Immortal ever after, p.8
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       Immortal Ever After, p.8

         Part #18 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands
 
Page 8

 

  Valerie’s eyes shot to Anders in time to catch him casting a dirty look into the rearview mirror, no doubt at Marguerite. Since the woman suddenly chuckled, she supposed Marguerite caught the look.

  Valerie glanced down at the melting sundae. It did seem a shame for it to go to waste. It was good ice cream. And it hadn’t been cheap.

  “Just give him a taste, Valerie, so he’ll stop and eat it,” Leigh suggested.

  Valerie hesitated, but they were pulling up to a red light and it wouldn’t interfere with his driving, so she scooped up a healthy selection of her own ice cream and topping and leaned over to offer her spoon to him.

  Anders eyed the offering, but didn’t at first open his mouth. She was just about to give up, sit back and eat it herself when he suddenly did. Valerie moved the spoon between his open lips, watching silently as he closed his mouth around the spoon and ice cream. She could have sworn the gold flecks in his eyes flashed bigger and brighter in the black irises and then he closed his eyes on a long moan that sounded almost sexual.

  Valerie stared wide-eyed as he savored the food, then withdrew the now clean spoon and sank back in her seat uncertainly.

  “Told you you’d like it,” Leigh said with amusement from the backseat.

  When Anders didn’t respond, but remained still, eyes closed, Bricker said, “Yo, A-man. The light’s changed. ”

  Anders blinked his eyes open, saw that Bricker was telling the truth, and urged the car forward again. He only drove half a block though, before pulling into a mall parking lot to finish his sundae.

  “What kind of dog is Roxy?”

  Valerie glanced around in surprise at that question from Leigh. She’d dozed off in her seat shortly after they’d finished their ice cream and continued on the drive. She hadn’t meant to, but supposed she’d sleep a lot for the next little while as she healed. In truth, she was still tired and would no doubt still be asleep if her head hadn’t fallen off the headrest and bumped into the side window. Clearing her throat, she shifted around so she could see the people in the backseat and answered, “She’s a German shepherd. ”

  “How old is she?” Marguerite asked with interest.

  “About three,” Valerie said, and then added, “She was a rescue animal. She’s one of several dogs who were brought into my clinic after a raid on a puppy mill. ”

  “Your clinic?” Anders asked, sparing her a glance before turning his eyes back to the road.

  “Yes. I’m a vet,” Valerie explained. “I have a clinic in Winnipeg. ”

  “You have a clinic in Winnipeg, Manitoba, but live in Cambridge, Ontario?” Bricker asked, and before she could answer, commented, “That’s one hell of a commute. ”

  Valerie smiled faintly, but shook her head. “The house in Cambridge is a rental. I’m just staying there while I take some courses at the University of Guelph. ”

  “Changing careers?” Anders asked curiously.

  Valerie shook her head. “No,the courses are actually at the veterinary clinic at the university. I’m just brushing up on the career I already have,” she said and when he raised an eyebrow in question, she explained, “I got my degree and training there. There have been advancements in the field the last couple of years and I wanted to get caught up on the latest techniques. ”

  “Do all vets do that?” Leigh asked curiously.

  “What about your clinic? Did you have to shut it down while you’re away?” Bricker asked.

  “And aren’t there veterinary schools in Winnipeg?” Marguerite chimed in. “This seems a long way to go to brush up. ”

  Valerie grimaced at the barrage of questions, but answered, “I don’t know if other vets take courses to stay current. I have a partner, and two other vets work at the clinic; they’re covering things till I get back. And Guelph is where I got my original degree. It just seemed easier to return for these courses than to apply somewhere else. ”

  Her answers were mostly true, and they were also the explanations she gave to everyone else. It was nobody’s business that she’d chosen to brush up and to do so in Ontario because she’d wanted to be out of Winnipeg for a while.

  “So were you born and raised in Winnipeg, or Ontario?” Anders asked.

  “Cambridge, Ontario,” Valerie answered reluctantly, knowing what question would come next.

  It was Bricker who asked it. “Then how did you end up opening a clinic in Winnipeg?”

  Valerie considered how best to answer, but really there was only one answer. “A man. ”

  Silence filled the SUV briefly and then Anders said, “You aren’t married. ”

  It wasn’t really phrased as a question, more like a command, she thought, and wondered about that, but said, “No. I’ve never been married. But I started dating another student my first year at university. We dated all seven years of school, but he was from Winnipeg. He wanted to go back when we graduated and he asked me to go. ” She shrugged. “I moved there with him and set up shop. ”

  “But you didn’t marry?” Anders asked and she glanced over to see that his eyes were narrowed on the road. There was a tension about him she didn’t understand.

  “No. ” She turned to stare out the window at the passing scenery and said, “We split up eventually, but by then the clinic was successful and I’d made friends there. I stayed. ”

  They’d split up nine months ago after ten years together. Ten years during which he’d claimed he never wanted to marry—a marriage certificate meant nothing to him. They didn’t need one. Two weeks after they split up he was dating Susie; six weeks after that he asked Susie to marry him. It seemed it wasn’t that he never wanted to marry, he’d just never wanted to marry Valerie. And she had no desire to be in town when he said I do to the woman he did want to marry. It wasn’t that she wasn’t over him. She’d been over him long before they’d got around to breaking up. It wasn’t her heart that couldn’t take it. It was her pride. It hurt that Larry had never wanted to marry her, yet had popped the question to his new girl within weeks. What the hell was up with that? Why hadn’t she been the type he’d marry?

  She had no idea and that bothered her.

