Immortal ever after, p.9
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       Immortal Ever After, p.9

         Part #18 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands
 
Page 9

 

  She didn’t protest, but allowed him to walk her back to the SUV. Roxy stuck to her other side like glue, bumping up against her with every step. The others fell into step behind them and they were almost to the vehicle when Valerie suddenly stopped.

  “I should get Roxy’s dog food while we’re here,” she announced when Anders paused and eyed her in question.

  He frowned, his eyes traveling over the street and then to her house.

  “It’s a good idea, Anders. Roxy has to eat,” Marguerite pointed out. “Besides, there may be things Valerie needs that I didn’t think of when I packed her bag. ”

  “My computer,” Valerie announced at once. “I need it for classes. And I need my class notes and books. ”

  “Right,” Anders said grimly and turned to hand Bricker his keys. “Move the SUV to Valerie’s driveway. It’ll be easier for loading. ”

  “Will do,” the man answered as he withdrew another set of keys from his own pocket and held them out. “You’ll need these. ”

  “My keys,” Valerie said as she recognized them.

  “It’s how we got in earlier to pick up your clothes,” Bricker explained. “They were in your coat pocket at the house. ”

  Valerie nodded, recalling Leigh mentioning that the men had found her wallet and keys in a coat in her cage at the house.

  Anders took the keys and urged her in the direction of her rental.

  “We’ll come help,” Leigh announced, trailing after them. When Anders slowed and glanced back, she added, “It will be quicker. ”

  Sighing, he nodded and picked up speed again.

  It was just as strange entering her rental as it had been going through the clothes they’d brought her. It all felt just a bit alien. Valerie shrugged that feeling aside and set about what she was there for. She headed for the kitchen first to gather Roxy’s food dish and water dish, the big bag of her dry dog food, the spare leash, her bed and a couple of her favorite toys. Valerie set them on the kitchen table as she collected each item, but when she then found a grocery bag to stuff the smaller items in, Marguerite took it from her.

  “Leigh and I will pack this. You go ahead and get your computer and whatever else you need,” she suggested.

  “Thanks,” Valerie said and slid from the room, aware that Roxy and Anders were hard on her heels. She found her computer case and the backpack with her notes and books for her courses in the living room. She started to pick them up, but Anders simply took them from her and slung both over his own shoulder.

  “Anything else?” he asked.

  She hesitated, but then headed for the bedroom to survey her wardrobe. Marguerite had done a good job of picking clothes for her, but there were a couple of items Valerie thought might come in handy. She pulled them out of the closet, and quickly rolled up and packed them into a duffel bag Anders pulled down from the closet’s upper shelf for her.

  The bathroom was last, and Valerie was very aware that Anders was standing a foot away, waiting patiently. She would have liked to ask him to leave, but she was a grown-up, he was a grown-up and old enough to know about the physiology of the female body, so she took a deep breath, knelt to open the cupboard under the sink and pulled out tampons and pads. Her period should come in the next week or so and she didn’t know how long she’d have to stay at Leigh’s house.

  Valerie set the feminine items on the counter, and then moved to the other end of the cupboard to gather some makeup and moisturizer from a drawer there.

  When she turned back with the new items, Anders was calmly packing her feminine hygiene products away in the duffel with her clothes.

  “Thank you,” she murmured self-consciously as she dumped the new items in. Valerie then moved to the medicine cabinet. Her birth control pills were still there. She didn’t know if Marguerite had missed them or if she’d just thought that since Valerie had been without them for the last two weeks and was now in protective custody for an unknown length of time, she wouldn’t need them, but Valerie took them and threw them on top of the other items in the duffel bag Anders was holding.

  She zipped it shut with a cheerful, “All done,” then bent to pet Roxy, who was nosing her side.

  “Thank you for working quickly,” Anders responded quietly, the words drawing a laugh from Valerie.

  “That’s the only speed I know,” she admitted wryly as she led him out of the bathroom. The clinic was always busy and rush was the speed she’d become used to.

  Leigh and Marguerite were waiting in the living room, Leigh holding the grocery bag with the smaller, lighter items. Marguerite had Roxy’s bed under one arm, and was dangling the large bag of dog food from one hand as if it weighed nothing. Both women smiled at their arrival, but it was Leigh who asked, “All set?”

  “All set,” Valerie agreed. “We can go. ”

  “Good. I’m dying for a cup of coffee,” Leigh announced, leading the way to the door and out onto the porch.

  “I thought you were avoiding coffee until you had the baby,” Anders said, following the women out of the house.

  “I was. But the baby is overdue and mama wants a coffee,” she said rebelliously, sailing across the porch. Pausing at the top of the stairs down to the sidewalk, she turned back with a grimace and said, “But I’ll settle for decaf. ”

  “Hmmm,” Anders muttered as he locked the door with Valerie’s keys. “I suppose that means you want to hit a coffee shop on the way out of Cambridge?”

  “You suppose right,” Leigh said cheerfully.

  “I wouldn’t mind a coffee myself,” Valerie said apologetically. “That ice cream left me thirsty and—” She paused and glanced around as Roxy went suddenly stiff beside her and began to growl low in her throat. Noting that the dog was staring across the street, Valerie glanced that way herself as she put a soothing hand on the dog’s neck, and then she froze. There was a man standing in the late-afternoon shadow cast by the house across the street and she was sure it was Igor. The shape and sheer size were his, but—

  “Valerie?” Anders moved up beside her and took her arm. “What is it?”

