A quick bite, p.14
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       A Quick Bite, p.14

         Part #1 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands
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Chapter 13


  "We're going to try systematic desensitization," Greg announced.

  "Oh?" Lissianna said politely, and he couldn't help but notice that she looked more wary than impressed with this news. He wasn't surprised; fear was a terrible thing and difficult to deal with, and that's what they were about to do, deal with Lissianna's fear and, hopefully, cure her phobia.

  There were other things Greg would rather do with Lissianna than deal with her phobia, but Marguerite had been so upset to learn that they'd done absolutely no therapy while she'd slept that he'd found himself promising they would work on it directly after he and the twins ate the dinner he was making. So, here they were, in the library for what Lissianna had referred to as their first torture session.

  "Will this systematic desensitization work?"

  "It should. It's very effective with phobias," he assured her.

  "Okay. " She blew out a breath, straightened her shoulders, and asked, "What do I have to do?"

  "Well, I'll need you to think of situations that cause the anxiety, and--"

  "I don't feel anxiety about blood," Lissianna interrupted. "1 just faint. "

  "Yes, but--" Greg paused, then tilted his head, and asked, "Do you know why you react to blood like this? I wouldn't think it was a common complaint among your kind. When did it first start?"

  Lissianna peered down and Greg followed the move, noting that she was twisting her hands together in her lap. Blood might just make her faint, but she was definitely feeling some anxiety at the idea of talking about when it started. After a long silence, she glanced up, and reluctantly admitted, "It started after my first hunt. "

  The tortured expression on her face was hard to handle. He'd seen it before on the faces of his patients, but this was different. Greg wanted to wrap his arms around Lissianna and say she need never think about it again, that he'd keep her safe. He didn't, of course. Lissianna wanted the tools and know-how to be free of her phobia. She wasn't Meredith. That was one of the things he liked best about her.

  Taking a deep breath, he said, "Tell me about your first hunt. "

  "I. . . Well, I was thirteen," she said slowly and Greg managed not to flinch outwardly. Just thirteen. Christ! A child, but then he reminded himself that it was a necessary skill Lissianna would have needed, one that would have kept her alive if anything had happened to her parents, and she'd needed to fend for herself.

  If he was having trouble hearing this, Greg knew it was worse for her. He decided to give Lissianna a chance to get used to the idea of discussing it and satisfy his curiosity at the same time.

  "How did you feed before that?" he asked, and felt some of the tension leave him when she relaxed a little.

  "Before blood banks, I used to have. . . well, the vampire equivalent of wet nurses I guess. Only I didn't suckle at their breast, I bit their wrists or necks. "

  When Greg grimaced, she added, "Now that there are blood banks, wet nurses aren't needed. "

  He nodded, glad to hear it, then asked, "You could control minds as a child?"

  "Not until about eight or nine," Lissianna admitted with a shrug. "Before that, a parent or guardian controlled the donors' minds so they wouldn't feel pain. "

  "Okay. " Greg considered her expression. She looked more relaxed, but he knew it wouldn't last long as he prompted, "I'm guessing you weren't by yourself your first time?"

  "No. A guardian always goes along the first couple of times. It's necessary. There's so much to keep track of," she explained, and it was obvious she wasn't quite ready to approach her own first time, so was generalizing. "No matter how many times you practice mind control on your wet nurses, it's in the safety and privacy of your home. When you go out hunting, you have to control the person's mind and keep track of your surroundings in case someone comes along. You also have to pay attention to how long you feed so you don't take too much blood. " She paused, then added, "When you're with wet nurses, you can take more blood and it's all right if they're a little weak or even faint, they can rest if they need to; but when you hunt, you have to take less. "

  Lissianna met his gaze and seemed more relaxed as she admitted, "We used to feed on more than one donor or host a night, spreading it between two or three so that no one was left physically affected. It wouldn't be good to leave donors staggering weakly down the street. They had to be able to walk away feeling just fine. So when our kind first go out, they have to learn how long it is safe to feed. That's what the person accompanying them is there for, to be sure they don't lose track of time. " She grimaced. "There's so much to pay attention to. Trying to do all three things can be overwhelming at first. "

  "I see. " Greg nodded. "I imagine you would be nervous the first time or two as well, which would just add to the stressors. "

  "Yes. " Lissianna nodded.