  “Oh, we’re here,” Marguerite said suddenly. “And now we’re not. ”

  Valerie blinked and focused on the view out the window to see that they . . . were driving past her house? She turned to Anders in question. “Why—?”

  “Put this on,” he interrupted, holding out a baseball cap and sweatshirt.

  Valerie recognized them. He’d made a trip upstairs to fetch them before they’d left, and set them on the floor when they’d got in the vehicle.

  When she didn’t immediately accept the items, he asked, “Have you forgotten Igor and his boss already? They may be watching your house. ”

  “Why would they do that?” she asked with a frown.

  “Why did they take you in the first place?” he countered and then admitted, “They might not be watching, but they just as easily could be, and isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?”

  Valerie nodded, took the items, and quickly shrugged on the sweatshirt over her own clothes, then pulled the ball cap on her head.

  “Tuck your hair under,” Anders instructed as he cruised past her house again, his eyes scanning the area as they went.

  Valerie took the hat off, caught her hair in a ponytail, twisted it around into a bun on top of her head and then held it in place as she slid the hat over it. “Okay?”

  He glanced over, nodded, then turned his attention back to the road, but made one more circuit around the block before pulling into Mrs. Ribble’s driveway.

  Valerie had the door open and was hurrying up the driveway almost before the SUV had fully stopped. She didn’t head for the front door, however, but straight up the side of the house to the fence running across the end of the driveway from the house and going around the backyard. She didn’t need to go to the door and ask Mrs.
Ribble if Roxy was there. She could see Roxy in the backyard.

  She was halfway to the gate when the German shepherd spotted her and raced to the fence barking excitedly. Grinning, Valerie ran the last few feet and reached over the gate to unhook the latch. She’d barely started to swing it open when Roxy burst through the narrow opening like a bullet. The dog circled Valerie, barking wildly, and then, tail wagging like a mad thing, she rubbed up against her legs and turned in circles in front of her. Roxy was happy and excited, but not so excited she’d forgotten that she wasn’t supposed to jump up on people.

  Laughing, Valerie dropped to her knees to hug the dog and ruffle her fur. Then she caught her face in her hands and massaged her cheeks and ears, saying, “Hi baby. Are you okay? I was worried about you. I missed you too,” she cooed happily as the dog licked her face.

  “Ewww. Seriously? You let her lick your face?”

  Valerie glanced around at Bricker’s words to see that he, Anders, Leigh, and Marguerite had followed her. While Anders looked tense and was dividing his attention between watching her greet her dog and the street, Leigh and Marguerite were smiling indulgently. Bricker, however, looked thoroughly disgusted. Chuckling at his expression, she said, “You obviously don’t have a dog. ”

  “No,” he acknowledged. “But Anders has been looking into getting one. ”

  “Really?” Valerie asked, glancing to Anders with interest.

  “I’ve been researching breeds to see which would be a good fit for me,” he said quietly, his eyes shifting briefly to Roxy before he glanced around the area again.

  “Roxy? Roxy girl! Where’d you get to?”

  Valerie glanced toward the backyard at that trembling old voice. She gave Roxy one last pet and stood up to walk to the gate and peer toward the back door of the house. “Hi, Mrs. Ribble. ”

  “Valerie?” the woman said sourly, squinting to see her better.

  “Yes. Thank you for looking after Roxy for me. I appreciate it,” she said, glancing down and petting the dog as she leaned up against her side.

  “Oh, well, she was sitting out on your stoop whining one night and I couldn’t sleep so I brought her in,” Mrs. Ribble said, and scowled at Valerie. “Not that you care. Two weeks you left the poor girl on her own. She could have died. ” The old woman scowled harder and added, “I don’t think you should have her back if you can’t take care of her. ”

  “Valerie was gone two weeks and you didn’t bother to call the police and report her missing?” Anders countered, suddenly behind Valerie. He sounded pretty angry.

  “Well . . . ” the woman scowled. “How did I know she wasn’t just out partying or something?”

  “You knew,” Anders said with quiet certainty. “But you wanted the dog. ”

  Valerie peered at him with surprise and then back to Mrs. Ribble as she suddenly shifted on the back stoop, guilt plain on her face before she turned away. “Just take her and go. And don’t expect me to watch her the next time. ”

  The door closed behind the old woman with a clack and Valerie raised an eyebrow in Anders’s direction, saying carefully, “You were kind of tough on her. ”

  Anders quit scowling at the now closed door and glanced to Valerie, but shook his head. “Not tough enough. She knew you were missing and that something must have happened, but didn’t do a damned thing about it. She couldn’t even be bothered to call the police. She was afraid they’d take Roxy away and she wanted the dog. ”

  “You don’t know that,” she protested on a laugh.

  “I do,” he assured her.

  “How?” Valerie challenged.

  Anders opened his mouth, paused briefly, and then said, “I drove around the block three times, each time her front curtain twitched and she looked out. I guarantee that woman sits in her front room watching the street. She probably sees everything that goes on, including the attack the night you took Roxy for a walk. It might have been slightly blurry for her at that distance, but she would have seen shapes and been able to tell enough to know that you were attacked and dragged off and Roxy came limping home. ”

  “How did you know the attack took place on this street?” she asked with surprise.

  Anders paused again, but then shrugged, “You’re a woman. I imagine you’d stick to your street that late at night and circle it several times rather than venture farther away. ”

  Valerie frowned. It all sounded likely enough. Common sense and logic really, but there was something about the way he was avoiding her eyes that suggested to her that there was more to it than that.

  “We should go,” Anders said suddenly, taking Valerie’s arm and turning her back to the driveway.
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