Tiny had just raised his hand to knock on the door when a shriek rang out from the other side. The sound immediately had him dropping the bags of blood he carried to charge into the room. He'd taken several steps inside, his eyes quickly scanning the situation, before he came to a confused halt. He'd expected to find that one or more of Leonius's no-fangers had snuck into the church and was attacking someone, or, at the very least, a mouse that had startled someone, but there was neither. The room was filled with women, most of them in white, all peering at him with wide, startled eyes.
"Tiny?" The query was accompanied by a rustle of silk that drew his gaze to Marguerite Argeneau as she disengaged from the small cluster of women to his right. Tiny felt his eyes widen and his mouth drop as he caught sight of the Argeneau matriarch. The woman wore a long gown with a scooped neck, cinched waist, and a full skirt that belled out from her legs thanks to the tulle underneath. It was in every way a gorgeous, traditional wedding gown…except that it was a deep blood red color with black trim that made her look like a queen among her ladies-in-waiting dressed in white and pastel gowns. Tiny simply stared at her as she stood before him, his eyes caught by the full, pale breasts on display in the low-cut gown. It almost looked to him as if the dress was trying to push the round globes out of the neckline, as if their perfect presence somehow offended the rich material.
"Tiny?" Her voice was amused this time, and he forced himself to drag his fascinated gaze away from the escaping flesh to raise apologetic eyes to hers. Tiny offered a wry smile and sent out a silent apology he knew she would read, then cleared his throat and glanced around. "I heard someone scream."
"And thought the worst," Marguerite said with an understanding nod. She patted his arm soothingly. "All is well. It was a happy shriek, though with Jeanne Louise, it's sometimes hard to tell."
Marguerite's niece wrinkled her nose at her gentle teasing and excused herself by saying, "I'd just heard Leigh's good news. It took me completely by surprise."
As Jeanne Louise turned back to Leigh to give her a congratulatory hug, Tiny glanced questioningly at Marguerite, wondering what the good news was, but her attention was on the doorway behind him. "Is that for us?"
The question drew his gaze back to the open door and the bags that lay scattered on the hall floor. Much to his relief, none of them appeared to have been damaged by the fall.
"Oh, yes. Bastien asked me to bring them to you gals. I dropped them when I heard the scream," he admitted, turning to head back to the door. Marguerite followed, and when she knelt to help him collect them, he asked quietly, "What's Leigh's good news?"
"She's pregnant again," Marguerite said with a smile.
Tiny's eyebrows rose, and he started to smile as well, but the expression died as he recalled how crushed Leigh and Lucian had been when she had miscarried the first time. If she lost this one as well-
"She's more than three months along. This one should carry to term," Marguerite said reassuringly, proving she still had the bad habit of reading his mind. "They waited until she was past the dangerous stage to share the news. I think she was afraid that announcing it before then would jinx it."
Tiny nodded with understanding. From what he'd heard, the first miscarriage had been a terrible blow to the couple. He wasn't surprised they'd waited to announce this one.
"Tell her congratulations from me," he said quietly, as they straightened.
"Why don't you tell her yourself?" Marguerite suggested.
Tiny hesitated and glanced to the women, all gathered now at the far end of the room. Terri, Leigh, and Inez all wore traditional white wedding gowns in various styles. Jackie, Jeanne Louise, Lissianna, and Rachel, who were acting as bridesmaids, wore pastels-pink, aqua, and lavender. They all looked exquisite…which was the problem. They were gorgeous, and they could read his thoughts. Much as he hated to admit it, not all those thoughts were stellar. He was a man after all…and he didn't want to unintentionally insult any of the women with a stray thought that made its way up from his nether regions.
"Ah," Marguerite said with understanding, reading his thoughts as always. She patted his shoulder reassuringly. "It's all right. They are used to mortal men and their stray thoughts."
"But I'm not used to women being able to read mine," Tiny said dryly as he set the blood he'd collected on the table inside the door. "Tell Leigh congratulations for me and tell the others they look lovely."