  "So, was it your father who took you out?"

  Her head jerked up with surprise. "How did you know?"

  "Because I don't think your mother would have allowed anything to go wrong," Greg said simply, and it was true. He was sure Marguerite would have done all she could to ensure it went smoothly for Lissianna. Whatever else he thought about the woman, she obviously loved her daughter.

  "No. " Lissianna let her breath out on a slow sigh. "Mother wouldn't have let anything go wrong if she could help it. "

  Greg nodded. "So, your father did take you?"

  "Yes," she said bitterly. "Mother didn't want him to, but he was drunk and stubborn. Unfortunately, I didn't help. I was cocky and sure I didn't need anyone with me. " Lissianna grimaced with self-disgust.

  "Tell me," Greg said softly.

  Lissianna shrugged. "It went fine at first. Sort of. I was nervous, but excited, too. We went to Hyde Park, and I chose a young man a year or so older than me and. . .

  everything went fine at first," she reiterated, then her eyebrows drew together.

  "What went wrong?" Greg prodded.

  "Well, as you said, it was a bit overwhelming. I was concentrating on controlling his mind and trying to pay attention to the surroundings to be sure no one snuck up while I was unawares. . . and I lost track of time. Normally, the parent would simply let you know that it's time to stop, but--"

  "But your father was drunk. "

  Lissianna nodded. "He didn't say anything, no warning at all, he just grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me away. " She raised a pale face, and added, "My teeth were still in the boy's neck. "

  Greg winced. Before he could begin to imagine the horrible scene, Lissianna rushed on. "Fortunately, Mother had followed. She hadn't trusted Father. She managed to save the boy, but. . . it was so close. He almost died, and he lost so much blood. " She scrubbed her face wearily. "I've never been able to stand the sight of blood since then. "

  She peered at her limp hands, then raised a stricken face to him, and said, "I almost killed that boy. "

  "But you didn't, Lissianna. You didn't kill him. " Shifting closer, he gave in to the temptation he'd had earlier and drew her into his arms. Holding her close, he ran his hands up and down her back, attempting to comfort her. He wished Jean Claude were still alive so he could pummel the creep. In one thoughtless, drunken moment the idiot had caused almost two centuries of torment for his daughter.

  Greg caressed her back, then pulled away slightly. "Lissianna?"

  Her face was pale when she raised it. Greg was tempted to kiss her, but had to know the answer to the question that had just occurred to him, "I'm guessing that this means you've never killed anyone you've fed from? You don't go around bleeding them dry?"

  "No, of course not. " Lissianna sounded startled, as if the very question surprised her, and Greg smiled, releasing the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. He was so happy at the news that he could have kissed her. That thought drew his gaze to her lips, and he suddenly found his mouth lowering to do just that.

  Lissianna didn't pull away, or try to stop him. Her eyes
fluttered briefly, then dropped closed just before his lips brushed hers. They both released a small sigh, and it was like opening a floodgate, Greg felt desire rush up inside him, like a boiling pot bubbling over. He urged her lips apart and thrust his tongue between them, then froze as Thomas's voice infiltrated his thoughts.

  "I can't believe you would think we'd suck a mortal dry. It's just stupid, like killing the dairy cow. You can't get milk from a dead dairy cow. "

  Greg and Lissianna broke apart and turned to stare at the man as he stepped out from behind the curtains that covered the French doors all along the outer wall.

  "Thomas! What are you doing?" Lissianna's voice died as her other cousins stepped out from behind the curtains, too.

