The Reluctant Vampire – Lynsay Sands

Drina hardly noticed the rhythmic tap of her heels as she descended the stairs from the plane. Her attention was shifting from the winter-dead trees surrounding the private airstrip to the man leaning against the back of a small golf cart on the edge of the tarmac. With dark hair and skin and a black leather coat, he could have been mistaken for a shadow if it weren’t for his glowing gold-black eyes. They peered at her, steady and cold from between his black wool hat and scarf, and he remained utterly motionless until she stepped down onto the paved runway. Only then did he move, straightening and walking forward to meet her. Despite the cold, Drina forced a smile. A greeting was trembling on her lips, but died there when he took the small bag she carried and turned wordlessly away. The abrupt action brought her up short, and she watched blankly as the man walked away with her luggage. When he slid behind the wheel of the small, open cart and dropped her bag on the front passenger seat, she managed to shake herself out of her surprise and move forward, but couldn’t resist muttering, “Hello, you must be Drina Argenis. Such a pleasure to meet you. Please, allow me to take your luggage for you. And here, please take a seat so I can get you to the enforcer house and out of this cold.” With their hearing, she knew the man must have heard her sarcastic mimicry of what she would have liked him to say, but he didn’t react by deed or word. He merely started the engine on the cart and waited. Drina grimaced.

It seemed obvious from where he’d set her suitcase that she was expected to sit on the back bench seat. Not welcome in the front, apparently, she thought with disgust as she settled on the cold, stiff seat. She then grabbed the supporting bar to keep from sliding off as the cart immediately jerked into motion. The icy metal under her fingers made her think, not for the first time, that she should have researched North American winters more fully before making this journey. It was a bit late for that, however. But she would definitely need to take a shopping trip or two as soon as she could if she didn’t wish to end up a Popsicle while here. With nothing else to look at, Drina watched the small plane that had brought her here turn on the landing strip and start away. The moment its wheels lifted off, the lights on the field suddenly blinked out and darkness crowded in. For one moment, she couldn’t see a thing, but then her eyes adjusted and she took in the knee-deep snow and skeletal trees lining the path and wondered how long she would be on this contraption and out in the cold. The woods weren’t as deep as they’d seemed from the plane.

It only took a matter of moments before they left the woods behind to follow a small path along the side of an open snowcovered yard holding what looked like a long garage and a house. It was the garage her driver steered them toward. The tires crunched on the hard-packed snow as they came to a halt beside a small door. The man who hadn’t greeted her, then grabbed her bag and slid out from behind the steering wheel. He moved toward the door to the garage without a word. Eyebrows rising, along with her temper, Drina followed him inside and up a short hall. She spotted an office and a hallway leading to cells on her left, but he led her to a door on the right and straight into a garage, where several vehicles sat waiting. Drina cast a quick glance over the few vehicles inside. They were all the same, SUVs, she thought they were called. She followed Mr.

Tall-Dark-and-Mute to the back passenger door of the first vehicle. When he opened it, and then simply waited, she eyed him narrowly. It seemed obvious he was going to be her escort to Port Henry, but she’d be damned if he was going to stick her in the backseat like some unwanted guest for the duration of what her uncle had said would be a two-hour journey. Smiling sweetly, she ducked under his arm and moved past him to the front door instead. Drina pulled it open and quickly slid inside, then turned to eye him challengingly. His response was to heave a long-suffering sigh, toss her bag on the floor at her feet, and slam the door closed. “Great,” Drina muttered, as he walked around the vehicle to the driver’s side. But she supposed she shouldn’t be surprised at the man’s attitude. He worked for her uncle, after all, the most taciturn man she’d ever met. On this side of the ocean at least.

