“Can I see your fangs again? Valerie asked
Er.... Justin said, then spotted Anders and smiled with relief. Anders, buddy. Show your woman your fangs.
Shy, Bricker? You? Anders asked dryly, moving forward again as Valerie glanced around to smile at him.
Nah. I just don't want to show you up by letting her see how much bigger my fangs are than yours, Justin responded.
Actually, I saw Ander's fangs at his house this afternoon and they're bigger than yours, Valerie said at once and then as Anders reached her side , she glanced at him and asked, Why? Is it like big fangs, big feet, big -?”
“Anders took the phone, but his attention was on the computer on his lap. It had gone into standby mode. As he waited impatiently for it to start up again, he muttered, “I should have told her.” “Told who what?” Mortimer asked, distractedly. “Valerie, I should have told her I love her. But I figured she’d think it was too soon and—” He didn’t bother finishing.”
“There’s something wrong with the baby. I need you here, but not if he isn’t out of commission. Go cut his head off or something.” “What?” Valerie asked with disbelief. “Who do you think I am? The Queen of Hearts?” “No, if you were you’d already have cut his head off,” Leigh snapped and then groaned in agony.”
“Anders saw that the sliding side door was still open as he neared it and ran right up to it; phone still to his ear, terror in his heart, and gun in his hand . . . and then he just stood there, staring. Inside, Leigh was hunched on the van floor, clutching Valerie’s hand and shrieking. Valerie was on her knees, howling along with the woman, but even as he looked in, she turned and thumped the driver’s seat with what appeared to be a mallet. Not the driver’s seat, he realized as she lowered the mallet and sank to sit on her heels. It was the rogue she’d thumped. “Well, hell,” Mortimer muttered beside him. “Looks like the girls saved themselves.”
“Apparently, he’d finished his call. Now, the man reached through the window to grab the rogue’s head and turn it his way so he could examine him. In the next moment, he jerked his arm back out the window with a shouted, “Whoa!” as Valerie suddenly grabbed up the mallet and turned to whack the rogue again, nearly pulverizing Mortimer’s hand in the process. “Oh,” Valerie said, sounding surprised. “Sorry, I heard movement and thought he was stirring again.” Anders bit his lip and leaned into the van. “Maybe you should give me that.” Valerie handed over the mallet with apparent relief,”
“Is there any way we can make you more comfortable until she gets here?” “You can get that bastard out of the front seat and cut his head off,” Leigh said weakly. Valerie grimaced and glanced to Anders, saying, “She’s delirious. She keeps thinking I’m Jeffrey Dahmer or something.” “No. It’s the Queen of Hearts, remember?” Leigh said on a weak laugh, and then added wearily, “Just get him out of here and make sure he doesn’t escape or rise up and kill us all while you three are distracted watching me try to squeeze out Lucian’s humongous progeny.”
“All right, if you won’t tell me your age, tell me how many brothers and sisters you have,” she suggested. “Why?” Anders asked with amusement. “Because as much as I enjoy your kisses, I don’t like being kissed by people I know nothing about,” Valerie said bluntly, and then stopped to turn to him in question when she realized his steps had faltered and he’d come to a dead halt. His expression was priceless, she had to say. It briefly looked like he’d swallowed his tongue. Raising her eyebrows, she asked, “What? Like it was a big surprise that I like your kisses?” For some reason that made a slow smile creep over Anders’s face. “No, I guess not,” he acknowledged. “I suppose I’m just surprised you’re willing to admit it.” Valerie snorted and turned to continue walking. “It’s not like I didn’t make it obvious. I mean, I was all over you the last two times you kissed me.” “Yes, you were,” Anders agreed with a grin. “Gloat much?”
“You can quit pretending. She’s outside.” Anders glanced up innocently from the book. “What makes you think I was pretending?” “Well, it’s that or you’ve taken a sudden interest in The Joy of Pregnancy,” she said dryly, retrieving the suntan lotion from a kitchen drawer. Anders flipped the book over with dismay to stare at the cover. It was indeed The Joy of Pregnancy. Closing the drawer, Leigh added, “And you were reading it upside down.” Cursing under his breath, Anders tossed the book on the coffee table and stood up.”
