June 2006
Avon
ISBN 006077407X



Argeneau Family Tree
Notte Family Tree

Audiobook
Oct 6, 2009
Order audiobook at Audible.com

Rule #1: Never get involved with someone who won't be there for you when the sun comes up.

Once bitten, twice shy - and sexy PI Jackie Morrisey wasn't going there again. Vincent Argeneau may be the hottest guy she's ever met, living or dead, but she's here to stop a killer from turning this vampire into dust, not to jump into bed with him.

Rule #2: Never kiss a vampire . . . it can be a pain in the neck.

 



While Vincent was a very light character when he made his appearance in Tall, Dark and Hungry, he turned out to have a less light side when I started writing his story. This upset me at first, but what can you do? Readers were asking for his story and it was his story I was writing, which meant I had to write him the way he was. Even though it has darker moments then some of the others, I still think it turned out all right. I like Vincent and was happy to see him settled.


Chapter One

“Vincent? Are you there? If you’re there, pick up the phone.”

Vincent Argeneau forced one eyelid upward and peered around the dark room. His home office, he saw, managing to make out the shape of his desk by the sliver of light coming through the door cracked open to the hallway. He'd fallen asleep on the couch in his office.

“Vincent?”

“Yeah?” He sat up and glanced around for the owner of that voice, then realized it was coming through his answering machine on the desk. Giving his head a shake, Vincent got to his feet and stumbled across the room. He snatched up the cordless phone, dropped into his desk chair, and growled, “Bastien?”

“Vincent? Sorry to wake you, cousin. I waited as late as I could before calling.”

Vincent grunted and leaned back in the chair, running his free hand over his face. “What time is it?”

“Five PM here in New York. I guess that makes it about two there in L.A.,” Bastien said apologetically.

“Two,” Vincent muttered. No wonder he was exhausted. He’d been up until 9 AM dealing with phone calls, then had drawn the blackout curtains in the room and lain down on the couch here rather than go to his bed. He hadn’t wanted to miss Bastien’s call.

“Are you awake?”

“Yeah.” Vincent scrubbed his hand over his face again, then reached out to turn on his desk lamp. Blinking in the increased light, he said, “I’m up. Were you able to get a hold of that private detective company you said was so good?”

“That’s why I couldn’t call any later than this. They’re on their way. In fact, their plane was scheduled to land at LAX fifteen minutes ago.”

“Jesus!” Vincent sat up abruptly in his seat. “That was fast.”

“Jackie doesn’t waste time. I explained the situation to her and she booked a flight right away. Fortunately for you, she’d just finished a big job for me and was able to put off and delegate whatever else she had on the roster.”

“Wow,” Vincent murmured, then frowned as he realized what Bastien had said. “She? The detective’s a woman?”

“Yes, and she’s good. Really good. She’ll track down your saboteur and have this whole thing cleaned up in no time.”

“If you say so,” Vincent said quietly. “Thanks, Bastien. I appreciate it.”

“Not a problem. Happy to help.”

Vincent opened his mouth to speak, then paused as he heard a woman’s muffled voice in the background. He began to grin. “Is that Terri?”

“Yes. She says hello, and says to warn you—” He paused to clear his throat. “Er…Vincent, mother is on her way out there too.”

“What?” Vincent stood abruptly. The news was rather shocking. Aunt Marguerite hadn’t visited his home in decades. Usually, he visited her in Canada. She’d chosen the worst possible time to decide to visit sunny California. "Why?"

"Er…well, that’s a funny thing really." Bastien gave a nervous laugh. "It seems she’s come to the conclusion that you may be lonely and depressed.”

“What!" Vincent gaped at the phone.

"Yeah. She thinks your being here in New York and witnessing Terri and I getting together – as well as seeing my siblings with their life mates -- may have upset you, your still being single and all. She seems to think you may need cheering up or maybe some help seeing to the situation."

"Dear God," Vincent muttered, raking one hand through his hair.

“Yeah, I thought you might feel that way," Bastien said sympathetically. "I did try to dissuade her from going, but…You know how my mother is once she gets an idea into her head.”

“Dear God,” Vincent repeated.

“She’s on a later flight,” Bastien informed him. “She won’t arrive until six o’clock your time and she’s arranged for a car rental so you won’t have to pick her up.”

“Does she know about what’s going on here?”

“No,” Bastien said. “And unless you want her interfering, I suggest you not tell her.”

