Born to Bite
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A curse from the doorway made Eshe glance that way to see Armand coming to a halt in the entrance. Anger flashed over his expression, but it was quickly replaced with resignation. His voice was weary when he asked, "What happened?"
"Your house wasn't empty as you said it would be," Lucian said grimly.
Armand looked annoyed, but explained, "That's Paul Williams. He's my day manager here on the farm. I expected he'd head right back down to the barn after calling me, but he must have sat down here to wait for me. Unfortunately, I drove straight down to the barn when I got here. When I realized he wasn't there, I hurried back here to find him." He paused and frowned and then asked, "But why did he attack?"
"Neither of us noticed him at the table. I started to unpack the blood, Eshe flashed her fangs and popped a bag, and he tried to stake her," Lucian said dryly, and then grimaced and said, "Although I guess it would be stab since there weren't any stakes handy and he was reduced to grabbing a knife from the butcher block."
Eshe shifted from between the two men, stepping away to get a better look at the mortal who had been about to attack her. She grimaced and tore away the now-empty blood bag from her teeth as she got a better look at the large carving knife in his right hand. It wouldn't have killed her, but would have hurt like hell had he finished his action and stabbed her before Lucian had noticed him. Grimacing, she muttered, "Friendly guy."
Armand frowned at the knife, but then glanced to Lucian and asked with disbelief, "You didn't notice him? How the hell could you not notice him?"
"The light is off," Lucian pointed out stiffly. "Mortals do not generally sit around in the dark, so I assumed the room was empty and didn't glance toward the table where he was apparently sitting. Besides, I was distracted talking to Eshe." He frowned, and then shook his head and turned to concentrate on the mortal briefly before turning to Armand and raising one eyebrow. "He has been with you since the beginning of summer, but you haven't explained about us to him?"
"Of course I haven't. He's a good worker," Armand said with disgust, running one hand through his hair in a weary gesture. When Lucian merely raised his other eyebrow, Armand sighed and said with some exasperation, "Have you ever even had to try to initiate a mortal to our world?" He didn't allow Lucian to answer, but merely clucked with disgust and said, "Of course not, you only keep immortals around you."
"It makes life simpler," Lucian said with a shrug.
"Yes, well, some of us need mortals who can go out in sunlight so we don't need to double our blood consumption...and let me tell you, it isn't easy. Nine times out of ten when you do tell them they don't take it well and have to have their memories changed and be sent away." He blew a breath out through his mouth and then said irritably, "It's a huge pain in the ass. You tell them you're a vampire and they think you're joking. You flash your fangs to convince them, and half the time they piss their pants or reach for a weapon. You take the weapon away and explain that no, no, it isn't like that. We aren't the soulless dead. Our vampirism is scientific in nature. Our ancestors were Atlanteans and they were more advanced than even the myths suggest. They developed nanos that were shot into the body to repair injuries and fight illness, only the nanos use blood to do it and to propel themselves, more blood than the body can create, and so we need to consume blood from an outside source." He snorted, and then added, "Oh right, and the nanos see aging as something that needs repairing, so keep their hosts at their peak condition and young...forever."
His mouth twisted and he shook his head. "As I said, nine times out of ten they don't take it well and I end up having to wipe their memory and send them on their way." His gaze shifted to the man Lucian still held in the air. "Paul is a hard worker, a good manager, but he's very authoritarian in nature. I suspect he'll be one of the nine rather than the one out of ten. I didn't want to have to find a new manager so I've been putting off telling him."
"Your instincts are good," Lucian said quietly as he took away the knife the mortal still clutched and set him on his feet. "Judging by what I'm reading in his thoughts right now, Mr. Williams will have to be wiped and sent on his way."
"It figures," Armand muttered with disgust. "And I suppose it has to be done now."
Lucian didn't comment, but then Eshe supposed he didn't have to. The level of fear the man must have experienced to have come at her with a knife when she hadn't done a thing to threaten him meant that to wipe the memory and keep it wiped, Paul would never be able to see either her or Lucian, or even this kitchen again without risking that memory's return. There was even a chance that seeing Armand framed in a doorway could spark the memory and bring it back to life. Paul Williams had to be sent away to ensure the memory didn't return.