“What’s ‘Anders’ short for?” He blinked his thoughts away and glanced to Valerie. She was looking more relaxed now that he wasn’t approaching, and her head was tipped curiously as she waited for his answer. Apparently he wasn’t quick enough answering, because she went on, “Or is it your last name like you call Justin by his last name Bricker?” “It’s a short form of my last name,” he answered. Her eyebrows rose. “Which is?” “Andronnikov.” That made her eyes widen. “What’s your first name?” He was silent for a moment, but suspected now that she knew she didn’t even know his first name, Valerie would hardly be willing to kiss him again, let alone anything else if he didn’t tell her. Women could be funny about wanting to know the name of the guy sticking their tongue down her throat while groping her. “My first name is Semen.” She blinked several times at this news, and then simply breathed, “Oh dear.” At least she wasn’t laughing, Anders thought wryly, and explained, “It’s Basque in origin. Based on the word for son.” “I see,” she murmured. “Everyone just calls me Anders.” “Yes, I can see why,” she muttered, and then cleared her throat and said, “So your father was Russian, and your mother Basque and neither of them spoke English?” “What makes you think that?” “Well it’s that or they had a sick sense of humor,” she said dryly. “That’s like naming a daughter Ova. Worse even. I’m surprised you survived high school with a name like that.” “Actually, I’ve met a couple of women named Ova over the years,” Anders said with amusement. “Dear God,” she muttered. Anders chuckled and moved sideways, not drawing any closer, but moving to grip the edge of the pool as she was doing so that they faced each other with their sides to the pool rim. Valerie smiled, and then said, “So were you raised in Basque Country or Russia or Canada?” “Russia to start,” he answered solemnly, easing a step closer in the water. She nodded, seemingly unsurprised and said, “You have a bit of an accent. Not a thick one, but a bit of it. I figured you weren’t raised here from birth.” “No, I came here later,” Anders acknowledged. Much later, but he kept that to himself for now and eased another step closer.”
“Well, that felt good,” Anders said grimly and when she glanced to him with surprise, he shrugged and admitted, “It’s nice to be able to actually save you for a change, rather than just showing up after you’ve already saved yourself.” Valerie released a startled laugh that ended in a gasp when he caught her by the arms and raised her to her feet. “Thank you,” she sighed, sliding her arms around his waist and resting her head on his chest. “You’re my hero.” “Hmm,” Anders said dubiously, and then eased her back so he could kiss her nose. Smiling crookedly, he then commented, “You seem to have a tendency to find trouble.”
“I’m sure you have many questions,” Anders said quietly, almost stiltedly. “But do you feel safe enough with me to go have that brunch we planned on, and then hit the grocery store?” “You’re kidding, right?” she asked with disbelief. He looked uncertain. “No.” “Geez,” Valerie muttered and pointed out, “I just woke up from passing out after jumping your bones. I think you can take it that I feel pretty safe around you.” “Oh.” Anders grinned, but then said, “Well, one doesn’t necessarily mean the other. The shared pleasure is pretty addictive. You might not have been able to help yourself.” “Because of your superior lovemaking skills?” she teased, remembering his words from earlier that morning in her bedroom. “Exactly,” he said and walked over to pull her against his chest with a chuckle. “Oh no,” Valerie said, ducking the kiss he tried to grace her with. “That leads right back to getting naked which is awesome, but I need food. My stomach is killing me.” Concern crossed Anders’s face. “I’m sorry. I should have realized. Come. We’ll leave right away.” Valerie smiled crookedly as he urged her toward the door. She liked his caring and concern. She could get used to it, she thought as they walked out to the SUV and got in.”
