Born to Bite
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"You're late." Lucian's growled greeting made Armand Argeneau grimace as he slid onto the bench seat opposite him in the diner's only occupied booth. A "Hello, how are you?" would have been nice, but it also wasn't something he'd expect from the older immortal. Lucian wasn't known for being warm and fuzzy.
"I had some things to do at the farm before I could leave," Armand said calmly, glancing over the man's roast beef dinner with disinterest before gazing around the quiet diner. It was after nine, almost closing time, and they were the only customers. He didn't even see a waitress in evidence and supposed she was in the back helping with cleanup.
"Yes, of course," Lucian murmured, setting down his fork to pick up a warm, crusty dinner roll dripping with butter. "We can't expect that wheat of yours to grow all by itself, can we?"
Armand scowled irritably as he watched him bite into the roll with relish. "A little respect for a farmer who grows the food you're eating wouldn't go amiss...especially since you appear to be enjoying it so much."
"I am," Lucian acknowledged with a grin, and then arched an eyebrow. "Jealous?"
Armand merely shook his head and turned his gaze out the window, but he was jealous. Lucian's eating was a result of finding his life mate. It had reawakened old appetites both of them had lost long ago. There wasn't an unmated immortal alive who wouldn't envy that, including him.
"So?" He glanced back to Lucian to see he'd set aside the bun and was now chasing peas around his plate, stabbing at the little green succulents with his fork. "What was so important that you had to drive down here to see me? And why the hell did you insist on my coming out to the diner? The farm is only another five-minute drive. You could have come there."
Lucian gave up stabbing the peas and instead scraped them across the plate into the mashed potatoes. He then scooped up a forkful of the combination before saying, "I had a favor to ask you and didn't want anyone at the house to overhear."
"There's no one at the house," Armand murmured, watching with fascination as Lucian popped the forkful of food into his mouth and began to chew. Judging by his expression and murmur of pleasure, he really seemed to be enjoying the food, which was kind of depressing since the smell wasn't even tempting Armand, and really the food looked like slop to him; brown meat, white potatoes with a brown sauce, and ugly green peas. Not very appetizing at all. Grimacing to himself, Armand asked as Lucian swallowed, "So what's this favor?"
Lucian hesitated and then raised his eyebrows. "Not going to ask me how Thomas and his new life mate are doing?"
Armand felt his mouth tighten at the mention of his son and his new wife, but couldn't resist asking, "How are they?"
"Very well. They're in Canada at the moment, visiting," Lucian answered, and then turned his attention back to his food as he asked, "You haven't met her yet, have you?"
"No," Armand muttered, watching him stab some salad and eat it.
Lucian chewed and swallowed and then asked with mild curiosity, "Did you ever get to meet Nicholas's Annie?"
Armand hesitated, but then simply said, "No. Now what's this favor?"
Lucian peered at him for a moment, but then turned his attention to cutting into his beef and announced, "I need a safe house for one of my enforcers for a couple of weeks."
"And you were thinking I could supply that?" Armand asked with surprise.
Lucian shrugged as he chewed and swallowed and then said, "You're surprised? I don't know why. You live way the hell out here in the backwoods. No one but myself and Thomas know where the farm is, and this is a rinky-dink little town where no one's likely to see her."
"Her?" Armand asked curiously.
"Eshe d'Aureus," he said, cutting off another piece of beef. "Castor's daughter."
"Castor d'Aureus," Armand murmured with respect. He'd never gotten the chance to meet the man, but he certainly knew the name. Castor was a hero to their people. Way back in the early days when the immortals had joined the rest of the world, one of their number, a no-fanger named Leonius Livius, had caused trouble for both the mortals and immortals alike. So much trouble, in fact, it had forced the other immortals to form a council and hunt down him and his progeny. It was Lucian and Castor who had slain the monster that Leonius Livius had become. In the middle of the battlefield while rogue no-fangers and the Council's fanged army had fought all around them, Lucian had pinned the man to the ground with his spear, and Castor had severed his head from his body. Both of them had been considered heroes for that, but Lucian was his brother, someone he knew on a day-to-day basis, while Castor was unknown and more of a mythic hero in his mind.