"I will handle Mr. Williams," Lucian announced. "You have a calving cow in trouble to deal with."
Armand hesitated, and then nodded grimly. "Paul was bunking in the smaller house behind this one. The furniture stays, but everything else is his and will have to be packed onto his pickup. I'll go write a generous severance check for him and drop it off to you at the house on my way back out to the barn."
Lucian glanced to Eshe. "Put away the blood and then meet me at the manager's house."
Eshe nodded but then simply stood and watched as Armand turned and headed up the hall. Once he was gone, Lucian focused his attention on her and said, "When he comes back, I want you to try to read him."
Eshe frowned, but Lucian then marched Armand's now ex-day manager out of the kitchen, and she moved around the island to continue with the work he'd started, retrieving bags of blood and stacking them in the mostly empty refrigerator. She was quick about the task, eager to get out to the house, get the manager on his way, and start this new job.
Eshe was an enforcer and had been for some time. She hunted rogue vampires, finding their nests, capturing them and usually bringing them back to the Council for judgment. Although there had been the odd job Lucian led where the rogue had already been judged and there was no need to go to the trouble of bringing him back at all, alive or otherwise. Those jobs were usually fast-paced and brutal. However, this job wasn't going to be anything like that. This was going to be more brainpower than muscle, and she had to take her time, ask the right questions, and follow the right leads. She just hoped she found the answers that would cause the least pain to everyone involved. She didn't want to fail to find any answers at all, or find the ones they didn't want and be the reason Nicholas Argeneau was executed.
Armand gave the cow a reassuring pat on the side as she licked and cleaned her new calf. He was surprised she had the energy. It had been a hard birth. The calf had gotten itself turned around and tangled in the umbilical cord. For a while there he thought he wouldn't be able to correct the situation in time to save the calf. There had even been a moment or two when he'd worried for the mother, but he'd managed to get the calf turned and all had worked out in the end.
Straightening, he stripped off the rubber gloves he'd donned to try to turn the calf and glanced at his wristwatch, grimacing when he saw the time. It was just after midnight. It had been only a couple of hours since he'd come back out to the barn. It felt like it had been at least twice that. In fact, he was a little surprised to walk out of the barn into a starry night rather than predawn light.
His eyes moved to the manager's house first. He wasn't surprised to see that the lights were out. In the short time it had taken him to walk to his office earlier, find his checkbook-which admittedly had taken a couple of minutes, Armand was always misplacing the thing-write a check, and carry it out to the manager's house, Lucian had already gotten Paul there and had him half packed up. While Lucian himself had been working at the increased speed their people were capable of, he was also controlling Paul and making him work almost as quickly.
Armand suspected they'd probably gotten the task done and Lucian had seen Paul off while he was still trying to calm the cow so he could help her. No doubt Lucian had been sitting around for hours waiting for him to finish and return to the house...along with Eshe. She'd come out once to ask if she could help him, but he'd sent her away, finding her too much a distraction to be an aid.
There was something about the woman, a combination of sultriness and strength that quite fascinated him. The very way she moved held his eye and attention. She definitely would have been more hindrance than help in the barn. Now that the calf and mother were well, however, Armand found himself eager to get to the house and see her again. It had been a long time since a woman's very presence had captured his attention so. Not since his first wife, Susanna, his one and only life mate.
The thought brought a frown to his face as Armand mounted the steps to the back porch of the house. He had no desire to examine that fact further. In truth, all it did was make him think it might be best if he refused to allow her to stay with him. But he couldn't do that. Aside from the fact that you simply didn't refuse Lucian Argeneau, he had to admit Eshe would probably be safest at his home. If she went somewhere else and something happened, he'd never forgive himself.
Armand found Lucian and Eshe in his living room. She was leafing idly through a magazine while Lucian had the television on and was flicking through the few channels available with a bored expression that turned to irritation when he saw Armand entering.
"Dear God, Armand, you've only got basic cable here. What's the matter with you? The best shows are on the upper channels, and I don't know how you live without the movie channels."