Vincent gave a bark of laughter. Interfere was an understatement. If Marguerite Argeneau knew someone was sabotaging her nephew’s business, she’d be determined to track them down and sort it out. She was very protective of those she loved and he was fortunate enough to count himself in that category.

“Dear God,” he said unhappily.

“Just stick her in a guest room, give her a bunch of tourist pamphlets, and let her entertain herself,” Bastien suggested. “She’ll get bored and move on eventually.”

Vincent grimaced, thinking nothing was ever that easy. “I’m guessing I wasn’t expected to pick up this Jackie and…” He paused, trying to recall the second name Bastien had mentioned.

“Tiny,” he supplied. “No, they’ll have a rental too. Otherwise I’d have called sooner.”

“Right.” Vincent sighed.

“I’m guessing you probably have about half an hour before they get there. I figured that was enough time to get ready.”

“Yeah,” Vincent agreed.

“Okay. I guess I’ll let you go wake yourself up before they arrive.”

“Yeah, okay. Hey, tell Terri--” Vincent paused and glanced toward the hallway as a knock sounded at his front door. Frowning, he stood and headed out of the office, taking the cordless phone with him. “Hang on. There’s someone at the door.”

“That’s probably the package I sent out for Mom,” Bastien said. “If so, you’ll have to get it in the refrigerator right away.”

“Must be nice having your meals prepared and delivered,” Vincent said dryly as he walked up the hall.

“We’ll eventually sort that out too, cousin,” Bastien said quietly, and Vincent felt guilty for bellyaching. Bastien had set his scientists to work on finding a cure for his problem years ago. If there wasn't one yet, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

“Is it the blood?” Bastien asked as Vincent pulled the front door open.

“Umm…no,” he answered, his gaze running over the duo on the marble step before him. He’d never set eyes on such an unlikely pair. The woman was blond, the man a brunette. She was extremely short and curvy, he was a great behemoth of a man who stood well over six feet. She was dressed in a black business suit with a crisp white blouse underneath, he wore casual cords and a sweater in pale cream. They were a study in contrasts.

“Vincent Argeneau?” the woman asked.

When he nodded, she stuck out her hand. “I’m Jackie Morrisey and this is Tiny McGraw. I believe Bastien called you about us?”

Vincent stared at her hand, but -- rather than take it -- pushed the door closed and lifted the phone back to his ear as he turned away. “Bastien, she’s mortal!”

“Did you just slam the door in Jackie’s face?” Bastien asked with amazement. “I heard the slam, Vincent. Jesus! Don’t be so damned rude.”

Hello!” he said impatiently. “She’s mortal. Bad enough she’s female, but I need someone who knows about our special situation to deal with this problem. She--”

“Jackie does know,” Bastien said dryly. “Did you think I’d send you an uninitiated mortal? Have a little faith.” A sigh traveled down the phone line. “Look, her father started the Morrisey Detective Agency and did lots of work for us. She’s known about us since she was in her late teens and has always kept the secret. Jackie has run the company since her father’s death. She has a bit of an attitude when it comes to our kind, but is the best in the business. Now, open the goddamned door for the woman.”

“But she’s mortal and…a girl,” Vincent pointed out again, still not happy with the situation.

“I’m hanging up, Vincent.” Bastien hung up.

Vincent scowled at the phone and almost dialed him back, but then thought better of it and returned to the door. He needed help tracking down the saboteur out to ruin him. He’d give Ms. Morrisey and her giant a chance. If they sorted out the mess for him, fine. If not, he could hold it over Bastien’s head for centuries.

Grinning at the idea, Vincent reached for the doorknob.

###

“The nerve of the man!" Jackie scowled at the door that had just slammed shut in her face. She was exhausted after their long flight and this was the last welcome she'd expected after dropping everything to fly out here to help Vincent Argeneau.

"It isn't the warmest reception we've had," Tiny agreed, his voice as deep and powerful as mountains shifting.

Jackie snorted at the understatement, then glanced at the big man curiously as he moved sideways on the wide marble stoop under the portico at the entrance of the two-story mansion. She raised an eyebrow in question as he peered through one of the narrow windows on either side of the entrance, but was then distracted by the low murmur of a voice coming from the other side of the dark oak door.

