Tall, Dark & Hungry
Chapter Seventeen

 Lynsay Sands

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"Well, it's done. You're now a married man," Terri said lightly to Lucern as he whirled her around the dance floor. The ceremony and feast were over, and he and Kate had done the traditional bridal dance. Now Lucern was making his way through the fe¬males in the wedding party, while Kate danced with each of the males. Then they would move on to the other important guests. As maid of honor and best man, Terri and Bastien had been the first approached. "How does it feel?"
"Good." Lucern grinned, then added, "I'm just grateful the ceremony went off without a hitch. Af¬ter all the calamities that plagued the arranging of this wedding, I thought for sure there would be some crisis. But it's all gone as smooth as silk."
Terri smiled at the man. She hadn't found him very talkative until tonight. Kate had explained one evening that he always got that way when he was working on a book, but that he could occasionally come out of his shell. It seemed tonight he had. He seemed very happy.
"Yes, it did," she agreed, then qualified herself with, "Well, except for C.K.'s sneezing."
They both grinned at the memory. The poor edi¬tor had been mortified: standing at the front of the church with the other groomsmen, sneezing every few minutes. The worst part was that he had appar¬ently warned Kate and Lucern that he was allergic to certain flowers when they'd asked him to stand up in the wedding, and they had both assured him that they would see to it that none of those flowers made it into the wedding arrangements. They had been care¬ful when choosing the first arrangements; but both had forgotten all about his allergy when the tragic floral crisis had occurred, and they had unintention¬ally chosen unfortunate arrangements the second time around. The editor had been having a miserable time of it all day.
Her gaze sought Chris out. The editor couldn't dance with his cast, but he wasn't at the head table where he, as a member of the wedding party, had been seated for the meal. That table was now empty, most of its inhabitants on the dance floor. Aban¬doned, Chris had chosen to join the table where his coworkers from Roundhouse Publishing were seated. Vincent was standing behind the editor's chair, one hand patting his shoulder soothingly, no doubt sym¬pathizing over his floral misery.
Terri really hoped the editor's luck changed soon. He seemed too nice a guy to suffer so.
An elegantly clad woman approached the table to speak to Chris, and Terri tilted her head to stare. The woman looked terribly familiar, and Terri was sure that Kate had introduced her at some point, but she'd met so many people today that it was hard to put names to faces.
Terri was sure the woman worked in the publishing industry somewhere, though, and judging by the way C.K. straightened in his seat as the woman addressed him, she'd guess that the lady had some influence.
"Lucern?" Terri glanced at her dance partner curi¬ously.
"Who is that woman?"
He followed her pointing finger. "Kathryn Falk."
"Ah." Terri nodded. "Lady Barrow."
"Yes. She's a nice woman. Smart and savvy. Kathryn was very helpful to me at the first romance conference Kate dragged me to."
Terri bit her lip to keep from laughing. It was a bit of an understatement. Kate had told her all about Lucern's codpiece getting caught on the tablecloth at the medieval feast, and how Lady Barrow had climbed right under the table with Kate to help her unhook him. She'd apparently held a flashlight or something while Terri's cousin worked to free Lucern. It had sounded like a hilarious tale.
"She did more than help Kate unhook my cod¬piece," he announced, and Terri guessed she hadn't hidden her amusement very well. He'd obviously guessed what she was thinking. "She also gave me a ride back from the airport, and some advice, and..."
He shrugged. "She was a good friend to me that day, and we've kept up the friendship since. I've agreed to attend the next Romantic Times conference as a fa¬vor to her."
Terri knew that was saying something. According to Kate, Lucern refused to do any of the conferences as an attendee. Even at the one he'd gone to last week, he hadn't gone as Luke Amirault the author, but Lucern Argeneau, Kate's fiance.
Noting the man's sudden frown, she glanced back toward the table. Vincent was holding Lady Barrow's hand and carrying it to his mouth to kiss. Terri could almost hear his sexy, trademark "Enchantee," from where she stood. The man was an incorrigible flirt, she thought with vague amusement.
Lucern didn't appear amused. When Vincent led the woman onto the dance floor and buried his face in her neck, Lucern's gaze sliced to where Bastien and Kate danced. Bastien turned, as if his brother had spoken his name. Their eyes met briefly; then Lucern glanced toward Vincent and Bastien's gaze followed. Bastien murmured something to Kate, and she looked to see what Vincent was up to as well. Not one of them seemed too pleased to see Vinnie with Lady Barrow. Terri didn't understand why. He was just dancing with the woman. A little too close, perhaps; but just the same, they were only dancing.
All four of them watched the couple dance. When the music ended and Vincent began to lead the woman off the dance floor, Lucern led Terri to Bastien.
"I'll take care of it," Bastien said. "You two con¬tinue your dances. You have a lot of people to go."
The newlyweds nodded and thanked him. They moved off to find the next couple from the wedding party to dance with, and Bastien glanced at Terri.
