"I can believe that." Pierce knelt down to greet his daughter.
Lucy stopped in front of him and removed her fingers from her mouth. "You're not Santa Claus."
"No. I'm your father." And she was the only child he and Maggie could ever have. Their undead status precluded any more. "I think you're a miracle."
"No, I'm Lucy."
With a grin, he hugged her.
"Did you come with Santa Claus?"
"No." He straightened. "I came with an angel." He pointed at Maggie on the couch who was watching with tears in her eyes.
Lucy wandered into the living room and stopped in front of Maggie. "You're pretty."
A tear ran down Maggie's face. "I think you're beautiful."
"I'm sleepy." Lucy climbed onto the couch and rested her head in Maggie's lap.
Maggie gently stroked the girl's hair. Pierce felt his heart expand. For the first time in his memory, everything was right. He was blessed.
"What a lovely picture you two make." Dorotea headed for the bookcase. "I should get the camera."
"No!" Pierce rushed toward the couch. Shit! If his mother had a 35 mm camera, he and Maggie wouldn't show up in it.
Maggie gave him a frantic look.
"The—uh, the flash might wake up Lucy," he grappled for an excuse.
"Yes." Maggie nodded. "Perhaps we can look at your old photos? Maybe it'll jog Pierce's memory."
"Good idea!" Dorotea grabbed a photo album from the bookcase.
Pierce exhaled with relief and sat next to Maggie.
Dorotea perched on the sofa arm and thumbed through the photo album. "Ah, here's one of my favorites." She lifted the album so Pierce and Maggie could see. "Halloween. Rosalinda was a princess. Patrick was Robin, and Pierce was Batman."
Maggie slanted an amused glance at Pierce. "A black cape?"
"Yes." Dorotea smiled. "Pierce was always fond of capes."
Maggie grinned. "How interesting."
Pierce wondered if somehow his subconscious had held on to certain things. Like capes. And a natural preference for short women with dark hair. Like his mother and Maggie.
Patrick wandered over to look at the picture. "I remember those costumes. We used to wear them when we played in the cave. Pierce would say, 'To the bat cave, Robin.' "
Dorotea scoffed. "And the two of you would come home stinking of bat guano. You ruined those costumes." She flipped pages in the album till she located another picture. "Here they are the next year. Patrick was Spiderman, and Pierce was Zorro."
Maggie laughed. "Another black cape?"
Dorotea continued through the album. "Most of these are Pierce with his horses. He was winning medals by the age of ten. Then in high school, he discovered another passion."
Maggie's grin faded. "You mean girls?"
"Oh, no," Dorotea chuckled. "He was shy around the girls. It was the marching band he loved. And music."
Pierce blinked with surprise. "I know how to play an instrument?"
"Of course." Dorotea tipped the album toward them. "Here he is in his band uniform. Doesn't he look handsome?"
"Very handsome." Maggie leaned closer. "Sweet Mary, you're holding a trumpet."
A trumpet? Pierce exchanged a surprised look with Maggie. No wonder Don Orlando had played the trumpet in a mariachi band.
Dorotea continued to show them photos while Lucy slept soundly, cuddled up to Maggie.
"It's getting late," Maggie whispered, then projected her thoughts into his head. We could teleport to Dallas, but that would be hard to explain to your family.
You're right. He glanced at the clock. Five-fifteen. "Maggie and I are tired from our journey. Is there a place we can sleep? A dark place with no windows?"
"No windows?" Dorotea closed the photo album on her lap.
"There's a bed in the basement," Aunt Betty offered. "But only one." She pursed her lips in disapproval.
"There are a few windows in the basement." Dorotea returned the albums to the bookcase. "But they're very small. I'm sure they won't bother you."
"I—I have a skin condition," Maggie explained. "Any exposure to sunlight would be very painful."
Betty snorted. "I thought you looked too pale. In fact, both of you look too pale. A little sun would do you good."
Pierce winced. "This may sound strange, but we both have an illness that requires a lot of rest and complete darkness."
