Bitten by Cupid (Argeneau #13)

Chapter 4

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Mirabeau paused when Stephanie did and glanced expectantly toward Tiny. He had the map out again and was peering at it, running his flashlight around the area, then peering at the map again, his eyebrows drawing together in a way that made her uneasy. Eager to keep moving and get the hell out of the endless tunnels, she shifted impatiently, then grimaced as her skirt shifted with her. The damned thing was drying and attaching itself to her as it did. So were her panties…and it was damned uncomfortable.

"What is it?" she asked finally, as Tiny repeated the map-checking and area-scanning deal again. She moved around Stephanie to his side to peer at the map.

"I think we took a wrong turn."

"What?" she gasped with disbelief, her eyes scanning the map. Much to her relief there was a tunnel offshoot on the map just as there was here in the tunnel. Relieved, she said, "No. It was two offshoots after the last turn, then this one we take. We passed two offshoots since the last turn, so we take this one."

"Yes," Tiny agreed patiently, then pointed out, "But according to the map there should be another offshoot across from this one and-" He raised the flashlight to shine it over the wall opposite. "No offshoot."

Mirabeau stared blankly at the solid wall, then at the map, but it didn't suddenly change. Cursing, she took the map from him and, using her finger, silently backtracked on it, counting off the offshoots they'd passed between each one they'd taken, trying to see where they had made a wrong turn. She retraced their steps all the way back to where she'd been grabbed and fallen.

"Crap," she breathed unhappily as she stared at the map.

"What?" Tiny asked, leaning close to peer at the map as well.

"Everything seems fine," she said quietly. "From what I can tell, we took the right turns according to the map. The only thing I can think is…" Mirabeau fell silent and simply pointed to the two tunnels side by side.

"That was back near the beginning, the third turn," Tiny murmured thoughtfully, looking at where she pointed, then he straightened slightly. "That's where that guy-"

"Yes," Mirabeau interrupted on a sigh. "I'm thinking we may have taken the wrong tunnel. If they're right next to each other, we might have gotten a bit turned around after the attack."

Tiny cursed and glanced back the way they'd come. Then he sighed, and said, "We'll have to backtrack. See if that's where we-"

"But that was hours ago," Stephanie protested, moving up beside them to peer at the map as well. "Look, it's practically all the way back at the beginning. I am not slogging back through these tunnels just to start over again. Besides, what if you're wrong, and we just counted off wrong at one of the other turns?"

"We didn't count off wrong," Mirabeau said quietly. "We've both been counting. It has to be that we took the wrong tunnel at that stop."

"Well, then, maybe the map is wrong," Stephanie argued desperately. "People make mistakes, even Lucian must make mistakes once in a while." Her desperation turning to rebellion, she crossed her arms, and snapped, "I am so not backtracking. You'll have to knock me out and carry me because I am not walking back all that way only to start again. I'm tired and hungry and sick to death of this stink. I want a shower and a bed and blood. I just want out of here," she ended with frustration.

Silence filled the tunnel as Stephanie snapped her mouth closed. She was sulking. Mirabeau didn't much care so long as she did it silently. Her mind was taken up with the words "shower and a bed and blood" all of which she rather wanted herself. They hadn't been in the tunnels for hours, maybe an hour and a half, and she suspected that had they taken the right tunnel, they would have been out of the sewers long ago.

"A bed?" Tiny asked quietly. "It's only a little after midnight, Stephanie. That's the middle of the day for you now, isn't it?"

The teenager clucked with disgust. "We aren't vampires, Tiny. Heck, I don't even have fangs, and I don't stay up all night and sleep all day. As long as I avoid the sun, I can stay up during the day. Besides, there's nothing on television at night, just old movies and crappy shows selling crappy gizmos." She sighed. "I usually go to bed by midnight or so."

When Tiny glanced her way and raised an eyebrow, Mirabeau merely shrugged. She herself usually stayed up nights and slept days. However, she hadn't had much sleep today. There had been too much to do to get ready for the wedding. She wouldn't mind a nap herself. Blood sounded pretty good too. As for a shower, Mirabeau thought she'd kill for one just then…and a change of clothes. Dear God, she wanted out of those sewers as well, and she was not riding ten hours in an SUV in sewage-soaked clothes.

