Avon
January 2008
ISBN-10: 0-061-22968-7
ISBN-13: 978-0-061-22968-8



Argeneau Family Tree
Notte Family Tree

FATE GAVE HER FANGS . . .

Ever since an accident turned her into a knockout vamp, Elvi Black’s been catching her z’s in a coffin, staying out of the sun, and giving up garlic. She knows there’s more to being undead than what she saw in Dracula, but she can’t very well ask her mortal friends about proper biting etiquette. But when her neighbors placed a personal ad for her in the local paper, she never imagined she’d meet Victor Argeneau, a vampire who could have his pick of any woman—dead or alive.

HE’LL SHOW HER HOW TO USE THEM . . .

Rich, powerful, and drop-dead gorgeous, Victor’s the perfect man for a novice neck-biter like Elvi. He’s willing to teach her everything he knows, but he’ll have to do it fast. Someone’s out to put a stake through her new vamp life, and only Victor can keep her safe – and satisfied – for all eternity.


This title could, of course, change. In fact, it probably will. They seem to like to give all my Argeneau books Bite titles at Avon. I don’t mind so much except that this title really fits this book. I had great fun with this story. I even used my own home as the heroine’s home, although it has a couple of architectural changes. The story idea itself came about because I received several e-mails from older readers complaining that all the heroines were younger. I thought to myself, hmmmm….Why not have an older heroine? Elvi immediately came dancing into my head. I love when that happens! It was great fun playing with she and Victor.


Chapter One

It was a high-pitched scream that woke Elvi. Piercing and full of terror, it ripped her from sleep and had her moving before she was quite awake. She started up abruptly only to curse and drop back down when her head slammed into the wooden lid of the coffin.

Groaning at the pain vibrating through her skull, Elvi closed her eyes against the stars dancing before them and pressed a hand against her forehead. She’d really cracked herself good and would have liked to clasp her head in both hands and roll around in agony for a moment, but the casket wouldn’t allow it, and then a second terrified shriek reminded her of why she was awake.

Concern clutching at her, she reached out with the hand not holding her head and gave the coffin lid a shove that sent it flying open. She then had to release her head to get up. Climbing out of a coffin was a two handed job, and ridiculously strenuous first thing in the morning. Especially before her first bag of blood.

Elvi cursed her way out of the contraption, her bare feet slapping to the hardwood floor, then hurried out of her room without even bothering to grab a robe to cover the white cotton nightgown she wore. Another scream cut the air as she raced up the hall. A fourth was being issued as she burst into Mabel’s room. Elvi slammed the door open, uncaring that it crashed into the wall and probably left a lovely hole, her only concern was her housemate’s wellbeing.

She spotted the woman at once, standing on the bed in her robe, backed against the wall, silver hair a chaotic mass around her head and eyes wide with panic. The woman was waving a body brush wildly in the air at a bat that was swooping just as wildly around the room near the ceiling. She was also, apparently, screeching every time the winged animal came anywhere near her Elvi saw as the bat swerved to avoid hitting the far wall and swooped back toward Mabel, setting off another shriek of terror.

Veering to the side to avoid the waving shower brush, the bat swept through the open bathroom door and briefly out of sight.

Elvi rushed over in time to see the bat make a sharp turn as it neared the far wall of the bathroom. Realizing that it was headed back toward the doorway, she slammed the door closed, trapping it inside.

“Oh!” Mabel collapsed on the bed, hugging the shower brush to her chest. “Oh, thank God.”

Elvi propped her hands on her hips and scowled at the woman. “You opened your windows last night.”

Mabel sighed at the accusation in her voice. “I had to open the windows. It was hot, Elvi.”

“I know it was hot, Mabel. I live here too.”

“But your windows have screens on them. The bedroom ones, at least.”

“I sleep in a coffin,” she pointed out in dry tones. “There are no windows in a coffin. Trust me, I know it was hot. But you can’t open your windows until the replacement screens are in.”