Armand shrugged, amusement tugging at his lips. "I wouldn't even have basic cable if it weren't for Agnes. My sister-in-law by my first wife," he explained for Eshe's benefit, before adding, "She ordered it for me when I asked her to arrange for the Internet out here. I'm still not sure why she bothered with cable at all. I don't watch television." He raised an eyebrow. "As far as I knew you didn't either. When did you start?"
"Leigh's got me watching a couple of shows," Lucian muttered, and then said, "Most of what's on TV is crap, but there are a couple of good ones amongst the drivel."
"Are there?" Armand asked dryly, finding himself oddly amused at his brother. It was a rare situation to find himself in. Lucian was rarely amusing, but finding his life mate had given him an almost human side that sat awkwardly on his shoulders, and was definitely bringing a smile to Armand's face. It was interesting to see. Given some time, Leigh might manage to make him almost normal. Doubtful, he supposed, but still it was fun to contemplate. Putting that possibility aside for now, he raised his eyebrows. "So...? I'm surprised you're still here. Was there something else you needed to tell me?"
"Yes." Lucian turned off the television and stood. "Let's get to it, I've already been gone longer than I intended. We'll talk in the kitchen. I want more blood."
Armand smiled wryly and stepped aside as Lucian moved past him to head up the hall. It might be his home, but that didn't stop his brother from acting as if it were his own. He was like that everywhere, though, and all the time. It was not unexpected. His gaze slid to Eshe, but when she continued with her magazine, he left her to it and followed Lucian.
"You had no blood in your refrigerator when I put this in. Are you waiting on a delivery?" Lucian asked as he walked to the refrigerator to retrieve blood.
"I keep my blood supply in my bedroom refrigerator. I have a mortal housekeeper, and between her and Paul, it seemed wise not to risk one of them sticking their noses in the fridge and wondering about a supply of bagged blood."
"And the juice and few other items in there?" Lucian asked, retrieving two bags of blood and closing the door.
"Camouflage," Armand murmured as he accepted the bag Lucian held out to him and followed him to the kitchen table at the far end of the room. "An empty refrigerator would cause questions I don't want to answer. I always keep something in the fridge. I change it out once in a while, feeding the fruit and lunchmeat to the pigs and replacing the juices and milk with fresh stuff when they've passed their 'best before' date."
Lucian grunted at the information as he settled at the table. A moment of silence passed as they concentrated on feeding, but once the bags were empty, Armand took them and walked over to throw them out in the garbage under the sink as he asked, "So what did you need to tell me?"
"I've arranged for extra blood in your deliveries for as long as Eshe is here," Lucian informed him, all business now. "I'll pick up the tab."
"There's no need for that," Armand murmured. He had shares in Argeneau Enterprises and ten farms all making a profit. He could supply blood for the woman for the couple of weeks she was here.
Lucian ignored him and pulled out his wallet to retrieve a credit card. "She'll need more clothes than she brought. Is there somewhere around here you can take her shopping?"
"Of course, Lucian," he said dryly, and then pointed out, "London is only twenty minutes or so north of here."
"Hmm." Lucian didn't seem impressed and said, "She has rather exotic tastes."
Armand grinned at Lucian's pained expression, but merely said, "London has designer stores. It's a good-sized city, you know."
"For Ontario, maybe," Lucian said dryly and passed the credit card to him. "Put her clothes on the company card."
Armand raised an eyebrow at the suggestion, not sure it was exactly kosher to put a woman's clothes on the company card, but accepted it rather than argue.
"And put anything else she asks for on the card too. I don't expect you to be out-of-pocket for doing us this favor." Before he could comment, Lucian asked, "Have you tried to read her?"
Armand felt his eyebrows rise, but admitted, "No."
"Why not?" he asked at once.
"She's older than me, I'm not likely to be able to."
"Still, you should try to read her. Most immortals would try on first meeting someone in hopes they'd found their life mate."
Armand felt his mouth tighten and glanced away as he muttered, "I'm not looking for a new life mate."
"Hmmph." Lucian scowled at him, and then added, "Well, I want you to try to read her before we leave. We'll rejoin her in the living room and I want you to try." When Armand glared at him rebelliously, he added, "Just do it for me. If I call you with updates, I need to know how much I can tell you. I don't want her reading something from your mind and coming rushing back to Toronto if another enforcer gets hurt in her place or something."