That thought at the forefront of her mind, Mirabeau handed the map to Tiny and turned back the way they'd come.

"Where are you going?" Stephanie snapped with dismay, hurrying after her. "I told you, I'm not walking back through the tunnels."

"And yet you're following me," she pointed out dryly and wasn't surprised when the teenager stopped abruptly.

"Only to tell you I'm not going," she said shrilly, as Mirabeau continued up the dark tunnel.

"Fine. You stay here and sulk. But we passed a manhole to the surface a few minutes back, and I'm using it to get the hell out of the sewers," Mirabeau said calmly.

"Really?" The excited and surprised squeal was followed by the tapping of the girl's shoes on the concrete as she hurried to catch up to her. Mirabeau had expected as much.

Tiny followed more quietly so that she nearly missed the sounds of his approach before she heard him murmur, "What's the plan here?"

Mirabeau sighed to herself and paused. They were supposed to be partners, but she wasn't used to having mortal partners, or even male ones for that matter. Eshe usually thought pretty much along the same lines as she did, so that they rarely disagreed or even needed to discuss matters. The other woman would have been leading the way to get out of the sewers, but she suspected Tiny was going to have a problem with it. He was probably one of those by-the-book guys.

"The plan," she said quietly, "is to get out of here, check into a hotel, shower this crap off, get us all a change of clothes and food, catch a nap, then find the SUV before dawn to head out of the city."

"Yay!" Stephanie squealed happily and did a little dance on the concrete.

Mirabeau felt her mouth twitch but managed to keep from smiling, and said solemnly to Tiny, "Lucian provided the name of the parking garage on the map. It should be easy to find topside. If it's as far away as I suspect it is, we can take a taxi and wipe the driver's mind when he drops us off."

Tiny stared at her silently through the gloom for so long, she was positive that he was going to balk and insist they stick to the plan Lucian had given them; but, much to her surprise, he nodded, and simply said, "There doesn't appear to be anyone following us, and it beats driving ten hours in these clothes."

Mirabeau relaxed and allowed a smile to curve her lips, until he added, "Now we just have to worry about there being a hotel within walking distance."

She frowned over the words briefly, then shook her head. "You can't walk a block without tripping over a hotel in this town. There has to be one close by."

Despite the brave words, Mirabeau was worried that the offshoot they'd wrongly taken had led them to a part of New York City that didn't have any hotels. With that worry on her mind, she led the way back to the ladder to the surface that they'd passed sometime ago. Tiny offered to go up first and see if he could open the manhole at the top, but Mirabeau merely shook her head and began to climb. She suspected they had special locks or something on manhole covers to prevent people from messing with them and a little muscle might be needed to get it open. Tiny had a lot of muscle…for a mortal, but she had more.

"Can you tell where we are?" Tiny asked, as she got the cover open and eased it upward to look out.

Mirabeau took a moment to peer around as much as she could. They were near a corner, but a parked van blocked the street signs from her view.

"Where are we?" Stephanie said impatiently.

"I'm not sure, but there's a hotel across the street," Mirabeau answered. She noted that the driver of the van was off-loading trays of what appeared to be food and fresh vegetables. She supposed it was easier to make deliveries at night when the streets weren't so congested. Turning, she peered at the duo at the foot of the ladder. "Come on. We'll check into the hotel, then sort out where we are."

Stephanie was halfway up the ladder behind her before the last word had left Mirabeau's mouth. Smiling wryly, Mirabeau shifted the manhole out of the way and quickly climbed out to crouch on the street before Stephanie trampled over her to get out. Tiny was right behind the girl and helped Mirabeau shift the manhole back into place before they straightened and moved to the side of the road. Traffic was slower at night in New York, but it wasn't nonexistent, and they had been fortunate to climb out when they had. They'd no sooner stepped up onto the curb than a taxi came flying past.

"Maybe you girls should wait here and let me go in and rent the room," Tiny said quietly, ushering them away from the curb.

