Tall, Dark and Hungry – Lynsay Sands

“The chicken’s very good.” Bastien watched with amusement as Kate C. Leever scraped up a forkful of the Poulet au Citron she’d ordered and held it to his brother Lucern’s lips. He was even more amused when his brother opened his mouth to accept the bite of food, murmured in appreciation, then chewed and swallowed. He hadn’t seen Lucern do more than pretend to eat in his whole life. By the time Bastien was born, his brother—already two hundred plus years old—had tired of even gourmet fare. The taste of food began to pall after a hundred or so years of feasting on whatever you wanted. Now, having passed his four hundredth birthday, Bastien himself found eating to be nothing more than a nuisance, something he forced himself to do occasionally at board meetings or dinner parties to prevent discovery of his true nature. “It really is good,” Lucern announced. “Everything’s a little new and different nowadays.” “No,” Bastien disagreed. “It probably tastes much the same as it always did. It’s love that’s reawakened your taste buds and rejuvenated your desire for food.” Lucern shrugged. He seemed not at all upset by the teasing emphasis Bastien put on the word, and he had no trouble admitting his deep and abiding feelings for the woman seated beside him.

“Perhaps. Everything does seem more vibrant and interesting now. I find myself seeing things anew, seeing them as Kate must see them, rather than with the jaundiced eye I’ve cast over everything for ages. It makes a nice change.” Bastien said nothing, merely lifted his glass of wine. But as he took a sip, Lucern’s words caused something of a twinge inside him. Were he to examine it, he might have likened it to envy. But Bastien wasn’t prepared to examine it. There was no time for love or even loneliness in his life; he had too many responsibilities. Bastien had always been responsible.

When his father died, it had been Bastien who stepped up to take over the duties of the family business. It was in his nature. Bastien’s life was made up of taking care of each individual crisis that came along, whether in business or within the family. If there was a problem, Bastien was the man everyone looked to for the solution, and that was how it had been even before his father’s death. Bastien had often run the business and made decisions in his father’s stead over the last several hundred years since Jean-Claude Argeneau had developed the drinking problem that saw him burn to death: one of the very few ways their kind could die. “So, Bastien.” His eyes narrowed at Kate’s tone. He had known her long enough to recognize the we’re-about-totackle-something-unpleasant, but-it-needs-to-be-done voice. He’d heard it often enough, but always directed at Lucern. It was unusual to hear with his own name in the mix.

“We invited you out to lunch for a reason.” Bastien raised his eyebrows. He’d suspected as much when Lucern called and invited him to meet here at La Bonne Soupe for this meal. His brother knew he wasn’t much into eating anymore. That being the case, Bastien had suspected this sudden invitation might have something to do with the couple’s upcoming nuptials, but he wasn’t sure what specifically his brother could want. The wedding was in exactly two weeks. It was here in New York, which had seemed the most likely choice for the ceremony as Kate, and now Lucern too, lived and worked here. The oldest Argeneau son had made the move to Manhattan six months earlier to be closer to his fiancée, who also happened to be his editor. It had seemed a good idea for him to be near while she made the necessary adjustments to her turning. Aside from the physical changes, becoming one of their kind meant learning a whole new range of habits and skills, so Lucern had made the move to New York to help her with those, as well as to help with the wedding arrangements.

Fortunately, being a successful author allowed him the freedom to make such a move with little difficulty. Bastien had to admit that New York was the best place to hold the ceremony and celebration. While neither family lived here—the Argeneaus were based in Toronto, and the Leevers, Kate’s family, lived in Michigan—all her friends and coworkers were in New York. And, as this was where Kate— as well as Lucern now—lived and worked, it made it easier for them to make the necessary arrangements for the wedding. Luc had originally intended on occupying the penthouse suite above the New York offices of Argeneau Enterprises until the wedding, but after moving his things into the apartment that first night, he had gone to visit Kate and simply stayed. By the time Bastien fled Toronto—and his mother’s matchmaking efforts there—to work out of the Manhattan offices, Lucern had already moved most of his things into Kate’s tiny apartment, and Bastien had the penthouse to himself. As usual. He rather preferred it that way, and wasn’t looking forward to the temporary invasion of guests and family that the wedding would bring. However, he consoled himself that it would only be for a weekend; then he would have his blessed peace again, and no interference from his mother. He shook his head at the thought of Marguerite’s latest antics.

