Authors: Jeaniene Frost,Lynsay Sands
Tags: #Anthologies, #Romance, #Fantasy, #Adult, #Vampires
“Teddy,” she murmured as if tasting the word. Apparently, she liked it, because her smile widened, the naughtiness he'd noted now seeming to bloom until it completely took over her expression as her eyes drifted down over his figure to the groin of his jeans. She drawled, “I think I'd really like to see that gun of yours later.”
Teddy felt his jaw drop, and gaped after her when she turned and continued away. Had she justâ Surely she hadn't meant what he thought sheâ
“No,” Teddy muttered, shaking his head. She hadn't meant what he thought. He was an old man, for Christ's sake, and she was a pretty young thing: young enough to be his granddaughter. Of course, she might not realize that yet. He was all bundled up against the cold, with little but his eyes and nose showing.
Teddy turned and started up his own driveway, reassuring himself that she wouldn't be interested once she got a look at his old mug. In fact, the poor girl would probably be embarrassed then, he thought with a wry chuckle. He was halfway back to the cottage before he realized she'd never told him her name.
atricia whistled happily as she grabbed dried and canned food and packed it in the two empty boxes she'd found in a corner of the pantry. She wasn't really paying attention to what she was choosing, but then she had no idea what Teddy Brunswick would likeâor what she herself would like, for that matter. It had been centuries since she'd bothered with mortal food.
“Katricia Argeneau Brunswick.” It had a nice ring to it, she decided with a smile.
“Katricia and Teddy Argeneau Brunswick.” Even better, she thought and sighed dreamily as she packed another can in the box.
Damn. She'd met her life mate. Katricia savored the thought. There was nothing in the world more important to an immortal than a life mate. It was what every one of them wanted and waited for, sometimes for centuries, sometimes even longer. Some never found one at all. But if they did, it was the most important moment in their life, finding that one person in the world, mortal or immortal, whom they couldn't read or control and with whom they could share their long life. It wasn't what Katricia had expected when she'd driven up here yesterday from Toronto. Though she probably should have, she acknowledged. Marguerite's matchmaking skills were becoming renowned. At least they were in the family. It was said she seemed to have the same ability that Katricia's grandmother and the family matriarch, Alexandria Argeneau, had possessed. That woman had found life mates for a good number of her children and the others of their kind before her death more than two thousand years ago. They said it had been like a sixth sense with her. Every couple she'd put together had been life mates. Now Marguerite was doing the same.
Still, this was the last thing Katricia had expected when Marguerite had invited her to join the family for Christmas. Especially since she'd said thank you, but no. It had been an automatic response. If she'd thought first, Katricia probably would have said yes, in the hopes that Marguerite had a life mate for her. However, she hadn't thought. Her answer had been automatic and firm. She avoided family gatherings. Actually, she avoided gatherings altogether. It was just too wearying to have to guard your thoughts all the time, so she'd taken to spending more and more time alone, especially the holidays, when all the older relatives got together. It was impossible to guard your thoughts from some of them, and Katricia didn't want one of her uncles reading hers.
The only family function she'd attended in the last decade was the multiple wedding in New York last February. Not showing up would have raised questions, since she lived and worked in New York, but as she'd expected, it had been hell. Concentrating on trying to guard her thoughts while trying to hold conversations with people had been like juggling knives while doing backflips. Impossible. She was sure more than one relative had caught a glimpse of her thoughts. She'd seen a flash of concern in the eyes of a couple of her uncles and even in Marguerite herself as she'd talked with her. Katricia was positive they all had caught how dark and depressing her thoughts were growing.
The thought made her smile. Both the darkness and depression had blown away like smoke in a stiff breeze the minute she'd reached the end of the driveway, spotted Teddy Brunswick, automatically tried to read his thoughts to see who he was and what he was doing there on the road, and found she couldn't. That had been a shocker. And suddenly her last-minute problems with her holiday plans had taken on a different light.
Katricia had been annoyed as hell when her flight from New York to Colorado for some holiday skiing had been diverted to Toronto. The pilot hadn't known what the problem was and Katricia had disembarked from the Argeneau plane ready to rip someone a new one, only to find her uncle, Lucian Argeneau, waiting on the tarmac.
“Bad weather,” he'd announced by way of explanation as he'd bundled her into an SUV.
Katricia had been beside herself with frustration, her concentration divided between reciting nursery rhymes, to keep her uncle from reading her thoughts, and the intrusive worry that she'd be stuck with the family for the holidays and reciting those nursery rhymes for days. So, when he'd taken her to Marguerite's and that dear woman had mentioned that Decker had a cottage up north if she didn't wish to spend Christmas with the family, Katricia had jumped at the suggestion like a drowning woman leaping for a life raft. The next thing she'd known she and her luggage had been bundled in an SUV with the directions already on the GPS and she'd been on her way.
