Bitten by Cupid (Argeneau #13)

Chapter 9

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"Want a bite?"

Mirabeau jerked her head back a little with surprise as Tiny raised what he'd called a chili cheese dog in front of her face. Frowning, she murmured, "I don't eat foo-" The last word died on a gasp of surprise as Tiny suddenly pushed the food forward, catching her on the upper lip and the bottom of her nose.

"Nice one, Tiny," Stephanie laughed between bites of her cheeseburger.

Scowling at the pair of them, Mirabeau pushed away the dog Tiny was still holding out to her and wiped the warm chili from her nose. However, her scowl was replaced with surprise when she licked her lip to clean it and a savory, spicy taste exploded on her tongue. Mirabeau couldn't contain the murmured "Mmm" as she swallowed the bit of flavorful food.

"Good thing I got you one too despite your claim not to want anything, huh?" Tiny teased, lifting a second plate with a chili dog off the tray he'd brought to the table and setting it before her.

Mirabeau hesitated, she really didn't eat much anymore. She indulged on occasion to keep Jeanne Louise company, but she rarely bothered otherwise, food had become boring over time. This chili stuff, however, was not boring at all, she thought as she watched how Tiny carefully picked up his own hot dog smothered with the thick chili and bit into it. Perhaps she'd simply been eating the wrong foods, she thought as she emulated his actions.

"Or maybe Tiny's your life mate and your taste buds, along with your libido, have come back to life like Decker's did," Stephanie said dryly.

Mirabeau paused midbite to scowl at the girl, but she couldn't hold the expression. Her mouth was alive with the wonderful combination of flavors she'd bitten into. Her eyes involuntarily closed as she savored the explosions taking place in her mouth. Chili dogs definitely rocked, she decided, and wondered how it was she'd never had one before.

"Try an onion ring," Tiny urged, holding a round breaded object out to her.

Mirabeau accepted the odd item, turned it curiously in her hand, sniffed it, and then took a careful bite. Her eyes widened with surprised pleasure as an entirely different flavor filled her senses. Damn, that's good too, she acknowledged, and smiled when he slid a smaller plate with a mound of rings in front of her. He'd bought two of those as well, she noted.

"How about a chocolate shake?" he said next, and a thick-looking, creamy drink was set before her as well.

This time Mirabeau didn't hesitate to try the offering and as the cold, creamy, chocolate slid across her tongue and down her throat, she understood what he was doing.

"You're trying to kill me with pleasure," she said on a sigh.

"If that were the case, you'd be naked, and I'd be eating this off your supine body," Tiny growled. He then leaned toward her and licked away a drop of chili that rested on her upper lip.

Mirabeau swallowed thickly, her eyes finding and locking on his until Stephanie groaned, and muttered, "Oh, gross. Get a room."

Mirabeau saw the chagrin flicker in Tiny's expression and knew he'd forgotten the girl was there, just as she had for those few seconds. She shared a wry smile with him, then, as if by agreement, they both turned their attention to their food and began to eat, trying to pretend that the moment hadn't happened.

Unfortunately, Stephanie wouldn't let it rest, and asked, "Are you two going to get together after you get me to Port Henry, or what?"

Mirabeau gave her a quelling look, but the girl wasn't willing to be quelled.

"Oh, come on, he's your life mate, right?" she said, waving a french fry around as she spoke.

"You don't know what you're talking about, Stephanie," Mirabeau said sharply. "Eat your food. We have to get going."

"Oh please, even if I couldn't read your thoughts, anyone could see you two are hot for each other."

"Enough Stephanie," Tiny said quietly. "Now eat your food. We're already very late getting you to Port Henry. We really shouldn't have stopped here."

And they shouldn't have, Mirabeau acknowledged. By now the people in Port Henry had probably called Lucian in a panic that they hadn't arrived…and there wasn't a darned thing they could do to reassure them that everything was all right. Mirabeau hadn't had a cell phone when she'd left the church, and Tiny's phone had gone missing. He suspected it had been lifted while he was shopping for clothes and food. He'd told her as much as they'd made their way to the SUV in the predawn light.

Mirabeau had considered stopping to use a pay phone to call in, but one of Lucian's last instructions had been not to make contact in any way but through Tiny's cell phone unless it was an emergency. He'd said Tiny's cell was set up specially to be untraceable, while calls from any other phone wouldn't be. He was determined no one was going to figure out where Stephanie was, and he was the boss, so there was nothing she could do to soothe any worries anyone might be having.