"He wasn't a hero," Lucian said quietly. "He was just a good man and a fine soldier. He was also my friend, and before he died he asked me to look out for Eshe and the others of his family should anything happen to him. Well, as you know, he died, and I've tried to look out for Eshe and it's what I'm trying to do now by getting her out of harm's way until we get this matter resolved. I'm thinking that will take about two weeks."
"What is the matter you have to resolve?" Armand asked.
Lucian sighed and set his fork and knife aside, his appetite apparently affected by thoughts of the matter. His voice was grim when he admitted, "Apparently we didn't get all the sons when we took out Leonius. At least one survived. He calls himself Leonius Livius the Second."
"You mean there's been one of his spawn running around all these centuries?" Armand asked with amazement. It was hard to imagine he'd gone without notice. If he was anything like his father, his atrocities should not have gone unnoticed all this time.
"He's been alive and flourished," Lucian assured him dryly. "The man has at least twenty sons that we know of. Or had," he added with satisfaction. "We've weeded some out. Apparently he's smarter than his father, though. That, or he has someone who has managed to keep him on a tight rein. He hasn't gone in for wholesale slaughter like his father enjoyed, or started any breeding camps. He's kept the numbers he attacks to one or two women at a time and the occasional unfortunate family. He only came into notice earlier this summer. He kidnapped two women from a grocery store parking lot up north. My men got one of the females away and killed three or four of his sons, but then had to hunt down the other female and the man who had taken her. Eshe was in on the search and was apparently spotted and recognized. Now my sources say he's targeted her for revenge for his father's death."
Armand nodded solemnly. "Has he targeted your Leigh too or anyone else in the family for your part in his father's death?"
"I don't think he knows about Leigh. In any case that doesn't matter, I can keep her safe. But Eshe is another matter. She's one of my enforcers and as stubborn and proud as her father ever was. She was ready to walk down the main street in Toronto nude to get his attention and have her chance at him when she heard he was looking for her."
"So she's like a female you, huh?" Armand asked with amusement.
"Ha ha," Lucian said dryly.
Armand chuckled at his sour expression. "If she's as bad as all that, how do you plan to convince her to hide out on my farm in the country until you catch this guy?"
"Yeah...well...that was a problem," Lucian muttered, picking up his knife and fork again. His expression was surly as he admitted, "She delights in flouting my orders as a rule. The best way to get her to do anything is to have me tell her to do the opposite. If she weren't Castor's daughter..." Lucian glowered briefly, but then sighed and shook his head. "Fortunately, even she wouldn't dare disobey a direct order from the Council."
"I see," Armand drawled slowly, his eyes narrowing suspiciously on his brother. "And she's agreed to stay on my farm twiddling her thumbs for several weeks?"
"I said two weeks," he pointed out, avoiding his gaze. "And as I said, even she wouldn't disobey a direct order from the Council."
"So she isn't going to be happy," Armand surmised dryly.
Lucian shrugged. "She's too polite to take it out on you...probably," he added with a grin, then suggested, "Just keep her busy. Take her on picnics and hayrides, or whatever you hayseeds do."
"Hayseeds?" Armand echoed with disgust.
Lucian rolled his eyes. "Just keep her distracted and I'll call the minute it's safe for her to return to Toronto and work." He started to lift a bite of beef to his lips.
The fork was almost at his lips when he suddenly glanced past Armand and froze. His eyes widened, a curse slipped from his lips, and then he almost whispered, "I'm going to kill her."
"Who?" Armand asked with confusion, and then turned to glance in the direction that Lucian's gaze now seemed fixated. He was staring past him at the dark road outside. Armand peered at the long stretch of dark highway for a minute, slow to recognize the fiery vision approaching for what it was, a motorcycle with red, yellow, and orange LED lights around the tires and across the body that made it look like the bike was roaring up the road aflame. It was one hell of a magnificent sight.
"Eshe," Lucian snapped, finally answering his question. "That's her."