  "We wanted to see how the first therapy session went," Mirabeau explained their presence with a shrug. "We didn't expect it to turn into a necking session. "

  Lissianna looked at a loss and obviously didn't know what to say. Greg did. Hugely affronted, he glared at Thomas, and asked, "Did you just equate humans to cows?"

  "Not humans. Mortals. We're human, too," Thomas said with amusement, then glanced at his cousin and teased, "Shame on you Lissianna. You know better than to play with your food. "

  "Behave, Thomas," Jeanne Louise said sharply, then explained to Greg, "He's just teasing. Mostly. " She shrugged, then added, "We're sorry we were spying, and we would have just slipped away and not interrupted when things got. . . er. . . " She waved vaguely toward them, and Greg glanced at Lissianna to find she was blushing. Two hundred and two years old and she could still blush over getting caught kissing. He didn't get to marvel over that long before Jeanne Louise continued, "But it's getting late, and we knew Lissianna had to work tonight. "


  Greg glanced toward Lissianna to find she'd leapt to her feet.

  "Oh geez, I didn't realize it was so late. I'd better get going. "

  Greg frowned as she hurried for the door. He didn't like to leave it like this, but--

  What are you waiting for? Go after her. Give your girlfriend a kiss to remember you by at work.

  Greg turned sharply toward Thomas as Lissianna slid from the room, knowing he was where the thought had come from. Of all the things he could have said, what popped out of his mouth was, "She isn't my girlfriend. "

  Thomas snorted at the denial. "You're sleeping in her bed. . . where she joined you last night. You two were constantly mooning over each other today and slipping off to be alone, and this is the second time I've walked in while you were kissing her. The first time, it looked like a lot more than kissing, too. How much does it take to be a girlfriend?"

  Greg blinked at the words, then shook his head and got up to go after her. He didn't have time to argue the point if he was going to catch Lissianna before she disappeared into her room. If there was even anything to argue. Greg found he didn't mind the idea that everyone was thinking of her as his girlfriend. In fact, if he were honest, he rather liked the idea himself.

  After you kiss her, have her explain about true life mates to you.

  Greg didn't stop at the mental suggestion, but hurried out of the library. While he was curious, he could ask Lissianna about it. . . after he kissed her. He really wanted a proper, not-tied-down, no-one-interrupting-them kiss.

  Despite moving fast himself, Greg didn't catch up to Lissianna until she reached his room. Or her room, he supposed, then guessed at the moment it was kind of their room since he'd been sleeping in it, but her clothes were there. Which gave him an excuse for having followed, he realized as she glanced back with her hand on the door and paused at the sight of him.

  "1 was just thinking," Greg said as he walked up to her. "All your clothes are in here and maybe I should move to another room. It might be more convenient for you than sleeping somewhere else, then having to come here to get your clothes. "

  "Oh. " She looked surprised, then nodded. "Yes, I guess we could switch rooms. I was supposed to stay in the rose room, but--"

  It was as far as Greg let her get. He couldn't help himself. He had to kiss her. It was what he'd come after her for, after all. Catching Lissianna's face between his palms, he drew her forward and lowered his head to cover her lips with his, then sighed with relief when she imme-diately melted into him, her mouth opening to allow him entry.

  Greg supposed he shouldn't be surprised that after two hundred years Lissianna was a good kisser, but she knocked his socks off. He'd only intended for it to be a quick kiss. Well, a semiquick kiss really, but somehow it got out of control and he was pressing her back against the door, his hands moving over her body. Lissianna didn't protest. She arched into him, her own hands creeping up to catch in his hair and her own lips becoming more demanding as he ground himself against her.

  Teasing her with his tongue, Greg let his hand slide under her top, searching for naked flesh. His fingers skimmed up her flat belly, then encountered the silk of her bra, and he cupped her breast through the soft material, then squeezed more aggressively.

  If a door hadn't closed farther down the hall, bringing him back to his senses, Greg suspected he might have tried to make love to her right there against the door. But the sound was like a dousing by a pail of cold water, and he broke the kiss and stepped back. "I should let you get ready for work. "

  "Yes," she whispered.