And they would be worried, she thought unhappily. By her guess, between getting lost in the tunnels and their stop at the hotel to clean up and rest, they were probably at least five or six hours behind schedule, which meant they should have arrived in Port Henry about three or four hours ago. Instead, they were half an hour southwest of Toronto, eating quite the most delicious food she'd ever enjoyed in one of the ugliest, dreariest-looking diners she'd ever seen. Tiny had picked it after several hours of Stephanie's whining that she was hungry. He'd called it a truck stop and said they always had the best food.

Mirabeau had to admit the food was indeed good. They just really shouldn't have stopped to get it, and had Tiny not been so obviously exhausted from driving all the way up from New York, she would have said so. However, the man had been yawning and wiping his weary eyes for the last hour they'd been on the road, and she'd decided a break was probably smart. She planned to offer to take over driving when they returned to the SUV he'd managed to get them into and get started that morning, all with nothing more than a hanger they'd taken from their room and a screwdriver they'd gotten from the handyman at the hotel. It had been rather impressive to watch him in action. But then he was impressive just to look at, she acknowledged.

"All done? Shall we go?" Tiny asked, and Mirabeau glanced down at her empty plates wryly. So much for not eating. She'd pretty much inhaled the offerings he'd brought her.

"I need to go to the bathroom," Stephanie announced, slurping the last of her own shake, a pink one that smelled of strawberries.

"You take her to the bathroom, and I'll get the SUV started," Tiny suggested, getting to his feet.

"Hey, I'm not a kid. I can take myself to the bathroom," Stephanie protested, scowling at him.

Rather than point out that Mirabeau was to be with her to ensure she remained safe, Tiny grinned, and teased, "I thought you girls always went to the bathroom in packs?"

"Sexist," Stephanie muttered, but amusement was tugging at her lips as she got to her feet.

They were pretty quick in the bathroom, but Tiny was quicker. He'd started the SUV and pulled it up to the door to collect them when they stepped outside.

"I was going to offer to drive," Mirabeau murmured as she climbed into the front passenger seat after closing the back door behind Stephanie.

"That's okay. I'm good. The break refreshed me," he assured her.

Shrugging, Mirabeau settled in the seat and did up her seat belt as he started out of the parking lot. They were back on the highway when Stephanie suddenly leaned forward between the two front seats to ask, "What's your real name, Tiny?"

Mirabeau glanced at him, curious about the answer to that herself, and caught the amusement tugging at his lips as he asked, "What makes you think it isn't Tiny?"

"Because no one but a pair of spazzes would name their kid Tiny," the teenager assured him dryly.

"Spazzes, huh?" Tiny chuckled, and then said, "Well as it would happen, my given name is Tinh." He spelled it out, then added, "Tiny is just what everyone has always called me, like Billy instead of Bill."

"Tinh?" Stephanie said with amazement. "What kind of name is that?"

"Vietnamese."

"You aren't Vietnamese," she said, then asked uncertainly, "Are you?"

"No," he said with a smile.

"Then why did your parents name you that?"

"My father was a soldier in Vietnam," he answered patiently. "He was injured while on recon. He's pretty sure he would have died where he fell had he not been rescued, and nursed back to health by a friendly named Tinh. Dad was never sure if that was his last name or first, but when he married mom and they had me, he named me after the man who had saved his life."

"Oh," Stephanie murmured. "I guess that was cool."

"I always thought so," Tiny agreed.

"I guess it's a good thing you didn't end up a little guy though," Stephanie commented. "They would have been dooming you to a life of teasing and bullying, naming you that if you were little."

"My being little was never very likely," Tiny assured her. "My mother is five-ten, and my father is my size."

"Hmm." Stephanie grunted, then sat back in her seat. "I'm going to watch the end of the movie I started before we stopped to eat."

Mirabeau glanced over her shoulder to see the girl putting earplugs into her ears and hitting the play button on the DVD player in the back of Tiny's seat. She then turned back to face front, but found herself unable to keep from glancing at the man driving. Finally, she asked softly, "They're still alive then? Your parents?"

"Oh yeah," Tiny assured her. "Both retired and spoiling the grandbabies my little sister has given them…and cursing me for not giving them more yet," he added with a wry smile.

"You're close to them," she realized, the thought troubling her.

"Yes," he admitted, then glanced sideways at her, and added, "they'll like you."