Now, here she was, up in the wilds of Central Ontario, snowed in with Teddy Brunswick, whom she couldn't read. Not being able to read a mortal was the first sign of a life mate. As an immortal, she could read mortals as easily as cracking open a book. Not being able to read Teddy had come as a hell of a shock. But a good one. A life mate. Damn, the idea made her sigh happily.
Of course, not being able to read him was only one of the signs, she tried to caution herself. After all, there was the occasional mortal that couldn't be read by anyone. They were usually crazies or people suffering from some affliction or other, like a brain tumor. Then no one could read them. However, Teddy Brunswick didn't seem mentally ill. He could still have a tumor or something, though, she acknowledged unhappily.
She would know soon enough, however. If Teddy really was her life mate, other symptoms would be showing up soon. The reawakening of her appetite for food was one of them, and she glanced curiously at the next box she lifted out and read the label.
She shrugged and stuck it in the box, but some of her good cheer was fading as she considered the one problem she could see with this scenario.
Katricia was pretty sure that bad weather hadn't been the reason for her diverted flight to ski country. She was absolutely certain that this had all been some grand plan to put her together with a possible life mate, which was all well and fine. But the snowstorm last night obviously hadn't been part of the plan and could be a problem, she thought with a frown.
Both boxes were now full of food. Katricia set one on top of the other, picked both up, and moved out of the pantry.
While she suspected Marguerite had arranged this meeting, she had no idea if Teddy knew about immortals. Most would probably call them vampires, but it was a term her people didn't care for. They were not cursed, soulless monsters, chomping on the neck of every passing mortal. While they lived long lives and didn't age beyond twenty-five or thirty, their physiology and need for blood was scientific in basis .Â .Â . and they avoided feeding on mortals now that blood banks were around. But just because she suspected Marguerite had sent her up here to find Teddy, it didn't mean he knew about their kind. Which meant she couldn't risk telling him the truth .Â .Â . that the provisions she'd been expecting weren't gas and food but gas and bagged blood. She didn't think he'd take well to learning he was snowed in with a vampire who was lacking in blood supplies right now.
t didn't take Teddy long to get the fire going. He'd built it up to a roaring blaze in the hopes of warming the house faster, and had just straightened to head next door and help the girl with carting provisions over when he heard someone mounting the stairs to the deck. Hurrying to the door, he pulled it open and frowned as he stepped out into the vestibule to see his neighbor on the deck, trying to rearrange the boxes she carried to free a hand to knock.
“I was just coming to see if I could help. You shouldn't have carried all that by yourself,” he admonished, quickly opening the door and reaching for one of the boxes.
“They aren't heavy,” she assured him with a laugh, twisting and sliding past before he could take one. Moving behind him, she set the boxes on the floor inside the open kitchen door and then sat on the bench across the end of the vestibule and set to work on removing her boots.
Teddy let the screen door close, and then firmly closed the wooden door against the chill before turning toward her. A frown crested his lips as she removed one boot and started on the other. They were covered with snow and couldn't be worn in the cottage, of course. It was why he'd removed his own on entering. But he still wore his coat, scarf, hat, and gloves. While the cottage was as cold as a walk-in refrigerator, the floor was like a slab of ice, and he could see her socks were your garden-variety everyday type, not meant for cold weather or icy cottages.
“Here.” He slid his feet out of his slippers and pushed them toward her. “They'll be too big, but will keep you warm at least.”
She glanced up with surprise. “What about you?”
“I have two pairs of thermal socks on. I'll be fine,” he muttered, stepping into the kitchen and bending to pick up the boxes. Teddy grunted as he lifted them, surprised at how heavy they were. If the damned kid thought these weren't heavy, she must be a weight lifter or something, he thought with irritation as he hefted them onto the counter and then set them side by side to get a look at what they held.
He glanced around as the blonde stepped into the cottage. She was shuffling her feet to keep the overlarge slippers on, and it made a smile tug at his lips, but he forced it away. In his experience, young people embarrassed easily and he didn't want her to be uncomfortable. Glancing back to the boxes as she closed the kitchen door to the mudroom, he said, “You're welcome. What's your name?”
“Oh, I didn't introduce myself, did I?” she realized with a chuckle. Moving to join him at the counter, she began to remove items from the second box and said, “Katricia, but you can call me Tricia for short.”
He noticed she hadn't mentioned a last name, but let it go for now and merely asked, “Why Tricia, and not Kat?” as he lifted out a can and examined the label to find it was tomato soup.
