Anders. I promise you it’s the best thing you’ve ever tasted. ”

  When he didn’t respond, Marguerite said, “Why don’t you feed him, Valerie. That way he doesn’t have to stop, but can still enjoy it. ”

  Valerie’s eyes widened. “Oh, I don’t think—”

  “Just pretend he’s a sick and cranky child you have to feed,” Marguerite said with amusement.
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