Avon
February 2008
ISBN-10: 0-061-22969-5
ISBN-13: 978-0-061-22969-5


Argeneau Family Tree
Notte Family Tree

Audiobook
Dec 8, 2009
Order audiobook at Audible.com

VAMPIRES DON’T EXIST . . . DO THEY?

Inez Urso is beginning to have her doubts. Her business associate Thomas Argeneau has some interesting traits, like an allergic reaction to the sun, excellent night vision, and not much of an appetite for food. And to top it all off, he just tried to bite her neck . . . but maybe that was a sign of passion. If so, she’d be happy to experience more, despite her determination not to mix business with pleasure.

HE’S BEEN WAITING FOREVER FOR A WOMAN LIKE HER . . .

Well, if not forever, at least two hundred years. Inez is the most beautiful woman he’s seen in centuries. Those luscious lips, seductive curves, and her elegant neck . . . he just couldn’t resist the temptation of one little bite. Now Thomas will do anything to convince her that only an immortal like him can satisfy her all night long . . .

Prologue

“You’ll be flying over in one of the company jets. It should be ready and waiting by the time we get to the airport.”

Thomas Argeneau nodded, but his attention was on the clothes he was ripping from hangers in his walk-in closet and shoving into his knapsack.

Etienne watched briefly and then burst out, “Why hasn’t Mother called?”

Unable to answer the question, Thomas grimaced and shook his head. He found the whole situation upsetting. After seven hundred years as a housekeeper, Marguerite Argeneau had decided to start a career. But she hadn’t eased her way into the workforce with a secretarial job or some other mundane career. Instead, she’d decided she wanted to be the next Sam Spade, or Samantha Spade as the case may be. The woman, who had rarely left her home before this, had taken on a job as a private detective and flown off to Europe to locate the mother of a five-hundred-year-old vampire.

While Thomas understood her desire to have a career to fill her time, he wished she’d chosen something a little less exotic, and preferably one that could have been done at home in Canada.

“She called every evening for the first three weeks; sometimes twice in a night. And then, bang, nothing at all. Something must have happened,” Etienne muttered.

Thomas glanced over his shoulder, noting that his fair-haired, usually mellow cousin was anything but mellow now. Etienne was pacing behind him in the small walk-in closet, his face marred by lines of concern. It was an emotion the entire family was presently suffering. Marguerite Argeneau had been out of contact for three days now. Normally, that wouldn't be cause for concern, but Lissianna, her only daughter, was in the last month of her first pregnancy. That was why Marguerite had been checking in so regularly. Everyone knew she’d intended to drop everything and fly home at the first sign that Lissianna was going into labor, which made this sudden silence very disturbing.

“Thomas.” Etienne stopped pacing and suddenly touched his arm. “I really appreciate your flying over to check on her like this . . . and so does the rest of the family.”

“I care about her too,” Thomas said with a stiff shrug and then turned back to his packing, knowing he’d just spoken the biggest understatement of his life. Biologically, Marguerite Argeneau might only be his aunt, but she’d raised him and was the only mother Thomas had ever known. He loved her as much as her daughter and sons did.

“I wish I could come with you,” Etienne added fretfully, beginning to pace again. “If I didn’t have this deadline . . .”

Thomas didn’t comment. He knew Etienne, as well as the rest of the family, wanted to go and look for the missing woman as much as he; they simply weren’t able to on such short notice. However, he also knew they were making arrangements to follow as soon as they could. Thomas was sincerely hoping that wouldn’t be necessary. He hoped to arrive and find her alive and well and with some silly, simple explanation for the lack of phone calls.

The sudden electronic ring of a phone made both men pause. Thomas watched Etienne slide a cell phone from his pocket and place it to his ear. His hello was followed by silence as he listened, and then he said, “Okay,” and put the phone away.

“That was Bastien,” Etienne announced. “He’s managed to book you a room at the Dorchester Hotel in London. It’s where Mother was staying before she disappeared.”

“London?” Thomas asked with a frown. “I thought Aunt Marguerite and Tiny were in Italy. The case they’re working is for some guy from Italy. Nocci or something.”