Frowning, Jackie leaned forward and pressed an ear to the wood, trying to make out what Vincent Argeneau was saying. Her eyes narrowed and she began to fume on hearing the protest that she was mortal and a girl.

The door suddenly opened again and Jackie straightened abruptly. A blush tried to make its way up her face at being caught with her ear to the door and that just made her angrier. It put her on the offensive. Before he could say a word, she spat out the facts from the file she’d studied on the plane.

“You were born in 1592 to Victor and Marion Argeneau, both vampires -- or immortals as you prefer to be called. Marion was good friends with her sister-in-law Marguerite Argeneau and you were, in fact, born two months behind Marguerite’s son Bastien. The two of you spent a good deal of time together growing up and are as close as brothers. Your mother died in 1695, burnt at the stake while pregnant with what would have been your sibling. Your father has been reclusive since then, spending his time acting as an enforcer for the council. You see very little of him.

“You decided to become an actor when you met Shakespeare at ten. You’ve traveled the world, staying no more than ten years in each place before moving across the globe and starting again. You’ve been in California eight years, ten years in England before that, and before that, Russia, Spain, and France. You have shares in Argeneau Enterprises, but also own V.A. Inc., which has fingers in several pies. One of those pies is your own production company, which presently isn’t producing anything because a series of events you think are sabotage has forced you to shut down any and all productions.”

Jackie fell silent and took great satisfaction in the expression on Vincent Argeneau’s face. He looked staggered. It served him right. She was only here as a favor to Bastien. She had other cases she’d rather be working, but did this guy consider that? No, he slams the door in her face, then has the nerve to protest to Bastien about her being mortal and a girl. Jackie was used to people judging her on her sex and size. It annoyed her sometimes, but she could deal with it. However, she’d be damned if she was going to put up with prejudice against her species. She was human and proud of it. Some of these night feeders were too darned smug in her opinion. They slept all day, drank bagged blood at night, then acted all superior because they couldn’t catch the common cold and had perfect health.

That thought reminded Jackie of a point she’d left out.

“You inherited your father’s genetic disposition, which won’t allow you to feed off bagged blood like the rest of your kind. On a strict diet of bagged blood, you’d starve to death. You’re forced to hunt your meals and feed off living donors.” She arched her eyebrows and added, “Tiny and I aren’t on the menu. If you bite either of us, we’re on the next plane back to New York. Understood?”

Jackie didn’t wait for a response. Deciding she’d spent long enough on the doorstep, she moved past him into the house, aware that Tiny stayed directly on her heels.

“Your security here is nonexistent,” Jackie announced, glancing into each room she passed on her way up the hall. “Your front gate was wide open. We drove straight in. Anyone can.”

“My home security isn’t in question.” Vincent Argeneau sounded irritated, she noted, but otherwise, appeared recovered from his shock at her bullet like recitation of his life to date.

“It should be,” Jackie informed him, then pointed out, “Now that you’ve closed down your productions, your saboteur has lost his original target. He’ll be looking for another, and your home is the first place that comes to my mind.”

Jackie glanced back as she reached the end of the hall and wasn’t terribly surprised to see him peering worriedly toward the front door. She hadn’t heard the lock click into place when he’d closed it a moment ago. He moved back to lock it now and she smiled to herself as she pushed through the door into the kitchen.

Tiny waited just inside the room as Jackie walked around, opening and closing cupboards while she waited for Vincent to catch up. She was peering into his empty refrigerator when he hurried into the room.

“You have a lot of glass in this house,” she commented. “French doors, sliding glass doors and windows deluxe. Do you, at least, have a functioning security system on those?”

His hesitation was answer enough.

“What are you looking for?” Vincent asked instead of admitting he didn’t have an alarm system.

Jackie shrugged. “If Tiny and I are going to be staying here, I need to know what we need. As expected, you have nothing in the way of food in this house, not to mention dishes, silverware, or appliances,” she added dryly.

Closing the refrigerator door, she glanced at her assistant. “You’d better start making a list, Tiny. Just write Everything on it.”

“You’re staying here?” Vincent asked with horror.

“If you hadn’t closed down your productions, we would be renting somewhere and taking on positions on one of your plays as our cover while we nosed around. Since you have shut down all your plays and made yourself and your home the only available targets, we’ll have to stay here and choose a different cover.” She turned to peer at him. “I understand you don’t have a personal assistant?”

“No,” Vincent answered reluctantly.