“Well, I always thought Kat sounded kind of bitchy,” she answered absently as she worked. “Besides, men tend to like to play with that name, adding cutesy things like Kitty to it, or switching it out altogether for Kitty or even Pussy.”
Teddy dropped the latest can he'd pulled out of the box and turned to her with amazement. “Pussy?”
She grinned at his expression and nodded. “Usually guys trying to get into my pants. Can you imagine a guy thinking that would tempt me to sleep with him?”
“Er.” Teddy stared at her blankly, completely at a loss. Women just generally didn't talk quite so openly with him. They were usually kind of deferring and respectful. It was his title, of course. Being police chief meant people treated him differently. Well, most people anyway, he thought as Mabel and Elvi came to mind. Those two still treated him like the friend he'd been to them since their school years. Still, even they didn't say things likeâ
“You wouldn't think calling me Pussy Kat or even just Pussy would make me want to sleep with you, would you Teddy?”
He blinked as those husky words sank through his thoughts and realized that Katricia had turned her body to face his and moved closer. She was also looking up at him with soft blue eyes and slightly parted lips that made him think of Mary Martin back home. A year or two younger than he, and widowed, the woman was always on him like a tic on a deer whenever he entered a room. Mary had marriage on the mind and he didn't doubt it for a minute, but Teddy was too damned old to even consider marriage. He'd missed that boat, and while he regretted it, heâ
His thoughts scattered as Katricia's pink little tongue slid out to run over her lips, wetting them. She had also continued to move closer, he realized with sudden alarm as her coat front brushed his and she raised a hand to brace it against his chest. His alarm only increased when he realized that he was swaying toward her in response like a moth drawn to a flame .Â .Â . a very old moth to a very young flame.
Giving his head a shake, Teddy quickly stepped back and began to remove his hat. It was still cold in the cottage, but it was time this little girl saw just who she was dealing with here. It would probably embarrass her to realize she'd been flirting with such an old fart, but it would be a damned sight more embarrassing for both of them if she didn't stop.
Avoiding looking at her so he didn't have to witness her horror as his gray hair was revealed, he moved across the room to set his hat on the dining-room table. Teddy then gave her another moment to deal with what he suspected would be her mortification at flirting with an old man by taking the time to remove his scarf, fold it neatly, and set it down before turning to reveal his weathered face.
He expected to find her wide-eyed and openmouthed with embarrassment. Instead, she eyed him with interest, as if inspecting a horse she was considering buying, and then she smiled and announced, “You're a good-looking man, Teddy Brunswick.”
He blinked at the words and frowned. “I'm an
The words made her chuckle, and she shook her head. “You're not twenty-five, but that doesn't mean you aren't good-looking. You have a strong face, nice eyes, and a full head of sexy, silver hair.” When he just frowned harder, she added, “What? You thought your age made you unattractive? How many women do you think would say no to Sean Connery?”
The question made his eyes widen, and Katricia grinned. She also removed her own hat and scarf. Much to his relief, she didn't come near him but set them neatly on the counter beside her and then turned back to the box of goods to continue emptying it.
The moment she did, Teddy felt some of the stress slip from his body. But he didn't move back to join her; instead, he eyed her from where he stood, taking in her profile. She wasn't a beauty. Her hair was blond, whereas he had always preferred redheads, and her face was pale, her features more fitting in a Renaissance portrait, but there was something appealing about her, he decided and then quickly tried to erase that thought from his mind.
There was nothing at all appealing about this young woman, he lectured himself firmly. She was a child. Barely twenty-five, by his guess. A baby, compared to him. And he wasn't going to forget that. Teddy Brunswick was not going to be one of those old fools chasing around little girls young enough to be his granddaughter. Nope, he wasn't going to be the kind of man others snickered about behind his back.
Suitably chastened, Teddy moved to the fire and threw another log on, then took a minute to push the logs around until the fire was full-strength. Satisfied by the heat pouring off of it, he glanced around the room and then toward the hall to the bedrooms. He could see the open bedroom doors and frowned.
“What's wrong?” Katricia asked and he glanced over to see that she'd stopped unpacking and was watching him curiously.
“I was just thinking I should close the bedroom doors so the heat stays in here,” he admitted, setting the poker back on its holder.
“I'll do it,” she offered and moved off at once.
Teddy let her go, thinking she would find the bathroom that way so she didn't have to ask when she needed to use it. With her safely out of the room, he moved back to the boxes to continue sorting the contents. He almost sighed aloud when he found the can of coffee. Of course, the coffee pot wouldn't work without electricity, but maybe if he boiled some water in a pot over the fire and then used the drip filter and coffee pot, he could come up with a halfway decent brew. A cup of coffee sounded damned fine at that moment. It might help clear his thoughts some, too, he decided and set the can aside to start searching the cupboards for a suitable pot.
