Bitten by Cupid (Argeneau #13)

Chapter 2

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"This is just wrong on so many levels," Mirabeau muttered to herself, instinctively raising the long skirt of her bridesmaid's gown a little higher in an effort to keep it from trailing in the sludge surrounding her. Only Lucian Argeneau would even consider sending a woman into the sewers as an escape route and not warn her ahead of time so she could arrange for a suitable change of clothes.

A skittering sound alerted her to the fact that she wasn't alone. Knowing it was probably rats, Mirabeau instinctively jerked her skirts higher to prevent one of the little buggers from climbing the delicate cloth, but then just as quickly started to lower it as she realized the action left her stockinged legs bare for them to try to climb if they were brave enough. She caught herself before the gown dropped into the inch-deep sewage she stood in and stomped her feet instead to warn off her companions in the dark tunnel. There was no sudden skittering sound of the creatures fleeing up the tunnel; instead, the small sounds stopped altogether, and she knew the rats had frozen and were now no doubt staring at her, their beady little eyes wary or curious. This suggested they were used to and unafraid of humans down here.

"Great," Mirabeau muttered to herself, then stiffened and glanced upward as she heard sounds from the metal trapdoor she'd descended through from the church basement. She listened to the thump of someone dropping onto the cover above, and to the shuffling sound that followed before there was a second thump that was heavy enough to suggest twice or even three times the weight behind it. Mirabeau was frowning over that when a low grinding followed-the sound that of the trapdoor being unlocked.

She raised a hand to shield her eyes as a flashlight beam suddenly shot directly down into her face.

"Sorry." The word was a deep rumble as the flashlight beam was moved away from her.

Mirabeau was just fretting over the fact that she didn't recognize the speaker's voice when it sounded again, this time a quiet murmur that resembled distant thunder. She caught the soft words, "You go first. I'll pull the door closed and lock it behind us."

Those words obviously weren't directed at her and Mirabeau shifted her hand to see who was descending into the sewer to join her. She had only expected one person, her backup for this assignment, who was supposed to be bringing the package they were to deliver. She'd assumed her backup would be a male. There were few female enforcers in the northern states and Canada, and her usual partner, Eshe, wasn't available, so the fact that it was a female presently climbing carefully down the slick metal ladder to join her was definitely a surprise. Mirabeau watched the slim figure in a knee-length dress step off the ladder onto the concrete beside her, then glanced to the second person as he started down the ladder as well. Mirabeau had assumed the third person was merely there to close and lock the trapdoor behind them, but while the man pulled the door closed behind him, he too quickly scrambled down the ladder to join her.

Mirabeau automatically moved back to make more room for the large man. When he stepped onto the concrete and turned to face her, she found herself examining the two newcomers in the light thrown by the flashlight the man carried. He held it pointed down at the ground to prevent blinding her again, which she appreciated, but between her night vision and the flashlight, she could see them both as well as if they were out in sunlight.

The female definitely wasn't her backup, Mirabeau decided. She was little more than a girl and couldn't be more than fourteen or fifteen-a child to most people but a baby to someone who had passed more than four hundred and fifty years herself. The child was slender and flat-chested, with long blond hair pulled up on top of her head. The look merely emphasized the youthfulness of her features and her slender neck.

Mirabeau wondered briefly who she was and why she was there. She looked familiar, but Mirabeau couldn't place where she knew her from. She finally turned her attention to the man. The girl was immediately forgotten. Mirabeau had met a lot of men, both mortal and immortal in her life, but she had met very few who could measure up to this one. He was a good head taller than her own five-foot-ten-inch height. He was also handsome, with dark hair and the sort of rugged features she enjoyed. To add to that, the man was extremely wide, with shoulders a linebacker would envy. That wide chest tapered down to a narrower waist and-from the glimpse she'd gotten as he'd descended the ladder in his dress suit-quite the finest behind she'd seen on a man in a long time. The kind a gal could grasp and dig her nails into to urge him on as he-

"Oh, brother. Not you too."

Mirabeau blinked at the exasperated words from the teenager and turned to peer at her blankly. Not her too what?

"Not you," the girl said to her on a sigh, then encompassed both her and the male with a gesture. "Both of you. You're both standing there thinking about what it would be like to have sex with each other. You're as bad as my sister and Decker. They're always lusting after each other…or doing it." She sighed unhappily, then added, "It's pathetic…I swear I'm never having sex or finding a life mate if it's going to turn me into a slavering idiot like the rest of you."