The motorcycle roared into the diner parking lot, spitting up gravel, and then eased to a halt beside Armand's pickup. He had a moment to get a closer view of the array of lights on the machine before the engine fell silent and the rider disembarked. The woman was tall, at least six feet, and she appeared to be all lean muscle in the black leather she wore. She also moved with the predatory grace of a panther.
"She looks like she was born to ride," Armand murmured, his eyes devouring her.
"More like born to bite," Lucian muttered.
Armand glanced curiously to his brother. "Why so annoyed?"
Lucian's mouth twisted with irritation, but he admitted, "I told her to make herself less conspicuous."
"Ah," Armand murmured, biting his lip to keep from grinning. It was the rare person, immortal or otherwise, who went against Lucian's orders, and he couldn't help but be amused that Eshe d'Aureus was apparently one of them. This was far away from being inconspicuous. There were probably eyes peering out the windows of every house she was passing and fingers excitedly punching in numbers on phones as word spread about the super-cool motorcycle that just rode past their place. It would be the main topic of conversation tomorrow in the diner as those who had seen it described it to those who hadn't. Not much went on in this small community.
"I'm going to tan her hide," Lucian growled as she walked past their window toward the entrance of the diner.
Armand couldn't help but think he wouldn't mind volunteering for the job as his gaze automatically dropped to the hide his brother thought needed tanning. The woman had a perfect body, with a nice round rump he suspected it would be a pleasure to touch for any reason...and he was contemplating the various reasons for doing just that-none of which included tanning her hide-when she opened the diner door and stepped inside, ending his view of her behind. It forced him to shift his attention to her front as she paused inside the door to undo her jacket and peer around. It was quite a nice view too, he had to admit. She still wore her helmet, so he couldn't see her face, but everything else on display was lovely. Black leather pants stretched tight over long, lean legs, but she also wore the black leather jacket now open to reveal some sort of black leather corset that left the upper curves of her breasts and her upper chest and throat on display. The woman had rich, mahogany skin that seemed to gleam under the diner's fluorescent lights as if she'd powdered herself with some sort of shimmery powder.
"I told you to make yourself inconspicuous." Lucian glared at the woman as she spotted them and approached.
"You said to make myself less conspicuous," she corrected in a calm voice. As she removed her helmet, she added, "And I did. See?"
Armand didn't know what Lucian was supposed to see, but he was seeing what he considered the finest-looking woman he'd seen in a long time, since his life mate had lived even. Eshe d'Aureus had huge, beautiful eyes that glowed golden with black flecks, a straight Egyptian nose, and the most seductive lips he'd ever seen. He found her heart-stoppingly beautiful...and nowhere near inconspicuous.
"Eshe," Lucian growled with little patience. "Dying your hair hardly makes you less conspicuous when you're on that carnival bike of yours."
Armand's eyes shifted to her hair at those words. She wore it short on the sides and a little longer on top, and was presently running her long fingers through it in an effort to repair the flattening influence of the helmet, but it looked a perfectly natural dark brown, almost black to him. Although there appeared to be a fleck of lighter color at the ends in some places. He couldn't stop himself from asking, "What does it normally look like?"
"She normally dyes it a combination of red and blond on the end halves of the top strands so that it looks like her head's on fire," Lucian informed him dryly, and then turned to Eshe and added, "You did a piss-poor job of dying it. There's still some color at the ends."
Eshe rolled her eyes with exasperation and began to slide into Armand's side of the booth, forcing him to shift over to make room for her. "God, you're never happy, Lucian. Honestly! It's not like I had time to make a hair appointment and get it done properly. I had to do it myself and I am not a hairdresser. This is the best I could do in the time you allotted me." She set her helmet on the table in front of her and rested her chin on her hands on top of it as she grinned at Lucian. "So it's all your fault if you aren't happy with it."
"Couldn't you at least have come out in your car instead of that damned motorcycle?" Lucian said irritably.
"Oh yes, because a red Ferrari would be so much less conspicuous down here in hicksville," Eshe said dryly, and then glanced to Armand and murmured, "No offense."
"None taken," he assured her, and then cleared his throat and forced himself to turn away when he realized he was grinning at her like an idiot.
"Ferrari?" Lucian asked with surprise. "What happened to the convertible?"