She had always been involved in her children’s lives, eager to see them happy, but her latest stunt had shocked even him. Bastien was the last of her children to remain single, and the woman was determined to see him settled in a loving relationship like his brothers and sister. That was understandable, he supposed, but her way of getting it done was madness. His sister Lissianna and her psychologist husband, Greg, had worked out so well, Marguerite had decided to round up a female psychologist for Bastien in the hope that he would fall in love with her. The silly woman had made appointments with every female psychologist in Toronto, ferreted out the single ones, chosen those she liked best and thought he might like, then had announced she was a vampire and put the thought into their heads that they should request to speak to a family member about her “delusions.” Bastien had spent weeks running around Toronto, going from psychologist to psychologist, clearing memories and ensuring that no damage resulted from her stunt. Then he’d escaped to New York to avoid getting caught in any more of her madcap schemes. Yes, his mother was going off her rocker with nothing to occupy herself. He hoped Lissianna’s recently announced pregnancy would prove a distraction. Bastien didn’t mind the idea of settling down and having someone to share his life with, like his siblings had, but he wasn’t holding his breath waiting for it to happen.

He’d been alone so long, he began to wonder if it would ever be otherwise. Perhaps Josephine had been his one hope at happiness. Unwilling to contemplate the memory of the human woman he had loved and lost, Bastien glanced between Lucern and Kate. “So, what is this favor you want?” The couple exchanged a glance, then Lucern said, “You should have ordered something to eat, brother. It’s on me.” Bastien was vaguely amused at the stalling tactic. Much like himself, his brother hated to ask for anything. “It must be a big favor if you’re willing to spring for lunch,” he teased. “You make me sound cheap,” Lucern said with a scowl. “You are.

Or were,” he allowed. “Though you appear to have improved since Kate’s arrival in your life. She’s managed to make you loosen the purse strings somewhat. There was a time you wouldn’t even consider living in a city as expensive as New York.” Luc shrugged. “She’s here,” he said simply. “Actually, I’m the one who needs the favor,” Kate announced. “Oh?” Bastien turned to her with interest. He liked his soon-to-be sister-in-law. She was perfect for Luc.

His brother was lucky to have found her. “Yes. My best friend, Terri—well, she’s my cousin, really. Well, she’s both, cousin and best friend, but—” “This would be your maid of honor?” Bastien interrupted patiently. “Yes!” She beamed at him, apparently pleased that he recognized the name. But it shouldn’t have surprised her; Bastien was good with details. Besides, the woman was the maid of honor and he was best man. As such, they would be paired off and stuck together for the whole of the upcoming wedding. Of course he recalled! “What about her?” he asked as Kate continued to smile in silence. When she hesitated, he prodded, “Is she arriving at the same time as everyone else, or a day or two early?” “Actually, she’s coming two weeks early,” Kate admitted.

“She had vacation time coming to her and took it all in one large lump to fly over here and help with the wedding.” “It’s a good thing, too,” Lucern muttered, then admitted, “We can use all the help we can get. You wouldn’t believe how complicated weddings are, Bastien. First the date has to be picked, the hall reserved, and the invitations chosen and sent. Then there is the caterer to be chosen, the meals decided on, what wine to serve, the flowers to use and in what arrangements, the music in the church, whether you’ll have a band or a d.j. at the reception, and what music to play there. The colors have to be picked and coordinated so that the decorations, flowers, tuxedos, and dresses can be chosen and so on.” He shook his head. “It’s a wonder couples survive all of that and make it to the wedding still together.

Take my advice: If you ever find a mate, skip the wedding nonsense and fly to Vegas.” “Skip the wedding nonsense and fly to Vegas?” Kate echoed in disbelief. “Oh, now, Kate, honey, you know I didn’t mean—,” Luc began backpedaling in earnest. “I gather weddings are a pain to arrange, but surely the worst of it is out of the way?” Bastien queried, trying to save his brother from the wrath filling his fiancée’s face. A relieved Lucern eagerly grasped at the change of subject. “Well, yes. Most of the arrangements are made and set, but there always seems to be something cropping up that needs doing. Last week, it was making toilet paper flowers. Who knows what it will be next week?” “Toilet-paper flowers?” Bastien asked in surprise. “Kleenex flowers,” Kate corrected, sounding irritable.