“So? When do you want to be turned?” “I didn’t agree to turn,” Valerie squawked with amazement. “You haven’t, but you will,” he said with a shrug. “What makes you think that?” she asked warily. “Because if you don’t, I’m going to have to wipe your memories and have you returned to your life and neither of us wants that,” he said simply. “Anders said I could have time to decide,” Valerie protested, and then frowned and added, “And what do you mean, neither of us wants that? Why would you care?” “You saved my wife and children, Valerie. And Leigh adores you. You’re family now.” “Oh.” She stared at him nonplussed, wondering if he meant that. “I mean it,” he said firmly. “Leigh has decided it’s so, so it’s so. She’d be disappointed if you didn’t become one of us and I won’t have her disappointed.” Valerie scowled slightly. The last part sounded like a threat. “As for Anders saying you could have time to decide,” Lucian continued. “What do you need time for? The nanos have paired you, you’re meant to be together.” “You make it sound so simple,” she said wearily. “It is simple. Don’t make it hard.” “Great, the nanos paired us. But what about love?” she asked. Lucian shifted impatiently. “Do you like him?” “Yes,” she admitted. “Respect him?” She nodded. “Trust him?” “Of course,” she said without hesitation. Lucian nodded and said dryly, “I don’t need to ask if you want him sexually.” Valerie flushed and raised her chin. “All those things combined make up love,” Lucian assured her. “Whether you realize it or not, you already do love him.” Valerie swallowed, knowing in her heart he was right. She bit her lip, and then blurted, “But does he love me?” “Ah.” Lucian nodded. “So that’s the holdup, is it? He hasn’t said it yet.” Valerie sighed and looked away, muttering, “When he asked me to be his life mate he went on about finding peace and being able to relax and be at peace. It was all peace, peace, peace,” she added with frustration and glanced to Lucian, eyes narrowing when she caught his lips twitching. If he laughed at her, she would— “Don’t you feel at peace with him?” he asked, and then added, “When you’re not hot and bothered, I mean.” “Well, yeah, but—” “But you want to hear that he loves you,” Lucian said and shrugged. “I guess you’ll have to ask him then.” “Ask him if he loves me?” she asked with dismay. Lucian sighed with exasperation. “You took on Igor and staked him, saving yourself and six other women in the process—” “Four,” she corrected unhappily. “Two died, remember.” “And then,” he continued heavily, ignoring her interruption. “You took on Ambrose and saved my wife and unborn twins by crashing the van you were all in and repeatedly bashing the man over the head until help got there. You are not a coward, Valerie, so stop acting like one. Ask him. And when he says yes he loves you, I will personally oversee the turning and pay for the wedding.”
“Okay, I guess I can start with what I told you about my family this morning. My father being killed, my mother raising me to twelve and so on.” Valerie raised an eyebrow, half suspecting that he was going to tell her those were all lies. “It was all true,” he assured her. “But I left out a couple of pertinent details.” “What details?” she asked warily. Anders struggled briefly, and then admitted, “That it all took place in the fourteenth century. I was born in 1357.” Valerie blinked as her brain tried to accept what he’d said, and then she stood abruptly. Anders immediately caught her hand. “You promised.” “Well, and I would keep my promise if you’d care to tell the truth, but you can’t expect me to sit here and listen to some nonsense about—” Her voice died abruptly when he opened his mouth and his canines suddenly slid forward and down forming two very long, pointy fangs. Valerie sat, not because she wanted to, but because her legs suddenly gave out on her. Memories were suddenly flashing through her head; cruel laughter, flashing fangs, excruciating pain . . . “Breathe,” Anders said grimly, rubbing his thumb over her wrist and Valerie realized she was starting to hyperventilate. Trying to drive off the panic gripping her, she forced herself to take several slow deep, steady breaths. Once the threat of hyperventilating passed, she became aware that he was talking in a calm, soothing voice. “You are safe with me. You saw the bagged blood in the refrigerator. I will never hurt you. I am not like the man who kidnapped you. He’s a rogue. Lucian, myself, and the others hunt his kind. I would never hurt you. You are safe with me.”