"Very well," Marguerite said solemnly, but when he turned to retreat from the room, she followed him out into the hall. Knowing she had something else to say, Tiny paused and glanced back in question. Marguerite hesitated, then murmured, "After the recent trouble, it is nice to have so much to celebrate."
"Hmm." Tiny waited, knowing she had more to say.
Finally, she breathed out a little sigh, and simply asked, "You will be careful on this assignment?"
"Geez, Marguerite," he said with irritation. The woman was always treating him like a child who couldn't take care of himself. It was sweet but-
"I know you can take care of yourself, Tiny," she assured him quickly. "And if this were a normal assignment, I probably wouldn't even worry…much," she added wryly when his expression turned dubious. She then rushed on, "But this is no-fangers we are dealing with here and-"
"Hang on," Tiny interrupted suddenly as realization struck. "How do you know about this assignment? Lucian said it was top secret. We-" He snapped his mouth shut and grimaced as he realized she'd probably plucked it out of his thoughts. Which was probably why Lucian hadn't given him the full details of the assignment until just moments ago. The wedding was only moments away, and he was supposed to stay in the private rooms until it did, then slip to his seat. Lucian was hoping that would minimize the chance of the wrong person reading his thoughts.
"Actually, I didn't read your mind," Marguerite assured him quietly. "In fact, I'm the one who suggested you and Mirabeau when Lucian mentioned his plan to me."
"You suggested Mirabeau and I be given the job," he said slowly, a frisson of alarm sliding through him. Marguerite was well-known for her matchmaking, and the woman didn't do anything without a purpose. He suddenly wasn't feeling so good about this task he'd agreed to do for Lucian Argeneau.
Marguerite rolled her eyes. "Oh, don't look so alarmed."
"Marguerite," he said, the name rolling off his tongue in a low growl. "Everyone knows what happens when you put two people together."
"They find their life mates," she said with a satisfied smile, then rolled her eyes at his expression. "Please don't try to claim you wouldn't like to find a life mate."
Tiny frowned. He was mortal. Human. Non-vampire. And mortals as a rule didn't have life mates. At least he didn't think they did. Certainly the divorce rate among his fellow mortals didn't suggest such was the case. Only immortals had life mates, or what they called life mates. Perfect partners they couldn't read or control so they could live out their long lives in peace and passion.
However, mortals could be life mates to immortals. As for whether he'd like to be one…Tiny found his gaze sliding back into the room and to the women clustered inside, still smiling and chattering excitedly over Leigh's pregnancy. His gaze slid over all those beaming, very happy faces, then settled on Jackie, his boss and partner at the detective agency. She used to be mortal too, but she'd turned out to be Vincent Argeneau's life mate. Tiny hadn't seen much of the woman he considered one of his best friends since then. The two rarely came up for air, but he'd met them in Vegas and stood in for her deceased father to give her away at their Elvis-inspired wedding a month ago, and he knew she was deliriously happy. Both she and Vincent fairly glowed with their joy. Spending that time with them…It had been hard not to yearn for that kind of connection and happiness too. Spending time with any of the immortal couples would make it impossible for anyone not to yearn for that kind of connection. Still…
Tiny shifted his gaze back to Marguerite. "So you think this Mirabeau and I…?"
"Mirabeau La Roche." Marguerite nodded with a wide smile. "I think you shall suit each other perfectly."
Tiny arched a doubtful eyebrow at the words as he asked, "Isn't she the gal with the black-and-pink hair?"
"Normally yes." Marguerite nodded. "But not today. I told her no one would think anything of her hair here in New York, but she wanted a more traditional hairdo for the wedding. Besides, she didn't feel her hair went well with the peach gown she is to wear, so I took her to my hairdresser this morning to work her magic for the wedding."
"Hmm," Tiny murmured, his gaze sliding to the women in the room, but he was pretty sure he hadn't seen a peach gown.
