Tall, Dark & Hungry
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Terri stared at her host's panic-stricken face. She could hardly believe that he'd suddenly turned on her, shouting those words, now that they'd finally reached his home.
The ride here had taken the better part of an hour. She and Bastien had chatted most of the way, and Terri had spent a portion of that time trying to place his accent. Spending the past several years in Europe had given her something of an ear for them. Bastien had a hint of one, which she couldn't place. It was most unusual. He spoke at times with the formality of a time gone by, but used modern terminology just as often. Terri thought she heard a touch of London in his accent, but she wasn't certain.
When she hadn't been able to figure it out by lis¬tening to him speak, she had tried to place his ethnic origins by examining his features--but that hadn't really helped, either. His dark good looks could have been almost Mediterranean, but his pale skin tone didn't bear that out. As for his name: Bastien Arge-neau was definitely French. Kate had mentioned that the family was from Canada, but they resided in Toronto, which Terri knew was in Ontario. Still, she supposed the family could be French Canadian. And perhaps what she thought was a hint of an English accent was simply Canadian. She'd met a couple of Canadians in her life, but hadn't really paid much at¬tention to their accents.
Finally admitting that she couldn't figure out his accent, Terri had determined to ask Kate later, and had given up the matter to concentrate on their con¬versation. For the most part, they'd touched on topics that were relatively neutral, like the weather and the wedding: safe topics that revealed nothing personal, and that Terri knew were geared to make her feel comfortable and at ease with this relative stranger with whom she would be staying. He took pains sev¬eral times to reassure her that she was welcome in his home, following that up with assurances that he was terribly busy, not likely to be around much and so wouldn't make a nuisance of himself.
Terri had felt pretty relaxed about the whole deal by the time they pulled into the underground parking garage of the Argeneau building. They had still been chatting lightly and laughing as they gathered her luggage. Lucern had even put away his scribbling and joined the conversation as he took her carry-on again and followed Bastien into the secured elevator to the penthouse. They'd all been smiling at Bastien's gentle teasing of his brother for being "blinded by love," when the elevator doors slid open and he'd started to lead the way into his home. Then he'd stopped dead so that Terri had bumped into his back, whirled around with a panicked expression and shouted "Get out!"
So much for being welcome in his home. "Bastien?" There was a question in Lucern's voice as he set down Terri's case and moved past her. "What..."
The way his voice trailed off as he looked into the room beyond--a room Terri couldn't see into, be-cause Bastien's broad shoulders blocked the way-- told her there was something of great interest inside. "Vincent!" Lucern barked. "Let Bastien's house¬keeper go!"
Well, that was too much for Terri. Stepping around Bastien, she peered into the living room and at the couple there. At first glance, it appeared that they had interrupted a passionate embrace, but that was only for the first second. Then Terri noted that the man-- Vincent, she presumed--was wearing a black cape. And what she saw wasn't so much an amorous act but the classic vampire embrace. It looked like the fellow was biting the old woman's neck.
Terri felt her eyebrows fly up, even as hands settled heavily on her shoulders. They were Bastien's hands, she guessed, since Lucern was in front of her, but she hardly noticed before Lucern was barking again. "Damn it, Vinny! Let go of that woman." "You know I hate being called Vinny, Luc. Call me Vincent. Or better yet, call me Dracul," the caped fellow corrected in a very bad Transylvanian accent. He straightened from the older woman and turned to them. His eyes held irritation for a moment, then his gaze landed on Terri. His expression gave way to a seductive smile.
Leaving the maid swaying on her feet, Vincent glided across the room to stand before Terri. His smile was a sexy curve of the mouth, his irises were silver blue and held a hungry look that captured her attention. He enveloped one of her small hands in his, and raised it to his lips. "Enchante," he growled.
Terri opened her mouth to respond, but paused in surprise when the man turned her hand over and pressed his lips to her wrist.