“Turning back, she nodded at the man, offering another smile as she passed. She suspected they’d passed him about a dozen times in the grocery store during their back and forth. He looked vaguely familiar, and his smile was almost flirty, which was something Anders had apparently noticed, if she were to judge by the scowl presently on his face. Goodness, Anders looked almost jealous, Valerie thought, her smile unintentionally widening as she passed the man, which made his smile widen appreciatively. The whole thing made her feel pretty darned good and she walked straight back to Anders, grinned, and went up on her toes to kiss him on the cheek. “Smile. Life is good,” she said lightly before moving to the passenger door. “Cheeky,” Anders muttered, opening it for her before she could. Grinning, Valerie stepped up into her seat. She reached for her seat belt, and then gave a start when Anders leaned in, his face suddenly in front of hers. “That wasn’t a kiss,” he informed her when she stared at him wide-eyed. “This is.”
“We’re going to your place tonight?” she asked with surprise. Anders lowered his hand to his side, the stake dangling from his fingers. Expression solemn, he said, “I am. But I think you should stay here. I think that’s probably best until you make your decision.” Valerie frowned. “What do you mean?” Anders grimaced and glanced away, “Well, I’ve been thinking that life mate sex is pretty mind-blowing and addictive.” “I’ve noticed,” she admitted wryly, bending slightly to pat Roxy, who had been lying down beside her, but now stood and pressed against her leg. “That being the case,” he continued gently, “I thought perhaps it might be best if we abstain until you’ve made your decision.” Valerie straightened slowly to stare at him. “Abstain?” “Yes,” he said solemnly, and then added, “You need to have a clear head to make a decision as big as this and constantly being bombarded with pleasure, your body and mind crying out with it . . . well, it will just muddy your thinking and delay your decision.” Valerie frowned. “But—” “It’s for the best,” he added solemnly. Valerie narrowed her eyes. “How long are we supposed to abstain?” “Like I said, until you’ve made your decision,” Anders answered. “But what if it takes a while?” she asked. “Then we’ll wait a while. Years if we have to,” he assured her. “Honey, I want you happy and you’re worth waiting for.” “But I’m happy when we—” Flushing, she cut herself off and said instead, “And if I decide I’m willing to be your life mate?” “Then I’ll rip your clothes off and make love to you until you can’t stand,” he said as if they were discussing the weather. “And if I decide I’m not willing to risk being your life mate?” she asked. Frustration filled his expression. “Valerie, there is no risk here. The nanos don’t make mistakes. This is a sure bet. The only game where you can’t lose. All you have to do is be willing to accept the gift they’re offering us.”
“His gaze slid over Valerie, noting that her hair was nearly dry and now fell in soft, golden waves around her face. Her clean face, he noted. Anders hadn’t seen Valerie since delivering her to the Enforcer house. The dirt that had covered her then had hidden what he now saw were very fine features. The woman had incredible eyes: wide, almost emerald green, with long thick lashes surrounding them. She had a pert nose and lips that were lovely: full and puffy like tiny perfect, pale, rose pillows that needed kissing. Beautiful.”
“What is a life mate?” “If you would care to sit down, I’ll explain,” Anders said quietly. Valerie sat down. She could hardly do anything else. She had to know what a life mate was. She suspected it was important. Vital, even. She just didn’t know why. “Mind reading is one of the skills that evolved through the nanos. Immortals can read most immortals younger than them, and occasionally even immortals older than themselves. But they can read all mortals unless they are mentally ill or suffering some sort of ailment like a tumor that might block the part of the brain where thoughts are processed.” “I’m not crazy,” Valerie denied, eyes wide. “No, of course not,” he said quickly. “Then I have a tumor?” she asked with horror. The news was devastating. Dear God, she was only thirty. Too young to— “Breathe,” Anders repeated, capturing her hands and chafing them between both of his. “You don’t have a tumor, Valerie. That’s not why I can’t read you. Leigh, Lucian, and—hell, everyone who has encountered you—has been able to read your thoughts like a book. You are not ill.” “Oh, good,” Valerie let her breath out on a sigh and then frowned. Really it wasn’t that good. While she was glad she wasn’t ill, it was rather disturbing to think every one she’d met since waking in Leigh and Lucian’s house had been able to read her mind. Pushing that worry away for now, she asked, “Why can’t you read my mind?” “Because you’re my—” “Life mate,” she finished for him, recalling his saying that earlier. “Yes. And a life mate is that one person, mortal or immortal, that an immortal can neither read nor control, and who cannot read or control them.” “And that makes them a life mate?” Valerie asked uncertainly. Anders nodded. “It is a special gift to us. With the rest of the world we have to constantly guard our minds to prevent our thoughts from being read, which can be exhausting. It’s that, or restrict ourselves to a solitary existence.” He paused and then said, “But with a life mate we don’t have to do that. We can let our guards down around them, and just enjoy the company of another without fear that they’ll read our thoughts.” “And I’m that for you?” “Yes, you are,” Anders assured her as if it was a good thing.”
