Avon
March 2008
ISBN-10: 0-061-22977-6
ISBN-13: 978-0-061-22977-0


Argeneau Family Tree
Notte Family Tree

Audiobook
Dec 29, 2009
Order audiobook at Audible.com

IT WAS A CASE SHE COULD SINK HER TEETH INTO . . .

After seven hundred years of life, Marguerite Argeneau finally has a career. Well, the start of one, anyway. She’s training to be a private investigator, and her first assignment is to find an immortal’s mother. It seemed simple enough, until Marguerite wakes up one evening to find herself at the wrong end of a sword. Now she realizes she’s in way over her head.

Julius Notte wants to protect Marguerite, and not because someone just tried to take her head off. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s his lifemate and he’s determined to woo her. It’s been over five hundred years since he last courted a woman, but surely the techniques haven’t changed. Now if only he can keep her alive – so to speak – so they can have that happily-ever-after.


Chapter One

Marguerite wasn’t sure what woke her; a sound perhaps, or the crack of light from the bathroom being momentarily blocked, or maybe it was simply an instinct for survival that dragged her from sleep.  Whatever caused it, she was alert and tense when she blinked her eyes open and spotted the dark shape above her.  Someone stood at the side of the bed, looming like death.  That thought had barely formed in her mind when the dark shape used both hands to raise something overhead. Recognizing the action from her youth when broadswords and weapons of its ilk were more common, Marguerite reacted instinctively, rolling abruptly to the side as the assailant’s arms started their downward swing. 

She heard the weapon sing by her head just before tumbling off the bed.   Marguerite landed on the floor with a thump and a shout that became a frustrated curse as she found herself tangled in the sheets.  Glancing up, she saw her attacker jump onto the bed to follow and swing the sword again.  Marguerite promptly gave up on the sheets, snatched the lamp off the bedside table and swung it around to block the blow. 

Pain vibrated up her arm on impact, eliciting another shout and she turned her eyes away from the flying sparks as metal met metal.  Marguerite took a bare moment to be grateful that the Dorchester was a five star hotel with quality -- and fortunately metal based -- lamps that didn’t snap under a sword’s blow, and then felt the weight taken off the lamp and glanced back to see her attacker winding up for another blow.

“Marguerite?” 

Her shouts had apparently woken Tiny, she realized as he called out again, sounding closer.  Her attacker realized it too and tensed briefly, then – apparently deciding against taking on two of them – turned away and raced for the balcony doors.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Marguerite muttered, dropping the lamp and lunging to her feet to give chase.  She wasn’t the sort to allow someone to sneak up and attack her in her sleep, then run off to do so again another day.  Unfortunately, she’d forgotten about the sheets tangled around her legs, but was abruptly reminded of them when she crashed to the floor with her first step.

Gritting her teeth, Marguerite peered toward the balcony doors as the curtains were tugged open.  Sunlight immediately poured in, illuminating her attacker.  There wasn’t much to see.  The man was encased from head to toe in black; black boots, black pants, long sleeved black shirt and all of that covered by a black cape.  He also wore black gloves and even a black balaclava covering his face she saw as he turned to peer back at her.  Then he slid out onto the balcony, allowing the curtain to drop back into place as the connecting door between her room and Tiny’s slammed open.

“Marguerite?”

She swiveled her head to him, and then pointed toward the balcony doors, gasping, “He’s getting away!”

Tiny immediately charged across the room, rushing for the doors leading onto the terrace.  He wore nothing but a pair of gold, silk boxers with a big heart on the backside and the sight made her blink in surprise.  The moment he disappeared through the billowing curtains her surprise turned to concern.  She’d sent the unarmed, nearly naked man after her attacker—who had a sword. 

Cursing, Marguerite concentrated on the sheets wrapped around her legs.  They fell away easily now that she was no longer under threat, and made her mutter to herself with exasperation as she scrambled around the bed and hurried to the balcony doors.  She charged right into Tiny’s bare chest as he stepped back into the room.

“Careful.  It’s daylight,” he rumbled, catching her upper arms and moving her back away from the curtains.  Releasing her, he turned to close and lock the doors.

“Did you see him?  Where did he go?”  Marguerite asked, trying to peer around his large frame at the brightly lit terrace beyond as he pulled one of the heavy panels of cloth into place.  The action blocked out the worst of the sunlight and most of her view of the terrace.

