Immortal Ever After Page 42

Frustration filled his expression. “Valerie, there is no risk here. The nanos don’t make mistakes. This is a sure bet. The only game where you can’t lose. All you have to do is be willing to accept the gift they’re offering us.”

Valerie stared at him silently. Like Lucian, he made it sound so simple. The nanos had decided. It was a fait accompli. Blah blah blah. Men were such twits sometimes. She needed more than—

A moan from Igor caught her attention and she glanced down, then gasped in surprise when Anders plunged the stake into him again.

“Anders, we need him alive,” she protested, reaching for the swaying sunflower sticking out of the man’s chest.

“I’ll take it out in a minute,” he said, brushing her hand away. “If he’s moaning, he’s recovering. I just want to slow him down a little. At least until the men get here.”

As if his words had conjured them up, the sound of a vehicle drew Valerie’s gaze to a dark SUV coming up the driveway. Mortimer and Bricker had arrived to collect Igor, she guessed as they parked the vehicle beside Anders’s and got out.

“We finally got our rogue’s name out of him,” Mortimer announced with a smile as he led Bricker toward them.

“Ambrose,” Anders said at once.

Mortimer’s smile faded, his mouth making an “o” of surprise. “How the hell do you know that?”

“Valerie got the name from Igor,” Anders said with amusement.

“Ah.” Mortimer glanced toward the man lying in the driveway, then glanced back, his gaze meeting Valerie’s, “So . . . did you find out about the girls?”

“No.” Valerie admitted with a frown. “Did you?”

“Yes, indeed.” Mortimer’s smile was back. “They’re alive and well in a house about ten minutes from here. Nicholas, Jo, and Decker are on their way there now. They’ll take them back to the Enforcer house to be checked over, wiped, and sent back to their lives. This time for good.”

Valerie let her breath out on a sigh, only realizing then that she’d been holding it. She’d been so worried that Ambrose may already have killed them.

“No. He only planned to kill you,” Mortimer said, obviously reading her mind. “You were the difficult one who had seen the portrait. None of the others remembered anything that could have given him away.”

“Then why did he take them at all?” Valerie asked with a frown. “From what I understand, he didn’t need to take them to read them, he just had to get close. Why take the risk and kidnap them again when he knew they didn’t know anything that could point a finger his way?”

Bricker grimaced. “He has a strange way of thinking. He kind of saw you ladies as his property.”

“You mean his cattle,” Valerie said grimly.

“Basically,” Bricker acknowledged apologetically and then shrugged. “He wanted you all back where he felt you belonged.”

“So that he could continue to bleed us dry of blood until we died?” Valerie suggested, eyes narrowed.

Bricker nodded. “I’m afraid so.”

Valerie muttered under her breath with disgust.

“Did you find out how he got onto the women?” Anders asked. “How he knew they had no family and chose them?”

“Ah yes,” Mortimer nodded. “Valerie, I gather you were going to work at the Teaching Hospital?”

“Teaching Hospital?” Anders asked, glancing to her.

“The college has a teaching hospital for animals, basically a veterinary clinic for students to hone their skills. The students perform the procedures, but they’re overseen by the teaching staff who can step in if a situation arises. I was going to work there a couple days a week to keep my skills sharp and to practice a couple of new techniques I hoped to learn in my courses this year,” she explained. “In fact, I was at the Teaching Hospital the afternoon I was kidnapped.”

Mortimer nodded. “That’s where he found his victims. He’s on staff there. Cindy, Laura, and Kathy had taken their pets into the clinic hospital for one reason or another and he took the opportunity to ask questions and learn if they were likely victims for him or not. He met Billie in the bookstore coffee shop one afternoon when he was in the bookstore. He struck up a conversation with her, learned she was on her own with no one to care if she went missing and . . .” He shrugged.

Anders frowned and turned to Valerie to say, “But you saw Cindy in that other clinic we went to. Why would she go to both places?”

“She probably took her cat to the teaching hospital for an operation, spaying or neutering, or something,” Valerie said grimly. “The biggest benefit of the clinic is that they don’t charge as much for procedures like that. That’s how they encourage people to bring their animals in. But for long-term care; yearly shots, flea pills, et cetera, she would need a regular vet.” Valerie paused briefly, then glanced to Mortimer and shook her head. “I didn’t see him at the teaching hospital. I was speaking to a woman, not Ambrose.”

“He listened in. Caught part of it and got the rest of the info he was seeking from your interviewer. Apparently you told her that you have a clinic in Winnipeg and were just here temporarily?”

“Yes.” She nodded and then grimaced. “I did tell her I have no family or friends here so I could work extra hours if they wanted.”

“So . . . his name is Ambrose what?” Anders asked. “And just who the hell is he?”

“Just Ambrose,” Mortimer said with a shrug. “He doesn’t remember any more than that from his life as a mortal. And it may be his last name. He says it was on a name tag on his uniform.”

“Uniform?” Anders asked with a frown.

“He was a soldier in World War I,” Bricker explained. “He says his first memory is waking up in the middle of a battlefield; bombs going off everywhere, dead bodies all around him and some German fellow half blown up and lying across him, bleeding all over him.”

“Ah hell,” Anders muttered.

“What?” Valerie asked.

Rather than answer her, Anders arched an eyebrow at Mortimer. “An accidental turn?”

