What would she do then?
Taylor had been wonderful in the beginning of their relationship. He’d even bought her chocolates for their first Valentine’s Day.
Over time, he’d become a total ass. Would Vane do the same?
And four hundred years that was a really long time to spend with someone.
Not if you love them.
Maybe that was true.
The least she could do was try. And hope.
"So where do we go from here?" she asked him.
"I have to find someplace to keep you so that if I have to leave you, you’ll be safe."
"And my store?"
"I’ll get someone to run it for you."
That sounded just a little too easy. "How?"
"I’ll ask Acheron for another favor. They have humans who help the Dark-Hunters. They run a lot of the local businesses here in New Orleans and I’m sure they can send one of them over there to keep the shop open for you. The greatest benefit is if one of my people comes calling, they’ll know how to handle them."
"All right, then. Let’s begin our hand-fasting and see how this will all work."
Vane stood up and held his hand out to her.
Bride hesitated. She had never feared the future before, but she did now. Taking a deep breath for courage, she placed her hand in his and let him pull her to her feet. She expected him to lead her to the kitchen. Instead, he flashed her into the nursery.
"You know," she said, feeling light-headed from their "trip." "Feet work well."
Vane laughed. "You said you wanted me to be myself. I prefer the flash-mode of transportation. It’s a lot quicker."
Ash sat in an old-fashioned white wooden chair, rocking the baby who was snoozing in his lap while he watched them curiously. He held a half-empty bottle of milk between his legs while the baby, dressed in a pink jumper, sucked on her tiny fist in the shelter of his arms. There was something so incongruous about that image that Bride couldn’t help but stare.
A man decked out in black leather and chains with long red and black hair and a dagger earring in his left ear definitely didn’t look like someone who should relish caring for an infant. And yet there he sat in the frilly pink room peacefully cradling the baby. Ash ought to look completely out of place and yet he seemed at home here.
"I’ve already called Jessica Adams to take over the boutique," Ash whispered to them. "She just needs to know where the paperwork is, where the keys to the store are kept, and what bank to make the deposits in."
"Damn, you’re good," Vane said.
Ash gave a cocky grin. "The absolute best."
Vane shifted his weight. "Then you know"
"Here’s the address." Ash held his hand up and a business card magically appeared between his first two fingers. He handed the card over to Vane, who stepped forward to take it. "You’ll be safe there. Trust me, he’s more paranoid than an Apollite commune. Nothing is going to get into his place."
Vane looked down at the name on the card and froze. "Will he be all right with us there?"
Ash shrugged. "His house is big enough. Just try to stay out of his way." He looked past Vane and offered Bride a smile. "He’s a bit hard on the nerves, Bride, but Valerius is a good man so long as you don’t mention Kyrian’s name to him. He’ll make sure nothing happens to you."
"Valerius?" she asked.
Vane let out a slow breath, then turned to face her. "He’s a vampire with serious attitude."
When Bride told Vane to do his worst and to let her see the real man er, wolf she’d had no idea just what she was letting herself in for.
He seldom did anything normal and she was beginning to appreciate how much effort he’d used to stay in the "normal" world for her when he’d pretended to be her wolf.
After leaving Ash, they’d gone downstairs to gather up Fury. One minute she’d been telling Amanda that she’d call her and the next, they were inside another house.
"I really wish you’d give me some warning before you do that," she said to Vane as she looked around to get her bearings.
They were in a huge living room that was twice as large as the one in Kyrian’s home. The whole house was completely dark and tomblike. Sterile. Cold.
The room had expensive, hand-carved mahogany paneling and was filled with more antiques than Bride had ever seen in one place before. Not to mention the marble floor with its intricate Roman-style pattern. It was like touring a European castle. Or a mansion. Everything she could see bled good aristocratic breeding and taste. Unlike Kyrian’s house, there was nothing modern or comfortable here. No stuffed sofas, no television, no obvious phones or computers. Nothing. Even the books lining the exquisite bookshelves appeared to be leather-bound antiques. The sofa was obviously from the Georgian era and had very little padding underneath the burgundy fabric.
But the strangest thing of all was the statuary. Statues of two women who appeared to be nude Roman nymphs flanked the winding staircase. The fact that they were antiques wasn’t what was odd, it was the bright red pasties that covered their stone-white ni**les.
"What in the world?" she asked.
Fury burst out laughing as he saw them.
"Jeez, Vane, call before you drop in. You’re lucky I didn’t shoot your ass."
Bride turned to see a tall, darkly handsome man enter the room. He had shoulder-length black hair, sharp dark brown eyes, and about three days’ worth of beard.
Dressed in a loud orange Hawaiian shirt and ripped jeans, he carried himself like a man who knew he could kill anyone who came near him.
"Is he the vampire?" Bride asked in a low tone.
"No," Vane said as he looked at the man in disbelief. "He’s Mafia. Otto, what the hell are you doing here? Dressed like that? What the hell happened to your clothes? You look like you’re morphing into Nick Gautier."
"Suffering in eternal damnation," Otto said, scratching at his beard as he neared them. "They transferred my ass over here, against my wishes I might add, to serve Dickhead Rex because he has to have someone who speaks Latin and Italian. God forbid the man have a normal plebeian Squire who just speaks English. Oh no, we must have one with breeding." Otto sounded much like Alfred Hitchcock with that last word.
"So why are you dressed like Nick?" Vane asked.
"Just to piss him off. It’s truly the only thing that keeps me sane around here."
Vane burst out laughing. "Let me guess, you the red pasties man?"