She added that last thought as Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Miserable slid behind the steering wheel and started the engine. Drina watched him press a button that set the garage door in front of them rolling up, but waited until he’d shifted into gear before asking, “Are we heading straight to—” She paused as he suddenly slid a letter from an inside pocket of his fur-lined coat and handed it to her. “Oh here, I was to give you this,” Drina mimicked dryly as she accepted the envelope. Tall-Dark-and-Rude raised an eyebrow but otherwise didn’t react. Drina shook her head and opened the letter. It was from Uncle Lucian, explaining that her escort was Anders and he would be delivering her directly to Port Henry. She guessed that meant Lucian hadn’t trusted Anders to pass on this information himself. Perhaps he really was mute, she thought, and glanced curiously to the man as she slipped the letter into her pocket. The nanos should have prevented it .

unless, of course, it wasn’t a physical problem but a genetic one. Still, she’d never heard of a mute immortal. “Do you speak at all?” she asked finally. He turned an arched eyebrow in her direction as he steered the vehicle up the driveway beside the house, and shrugged. “Why bother? You were doing well enough on your own.” So . rude, not mute, Drina thought, and scowled. “Obviously, all those tales Aunt Marguerite told me about charming Canadian men were something of an exaggeration.” That had him hitting the brakes and jerking around to peer at her with wide eyes. They were really quite beautiful eyes, she noted absently as he barked, “Marguerite?” “Dear God, it speaks again,” she muttered dryly.

“Be still my beating heart. I don’t know if I’ll survive the excitement.” Scowling at her sarcasm, he eased his foot off the brakes to cruise forward along the driveway until they reached a manned gate. Two men came out of a small building beside the gates and waved in greeting. They then immediately set about manually opening the inner gate. Once Anders had steered the SUV through and paused at a second gate, the men closed the first one. They then disappeared inside the small building again. A bare moment later, the second gate swung open on its own, and he urged their vehicle out onto a dark, country road. “Did Marguerite specify any particular male in Canada?” Anders asked abruptly, as Drina turned from watching the gate close behind them. She raised an eyebrow, noting the tension now apparent in the man.

“Now you want to speak, do you?” she asked with amusement, and taunted, “Afraid it was you?” He glanced at her sharply, his own eyes narrowed. “Was it?” Drina snorted and tugged on her seat belt. Doing it up, she muttered, “Like I’d tell you if it was.” “Wouldn’t you?” She glanced over to see that he was now frowning. “Hell no,” she assured him. “What self-respecting girl would want to be stuck with a doorstop for a mate for the rest of her life?” “A doorstop?” he squawked. “Yes, doorstop. As in big, silent, and good only for holding wood.” She smiled sweetly, and added, “At least I’m pretty sure about the wood part. Nanos do make sure immortal males function in all areas.

” Drina watched with satisfaction as Anders’s mouth dropped open. She then shifted in her seat to a more comfortable position and closed her eyes. “I think I’ll take a nap. I never sleep well on planes. Enjoy the drive.” Despite her closed eyes, she was aware that he kept glancing her way. Drina ignored it and managed not to grin. The man needed some shaking up, and she had no doubt this would do it. Over the centuries, she’d become good at judging the age of other immortals, and was pretty sure she was centuries older than Anders. He wouldn’t be able to read her, which would leave him wondering .

and drive him nuts, she was sure. But it served him right. It didn’t take much effort to be courteous, and courtesy was necessary in a civilized society. It was a lesson the man should learn before he got too old to learn anything anymore. Harper considered his cards briefly, then pulled out a six of spades and laid it on the discard pile. He glanced toward Tiny, not terribly surprised to find the man not looking at his own cards but peering distractedly toward the stairs. “Tiny,” he prompted. “Your turn.” “Oh.” The mortal turned back to his cards, started to pull one out of his hand as if to discard it, and Harper shot his own hand out to stop him.

When Tiny glanced at him with surprise, he pointed out dryly, “You have to pick up first.” “Oh, right.” He shook his head and set back the card he’d been about to discard, and reached for one from the deck. Harper sat back with a little shake of the head, thinking, Lord save me from new life mates. The thought made him grimace since that’s all he seemed to be surrounded with lately: Victor and Elvi, DJ and Mabel, Allesandro and Leonora, Edward and Dawn and now Tiny and Mirabeau. The first four couples had been together for a year and a half now, and were just starting to regather some of their wits about them. They were still new enough to be trying at times, but at least they could actually hold on to a thought or two longer than a second. Tiny and Mirabeau were brand-spanking-new, however, and couldn’t think of much else but each other . and how to find a moment alone to get naked. And they couldn’t control their thoughts either, so that it was like constantly having a radio playing in his ear, life-mate porn, twenty-four/seven.

