A quick bite, p.6
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       A Quick Bite, p.6

         Part #1 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands
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Chapter 5


  "I know you're probably mad as hell about being here, but this isn't Lissianna's fault and she really needs your help. "

  Greg let his breath out on a slow exhalation. He'd been holding it for several minutes as he waited for the man to speak, but this wasn't what he'd expected. He didn't have any clear idea of what he had expected, but this simply wasn't it.

  The man Lissianna had called Thomas looked to be in his late twenties to early thirties, a little younger than Greg himself. He was also as handsome as everyone else in this madhouse, with dark hair and the same piercing silver-blue eyes as Lissianna and her mother, but while Greg had seen the man twice and Thomas had been smiling good-naturedly both times, he suspected Thomas wasn't the sort to resort to appeals too often. Yet, he now appeared to be making one on Lissianna's behalf.

  Greg watched the younger man pace to the foot of the bed, then back to his side. "Look, Lissianna. . . " He hesitated then said, "We're pretty close. My mom died shortly after I was born and--unfortunately--my dad didn't have a clue what to do with me, so Aunt Marguerite took me in. She did the same for my sister Jeanne Louise. "

  "You and your sister were raised with Lissianna?"

  "We played together, took school together. . . we're. . . close," he finished helplessly.

  "Like siblings," Greg said, with understanding.

  "Yes, exactly. " Thomas smiled. "Lissianna's like a sister to me, and Aunt Marguerite is like a mother. "

  "Okay. " Greg nodded that he got that.

  "So, I do understand why Aunt Marguerite brought you here. I know she's been terribly worried about Lissianna. Her phobia. . . " He shook his head unhappily. "It's bad. It would be like you fainting at the sight of food and unable to eat. It affects her whole life and has for ages. "

  Thomas frowned and paced to the foot of the bed and back again before saying, "It wasn't so bad when Jean Claude was alive. Lissianna would let Aunt Marguerite put her on intravenous then, but--"

  "Who's Jean Claude?" Greg interrupted.

  "Aunt Marguerite's husband, Lissianna's father. "

  "Why is he Jean Claude to you rather than 'uncle' while Marguerite merits the title aunt?" Greg asked curiously.

  Thomas's lips thinned. "Because he wasn't much of an uncle. He wasn't much of a husband or father either. He was controlling and really old-fashioned, and I'm talking seriously old-fashioned here. He was also mean as a rattlesnake and made Aunt Marguerite and Lissi miserable when he was around. "

  "What about you?"

  "What about me?" Thomas asked with confusion.

  "Well, you said you were raised by your aunt alongside Lissianna; I presume you had to deal with your uncle, too. Didn't he make you miserable as well?"

  "Oh. " Thomas waved that away as unimportant. "He wasn't so bad with me. Besides, I didn't have to put up with him for long. I moved out at nineteen. "

  "Lissianna could have, too," Greg pointed out, but Thomas shook his head.

  "No. Jean Claude expected her to live at home until she married. "

  "She could have rebelled," he suggested, bringing an incredulous look from Thomas.

  "You didn't rebel against Jean Claude," Thomas informed him solemnly. "Besides, Lissi would never have left Aunt Marguerite on her own to deal with him. Jean Claude's mind was really twisted by the end. He was pretty scary. "

  "He's dead then," Greg murmured. "How did he die?"

  "A fire. He partook of too much. . . er. . . alcohol and fell asleep with a cigarette in his hand. It started a fire, and he perished in it. "

  Greg nodded.

  "Anyway. . . " Thomas began to pace again. "That was the best thing he ever did for Aunt Marguerite and Lissi, but it put Lissi in a panic. She suddenly started worrying about what if Marguerite died? Who would feed her? So, she decided she had to be more independent. She started working at the shelter, and now she's moved out and is trying to feed herself, but Aunt Marguerite is worried, and so are the rest of us. "

  "About what?" Greg asked with interest. It sounded to him like her father's death had set Lissianna free to embark on adulthood. She was like a bird taking its first flight.

  "That she'll turn out like Jean Claude. "

  "Her father the alcoholic?" Greg asked with confusion. "Is she drinking?"

  "No, at least not on purpose," Thomas said slowly. "But it's her phobia. "

  Greg shook his head. Somewhere he'd lost the thread of the conversation. Before he could ask for clarification, Thomas stiffened, his head cocking toward the door.

  "I have to go; Aunt Marguerite's coming. " He walked to the door, then paused to say, "I know you don't understand, but I haven't time now. Aunt Marguerite will no doubt explain everything in the morning. When she does, just try to remember that none of this is Lissianna's fault. She didn't bring you here, but she does need your help. "

  On that note, he slipped silently out of the room. A moment later, Greg heard the murmur of voices in the hall, then silence, followed by the soft click of a door farther up the hall. It seemed everyone had gone back to bed.