"Oh, hell yeah. I can’t wait till he gets up and freaks over that one." Otto deepened his already low baritone voice and added in an accent that was almost Italian but not quite, "Do not touch nor even breathe upon the statuary, Squire.
Unlike you, it’s priceless." His voice went back to normal. "Nah, priceless will be his face when he sees it tonight."
This time it was Fury who laughed. "I don’t know you," he said, walking toward Otto with his hand extended, "but I can already tell we’re going to be friends.
"Otto Carvalletti." He shook Fury’s hand, then looked back and forth between the two wolves. "You two related?"
"Brothers," Vane said.
"Cool," Otto said, turning toward Bride with a charming smile. "You must be Bride." He took her hand as well and she noted he had a black spiderweb tattoo over the back of his knuckles. "Welcome to the madness that is our world, my lady, though personally, I think you’re insane for wanting to be here."
Otto kissed her hand and bowed low before her. The action elicited a deep growl from Vane which Otto chose to ignore. "By the way, Bride, you can relax. I am technically human, though my multitude of siblings would deny it. And barring the pasties, I’m really not some sicko. When you meet my boss, you’ll fully understand why I have to rattle his cage."
Otto headed for the stairs. "If one of you good wolves would howl, I could do the whole ‘the children of the night, what music they make’ speech." He looked back at them when neither Vane nor Fury howled. "Or not. Okay, mental note to self that the wolves have no sense of humor or have never read Dracula or seen one of the movies. No problem. Follow me and I’ll show you to your rooms.
One quick rundown of the rules. We try to be as quiet as possible in the daylight so as not to wake Count Penicula."
"Penicula?" Bride asked.
"My pet insult for Valerius. Much like the good Roman general who owns this house, it’s a combination of penis and Dracula."
Bride would have laughed, but had a feeling it would only encourage Otto to be bad.
They followed Otto up the stairs.
"When did you get so chatty, Carvalletti?" Vane asked. "I always thought you were a man of few words."
"I normally am, but I’ve been locked in this mansion for so long now that I’m going stir-crazy. I’m thinking I should have stayed up in Alaska. Hell, I’ve even been talking to Nick just to break the monotony."
Otto paused on the stairs to look at them. "Valerius isn’t a Dark-Hunter, he’s a life-sucking Daimon out to bleed me dry. No wonder his last Squire quit. I keep putting in for a transfer and my father keeps telling me to be a man and take my assignment with dignity. I swear, that man better not get feeble or I’m locking him up in the worst retirement home I can find."
"Dog, and I thought I had issues with my parents," Fury said from behind Bride.
"Mine just want to kill me and put me out of my misery, not add to it."
"Yeah," Otto said from the top of the stairs. "You’re lucky. I wish mine would kill me."
Otto led them down a hallway while Vane leaned over and spoke in her ear.
"Don’t let Otto’s current bizarreness fool you. He was valedictorian at Princeton."
"And I had a brain until this place killed it. You try dealing with Valerius and Nick and you too will find yourself regressing into infancy in a matter of days.
But whatever you do, don’t tell Master Valerius that I ever stepped foot onto Princeton soil. He thinks I dropped out of the Barbizon School of Modeling."
Bride laughed, then looked at Vane. "So this is the world you’re bringing me into? No offense, but these people are really nuts. We have a Princeton graduate who dresses like Don Ho putting pasties on statues, a brother-in-law who’s a dog"
"Yeah, but don’t forget, Tabitha came with you," Vane reminded her. "You have your own share of nutcases."
She held her hands up in surrender. "Okay, but that’s only one nut I came with."
"And your dad neuters for a living," Fury said from behind them. "I think that’s the sickest thing I’ve ever heard of."
"Want to go visit my parents, Fury?" Bride asked.
Otto opened a door that led to a huge bedroom with the most elaborate antique canopied bed Bride had ever seen. Deep blue velvet curtains hung around the hand-carved cherubs and angels that decorated the ancient wood. "This is magnificent."
"Valerius insists on the best. You two can bunk in here, and I’ll take dog-boy farther down the hallway."
"Hey!" Fury snapped indignantly.
"Relax," Otto said. "It’s not like I’m making you sleep in the garage or anything."
The two of them left Bride and Vane alone in the room.
"So here we are," Bride said, unsure of herself.
Vane pulled her close. "It’s weird not to have to hide myself from you."
"So what all can you do?"
"Just about anything. I can travel through time in any direction. I could flash us from here to Paris or anywhere else you’d like to visit."
Bride considered that. She could have anything, but there was only one thing that would make her really happy. "Can you make me thin?"
Vane looked less than pleased. "I could."
He frowned at her as if the request completely baffled him. "Why?"
"Because I’ve always wanted to be one of those tiny little women and I never have been."
He moved to stand behind her so that he could pull her against him and hold her close. "I don’t want you skinny, Bride. I like you as you are." His breath tickled her neck as he spoke and sent heat all over her. "My people have a saying. Meat is for the man, the bone is for the dog."
"Yeah, but you’re both."
"And when given a choice between ribs and steak, I go for top choice every time."
Bride hissed as he placed his lips against her neck and nibbled her. She closed her eyes and inhaled the warm, masculine scent of him. He felt so good holding her. It made her weak and breathless.
"Is this all there is between us, Vane? Just sex?"
He laid his cheek against hers in such a loving gesture that it tore through her heart. "No, Bride. Sex is just the physical demonstration of what I feel for you." He took her hand and led it to his heart where she felt it pounding against her palm. "No one has ever touched me like you do. You’re like a whisper. Gentle, soft. Soothing. In my world, the people only shout and scream.
But you you’re my haven."
She shivered at his poetic words. "God, you’re good."