Mirabeau shook her head at once. "I'll get the rooms. If anyone has realized that you're missing too, they might figure out that you're with Stephanie and try to track your credit cards."

"The same is true of you," Tiny argued with a frown.

"Yes, but I don't need to use a credit card," Mirabeau pointed out dryly, and started up the sidewalk toward the front of the hotel.

"Just a minute," Tiny said, catching her arm. "Maybe this is a bad idea after all. You two are pretty memorable in the state you're in. If anyone comes around asking questions-"

"They won't find any trace of us in the memories of the people we encounter," she finished quietly.

Tiny met her gaze briefly, then nodded. Mirabeau actually felt the relieved breath Stephanie exhaled. The girl needn't have worried. Though they were out of the sewers, their stink was still all Mirabeau could smell. They'd brought the stench with them, and she was determined to get rid of the stink if it was the last thing she did. She wasn't going to change her mind about a stop at the hotel.

Turning, she led the way to the hotel entrance, slipping quickly into the doorman's mind as he approached-no doubt to stop them entering. She watched his face go blank and his eyes shift away as they passed, then turned her attention to the people in the lobby. Much to her relief, it was late enough that there were few people around. A gentleman sat reading a newspaper on one of the sofas. He started to raise his head to glance their way but simply lowered it again once she touched on his thoughts. He would not look up again until they had left the lobby. A young, overly made-up blond clerk stood at the desk. Her eyes went from sleepy to horrified and back to sleepy as Mirabeau approached and slipped into her thoughts. Then the woman began to tap on her keyboard, took two keycards out of a drawer full of them, ran them through a machine, tucked them in a small cardboard holder, and scribbled a room number on it before handing it to Mirabeau, all without lifting her eyes from the keyboard.

Mirabeau took the packet and turned to lead the way to the elevators, her eyes sweeping the lobby one more time to be sure she hadn't missed anyone. That was when she spotted the small store in one corner of the lobby.

"What is it?" Tiny asked, when she paused.

Mirabeau hesitated, her eyes slipping to the girl at the counter once more. A quick read of the clerk's mind made her frown and sigh. Continuing forward, she murmured, "Nothing. Let's go."

The elevator doors opened the moment Mirabeau pushed the button. She stepped on board and hit the button for their floor, then glanced to Tiny as he followed Stephanie on board. She noted the way he glanced worriedly back at the lobby as if suspecting she had sensed trouble. Not wanting him to worry about nothing, she admitted, "I just noticed the little store in the lobby. It had clothes and other things in there, and I thought maybe I could get a change of clothes for all of us, but the girl at reception didn't have a key. Only the hotel manager and the store owner do, and neither of them is around the hotel at this hour."

"Oh." Tiny relaxed. He then cleared his throat, and asked carefully, "So, we aren't paying for the hotel room?"

Mirabeau's eyebrows rose at the question. His careful tone suggested he wasn't too comfortable with the idea, and she frowned over the matter, then shrugged and said, "When we get to Port Henry, I'll call Bastien, and he can send someone to take care of it."

Tiny nodded, his shoulders easing even farther in his suit jacket, and Mirabeau found herself staring at him curiously. Most people wouldn't have troubled themselves about borrowing a hotel room for a couple hours without paying for it, but she already knew from the countless tales Marguerite Argeneau had told her about this man that he had a thread of honor as strong as steel running through him. She found it somewhat refreshing.

"More like stupid," Stephanie muttered. "It's not like they'd notice. Obviously, no one's using the room she gave us."

"Rooms. I got us a suite," Mirabeau murmured, scowling at the girl. It was bad enough she kept reading her thoughts, but insulting Tiny just wasn't on in her books. The mortal was putting his life at risk to see the girl safely to Port Henry. A little gratitude wouldn't go amiss.

"Whatever," Stephanie mumbled, obviously still caught up in her own thoughts, but she also looked a bit chagrined, so she obviously got the silent reprimand in Mirabeau's thoughts.

"Am I missing something?" Tiny asked quietly, drawing her gaze again.

"Nothing important," Mirabeau assured him, as the elevator doors opened.

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