Harper supposed the fact that he hadn’t packed up his bags and moved on a year and a half ago when his own life mate had died, was probably a sign that he was a masochist. Because really, there was no worse torture for someone who had just lost their long-awaited and prayed-for life mate than to have to stand by and witness the joy and just plain horniness of other new life mates. But he had nowhere to go. Oh, he had an apartment in the city and businesses he could pretend to be interested in, but why bother when he’d set them up years ago to ensure he needn’t be there to oversee them, and could travel, merely checking in once in a while. He also had family in Germany he could visit, but they weren’t close, each of them having created their own lives centuries ago and barely keeping up with each other. Actually, Harper thought, Elvi, Victor, Mabel, and DJ were the closest thing to family he now had. When Jenny had died, the two couples had surrounded and embraced him and pulled him into their little family. They had cushioned and coddled him during the first shock of her loss, and slowly nursed him back to the land of the living, and he was grateful for it. So much so, in fact, that he was glad for this opportunity to repay some of their kindness by looking after things while they went on their honeymoons. He just wished that looking after things didn’t include a pair of new life mates to torture him with.

Tiny finally discarded, and Harper picked up another card, but then paused and glanced toward the window as the crunch of tires on new snow caught his ear. “What is it?” Tiny asked, his voice tense. “A vehicle just pulled into the driveway,” Harper murmured, then glanced to Tiny and raised an eyebrow. “Your replacements, I’m guessing.” Tiny was immediately out of his seat and moving into the kitchen to peer out the back window. When he then moved to the pantry to collect his coat from the closet there, Harper stood and followed. The arrival of the replacement hunters was something he’d looked forward to. He suspected Tiny and Mirabeau would now retreat to their bedroom and not be seen much. It meant he could avoid the worst of their obsessive thoughts about each other . which would be a blessing.

Tiny apparently saw him coming and grabbed Harper’s coat as well. The man handed it to him as he came back into the kitchen, and both pulled them on as they headed for the door to the deck. Tiny had pulled his boots on while in the pantry and headed straight out the door, but Harper had to pause to kick off his slippers and tug on the boots by the back door. It only took a moment, but by the time he did and stepped outside, Tiny was already out of sight. Harper grimaced as the bitter wind slapped his face. He followed the big mortal’s footprints in the snow, trailing them across the deck and down the steps to the short sidewalk that ran along the side of the garage to the driveway. With his eyes on the ground, he didn’t see the person approaching until he was nearly on top of them. Pausing abruptly when a pair of running shoes came into view in front of his boots, he jerked his head up with surprise and found himself blinking at a petite woman in a coat far too light for Canadian winters. His gaze slid from her hatless head, to the suitcase she carried, and then beyond her to the two men by the SUV. “Hi.

” Harper glanced back to the woman. She was smiling tentatively at him and holding out one ungloved hand in greeting. “Alexandrina Argenis,” she announced when he merely stared at her hand. “But everyone calls me Drina.” Removing one hand from his pocket, he shook hers, noting that it was warm and soft despite the cold, then he cleared his throat and said, “Harpernus Stoyan.” He retrieved his hand and shoved it back into the safety of his pocket as he stepped to the side for her to get by. “Go on inside. It’s warm in there. There’s blood in the fridge.” Nodding, she moved past him, and Harper watched her go, waiting until she disappeared around the corner before continuing on to the SUV now parked in the driveway.

Tiny and another man, this one dressed more befitting a Canadian winter, with hat and gloves and even a scarf, were still at the back of the truck. As he approached, the new man pulled a cooler from inside and handed it to Tiny. Rather than turn away and head back to the house though, Tiny said, “Throw your suitcase on top and I’ll take it in as well.” Harper smiled faintly to himself. Tiny was a big guy, a small mountain really, and very strong . for a mortal. He was also used to being the muscle among his own people and forgot that he was now dealing with immortals who outclassed him horribly in that area. But the new arrival merely set a suitcase on top of the cooler and turned back to the SUV without comment. Tiny immediately slid past Harper to head for the house, leaving him to step up beside the newcomer and peer curiously into the back of the SUV. There were two more coolers left inside.