"I sold it," she said with a shrug. "The Ferrari was prettier and I only have the one parking space at the apartment for both the bike and car, so the convertible had to go."
"A Ferrari?" Lucian looked horrified. "It was bad enough when you had the Mustang convertible, but a Ferrari with all the power it has under the bonnet? You're a speed demon. You'll kill yourself with it. You had better be following the speed limits."
Armand stared at his brother with fascination. Lucian had never been much of a talker, mostly grunting and glaring at everyone, but Eshe appeared to exasperate him into speaking. He'd never thought he'd see the day. His thoughts were distracted when Eshe said dryly, "Of course...Daddy."
Armand's eyes widened, but she wasn't done. Smile widening as Lucian grew grimmer, she commented, "I hope Leigh pops some babies for you soon, Lucian. Maybe you'll stop daddying the rest of us."
"Daddying?" Armand asked doubtfully. He could think of a lot of words to describe Lucian, bossy and bullying among them, but daddy just wasn't on that list.
"Yes, daddying," Eshe said with a friendly smile his way. "He's forever telling everyone what to do and where to go and so on. He's like a big old grumpy daddy."
"Your father-" Lucian began, but she cut him off.
"My dad asked you to look out for me and my brothers and sisters should anything happen to him and you're just trying to live up to that promise, yada yada," she said in a bored voice that suggested she'd heard that argument a thousand times at least. "That argument carried some weight back when I was a kid, Lucian, but jeez, more than a millennium later it means nothing. You're only a hundred years older than me for cripes sake. Get over it already. I'm sure my father didn't mean for you to play guardian forever."
"You're only a hundred years younger than Lucian?" Armand asked with surprise. "You seem a lot younger."
"Why thank you!" She turned and beamed a smile on him that had Armand almost sighing, and then she stuck out her hand, "Hello, I'm Eshe d'Aureus and you're Armand Argeneau."
"Yes." He took her hand and shook it, smiling at how small and soft it felt in his own. "So why aren't you as grumpy as Lucian? I always thought it was his age."
Eshe snorted at the suggestion. "Not hardly. Father Time over there just likes to carry the weight of the world-not to mention passing time-on his shoulders like a vampiric Atlas. Me? I enjoy life to the best of my abilities and leave Lucian and others like him to be the grump masters."
"There are others like Lucian?" Armand asked with doubt.
Eshe raised her eyebrows. "Not traveled much in Europe? Because there are a ton of them over there. Especially Britain; even the mortal males when they get older are grumpy and bossy in Britain. I think it's a law or something."
Armand was just smiling at what she said and trying to think of something to encourage her continued disrespect of Lucian-which was incredibly fresh and exciting in a turning-him-on kind of way to Armand-when his cell phone began to chirp its funeral dirge. Grimacing, he slipped it from his pocket, flipped it open, and pressed it to his ear, wincing when Paul, his manager at the farm, began to squawk in panicked tones about Bessy's labor. When the man paused to take a breath, he took the opportunity to say, "I'm on my way. I'm only at the diner. I'll be there in five minutes."
"Trouble at home?" Lucian asked dryly as Armand snapped the phone closed and slipped it back in his pocket.
Armand nodded and began to slide out of the booth as Eshe got out to make way for him. "One of my dairy cows is calving and there's a problem with the birth."
"I thought you had a wheat farm?" Eshe asked, glancing up with surprise in her eyes as he straightened beside her.
"I do, but we have a couple of dairy cows too and a few other animals; chickens, goats..." He shrugged. "Most farmers keep them to save on groceries."
"And what do you do with them?" she asked curiously, assuming, correctly, that he didn't eat.
"My manager takes some of the goods, but mostly we supply meat and eggs and milk to the diner here."
"We'll follow you home," Lucian announced, eating more quickly.
"Take your time. I'll be down at the barn, but make yourselves at home. The front door is always unlocked." When Lucian raised an eyebrow at that, he said wryly, "It's the country. No one bothers anyone out here and crime is pretty rare."