“Notte,” Etienne corrected, pronouncing the name No-tay. “And he is Italian. At least on his father’s side, but apparently he was born in England so that’s where Marguerite and Tiny started their search.” When Thomas merely stared at him doubtfully, he added, “Bastien arranged the plane for Mom and Tiny and he says they went to England.”

“So, she’s in England not Italy,” Thomas muttered and began dragging out the white linen pants he’d been stuffing in the knapsack, replacing them with jeans and a couple long-sleeved shirts to go with the packed T-shirts. It was early fall, the evenings would be cooler in England.

Once he’d stuffed as many clothes into the bag as he could, Thomas shifted the bulging knapsack past his cousin, and hurried out of the walk-in closet.

“Has Bastien heard from Jackie? Has she heard from Tiny?” Thomas asked, hurrying to the dresser drawers to find socks and underwear. Jackie Morrisey was the owner of the Morrisey Detective Agency, and Tiny and Marguerite’s boss. She was also the lifemate of his cousin Vincent.

Etienne grunted in the negative as he followed. “He still can’t reach Jackie. She and Vincent are in the wind. They’re probably locked up in a secluded cottage somewhere enjoying each other. I know, Rachel and I didn’t leave the house for several weeks after we finally got together.”

Thomas nodded as he crammed socks into the bag. He’d watched as each of his cousins found their lifemates and every one had disappeared for weeks afterward . . . all except Bastien. The head of Argeneau Enterprises hadn’t felt he could take the time away from the family company. In truth, he might as well have. The man had been working at half his usual efficiency ever since his lifemate, Terri, returned to him. While the others had disappeared for a month or so and returned able to at least hold an entire conversation again without having to rush out of the room to be alone with their lifemate, Bastien’s not taking the time to get it out of his system had just seemed to drag out the length of time during which he was easily distracted.

Thomas gave up trying to cram any more into his bag and began to zip it up. Finally admitting it was too full, he grimaced and pulled out the underwear he’d stuffed in, deciding he’d just have to go commando until he bought more in England.

“Greg tried to call mother at the Dorchester when Lissianna started having labor pains, only to be told that she’d checked out,” Etienne said unhappily.

Thomas nodded as he slowly managed to work the zipper closed. Lissianna’s lifemate had already told the family that when they arrived at the house en masse to keep him company while Lissianna gave birth to their beautiful baby girl. Their kind couldn’t go to the hospital and risk having their otherness revealed. Most immortals gave birth at home with only an immortal midwife to aid them, but Lissianna had asked Etienne’s wife, Rachel, to attend her. The woman might work in the local morgue, but she was also a doctor and had done a fine job of bringing the latest Argeneau into the world.

“Disappearing like this just isn’t like her,” Thomas said with a sigh as he finally got the zipper closed.

“No,” Etienne agreed. “Especially when she knew Lissianna was so close to giving birth. She made me promise to call if there was any sign that the baby was coming.”

“She made me give her the same promise,” Thomas admitted. “I suspect she made every one of us promise that.”

They both fell silent, contemplating what could possibly keep Marguerite Argeneau from contacting her family, or at least calling to check on her daughter. The answer was simple; death or physically not being able to call were the only things that could have kept her from doing so.

Pushing that thought away, Thomas swung the knapsack over his shoulder, snatched up the binder lying on the bedside table, and headed for the door.

“Are you composing something?” Etienne asked curiously, following him out of the room.

The question made Thomas’s hand tighten on his binder. He’d grown up in a home filled with music. Aunt Marguerite had loved all forms of music and had ingrained that same love in him as well. He had very fond memories of falling asleep as a boy to the sweet sound of her playing various piano concertos. When he’d expressed an interest, she’d taught him to play piano and guitar. He’d gone on to learn several other instruments since then.

Thomas was fourteen when he’d started his first clumsy attempts to write music. Unfortunately, Jean Claude hadn’t appreciated music and had belittled his attempts. It hadn’t taken long for Thomas to decide to keep his efforts a secret to save himself the heart ache of the old bastard’s taunts. Afraid his male cousins would take his efforts no better, Thomas had kept what he was doing a secret from them as well. Aunt Marguerite, Lissianna, and Jeanne Louise had always known, however, and praised him when the music he wrote began to get published and gain popularity back in the late eighteenth century. They’d been very upset at his insistence on publishing the music anonymously and keeping the knowledge of what he did from the others. But they’d honored his wishes. Or he’d thought they had, but now . . .

