Born to Bite
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"So what are we going to do?"
Armand glanced toward Eshe in the passenger seat of his pickup, for one moment thinking she meant about the fact that they appeared to be life mates. Of course that was only because it was the elephant that had been sitting in his mind since they'd left the house and headed out for the city and the malls awaiting there. Eshe was his life mate. After all these centuries, he'd been fortunate enough to find a second one. It was a hell of a surprise. The problem was, he wasn't sure if it was a pleasant one yet. That being the case, he was trying to decide how to answer her question when she added, "I gather we're going shopping for clothes for me, but why?"
"Oh." Armand forced his eyes back to the road and his mind to the question. It took him a minute to do so, however, and he was frowning over that fact as he said, "Lucian said you needed clothes for your stay here. He said to take you shopping and gave me the company card to buy them on."
Eshe made a disgusted sound and then sighed unhappily. "I suppose my leathers don't exactly blend in out here."
"No," Armand agreed, his eyes straying from the road to her leather-clad legs. She really had quite shapely legs, he thought, and then acknowledged that everything about her was shapely. The brief glimpse he'd had of her upper body before being distracted by the sight of her undone pants had been a rather revealing one. Eshe didn't have very large breasts, barely more than a handful each, but they were round and perfect for all that. Besides, who needed more than a handful?
"Okay, I'll get some jeans and T-shirts," Eshe said suddenly in a voice that was almost rebellious. "But I'm not buying any flowery dresses or anything like the one Mrs. Ramsey was wearing today."
"You don't need dresses," Armand said with amusement. "Jeans will do just fine."
Eshe gave a small, appeased "hrrumph" and then fell silent again, leaving Armand to his thoughts. He was deep into a silent debate as to whether he should call Lucian and have him take her somewhere else when she suddenly said, "I'm not your first life mate."
The comment set him aback briefly and he took a moment to gather his thoughts before acknowledging, "No. I have had a life mate before."
"So have I," she said quietly, and then added, "I was fortunate enough to meet my first life mate while still quite young, only thirty. I got to spend eight lovely centuries with him before I lost him."
"How did you lose him?" he asked curiously.
"He died in battle," Eshe said quietly. "He was a fierce warrior, but luck was with the other side that day and they took his head."
"Were there any children?" Armand asked after a hesitation.
"Yes. Eight. Six still live," she said simply, and then said, "I know you have three. All of them were not your life mate's children, though, were they?"
"No," he said on a sigh. "Susanna, my first wife and life mate, she and I had only one child, Nicholas. Thomas was born to my second wife, and my daughter, Jeanne Louise, to my third."
"But your second and third wives weren't life mates to you."
Despite the fact that it was a statement rather than a question, Armand said, "No, they weren't."
"Then why did you marry the other two women?" she asked simply.
It wasn't an unusual question, but the explanation was complicated. Grimacing, he finally simply told the truth. "I was lonely, and my second wife, Althea, looked very like my deceased life mate, Susanna. Even so, I didn't plan to marry her, but she became pregnant, and single women were ruined by such things in those days."
"So she tricked you into marriage," Eshe said dryly. Immortal women didn't become pregnant accidentally as could happen with mortal women. The nanos in their bodies were programmed to keep them at peak condition, and having babies used up a lot of nutrients and blood so that the nanos apparently saw the baby as a parasite to be flushed from the body. An immortal woman had to consume extra blood to get pregnant and then had to continue to consume extra blood for the next nine months to keep the child to term.
"Essentially, yes, she did," Armand admitted quietly. "But I didn't mind very much. As I said, I was lonely and the idea of another child pleased me."
"And the idea of another wife?" she asked.
Armand frowned at the question. There was something in her voice that made him glance at her, but her expression held mere curiosity and he decided he must have grown a bit paranoid over the centuries and answered, "Althea was the daughter of a friend. I had great affection for her. And I blamed myself for not realizing what she was up to."
"What do you mean what she was up to?" This time it was definitely curiosity in her voice.
"Althea had had a crush on me since she was about twelve. The fact that she couldn't read me convinced her that I must be her life mate. Her parents explained that she simply couldn't read me because I was older and that I could read her, but she didn't want to hear that and decided they were wrong. I was the man for her." He grimaced at the memory. "It was adorable when she was young, but then my ten years at the farm near her father's ended and I hired on a manager and moved on to one of my others. I didn't see much of her after that. While her parents visited me often, they left her at home, afraid to encourage her crush. She was a bit obsessive with it even as a teen," he admitted unhappily. "Anyway, several years later a young immortal woman arrived at my farm in search of a job as maid. She said her name was Alice, and she looked a hell of a lot like my Susanna."
