Immortal Ever After Page 33

Valerie was silent for a moment, and then nodded and turned to Greg. “Go ahead.”

Greg glanced from Anders to Valerie and then said, “You and Billie have a connection to the Guelph University. Did any of the others? Could the college or university be where he found all of you?”

Valerie considered the possibility, but shook her head. “I don’t think so. Laura was a realtor and Cindy was a teacher. Kathy was unemployed. Billie was the only one who mentioned a connection to the university or college.”

Greg looked disappointed, but then said, “All right, you saw Cindy at the vet’s. Perhaps he is connected to the vet clinic and that’s how he got onto you all.”

Valerie shook her head at once. “The day I saw Cindy at the clinic was the first time I ever went there. I only did that because I needed flea pills for Roxy and didn’t want to waste Anders’s time driving to Cambridge. It just happened to be the closest clinic. I had no connection to it before that.”

Greg was silent for a moment, but then sighed and said, “Tell us about the house.”

Valerie glanced from him to Anders uncertainly. “Tell you what about the house?”

“Whatever you can remember,” Greg said. “I understand most of your time was spent in a cage in the dark in the basement?”

Valerie nodded and moved closer to Anders. He suspected it was a subconscious action. She was seeking comfort. He tightened the arm he had around her and rubbed his hand soothingly up and down her upper arm.

“But you were taken upstairs twice,” Greg continued. “I’d like you to close your eyes and go back there in your memory for us and tell us everything you see. Can you do that?”

Valerie hesitated, obviously not eager to do so, but then she grimaced, nodded, and closed her eyes.

“Good,” Greg said. “It’s the last night you were in your cage. Igor has let you out of your cage and is leading you upstairs. The first room at the top of the stairs is what?”

“A kitchen,” she said quietly.

“Can you describe everything you see in that kitchen?” Greg asked.

Valerie was silent for a moment, but Anders could see her eyelids twitching as if she were looking around. He suspected she was seeing the kitchen again.

“I was looking for a weapon,” she said suddenly. “I had my head down and was using my hair for cover. The floor was black and white checker tile, the kitchen table an old aluminum job with that speckled top, circa ‘really old.’ The cupboards were plain rectangles, that bright blue they used fifty years ago, and the countertops were completely bare. It was like it was an empty house they’d taken over or something.”

Anders continued to rub her arm. It hadn’t been an empty house. Igor and his boss must have emptied out the rooms they wouldn’t be using. But they hadn’t told Valerie that the old couple who owned the place had been killed and left to rot in the room behind the room where her cage had been. There was no need to give her worse nightmares.

“Nothing at all on the countertops?” Greg questioned with a frown. “What about on the fridge? Were there any magnets with notes, or mail, or—”

“No. There was nothing,” Valerie assured him.

“Okay,” Greg said. “You’re leaving the kitchen. Now what do you see?”

“A hall as empty as the kitchen, and then we’re heading up the stairs.”

“You must have passed rooms on the way to the stairs. Did you see anything in the rooms?”

“Nothing near the doorways and that’s all I saw,” she said and reminded him, “My head was down.”

“Okay, you’re mounting the stairs. What do you see at the top?”

“I raised my head as we mounted the stairs, and then we were in another hallway. There’s a blue shag carpet—God I hate shag,” she added in a disgusted mutter. “It gets all gross and matted.”

Greg smiled faintly. “Anything else?”

“Paneled walls, a cheap, fake Renaissance portrait, and he turns me to the left and—”

“A Renaissance portrait?” Greg interrupted sharply.

Valerie opened her eyes curiously. “Yeah. But it was a bad knockoff, ugly and dirty-looking.”

Greg’s eyes narrowed. “Marguerite has portraits of herself and her children down through the ages. She has them taken care of, has them cleaned and touched up regularly and so forth when the paint begins to darken or crack, but if your rogue didn’t, the painting might look dirty and cheap.”

Her eyebrows rose. “You think the portrait might be of him?”

Rather than answer, Greg glanced to Lucian in question. “Do most immortals keep portraits of themselves?”

“Some,” he acknowledged. “There were no cameras back then and portraits were the only way to capture memories. But it could just as easily be a cheap knockoff, as Valerie thought. Something the previous owners had put up.”

“They took everything out of the kitchen that belonged to the previous owners. What makes you think they left anything in the rest of the house?” Greg asked.

Lucian raised his eyebrows. “Good point. I suppose it could be of him. That would explain why he’d want the women back. They might have been able to describe his portrait.”

“But none of the others mentioned it, did they?” Anders asked. No one had mentioned the portrait to him prior to this.

“No,” Lucian acknowledged.

“But the others were drugged, probably unsteady on their feet and watching their step because of it. Valerie wasn’t drugged and was looking for a weapon to facilitate her escape,” Greg pointed out. “However, he couldn’t be sure that one of them might not have glanced up. At least not without searching their memories. To do that, he needed to recapture them.”

Anders frowned. That didn’t bode well for the women that had been recaptured. If he’d only taken them to search their memories and ensure they didn’t tell anyone about the portrait, then he had no reason to keep them alive. His plan might actually be to capture and kill each of the women and then move on to new, safer pastures.

“True,” Greg said.

Anders glanced up to see that the psychologist was speaking to him. He’d read his mind, he realized with irritation.

“But that means there’s good news,” Greg continued. “If he’s worried about that portrait, it’s because someone might recognize him from it.”