“You do now,” Jackie informed him, she gestured to Tiny as she added, “You also have a cook/housekeeper.”

Vincent stared at her and then glanced to Tiny, who nodded solemnly.

Leaving him to absorb the changes that were about to overtake his life, Jackie headed for the kitchen door. “I’m going to make a few calls. I presume I can use the phone in your office?”

"Yes, of course." The words sounded almost automatic, he was looking bemused by all that was taking place.

“Do you want me to unload the luggage?” Tiny asked as she reached his side.

“Yes, please. And I’ll need my briefcase from the car, as well. After I make the phone calls, I’m going to go through the second-floor rooms. If I’m not in the office, you’ll find me upstairs.”

“Okay, boss,” Tiny murmured as he trailed her from the kitchen.

Vincent didn’t follow this time and Jackie let her shoulders relax a little as she walked back up the hall.

“You were kind of tough on him,” Tiny commented as they reached the door she’d spied the office through on the way in.

Jackie shrugged. “He needs a wakeup call. They get to a certain age and think they’re invulnerable. This place is a burglar’s dream. It’s luck alone that he hasn’t been robbed blind, or attacked…And now he has someone out to get him. We don’t have time to handle him with kid gloves. We have to secure this place quickly so we can concentrate on tracking down his saboteur.”

“And he was rude slamming the door in our face,” Tiny added dryly, bringing a smile to her lips. The giant rarely let her get away with lying to herself.

“Yeah,” Jackie admitted. “He was rude. And he doubted I can handle the job, and my pride was hurt, and I made sure he rethought that opinion.”

“You think he’s rethinking?” Tiny asked.

“I think he’s wishing he’d never called Bastien and asked for aid finding someone to help deal with this matter,” she said with a pleased grin.

“If he’s miserable then our work here is done,” Tiny said solemnly.

“I wish,” Jackie drawled, but was chuckling softly as Tiny left to go out to the car and she headed into the office. The giant man’s ability to jolly her out of any mood was priceless and she’d thanked God for it many times. Jackie suspected she was going to need it many, many times before this job was through.

Sighing, she dropped into the desk chair and stared at the phone. It was cordless, and now that she was here staring at the empty receiver, Jackie recalled that Vincent had been talking on the phone when he’d answered the door. He still had that phone.

Shaking her head, she stood again and started around the desk, pausing when Vincent Argeneau suddenly appeared, the cordless held up in his hand. After a hesitation, Jackie continued forward and reached for the phone, but he held onto it when she would have taken it.

“I apologize for my rudeness in slamming the door in your face. I’m afraid I’d just woken up and wasn’t on the ball, and -- from the information Bastien had given me -- I wasn’t expecting you for another half an hour.”

“Our flight caught a good tailwind. We landed early,” Jackie explained.

Vincent Argeneau nodded. “Well, I was startled to find you on the step, then even more startled that you were mortal. Bastien hadn’t warned me that it would be otherwise and I just assumed that it would be one of our own dealing with the situation.”

Jackie hesitated, then felt her shoulders relax and nodded slowly. “Apology accepted.”

“Good. Then perhaps we can start again.” He released the phone and held out his hand with a conciliatory smile. “Hello, my name is Vincent Argeneau. You must be the amazing Jackie Morrisey that my cousin Bastien has sent to save my bacon. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’d appreciate any help you can give me in this matter. Welcome to my home.”

Jackie automatically placed her hand in his, then blinked at the little frisson of awareness the contact caused. Startled, she quickly pulled her hand free. Her words came out fast and sharp as she said, “I’d like to have someone come out and set up a proper security system. It will run you a lot of money. If you have a problem with that…” Her voice trailed away as he nodded.

“If you think it’s necessary, by all means, arrange it. With that out of the way, perhaps you can concentrate on my saboteur. I realize now I’ve been lax about such things. I suppose I’m lucky I haven’t been robbed blind, or attacked. Thank you for the wakeup call.”

Jackie stiffened as she recognized her own words to Tiny moments ago, and suddenly recalled that Vincent's kind had exceptional hearing. They could also read minds, she reminded herself grimly. She’d have to be careful around him and try to keep her thoughts blank when he was near. It was a trick she’d learned years ago. His people could read minds, but – hopefully -- only if you were thinking something. Keep your thoughts blank, or recite some silly children’s rhyme over and over, and they were somewhat hampered. She’d have to remember that around this man.