"It was Althea, of course," Eshe guessed dryly.
Armand nodded. "She didn't really look that much like Susanna in reality. They had the same blond hair and not completely dissimilar features, but that was about it. However, she had seen portraits of Susanna and styled her hair the same way, and then dressed in a more modern gown of a similar fashion to the one Susanna had worn for her portrait. It was enough that when I first opened the door I thought Susanna had risen from the grave and come knocking." He grimaced and then admitted quietly, "I suppose I wanted to believe it was her. Or maybe even just pretend for a little bit."
Armand sighed at the old memories. "She happened to arrive at a weak moment and I bedded her that very night. She was more than willing. Of course, it wasn't the same as with my Susanna, but it was nice and filled a little of the ache in my heart...until I finally gathered enough sense to read her thoughts and realized who she was.
"Dear God," he muttered with disgust at the memory of his shock and horror at the time. He still couldn't believe he hadn't recognized her at once. While it had been years at that point since he'd seen her, and she'd been a child then, he still felt he should have recognized the seductress as the knobby-kneed child he'd known. Unfortunately, he hadn't. "I didn't know whether to shoot myself or her. She was my best friend's daughter, for God's sake. And at eighteen still a child really in immortal terms. Of course I took her home to her parents at once. She begged me all the way there not to tell them what she'd done and how she'd tricked me. I wasn't all that eager myself to confess to bedding her, so allowed her to persuade me."
"But then she turned up pregnant," Eshe deduced, and Armand nodded.
"Yes. That was one hell of a memorable night, I can tell you. I wasn't pleased when she showed up on my doorstep again, but then I was simply stunned when she blurted the news. Still, my annoyance passed quickly at the thought of another child, and so I offered her marriage with the understanding that neither of us would try to read or control the other, and when she met her true life mate we would dissolve the marriage to allow for him to claim her. The same was to go for myself as well should I meet a second life mate, though I didn't really expect I would," he admitted wryly. "Of course, then we had to go explain everything to her parents. That's when the night really got memorable. I nearly lost her father's friendship that night, but he knew what Althea was like when she wanted something and eventually came around."
"The child was Thomas," Eshe said quietly.
Armand smiled. "Yes. He was an adorable baby. Always laughing and chortling at something. Smart as a whip too, walking early, talking early, and forever humming tunes. I should have realized then he'd become a composer as an adult." He sighed at the old memories of a very young Thomas dancing through his head. "I had to take him to Marguerite to raise when Althea died, and ashamed though I am to admit it, I missed him much more than his mother."
"Why did you take him to Marguerite?" Eshe asked. "Why not raise him yourself?"
"How?" Armand asked dryly. "It's not like there is an immortal nanny company out there with lists of immortal women looking for nanny jobs. And you can't leave a child that young with an uninitiated mortal woman. He'd bite. Not out of cruelty or meanness, just because he was hungry and the nanny smelled like food."
"You could have initiated a mortal nanny," Eshe pointed out.
"You can't spring something like that on them. It takes time to develop enough trust in a mortal that they can accept what we are. In the meantime, Thomas could never have been left alone with her and I simply couldn't be inside watching him with a nanny twenty-four hours a day. I had a farm to run." He shook his head. "I didn't see any other option but to let Marguerite raise him for me when she offered."
Eshe was silent for a moment and then asked, "How did Althea die?"
Armand heaved out a sigh, his gaze on the road ahead as he said, "A hotel fire."
"You escaped?" she asked, and his paranoia rose up in him again, making him glance at her uncertainly. He could have sworn there had been an inflection to her tone that...Armand let it go when he saw her expression was simply curious, and explained.
"I wasn't there. It was a busy time at the farm when I was outside more than in. William and Mary, Althea's parents, had come to visit for a bit. When they left, they took Althea and four-year-old Thomas with them for a short stay. I understood they were going to their farm, but apparently they made a detour to the city for what was supposed to be a few days, but the first night they were there a fire broke out in the hotel. Althea must have been trapped or didn't wake up to the shouts and noise in time. She perished in the fire."
"And yet little Thomas got out?" Eshe asked with a frown.
"He was in Althea's parents' room. Althea had been tired after the day's excursions and Mary liked to spoil the boy, so she took Thomas into their room with them so Althea could sleep undisturbed. They got out with Thomas. Althea didn't."