“Maybe, but no one has recognized Igor yet,” Anders pointed out.

Greg shrugged. “He may be new. A newer turn that the rogue took on to tend to the women and do the more unpleasant or heavy work he doesn’t want to do.” He paused to let that sink in and then added, “But he himself may be more recognizable . . . especially if he’s been around a while and had enough wealth and power to be able to afford a portrait. I suspect those didn’t come cheap.”

“No, they didn’t,” Lucian agreed and glanced to Valerie. “Describe the portrait. You said Renaissance. Are you sure, or was that just a guess?”

“He was wearing one of those fluffy collar things around his neck like Queen Elizabeth wore,” she said.

“Ruffs,” Lucian said. “They were around near the end of the Renaissance. Sixteenth century. What else?”

Valerie hesitated, and then bit her lip and closed her eyes. “A fur collar, dark clothes, maybe a robe or something, but it’s only from the shoulders up.”

“The face, Valerie,” Anders said gently.

She sighed with resignation and then her face screwed up. He couldn’t tell if she was in pain or thinking really hard. “A beard and mustache, big ears, a miserable expression.”

“Everyone looked miserable back then,” Anders said with amusement.

“Yeah, but I don’t remember facial hair on Count Rip-Out-Your-Throat,” she said raising a hand self-consciously to her neck as she opened her eyes.

Anders reached for her hand and drew it away from her neck to kiss her knuckles. She was struggling with this and he wished she didn’t have to go through it, but she wouldn’t be safe until they found this man.

“He may have removed the facial hair since then,” Greg said soothingly. “Just try to remember his eyes and nose and what color his hair was.”

“Right,” she muttered, and closed her eyes. “Eyes and nose and hair color. Well, the painting was dirty, but it looked like his hair was terribly fair.”

“Blond?” Anders asked.

“Fairer than blond. Almost white, but his face wasn’t old-looking. He had a straight nose and his eyes were kind of like— Oh,” she interrupted herself with surprise.

“What is it?” Anders asked and could feel the way everyone in the room had suddenly stilled and were leaning forward with anticipation.

“I just realized why he looked so familiar,” she said with wonder. “He looked like the man in the portrait.”

“Who did?” Anders asked with alarm. “You’ve seen the man from the portrait since leaving the house?”

“Yes.” She opened her eyes and turned to him. “In the grocery store parking lot. The man at the cart corral.”

“Damn,” Anders growled, recalling exactly who she meant. The greasy bastard he’d thought was giving her the eye when she took the cart back. “I knew there was something wrong with that guy.”

“You saw him too?” Lucian asked sharply.

Anders nodded. “I didn’t recognize him though. But then I didn’t see much of his face. He kept his back and side to me.”

“Then he is after Valerie too,” Greg said with a nod and when Anders turned on him, he said, “Well, you don’t think his being in the parking lot was a coincidence, do you? He must have been following you.”

“How?” Anders asked with a frown. “He couldn’t know Valerie was at Lucian’s so couldn’t have followed us from there.”

“Perhaps he was after Billie earlier in the day and spotted Valerie when she was talking to her. Or he might have been following Cindy and just awaiting his chance but followed the two of you instead because Valerie isn’t at her home anymore,” he suggested. Pursing his lips, he added, “I suspect if you hadn’t watched Valerie so closely the whole way, and had got into the SUV to start it as she’d suggested, he’d probably have her even now.”

“How did you know—?” Valerie began and then muttered, “Oh right. Mind reading.” She scowled, and added, “It’s kind of rude of you to read my mind, don’t you think? I’d appreciate it if you’d all stop that. If you don’t, I might just put some nasty thoughts in there for you to find.”

“Nasty thoughts?” Justin asked with amusement.

“Things you won’t enjoy finding,” she assured him.

“Oh, now you just have me curious,” he said, focusing on her forehead.

Valerie’s eyes narrowed on the young immortal, and then she tightened her lips and closed her eyes. A heartbeat later, Justin gasped and stepped back, his expression horrified.

“Eww, that’s disgusting,” he exclaimed, giving his head a shake as if trying to get an image out of it.

“Anytime you want a refresher, give my brain a go,” Valerie said sweetly, and then added grimly, “I’m a vet. There’s plenty more where that came from.”

Anders had been about to ask what she’d thought of, but her words were explanation enough. He had a farm. He could imagine an unpleasant thing or two himself. He’d just never thought to bombard the others with it for reading his mind. But Valerie had, the clever little minx. Damn, he did love her.

“All right,” Leigh said suddenly, clapping her hands. “Dinner will be ready in ten minutes. Lucian, that gives you just enough time to call Bastien and have him send back that nice sketch artist who did the picture of Igor. That way we can get Count Rip-Your-Throat-Out’s picture without traipsing through images of puppy guts and Doberman diarrhea in Valerie’s mind,” she added with a grin for her. “Everyone else go wash up so you can help fetch plates, condiments, and whatnot.”

“I don’t think I can eat after what Valerie showed me,” Justin muttered with disgust.

“That’s a shame,” Leigh said, not sounding terribly concerned as she bent to peer in at something she had in the oven. “We have lasagna, chili, garlic bread, salad, potato salad, and then hamburgers and hot dogs on the barbecue. I was hoping everyone would find something they like in that collection.”

“Your lasagna? Homemade?” Justin asked, his interest and appetite apparently returning. But then it was only to be expected. Justin was always hungry, Anders thought.

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