“So, you aren’t dead?” He smiled faintly. “No. Just old.” “Oh yeah,” she muttered, shaking her head. He was born in 1357? The man was ancient. But he looked damned good for ancient, and he wasn’t dead, so he presumably still had a soul. An old one, but a soul just the same. Valerie hadn’t been to church since her parents had been taken from her, but was still glad she wasn’t pissing off the big guy by getting tangled up with some soulless bloodsucker. Surely a bloodsucker with a soul was better than a bloodsucker without one, right?”
“You still haven’t asked?” He didn’t wait for a response, but simply shook his head and continued on toward the driveway. “Asked me what?” Anders asked, glancing to her curiously. Valerie hesitated and then simply spat it out. “Do you love me?” Anders stilled, his breath leaving him in a long exhale. Then he just stood there staring at her until Valerie began to worry that the answer was no and he didn’t want to admit it. “If you don’t, just say—” she began anxiously, but never finished because his mouth was suddenly on hers and he was kissing her. Valerie quickly forgot about Igor, or whether Anders loved her and just about everything else. When he broke the kiss and lifted his head a moment later, she moaned in protest, and then blinked her eyes open when he said, “I love you.” “You do?” she asked with wonder, a smile curving her lips. “Of course, I do. You’re perfect. How could I not love you?” “I’m not perfect,” she said at once. “You’re perfect for me,” he assured her. “You’re beautiful, sexy, smart, brave . . .” He shook his head. “You’re all I could have wanted and more, Valerie. I’m happy when I’m with you. I love you.” “Oh,” she sighed and rested her head on his chest, admitting, “Lucian thinks I love you too.” “Great,” Anders said dryly. “But what do you think?” Pulling back, she met his gaze and said solemnly, “I think he’s right. I love you too, Anders.” He closed his eyes briefly, as if savoring the words, then opened them again and asked cautiously, “So you’ll agree to be my life mate?” “Apparently I already am your life mate,” she said wryly. “But if you mean will I agree to be turned, and marry you, and spend the rest of our very long lives together, then yes. I agree.”
“What does my being your life mate mean exactly?” Anders stared at her blankly, and then said, “I told you, a life mate is a rare and precious treasure. They are someone an immortal can live with happily and in peace.” “Yes, but—” Valerie hesitated, a bit frustrated in her effort to verbalize what she wanted to know. Finally, she just asked, “What do you want from me, Anders?” “You,” he said simply, and reached out to take her hands gently in his. “I realize that your experiences in that house were horrible and traumatizing, and most likely turned you against my kind, Valerie. But I would remind you there are evil and bad mortals as well. All immortals are not like the one who attacked and took you from the street that night, then kept you in a cage to feed on.” Valerie stared at him silently, memories of the house running through her head. They were quickly followed by the memories she’d made with this man. The drive to Cambridge and back, the pool, their walk, the shared meals, cooking together, the overwhelming passion, waking up cradled in his arms . . . Oddly enough, the horror and trauma from the house had paled somewhat next to the vibrancy of the memories she’d started to make with Anders. They were like sepia photos next to new, modern, color ones. Anders continued, “And I also know that as a mortal you are more used to a long and slow courtship before making such an important decision. But for my kind it is different. A life mate is a gift to us and knowing we cannot read or control them, that we share pleasure, and that our other appetites are returning is enough in our minds to tell us that this is the one we are meant to be with. That this is the one who suits us in all ways. So, what I want is to spend the rest of my very long life with you at my side and in my bed. And if you agree to that, I promise I will never hurt or bring harm to you. I would sooner hurt myself.” He squeezed her fingers gently. “I would give my life for you, Valerie. Because having experienced the vibrancy and tasted the spice of life with you, returning to the dull, cold existence I had before you is unbearable to even consider.” Anders stared solemnly into her wide eyes as he said that, and then released her hands and sat back, adding, “However, I know you may need more time to make up your mind about whether you are willing to be my life mate. And that is the real reason you were moved to Leigh and Lucian’s home, to give you the chance to get to know me, to see if you could accept being my life mate.” “And if I can’t?” Valerie asked quietly. “Then your memories will be erased like the other women and you too, will be returned to your life to live it out as you choose without your experiences to haunt you.”