He waited just long enough for Lucian to grunt an acknowledgment and then smiled and nodded at Eshe and strode out of the diner. He could feel her watching him as he left and wished he could watch her too. She was a beautiful woman, and he was looking forward to her company at the farm. His manager handled things during the day and had the evenings off, and Armand was usually alone there when awake. It would be nice to have someone to talk to for a change, especially someone he found attractive. It had been a long time since he'd found anyone attractive in more than a passing-fancy kind of way. Even his second and third wives hadn't been that attractive to him. His affection for them had been based more in friendship and companionship than in pure animal lust. Armand suspected it was going to be difficult to keep his distance from the lovely Eshe d'Aureus...and wasn't even sure if he really wanted to anyway.
Eshe watched Armand walk out of the restaurant, her eyes sliding from his broad shoulders to the narrow waist and then down over his behind and legs. He had a confident walk with a hint of a swagger that was purely unconscious, she was sure, a natural rolling of his feet and shifting of hips as he moved. His broad shoulders remained straight, his head high. With his rugged features and silver-blue eyes, she hadn't been able to help but notice that he was a good-looking man, but then she hadn't met an Argeneau male who wasn't. They weren't all classically handsome, but they had a certain something. Armand seemed to her to have been gifted with a little extra helping of that certain something.
"You should see if you can read him."
Eshe glanced around with surprise at that comment from Lucian. He was halfway through his meal and eating quickly. She settled back in the booth to watch him, eyeing the food curiously. It smelled good, she noted, and asked in a distracted voice, "Why would I want to do that?"
"The real question is why haven't you already done so?" he said dryly, scooping up potatoes and peas together onto his fork. "I have known you a long time, Eshe, and never known you not to try to read every newcomer you encounter...whether they were mortal or immortal."
Eshe scowled at him as he popped the food into his mouth, mostly because he was right. She wouldn't admit this to anyone, but she was eager to meet a new life mate and enjoy the peace and passion she had enjoyed with her first life mate for several centuries. Life was terribly drab and boring without the vibrancy a life mate brought to it. That being the case, the first thing she usually did on meeting someone was try to read him. Although try wasn't the correct term since she hadn't yet met anyone she couldn't read. The only reason she could think that she hadn't read Armand was that she had been too busy annoying Lucian. It was a pastime she'd enjoyed for centuries. After living so long, life could get a bit boring at times. A gal had to amuse herself somehow.
Still, it was unusual for her to not read newcomers, Eshe acknowledged to herself, and had to wonder why she hadn't. The question, however, made her uncomfortable and eager to change the subject.
"So did he buy your story about me needing a safe house?" she asked quietly as she watched Armand Argeneau get in his pickup and pull out of the diner parking lot.
Lucian nodded without even glancing her way. "Why wouldn't he?"
Eshe made a face. "I suppose. It's not like he knows me. If he knew me he wouldn't think I was willing to hide out anywhere."
"Hmmm," Lucian murmured, finishing off his food. "Well, do me a favor and try not to make that too obvious while you're down here."
"Right," she murmured, and then when he pushed his plate away and stood up, she stood as well and asked curiously, "Do you really think he could have killed his wives?"
"No," Lucian acknowledged, digging out his wallet to throw a twenty on the table. "But then I didn't think Jean Claude could do what he did either."
Eshe frowned at these words as she retrieved her helmet from the table. She followed him toward the diner door, asking, "Why don't you just read him and see if he did it? For that matter, why didn't you read Jean Claude?"
"Because I couldn't."
The words startled her so much that Eshe stopped walking. She could maybe understand his not being able to read Jean Claude who had been his twin, but Armand..."But you're four hundred years older than Armand."
Pausing at the door, Lucian glanced back and grimaced. "For some reason-which I've never been able to work out-there are some siblings and even one or two nieces and nephews in the family that I can't read."
"Really?" Eshe asked with interest as she finally began to move again and joined him by the door. "I didn't know that."
"It's not something I advertise," he said dryly, pushing through the door.
"No, I suppose not," she murmured, trailing him outside. "So, why do you suspect Armand? It's not just because you can't read him."
"No, it's not," he agreed, walking along the front of the diner to a dark van parked several feet past her motorcycle. "And it's not that I suspect him so much as I don't feel I can afford not to. As far as I can tell, his being their husband is the only connection between his three wives. And then Annie was his son's wife."