“We made them out of Kleenex facial tissues.” “Yes,” Lucern said agreeably, then turned to explain to Bastien: “She had me folding and tying all these bloody toilet tissues, then fanning them into flowers to put on the cars for the wedding party. I told her we should have someone else do them, or just buy them, but she insisted that making them was tradition in her family. Bought flowers wouldn’t do, so I spent hours and hours last week just folding and tying and fanning out toilet paper.” “Kleenex,” Kate snapped. “Some of them are toilet tissues,” Lucern informed her. “What?” She looked at him with horror. “Well, I ran out of Kleenex, and you insisted on so many for the cars, I started using toilet tissue. I don’t think it will make much difference. Tissue is tissue, right? Besides, you weren’t there to ask.

You were working late as usual.” He turned to Bastien and explained, “She’s been working late a lot lately, trying to do Chris’s work as well as her own.” Bastien raised an eyebrow, but Kate just made a face. “I’m not doing C.K.’s work. Chris is editing his own writers, and I’m editing mine. It’s just that he’s going away to the California writers conference today, and I’ll be fielding any emergencies that arise while he’s gone. I’ve been trying to get ahead on my editing so that I don’t fall behind if anything crops up, if you see what I mean.” Bastien nodded in understanding, then returned the conversation to the subject it had started on.

“So your maid of honor is coming two weeks early. She should be arriving soon, then. Where is she staying?” “Ah.” Kate looked uncomfortable, then blew out a breath on a sigh. “Actually, that’s the favor I wanted to ask,” she admitted. “You see, I considered having her stay with me, but my apartment is really small. A tiny little one-bedroom is the best I can afford in Manhattan on my salary, and with Lucern there it’s already quite crowded. I considered putting Terri up in a hotel. Luc even offered to pay for it, but I know she would refuse and insist on paying for herself. And what with all the expense she’s already going to as my maid of honor, I didn’t want to burden her any more than necessary.

She really can’t afford this, but she wouldn’t say so.” “Proud?” Bastien guessed. “Yes. Very. Her mother was a single parent, and Terri has been taking care of herself since Aunt Maggie died when she was nineteen. She’s stubborn and has trouble asking for, or accepting, help.” Bastien nodded. He understood pride. He had a good deal of it himself. Too much, perhaps, at times.

“You want me to put her up in the penthouse,” he guessed. “Yes. If you wouldn’t mind,” Kate admitted, looking hopeful. Bastien smiled indulgently. His brother’s fiancée made the request as if it were a huge imposition. Which it wasn’t. The penthouse had five bedrooms and was huge. He also wasn’t there very much, and would probably never even see the girl. He’d leave Terri in the housekeeper’s capable hands; she wouldn’t be any bother to him at all. “That isn’t a problem, Kate.

She’s welcome to one of the rooms in the penthouse. When is she arriving? Sometime this weekend, I should imagine, if she’s coming two weeks early.” “Yes.” Kate exchanged another glance with Lucern before admitting, “She arrives today, actually.” “Today?” Bastien didn’t bother hiding his surprise. “I know. It’s very short notice, and I’m sorry. I would have asked sooner if I’d known. Originally, she was supposed to come the day before the wedding like everyone else. But Terri decided to surprise me and took the time off.

I only found out an hour ago, because it apparently occurred to her that she’d better be sure I was home and she wouldn’t be left sitting on my doorstep for a couple of days or something, so she called me from the plane.” “Well, it’s a good thing she did,” Bastien commented, then noticed another exchange of glances between the pair, and narrowed his eyes. It was obvious there was more to this favor than Kate’s maid of honor staying with him. It suddenly struck him: “I suppose she needs a lift from the airport?” “Well, she was going to take a taxi, but you know how expensive that is, and she really—” “Can’t afford it, but is too proud to say so, and you know she wouldn’t take the money from you if you offered it, so you insisted you’d have someone pick her up,” Bastien finished for her. Katie narrowed her eyes. “Are you reading my mind?” “No,” he assured her. “Just a lucky guess.” “Oh.” She relaxed. “You guessed right.