"Go ahead, I'll be fine," she assured him, though she really didn't know what there was for him to take care of. The family all seemed to be overreacting a bit. "I'll fetch myself a drink and sit, give my feet a rest," she assured him when Bastien didn't look happy. "Go on. Kate and Lucern will obviously just worry, and they shouldn't have to worry about any¬thing on their wedding day."
"I agree. You're a special woman, Terri." Bastien caught her by the chin and gave her a quick kiss. "I won't be long."
He straightened from kissing Terri and swung around to see where his cousin had got to. Unfortu¬nately, the man was no longer in sight. Frowning, Bastien headed in the direction he had last seen Vin¬cent leading Lady Barrow. His eyes scanned the peo¬ple in front of him worriedly. He understood that Vincent was probably hungry about now; it was around this hour that he usually went out to hunt. But they couldn't have him running around feeding off the guests!
Bastien slowed his steps and turned as Etienne hur¬ried to join him.
"Lucern and Kate told me what was up, and asked me to help you."
Bastien nodded, then glanced around. "Vincent was headed in this direction when last I saw him. I thought to search this area first, then make a sweep of the rest of the hall."
"Good thinking." Etienne fell into step as he started to walk again. After a few minutes, he said, "So, a little birdie tells me Terri is... important to you."
"A little birdie, huh?" Bastien asked dryly.
"Yeah." When Bastien didn't either agree or dis¬agree, Etienne added, "I was talking to Terri at the party last night. She seems nice. Actually, she is nice," he said, collecting himself. He explained, "I read her mind."
"I can't do that, so it's good to know my instincts about her are correct." Bastien said.
"Well, I can read her, and I can tell you that I like her. She's like my Rachel--something special."
"Yes, she is," Bastien agreed. "She's sweet and beautiful and smart and--"
"And you can't read her," Etienne repeated. "And you love her. You've obviously found your life mate. Congratulations, brother! I'm very happy for you."
"Yes. Well, don't tell Mother that." Bastien shook his head as Etienne clapped a hand on his back. He didn't need any interference.
"Don't tell me what?"
Both brothers turned, groaning as Marguerite Ar-geneau joined them.
"Mother." Bastien kissed her cheek dutifully. Eti¬enne followed suit.
"I don't know why you boys keep trying to hide things from me. One would think at your age you would know better than to even waste your time trying. I am your mother. I see, hear, and know everything."
"Is that right?" Bastien asked.
"That's right," she said firmly. "And perhaps you will realize it in another two hundred years. It only took Lucern until he was six hundred to figure it out. Honestly. Boys are so much harder to raise than girls." Marguerite scowled at her sons for grinning at this oft-heard complaint, then sighed. "So, no doubt you don't want Etienne to tell me that you love Katie's little cousin Terri?"
Etienne burst out laughing at Bastien's grimace.
"Well, you didn't think it had slipped my notice, did you?" their mother asked with amusement. "Af¬ter four hundred years, one would expect me to know and understood my boy enough to recognize when he is in love." She sighed, then nodded. "I ap¬prove, by the way. She's a lovely girl. And it will ease some of Kate's feelings of loss when she has to give up the rest of her family. Not to mention that having Katie in the family will make it easier on Terri as well. Actually, this will all work quite nicely."
"I hadn't thought of that," Bastien said with sur¬prise. "I mean; them making it easier for each other."
"Well, that's why you have a mother." Marguerite patted his shoulder, then glanced around. "Have you tried looking out in the hallway, or the bars on the main floor?" When her two sons exchanged glances, she rolled her eyes. "Well, you didn't expect Vincent to bite her right here, did you? He'll use a nice dark corner. Come along, then. Let's find the boy before he gets himself in trouble."
"We can take care of this, Mother," Bastien said quickly. "Why don't you--?"
"Miss all the fun?" she asked. "I don't think so."
When Bastien and Etienne exchanged wry looks, she added, "Just thank me for deciding not to inter¬fere with you and Terri."
"You won't?" Bastien eyed her with a combina¬tion of hope and wariness. He found it difficult to believe she meant that.
"I won't," Marguerite assured him. "You seem to be doing well enough on your own. Mind you, should you mess things up I may change my mind." On that note, she turned to lead the way out of the room.
Terri watched Bastien, Etienne and their mother leave the hall in search of Vincent as she listened idly to her aunt raving about this "perfectly lovely man" that she thought Terri should meet. It was sweet of the woman, really, but Terri wasn't looking for a man. She had one. Well, sort of. Her gaze slid back to the door through which Bastien had exited.
"Terri doesn't need a man, Mom. She already has one," Kate announced as Lucern led her over.
"She does?" Lydia Leever asked avidly. "You didn't say anything, dear. Who is he?"
"Lucern's brother Bastien," Kate answered.
"Oh!" Aunt Lydia was obviously pleased at the news, for she hugged Terri. "Well, that's wonderful. He's such a handsome man, and if he's half as nice as Lucern, the two of you should be very happy."