"Right, whatever," Armand muttered, understanding the need for it.
"Come on." Lucian was up and out of the room in the next heartbeat and Armand reluctantly followed him back to the living room. The moment they entered, Eshe glanced up, and Lucian gestured for Armand to get to it. He grimaced, but turned his concentration to the woman, focusing on her forehead, seeing it but not seeing it as he tried to penetrate her thoughts. He wasn't terribly surprised when he failed to do so.
"Well?" Lucian asked impatiently. When Armand merely shook his head, Lucian nodded as if he'd expected as much, which he probably had since Eshe was the older of the two of them, and often it was hard for a younger vampire to read an older one. Lucian then glanced to Eshe and ordered, "See me out."
She got up at once, but managed to look as if she was doing it only because she chose to rather than because he'd barked at her like she was a dog who had to obey. She also sauntered out of the room in her own good time, rather than quick-marching as Armand suspected most immortals would have done, and he found himself admiring her spunk as well as her fine ass as she made her way out of the room. Armand was about to follow her swaying hips out the door when Lucian was suddenly in front of him, one hand on his chest to hold him back.
"There's no need for you to accompany us. She'll be back in a minute. Wait here."
Armand briefly debated flouting the order as he suspected Eshe would have, but then shrugged and moved to settle in the La-Z-Boy she had just evacuated. She would be back soon enough and he'd have her company for two weeks. He could wait, he decided, and then turned his head to the side and sniffed as he noticed that the chair was still warm from her occupancy and a trace of her perfume lingered in the air around him. It was a lovely, spicy scent that he decided suited her perfectly, and he inhaled of it deeply, drawing it into his lungs with pleasure.
"I couldn't read him," Eshe admitted in a small voice the moment the door of the house closed behind her and Lucian and they wouldn't be overheard. The fact that she couldn't read Armand was almost mind-numbing. Eshe had tried to read Armand the first time when he'd shown up in the door of the living room on returning from the barn, and then again when he'd returned from the kitchen with Lucian. She had failed to pierce his thoughts both times.
Eshe had known the second time that he too was trying to read her, probably under Lucian's order, and had let her guards drop to allow it, but had seen him shaking his head in response to Lucian's prompting "Well?" However, her main concern had been that she couldn't read him. She should have been able to. She was older than he was and had only ever encountered one person that she hadn't been able to read: Orion. He had been only ten years younger than she and had been her first and last life mate. It seemed Armand might be her second.
Any other time, finding a possible life mate would have been a cause for joy. This time, however, with this man-a suspect in several possible murders-it was not a joyful event and she was almost in a panic at the realization.
"I couldn't read him," she repeated more grimly as they descended the stairs to cross to Lucian's van.
"I know. I could tell by your expression," he said solemnly. Lucian tapped his leg as he started across the pavement to the van. "It might not mean anything. I can't read him. Maybe he's hard to read."
"And if it does mean something?" she asked quietly as they paused beside the van. She grimaced when he narrowed his gaze on her, knowing he was reading her, and had done so intermittently all evening. She said, "I know you know I find him attractive as well."
"I wouldn't start worrying unless you find yourself suddenly eating," he said quietly, and then added, "And if you do..." His mouth tightened. "It doesn't change things, Eshe. You're here to do a job and I expect you to do it whether he's a possible life mate or not."
"Yes, of course," she murmured, forcing herself to at least appear calm. Clearing her throat, she held on to the van door when he opened it to get in and asked, "Any last instructions?"
Lucian settled in the driver's seat before turning to peer at her solemnly. "Just watch your back."
When she stared back blankly, he pointed out, "His last life mate didn't fare very well, nor did his wives. Just stay alert and get the answers we need as quickly as you can."
Eshe nodded unhappily, and when no other orders were forthcoming and he leaned forward to start the engine, she pushed the van door closed. She then watched silently as he followed the circle back onto the driveway and headed up the lane toward the road.
Eshe stood in the driveway until his rear lights disappeared before turning to peer at the house. Inside was a man who might be her life mate. Unfortunately, he might also be a murderer as well.