"And Nicholas wasn't killed, just put on the run to prevent his discovering whatever it is Annie might have learned," Eshe murmured thoughtfully. She knew the whole story. Armand Argeneau had lost three wives to "accidents." Each more than a hundred years apart and each after marrying him and giving birth to one child. His daughter-in-law had also died in a tragic and somewhat freak accident after marrying his son. She had been pregnant, but hadn't yet given birth to what would have been their first child when she died. Both had perished in that freak accident. More important to the situation was that it appeared Annie had been asking questions about the deaths of Armand's wives before her sudden death, and while speaking to Nicholas on the phone the night before her accident, she had been rather excited and told him she had something to tell him when he got home. However, she'd died before she could tell him whatever that was, and when Nicholas had set out some weeks later to ask a friend of Annie's if she knew what Annie had wanted to tell him, he had somehow ended up in his basement with a dead mortal in his arms, her blood in his mouth and a blank spot where the memory of killing her should have been.
Nicholas, a rogue hunter Eshe had worked with a couple of times before these events, had been on the run since that night fifty years ago, but had recently turned himself in to save his new life mate. However, Annie's phone call and the blank spot where the murder of the mortal should have been had been enough to make Lucian reluctant to execute him as was expected. Instead, he'd assigned Eshe the task of sorting out the mess and finding out what really happened to Armand's wives and, hopefully, Annie and Nicholas. It was a pretty demanding task, almost impossible to do, really, since Armand's first wife had died in 1449, she thought.
"Follow me to the house," Lucian said as he got into his van.
Eshe merely nodded and moved on to her motorcycle, pulling her helmet on as she went. Her actions were automatic as she mounted and started the bike; her mind was on Armand Argeneau and the possibility that he had had something to do with the deaths of his wives and then Annie. It definitely wouldn't be a happy thought to anyone who knew and cared at all for the Argeneau clan, and Eshe was one of those people. The Argeneaus were presently enjoying a happy period after centuries of misery and oppression by Lucian's brother Jean Claude, and didn't need this kind of thing to blight their happiness.
Sighing, she forced herself to focus on the task at hand and followed Lucian's van out of the parking lot.
Armand's farm wasn't far from the diner, which was probably good since-despite her best efforts-Eshe's mind was preoccupied with her thoughts, leaving her little attention for driving. She automatically slowed when the van's brake lights came on, then followed it onto a long paved driveway lined with trees. The trees were old and large, their branches stretching like a canopy over the road and blocking out the stars over-head. It was actually startling when they suddenly fell away on either side, spreading out to surround a clearing around an old Victorian farmhouse.
Eshe slowed to a stop behind the van when it came to a halt, and then drove around to park beside it on the circular drive that ran around in front of the house. Her eyes traveled over the building as she did. It was an old Victorian gabled farmhouse of yellow brick with gingerbread trim and a porch that ran its length along the front. The porch rail ran along both sides of a set of four or five stairs, leading up to double doors that were dead center in the front of the building. Light spilled from the windows on the main floor, adding to the illumination from the porch light that shone over the doors in a welcoming manner.
Eshe turned off her motorcycle and disembarked, her gaze sliding over the abode with interest as she removed her helmet. While the building was old, it was in good repair, either tended with love over the hundred or so years since it had been built, or refurbished at some point and restored to its original glory. Her guess would have been that it had been well tended rather than refurbished. The gingerbread trim and wavy window glass looked authentic to her.
"Your guess would be right," Lucian announced, appearing at her side.
Eshe scowled at him for reading her mind, a rude habit the man had and never apologized for, and then her gaze slid to the cooler he carried and she breathed out a little sigh at the thought of the blood it probably contained. Lucian's call had woken her up mid-afternoon and she'd been in such a rush to follow orders and get down here that she hadn't thought to feed before leaving. She was beginning to feel it.
Lucian smiled faintly at her thoughts and waved her forward. "Then lead the way and you can have a bag or two while I put the rest of these in Armand's refrigerator."