Mirabeau held his gaze for a minute, then turned away to look out the window as she tried to settle the sudden quandary in her mind. She had only been considering her own point of view when it came to their being life mates. The risk it would be to open her heart up to him and possibly lose him at some later date as she had her family. She hadn't considered what he might have to give up to be her life mate. That perhaps he wouldn't be willing to give it up for her.

"Tell me about your family," Tiny said suddenly.

Mirabeau glanced at him sharply, then away, muttering, "What do you want to know? They're dead."

"Yes," he said quietly. "Marguerite said that your uncle killed them. Tell me how…and why?"

Mirabeau stared out the window silently for a moment, but she didn't see the vehicles or landscaping they were passing. Her mind took her back to France in 1572, a mad time in the country.

"My father and uncle were turned in the thirteenth century by a rogue," she said finally. "Fortunately, they were new turns and had committed no crimes so were spared when the rogue was hunted down and killed."

"Like Leigh's friend Danny?" Tiny asked.

Mirabeau nodded silently, then cleared her throat and continued. "They were very close before the turn and for a while afterward, but then my father met my mother. She was his life mate, and they became wrapped up in each other as life mates tend to do. My uncle and father drifted apart while my parents had my three brothers and me in quick succession."

"In quick succession?" Tiny asked with surprise. "I thought you had to wait a hundred years between children?"

"Well, yes, but I mean they had my eldest brother right away in 1255, and then as soon as the hundred years were up, had my second brother and so on. They didn't leave extra time between each. I was born in 1555, almost a hundred years to the day after the youngest of my brothers was born."

"Ah," Tiny murmured.

"Anyway, they were happy. We all were, but apparently my uncle was not. He hadn't yet found his life mate and was jealous of my father, who had my mother and us children, as well as wealth and a title. He wanted all of it…including my mother. I guess he thought the St. Bartholomew Massacres would be a good cover for his getting it all."

"I'm sorry," Tiny interrupted gently. "Marguerite mentioned the St. Bartholomew Massacres to me, but I'm not sure what it was exactly."

Mirabeau frowned, wondering how something that had always figured so large in her own life was unknown to most of today's mortals. It was such a turning point in her life that it was difficult to accept that it meant nothing to others. Shrugging that aside, she explained, "St. Bartholomew Massacres were basically a mess. There was some history behind what happened, but the final straw that appeared to light the fury was when the Catholic Marguerite of Valois, the sister of the King of France, was married to Henry of Navarre, a Protestant. The population of Paris was very Roman Catholic, and equally anti-Huguenot. French Protestant," Mirabeau explained before he could ask what a Huguenot was. She then continued, "Over the next six days after the wedding, several events conspired to stir things up, but the end result was that on August twenty-third, the gates to the city were closed, and a Roman Catholic mob began to hunt down and slaughter Protestants in the streets. Thousands were killed, including women and children."

"And your family was in Paris?" Tiny asked with a frown.

"No. And they were Catholic, not Protestant, and they died in late September not August. However, even up to October of that year, there were similar outbreaks of such attacks in cities and towns all over France. Even the hint of Protestantism was enough to mark a family for death.

"I don't know if my uncle planned what he did ahead of time and the St. Bartholomew Massacres simply offered a convenient cover, or if their eruption spurred him to action, but he planned to claim we had been suspected of Protestantism, had been chained in the barn, and burned alive."

"Nasty bastard," Tiny said grimly. "His plan went awry, obviously." And when she glanced at him in question, he pointed out, "You're still alive."

"Oh, yes." She frowned and peered out the window again, then admitted, "But I'm only alive because I was a rebellious seventeen-year-old who snuck out of the castle to drink wine in the stables with a very handsome stableboy named Fredrique."

She glanced over in time to see Tiny's mouth twitch with amusement and wished she could smile too, but even all this time later she didn't see the humor in it. "My uncle had arrived for dinner. After dinner, he and my father and brothers went out to view a new horse my father had purchased. My uncle's men must have been waiting and taken them by surprise, slaughtering them the moment they entered the stable. By the time I snuck away to meet Fredrique, there was no one around in the stables, and I thought they'd already returned to the castle." She pursed her lips and added bitterly, "And my uncle had returned to the castle…to get my mother.

She closed her eyes briefly, then continued, "We were in the loft drinking; Fredrique was trying to steal a kiss when my uncle dragged my mother into the stables to show her what he'd done. The headless bodies of my father and brothers had been lying in the stall beneath us, covered with a thin layer of straw the entire time Fredrique and I had been drinking above. He showed them to her and demanded she be his life mate."

"Hang on," Tiny said with amazement. "Be his life mate? How could she be his life mate? She was your father's life mate. And where were his men?"