Mirabeau simply stared at the girl, several thoughts striking her one after the other. First, she now knew who the girl was. The reference to a sister and Decker meant this was Stephanie McGill whose sister was Dani McGill, Decker Argeneau Pimms's life mate. The girl was a new turn, having been mortal until this last summer, when she'd been kidnapped by a rogue vampire. Every rogue hunter close enough to be of help had been called in to search for the girl, including Mirabeau and her partner Eshe. The kid had been found eventually, but not before the rogue, a no-fanger, had turned her. Fortunately, Stephanie had turned out Edantate rather than a no-fanger. While Edantates had the slight impediment of being unable to grow the fangs most immortals enjoyed, it wasn't a serious problem now that blood came bagged. No-fangers, however, had that impediment plus a distressing insanity that led them to perform horrible atrocities on the mortals they all depended on to survive. It was for that reason that no-fangers were always hunted down and killed.

Her second thought was that the kid had managed to read their thoughts. It wasn't surprising to her that Stephanie had read the man's thoughts since Mirabeau had already picked up on the fact that he was mortal. She couldn't have explained how. She'd simply sensed it. But it was rather startling that she'd been able to read Mirabeau, herself. She was the girl's elder by more than four centuries. Stephanie shouldn't have been able to read her thoughts, at least not if she'd been guarding them which, Mirabeau acknowledged, she might not have been doing. She would have to take care to do so, Mirabeau decided, her mind already moving on to the third thought.

While she'd stood pondering the mortal and noting his physical attributes, she'd been vaguely aware that he was doing the same in return. However, from what Stephanie had said, he had been standing there contemplating having sex with her, or lusting after her as the teenager had so charmingly put it. The thought made Mirabeau smile as she peered back at the man again.

After four and a half centuries, she'd been sexually active for a long time, but she'd found the urge to communicate on such a base level waning this last century. It was good to know she could still lust after a man, and it was always nice to know he lusted back. Perhaps after this assignment she could convince him to-

"Tiny McGraw."

Mirabeau's eyebrows rose at the name. It was one she'd heard a lot from Marguerite Argeneau. The woman had mentioned Tiny at least once every time Mirabeau had visited with her since the woman's return from California, where she'd first met the private detective. Frankly, Mirabeau had grown tired of hearing the name. That thought slid away as a hand suddenly appeared before her at waist level. She automatically placed her own in it, but her eyes widened when her much smaller hand disappeared inside the catcher's mitt-sized hand that closed warm and strong over her fingers. The man had huge hands, she noted silently, and instinctively glanced down to his feet to note that they too were extremely large.

Jesus, she thought faintly, the man must have a mammoth-

"Oh God! Stop before you make me puke," Stephanie gasped, then started making gagging sounds to the left of them.

Mirabeau closed her eyes, embarrassment briefly struggling with anger. Anger won out, and she snapped, "Then stay the hell out of my head."

"I'm not in your head. You're practically shrieking your thoughts at me," the girl shot back.

"Er…I'm guessing you're Mirabeau La Roche, and you two know each other. Or should I make introductions?" Tiny asked uncertainly.

Mirabeau sighed with disappointment at the sense of loss when he released her hand, but then forced herself to straighten and act like the enforcer she was. "Yes, I'm Mirabeau. But no, Stephanie and I have never met. I do know who she is, though. I've seen her around the enforcer house," Mirabeau explained. She then raised her eyebrows. "I gather you're my backup to deliver the package?"

"Yes, yes, he's your backup," Stephanie interrupted impatiently, then added, "And I'm the package. So can we get moving now? It really stinks down here."

Mirabeau turned narrowed eyes on the girl. She supposed she should have realized what the assignment was the moment she'd recognized the girl. However, she hadn't. Now she stared at her as the true horror of this situation sank in. She was to deliver Stephanie to Port Henry, which meant at least ten hours trapped in a vehicle with this rude, mouthy teenybopper. She should have cottoned onto that sooner. She'd overheard Lucian, Dani, and Decker talking about the girl's future at the enforcer house a couple of times. Lucian had insisted that the girl wouldn't be safe anywhere but at the house with the enforcers around to watch out for her. Dani had insisted that Stephanie be moved, that the girl was miserable there with nothing to do but think of all she'd lost. She needed to have friends, finish high school, and have as normal a life as possible.

Port Henry was obviously the solution they'd come up with. A small town in southern Ontario, it was relatively vampire friendly, with some of the townfolk knowing of their existence and a small group of immortals living there who could help look out for Stephanie. Mirabeau supposed it was the kid's best chance of a normal life. She just didn't understand why she and Tiny had been chosen to deliver her. Where were Decker and Dani? Were they not going to live there with her as well?

"Dani and Decker are going on a honeymoon," Stephanie informed her with a sigh, obviously still reading her thoughts.

"When did they get married?" Mirabeau asked with surprise. Decker was an enforcer, and-having to depend on each other for survival as they did-all the enforcers were a pretty tight group. If Decker had gotten married, she not only should have known about it, but she definitely should have been invited to the wedding and was insulted at the possibility that she hadn't been.