Betty scoffed. "Sounds like hanky-panky to me." Patrick chuckled. "There's always the cave."
"Don't be silly," Dorotea fussed. "There are a million bats in that cave. And mounds of stinky bat guano." Patrick nodded. "With our luck, one of those bats would bite them."
Dorotea's face lit up. "The storm cellar! It's very dark."
"That sounds good." Pierce stood. "Where is it?"
"Close to the garage. It's where we go if there's a tornado warning." Dorotea wrinkled her nose. "But it's not a fit place to sleep. There's no electricity or heat."
"It'll be fine," Maggie insisted. "Thank you." Pierce gently lifted Lucy's head so that Maggie could get up. He slid a pillow under Lucy's head and kissed her brow. "See you tomorrow night, little one."
Dorotea shook her head. "This is terrible. How can we let you sleep in that cold hole in the ground when we have perfectly good beds in the house?"
Aunt Betty harrumphed. "I doubt they'll be cold."
"We'll be fine, Mother," Pierce assured her. "We really do need total darkness. And we need to sleep all day tomorrow undisturbed."
"All day?" Dorotea asked. "But tomorrow's Christmas. You should watch Lucy open her presents. And dinner will be at three in the afternoon."
Pierce gave Maggie a worried look. "We're… very tired."
Aunt Betty snorted.
"I'm serious," Pierce insisted. "I want your word that none of you will enter the storm cellar until after sunset."
Dorotea ran a hand through her graying black hair. "Very well. We'll have Christmas dinner at seven in the evening."
"Thank you." Pierce kissed his mother's cheek. "Now, take us to the storm cellar."
Maggie stopped by the SUV while Pierce and his mom went to the storm cellar. She stuffed two bottles from the ice chest into her tote bag. She knew Ian and the Dallas coven would be worried, so she called Ian on her cell phone.
"Don't worry about locating Lucy. She's here." Maggie spotted Patrick watching her from the bay window. "There's something weird going on here."
"Like what?" Ian's voice sharpened.
"I don't know. Can you check the local papers for anything like a strange creature on the loose?" She turned toward the SUV just in time to see a furry animal jump out from behind a rear wheel. "Sweet Mary!" Maggie retreated with a gasp.
"What is it?" Ian demanded. "Is it the bloody creature?"
Maggie pressed a hand to her chest. "No, it's a rabbit."
The rabbit hopped toward her, wriggling its nose and studying her with big brown eyes.
"Ye frightened me over a wee bunny?" Ian asked. "I was ready to teleport there and slay a vicious monster."
Maggie laughed. "It startled me." She stepped toward the bunny, but it scampered to the house and wedged through some broken latticework underneath the front steps.
The house was in need of repair, and Maggie knew Pierce would be determined to help his family. But she wanted to help, too. She wanted to belong here like he did. Dorotea had welcomed her, but Pierce was the one who needed to ask her to stay. And all he'd done so far was offer to take her back to Dallas.
She needed to prove her worth, and an idea had occurred to her in the house. "Ian, can you check the price on bat guano?"
"Yes. Let me know tomorrow night." She hung up and hurried to the storm cellar. A howl in the distance made her shiver. No wonder the bunny went into hiding.
Dorotea was standing by the hatch and gave Maggie a hug. "Are you sure about this?"
"Yes. We'll be fine." Maggie swung her tote bag onto her shoulder and stepped onto the ladder. Below, Pierce lit her way with a flashlight. Halfway down, Dorotea closed the hatch.
"Alone at last." Pierce set the flashlight on a shelf.
Maggie set her tote bag on the cold linoleum floor and removed the bottles of blood. "I brought us a snack."
"Great." Pierce opened a bottle and drank. "You're the best, Maggie." He set his bottle on the shelf next to the flashlight and began unrolling the sleeping bags.
Did he really believe she was the best? If he did, why didn't he proclaim his love and ask her to marry him? No, he just squatted there on the floor, unzipping sleeping bags.
Oh well, it was late. She could already feel a slight tug from the death-sleep. He was right to get things ready.