"Stop that!" Bastien stepped to the side, tugging Terri away from the man with a hand on her elbow even as he used the other to slap Vincent in the back of the head. If the fact that all three men sported those unique silver-blue eyes and dark good looks hadn't told her, that gesture--one only an irritated relative would use--told Terri this man was obvi¬ously an Argeneau. "What the hell are you doing here, Vincent?"
"Dracul," he insisted with a sniff, then turned and walked to the nearest chair. Grasping his cape, he held it out slightly so that it swirled around him as he turned. Then he dropped dramatically to sit. "I have the lead role in Dracula. The musical."
"Dracula the musical?" Bastien echoed in disbelief. Vincent grinned. "Yeah. Cool, huh? The lead." He nodded. "I'm a stage presence."
"Dear God," Terri heard Bastien breathe. He seemed horrified by the whole ordeal, but she was fascinated. She volunteered a lot of time to the local community theater, and she loved this kind of stuff. Pulling away from her host's light hold, she moved to the couch and perched on the end of it to ask, "Are you a method actor?"
"Why, yes!" He beamed at her. "How did you know?"
"Well, the scene we walked into suggested you were. Er..." Terri's words became a surprised si-lence as a glance across the room showed the house¬keeper was no longer swaying on her feet. In fact, she'd fainted dead away. Lucern was lifting her into his arms.
"Where is her room, Bastien?" he asked as the two men now turned to notice his predicament.
"Oh. I'll show--" Bastien stopped abruptly and turned an uncertain gaze back to Terri, as if he were reluctant to leave her alone with Vincent.
His brother solved the problem by saying, "Just tell me, and I'll go put her in bed."
" That hall, the last room on the right," Bastien in¬dicated, gesturing to one of the two corridors that led off the large living room.
Terri shook her head and watched Lucern carry the woman out. The housekeeper really hadn't taken Vincent's playacting at all well. She was overreacting, and obviously fainthearted. Terri turned back to the actor. "As I was saying, the scene we walked in on said as much. So, you have to live your roles to make them feel real to you. You have to act them out?"
"Yeah." Vincent grinned. "I always live out my role. If I'm playing a bartender, I tend bar for a while. If I'm a salesman I get a job selling cars. Whatever. Fortunately, with this role I don't have to act mu--" "Vinny!" Bastien's tone made both Terri and Vin¬cent glance his way. His expression was forbidding, so much so that the actor didn't even bother to correct the name. In fact, he seemed to read more into the look than Terri, because after a moment of silence he arched his eyebrows. "She's not one of us?"
"No." Bastien's expression was icy. Terri was a lit¬tle startled by the transformation. He had seemed at¬tractive and friendly and not the least threatening until now, but this expression made him seem just a bit dangerous. In a good way, she decided, as her gaze slid over his broad shoulders and the cut of his slacks. He was a good-looking, well-built--
"You haven't answered my question. What are you doing here?"
Bastien's cold query drew Terri from her itemiza-tion of his good points and back to the men.
Vincent answered, "I told you, I have the lead--" "Fine," Bastien interrupted. "That explains why you're in New York. Now, why are you here? In my home?"
"Oh." Vincent gave a laugh. "You mean Aunt Marguerite's home, don't you? She said I could stay here until we see if the play is going to last any length of time, until I know if I need my own apartment in the city or not."
Bastien closed his eyes briefly and silently cursed his mother. She Was such a tenderhearted person. Unfortunately, Vincent had it right. This really was her apartment. His father had purchased the building years ago and set up offices here. He'd designed this penthouse above, allowing a room for each of his children should they wish to visit. On his father's death, Bastien had taken to staying here when in New York, and had come to think of it as his own because he was the only one who usually did stay here. But, in truth, it was still his mother's apartment, and she had every right to allow whoever she wanted to stay here.
To be fair, Marguerite probably hadn't thought it would be a problem. It was a huge apartment and, with Vincent acting at night and Bastien working during the day, in the normal course of events it wouldn't have been a problem. He doubted the two of them would even have run into each other very often. But that was in the normal course of events. Today, nothing was normal. And Terri's presence caused something of a dilemma, because Vincent was a biter.