“Well, when the hell are they going to put them in already?” Mabel asked impatiently. “It’s been two weeks now.”

“They had to be specially made and shipped from the manufacturer,” Elvi reminded her.

“Yes, because every damned window in this place is a different size,” Mabel muttered.

Elvi’s mouth quirked with amusement at her disgust. “Welcome to the world of Victorian houses. Ain’t it great?”

“Ha!” Mabel snarled, and then sat up with alarm when Elvi moved toward the door to the hall. “Hey! Where are you going?”

“Back to my coffin.”

“But what about the bat?” She asked with dismay, scrambling off the bed as quickly as her sixty-two year old body would allow and hurrying after her.

“What about it?” she asked, continuing up the hall

“Well, aren’t you going to get it out of my bathroom?”

“Do I look stupid to you?” Elvi asked with disbelief. “I’m not going near that thing. Call Animal control.”

“Animal Control? They won’t be open now.”

“They must have someone on call for emergencies. Call and find out,” Elvi said firmly over her shoulder.

“But that could take hours,” Mabel protested. “Can’t you just get it out? I mean, you should have some sort of affinity with it.”

Elvi paused at the door to her own room and turned on her in amazement. “Do I look like a flying rat to you?”

“No, of course not,” Mabel said quickly, then added, “But you’re a vampire and it’s a bat…There should be some empathy or understanding or…something. Maybe if you tried you could talk to it.”

“Right, by that reasoning we should all be able to talk to monkeys. Let’s try that the next time we’re near a zoo,” Elvi snorted, then repeated, “Call Animal Control.”

“Elvi!” Mabel cried and stomped her foot when she turned to continue on into her room. “I can’t take a shower with that thing in there.”

“Mabel, there are six bathrooms in this house with showers and tubs. Use one of the others.”

“But-”

Elvi closed the door on her further protest and moved toward the coffin, but paused when her eye caught the time on the digital clock on her dresser. Whipping back around, she yanked her door open and scowled at Mabel’s retreating back. “It’s nine o’clock!”

“So?” Mabel sounded miffed and kept walking.

“So why didn’t you wake me up at eight o’clock like I asked?”

“Because you haven’t been sleeping well, and you’re exhausted, and I decided to let you sleep in….rather kindly in my opinion, but then I’m a kind considerate person…unlike some people who won’t even try to talk to a bat for a dear faithful friend.”

Elvi scowled over the attempt to put her on a guilt trip, and then ground out, “Mabel, its Owen’s birthday today. I have to make a cake and see to the decorations, and—”

Heaving out a long suffering sigh, Mabel paused and turned to face her. “I saw to the decorating earlier and then came home for a shower for the festivities. I was going to wake you after I’d showered. As for the cake…” She shrugged. “You can bake it, they’ll wait. The party can’t start without you.”

When Elvi just stood glaring at her, she waved her away. “Go on. Go take your shower. I’ll get dressed and then come help you get ready since I can’t shower.”

“Call animal control,” Elvi growled, refusing to feel guilty, then slammed her door shut.

***

“I just can’t believe it. An immortal advertising in the single’s columns! Unbelievable.”

The glance Victor cast DJ was more than tinged with irritation. If the younger immortal hadn’t been driving the BMW they were both in, he would have cuffed him in the head. As it was, all he could do was mutter, “I gathered that the first time you said it, DJ…which was two hours and over a hundred repeats ago. I get it. Stop saying it.”

“Sorry, but…” D.J Benoit shook his head, sending his shoulder length, sandy colored hair flying as he repeated, “I just can’t believe it.”

Rolling his eyes, Victor turned to peer out the tinted car window at the passing night. They were on the highway on the last leg of a two and a half hour journey and DJ was speeding, flying past the bright lights of vehicle after vehicle, leaving them behind with little concern for getting a ticket. Victor didn't protest or criticize. Time obviously still held the younger man in its thrall, making him impatient and eager to get the journey over with. Given more time, DJ would realize there was no need to rush; time was not an adversary to be beaten by their kind.