Eshe was silent for a minute. When she spoke again, he could hear the frown in her voice and understood it completely when she murmured, "Nicholas once mentioned that his mother died in a fire too."
"Yes," he said grimly. "Fire has been a plague in my life."
"How did she-?" Eshe began, but he interrupted, glad to be able to do so as he said, "Another time. We're here."
Eshe turned to glance out the window as he turned into the mall parking lot, and Armand felt himself relax. He understood her curiosity but he didn't like to talk about the past. Doing so had wound him up a bit. He, a man who normally hated shopping, was glad for the respite from talking about the past that it would offer.
"You should probably go to the food court now," Eshe announced as they carried her bags out of the last of the clothing stores, or at least the last of them she was willing to try. Eshe wasn't much of a shopper. She liked what she liked, spotted it quickly, bought it, and got out, and this had been a particularly quick shop for her since all she had bought were a couple of pairs of jeans and half a dozen T-shirts. She had also bought a pair of black dress pants and a dressier top in case they went somewhere fancier than the diner-like this Moxie's Mrs. Ramsey had mentioned-but that had taken only a couple of minutes.
"The food court?" Armand said with surprise, and then asked, "Are you hungry?"
"I am a little," she acknowledged, surprised to find that it was true. It must only have been a couple of hours since they'd eaten. The drive in hadn't taken much more than twenty minutes, and her shopping had probably taken an hour, but they'd also walked all the way around the mall checking out the shops available before starting the actual clothing shopping. That had been a rather interesting exercise. Eshe had been rather surprised to find that many of the things Armand had found interesting or attractive in the decorating and furniture stores were items she liked herself. She'd thought sure they'd have little in common, with his being a country boy while she was a city gal. She'd been wrong, however. They had similar taste.
Shrugging that thought aside, she added, "But I meant you should go there to wait while I finish off the shopping...at La Senza."
"La Senza." Armand frowned. "I remember the name. Which store was that?"
"Think lacy black and red teddy," she said with amusement, recalling the way he'd eyed the item on the mannequin in the window as they'd passed the store earlier.
"Oh! You need..." His eyes dropped to her breasts and then down below her waist and back, and the man actually blushed a little. Or perhaps it was just a flush of desire. Certainly his eyes were starting to glow again.
"I don't mind if you want to accompany me there, but I thought you might be more comfortable waiting for me in the food court," she admitted with a grin, and wasn't terribly surprised when he seemed to take that as a challenge and straightened his shoulders.
"I'll come with you," he said firmly, and then frowned and added, "I probably shouldn't leave you alone for a day or two until we're sure you weren't followed down here from Toronto anyway."
Eshe's grin turned into a full-fledged smile that she knew without a doubt was wicked. "Good. Then you can tell me what you want to see me in. I was only going to get panties and bras; I usually sleep nude," she added huskily, watching his eyes and pleased by the burst of silver flame in their depths as she added, "But I don't mind wearing sexy little baby dolls if it pleases you to see me in them...and take them off me."
Armand swallowed thickly, but his voice was still husky as he said, "Lead the way."
Chuckling, Eshe swung away and led him along the strange layout of halls until she spotted the La Senza sign ahead.
"I usually wear black," Eshe murmured, perusing the selection. She hadn't always, but it was the color she'd favored since Orion's death. She chose a see-through black lace number and lifted it off the rack to examine it more easily. Her eyebrows rose when she saw that it was actually a see-through black lace catsuit with strategically embroidered black lace patches at the groin and at each breast that would barely hide the important bits beneath.
"I like it," Armand growled, and then selected another from the rack and held it up. This one was a short gown in pure white satin with spaghetti straps, and matching and very tiny snowy white satin panties. He held it in front of her and nodded. "And this one."
Eshe raised an eyebrow, but accepted the baby doll. She really did normally wear mostly black, but supposed the white would be a nice contrast with her coloring. She glanced to Armand, raised an eyebrow, and asked wickedly, "Shall I try them on for you in the dressing room here before we buy them?"
Armand raised an eyebrow. "Not unless you don't mind being found naked, in an unconscious puddle, on the dressing room floor with me."
Eshe laughed huskily at the threat and simply laid the items over her arm as she moved on to select panties and bras. But his words had raised visuals in her mind that she couldn't seem to get out of her head, and while her hands were automatically selecting several pairs of panties, her mind was playing a short flick of her trying on the white satin number, coming out to show him, and then his following her back into the dressing room, backing her up against the wall, and-
"Is there something I can help you with today?"
Eshe blinked those naughty thoughts from her mind and turned to find a slim young blond beside her, smiling widely from Armand to her and back to Armand.