No, Vincent wasn't doing his normal method act¬ing when they'd walked in--or perhaps he was, since he didn't usually walk around in a cape--but if so, it was only incidental to the fact that he had been feed¬ing. And off the bloody housekeeper! "
Bastien scowled at his cousin. Vincent, and his fa¬ther before him, couldn't survive on bagged blood. They needed a specific enzyme that died several mo¬ments after blood left the human body. It was a prob¬lem Bastien had his lab working on, but until they discovered how to fix the problem, Vincent, like his father, had to feed off the living. Still, the man knew better than to feed in Bastien's home. He'd been taught better than that.
"Sorry," Vincent said with a chagrined shrug, not even pretending he hadn't been reading Bastien's thoughts. "It was a long flight and I was hungry. No harm done, though."
Bastien sighed and ran a hand through his hair. For¬tunately, it appeared Vincent was right; there was no harm done. Terri assumed the man was a method ac¬tor, playacting. Which reminded Bastien of something Kate had once said when mentioning her maid of honor. Terri was a professor at the University of Leeds. She taught something to do with the media, but she spent a lot of time volunteering in community theater. Thank God for small favors. It had saved com¬ing up with an explanation for what they had walked in on. Knowledgeable on plays and acting in general, she'd made the obvious assumption. At least, it was an assumption more obvious than thinking the truth; that Vincent--that all of them--were vampires.
"Your housekeeper is resting quietly," Lucern an¬nounced, returning to the living room.
Bastien nodded. "Thanks, Luc." He glanced at their cousin. "So, what's this about a lead role in a musical?"
"Dracula." Vincent nodded. "I landed the role last week. We start rehearsals soon." He grinned gleefully. "It's perfectly atrocious. Rotten campy music, ridicu¬lous lines--and they want me to use this horrid Tran-sylvanian accent. I think it will be a hit. I predict a long run."
Terri burst out laughing, and Bastien found a smile curving his lips at the musical sound. She was lovely when she smiled and irresistible when she laughed.
Got the hots for Kate's cousin?
Bastien gave a start as Vincent's thought intruded on his own. Vincent was still reading his mind. He scowled, then stiffened as the intercom buzzed behind him. Someone was in the elevator and waiting to come up. Without a key like the one Bastien always carried, the elevator had to be unlocked from upstairs to work. No doubt Mrs. Houlihan, the housekeeper, had unlocked it for Vincent to come up. Either that or Bastien's mother had given Vinny her key.
"That might be Kate," Lucern said, showing a no¬ticeable increase in animation at the very idea. It was always amazing to see the difference that came over Luc when his fiancee was around. It was as if a switch were flipped and he came fully to life. Bastien often wondered what it must be like to truly enjoy life again as Lucern seemed to be doing.
It was something he might never know, Bastien re¬alized without rancor. He moved to the wall unit and flipped a switch, bringing up an image of the interior of the elevator on a small monitor. Sure enough, Kate was in the elevator. She wasn't alone.
"Who's that with her?"
Lucern moved closer to look. "It's C.K."
"C.K.?" Bastien asked.
Lucern nodded. Now it was Terri who stood and came to peer curiously at the stranger. "He's a co-worker of Kate's. Another editor. Isn't he?" She looked to Lucern for verification and he nodded again.
Bastien pushed the button to allow the elevator to climb up to the penthouse suite. "Why would she be bringing him here?"
Lucern merely shrugged and made his way to the elevator, though Bastien knew it wasn't curiosity that moved him. He doubted his brother cared at all why the other editor was there; Luc was just eager to see Kate. He was always eager to see Kate.
"So. I'm Vincent Argeneau. And you are?"
Bastien turned to see that his cousin had taken Terri's hand again. He had every intention of inter-rupting the cozy little scene... just as soon as Terri gave her full name. Bastien still didn't have a clue what it was.
"Terri. Terri Lea Simpson."
