Immortal Ever After Page 20

“I suppose because men aren’t usually sensitive about their age,” she said after a moment.

“I am.”

Valerie turned to him with surprise. “Seriously?”

“Seriously,” he confirmed.

“So you won’t tell me your age?” she asked with disbelief.

“Not right now. But I will later,” he said.

“Later when?” she asked with interest.

“When we know each other better.”

“Huh,” Valerie muttered, falling silent for a moment and glancing around as they reached the end of the trees lining the drive and stepped out onto the road. They were in a rural area: the nearest house was the one across the road and that was half a field to the right of them. The next house over on this side of the road was a full field away, and by her guess that field was about the size of two football fields.

“Well, now I know why it’s so quiet when we’re sitting outside,” she commented as they started up the road.

Anders smiled, but didn’t comment.

“All right, if you won’t tell me your age, tell me how many brothers and sisters you have,” she suggested.

“Why?” Anders asked with amusement.

“Because as much as I enjoy your kisses, I don’t like being kissed by people I know nothing about,” Valerie said bluntly, and then stopped to turn to him in question when she realized his steps had faltered and he’d come to a dead halt. His expression was priceless, she had to say. It briefly looked like he’d swallowed his tongue.

Raising her eyebrows, she asked, “What? Like it was a big surprise that I like your kisses?”

For some reason that made a slow smile creep over Anders’s face. “No, I guess not,” he acknowledged. “I suppose I’m just surprised you’re willing to admit it.”

Valerie snorted and turned to continue walking. “It’s not like I didn’t make it obvious. I mean, I was all over you the last two times you kissed me.”

“Yes, you were,” Anders agreed with a grin.

“Gloat much?” she asked with dry amusement, and then prompted, “So? Brothers and sisters?”

“None,” he answered at once.

“Oh dear, an only child,” she said with an exaggerated wince.

“What’s wrong with that?” Anders asked with surprise.

“The only child is spoiled rotten. They get all the attention, all the focus, all the toys, all the everything that is normally doled out between multiple siblings,” she answered simply, and then added, “I ought to know. I was an only child too.”

Anders chuckled, but then said, “Well perhaps that’s true of yourself and most only children. But there isn’t much spoiling when you’re an orphan.”

“Were you orphaned?” Valerie asked with surprise.


Valerie peered at him silently and then turned forward again, muttering, “Well, that is an entirely different kettle of fish.”

“Why does that sound bad?” he asked with a frown.

“Not bad, just . . .”

“Not good?” he suggested and Valerie grinned at his disgruntlement. For some reason she enjoyed ruffling his feathers. Perhaps because she suspected his feathers weren’t often ruffled.

Being more serious, she asked, “How old were you when your parents died?”

Anders was silent for a minute, debating how to answer that, and how to answer all the questions that would follow. He didn’t want to lie to her. He wanted her for a life mate and lying wasn’t a good way to start, but he couldn’t tell her the full truth right now. She’d either think he was mad, or he’d then have to explain about immortals, and he didn’t think she was ready for that explanation yet. She may never be.

Sighing over the depressing thought, Anders decided the best thing to do was to tell her as much of the truth as he could and just leave out any details that might need explanations . . . like the fact that he’d been born in 1357.

“My father, Ilom, died before I was born,” he said quietly, thinking that was safe enough to tell. “And my mother, Leta, when I was twelve.”

“I’m sorry,” Valerie said quietly, and then asked, “Will you tell me about them?”

“My father was from Sofala,” he said, leaving out that his father had been a Zanj slave.

“Sofala?” she asked uncertainly.

“It’s a province of Mozambique. South of Pemba on the coast of East Africa,” he explained, not mentioning that it was Nova Sofala now and had been for a while. Continuing on with what he could tell her, he said, “My father’s father was an Arab. His mother was a local Bantu woman.”

“And your mother? Leta?”



He nodded, and then frowned. That wasn’t completely true. She had come from Atlantis originally, but she’d settled in the Basque country and considered it her home for centuries. It had been her home when she’d met his father.

“How did they meet?” Valerie asked curiously.

“My mother traveled a great deal. She was visiting a friend my father . . . worked for,” Anders finished, and Valerie peered at him curiously. He supposed she suspected he had been about to say something else, and she would be right. He’d almost said that his father had been a slave of this friend of his mother’s, but had caught himself in time.

“So she met him through this friend?” she asked. “Were they in love?”

“They were life mates,” he said solemnly. “They planned to spend their lives together.”

“How did your father die?”

That question made him hesitate, but finally he said, “He was killed for choosing my mother.”

Valerie blinked. “What?”

Anders grimaced. It was getting a bit tricky now to not lie. His father, Ilom, had been the slave of another immortal, Alecto. She had been a friend of his mother’s for some centuries. His mother had gone to visit her during one of the periods when she’d had to leave her home so that no one would notice her not aging. Had things not gone as they had, his mother would have returned ten or twenty years later, claiming to be the daughter, or a niece of herself, who had inherited everything. It was how most of them had handled the not aging issue in the old days.