“If she couldn’t accept that vampires existed, he’d never convince her to be his life mate.”
“Valerie sat back in her seat and sipped at her wine, doing her best to ignore the way Anders’s leg was pressing against her own under the table. He had been touching, brushing up against, or sneaking caresses all night. First under cover of their working together in the kitchen and then under cover of the table as they’d eaten. He was driving her wild.”
“Leigh mentioned that you’re a vet in Winnipeg, here to take some courses to update your skills?” “Yes.” Valerie grimaced. “That was the idea, but if they don’t catch this guy in the next day or two, I’ll have to give up the courses until next semester and if that happens, I might as well head home.” “What?” Anders turned on her sharply. Valerie bit her lip, not very happy at the thought herself. She would have liked to get to know him better, but if she couldn’t do the course now, she’d have to do it next term and it wouldn’t be fair to be away from the clinic that long. Sighing at the very thought, she said, “That’s what my academic advisor said when I talked to him today. I’ve missed the first two weeks of class already. He said if I’m not back by Monday, then I might as well give it up and reapply for next term.” Anders frowned, his gaze shooting to Lucian. It was Leigh who said worriedly, “You can’t go home, Valerie. Not with him still out there.” “Actually, it’s probably better if I did,” Valerie said and pointed out, “He can’t know I’m from Winnipeg, so I’d be safe there, and Anders wouldn’t have to waste his time playing babysitter so he could help hunt for him.” Dead silence met this announcement as the others all exchanged glances. “But your courses,” Anders said finally. “You wanted to upgrade.” “And I still do, but I can’t do that if I can’t attend classes,” she pointed out reasonably. Another moment of silence passed with everyone exchanging glances she didn’t understand and then Lucian said abruptly, “Then you’ll have to attend classes.” When Valerie stared at him with surprise, he added, “Anders will accompany you.” “Oh.” She hesitated briefly and then shook her head. “I don’t think they’ll let him attend with me.” “They might,” Dani said slowly. “I’ve heard of people auditing classes. I even knew someone who audited a couple of mine. She had to get permission from the instructor, and the department chair, and I think her program counselor first though.” “Then he’ll get permission,” Lucian said as if it were the simplest thing in the world. When Anders frowned at this news, he added solemnly, “It’s that or we put her and Roxy on a plane home to Winnipeg.” For some reason, those words sounded ominous to Valerie, and certainly Anders reacted as if they were. His mouth tightened grimly, and he nodded once. It was Friday now, but apparently come Monday, she was attending class and Anders was coming with her.”
“Anders disentangled himself from Valerie’s clinging arms and took a step back. He paused to take several breaths, attempting to give his brain a chance to recover before turning toward Lucian. Once he faced the man, he simply asked, “What did you say?” “I said I’d rather my wife not look out our French doors and see your bare ass if you don’t mind,” Lucian said succinctly. Anders glanced down at himself, relieved to see that, as he’d thought, he hadn’t yet achieved undoing and dropping his drawers. Trying for dignity he straightened his shoulders and said, “I assure you my self-control would have kicked in before things went that far.” “Yeah right,” Lucian snorted. “One more minute and you would have been bare-assed and giving Valerie a good seeing to right there on the porch rail.” Grimacing, he added, “For future reference, I don’t recommend it. Leigh got some nasty slivers off that rail some months ago. It’s too rough for such endeavors.” Anders glanced over his shoulder to Valerie with concern at this news. The shorts she was wearing weren’t especially long and he had no doubt her upper legs at least had been ground into the wood as he’d dry humped her. “Are you all right?” Blushing brightly, she nodded. “I think so.” “I’ll check later.” Anders had meant that to be reassuring, but Valerie’s blush went from a becoming rosy color to the red of a tomato and her wide eyes shot to Lucian with embarrassment. “And that is precisely why we need help at the moment,” Lucian said dryly to Valerie, obviously having read enough of their minds to know that was what Anders had been trying to show her. He clarified, however, by adding, “I’ve lost most of my best Enforcers to life mate brain . . . which means more often than not, they’re as brainless as cats in heat. Even I suffer from it on occasion. We’ll need help for the next year or so until the worst of it passes.” “Oh,” Valerie breathed.”