  Sighing, he let his head fall back on the pillow and stared up at the ceiling, his mind on what Thomas had told him. So the beautiful Lissianna hadn't had an easy life. Greg grimaced, thinking that few people did. Perhaps it was the natural pessimism that his profession tended to gamer, but after years of counseling the bro ken and abused, it seemed to him that few escaped youth unscarred.

  He had a few scars himself. His mother had been warm and loving, and his sisters were great, as were his aunts and cousins and the rest of his extended family, but his own father hadn't been a winner. The man had been a philanderer with a violent temper. The best thing he'd done for his family was abandon it while Greg was still young, but it had left him to be the little man of the house. He'd grown up being told over and over that he was "the only good man out there. " It was a lot of weight for a boy to bear, and probably part of the reason he was still sin-gle. He didn't want to go from being the "only good one out there" in his mother's and sisters' eyes, to one of the bad ones should he mess up.

  Greg's thoughts came to an abrupt halt as the bedroom door opened again. Lifting his head, he peered at the woman entering, the brunette in the red baby doll. She eased the door cautiously closed, then released a pent-up breath of apparent relief at arriving in the room undiscovered. Turning from the door, she approached the bed.

  "Oh good, you're awake," she whispered, pasting a bright smile to her lips.

  Greg raised an eyebrow, wondering what was coming as she paused and settled herself on the edge of the bed to eye him pensively.

  "Everyone thinks I've gone to the lavatory, but instead I snuck up here to see you," she explained, then added, "I'm Elspeth, and I wanted to talk to you about my cousin Lissianna. "

  "Ah. " Greg nodded, doing his best not to gape at all the pale ivory flesh exposed by her skimpy nightwear. It would seem rude if he were to ogle her, he was sure.

  "I gather Aunt Marguerite brought you here to treat Lissianna, but Lissi seems to think you'll be so annoyed at Aunt Marguerite's high-handed tactics, that you'll refuse to help her, and she really, really needs your help. " Elspeth paused expectantly.

  "I see," Greg murmured, to fill the silence, but when she continued to simply stare at him with quiet expectation, he asked, "What exactly is Lissianna's phobia?"

  The brunette blinked in surprise. "You mean no one has told you?"

  He shook his head.

  "Oh. " She bit her lip. "Well, perhaps I shouldn't tell you then. I mean, Lissianna claims she can't read your mind, but Aunt Marguerite apparently can, and if she reads that you know what the phobia is when she hasn't told you, she might go looking for how you know and realize I snuck up here to--" Her eyes widened in sudden horror, and she stood abruptly. "Damn! She might be able to read that I came up here anyway. "

  Greg simply stared. Lissianna had mentioned something abou
t not being able to read his mind the first time she'd been in the room, now this woman was going on about it. What was the matter with these people? Surely they didn't really think they could read minds?

  Of course they did, he realized as he recalled that the mother had actually done so. Perhaps psychic abilities run in the family, he supposed. How fascinating.

  "Oh look, I'd better go. " The brunette was all in a tizzy now. "But please try to forget I was here. Just-- Won't you please help Lissianna? She's really sweet and nice and funny and smart, and this phobia has been such a burden. You really should help her. You'd like her, too, if you got to know her, and if you helped her you'd get the chance to know her," she said, backing toward the door. "Now, just forget I was here and try not to think about it when Aunt Marguerite comes to see you in the morning, okay?"

  Elspeth didn't wait for an answer, but opened the door, stuck her head out to see if the coast was clear, then gave him a little wave and slid out of the room.

  Greg gave his head a shake and let it drop back on the bed. He felt like he'd entered an episode of The Twilight Zone, and one he hadn't seen before.

  Treat Lissianna? They all needed treatment, he thought, then stiffened as he heard the door open again. This time he didn't raise his head to peer toward the sound, but waited, eyes closed and listening to the hushed whispers as the door was eased closed and there was the rustle of more than one someone approaching the bed.

  "Oh darn, he's asleep," one of the someones whispered with disappointment.

  "Then we'll just have to wake him, Juli," another voice whispered back pragmatically. "This is important. He has to help cousin Lissi. "

  "Yes. You're right, Vicki. " There was a pause, then, "How do we wake him?"

  Deciding he didn't want to know what they might come up with, Greg opened his eyes and found himself peering at the teenage twins with auburn hair. They stood on either side of the bed, and he glanced from the one in peach to the girl in blue, wondering which one was Juli and which one was Vicki.

  "Oh, Vicki, he's awake, his eyes have opened," the girl in blue noted with relief. Greg guessed that made her Juli.

  "Good," Vicki said, then announced, "we were going to try to wake you. "

  "We told the others we were going to fetch a drink, but we really wanted to talk to you," Juli added.