Eshe nodded, retrieved her bag from the CruzPac on the back of her motorcycle, and started toward the house.
"That's it? That's your idea of packing for a trip?" Lucian asked, eyeing her bag with disbelief as he followed her to the stairs.
"What were you expecting? A steamer trunk?" she asked dryly. "Besides, I wasn't sure how country folk dress. I thought I'd buy a couple of things down here once I figure that out."
"You make it sound like farmers are another race entirely," Lucian said, half with disgust and half with amusement.
"As if you don't think the same thing," she said dryly, and then added, "Besides, they are as far as I can tell." Eshe shook her head as she admitted, "I just don't understand why anyone would bury themselves out here in the backwoods. I had enough of that nonsense in the Dark Ages, thank you very much. Outhouses hold no attraction for me. I prefer city living."
"I believe they have plumbing out here now," Lucian said with amusement.
"They didn't the last time I was on a farm."
"When was that?"
"When we were hunting that rogue down in Arkansas," she answered with a shudder. The living conditions in the nest had been positively brutal to her mind. She'd actually felt she was doing the rogue and his little mini rogues a favor by putting them out of their misery. That had been one of their kill-order hunts. Where the rogues had already been investigated and judged, but their hideout just discovered.
"For God's sake, woman, that was seventy or eighty years ago."
"Not long enough ago for me to forget," she said with another shudder.
"If I'd known it was going to scar you, I wouldn't have included you in that hunt," he said dryly.
"Yeah, right," she snorted. "More like you would have made me hit all the farmhouses with outhouses after that. Why do you think I didn't let you know how much it bothered me at the time? You're a sadistic bastard, Lucian. You would have seen it as your duty to desensitize me to the situation."
Lucian's answer was a grunt as she held the door for him to enter ahead of her.
"So how long are you staying, anyway?" she asked as he moved past her and started up the long hall. It had several doors leading off it and a set of stairs on one side leading to the second level. Lucian had obviously been here before; he headed straight up the hall toward the back of the house.
"Long enough to talk to Armand again and then I'm heading back."
"I figured when I saw that Leigh wasn't with you," Eshe admitted with a smile as she mentioned his life mate. The two were rarely apart, and she'd honestly expected to find the woman at the diner with Lucian and Armand when she'd arrived.
"She and Marguerite are having a girls' night out, some time at the spa, dinner out, and a movie," Lucian announced as he led the way into the last room on the back left side of the house. "I'd like to be home before her if I can."
Eshe murmured acknowledgment of his comment, but her attention was on the room they'd entered. The light in this room was off, but enough light was streaming in from the hallway that Eshe could see it was a country-style kitchen with wide plank wood floors, a brick-faced outer wall, three inner walls painted what appeared in that light to be a sunny yellow, an island in the kitchen side, by the refrigerator, and what appeared to be an old-fashioned wood-burning stove. The name Elmira on the front told her that it was probably a gas stove, specially designed to appear to be authentic to the Victorian home.
Her gaze shifted to Lucian as he set the cooler on the stone-topped island stationed at the cooking end of the room. When Eshe paused beside him, he opened the container, retrieved a bag of blood, and handed it to her.
Eshe murmured a thank-you, leaned her side against the island, opened her mouth, waited for her fangs to slide out and down, and then quickly popped the bag of blood to them.
Lucian then turned to open the refrigerator behind him. When he peered inside and grunted, Eshe shifted to peer in around his shoulder. Her eyebrows rose when she saw there wasn't a single bag of blood inside. Either they had arrived between deliveries or Armand kept his blood supply somewhere else.
Shaking his head, Lucian turned back to begin transferring the blood bags from the cooler to the refrigerator and Eshe backed up a couple of steps to give him room. The bag at her mouth was nearly empty and Lucian was turning to set two bags in the refrigerator when he suddenly dropped them and whirled toward her, his hand shooting over her shoulder and past her head.
Eshe heard skin slap on skin and a choked sound from directly behind her and quickly glanced over her shoulder. Her eyes widened incredulously as she saw the man dangling in the air behind her, Lucian's hand around his throat and holding him off the floor. He held a knife clenched in one tight hand.