Katricia took her time closing bedroom doors, peering curiously into each room as she went. It was partially out of curiosity and partially to give Teddy some breathing room. She didn't need to read his mind to know that he wasn't comfortable with her. She supposed she'd come on too strong too fast, but hadn't been able to help herself. The very fact that he might be her life mate made her want to test it. She wasn't hungry yet, but then the only food around was in cans and boxes. There was nothing really to tempt her palate. Which meant the easiest way to know for sure was to kiss Teddy and see if she experienced the shared pleasure she'd heard so much about.
Unfortunately, it was looking like that might be a hard objective to achieve. Teddy didn't appear to be comfortable with what he thought was their age difference. That seemed obvious to her from the way he'd quickly removed his hat and scarf and then turned as if presenting some monstrosity to her. This was going to take some patience, which had never been Katricia's strong suit. She was already struggling with the urge to simply walk straight back out into the kitchen and jump the man's bones. The only thing stopping her was the worry that she might give the poor guy a heart attack or something. That would be just her luckâkill her life mate with a heart attack before she could woo and turn him.
Grimacing at the thought, Katricia continued checking out the rooms. She found the one with Teddy's suitcase in it and smiled faintly, thinking it was the room she would have picked, too. It was the last on the left, with the window overlooking the driveway where he could easily look out to see who was approaching should anyone come up the drive.
It was a good defensive position, and his cop was showing in the choice, she thought with a smile and then pulled the door closed and moved back up the hall. Her eyes widened slightly when she found Teddy kneeling by the fireplace, situating a couple of pots at the edge of the fire.
“What are you doing?” she asked curiously, moving up behind him to peer over his shoulder, but moving back a bit when she sensed him stiffening.
“Experimenting,” he said gruffly, straightening and moving around her to get back into the kitchen. “Boiling water to make drip coffee and heating chicken soup. It's not the usual breakfast fare, I know, but beggars can't be choosers.”
“Clever,” Katricia murmured, watching from the fireplace as he moved into the kitchen and began to measure coffee into a filter.
“Hardly clever,” Teddy said with amusement as he set his coffee fixings aside and continued rifling through the box. “More like desperate. I'm useless without my java.”
“Java?” Katricia asked, warming her hands at the fire.
“Coffee,” he explained and then said, “Since you're over there, keep an eye on the soup for me, will you?”
“Sure,” Katricia said, watching him cross to the table to redon his hat and scarf.
“I'm going to go see if I can get my truck door open and the truck started so I can charge my phone,” he explained as he moved to the door. “If I can get the phone hooked up, I can call Marguerite and see if we can't get the power back on.”
Teddy paused to glance her way with surprise. Probably because she'd barked the word in her surprise, she thought and grimaced to herself. Clearing her throat, she asked more calmly, “Who's Marguerite?”
“Marguerite Argeneau, a friend. She arranged for me to rent this cottage. I want to call and find out who I should report the power problem to,” he said slowly, still eyeing her a little oddly. But then he shook his head and turned to walk out into the mudroom to don his boots. He pulled the door closed behind him and Katricia stared at it, biting her lip.
She had a cell phone. It was in her pocket and had been since waking and yet she hadn't once thought of using it .Â .Â . not even to check on her blood delivery. That more than anything told her just how overset she'd been since finding she couldn't read Teddy.
Muttering under her breath, she pulled out the phone, but then paused and simply stood there, listening until Teddy finished donning his boots and she heard him stomp out of the cottage.
Katricia then turned to give the soup a quick stir before moving into the kitchen to peer out the window. Spotting Teddy by the door of his pickup, fiddling with the lock, she quickly pulled up contacts on her phone and found her aunt's listing. Marguerite answered on the second ring, her voice cheerful and happy as she said, “Hello Tricia, dear, how is your vacation going?”
“I can't read Teddy,” Katricia blurted, not bothering with niceties.
“Oh, how lovely!” Marguerite didn't sound at all surprised. “I hoped the two of you would meet. Isn't he a handsome man?”
“Yes,” Katricia breathed. Teddy Brunswick was the most beautiful man she'd ever met. Of course she might be biased, since she couldn't read him and suspected he was her life mate. It tended to color things. Still, he
a handsome man.
“He's so dignified-looking, and such a gentleman. I've seen pictures of him when he was younger and I promise you he'll be even more gorgeous after he's turned. Heâ”
“Does he know about us?” Katricia interrupted, zeroing in on what was most important to her. If he knew about them, she could just tell him she couldn't read him and then jump his bones and find out for sure whether he was her life mate or not.