Would it be too much bother?” Bastien’s gaze slid to his brother, and Kate added, “Lucern can go with you, of course. He offered to do it himself, but he doesn’t know the highways as well as you do, or the airports or where to go. I would have gone myself, but I’m so swamped at work right now, I—” “Luc and I will collect her,” Bastien assured her, smiling at Kate’s diplomatic excuse. Lucern didn’t need to know the roads; he could have taken one of the family’s company cars, with a driver. The truth was, Lucern was still somewhat antisocial. He wasn’t as bad as he used to be, but he was still a touch awkward in social situations, and Bastien suspected Kate was afraid that he would greet her cousin and best friend with a grunt of “Follow me,” then remain silent all the way into town. Bastien, on the other hand, dealt with humans all the time and was a little more social. He also—luckily enough for Kate, and for the as yet unseen Terri—happened to have a light afternoon at the office. It wouldn’t be a problem taking time off. “Great,” Lucern said dryly.

“Has it occurred to you, Katie my love, that you are sending two men, who haven’t a clue what your cousin and best friend in the whole world looks like, to collect her? How will we spot her?” “You can make up a sign with her name on it,” Kate suggested brightly. “And between the two of you, I know you’ll find and deliver her safely.” Bastien took in his brother’s doubtful expression with amusement. There had been a definite warning to Kate’s words: Bring her back safe, or else. “Darn, I have to go. We have a production meeting this afternoon. That’s why I couldn’t get out of work to pick her up myself,” Kate explained, getting to her feet. She bent to kiss Lucern, started to straighten, then bent to press another kiss to his lips. It ended with a sighed “I love you, Luc.” “And I love you, Kate,” Lucern replied.

His tongue slid out to lick quickly across her lower lip, and in the next moment, the two lovers were kissing again. Bastien sighed and directed his gaze to the diners around them. He knew from experience that there would now be several more moments of soft sighs and kisses before Kate would tear herself away. The pair was pathetic. He only hoped this honeymoon phase they were enjoying passed soon. He feared not, however. It had been nearly a year since his brother Etienne had married Rachel, and two years since Lissianna and Greg’s marriage; yet neither couple appeared to be passing out of this same lusty, loving phase. His whole damned family seemed to be rather slow at moving out of it. They were all equally pathetic. He was the only member of the family, aside from his mother, who didn’t spend ridiculous amounts of time making out in public, private, or anywhere they found themselves.

But, then, neither he nor his mother had anyone to make out with. Bastien ignored the twinge of envy that ate at him as he heard another soft sigh from Kate, followed by a faint moan. In the next moment, his head whipped around in surprise when Kate spoke in suddenly businesslike tones. “This might help.” Kate had straightened and was digging a photo out of her purse. “It’s a relatively new picture. Terri e-mailed it to me last month. Now, I have to go. Be nice to her.” She set the photo onto the table between them, then turned and began easing her way through the tables toward the exit of the tiny, crowded restaurant.

“God, she’s wonderful,” Lucern sighed as he watched Kate pause and step to the side to make room for someone entering the small eatery. Bastien rolled his eyes, not missing the fact that his brother’s gaze was fixed firmly on his fiancée’s derriere. Suddenly aware that his own gaze had followed Lucern’s, he gave his head a shake and turned his attention to the photo on the table. It was a picture of a woman in her late twenties. She had full lips curved in an impish smile; and large, soft eyes. “A beauty,” he commented, noting that Kate’s cousin appeared to be Kate’s opposite. She was brunette to Kate’s blonde, and buxom and curvy in a way that made him think of ripe fruit, as opposed to Kate’s slender figure. But she was stunning in her own way. “Is she?” Lucern asked with disinterest, his gaze still following his soon-to-be wife. “If you’d stop ogling Kate and take a look, you could see for yourself,” Bastien pointed out.

Lucern turned an amused glance his way, then looked at the picture and shrugged with disinterest. “She’s all right. Not as beautiful as Katie, though.” Bastien snorted. “No one is as beautiful as Katie, in your eyes.” “You’re right,” Lucern agreed, lifting his glass to take a swallow of whiskey before adding, “Kate’s perfect in my eyes. No one comes close to her in anything.” “Forgive me, brother. But I believe the modern expression is ‘You got it bad.'” Bastien gave an amused shake of his head.

He liked Kate well enough, but she wasn’t perfect. Damned near, perhaps, but not quite. “So? What time does this Terri person’s plane get in?” Lucern glanced at his wristwatch, shrugging. “In about an hour.” “What?” Bastien squawked. “What, what?” Lucern asked. “You’re joking! She doesn’t get in in an hour.” “Yes, she does.” Bastien stared at him blankly, then asked, “Which airport?” “JFK.” “Dear God.

.

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