  "About our cousin," Vicki finished.

  "Why am I not surprised to hear that?" Greg asked ironically and the twins exchanged an uncertain glance across his body, then shrugged as one and both settled on either edge of the bed.

  It was going to be a long night, Greg decided on a sigh.

  Fifteen minutes later the bedroom door closed behind them, leaving Greg to contemplate his conversation with the twins. They were a charming pair and obviously thought a lot of Lissianna, but then everyone who had been in this room tonight seemed to care about her. Including her mother, which was how he'd ended up here.

  It was Marguerite's actions that everyone seemed con-cemed with. They all feared he would hold it against Lis-sianna that her mother had brought him here, and that because of it, he'd refuse to help her. This just served to confuse Greg. He had climbed into the trunk of his own volition and walked upstairs to be tied up, and while he didn't understand his own actions, he could hardly blame Marguerite for them. Could he?

  Unable to answer his own question, Greg glanced toward the door, wondering when it would open again. As he recalled, there had been six people with Lissianna when he'd awoken to find them surrounding his bed. Four had already snuck back to see him. He guessed that meant he would probably be visited by at least two more people.

  He wasn't wrong. Moments later the door was easing open, and a woman in a pale lavender baby doll was slipping inside. Greg watched her approach the bed and mentally gave his head a shake. If there was one thing that could be said for this family, they certainly had delightful taste in nightwear, he decided. Barring the male member, of course, he added as an afterthought as he recalled Thomas's Spider-Man pajamas.

  "Hello, I'm sorry to disturb you," the newcomer said quietly as she reached the bed. "But I'm Jeanne Louise, Lissianna's cousin, and I wanted to talk to you about her. "

  "Jeanne Louise," Greg murmured. "You're Thomas's younger sister. "

  When she nodded in surprise, he added, "And everyone thinks you're in the bathroom when you really came here to ask me to try not to let my anger at how I came to be here affect my decision as to whether I help Lissianna or not. "

  "Oh," Jeanne Louise breathed with amazement.

  "And you want to appeal to me to please help her. "

  Greg continued. "Because she really needs my assistance and you're very worried about her. "

  "Wow. " Jeanne Louise sank onto the edge of the bed, her eyes wide. "You're really good. I didn't know psychologists could figure out stuff like this with so little--"

  "Your brother spoke to me earlier and mentioned that his sister's name was Jeanne Louise," Greg interrupted to explain. "He also expressed his concern for Lissianna and asked that I not allow anger at her mother to keep me from helping her. "

  "Oh. " Jeanne Louise smiled faintly. "Yes. He would. He and Lissianna have always been close. "

  "Does that upset you?" Greg asked curiously.

  She seemed surprised at the question, but shook her head. "Oh no, she and I are close, too. My mother died shortly after I was born, and Aunt Marguerite raised me, too, just as she did Thomas. "

  "The same mother as Thomas or--"

  "No, a different mother," Jeanne Louise told him, then made a wry face, and said, "Father hasn't had much luck with women. I was his daughter by his third wife. Thomas's mother was Father's second wife. "

  "Is there a sibling from the first wife, too?" Greg asked curiously.

  Jeanne Louise shook her head. "His first wife was pregnant when she died, but she hadn't had the baby yet. "

  "Definitely bad luck with women. " Greg agreed, then said, "But you were also raised with Lissianna and Thomas by Aunt Marguerite when your mother died?"

  "Thomas was already moved out and living on his own by then, but Lissianna was there," Jeanne Louise said. "She was a lot older and helped to take care of me. I suppose when I was little she was like a second mother or an auntie. Now we're friends. "

  Greg stared at her blankly, his brain rebelling at her claims. Thomas was old enough to have moved out on his own by the time this woman had been born? And Lis-sianna was old enough to take care of her like a second mother? There was no way any of that was true. The trio looked too close in age for him to believe it. He would accept that there might be a year or two age difference between Jeanne Louise and the other two, but that was about it.

  Before he could voice his thoughts, the bedroom door opened again and the woman with fuchsia tints and wearing the mint green baby doll entered. She hesitated on spotting Jeanne Louise, then made a face and closed the door.

  "I just thought I'd come talk to him," she murmured as she approached the bed.

  "I know, Mirabeau. I came to ask him to help Lissi, too," Jeanne Louise confessed, then grinned, and asked, "Do they think you're in a bathroom, too?"

  Mirabeau smiled faintly. "No, I said I was going to grab a drink. "

  "And instead all of you were coming here," Greg said, drawing surprised glances from both women.

  "All of us?" Mirabeau asked.

  Greg nodded. "Thomas stayed behind when the rest of you left. Tnen a brunette in a red baby doll came in. "

  "Elspeth," Jeanne Louise informed him.

  Greg nodded again. "Then the twins. . . Juli and Vicki?"