“I’ll leave you to your phone calls and go shower and dress.”

His words drew Jackie’s attention to his bare chest and she blinked in surprise, wondering how she’d missed that earlier. The man was standing there, his dark hair sleep-tousled and wearing nothing but a pair of dark blue pajama bottoms. It left the wide, pale expanse of his chest on view. Jackie had been so angry with his behavior on answering the door, she hadn’t even noticed his state of undress. Or how handsome his chiseled face and silver-blue eyes were. Amazing, she thought with disbelief.

“Once you’re finished with the security people, I’ll take you and Tiny shopping for the things you’ll need in the kitchen during your stay,” he announced. “Now, if you’ll excuse me…”

Turning on his heel, Vincent Argeneau left the room. Jackie moved to the door and stared after him. Her gaze slid with interest over his muscular bare back and his behind in the pajama bottoms as he walked back to the stairs. Realizing what she was doing, she shook her head and turned away to move quickly back to the desk.

“Do not even go there,” Jackie reprimanded herself as she searched for a phone book to look up the numbers of local security firms. “The last thing you need is to start falling for a vamp. Been there, done that, and have the scars to prove it.”

“Talking to yourself already. That’s always a bad sign on a job.”

Jackie gave a start at Tiny’s words and glanced up to find him standing in the doorway, a large box in his hands. “What’s that?”

“A delivery from A.B.B. The delivery truck pulled up as I walked out to the car.”

“A.B.B.?” Jackie grimaced, knowing it would be blood Bastien had sent from the Argeneau Blood Bank for his mother to feed on while here. He’d warned her that Marguerite Argeneau was flying out to tend to Vincent whom she was sure was lonely and depressed as he contemplated his single status in comparison to his cousins, who were each finding their life mates. Jackie didn't think he seemed depressed, but then she hardly knew the man.

Tiny shifted, drawing her gaze back to the burden he held. She stared at the box that no doubt held a cooler full of bagged blood and decided this job was probably going to be a trial. They didn’t normally have to live in such close proximity to immortals and have their feeding habits in their faces. She didn't think she'd like it.

Sighing, Jackie found the listing of a security agency in the book, and began to dial the number on the cordless. “Put it in the kitchen and let him know it’s here. He'll want to put it away.”

Nodding, Tiny left the room as she waited for her call to be answered.

Two hours later, Allen Richmond of Richmond Security was rattling off all the improvements that had to be made, and the items that had to be installed, to make Vincent Argeneau’s house secure. With each point he mentioned, Jackie put a mental check mark beside each item on the list in her head. This was the third man who’d looked over the house in the last two hours, but the first who hadn’t missed anything. This was the company she would deal with.

“Can you do it today?” she asked when he finished.

“It’ll cost you,” the older man warned, running a hand over his short gray hair. “I'll have to bump another job, use equipment from another job as well. My men will have to work overtime and…” He paused to do some figures on the pad he’d been making notes on as they’d toured the house and property, then mentioned a figure that would have made most people pale. However, it was no more than she’d expected and Jackie glanced at Vincent, who had joined them for the end of the tour.

“Can you afford it?” she asked bluntly.

Vincent scowled as if offended, then growled, “Do it.”

Jackie turned to Allen and nodded. “Do it.”

“I’ll call the office and have the men and equipment out here within the hour.” Allen Richmond walked away toward his car, pulling a cell phone from his pocket as he went.

“Well…” Vincent frowned. “I guess that puts a spanner in the shopping plan.”

“I can keep an eye on the house while you and Jackie shop,” Tiny rumbled as he joined them under the portico.

Jackie frowned at the suggestion. The last thing she wanted to do was go shopping with Vincent Argeneau. Unfortunately, it was after four o’clock and heading for dinner time. They’d need food…and coffee. She lived off the black liquid and couldn’t go all night without. Giving in with a sigh, she said, “I’ll get my purse.”

“I should warn you, Jackie hates shopping,” Tiny informed Vincent as she headed into the house.

Jackie rolled her eyes at the understatement, but didn’t get the chance to comment. The telephone was ringing as she opened the door.

“I’ll get it.” Vincent was suddenly rushing past her toward the office.

Jackie followed him and grabbed her purse off the desk as he picked up the receiver and said hello. She’d turned to leave the office when he said, “What?” with such distress that she paused and turned back with concern.

The man looked both stunned and horrified.

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