“I mean, a single’s ad,” DJ said, drawing his attention again. “What was she hoping to gain from it?”

"Presumably, a lifemate,” Victor said dryly.

"You can’t find a lifemate like that,” DJ protested at once, then added uncertainly, “Can you?”

Victor shrugged. "Stranger things have happened."

"Yeah, but…Surely she must have realized she’d draw the ire of the council. Advertising for God’s sake! That’s a major faux pas. We’re not supposed to draw attention to our people."

"Hmmm.” Victor grunted. "Our best hope is that any mortals who saw it will think it’s a joke or that the ad was purchased by some unfortunate soul with a twisted mind."

"A Whackjob," DJ muttered, and then nodded firmly. “That’s probably what she is too. She has to be. I mean, come on. None of our kind would be this stupid."

Victor refrained from pointing out that the man had believed it just moments ago and spent the last two hours bemoaning the fact that one of their kind had advertised in the newspaper. He simply let him change his tune as he liked. For himself, Victor's mind wasn’t made up. He was content to leave the decision until he met the woman.

“What do you think?”

"About what?” Victor asked.

“Is she for real?” DJ asked, apparently still on the fence about what they were dealing with here.

“How would I know?” He asked with irritation. “I don’t know a thing about her. You’re the one who answered the ad and has been sending letters to her for the last three weeks.”

“E-mails, not letters,” DJ corrected. “We really have to drag you into the twenty-first century, Argeneau. If you’d had a computer and knew how to use it, you could have done the e-mailing rather than have me do it.”

“Which is precisely why I don’t intend to get one,” Victor announced pointedly, and then said, “So, as you are the one who corresponded with her, you tell me. What do you think? Are we on a wild goose chase? Will we find a wannabe Goth baby playing at being a vamp?”

DJ frowned as he considered the matter, “I’m not sure. We exchanged a dozen or so e-mails, but I didn’t really learn a thing about the woman. She was irritatingly evasive about everything.” He scowled at the road and then added, “In fact, our e-mails were mostly so she could ask questions herself. She seemed most concerned with verifying that you truly are what you claim to be.”

“About you and what you claimed to be,” Victor corrected, thinking it a verbal slip. “I haven’t even read the e-mails.”

“No, but I was answering them in your name and so gave her answers about you.”

“What?” Victor asked with dismay.

“Well,” DJ grimaced. “You said to answer the ad and try to get her interest so we could find out more about her. You’re more interesting than me.”

“How do you figure that?” he asked with amazement.

“You’re rich,” DJ answered promptly. “And the brother of the most powerful immortal on this continent, not to mention a member of one of the oldest families. Chicks go in for that sort of thing. Money, power…It doesn’t hurt that you’re good looking either.”

“She could hardly have any idea what I look like,” Victor pointed out with a scowl.

“I e-mailed her a picture,” DJ announced. When Victor turned on him, he said defensively, “Well, she asked for one. So, I sent her the only one I had. The one of you and Lucian at Lissianna’s wedding. Of course,” he added, casting Victor’s shoulder length, dark hair, and black jeans and t-shirt a glance. “Your hair was much shorter then and you were in a suit. You don’t look much like that now.”

Victor glowered, and then forced himself to relax back in the passenger seat. “And what did you receive in return for this picture and information about my bloodlines?”

DJ made a face. “Not as much as I’d hoped. A brief synopsis of her life and a photo.”

Removing one hand from the steering wheel, he reached blindly into the back seat and picked up a file he’d set there when they got in the car. He handed it to Victor. “It’s in there on one of the e-mails.”

Victor opened the file and began to leaf through the papers as DJ recounted what he’d learned.

“She’s a widow, and part owner in a Mexican restaurant as well as a bed and breakfast with a friend. I can’t remember the friend’s name. Both businesses are in Port Henry. She’s lived there her whole life.”