  Greg nodded and waited for her to go into the room, but she simply stood staring at him. He was just starting to wonder why when she cleared her throat, and murmured. "Do you think you could let go of my--"

  "Oh!" Gasping, Greg released her breast and slid his hand back out from under her shirt. Embarrassed, he started to back away. "I'm going to bed soon. "

  Lissianna nodded, a small smile pulling at her lips.

  "I'll be up when you get back, though. "

  She nodded again.

  "Maybe I'll make you a surprise treat. "

  "Okay," she whispered. "I'll look forward to it. " Greg continued to back down the hall, then said, ''Have a good night. "

  "You too. " Reaching behind her back, she opened her door.

  Nodding, he smiled, then turned away with a sigh as she finally disappeared into the room.

  "Well, aren't you a sight for sore eyes?"

  Lissianna smiled at Debbie's greeting as she walked into the shelter at the beginning of her shift. "That's a nice hello. What's up?"

  "Nothing really. " Debbie followed her down the hall toward her office. "The usual. Old Bill was cranky as an old mule tonight and just finally took himself off to bed, two of the young ones got into a tussle and banged each other up a bit before we could break them up, and Father Joseph is still suffering his insomnia. "

  Lissianna raised her eyebrows. "Still?"

  "Yeah. And he's starting to talk to himself. Either that or he's taken to blessing the watercoolers. " She shrugged. "I think the insomnia is getting to him. "

  "Probably it is," Lissianna agreed, shrugging out of her coat as she walked into her office.

  "It seems rather weird to have you here on a Sunday," Debbie commented as she followed. "Weird but nice. That Claudia who takes your shift on your nights off is a whiny piece of work. I'm not sorry to give her a miss tonight when everyone is acting up. "

  "Hmm. " Lissianna gave the other woman a sympathetic glance as she hung her jacket on the coatrack in the corner and moved around her desk. In truth, she found the girl rather annoying herself. Claudia took Debbie's shift two nights of the week, and Lissianna's shift during her two nights off as well. So she and Debbie got to work together three nights a week, but both of them worked two nights a week with Claudia. Lissianna preferred her nights while Debbie was working. Claudia grated on her nerves a bit.

  ""So, is Father Joseph still here or has he gone ho--" Lissianna's question ended on a surprised squawk as she sat in her chair and something poked her in the bottom.

  "What is it?" Debbie moved forward as Lissianna leapt back to her feet
and turned to look down at what she'd sat on.

  They both stared, dumbstruck, at the cross on her seat.

  "What the. . . "

  "A cross sale?" Debbie suggested, and Lissianna glanced at her with confusion to find the other woman was no longer staring at the cross on the chair. Her gaze was shifting over the office with bewilderment. Following her gaze, Lissianna stared at the plethora of crosses filling her office. Big ones, small ones, wooden ones, metal ones; every size and sort, they lay all over her office, covering her desk surface, her chair, the bookshelves, the top of her filing cabinet. . . They were just everywhere.

  "What on earth?" she murmured with bewilderment. Movement out of the corner of her eye, drew her attention to the door where Father Joseph hovered, biting his lip.

  "Father Joseph? What. . . ?" She waved her hand around the room vaguely to indicate the crosses.

  "I was sorting crosses," he explained apologetically.

  "Sorting crosses?" Lissianna echoed with bewilderment. "In my office?"

  "Yes. " Father Joseph nodded. "It was the only empty room today. " He moved a little farther into the office. "1 expected to be done before you arrived. Sorry. "

  He glanced around the room, then held out his hand.

  "If you could just hand me the one on your chair, I'll start removing them. "

  Lissianna picked up the cross and handed it over. Father Joseph accepted the item, stared down at it silently as he rotated it in his hands, then turned to the door. "I'll go fetch a box for the rest. Could you get them all together while I do?"

  Once he was out of sight, Debbie turned an arched eyebrow her way. "He looks like hell, doesn't he?"

