Single White Vampire – Lynsay Sands

“Rachel swears she never wants to see another coffin as long as she lives.” Lucern grunted at his mother’s comment as he and his younger brother Bastien set the coffin down on the basement floor. He knew all about his soon-to-be sister-in-law’s new aversion; Etienne had explained everything. That was why he was storing the thing. Etienne was willing to move it out of the mansion to keep his fiancée happy, but for sentimental reasons—he couldn’t bring himself to permanently part with it. The man swore he came up with his best ideas lying inside its silent darkness. He was a bit eccentric. He was the only person Lucern could think of who would bring a coffin to his own wedding rehearsal. The minister had been horrified when he’d caught the three brothers transferring it from Etienne’s pickup to Bastien’s van. “Thank you for driving it over here, Bastien,” Lucern said as he straightened. Bastien shrugged. “You could hardly fit it in your BMW. Besides,” he added as they started back up the stairs, “I would rather transport it than store it. My housekeeper would have fits.” Lucern merely smiled.

He no longer had a housekeeper to worry about, and the cleaning company he’d hired to drop in once a week only worked on the main floor. Their seeing the coffin wasn’t a concern. “Is everything in place for the wedding?” he asked as he followed his mother and Bastien into the kitchen. He turned out the basement lights and closed the door behind him, but didn’t bother turning any other lights on. The weak illumination from the nightlight plugged into the stove was enough to navigate to the front door. “Yes. Finally.” Marguerite Argeneau sounded relieved. “And despite Mrs. Garrett’s worries that the wedding was too rushed and that Rachel’s family wouldn’t have time to arrange to be there, they’re all coming.

” “How large is the family?” Lucern was sincerely hoping there weren’t as many Garretts as there had been Hewitts at Lissianna’s wedding. The wedding of his sister to Gregory Hewitt had been a nightmare. The man had a huge family, the majority of which seemed to be female—single females who eyed Lucern, Etienne and Bastien as if they were the main course of a one-course meal. Lucern disliked aggressive women. He’d been born and raised in a time when men were the aggressors and women smiled and simpered and knew their place. He hadn’t quite adjusted with the times and wasn’t looking forward to another debacle like Lissianna’s wedding where he’d spent most of his time avoiding the female guests. Fortunately, Marguerite soothed some of his fears by announcing, “Rather small compared to Greg’s family—and mostly male, from the guest list I saw.” “Thank God,” Bastien murmured, exchanging a look with his brother. Lucern nodded in agreement. “Is Etienne nervous?” “Surprisingly enough, no.

” Bastien smiled crookedly. “He’s having a great time helping to arrange all this. He swears he can’t wait for the wedding day. Rachel seems to make him happy.” His expression changed to one of perplexity. Lucern shared his brother’s confusion. He couldn’t imagine giving up his freedom to a wife, either. Pausing by the front door, he turned back to find his mother poking through the mail on his hall table. “Luc, you have unopened mail here from weeks ago! Don’t you read it?” “Why so surprised, mother? He never answers the phone, either. Heck, we’re lucky when he bothers to answer the door.

” Bastien said the words in a laughing voice, but Lucern didn’t miss the exchange of glances between his mother and brother. They were worried about him. He had always been a loner, but lately he had taken that to an extreme and everything seemed a bother. They knew he was growing dangerously bored with life. “What is this box?” “I don’t know,” Lucern admitted as his mother lifted a huge box off the table and shook it as if it were feather-light. “Well, don’t you think it might be a good idea to find out?” she asked impatiently. Lucern rolled his eyes. No matter how old he got, his mother was likely to interfere and hen-peck. It was something he’d resigned himself to long ago. “I’ll get around to it eventually,” he muttered.

“It’s mostly nuisance mail or people wanting something from me.” “What about this letter from your publisher? It’s probably important. They wouldn’t send it express if it weren’t.” Lucern’s scowl deepened as his mother picked up the FedEx envelope and turned it curiously in her hands. “It is not important. My editor is just harassing me. The company wishes me to do a booksigning tour.” “Edwin wants you to do a book-signing tour?” Marguerite scowled. “I thought you made it clear to him from the start that you weren’t interested in publicity.” “Not Edwin.