"And are you a thespian, too? You must have something to do with acting to know about method actors and such. You're certainly lovely enough to be an actress."
"No." Terri laughed at the compliment and shook her head. "I've always been interested in the theater, unfortunately I have no ability in that area. I teach scriptwriting, actually, and volunteer in community theater."
That was all Bastien wanted to hear. He started forward at once, intending to bring an end to his cousin's flirting, but the elevator doors opened just as he did. His attention was drawn to the trio in the entry as he heard Kate's distressed, "Oh, Lucern! You'll never guess what's happened!"
After the briefest of hesitations--a hesitation that ended only when Terri moved past him to join the three people in the entry--Bastien followed her to find out what the dilemma was. It did seem to be the day for problems.
"We had the production meeting, then Chris went home to finish packing and collect his things for the California conference. He forgot his briefcase at the office, his flight was at five, and he didn't have time to come back for it, so I said I'd leave early and run it out to him. And thank goodness I did!"
"Er... Kate? Do you think we could move into the living room so I can put my foot up?" the other editor asked. "My leg's killing me."
"Oh. Of course, Chris. He's supposed to keep his leg elevated," Kate explained to the rest of them. She took his arm to help him into the living room. "It's broken."
Bastien merely raised an eyebrow. That fact was rather obvious from the ungainly cast on the man's right leg.
"How did he break it?" Terri asked. She seemed to be the only person who cared.
"Oh! Terri." Releasing Chris, Kate turned to her cousin and hugged her in greeting. "They found you. I'm so glad. How was your flight? I hope you don't mind staying here, but my apartment's so small and, now that I have to fly out of town, I wouldn't want you to be there all by yourself and--"
Bastien had been grinning at the way that Kate's abandoning him had left the injured editor flailing about, trying to find his balance, but as her words reg¬istered, he turned his attention fully on his soon-to-be sister-in-law. "Fly out of town?"
Terri and Lucern spoke the words at the exact same moment, bringing an end to the hug the two women had been enjoying.
"Kate!" It was a panicked cry from the male edi¬tor, who was losing his battle to stay upright.
"Oh, Chris!" She whirled just in time to catch his arm and keep him on his feet, then helped him the rest of the way to the couch. She fussed briefly over setting his casted leg on Bastien's mahogany coffee table, then placed a couple of the black accent pillows from the blue-gray couch beneath to raise it higher and save the surface of the wood. Then she straight¬ened with a sigh. "Where was I?"
"Explaining why you have to fly out of town," Lucern growled, moving closer in a way another woman might find threatening, but that Kate merely took as an opportunity to cuddle with her man. She slid an arm around him and leaned close with a sigh that might have been pleasure or relief.
"Yes, well, as I was saying, I had to run C.K.'s briefcase over to him. But there was no answer when I buzzed his apartment, and I knew he was waiting for it, so I finally buzzed his landlady and had her come up with me. She unlocked the door and we went in, calling for him. I heard him shout from the bathroom, and you won't believe it!"
"What?" Terri asked.
"The toilet from the apartment above had fallen through the floor and landed smack on top of him."
"It wasn't just the toilet," Chris inserted, looking slightly embarrassed. "A good portion of the ceiling came with it."
"Yes. And he was trapped underneath. And the pipes had broken and water was pouring down on him."
"Fresh water," Chris clarified quickly.
"Yes. And, well, the landlady rushed out to call for paramedics and a plumber, and I got the toilet off of him."
"It wasn't just a toilet, Kate," he repeated, looking more upset.
"And..." She paused and sighed. "Well, I went to the hospital with him, of course."
"Of course you did," Lucern crooned. "You're such a good person, my love."
She smiled at the compliment and kissed him.
"But what has that got to do with you flying out of town?" Terri asked.
Kate broke the kiss and turned back to continue. "Well, I had to call the office and explain that a toilet had felled Chris."
"It was a good portion of the ceiling too, Kate!" The man was sounding a tad testy, but Bastien man¬aged not to laugh. He supposed he'd be testy, too, if a toilet had fallen on him.