"I'm glad you think I'm nice, Mrs. Leever," Lucern interjected. "I hope that means you'll consent to dance with your new son-in-law?"
"Call me Mom, Lucern. You're family now," Aunt Lydia said. Lucern led her out onto the dance floor.
Kate smiled at Terri, as John Leever, her father, stood to take his turn on the dance floor with her as well. Terri watched them go, her thoughts drifting back to Bastien now that she was alone and no longer distracted. He had told her in the car on the way to the reception hall that he had something he wanted to discuss with her. Those solemn words had been bothering her ever since. They had immediately brought several things to mind: the vials, the blood bags, the iv stand, and Kate saying there was some¬thing that Bastien needed to tell her. Terri had been worrying over the topic ever since.
What was he going to tell her? How bad was it go¬ing to be? She hoped it wasn't too horrible, but she supposed she'd have to wait and see.
Terri shifted restlessly on her feet, then set her empty glass down on the nearest table and made her way to the ladies' room. Two ladies were leaving as she entered. Terri didn't recognize either woman, so she assumed they were either friends of Kate's from the city or relatives from the Argeneau side. She smiled and nodded politely as they passed, then walked along the stalls to the end.
Terri went in, locked the stall door behind her, pulled her skirt up and her panties down, and released a sigh of relief as she sat down. Her feet were a bit sore from her new shoes and all the standing she had done today--first at the ceremony, then on the church steps in the receiving line, and finally while posing for the endless wedding pictures. The recep¬tion had offered the first real chance she'd had to sit down, but it had been endlessly interrupted by stand¬ing as one guest or another made a toast to the bride and groom. Now the meal was over and the dancing had started. Terri wasn't too sure her feet were up to that. At least, not in these shoes. Her feet felt swollen and chafed in the satin bridesmaid slippers.
She lifted her feet, holding them straight out to examine them. The shoes were pretty enough, but damned uncomfortable. Terri briefly considered whether it would be bad form to take the darn things off and run around in stockinged feet for the rest of the night. She thought she might get away with it--the skirt was long; it might hide her bare feet--but her stockings would no doubt be ruined by night's end.
Stockings or feet? Which should she sacrifice? she pondered, staring at her raised shoes.
"Has Bastien told Terri yet?"
Terri stiffened inside her stall, her feet still straight out in the air.
"Shh, Lissianna." She recognized Kate's voice. "Someone could be in here."
"I checked first. The stalls are empty," Bastien's sis¬ter said reassuringly.
Terri glanced from her raised feet to the floor where they should have been. Having them up as she did, Lissianna had seen only what appeared to be an empty stall. Well, this was embarrassing. What should she do? Lower her feet and cough or something, to let the two women know that they weren't alone? Or should she keep her mouth shut and avoid embarrass¬ing herself or the others? She'd also learn what they were talking about.
"Oh." Kate sighed. "No, Bastien hasn't told her yet, and I wish he would. He won't be able to keep it a secret for long. She's bound to find out."
Find out what? Terri wondered, prickly heat run¬ning down her neck.
"She leaves soon, though, doesn't she?" Lissianna asked.
"And do you think he won't follow? Or that she won't come back?"
"You think it's that serious?" Bastien's sister asked with interest.
"Yes. And you do, too, or you wouldn't be asking if he'd told her," Kate said dryly. "It's hardly something you tell just any gal you're dating."
Told me what? Terri repeated in her head. Damn, she wished they'd get more specific. And hurry. Her muscles were starting to burn from holding her legs up. She didn't know how much longer she could keep them raised.
"Yes, it's serious," Kate went on with a sigh. "I know Terri. She loves him with all her heart. Being just as much in love with Lucern I recognize the signs," she added dryly. "The way they feel about each other, they won't be apart for any longer than necessary. If she even goes home, or he doesn't just follow her back to England. Either way, he has to tell her. It wouldn't be a good thing for her to find out on her own."
"No," Lissianna agreed. "It's better he tell her than she find out by accident."
Find out what? Terri wanted to scream with frustra¬tion. Not to mention pain--her legs were now ab¬solutely killing her.
"I don't know why he's delaying," Kate fretted. Lissianna gave a short laugh. "That's easy enough to answer. It's because he loves her just as much as she loves him. I've never seen him like this. The man is always smiling, or whistling, or--I wasn't yet around when Josephine was in his life, but Lucern says Bastien wasn't even this happy when he thought he loved her."
Terri almost sighed out loud at this news. His fam¬ily thought Bastien loved her. And she made him happier than Josephine--whoever that was. Her legs were suddenly forgotten. She could take a little pain. "Well, then, why is he risking things working out with Terri by keeping quiet?" Kate asked. She sounded frustrated.
"As I said, because he loves her," Lissianna re¬peated. "Haven't you heard about Josephine?"
"Yes, of course. But Terri is different. She'll be more understanding. Especially after what she went through with Ian. She--"
Whatever came next was lost to Terri, for music briefly swept into the room as the door was opened, then receded to silence again as it closed. Lissianna and Kate were gone.