No.” Lucern wasn’t surprised that his mother recalled his old editor’s name; she had a perfect memory and he’d mentioned Edwin many times over the ten years he’d been writing for Roundhouse Publishing. His first works had been published as historical texts used mostly in universities and colleges. Those books were still in use and were celebrated for the fact that they’d been written as if the writer had actually lived through every period about which he wrote. Which, of course, Lucern had. That was hardly public knowledge, though. Lucern’s last three books, however, had been autobiographical in nature. The first told the story of how his mother and father had met and come together, the second how his sister Lissianna had met and fallen in love with her therapist husband, Gregory, and the latest, published just weeks ago, covered the story of his brother Etienne and Rachel Garrett. Lucern hadn’t meant to write them, they’d just sort of spilled forth. But once he’d written them, he’d decided they should be published records for the future.

Gaining his family’s permission, he’d sent them in to Edwin, who’d thought them brilliant works of fiction and published them as such. Not just fiction, either, but “paranormal romance.” Lucern had suddenly found himself a romance writer. The whole situation was somewhat distressing for him, so he generally did his best not to think about it. “Edwin is no longer my editor,” he explained. “He had a heart attack late last year and died. His assistant was given his title and position, and she’s been harassing me ever since.” He scowled again. “The woman is trying to use me to prove herself. She is determined that I should do some publicity events for the novels.

” Bastien looked as if he were about to comment, but paused and turned at the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. Lucern opened the door, and the two men watched with varying degrees of surprise as a taxi pulled to a stop beside Bastien’s van. “Wrong address?” Bastien queried, knowing his brother wasn’t big on company. “It must be,” Lucern commented. He narrowed his eyes when the driver got out and opened the back door for a young woman. “Who is that?” Bastien asked. He sounded even more surprised than Lucern felt. “I haven’t a clue,” Lucern answered. The taxi driver retrieved a small suitcase and overnight bag from the trunk of the car. “I believe it’s your editor,” Marguerite announced.

Both Lucern and Bastien swiveled to peer at their mother. They found her reading the now-open FedExed letter. “My editor? What the hell are you talking about?” Lucern marched over to snatch the letter out of her hand. Ignoring his rude behavior, Lucern’s mother moved to Bastieh’s side and peered curiously outside. “As the mail is so slow, and because the interest in your books is becoming so widespread, Ms. Kate C. Leever decided to come speak to you in person. Which,” Marguerite added archly, “you would know should you bother to read your mail.” Lucern crumpled the letter in his hand. It basically said everything his mother had just verbalized.

That, plus the fact that Kate C. Leever would be arriving on the 8 p.m. flight from New York. It was 8:30. The plane must have been on time. “She’s quite pretty, isn’t she?” The comment, along with the speculation in his mother’s voice when she made it, was enough to raise alarm in Lucern. Marguerite sounded like a mother considering taking the matchmaking trail—a path quite familiar to her. She’d taken it upon first seeing Etienne and Rachel together, too, and look how that had turned out: Etienne hip deep in wedding preparations! “She’s contemplating matchmaking, Bastien. Take her home.

Now,” Lucern ordered. His brother burst out laughing, moving him to add, “After she has finished with me, she shall focus on finding you a wife.” Bastien stopped laughing at once. He grabbed his mother’s arm. “Come along, Mother. This is none of our business.” “Of course it is my business.” Marguerite shrugged her elbow free. “You are my sons. Your happiness and future are very much my business.

” Bastien tried to argue. “I don’t understand why this is an issue now. We are both well over four hundred years old. Why, after all this time, have you taken it into your head to see us married off?” Marguerite pondered for a moment. “Well, ever since your father died, I’ve been thinking—” “Dear God,” Lucern interrupted. He woefully shook his head. “What did I say?” his mother asked. “That is exactly how Lissianna ended up working at the shelter and getting involved with Greg. Dad died, and she started thinking.” Bastien nodded solemnly.

“Women shouldn’t think.” “Bastien!” Marguerite Argeneau exclaimed. “Now, now. You know I’m teasing, Mother,” he soothed, taking her arm again. This time he got her out the door. “I, however, am not,” Lucern called as he watched them walk down the porch steps to the sidewalk. His mother berated Bastien the whole way, and Lucern grinned at his brother’s beleaguered expression. Bastien would catch hell all the way home, Lucern knew, and almost felt sorry for him. Almost. His laughter died, however, as his gaze switched to the blonde who was apparently his editor.

His mother paused in her berating to greet the woman. Lucern almost tried to hear what was said, then decided not to bother. He doubted he wanted to hear it, anyway. He watched the woman nod and smile at his mother, then she took her luggage in hand and started up the sidewalk. Lucern’s eyes narrowed. Dear God, she didn’t expect to stay with him, did she? There was no mention in her letter of where she planned to stay. She must expect to stay in a hotel. She would hardly just assume that he would put her up. The woman probably just hadn’t stopped at her hotel yet, he reassured himself, his gaze traveling over her person. Kate C.