However, his mother had met his father and realized he was her life mate. The problem was that he was one of the slaves belonging to Alecto’s family and when his father was brought to her attention, Alecto, who had apparently never bothered much with the slaves before that, claimed not to be able to read or control him either. She’d claimed he was a possible life mate to her as well, and as he was her family’s slave, Alecto wanted him for herself. His father, though, had already given himself over to his mother and chosen her over his mistress.

That had not gone over at all well. Alecto had tried to keep his parents apart, and Ilom and Leta had fled. And had been hunted for it.

Speaking slowly and carefully, he said, “There were those who didn’t think my parents should be together. My father and mother were hunted. They planned to escape on a ship. My mother managed to, but my father was killed before they reached it.”

He glanced to Valerie to see how she was taking this part of the story and found her deep in thought, a frown on her face. Anders suspected she was thinking the problem had been the color difference, his father being a black man and his mother a white woman. And that might have been a problem among other people of that era, but it had never been an issue amongst Atlanteans. However, it was handy if she thought it was the problem. But only if she didn’t ask about it and force him to either evade the question or lie, which he wouldn’t do.

Much to his relief, she let the issue lie and simply asked, “If your father was African and your mother Spanish, how is it that your last name is Andronikov? Was that the name of the family who adopted you after your mother died?”

He shook his head. “No, it was the name of the man who gave my mother a safe haven to give birth to me when she landed in Russia. She had to change her name and hide out after they killed my father. She chose his name for us to live under.”

“Oh,” she said softly. “Did he raise you after your mother’s death?”

Anders smiled at the thought. Andronik, now known as Saint Andronik, had been the hegumen of a monastery. The Russian equivalent of an abbot. Anders had not been raised in a monastery. He hadn’t even been born in one. Andronik had given his mother safe haven in a small cabin near the monastery and had taken her food. But neither of them had ever set foot in the monastery.

“No. He was long gone by then,” Anders said finally. “Or I should say, we were. My mother only accepted his aid until she’d given birth to me. Once she’d recovered enough, we moved on.”

“Then who raised you from twelve on after she died?” Valerie asked with a frown.

“We should turn back,” Anders said rather than answer.

Valerie glanced around, noting how far they were from the house, and then nodded, and swung back the way they’d come. After a few steps, she repeated, “So, who raised you from twelve on?”

“I was adopted by the family of a friend I’d made,” he answered truthfully, his voice growing gruff. The memory was a painful one for him.

“Why the family of a friend? Did you have no family?” Valerie asked with a frown.

“No,” he said simply.

Valerie frowned over that and asked, “How did your mother die?”

Anders hesitated, but then sighed and admitted, “The same people who killed my father killed my mother.”

Valerie stopped walking with dismay. “Your mother was murdered too? And twelve years after your father . . . by the same people? Dear God, who does that?”

“Determined people who have nothing better to do?” he suggested, trying for a light tone that failed miserably. What he said was true, or at least part of the truth. Time wasn’t the same for an immortal, twelve years was a paltry amount of time when you lived centuries. Even so, there was more to it than that Alecto was determined and had nothing better to do. The way she saw it, she’d been robbed of a possible life mate and wanted to punish someone for it. That had become her obsession. She had hunted them high and low with the help of her family, forcing them to move often and repeatedly. His childhood with his mother had been a series of different homes and constant running and hiding. Unlike Alecto, Leta hadn’t had a large support network. She had come out of Atlantis alone except for friends, and her best friend had become her worst enemy. She’d been on her own.

In truth, his mother hadn’t had a chance and the fact that she’d survived so long was a combination of dumb luck and sheer determination to see her son survive. And he had. She’d managed to keep them both alive until he was twelve. On his twelfth birthday, she’d sent him out on his first solo hunt for a blood donor. They had been practicing for the last couple months, with his going out on his own and her following in case there was trouble. But that night she’d sent him completely on his own, warning that she wouldn’t be there to watch his back so he must be very careful. And he had been; he’d returned that night full of pride and triumph only to find she had been less careful, or perhaps less lucky.

Anders had seen the wagon and several horses as he’d neared the cabin. They’d only been living there for a couple weeks. They hadn’t made friends, they never did. He and his mother had only once dared stay in one place long enough for things like that and this hadn’t been that time.

Using the cover of the woods, he’d slipped around to the back of the cabin and snuck up to a window. His mother’s body was sprawled on the floor; her head, however, had been set on the table and Alecto was ordering her men to ride into the village so the horses wouldn’t scare him off when he returned. One of the men had suggested she just leave Anders alone. Leta had paid, there was no need to carry on Alecto’s vendetta with the son, but she’d refused. The boy, as she’d called him, would replace his father as her slave.

Anders had slipped away and managed to evade them. He’d returned to that cabin some weeks later to find they’d burned it to the ground. There was nothing left of his life with his mother, not even a trinket or keepsake to carry with him. He’d left again then and had wandered briefly, but memories of the happy summer he’d spent in a small village in Spain the summer before had led him back there. It was the only place they’d stayed more than a handful of weeks and he knew the only reason they’d stayed there so long was that his mother hadn’t had the heart to drag him away from the only friend he’d managed to make during his lonely childhood of running and hiding.

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