Bitten by Cupid (Argeneau #13)

Chapter 7

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Stephanie was sitting cross-legged on the far bed when Mirabeau entered the room they were to share. She supposed that meant the nearer bed was hers and dropped the clothes on it, then whipped off her towel and grabbed up the joggers to pull them on, aware that Stephanie was watching her. She wasn't self-conscious about her body. The nanos her kind had in their bodies had been programmed to fight illness, repair injuries, and keep them at their peak condition. Peak meant young and healthy, and she knew she looked her best. Or perhaps it was just that after so many years she'd been naked in front of so many people for one reason or another that it didn't bother her any-y more. Mirabeau didn't know or care why it didn't bother her. She didn't even really think about the fact that she was naked until Stephanie spoke.

"You don't shave your legs," the girl said with surprise. And then her eyes widened with sudden alarm, and she asked, "We can shave and wax our legs, can't we? The nanos don't just make it grow back within minutes or anything, do they?"

Mirabeau paused and glanced down at her legs, which were sporting a soft feathering of hair that, until Stephanie had spoken, hadn't bothered her. Now she worried about it and thought she would have to pick up a razor or something on the way to Port Henry. She would need to shave before seducing Tiny, and Mirabeau was growing more and more determined to do that once this assignment was over. Aside from being attractive physically, she was starting to find him very attractive in personality as well. She'd known he was a good man from the stories Marguerite had told her, but his empathy and patience with Stephanie were really making an impression on her. She wasn't the patient sort herself. Never had been. Perhaps that was why the trait in him was so attractive to her.

Pushing that thought aside, she glanced at Stephanie, and said, "Of course we can shave. It doesn't grow right back. Hairs are strands of dead cells or whatever, nanos don't bother with them."

"Oh." Stephanie looked relieved, and asked, "So why don't you shave?"

"I do, I just haven't bothered in a while," she muttered. Mirabeau had started shaving along with every other woman in the world when it had become popular. But it had been so long since she'd been interested in dating or anything of that nature that she'd stopped bothering.

"What's it like?" Stephanie asked, as Mirabeau finished donning the joggers and reached for the black tank top.

"What?" she asked absently as she pulled the top on over her head.

"Being so old?"

Mirabeau turned on the girl with exasperation as she tugged the tank into place. Before she could snap at her, however, Stephanie said quickly, "I'm not trying to insult you, I just mean, you know…what's it like to live so long?"

Mirabeau forced herself to relax and shrugged. "I don't know. It just is. I guess you'll find out in time."

"Yeah, in a century or so," Stephanie said dryly, then fell silent and watched as Mirabeau moved to the mirror over the dresser to run her fingers through her damp hair, trying to bring some order to the tangled strands.

It was an impossible task without any sort of brush, Mirabeau decided, scowling at her reflection and wondering if she could remove the remaining extensions or if had to be done by a hairdresser. It had hurt like the devil when the fellow in the sewers had ripped out that clump of extensions, but she'd checked and didn't appear to have been snatched bald back there. Perhaps she could just yank out the remaining extensions as well.

"Does it ever get better?"

"What?" Mirabeau asked with distraction.

"The pain of losing them?" Stephanie said quietly, and Mirabeau was just wondering if she meant her hair extensions, when the girl added, "Tiny told me you lost your family too, and I…It hurts so much sometimes, and I can tell you still hurt, and I…"

Mirabeau stopped messing with her hair and turned to peer at the girl. There was real agony on her face, which made panic well up inside Mirabeau. She wasn't good with emotional stuff. In fact, she generally avoided situations that involved it like the plague. However, Stephanie was hurting, and there was no one else there to help her. Swallowing thickly, she moved to the side of Stephanie's bed to sit on the edge…and stared at her briefly before reluctantly raising a hand to set on the girl's leg in what she hoped was a comforting touch. Clearing her throat, she said, "It does hurt, and I am hurting right now because your situation reminds me of my own, and it hurts me at holidays and special occasions too, but it eases a bit, gets easier to bear…and you do have Dani for those holidays."

Stephanie swallowed and nodded solemnly. "You don't even have that, do you?"

Mirabeau felt her throat close up. She grimly swallowed away the lump and tried desperately to change the subject by asking, "Do you want me to put one of your tattoos on for you?"