"And the minute they heard what had happened, they started fretting over what to do about the con-ference in California."
"They want you to go in his place," Lucern guessed unhappily.
"Yes." Kate didn't sound too pleased, either. She rubbed a hand lightly over Lucern's chest. "This is a five-day conference, but I'm flying in the day before and not returning until the morning after, so it's a week. I'm going to miss you, my love."
"No, you won't." Lucern pressed a firm kiss to her forehead. "I'm coming with you."
"You are?" Her face lit up like the sky on the Fourth of July. "Oh, Lucern!"
The couple immediately indulged in another kiss. Bastien was expecting another of their marathon kissing sessions, but much to his surprise, Kate broke the kiss after only a moment. She headed for the ele¬vator, dragging Lucern behind her. "We haven't a minute to lose. We need to pack and book another seat on the flight for you, and--"
"Er... Kate?" Bastien called, halting the pair as they arrived at the elevator and pressed the button. "Aren't you forgetting something?"
Kate turned back with a questioning expression as the elevator doors opened. Her gaze slid over the in¬habitants of the room, then landed on Terri. "Oh, Terri!" She rushed back to clasp her cousin's hands. "I'm terribly sorry about all this. I know you flew over here to help with things, but there's no one else who can go, and really there's nothing to do for the wedding anyway--everything's taken care of. Just enjoy yourself, relax and tour New York. Have a good time. Please don't hate me."
"Of course I don't hate you," Terri laughed, giving her a hug. "Of course you have to go. Besides, I rather dumped myself on you without warning. It's okay, go on. I'll be fine."
"Er, Kate?" Bastien said as the two women broke apart. When his soon-to-be sister-in-law glanced to¬ward him, he gestured to the couch where her coworker sat, leg elevated. He hadn't meant Terri was whom she'd forgotten; it hadn't occurred to him that some apology or explanation should be made to the woman. Work was work. It was C.K. he thought Kate had forgotten about.
"Oh!" Her eyes widened on Chris. "I'm sorry. I forgot to ask."
"Ask what?" Bastien queried, afraid he already knew.
"Chris can't go back to his apartment until it's re¬paired, and he has nowhere to stay. You have Mrs. Houlihan to look after him and... well, I was hop¬ing he could stay here. If you didn't mind," she added.
"Of course he doesn't mind." Lucern moved for¬ward to take his fiancee's hand and lead her back to the elevator as he said, "Bastien can always be counted on in a pinch. He'll take care of everything on this end, and he'll even send the things we'll need once we're there."
Bastien frowned, oddly displeased by those words despite their truth. He was the one everyone always turned to. They did all count on him. And, in this in¬stance, he would certainly send the "things" they would need in California. Namely, blood. But while he usually had no problem being the one everyone counted on, for some reason Lucern's assuming that as usual he would take care of things, was rather annoying.
"We'll call when we get to California," Lucern as¬sured him, pressing a button on the elevator panel.
Bastien stared as the metal elevator doors slid closed, then turned slowly to survey his guests. Terri was standing beside him, looking a little lost. He didn't blame her. She had taken the last of her vaca¬tion time and flown all the way here from England to help with her cousin's wedding, but Kate wasn't go¬ing to be around.
Chris was shifting uncomfortably on the couch, looking as if he'd rather be uninjured and on a plane to California. Who wouldn't?
And Vincent was standing by the editor, glancing from him to Terri as if trying to decide who would make the tastier snack. Bastien wasn't surprised when his gaze settled on Terri.
"Bastien, I could use a bite," his cousin announced as if on cue. "It was a long flight."
"You will eat out, thank you," Bastien said firmly.
"Okay," Vinny agreed easily--too easily, Bastien thought. And he wasn't surprised when his cousin turned to Terri and asked, "You wouldn't happen to be hungry, would you? Care to step out for a bite?"
"Mrs. Houlihan will make you something," Bastien interrupted quickly, moving closer to Terri in a pro¬tective manner. He'd be damned if his cousin was going to sink his teeth into her. She was--well, she wasn't on the menu.