“Which one told you? Lissianna or Jeanne Louise?” he asked grimly. He’d sworn both women to secrecy over his career and didn’t appreciate their breaking the promise.

“Neither,” Etienne answered. “Mother told me.”

Surprise made Thomas stop walking and peer around.

“You didn’t think you could keep what you were doing a secret from her, did you?” Etienne asked with a laugh, and then added dryly, “She reads all our minds and knows everything about all of us.”

Thomas grimaced, but said, “I knew she knew. Who do you think taught me to read and write music? I’m just surprised she told you. Bastien and Lucern don’t know, do they?”

Etienne shook his head. “Your reputation as a useless loafer is safe from them, cousin. As far as I know she hasn’t told them a thing about it. In fact, she made me promise not to tell them either. She said you’d tell them when you were ready.”

“Hmm.” Thomas nodded with relief at this news, but then said, “It makes one wonder why she told you.”

“It was an accident actually. She caught me humming “Highland Mary” back when it was popular and said it was her favorite of your musical compositions to date. Of course, I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about and made her explain it, but then she swore me to secrecy.”

“And you’re breaking that promise now?” Thomas asked with amusement. “Why?”

“I didn’t realize how long I’d have to keep the secret. It was almost two hundred years ago, cousin, and you’re showing no signs of revealing that you’re a musical composer any time soon.” He shrugged and then asked curiously, “Why are you keeping it a secret?”

Thomas continued up the hall, muttering, “It isn’t secret to everyone. Besides, Bastien and Lucern would just think it was a ‘cute little hobby’ and tell me to put away such childish efforts and go to work at the family business.”

“That sounds like something Father would have said,” Etienne commented quietly.

Thomas merely shrugged. It was something Jean Claude Argeneau had said, and it had hurt enough at the time that he wasn’t interested in hearing it again from Bastien and Lucern.

“There you are.” Rachel smiled at the pair as they joined her in the apartment’s large living room. “Thomas, is this your mother?”

His gaze slid past her to the portrait over the fireplace and he nodded slowly. Althea Argeneau had been a beautiful woman, but he had no memory of her. Marguerite had presented the painted portrait to him on the day he’d moved out of her home and into his own. The painting was the only connection he had to the woman who had given him life. His gaze now slid to the portrait on the opposite wall. It was of his Aunt Marguerite and he hoped to God it wasn’t now his only connection to the woman who had raised him. He had to find her alive and well.

“So . . . is she any closer to being able to have that next baby yet?” Rachel asked with amusement, drawing his attention back to the portrait of his long-dead mother.

When he peered at it and then turned a blank gaze to Rachel, Etienne reminded him, “The first time you met Rachel was at the Night Club. She thought you were younger than Jeanne Louise. You told her she was wrong and then said your mom had wanted more children but had to wait another ten years or so because of the hundred-year rule.”

“Oh.” Thomas smiled wryly as he recalled the conversation in question. The comment had been a throwaway line one would give to a stranger. He’d hardly wanted to explain about his family tragedies to her then, that there was no “mom” and Jeanne Louise was only his half sister by his father’s third marriage.

The fact was Thomas’s father seemed to be cursed when it came to wives. They just kept dying on him, a difficult occurrence since they had all been immortals. In response, the man had grown bitter and angry over the centuries, shunning any real contact with his son or daughter. It was a sore subject for Thomas, and one he preferred to avoid, which was why he’d made that comment at the time rather than explain that Jeanne Louise was only his half sister and that Marguerite Argeneau was the only mother either of them had known.

However, it looked like he’d now have to explain himself. “I--”

“It’s all right, Etienne told me the story after we were married,” Rachel interrupted quietly and then crossed the room to run a hand soothingly over his arm. “I was just teasing. I’m sorry if I brought up bad memories.”

Thomas shrugged the matter away as if it weren’t important and then turned to lead the way to the door. “We should get moving. The sooner you drop me at the airport, the sooner I’ll get to London, find Aunt Marguerite, and set everyone’s minds to rest.”

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