“I didn’t see anyone.  Are you sure you weren’t dream--?”  Tiny paused mid-sentence as he glanced over his shoulder and caught a glimpse of her in the bit of sunlight still slipping between the gap in the curtains.

Marguerite raised an eyebrow in question at the sudden widening of his eyes.

“You’re hurt,” he said with a frown.  Letting go of the curtain, Tiny caught her by the chin and tipped her face up and to the side so he could get a better look at her neck.  He then cursed and released her chin, taking her by the arm instead to hurry her to the en suite bathroom. 

Marguerite glanced down at herself, trying to see where she was injured.  She couldn’t see a wound, but there was a line of blood dripping down her upper chest and soaking into the satin of the pale blue night gown she wore.  Frowning, she felt around on her throat until she found the nick in her neck.  Apparently the sword had caught her as she rolled away.

“Tell me what happened,” Tiny ordered as he flipped on the bathroom light.

“I woke up to find a man standing over the bed.  He had a sword.  I rolled off the bed as he swung it,” Marguerite said simply, her gaze shifting out toward the bedroom and the balcony doors through which the man had escaped.  Her adrenaline was still pumping and she now found she had itchy feet.  She wanted to be doing something to pursue the man who’d attacked her.

“Roll faster next time,” Tiny muttered, drawing her mind back to their conversation.  He’d been dampening a washcloth under the tap as he listened.  Now he turned and began to wash the blood away from her skin.  He scowled at the sight of the wound, and then said, “It isn’t too bad.  Not deep I don’t think.  Just a nick.”

“It will heal quickly,” Marguerite murmured, moving away from him and back into the bedroom.  She wasn’t used to being taken care of and wasn’t comfortable with it.  She was more used to being the caretaker.  Her feet took her to the curtained balcony doors and she shifted the cloth to peer out on the bright terrace.  There was no one there, and no rope or anything else to suggest how they’d got onto her balcony either. 

She scowled out at the skyline.  They were on the seventh and top floor.  Her attacker must have climbed down from the roof.

“He was aiming to cut off your head.”

Marguerite released the curtain and glanced around at that comment.  Tiny was at the side of the bed, examining the slice across the mattress right below her pillow…where her neck had been.  But then she’d known that.  She’d rolled to the side, managing to keep her head at the expense of a small nick to the neck. 

She shifted on her feet, her thoughts starting to take order in her head.  Her attacker had used a sword.  That told her he was definitely an immortal.  Mortals usually killed, or tried to kill, each other, with guns or knives.  If they were trying to kill an immortal they went for the classic stake.  Cutting off the head with a sword was the most efficient method of killing one of her kind, it was also usually the sign of another immortal.

“Do you have enemies here in England that you forgot to mention?”  Tiny asked suddenly, straightening from examining the bed to spear her with a frown.

Marguerite shook her head, her gaze sliding back to the damaged bed.  “It must be connected with this case.”

He raised a doubtful eyebrow.  “Why?  We haven’t found out anything yet.”

Marguerite grimaced, sharing the disgust he felt at their inability to unearth even a bit of information regarding Christian Notte’s birth or his mother.  That was the case they were on.  They were there to help Christian Notte, a 500 year-old immortal, find his birth mother.  It had sounded an easy task on first hearing it, but she was coming to realize it wouldn’t be.  A lot of time had passed since his birth, and he had little information he could offer them except that he’d learned that his father had been in England until shortly after Christian’s birth and had returned home to Italy with him barely two days old.

England being where the boy was born, that was where Tiny and Marguerite had gone in search of information.  Since arriving in England, they’d spent the last three weeks searching through dusty church archives across the country looking for mention of his birth or even of the name Notte.  They'd started in the southernmost part of the country, working their way north until they’d reached Berwick upon Tweed.  It was there that Tiny had finally suggested they meet up with Christian and question him again to see if there wasn’t some bit of information he could give them to help narrow the search to one area, or at least one half of the country.

Marguerite had promptly agreed.  She’d expected private detective work to be much more interesting than it was turning out to be and was seriously reconsidering her decision to become one.  But she’d promised to help Christian find out the identity of his mother and intended to do her best to accomplish that first.  They’d called Christian in Italy and made arrangements to meet him in London, then rented a car and driven south through the night, arriving at the hotel shortly before dawn to find that his flight had arrived several hours earlier and he’d already checked in.  They’d met briefly with Christian Notte, and his cousins Dante and Tommaso on arriving, but Tiny and Marguerite had both been exhausted from the long drive and it had nearly been sunrise so they’d merely made arrangements to meet at sunset to discuss the case, then had parted to go to their rooms. 