"You can start ringing up and bagging these while I grab a couple of bras," she said easily, neither surprised nor upset by the thoughts running through the girl's mind as she looked Armand over again and offered him an inviting smile. He was a good-looking man. Eshe couldn't blame the girl for having good taste. Besides, the poor kid didn't stand a chance with him now that he'd met her, so she smiled at the clerk kindly as the girl took the items she'd already picked.
"Not the jealous type, I see," Armand murmured as the girl carried the clothes back to the till.
"You read her mind too, did you?" Eshe asked with amusement, leading him to the bra section.
"Hmm." He grimaced and did actually blush a bit as he said, "Her thoughts were disconcertingly X-rated."
"Not as X-rated as mine," she assured him with a grin and then chuckled as the silver in his eyes flamed anew.
"You'll have to tell them to me when we get back to the house," he growled, his hands clenching at his sides as if he wanted to touch her right then, but didn't dare to.
"Maybe," she said with a shrug, picking out two bras in her size. "Or maybe I'll just show you."
On that note, Eshe turned away and headed to the counter, leaving him to follow and laughing as she heard him growl under his breath. She might be a bitch in heat, but Armand was no better, and there was a certain thrill of power with the knowledge that he wanted her as badly as she wanted him. It made her decide that delaying the inevitable might be fun...a sort of foreplay. It couldn't hurt, Eshe decided, especially since she doubted there was going to be much real foreplay once they were alone together. At least not the first time, and probably not the second or third time either.
"Do you want a drink before we leave?" Armand asked as they exited the lingerie shop.
"In more ways than one," Eshe admitted with a grimace. "You don't happen to have any blood in that cooler I noticed in the back of the pickup, do you?"
"As it happens I do," he assured her quietly, and raised an eyebrow. "Do you need to feed again already?"
"Already?" she asked, arching an eyebrow. "I haven't had any since the one bag when Lucian and I arrived at the house last night. The blood was missing from the refrigerator when I came downstairs this afternoon," she pointed out when he looked startled at the news that she hadn't fed since the night before.
"Oh yes," he said with realization. "I moved it before Mrs. Ramsey arrived this morning so she wouldn't see them and ask questions. It's in a special refrigerator I had built into my walk-in closet. I'll show you how to open it when we get back."
"I guess we should head right out to the pickup then," Armand said, and actually sounded a bit disappointed.
Eshe shook her head. "I can wait another half hour or so without attacking anyone, and I wanted to try one of those fruit drinks I saw them making when we passed through the food court earlier. I used to like fruit and they smelled good."
"I thought so too," he admitted, smiling now.
They made their way quickly back to the food court to purchase and then watch them make the creamy fruit drinks. Eshe's mouth was watering by the time she got her hands on the drink.
"Did you want to sit down here and drink them or take them with us and drink them on the way back to the house?" Armand asked as they moved away from the counter.
Eshe arched an eyebrow at the query. "You intended to head right back to the house?"
"Well, Mrs. Ramsey will be gone by now and-" He cut himself off abruptly, and Eshe chuckled at his expression.
"And you thought you'd buy a girl a drink and then get lucky?" she suggested with amusement. "Without even feeding me?"
"Well, I-" Armand looked truly at a loss, but she didn't let him off the hook. Instead, she shook her head.
"No, no, my friend, this girl isn't that easy. You're buying me dinner at that Moxie's Mrs. Ramsey mentioned and then maybe I'll let you take me home so I can have my wicked way with you."
"Your wicked way with me, huh?" he asked, his discomfort giving way to amusement. "What if I don't want to let you have your wicked way?"
Eshe arched one eyebrow and reached out to run one finger lazily down his chest to the top of his jeans. Her finger stopped there, but her eyes continued downward to pause on the bulge growing and pushing his zipper outward. "Oh, you want it," she said with amusement. "And you'll get it. But you're going to work for it...at least a little."
"Damn," Armand breathed.
Eshe chuckled and evaded his hand as he suddenly reached for her. Dancing ahead of him, she found an empty table, set down her drink and dumped all the bags but one, and then turned to survey him as he followed her in a much lazier fashion. The man was moving like a tiger stalking a gazelle. His movements were lazy and slow, but his eyes were burning across her skin with desire as if patiently awaiting the opportunity to pounce.
"Take a load off," she suggested, gesturing to the table. "I need to hit the ladies' room. Back in a minute."
Eshe didn't wait for his response, but whirled away with the bag she'd chosen and headed away along the edge of the food court tables.