  She glanced to him briefly, and then back, eyes widening when she saw that Igor was gone. If he had ever really been there, Valerie thought and reminded herself that he was dead. She’d killed him. No man could survive a stake through the heart . . . and neither could a vampire, if that’s what he’d been.

  “Nothing,” she said, letting her breath out slowly. She scanned the street, aware that Anders was doing the same, but there was nothing to see now. Literally. It wasn’t quite three o’clock yet. Still early enough that the kids weren’t yet home from school and the parents were still at work. Or, at least, most of them would be. So there were no cars, no people, and no pets, just silent houses and a couple of squirrels running about.

  Actually, it was kind of spooky it was so still, she decided as a chill ran up her back. Giving Roxy one last pat, Valerie forced the feeling aside and lied, “Roxy probably saw a squirrel. ”

  “Right,” Anders agreed mildly, but she could tell he didn’t believe that. He was now stiff with tension. So were Leigh and Marguerite.

  “What’s up?” Bricker asked, stepping out of the SUV now parked in the driveway of Valerie’s rental.

  “Nothing,” she said, forcing a smile and starting down the three steps off the porch. “Roxy just caught a scent or saw something. Probably a squirrel or chipmunk. ”

  “Hmmm. ” Bricker turned to peer across the street now too, but the others were following Valerie and Roxy as she led the dog to the SUV. They were all silent as they loaded her bags into the back of the SUV. Valerie was afraid Anders would want Roxy to ride back there too, but he closed the door without the dog inside and patted his leg to get her to follow as he led Valerie up to the front passenger door.

  “I’ll move your seat back to give her more room in front of you,” Anders announced as he opened the door, an
d Valerie could have hugged him. She’d just got her dog back and didn’t want to be parted even by a few feet. Judging by how close Roxy was sticking to her, she felt the same way, but Valerie was surprised Anders was sensitive enough to understand that. It was nice. For all his attempts to be stern, he was nice, Valerie thought as she watched him push the button to make the seat slide slowly back on its track. The proof was that they were all there despite his initial refusal to bring them. And the ice cream, she thought with amusement, recalling his undeniable pleasure when she’d given him a spoonful to taste. You’d have thought he’d never tasted ice cream before.

  “That’s as far as it will go,” Anders said straightening and offering her a hand to help her in.

  Valerie placed her fingers in his hand, and then stilled, her eyes shooting to his when a jolt of sensation shot from the point of contact and up her arm. This time there was no doubting that Anders felt it too. He met her gaze, his own eyes wide. They were also more golden than black, she noted with some confusion, then glanced down to Roxy when the dog suddenly nosed between them, whining.

  “It’s okay,” Valerie told the dog, retrieving her hand from Anders to pet the German shepherd. Then she turned and got into the front seat unaided.

  “Go on,” Anders said to Roxy once Valerie was settled. The German shepherd immediately jumped up onto the floor in front of her mistress. She circled once in the confined space before settling between Valerie’s legs and laying her head on her knee.

  “Thank you,” Valerie said, avoiding looking at Anders’s eyes again by petting Roxy’s head.

  She saw him nod out of the corner of her eye. He closed the door, then opened the back door and helped Leigh step up inside. The pregnant woman settled in the seat with a little relieved sigh, her hands rubbing her stomach as if to soothe the little one inside as she muttered, “I can’t wait for you to be born. ”

  Valerie forced a smile and glanced around to ask, “Is this your first baby?”

  She hadn’t seen any signs of children at the house, but then she hadn’t seen it all yet either. Besides, there may have been signs she just didn’t recognize. Valerie had never had children herself and was beginning to think she never would. She was thirty years old, with a busy, successful career but no husband, or boyfriend, or even prospects in sight. She also had no social life to speak of. She had female friends, but little time to spend with them and even less to meet men. And she was only getting older and busier as the clinic continued to grow.

  “Yes, this is baby number one,” Leigh answered and then grimaced. “And he’s already proving to be as stubborn as his father. ”

  “He is?” Valerie teased gently. “I thought you were sure it’s going to be a girl?”

  “Oh, well, that was then. Now it’s a boy,” Leigh said with a touch of self-mockery and explained, “It changes twenty times a day. ”

  Valerie chuckled at that and then did what she’d been avoiding doing and glanced around the street. Much to her relief there was nothing and no one of note. Letting out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, she turned forward to see what was holding up the others. Marguerite, Bricker, and Anders were having a powwow a little distance from the van.

  “They’re debating whether they should check out what got Roxy upset,” Leigh announced and when Valerie turned to her, eyebrows raised, she said, “I read lips. ”

  “Hmmm. ” Valerie turned back to eye the others. She could see their lips moving, but didn’t have a clue what they were saying. She couldn’t read lips.

  “Anders wants to, but Marguerite thinks we should just go and keep an eye out for anyone following us. She figures since Roxy’s calm now that whatever or whoever it is, is gone. ”

  “She’s probably right,” Valerie said, shifting her gaze from the trio to the houses across the street again. Much to her relief, there was still nothing to see.

  “Marguerite usually is right,” Leigh said with amusement. “Oh, here they come. She must have won the argument. ”

  Valerie peered back to the trio. It didn’t look like anyone had won. They all had grim expressions and were scanning the area as they approached the vehicle. It seemed obvious they were pretty sure Roxy had picked up on a threat, but they’d agreed it was probably gone now. But gone where? And would it return?

  “All right,” Anders said as they all piled back into the SUV. “Direct us to the nearest coffee shop, Valerie, and we’ll be on our way. ”

  Chapter Five

  “She’s sleeping peacefully. No nightmares right now,” Marguerite said from the backseat, and Anders tore his eyes away from Valerie to watch the road ahead.
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