  "Yes, he does. I hope he gets over this insomnia soon. Something must really be bothering him to be keeping him up like this. "

  Debbie nodded, her face pensive as they began to gather the crosses. It wasn't long before Father Joseph returned with a box and Lissianna's office was once again cross-free. She watched him carry out the box, noting his stooped shoulders and heavy tread. The man was obviously exhausted she thought and shook her head. "He needs to sleep. "

  "Yes," Debbie agreed with a sigh. "I'll talk to him about getting some sleeping pills or something. This bout of insomnia has to end. "

  It was a sentiment Lissianna echoed at the end of her shift when she went in search of a candidate to feed from before heading home and again found Father Joseph prowling the halls. She could have slipped into his thoughts and sent him on his way, but Lissianna tried to avoid mucking about in the minds of the people she worked with. She had to see them on a daily basis and had no desire to learn anything that might make it uncomfortable to deal with them.

  Deciding it wouldn't kill her to go a day without feeding--especially since she'd fed so well the night before thanks to Thomas--Lissianna merely allowed him to walk her out to the car, wished him a good day, and started the engine.

  Once she was on the road, Lissianna's mind turned to Greg. He'd promised to be up by the time she got back. He was going to sleep through her shift, then have coffee and "a special treat" ready for her when she got in. Lissianna hadn't a clue what the treat was. She suspected it was probably some food or other he was fond of, though Greg seemed fond of all food. Lissianna didn't really care what it was. She was just excited at the prospect of seeing him again.

  She liked him, enjoyed talking to him, and the man could kiss like no one's business. . . as she'd found out before leaving for work last night. Of course, they'd kissed before, but this time there had been no interruptions, no ties restraining him, and the man had knocked her socks off. She was looking forward to more sock-knocking kisses.

  Lissianna smiled at the thought as she parked in the garage. It wasn't until she got out of the vehicle and was heading for the kitchen door that she noticed the black Porsche parked beside her mother's little red sports car. The sight made her steps slow and her heart do a little skip of alarm in her chest.

  Uncle Lucian was here.

  Swallowing hard, she hurried, racing into the house and straight upstairs, fear for Greg clutching at her chest.

  In her upset, Lissianna forgot Greg's saying he would move to the rose guest room that night so she could have her own room back. She burst into her bedroom, expecting to find her mother, Lucian, and Greg there, only to find it empty. Tossing her purse on the bed, she turned back to the door, catching it as it swung shut. She would have pulled it open and rushed out, but the sound of a door being opened up the hall made her pause.

  "I will need to call the council, Marguerite," she heard Uncle Lucian's deep voice.

  "You can use the phone in the den," her mother answered in subdued tones.

  Lissianna stayed stock-still as the footsteps receded toward the stairs. Her mind was swimming with chaos. He had to call the council? Why? It didn't sound good.

  Stepping into the hall, she hurried to the door of the rose room. Lissianna walked in, almost afraid of what she might find. If Lucian hadn't been able to wipe Greg's memory, he might already have--

  Her breath came out on a whoosh as she spied Greg peering at her from the bed. They had tied him down to the bed again. . . and her uncle was calling the council. The two things together didn't paint a pretty picture.

  "I knew it was you. " Thomas's words made Lissianna whirl toward the door as he and the rest of the younger set entered.

  "I heard your car," he explained.

  It was Mirabeau who frowned and said, "Lissi, you're broadcasting fear and panic, you'd better control yourself before you have Marguerite and Lucian up here. "

  Lissianna clamped down on the panic that had erupted inside her at the sight of Greg tied to the bed, then forced herself to breathe steadily and concentrate on guarding her thoughts. Strong emotions were always easier to read. They seemed to broadcast themselves so that one of her kind needn't even be trying to read thoughts to receive them. The last thing she needed was to have her mother, Martine, or Uncle Lucian pick up the waves of emotion and come to investigate. And, somehow, she had to be sure that Greg didn't broadcast his thoughts either if she was to get him out of this mess.
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