Leever was about his mother’s height, which made her relatively tall for a woman, perhaps 5′ 10″. She was also slim and shapely, with long blond hair. She appeared pretty from the distance presently separating them. In a pale blue business suit, Kate C. Leever resembled a cool glass of ice water. The image was pleasing on this unseasonably warm September evening. The image shattered when the woman dragged her luggage up the porch steps, paused before him, offered him a bright cheerful smile that lifted her lips and sparkled in her eyes, then blurted, “Hi. I’m Kate Leever. I hope you got my letter. The mail was so slow, and you kept forgetting to send me your phone number, so I thought I’d come visit personally and talk to you about all the publicity possibilities that are opening up for us.

I know you’re not really interested in partaking of any of them, but I feel sure once I explain the benefits you’ll reconsider.” Lucern stared at her wide, smiling lips for one mesmerized moment; then he gave himself a shake. Reconsider? Was that what she wanted? Well, that was easy enough. He reconsidered. It was a quick task. “No.” He closed his door. Kate stared at the solid wooden panel where Lucern Argeneau’s face had been and fought not to shriek with fury. The man was the most difficult, annoying, rude, obnoxious—she pounded on his door—pigheaded, ignorant… The door whipped open, and Kate quickly pasted a blatantly false but wide—she should get high marks for effort—smile on her mouth. The smile nearly slipped when she got a look at him.

She hadn’t really taken the opportunity earlier. A second before, she had been too busy trying to recall the speech she’d composed and memorized on the flight here; now she didn’t have a prepared speech—didn’t actually even have a clue what to say—and so she found herself really looking at Lucern Argeneau. The man was a lot younger than she’d expected. Kate knew he’d written for Edwin for a good ten years before she’d taken over working with him, yet he didn’t look to be more than thirty-two or-three. That meant he’d been writing professionally since his early twenties. He was also shockingly handsome. His hair was as dark as night, his eyes a silver blue that almost seemed to reflect the porchlight, his features sharp and strong. He was tall and surprisingly muscular for a man with such a sedentary career. His shoulders bespoke a laborer more than an intellectual. Kate couldn’t help but be impressed.

Even the scowl on his face didn’t detract from his good looks. Without any effort on her part, the smile on Kate’s face gained some natural warmth and she said, “It’s me again. I haven’t eaten yet, and I thought perhaps you’d join me for a meal on the company and we could discuss—” “No. Please remove yourself from my doorstep.” Then Lucern Argeneau closed the door once more. “Well, that was more than just a ‘no’,” Kate muttered to herself. “It was even a whole sentence, really.” Ever the optimist, she decided to take it as progress. Raising her hand, she pounded on the door again. Her smile was somewhat battered, but it was still in place when the door opened for the third time.

Mr. Argeneau reappeared, looking less pleased than ever to find her still there. This time, he didn’t speak but merely arched an eyebrow in question. Kate supposed that if his speaking a whole sentence was progress, his reverting to complete silence had to be the opposite—but she determined not to think of that. Trying to make her smile a little sunnier, she cleared her throat and said, “If you don’t like eating out, perhaps I could order something in and—” “No.” He started to close the door again, but Kate hadn’t lived in New York for five years without learning a trick or two. She quickly stuck her foot forward, managing not to wince as the door banged into it and bounced back open. Before Mr. Argeneau could comment on her guerilla tactics, she said, “If you don’t care for takeout, perhaps I could pick up some groceries and cook you something you like.” For good measure she added, “That way we could discuss your fears, and I might be able to alleviate them.

” He stiffened in surprise at her implication. “I am not afraid,” he said. “I see.” Kate allowed a healthy dose of doubt to creep into her voice, more than willing to stoop to manipulation if necessary. Then she waited, foot still in place, hoping that her desperation wasn’t showing but knowing that her calm façade was beginning to slip. The man pursed his lips and took his time considering. His expression made Kate suspect he was measuring her for a coffin, as if he were considering killing her and planting her in his garden to get her out of his hair. She tried not to think about that possibility too hard. Despite having worked with him for years as Edwin’s assistant, and now for almost a year as his editor, Kate didn’t know the man very well. In her less charitable moments, she had considered just what kind of man he might be.