"No, they aren't married. This is a prewedding honeymoon. Once they get the worst of the 'new-mate hormones'-as Dani calls them-out of their systems, they'll plan the wedding and join me in Port Henry. Until then, that Elvi woman and Lucian's brother, Victor, are going to put me up and keep me safe."

Mirabeau peered at the girl, judging her expression. She didn't seem upset by this turn of events. Rather, there was an almost excited gleam in her eyes, and Mirabeau dipped briefly into the girl's mind to see that, to her way of thinking, she would be like a border in Elvi's bed-and-breakfast, and for all intents and purposes she would be free to do as she wished. The thought was heady stuff for a teenager, her first taste of freedom. Mirabeau decided it wasn't her place to disabuse the kid. She knew Elvi Black, now Argeneau, had lost a daughter of her own sometime ago and suspected the woman would mother the girl and get all in her business. She also knew without a doubt that Victor Argeneau was not going to leave the kid unsupervised. However, she didn't want a sulky Stephanie for the rest of this assignment so kept her mouth shut.

She also didn't believe for a moment that Dani McGill had abandoned her sister to travel around working off "new-mate hormones" with Decker. Mirabeau knew that Leonius Livius, the rogue no-fanger who had turned them, was interested in recapturing both sisters. That being the case, she suspected the "new-mate hormones" story had just been a cover to keep Stephanie from worrying about her sister. Mirabeau suspected Lucian had convinced Dani to be bait in a trap to try to catch the no-fanger, and Dani, desperate to see her sister safe, had agreed so long as the girl was somewhere safe and out of the way.

Recalling that Stephanie could read her mind, Mirabeau killed that thought as soon as it occurred, just as she had the thought that Elvi would be more a guardian than a landlady in Port Henry. While she pushed both thoughts aside quickly, Mirabeau did decide she would have to check into the possibility of a trap once this assignment was done and see if they needed help with it. Leo was a tricky bastard who had gotten away from them twice already. If she could help keep it from being three times, she was in.

The rustle of paper drew her attention to Tiny, to see he had pulled a notepad from his pocket and was now leafing through the pages. When he paused with a satisfied murmur, she moved closer and peered at the page he was shining the flashlight beam on. It was a hand-drawn map of the sewers, she saw, noting the church marked clearly on the page as the starting point and the veinlike blue lines running away from it. A path had been marked in red, and it looked pretty convoluted. It seemed Lucian was determined to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to follow them without being noticed. Some of the turns appeared to be close together, and others seemed to bend back the way they'd come. Anyone attempting to follow them would have to stick pretty close to keep from losing them.

She didn't know why Lucian had gone to all that trouble when he and the others were in the church registry office, where the secret passage leading to the basement and the entrance to the sewers was. But then it occurred to her that the wedding party couldn't linger in the registry office too long without drawing attention. If Leonius or one of his people had dared to sneak into the church for the ceremony, they might become suspicious at the long delay. They might start reading minds, or notice that Stephanie hadn't come out of the registry room.

While Lucian was unreadable to most, the entire wedding party had been in the room when Mirabeau entered to sign as a witness to the ceremony for Marguerite and Julius. The others had watched silently as Lucian had taken her arm once she'd finished signing and ushered her to the secret panel, explaining that her partner was in the second group of witnesses and would soon join her with the package. While some of the others in the wedding party were older and harder to read, an equal number were new turns, easily read whether they wished it or not. It wouldn't take long for someone to figure out where Stephanie McGill had disappeared to, she realized, and decided they had wasted enough time. They needed to get moving.

Tiny appeared to be thinking along the same lines, for he was already closing the notepad and slipping it back into his pocket. He shined his flashlight up the tunnel, saying, "We'd better get moving. We go this way past three offshoots and turn right at the fourth."

Mirabeau lifted her skirts a bit and nodded as she turned in the direction they were to head. "I'll lead. Stephanie, you're in the middle. Tiny will bring up the rear."

"Do you need the flashlight?" Tiny asked, then smiled wryly when she turned back to him. She guessed her eyes were glowing bronze in the darkness as they caught and reflected what light there was down there because he muttered, "Right. Of course not. Lead the way."

Deciding he was smart for a mortal, Mirabeau turned away and started up the tunnel, careful to keep her skirts out of the sewage surrounding them.

They walked in silence, Mirabeau leading them through two of the turns into offshoot tunnels before it occurred to her that if there was trouble, it was likely to come from behind and that perhaps leaving Tiny, who was mortal, to guard their back wasn't the smartest move. Aside from the fact that she thought it would be a shame for such a fine-looking mortal male to die, she figured Marguerite would be upset if she let it happen. Unfortunately, Mirabeau suspected Marguerite would be upset if she insulted the guy too. The woman was pretty fond of him. The problem was that mortal males could be so touchy about their manhood and appearing strong and capable. She was going to have to come up with a lie to get him to trade places with her.

When they had reached the third offshoot, Mirabeau paused and turned back.

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