"He must have sent his men away, intending to deal with my mother and me himself." Mirabeau said, then grimaced, and explained, "As for her being his life mate, my uncle could not read or control my mother either. She could have been a life mate to either brother, but chose my father."

"Smart lady," Tiny muttered.

Mirabeau sighed. "Perhaps, but I think that is what really drove him mad. That had she but chosen him, he would have had all that my father did."

"I see." Tiny nodded solemnly. "Yes, that must have been hard for him to bear. I'm sorry. Go on."

Mirabeau took a breath herself and swallowed down the pain that always rose in her when she thought on these events. She hadn't told the tale to anyone since Lucian had come upon her that night, and she'd sobbed the story to him. She found, though, that this time it hurt much less and wondered if it was the passage of time, or because it was Tiny she was finally telling it to. It did still hurt, and tears were crowding her eyes, but she was nowhere near sobbing with the agony of loss she'd suffered.

Mirabeau glanced down, noticed his large hand covering her own on her leg, and wondered when Tiny had put it there, but then she cleared her throat and continued, "My uncle told my mother that if she agreed to be his life mate and backed him up in the story that a roaming group of Roman Catholic vigilantes had killed my father and brothers, he would let me live."

"Bastard," Tiny muttered again.

Much to Mirabeau's amazement, she actually felt a smile twitch at her lips at the angry word and the support behind it. But the desire to smile died quickly as she continued, "I thought my mother would agree. I was silently begging her to, thinking we would find a way to escape later and tell the truth…and I really think she would have had she not spotted me peeking out from the hayloft. She straightened then, her expression determined as she said, 'No.'

"My uncle was furious. "Not even to save your daughter?" he raged with disbelief, and she suddenly looked serene and stared right at me as she said, "My daughter can save herself. You will not be able to kill Mirabeau. She is strong and brave. She will escape you and carry word of what you have done to the people who can do something about it."

"She was telling you what to do," Tiny murmured quietly.

"Yes," Mirabeau agreed.

"What did your uncle do?" he prompted, when she didn't immediately continue.

"He roared, 'I will slaughter her in her bed where she even now lies sleeping,' and pressed his sword to her throat, but my mother just smiled at me reassuringly over his shoulder, and said, 'You may try. But I vow you will not succeed, and much as I love my daughter, I will not spend one moment even pretending to be your life mate. I shall never let you touch or think of me in that way.'"

When Mirabeau fell silent as she recalled that moment, Tiny squeezed her hand and asked in a hushed whisper, "And so he killed her?"

Mirabeau shook her head and used her free hand to wipe away the tear that had escaped her. "No. She killed herself."

"What?" he asked with amazement. "But how? Why?"

Mirabeau shrugged. "The why is because while he couldn't control her, and they were both immortals, he was still male and stronger. He would have raped and tormented her first, and I would have tried to save her, endangering myself. She knew all this, and so…" Mirabeau took a deep breath. "The moment the last word had left her lips, she caught his hand holding the sword and jerked it toward herself while throwing her head forward, beheading herself on the steel edge."

"Jesus," Tiny breathed, then shook his head faintly. "I wouldn't even have thought that possible. The strength needed to do it, both physically and just in fortitude…"

"We are strong," Mirabeau said simply, though she had found it all rather shocking at the time. She had never imagined anyone doing that either, but her mother had been like Marguerite, a strong woman capable of doing whatever she put her mind to. And, Mirabeau supposed, her mother had probably seen little to live for with her life mate lying dead at her feet. Finding a life mate was a rare thing, and life could be so lonely when you moved through it without one.

Pushing that thought aside, Mirabeau admitted quietly, "I started to scream when she did it. Fortunately, Fredrique covered my mouth, and my uncle didn't hear what little sound escaped over his own frustrated roar. We stayed where we were while he ranted madly, but when he left to go find me, we slipped out of the loft. I told Fredrique to make himself scarce and mounted a horse and fled. My uncle's men were camped in the woods outside the castle walls. They mounted and gave chase when I raced through their camp. I think they might have caught me had Lucian not suddenly appeared. He and my father were both horse enthusiasts and had become good friends. He'd been heading to La Roche to see the new horse. He arrived just as my uncle's men were about to overtake me."

"And he took care of them," Tiny said quietly.

"Yes," Mirabeau agreed quietly. "As well as my uncle."

Tiny nodded and allowed several minutes to pass in silence, then asked, "What are we going to do about being life mates, Mirabeau La Roche?"

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