Most of her romance authors were female. In fact, every other author under her care was female. Lucern Argeneau, who wrote as Luke Amirault, was the only man. What kind of guy wrote romances? And vampire romances at that? She had decided it was probably someone gay… or someone weird. His expression at the moment was making her lean toward weird. Serial-killer-type weird. “You have no intention of removing yourself, do you?” he asked at last. Kate considered the question. A firm “no” would probably get her inside. But was that what she wanted? Would the man slaughter her? Would she be a headline in the next day’s news if she did get in the door? Cutting off such unproductive and even frightening thoughts, Kate straightened her shoulders and announced firmly; “Mr.

Argeneau, I flew up here from New York. This is important to me. I’m determined to talk to you. I’m your editor.” She emphasized the last word in case he had missed the relevance of that fact. It usually had a certain influence with writers, although Argeneau had shown no signs of being impressed so far. She didn’t know what else to say after that, so Kate simply stood waiting for a response that never came. Heaving a deep sigh, Argeneau merely turned away and started up his dark hall. Kate stared uncertainly at his retreating back. He hadn’t slammed the door in her face this time.

That was a good sign, wasn’t it? Was it an invitation to enter? Deciding she was going to take it as one, Kate hefted her small suitcase and overnight bag and stepped inside. It was a late-summer evening, cooler than it had been earlier in the day, but still hot. In comparison, stepping into the house was like stepping into a refrigerator. Kate automatically closed the door behind her to keep the cool air from escaping, then paused to allow her eyes to adjust. The interior of the house was dark. Lucern Argeneau hadn’t bothered to turn on any lights. Kate couldn’t see much of anything except a square of dim light outlining what appeared to be a door at the end of the long hall in which she stood. She wasn’t sure what the light was from; it was too gray and dim to be from an overhead fixture. Kate wasn’t even sure that going to that light would bring her to Lucern Argeneau’s side, but it was the only source of light she could see, and she was quite sure that it was in the direction he’d taken when walking away. Setting her bags down by the door, Kate started carefully forward, heading for that square of light, which suddenly seemed so far away.

She had no idea if the way was clear or not—she hadn’t really looked around before closing the door—but she hoped there was nothing to trip over along the way. If there was, she would certainly find it. Lucern paused in the center of his kitchen and peered around in the illumination of the nightlight. He wasn’t quite sure what to do. He never had guests, or at least hadn’t had them for hundreds of years. What did one do with them, exactly? After an inner debate, he moved to the stove, grabbed the teakettle that sat on the burner, and took it to the sink to fill with water. After setting it on the stove and cranking the dial to high, he found the teapot, some tea bags and a full sugar bowl. He set it all haphazardly on a tray. He would offer Kate C. Leever a cup of tea.

Once that was done, so was she. Hunger drew him to the refrigerator. Light spilled out into the room as he opened the door, making him blink after the previous darkness. Once his eyes adjusted, he bent to pick up one of the two lonely bags of blood on the middle shelf. Other than those bags, there wasn’t a single solitary item inside. The cavernous white box was empty. Lucern wasn’t much for cooking. His refrigerator had pretty much been empty since his last housekeeper died. He didn’t bother with a glass. Instead, still bent into the fridge, Lucern lifted the blood bag to his mouth and stabbed his fangs into it.

The cool elixir of life immediately began to pour into his system, taking the edge off his crankiness. Lucern was never so cranky as when his blood levels were low. “Mr. Argeneau?” He jerked in surprise at that query from the doorway. The action ripped the bag he held, sending the crimson fluid spraying out all over him. It squirted in a cold shower over his face and into his hair as he instinctively straightened and banged his head on the underside of the closed freezer compartment. Cursing, Lucern dropped the ruined bag onto the refrigerator shelf and grabbed for his head with one hand, slamming the refrigerator door closed with the other. Kate Leever rushed to his side. “Oh, my goodness! Oh! I’m so sorry! Oh!” she screeched as she caught sight of the blood coating his face and hair. “Oh, God! You’ve cut your head.

Bad!” Lucern hadn’t seen an expression of such horror on anyone’s face since the good old days when lunch meant biting into a nice warm neck rather than a nasty cold bag. Seeming to recover her senses somewhat, Kate Leever grabbed his arm and urged him toward the kitchen table. “Here, you’d better sit down. You’re bleeding badly.” “I am fine,” Lucern muttered as she settled him into a chair. He found her concern rather annoying. If she was too nice to him, he might feel guilted into being nice back. “Where’s your phone?” She was turning on one heel, scanning the kitchen for the item in question. “Why do you wish a phone?” he asked hopefully. Perhaps she would leave him alone now, he thought briefly, but her answer nixed that possibility.

“To call an ambulance. You really hurt yourself.”

.

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