Mortimer nodded. “That’s what we’re thinking. He says he remembers pushing the German soldier off him and staggering to his feet. His head hurt, he felt it and it was soft and mushy, either half caved in or blown away. He felt dizzy and pain was gnawing at his head and gut. He passed out and when he woke up he was sucking on another soldier’s open wound and feeling much better. The more blood he had, the better he felt and then the wound seemed to heal itself. He realized he was a vampire and has been living as one ever since, using whatever he could find on the subject as his guide.”

“Which would be ridiculous fantasies like Dracula and such,” Bricker pointed out with distaste.

Anders’s mouth twisted, but he asked, “And he never got his memory back of his life before waking up on the battlefield?”

Mortimer shook his head. “He says not.”

“Is that even possible?” Valerie asked. “I thought the nanos repaired things.”

“They do, and they obviously repaired the physical damage done, but if the head wound was bad enough . . .” He pursed his lips. “The nanos may not have been able to recover the memories from the destroyed brain matter.”

“I suppose that’s possible,” Anders said thoughtfully, and then sighed and shrugged the matter away.

“Wait . . .” Valerie said with a frown. “I get that the nanos repaired him, but I’m not sure I understand how you think the nanos got there in the first place.” She glanced from one man to the other and asked uncertainly, “Are you thinking that the soldier who was bleeding on him was an immortal and that the nanos were passed to him that way? That they got into his wounds and just . . . took hold like a virus or something?”

“Into his wounds, maybe his mouth. But yes, that’s probably what happened,” Mortimer said.

“Does this happen a lot?” she asked with amazement.

“I’ve only heard of one other incident like it,” Bricker said and raised his eyebrows as he glanced to the others.

“Elvi’s the only one I know of too,” Mortimer said at once.

“Same here,” Anders agreed. “But it doesn’t mean there aren’t more out there like him.”

“Who’s Elvi?” Valerie asked curiously.

“She’s Victor’s life mate,” Anders said, and then added, “Victor is Lucian’s brother.”

“And she was accidentally turned?” Valerie asked, fascinated.

“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you later,” Anders said quietly.

When Valerie nodded, he glanced to the men and said, “So he woke up in the middle of a war zone, a vampire with no memory of his past, and managed to survive unnoticed for almost a hundred years?”

“It would seem so,” Mortimer agreed and shook his head. “He’s one lucky son of a bitch to have escaped our notice all this time.”

“I’ll say,” Bricker muttered.

“And Igor?” Anders asked, glancing down at the man still lying on the ground. Spotting the sunflower sticking out of his chest, Anders scowled, but didn’t pull it out.

“His name is Mickey Green,” Mortimer said. “Ambrose met him in a bar six or seven months ago; liked him, decided he’d make a good flunky, and turned him.” He eyed the sunflower stake sticking out of Igor—or Mickey Green’s—chest and asked, “How long has he been staked?”

“He was staked earlier, but recovering. I put it back in just before you pulled into the driveway,” Anders admitted, reaching for the sunflower stake now.

“We’ll take it out once we have him chained up in the SUV,” Mortimer said, stopping him. “He’s a big guy. It’s safer that way.”

Anders nodded, but said, “I told Leigh I’d clean it for her. Most of the blood washes off, but the wood on the tip is a little stained and needs a bit of sanding.”

“We’ll take care of it back at the house,” Mortimer assured him, and then added, “Speaking of which, I suppose we should get him in the SUV and take him there. We have a nice cell waiting for him next to Ambrose. The two can be neighbors until the council decides what to do with them.”

Anders nodded. “I’ll walk Valerie inside and tell Lucian you’re here. He may want to talk to you.”

He didn’t wait for Mortimer’s response to that, but caught Valerie’s arm and urged her toward the front door. Roxy had lain down in a bit of shade nearby to watch them, but now got up and followed.

Valerie allowed Anders to lead her toward the house, but her mind was racing. He planned to walk her in, tell Lucian about the men being there and then leave her and head back to his own home . . . and she didn’t want that. She wanted—actually, Valerie wasn’t sure what she wanted. She knew what she didn’t want though, and that was to be left here alone without him. But she didn’t know what to do about it. He was determined to give her time to think and make her decision, and—the front door opening distracted her, and Valerie glanced toward it as Lucian stepped out.

“Mortimer and Bricker got some information out of Ambrose,” Anders announced, slowing as the man pulled the door closed. “But I’ll let them tell you about it. They’d be disappointed if I stole their thunder.”

Lucian nodded as he approached, but his eyes slid from Anders to her as he neared. Slowing as he came abreast of them, he scowled at Valerie. “You still haven’t asked?”

He didn’t wait for a response, but simply shook his head and continued on toward the driveway.

“Asked me what?” Anders asked, glancing to her curiously.

Valerie hesitated and then simply spat it out. “Do you love me?”

Anders stilled, his breath leaving him in a long exhale. Then he just stood there staring at her until Valerie began to worry that the answer was no and he didn’t want to admit it.

“If you don’t, just say—” she began anxiously, but never finished because his mouth was suddenly on hers and he was kissing her.

Valerie quickly forgot about Igor, or whether Anders loved her and just about everything else. When he broke the kiss and lifted his head a moment later, she moaned in protest, and then blinked her eyes open when he said, “I love you.”

“You do?” she asked with wonder, a smile curving her lips.

“Of course, I do. You’re perfect. How could I not love you?”

“I’m not perfect,” she said at once.

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