"She's helping Elvi get dressed," Marguerite explained, gesturing to a closed door at the opposite side of the room. "You'll meet her soon enough, and when you do…" Marguerite hesitated, then sighed, and said, "Our Mirabeau is prickly. She has a lot of defenses. She lost her entire family to the greed and betrayal of a favorite uncle back during the Massacres of St. Bartholomew and finds it hard to trust and love. She's erected a lot of protective walls. You will need to be patient."
Tiny stared at Marguerite blankly. She seriously believed he would be a life mate to this Mirabeau. The idea was both exciting and scary as hell. His life would change forever. God. A life mate. It would mean his days as a bachelor were over…and he'd probably have to turn, become an immortal like Jackie had. He'd have to drink blood and…
"Breathe," Marguerite said softly, soothingly. "Do not panic. I may yet be wrong. Why do you not just wait and see? Meet Mirabeau, take care of the task Lucian has set the two of you, and allow nature to take its course."
Tiny felt his body inhale deeply, then blow out the air taken in, seeming to breathe out the stress and worry suddenly plaguing him along with it. His eyes narrowed on Marguerite. "You're controlling me," he said, his voice an accusing rumble.
"Just enough to calm you down," she said un-apologetically, then beamed at him. "I have great hopes for you and Mirabeau. And if all works out as I hope, I need never worry about losing you to age and time. You will be a member of my family forever."
Tiny's eyebrows rose slightly at the words, and he peered down at the top of her head, his hands automatically rising to pat her back as she suddenly hugged him. He said, "I take it Mirabeau is one of your strays then?"
"She has become like a member of our family over time," Marguerite corrected solemnly as she stepped back. "Thanks to her uncle, she had none of her own."
Tiny felt amused affection curve his lips. "So you adopted her into yours as you're wont to do with strays…" Marguerite grimaced at his use of the term strays, but before she could comment, he added solemnly, "But I'm not a stray, Marguerite. I have family…And I am very fond of them. I'm not sure I'd be willing to give them up."
Worry flickered briefly over Marguerite's face, but then she smiled. "All will work out. It always does."
"When you live as long as we do, it usually does," she assured him with a chuckle, and gave him a gentle push. "Go on. Check and see how the men are doing. The ceremony will be starting soon, and I'm sure Bastien is making himself and everyone else crazy trying to ride herd on all the details. He's had to arrange, cancel, and rearrange this wedding so many times, I don't think any of us thought it would ever happen."
Tiny smiled faintly at the words but merely nodded and turned to head up the hall. His smile died, however, once he'd turned the corner and was out of Marguerite's sight. His mind immediately played back their conversation as he tried to grasp the fact that she thought he would be a life mate to this Mirabeau gal he was supposed to be working with for the next couple of days. The idea both fascinated and scared the hell out of him. It also absorbed his complete attention so that he practically sleepwalked through the multiple wedding of various members of the Argeneau clan. It was almost a shock when Decker Argeneau Pimms suddenly tapped him on the shoulder, and said, "Our turn to sign," as he nodded toward the front of the church and the open door behind it, where Lucian Argeneau stood gesturing them forward.
The registry room behind the podium where they were to sign as witnesses to the unions was tiny, far too small for everyone to have fit in at once, so they'd decided to do the witnessing in shifts. Half the group went in to sign first, then they shuffled them out a side door while the other half entered from the podium door to do their own signing. It was how they were going to cover their disappearance from the celebrations that would follow. If Leonius Livius or any of his people were watching, they wouldn't immediately realize that anyone was missing from the party, and-hopefully-once they did, it would be too late.
"Ready?" Decker asked as he, his mate Dani, and her sister Stephanie stood up beside him.
Tiny stood at once and ushered the trio ahead of him toward Lucian. It was time to concentrate on the task at hand. His assignment was about to begin, and the chances were about fifty-fifty of its being either a walk in the park, or a dangerous, tension-filled job that ended in a bloodbath. Tiny was hoping for the walk in the park. He had no illusions about his chances against a no-fanger…and he was too young to die.READ MORE >>