Stephanie hesitated, eyeing her silently, and Mirabeau knew the little brat was wading through her thoughts. It made her wonder how the hell the kid kept doing that. She was a new turn. New turns couldn't read even mortals as a rule. It was a skill they had to learn. She shouldn't be able to read at all yet, let alone someone as old as Mirabeau.

"Really?" Stephanie asked, sitting up a little straighter and pleasure twitching the corners of her mouth. "I know Dani can't read minds yet, but I thought that was just her."

"No, it's not just her," Mirabeau assured her quietly, relieved to have the subject changed and the kid looking less weepy. She didn't know what she would have done if the girl had turned on the waterworks. Seeing that she was pleased by her unusual ability, Mirabeau added, "You seem to be a special case. A natural reader. It's rare."

Stephanie grinned and held up the sheet of tattoos she had been clutching. "Which one do you want?"

Mirabeau blinked. "I didn't mean I'd put a tattoo on me. I meant I'd put one on you for you."

"Oh I know," Stephanie said with a grin. "But I don't want you to mess it up. We'll do you first. That way we can figure out what we're doing."

Mirabeau gave a small, disbelieving laugh at the words. "So we experiment on me so that we don't mess up when we put on yours?"

"Exactly," she said, her grin widening farther.

Despite herself, Mirabeau chuckled, but then sighed and shook her head as she glanced over the tattoos Stephanie held. "Fine. Give me Cupid then."

Stephanie's eyebrows rose slightly. "Why Cupid?"

"Because he's an archer, and so am I," she said simply.

"Really?" Stephanie asked curiously as she began to prepare the tattoo.

"Yes. My mother trained me as a child, and I've kept it up over the centuries. I actually prefer the bow and arrow to a gun-much quieter and easy to see if you've hit your mark. Besides, our bodies can push out bullets given a little time, but they can't force out the larger, heavier arrow. So if you hit a bad guy with an arrow, he isn't likely to get up again unless you remove the arrow for him."

Stephanie seemed impressed. "Can you teach me archery?"

"We'll see," Mirabeau murmured, unwilling to make a promise unless she was sure she could keep it.

"That's a good policy," Stephanie said solemnly, then raised the tattoo and asked, "Where do you want it?"

"My arm," Mirabeau answered at once. She sat silent and still as Stephanie set to work transferring the temporary tattoo to her upper arm, her concentration on watching what she was doing. She was taken by surprise when Stephanie suddenly said, "I do have Dani, but she's kind of wrapped up in Decker right now. Sometimes it feels like I lost her too."

Mirabeau frowned. The entire situation was rather difficult. She knew Dani was doing her best by the girl, but with Leonius out there needing to be caught and having just met her life mate in Decker, Mirabeau didn't doubt the woman would have trouble fulfilling Stephanie's probably exaggerated need for attention. Anyone would.

Finally, she cleared her throat, and said, "It's true she's wrapped up in her own life at the moment. Dani also has to deal with all this stuff, you know. She's going through every single thing you are."

"But she has Decker," Stephanie said unhappily. "And if they get married and have kids, she'll have her own family. She won't need me anymore."

Mirabeau sighed. "She will always love you and need you in her life, Stephanie. If she's preoccupied now, it's just temporary. Besides, you too will someday meet your life mate and start a family of your own."

"So will you," Stephanie said quietly. "Do you think the loss will ease a bit then?"

"I don't know, it might," she said quietly, though the truth was she didn't think she'd ever have a life mate and children, and the very thought that she might almost made her nauseous though she couldn't have said why.

Stephanie was silent as she finished with the tattoo, but then sat back, saying, "There. It's done. Look at it in the mirror."

Mirabeau stood and moved to the mirror to examine her new temporary tattoo. It didn't look too bad. It was just the black silhouette of Cupid on her arm. She could live with it.

"It kind of matches my outfit, doesn't it?" she muttered, peering at herself in the black joggers and tank.

Stephanie choked out a laugh. "You hate it."

"No," she said at once, but then smiled wryly, and admitted, "I've just never been much into body art. It's fine though. Nice."

Stephanie laughed with open disbelief, then looked her over and sighed. "I hope I have a figure like yours someday so a nice man like Tiny follows me around with his tongue hanging out."

"He isn't following me around with his tongue hanging out," Mirabeau said, amused.