“You really should pull over and eat yours before it completely melts, Anders. It will only take a couple minutes.” “I don’t have a sundae,” Anders said grimly. “That’s Leigh’s. She said she wanted two, so she has two.” “And I told you I lied so you could have one because I knew you were too annoyed to order one for yourself,” Leigh said patiently. “Pull over and eat it, Anders. I promise you it’s the best thing you’ve ever tasted.” When he didn’t respond, Marguerite said, “Why don’t you feed him, Valerie. That way he doesn’t have to stop, but can still enjoy it.” Valerie’s eyes widened. “Oh, I don’t think—” “Just pretend he’s a sick and cranky child you have to feed,” Marguerite said with amusement. Valerie’s eyes shot to Anders in time to catch him casting a dirty look into the rearview mirror, no doubt at Marguerite. Since the woman suddenly chuckled, she supposed Marguerite caught the look. Valerie glanced down at the melting sundae. It did seem a shame for it to go to waste. It was good ice cream. And it hadn’t been cheap. “Just give him a taste, Valerie, so he’ll stop and eat it,” Leigh suggested. Valerie hesitated, but they were pulling up to a red light and it wouldn’t interfere with his driving, so she scooped up a healthy selection of her own ice cream and topping and leaned over to offer her spoon to him. Anders eyed the offering, but didn’t at first open his mouth. She was just about to give up, sit back and eat it herself when he suddenly did. Valerie moved the spoon between his open lips, watching silently as he closed his mouth around the spoon and ice cream. She could have sworn the gold flecks in his eyes flashed bigger and brighter in the black irises and then he closed his eyes on a long moan that sounded almost sexual. Valerie stared wide-eyed as he savored the food, then withdrew the now clean spoon and sank back in her seat uncertainly. “Told you you’d like it,” Leigh said with amusement from the backseat. When Anders didn’t respond, but remained still, eyes closed, Bricker said, “Yo, A-man. The light’s changed.” Anders blinked his eyes open, saw that Bricker was telling the truth, and urged the car forward again. He only drove half a block though, before pulling into a mall parking lot to finish his sundae.”
“So were you born and raised in Winnipeg, or Ontario?” Anders asked. “Cambridge, Ontario,” Valerie answered reluctantly, knowing what question would come next. It was Bricker who asked it. “Then how did you end up opening a clinic in Winnipeg?” Valerie considered how best to answer, but really there was only one answer. “A man.” Silence filled the SUV briefly and then Anders said, “You aren’t married.” It wasn’t really phrased as a question, more like a command, she thought, and wondered about that, but said, “No. I’ve never been married. But I started dating another student my first year at university. We dated all seven years of school, but he was from Winnipeg. He wanted to go back when we graduated and he asked me to go.” She shrugged. “I moved there with him and set up shop.” “But you didn’t marry?” Anders asked and she glanced over to see that his eyes were narrowed on the road. There was a tension about him she didn’t understand. “No.” She turned to stare out the window at the passing scenery and said, “We split up eventually, but by then the clinic was successful and I’d made friends there. I stayed.”
“The bathroom was last, and Valerie was very aware that Anders was standing a foot away, waiting patiently. She would have liked to ask him to leave, but she was a grown-up, he was a grown-up and old enough to know about the physiology of the female body, so she took a deep breath, knelt to open the cupboard under the sink and pulled out tampons and pads. Her period should come in the next week or so and she didn’t know how long she’d have to stay at Leigh’s house. Valerie set the feminine items on the counter, and then moved to the other end of the cupboard to gather some makeup and moisturizer from a drawer there. When she turned back with the new items, Anders was calmly packing her feminine hygiene products away in the duffel with her clothes. “Thank you,” she murmured self-consciously as she dumped the new items in.”