"Do you think she could make something for me, too?" Chris Keyes asked tentatively from the sofa. "I could do with something to eat as well."
"She'll make something for both of you," Bastien agreed, then glanced at his cousin. "You'll have to find your own food."
"Oh, surely Mrs. Houlihan could make enough for him to join us," Terri said.
"Vincent has a... digestive condition. He needs a very particular diet, and I'm afraid I haven't anything here he can have." Bastien spoke carefully, knowing his cousin would get the message. Everyone in this household was under his protection and off-limits. Well, Terri and Mrs Houlihan definitely were. Bastien didn't know Chris and didn't much care if Vincent bit him, except that, were he to do so, one of the women might witness the act. No, Vincent would have to prowl the streets for his food. It shouldn't be that difficult a task.
"I'll go see if Mrs. Houlihan has recovered suffi¬ciently to see to a meal. In the meantime, Vincent, be¬have." Bastien started to exit the room, then thought better of it and turned back. He was glad he had, for he noted Vincent had moved closer to Terri, his eyes on her lovely neck. "Terri, perhaps I should show you to your room on the way. You can get settled while the meal is being prepared."
Sardonic amusement flashed across Vincent's face, but he remained silent.
"Oh, that would be nice." Terri picked up her carry-on and moved toward her suitcase, but Bastien beat her to it.
"This way," he said, and led her to the guest rooms. He gave her the one Lissianna usually used. It was the more feminine of the chambers, and it also happened to be right next to the master bedroom, which he was now occupying. Close enough for him to keep a pro¬tective eye on her, he assured himself as he led her in¬side and glanced around the rose-and-blue-hued room.
"Mrs. Houlihan keeps all the rooms ready in case family or friends drop in, so you should be all set," he said as he set her suitcase down at the foot of the bed. "But if there is anything you need, don't hesitate to ask."
"Thank you, it's lovely." Terri set her carry-on down on the bed and unzipped it, commenting, "It's a shame about Kate's friend having the toilet fall on him. What a freak accident. And this is the worst time for it."
Bastien knew she was thinking that now she had absolutely no reason to be there burdening him, but her words also made him realize that while he had re¬moved Terri from Vincent's grasp, he had left Kate's coworker firmly in it. Alone. "She'll be grateful for your presence now more than ever," he assured her. "In fact, you may find yourself doing more than you ever intended in preparation for the wedding."
Terri looked a little more chipper at the thought. "I hadn't thought of that."
"Yes. Well, it's true. Kate will be grateful for your help. In fact, you may be sorry you came. She and Lucern have both been going a little squirrelly trying to arrange it all, and fix last-minute problems. Now it will be you dealing with it. You and me."
"Oh yes, you're the best man," she remembered with a smile. Then she added, "Actually, Kate said that your mother was very helpful, so I wasn't too sure if she really needed me. But I'd already booked the flight, so I came anyway."
"Mother has been as helpful as always," Bastien al¬lowed. "But Lissianna's pregnant, and Mother's been rather busy lately helping set up a nursery and such."
"Lissianna? That's your sister, right?" Terri asked. "Kate mentioned her."
"Yes." He hesitated, then admitted, "Kate hasn't spoken much about you to me. Apparently she told Lucern about you, but I don't see him as often as all that. I've been bouncing between Canada and Euro¬pe for most of the last six months, and only shifted to New York recently," he explained, so she wouldn't be offended that Kate hadn't told him about her. "I no¬tice you don't have much of a British accent. You weren't born there. Did you move to England be¬cause your husband is from there, or--"
"I'm not married," Terri said quietly.
"Oh." Bastien nodded, unable to stop the smile that spread across his lips. He was glad she wasn't mar¬ried, though he wasn't prepared to examine why too closely. "Well. Take your time about settling in. I'll call you when Mrs. Houlihan has finished making--"
He stopped speaking as a sudden shriek sounded from the living room.