"No, but if you could hear his thoughts…" She rolled her eyes, fanned herself, and added, "Oooh la la."

Mirabeau laughed at her hamming, but was pleased at the thought that Tiny might find her attractive. She hadn't taken the time to read his thoughts herself but thought perhaps she should. If he was as interested as she was, it boded well for her intention to seduce him. She would just have to be careful not to accidentally control his mind in bed if she got too excited. Marguerite would probably be upset if she did.

"So, am I going to continue to grow, or am I going to be stuck looking fourteen forever?" Stephanie asked suddenly, still peering enviously over Mirabeau's figure.

Mirabeau's eyebrows rose, surprise sliding through her. The girl had been turned about six months ago. She would have expected her to know the answer to those kinds of questions already.

"Well, Dani doesn't know much about it," Stephanie pointed out, reading her mind without apology. "Every time I ask her a question, she has to go ask Decker, then they get distracted and its hours or sometimes even the next day before I get my answer, so I just stopped asking her."

"Hmm." Mirabeau almost asked why she didn't ask someone else, but then realized the only other female usually at the enforcer house was Sam, who was also a newly turned life mate likely to get distracted when she went in search of the answer. Mirabeau herself was probably the first unmated female immortal Stephanie had been around long enough to ask the questions.

"Right," she said calmly, moving back to sit on the bed again, determined to answer any questions she could. "You'll grow so long as you continue to feed regularly. Once you reach your peak adult condition, you'll stop aging and look somewhere between twenty-five and thirty forever."

Stephanie considered that. "How often is regularly?"

Mirabeau hesitated, then said, "It's best to feed in small bouts about every three hours until you're about twenty-five."

"Like a baby," she said with disgust.

"Basically, yes," Mirabeau said with amusement, then noted the girl's pallor, and asked, "When did you last eat?"

Stephanie grimaced, but reluctantly admitted, "Before we left for the wedding."

Mirabeau glanced at the clock. It was almost two o'clock now. Well past time the girl fed again.

"Lucian said there was blood in the SUV," Stephanie said helpfully. "We can feed before we leave in the morning."

Mirabeau was silent. Lucian had told her that as well as he'd ushered her to the secret panel in the church. The SUV would be the easiest source of blood at the moment, especially since Stephanie had no fangs. The simplest thing would be to head out as soon as Tiny had finished his shower, retrieve the SUV, feed, and head out of the city. It was probably the safest thing to do as well.

"No," Stephanie protested at once, reading her thoughts. "You said we could nap. Surely I can wait a couple of hours? I'll have twice my usual dosage when we get to the SUV." The wheedling tone of voice and the fact that she called it dosage suggested the girl usually had trouble feeding. Mirabeau supposed she shouldn't be surprised. Raised as a mortal, the girl was no doubt having trouble getting past the fact that she was having to drink blood at all. She probably resisted it and had to be urged to drink the stuff. Mirabeau suspected she would resist less now that she knew it was necessary for her body to mature properly. No girl wanted to be flat-chested forever.

"Okay, I did say you could nap before we left," she said soothingly. "I'll run over and pick up the SUV while Tiny showers. You can have some blood, we'll all nap, and head out in the morning as planned."

Mirabeau started for the door, but paused before she reached it as she recalled where she'd put the keys Lucian had given her. Without a purse on hand or a pocket in the bridesmaid's dress, she'd merely tucked them into her bra. It was a handy-dandy little naturally made pocket she occasionally utilized in a pinch. However, the bra was now on the floor in the bathroom where Tiny was showering.

"So wait until he's done with his shower," Stephanie suggested, then held up the package in her hand. "You can give me my tattoo while we wait."

Mirabeau returned to the bed and sat down. "So which one do you want?"

"The heart," Stephanie said, handing her the tattoos.

Mirabeau took them from her, frowning when she saw the jagged line across it where some of the tattoo had been scratched away.

"I altered it a little," Stephanie said quietly. "It seemed more suitable."

Mirabeau stared at the heart, realizing that once applied it would look broken, just as the girl's heart was at the moment, and as her own had been since she was seventeen. She just hoped Dani's presence and the fact that her family hadn't died might help Stephanie heal faster than she had…or hadn't, as the case may be, she acknowledged unhappily.

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