“She’s doing very well though. She hasn’t once complained about the pain she’s in.” “She’s in pain?” Anders asked, glancing sharply to the rearview mirror to eye the woman in the backseat. “She has a hole in her back, Anders,” Leigh said dryly. “It’s healed a lot the last couple days, but it’s still sore.” “Valerie has a rather impressive ability to block pain,” Marguerite commented. “It must be from all those years of martial arts she’s taken.” “She’s taken martial arts?” Anders asked with interest, his gaze switching to the reflection of the older woman. He saw Marguerite and Leigh exchange a glance and then Marguerite said, “Yes. But I probably shouldn’t tell you any more. Half the fun of finding a life mate is peeling back the layers and learning about them, and we’ve already taken a good deal of that away with our earlier questions on the ride out.”
“What are you doing?” “Do it again,” she said, surprising even herself with the request. “Which part?” he asked with amusement. “Feeding or making a mess when Leigh yells at me again?” His words made Valerie glance to Leigh to see that she was watching her worriedly. Turning back, she held the bag out to Justin. “Put it on your mouth again.” He hesitated, his gaze shifting to Leigh, but when she nodded, he took the bag, and then, eyeing Valerie warily, opened his mouth, let his fangs slide out and simply popped the full bag onto them. Valerie watched with fascination for a moment, and then moved to the side of him to try to see what was happening. “Are you swallowing the blood or is it—” Justin tightened his lips, pulling them back to reveal his teeth. She could see that there was no liquid gathering in his mouth. The fangs were sunk into the bag and appeared to be draining the liquid from the bag themselves as if they had little pumps drawing in the blood. “Interesting,” she murmured, moving closer.”
“His thoughts died as Anders’s brain caught and held on to one particular sentence that had run through his mind. God, he loved this woman? Breaking their kiss, he lifted his head and stared down into her sweet face. She was like a ray of sunshine. Golden hair, porcelain skin, bright green eyes, luscious red lips. She was as beautiful as the sun to him, and he’d always thought the sun the most beautiful thing in the world. Perhaps because he could never really enjoy it, and he’d only allowed himself brief glimpses of it, or enjoyed it secondhand from the memories of mortals he fed off. It was only the last decade or so that he’d been able to enjoy it properly with the help of the window coating that blocked UV rays. Valerie rivaled the sun in his eyes. And won. If given the choice of seeing her every day but never seeing the sun again, or never seeing her again and getting to enjoy the sun, Valerie would win hands down, he acknowledged. Anders had always understood that the nanos got it right when they chose a life mate for an immortal. He just hadn’t realized how right it could be. When he was with Valerie, he felt at peace. He enjoyed her smile, her laughter, her chatter, her sense of humor, her everything. He enjoyed just being with her, even if they were saying nothing. And he definitely enjoyed their passion.”
“The riches of a country are to be valued by the quantity of labor its inhabitants are able to purchase, and not by the quantity of silver and gold they possess.” The”
“I...I sang," she whispered, "if that matters," and Karou felt her heart pulled to pieces. This Misbegotten warrior, fiercest of them all, had crouched in an icy stream bed to sing a chimera soul into her canteen, because she hadn't known what else to do.
The singing wouldn't have mattered, but she wasn't going to tell Liraz that. If Ziri's soul was in that canteen, Karou would happily learn whatever song Liraz had sung and make it part of her resurrection ritual forever, just so that the angel would never feel that she'd been foolish.”
“The pretended desires of many to behold the glory of Christ in heaven, who have no view of it by faith while they are here in this world, are nothing but self-deceiving imaginations.”
“While he waited, he made up the bed,more to discourage Meg from falling back into it than because he wanted to tidy the room. Besides, running his hands over the sheets and breathing in her scent made him happy,”
“Put. That coffee. Down. Coffee's for closers only.”
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