Victor grunted at this rundown as he found the picture. It showed a beautiful woman with long dark hair, large dark eyes and full red lips. The name on the back said Elvi.

Victor slid the photo back in the file after the briefest look. She was a beautiful woman, but beauty rarely affected him. He’d seen much of it over his lifetime, enough that it no longer impressed him. It was his experience that beauty was the best way to distract one from, and/or hide, an unbearable ugliness. The devil surely wouldn't show up to tempt covered in warts and slime. He’d present a pleasing façade.

“So?” DJ queried when Victor set the file back on the back seat. “What do you think?”

“I think I can’t tell anything from a picture and that little bit of information you managed to get,” Victor said, then spotted the sign for the off ramp they wanted, and added, “But we’ll find out soon enough.”

DJ made a ‘tsk’ of disgust as he slowed for the ramp. “This is probably all a huge waste of time."

Victor shrugged. “Even so, it still has to be checked out."

“Right,” DJ said on an exhalation, and then cheered. “On the bright side, if she turns out to be a whacko wannabe, we can get in the car and head straight back to Toronto. We’d be there by midnight, easy.”

Victor smiled faintly, but didn’t comment as he watched the rural road they’d exited onto slowly morph into an urban area with first farmhouses and barns appearing out of the darkness, then houses. The buildings gradually grew closer together, becoming a downtown street. These quickly gave way to businesses; a gas station, the requisite doughnut shop, secondhand stores and banks.

"We’re meeting her at her restaurant?” Victor asked glancing over the signs on the storefronts they were passing.

“Yes. Bella Black’s,” DJ said. “It’s supposed to be on the main street. She said it was on the left, halfway between the second and third set of lights.”

"This is the second set of lights,” Victor pointed out as they stopped at the red light. They both glanced along the road, reading the store fronts.

"Bella Black’s,” DJ said aloud even as Victor spotted the building in question. This was obviously one of the older towns in Ontario. Most of the storefronts on the street were Victorian in design. Bella Black's was no exception, but the sign was large and colorful and the large front window had a mural painted on it of a sleek green iguana amidst a bower of flowers.

Victor contemplated the odd choice of design, and then turned his gaze back to the road as a car finished reversing into the very last available parking spot. A couple got out and crossed to the restaurant.

The light changed then and DJ eased the car forward, passing Bella Black’s as the couple reached the entrance and pulled the door open. They were treated to a brief view of light and color and milling people, then the door closed behind the couple, leaving the street silent once more.

“Busy,” DJ commented. “It looks like every car parked on this road could belong to just the clients of the restaurant."

“Hmm,” Victor grunted. “Try the side street.”

They found a spot on the side street and Victor quickly got out. He took the opportunity to stretch his arms and legs, relieved to be out of the car. Somewhat claustrophobic, he’d always felt trapped inside enclosed vehicles. Victor actually preferred motorcycles, but this was business not pleasure and needs must.

“So,” DJ commented as he joined Victor on the sidewalk. "I guess it doesn’t matter that you don’t much look like your photo anymore. She’ll no doubt know you by the very fact that she doesn’t know you.”

Victor scowled with confusion. He hated feeling stupid so allowed his testiness to show. “What the hell are you on about?”

DJ shrugged. “Well, there are…what? Five hundred people in this town? She probably knows everyone who lives here. We’ll stand out like sore thumbs.”

“Right,” Victor snapped, moving a little more quickly as he approached the door. He just wanted to get this over with and find out if the woman was an immortal or not. If she wasn’t, they could leave and head home. However, if she was…

Victor’s mouth tightened.

If Elvi Black was an immortal, he had to find out all he could about her and take her back to the council for judgment. As DJ had said, drawing attention to herself with this ad was considered a major faux pas. He had to find out what other faux pas she was committing. Judging by the fact that there were also certain rumors circulating around the Toronto club scene that a female vampire was living in one of the small southern towns, advertising wasn't her only mistake.

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