She looked around the small cellar. Along one wall, there were shelves filled with jugs of water. On the opposite wall, a unit of shelves jutted out to provide a small space behind it. The shelves were filled with canned goods and supplies.
She slipped behind the shelving unit and removed her pajamas from the tote bag. They were damp from the cold bottles she'd stashed there. She wrinkled her nose. If she had any nerve at all, she'd prance out from behind these shelves completely nude and show Pierce she really was the best.
She groaned inwardly. She knew nothing about seduction. Her one encounter with seduction had been over a century ago when a male vampire had used mind control to steal her blood, her virginity, and finally, her mortality. He'd been gentle enough, but still, he'd controlled her. He'd made her think it was pleasurable, but the next night, when she awoke, she was undead and appalled. It hadn't seemed so pleasurable then.
Over the next hundred years, she'd engaged in psychic vampire sex a few times, but she'd never wanted to make love again in the physical way. She'd never wanted to risk that sort of emotional vulnerability with a man. Until now.
She quickly undressed and slid on the damp pajama bottoms. What if Pierce rejected her? He was always thanking her, but she wanted his love, not his gratitude. He also referred to her as an angel. Did that mean he didn't desire her as a woman?
She felt another pull from death-sleep. If she was going to seduce him, she'd better do it quick. She slipped on her pajama top and peered through two huge cans of baked beans to see what he was doing.
He was sitting on the sleeping bags, watching her.
She gasped, her old-fashioned upbringing reappearing. "How dare you!"
He grinned. "Don't worry. There's a big box of toilet paper in the way, and I completely missed the good parts."
Maggie's heart raced. He was interested in her as a woman. She eased out from behind the shelving unit.
His gaze drifted over her. "You look beautiful, Maggie."
"In flannel pajamas?" She smoothed her hand over a damp patch. "They're a little wet."
"Then you should take them off so you don't catch cold."
She snorted. "Now that sounds too much like Don Orlando."
Pierce shook his head. "Don Orlando is gone." He stood. "There's just you and me."
Her heart beat faster. She looked down at the floor and saw what he'd done. He'd opened all the sleeping bags and stacked them flat on each other to create one mattress. Two pillows rested at the head, and blankets at the foot.
A wave of heat poured lazily through her. "Are you planning to seduce me?"
"Yes." He unzipped his jeans and dropped them to the floor. "I know you deserve better, Maggie. You deserve the finest suite at the Plaza or the Ritz."
"I'm okay." More than okay. She watched his muscles bunch and ripple when he yanked his T-shirt over his head.
"And you deserve better than a poor cowboy who apparently has a strange family."
"I like your family." Her breath caught when she spotted the huge bulge in his cotton briefs. Sweet Mary and Joseph, he wasn't thinking of her as an angel now.
He stuck his thumbs in the elastic waistband and tugged the briefs down slowly. "I don't mean to rush you, darling, but we don't have much time before the death-sleep takes us."
She licked her lips. Yes, she wanted him, but what about love? Why couldn't he say what she needed to hear? She turned away just as his briefs hit the floor. "Do you love me?"
"God, yes." He grabbed her and turned her to face him. "I have always loved you, Maggie. I loved you as Don Orlando. And I adore you as Pierce. I don't know how I could face eternity without you. Hell, I couldn't face one night without you."
"Oh, Pierce." She cradled his face in her hands. "You had me with 'God, yes.' And I love you so much."
His mouth came down on hers with a hunger that took her breath away and melted her knees. Before she knew it, they were stretched out on the makeshift mattress, and Pierce was covering her face and neck with kisses. She smoothed her hands down his back, loving the heat of his skin and the bulge of his muscles.
"We have to hurry." He unbuttoned her pajama top.
"So beautiful." He took a nipple into his mouth.
It was beautiful. Maggie had never realized how beautiful real love-making could be. She could hardly breathe. Hardly think. Her skin burned wherever he touched her. And heat, demanding heat sizzled between her legs. "Hurry."