The fellow was unplugging them and winding up the cords. “Harper.” He glanced to the man with surprise at the terse greeting, eyebrows rising as he recognized the eyes that turned to him. “Nice to see you, Anders,” Harper greeted in return as he reached in to retrieve one of the coolers. “It’s been a while.” Anders’s answer was a grunt as he claimed the second cooler and straightened from the vehicle. He paused to close the back of the SUV, hit the button to lock the doors, and then nodded for Harper to lead the way. Harper turned away but found himself grinning and couldn’t resist saying, “Chatty as ever, I see.” When the man basically told him to bugger off in Russian, Harper burst out laughing. The sound of his own laughter was somewhat startling, but it felt good, he decided, as he led the way across the deck.

Maybe it was a sign that he was finally coming out of the depression that had struck him when Jenny had died. The thought made him sigh to himself as he shifted the cooler to open the door to the house. He’d been sunk pretty deep in self-pity and gloom for the last year and a half, and while he supposed it was only to be expected when one lost a life mate, it would be a relief to feel more himself again. He was not a naturally gloomy guy but had found little to laugh or even smile about since Jenny’s death. “Here.” Tiny was in front of him, reaching for Harper’s cooler the minute he stepped into the house. He gave it up and watched the man carry it into the dining room, where he unraveled the cord and plugged it in. The one Tiny himself had carried in was already plugged into a socket in the corner of the kitchen, Harper noted, and supposed the man was spreading them throughout the house to be sure they didn’t overload a breaker. The coolers were basically portable refrigerators and probably used a lot of juice. Feeling the cold at his back, Harper realized he was blocking Anders from entering and quickly stepped aside for him to pass.

He then pulled the screen door closed and shut and locked the inner door. By the time he turned back, Tiny had returned and was taking the last cooler from Anders. Harper’s gaze slid over the dining room in search of Alexandrina-Argenis-everyonecalls-me-Drina and found her standing beside the dining-room table, shrugging out of her coat. “If this is all blood, you brought a lot of it,” Tiny commented with a frown as he turned to carry the last cooler away, this time heading for the living room. “Lucian sent it for your turn,” Anders responded, bending to undo and remove his boots. “My God, he speaks again,” Drina muttered with feigned shock. “And a whole sentence too.” “Sometimes you’ll even get a paragraph out of him,” Harper responded, but his gaze was now on Tiny. The man had paused in the doorway of the living room and turned back, a startled expression on his face. Apparently it hadn’t occurred to him that now that he and Mirabeau had acknowledged they were life mates, the next step was the turn.

“A whole paragraph?” Drina asked with dry amusement, drawing Harper’s attention again. “A short one, but a paragraph just the same,” he murmured, glancing her way. He then paused to take her in. She was petite, as he’d noticed outside, which was a polite way of saying short. But she was curvy too, rounded in all the right places. She was also most definitely Spanish, with olive skin, deep-set eyes, the large brow bone, and straight, almost prominent nose. But it all worked to make an attractive face, he decided. “Right, of course, the turn,” Tiny muttered, drawing his attention once more, and Harper shifted his attention back to find the other man looking resolute. As he watched, Tiny straightened his shoulders and continued into the living room. Harper frowned and had to bite back the urge to tell Tiny that perhaps he should wait on turning, but he knew it was just a knee-jerk reaction to his own experience.

It was rare for a mortal to die during the turn, and in all likelihood, Tiny would probably be fine. However, Jenny had died, and so that was the first thing he thought of and the worry that now plagued him. Sighing, he bent to remove his boots. He set them beside the radiator, and straightened to remove his coat. Laying it over his arm, he then took Anders’s as he finished removing it and crossed the room to collect Drina’s as well before ducking into the small pantry in the back corner of the kitchen. It held the entry to the garage but was also where the closet was. “Handy.”

.

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