  "Yes," Jeanne Louise said.

  "And now you and. . . " His gaze slid to the woman with the black-and-fuchsia hair, and he queried, "Mirabeau?"

  She nodded.

  "Well. . . " Jeanne Louise sighed. "I guess if everyone else has been here, Mirabeau and I have rather wasted our time and bothered
you for nothing. "

  "Not for nothing," he assured her. "I've learned a lot. "

  She looked doubtful, but didn't comment, and Mirabeau said, "We'd better head back before Martine or Marguerite catches wind of us and decides to investigate. "

  Nodding, Jeanne Louise stood, then hesitated before saying, "Lissianna really needs your help. You could make her life so much better by curing her phobia. "

  "Yes, you could, and we'd all be grateful," Mirabeau added solemnly, then the two women left the room.

  Greg lay back in the bed again. He still had no clue what Lissianna's phobia was. After Elspeth's panicked reaction, he hadn't bothered to ask any of the others. Not that he'd had a chance to ask the twins much of anything. The two were like a tag team when it came to conversation--if one wasn't talking, the other was. They'd sat on either side of the bed, informing him that he simply had to help their cousin, it was vital to her future well-being, and she deserved a contented life. She was a good person, and it was simply heartbreaking that she had to suffer as she did because of "the phobia. " And she wasn't the only one affected, according to them. Their aunt Marguerite was suffering along with her daughter as well as all those who loved her, and it simply had to stop. They sincerely hoped that he would be able to cure her and would be grateful until the end of time if he did.

  The short stint that had followed with Jeanne Louise and Mirabeau had been restful in comparison, but still Greg hadn't asked them what the phobia was either. By that time, he'd thought he knew. Thomas had said it would be like his fainting at the sight of food. At the time,

  Greg had thought Lissianna's cousin was just using the example to show how detrimental the phobia was, but then the man had mentioned her needing to be fed intravenously and so on, and he'd concluded that she did faint at the sight of food, or that she couldn't bring herself to eat it. Either of which was indeed a phobia that needed curing.

  Greg didn't understand what the alcohol had to do with her phobia, but it was possible that she was beginning to indulge in the stultifying liquid in an effort to forget the troubles in her life.

  No, he hadn't bothered to ask what her phobia was, but he'd been speaking the truth when he'd told Jeanne Louise that her coming up to see him hadn't been for nothing. He had learned a lot. Greg had learned that Lis-sianna was well loved by those around her, that they saw her as intelligent, kind, loving, and good, and that all of them wanted her healthy and well. It seemed Lissianna wasn't just lovely on the outside, but possessed a loveliness of spirit as well.

  Which was good to know, Greg thought, and admitted to himself that he'd like to help her. Mind you, if he were honest with himself, while he was impressed that everyone seemed to think so much of her, he wanted to help her as much because of the little episode of kissing and neck-sucking as anything else.

  Rolling his eyes at himself, Greg became aware of an itch on his upper shoulder and automatically tried to reach to scratch it, only to be drawn up short by the ropes at his wrists. Blinking in surprise, he peered up at his bindings, then closed his eyes and sank into the bed with a sigh of self-disgust. He'd had nine people in the room in all that evening. Six scantily clad women, one

  Spider-Man wannabe, and Aunt Martine and Marguerite. Most of them had even been in the room more than once, and what had he done? Had he convinced them to set him free or even asked to be untied? No, Greg had allowed himself to be drawn into the drama of this mad family and completely lost sight of what should have been his priority. . . Getting home to prepare for his trip.

  Mentally kicking himself, Greg glanced around the room, but there was no clock for him to check the time. He thought it must be early morning, however. Still enough time to catch his flight if he got loose soon. Not that he was likely to be able to free himself from the ropes, but if someone else were to come to speak to him, perhaps he could persuade him or her to set him free.

  He decided he'd promise to treat Lissianna on his return from Mexico if they untied him now, then promptly rethought the decision. Perhaps it would be better to have someone else treat her. Greg knew several good therapists who could help her as well as he himself could. Not that he minded the idea of treating her, it was just that what with the earlier kissing, and his most un-therapist-like feelings for her, it might be more ethical to have someone else see to her. That would also leave him free to pursue a relationship, so he could explore those most un-therapist-like feelings he had.

  Greg wouldn't tell them any of this, however. He wouldn't even allow such thoughts to enter his mind since there was a good possibility Marguerite could read it. He'd simply agree to see to her treatment after he returned. When he came back was soon enough to approach the subject of an alternate therapist.

  Satisfied with his plan, Greg glanced toward the door expectantly. It had been like Grand Central Station for the last little bit, with everyone coming and going. He was sure he wouldn't have long to wait until someone came to speak to him. Perhaps this time it would be Lissianna herself.
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