As it turned out, the two bedroom suite Marguerite and Tiny had been given was right next to the one Christian and his cousins were sharing.  It would make it convenient for meeting up at sunset.  Whoever was up and about first was simply to go to the suite of the other.  Marguerite suspected the men would end up coming here to the suite she and Tiny shared to wait for her in the living room.  Men were generally quicker about getting ready to face the day than women and she was a particularly slow starter.  Seven hundred years as a housewife had not prepared her for the rush to dress and eat to get herself off to work. 

Marguerite knew she was driving Tiny crazy with her slow sunset starts.  As a mortal, he tended to wake early in the day and so had been stuck with the worst of thumbing through the old archives.  He usually stopped when the offices closed and returned to whatever inn or hotel they were staying in to try to chivy her up and about, then they returned and Marguerite used her abilities to get them back into the now closed offices so they could both continue to search for any mention of Christian.  They hadn’t found a thing.

“No, we haven’t found out anything,” she agreed now, pursing her lips as she peered at Tiny and then added, “But I can’t think of any other reason someone would try to kill me.  Perhaps the very fact that we’re here and looking is enough to worry someone.”

Tiny didn’t look convinced.  He did look worried though so she wasn’t surprised when he suggested, “I think we should switch rooms.  Personal or business, someone tried to kill you and it seems prudent to switch rooms…possibly even hotels.”

Marguerite was frowning at the thought of having to dress and pack and move when Tiny suddenly added, “It was an immortal wasn’t it?”

Her startled eyes shot to him, though she knew she shouldn’t be surprised.  Tiny was the real private detective here.  She should have realized he would put it together.  She was a newbie at all this, but he was the expert.

Sighing, Marguerite ran a hand through her hair and nodded.  “Yes.  I am sure he was.  And yes we should switch hotels and even use a different name to check in under.  But not this morning,” she added firmly.  “I am sure he will not try again this day and I’m exhausted.”

Tiny frowned and hesitated.  “Did you leave your balcony door open?”

“No.”

He nodded.  “Was it locked?”

Marguerite hesitated and then shrugged.  “I did not open it for anything when I came in, so have no idea if it was locked or unlocked.”

Tiny frowned at her answer, and then announced, “You aren’t sleeping in here.  You can take my bed.”

“Well, you are not sleeping in here either,” she said firmly.

“No,” he agreed.  “I want to stick close to you until we move hotels.  Jackie, and Vincent, would never forgive me if I let you get killed under my nose.”

Marguerite smiled faintly at the mention of her nephew, Vincent Argeneau and his lifemate, Jackie Morrisey, who also happened to be the owner and President of the Morrisey Detective Agency, Tiny’s boss…and hers now too, she supposed.

“I’ll nap on the window seat in my room while you take the bed.”

“You will not get any sleep there,” Marguerite said with a laugh and gave up her position by the sliding glass doors to move to the door leading to the rest of the suite.  “You can sleep in the bed with me.”

“With you?” Tiny squawked as he trailed her through the suite of rooms.  He sounded rather shocked by the suggestion.

Marguerite glanced back and chuckled at his expression as she led the way into the second bedroom.  He looked positively horrified.  “Son, I’m old enough to be your great grandmother several times over.  You’re perfectly safe with me.”

“You don’t look like my great grandmother,” Tiny muttered as he closed the door. 

Marguerite didn’t respond.  Instead she simply settled herself in the large bed in his room, then slipped into his thoughts and soothed his worries and discomfort and directed him into the bed beside her.  She stayed in his thoughts long enough to ease him into an untroubled sleep, then slipped free with a little sigh, turned out the bedside lamp and scooted under the blankets to sleep.

A moment later her eyes popped open.  Marguerite found herself staring at the dark outline of the man in bed beside her as she realized that she’d just done to him, what she’d so resented her husband doing to her throughout their marriage.  She’d taken control of his mind and made him do what she’d thought was best rather than what he wished. 

Marguerite excused herself by telling herself it was late and they were both tired and he really would sleep better in the bed, but that didn’t ease the guilt she was feeling.  Tiny wasn’t the first mortal she’d controlled during her seven hundred years of life and normally she didn’t have any guilt over it, but it was usually just minor things meant to prevent their discovering anything about her people.  Tiny however was a friend and friends didn’t control friends.  Just as her husband, Jean Claude, shouldn’t have controlled her. 

Sighing, Marguerite sat up in bed, turned on the light once more, and nudged Tiny’s arm to wake him.  The earlier incident must have affected him as well, his eyes immediately shot open. 

“Wh—What’s happened?”  He peered around a bit wildly, then spotted her in the bed beside him and appeared confused.  “What?”

“I put you in bed so you would sleep comfortably, but then realized that it wasn’t right for me to control you.  So, if you really want to sleep on the window seat…”  She grimaced, but shrugged.

Tiny stared at her blankly, then slow anger crossed his face.  “You controlled me?”

Biting her lip, Marguerite nodded apologetically.  “I’m sorry.  I realized it was wrong, that’s why I woke you up.”

Tiny's anger slid away, leaving him deflated as his gaze slid to the window seat.  He didn’t look particularly eager to leave the bed, but sighed and started to shuffle out of it, pausing when he realized he was under the comforter, but on top of the sheet.

“I thought if you woke up before me it might make you feel better if you were on top of the sheet and I was under,” she explained when he glanced her way. 

Tiny relaxed and nodded.  “It does.  I guess it’s okay if we sleep like this.  But next time don’t control me.  We’re partners.  Equals.  I need to be able to trust you, but I can’t do that if you’re going to control me any time we disagree on what to do.”

“I won’t,” Marguerite promised.

Nodding, Tiny sighed and lay back in bed and Marguerite turned off the lamp and followed suit.  They lay there in silence for several moments, then Tiny sighed. 

“I can’t get back to sleep.  Do you think you could do that control thing and make me?”

Marguerite turned her head to peer at him through the dark with surprise.  “You want me to control you?”

“Just to put me to sleep,” he muttered.

The last of her guilt slipping away, Marguerite slipped into his thoughts and put him back to sleep then lay back with a small smile.  She liked Tiny.  He was a large, attractive man, and more importantly, he was a good man.  It was really a shame she could read and control him.  He would make a good lifemate for some lucky gal.

Perhaps she should see if she couldn’t find him a lifemate, Marguerite thought.  It would be nice for her nephew’s wife Jackie to have her friend with her in the future.  She knew the woman would be shattered when he died whether it was next week or some time in the far distant future when he’d reached his dotage.

Marguerite closed her eyes, her mind filling with immortal after immortal she knew that may suit Tiny.  He was a big, sweet man, a gentle giant.  He deserved a sweet, kind wife who would appreciate him as he deserved to be appreciated.  Maybe her daughter and niece’s friend, Mirabeau, she thought.

Nodding with satisfaction, Marguerite switched her thoughts to the matter of how to get the mortal to Canada to meet the woman.   She drifted off to sleep while still considering the matter.

***

Julius Notte peered down at the empty bed in the bit of light coming through the slight part in the curtains and frowned.  It wasn’t even 5 p.m., more than an hour from sunset.  Marguerite Argeneau should be snug in her bed, but wasn’t.  He knew he had the right room.  He hadn’t been sure which of the two rooms to try on entering the suite, but had tried the one to the right of the sitting room first.  The scent of a woman’s perfume; sweet and musky like fruit at harvest time assured him that this was her room.  And she’d obviously been sleeping here earlier, but now the room was empty. 

Scowling, he glanced over the mess around him in the bit of light, taking in the rumpled bed with its sheet and comforter trailing onto the floor, the broken lamp next to it, and the shattered glass that had been knocked from the bedside table. 

Concern replacing his annoyance, he glanced toward the door to the rest of the suite and retraced his steps, instinct sending him on through the living room, through a dining room and into a small hall with three doors leading from it.  The one to his left bore a keycard lock that told him it led into the hall.  The door on his right was open to reveal the glistening marble of a bathroom.  The door before him was closed and -- he was sure -- held the suite’s second bedroom.  It should be the room where the private detective, Tiny McGraw was staying, but when he inhaled he caught a faint whiff of that sweet and musky perfume.  Marguerite was in here, or had been at some point. 

Julius opened the door and moved silently inside.

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