Chapter Eighteen

If Lily was immortal, why did she have hazel eyes?

That question kept running through Jackie's head as they drove along the highway. It was not the most important thing she could ask right then, but it was the one that bugged her the most. The day Sharon and Lily had come to the house with the list and she'd seen Lily's normal, hazel eyes, Jackie had assumed she was mortal. Boy, had she been wrong.

Jackie attempted to shake off the control Lily had over her mind, but wasn't surprised when she was unable to. They had concentrated on teaching her to keep her fangs in, bring her fangs on, and she'd even attempted to read Tiny's mind a time or two, but other than that she hadn't yet learned any of the skills Marguerite wanted to teach her that would have kept her safe tonight. Those had been next on the list of skills to learn. Unfortunately, it looked like the lesson had been left too long. She'd realized that the moment she'd opened the door tonight and felt Lily slip in to take control of her thoughts.

Jackie hadn't even had the opportunity to shout to Tiny or Marguerite for help. She'd opened the front door, blinked in surprise at the sight of Lily, then found herself turned into a puppet. All control of her body had just vanished and she'd found herself walking out of the house, pulling the door quietly closed, and walking calmly to a pizza delivery car in the driveway. Or, at least, it had looked calm on the outside, she was sure. Jackie certainly hadn't been feeling calm on the inside, and still wasn't.

Jackie had tried to fight off the sudden control Lily had taken of her mind, but it had been useless. As far as she could tell, Lily didn't appear to be having any more trouble controlling her than Cassius had when she was nineteen and still mortal, and Jackie promised herself that if she survived this night, she would make darned sure they taught her how to keep from being taken over like this again.

God, she hoped she survived. Jackie didn't want to die. There were a million and one things she still wanted to do before she died. But then, she supposed few people were ready to go when it was their time.

Unable to do anything else, Jackie stared straight ahead, and silently prayed that Tiny had wakened Vincent when he realized something was wrong. She wondered how long it had taken Tiny to realize something was wrong. Probably only moments, she guessed. Hopefully, in time to see her getting into the delivery car.

Jackie instinctively tried to turn her eyes to the left to peer at the delivery driver and actually managed it. Lily must have eased her control, she realized. But then, Jackie supposed it must take more effort to control two at once. Vincent had said it did. That might give her half a chance here, she realized, and wondered why Lily would risk having to control two people at once.

A moment later, Jackie recalled the day Sharon and Lily had brought the list to the house. Sharon had said Lily didn't drive. Jackie supposed that meant that she'd had no choice but to involve another person. While she could have forced Jackie to drive her wherever she planned to take her, presumably Jackie wasn't intended to return. Someone had to drive her there, so that she would have someone to drive her back. Had Lily hijacked someone else's mind to take the woman Vincent had fed into the hills, Jackie wondered. If so, she hoped the girl had not been conscious and frightened at the time.

Her gaze slid out the window, and Jackie wasn't sure if it was good news or bad that Lily didn't appear to be taking her into the hills. They were headed in the wrong direction.

"You can speak now."

Jackie turned her head in surprise at Lily's comment, then blinked as she realized she was able to move that as well as her eyes. Lily had eased her control considerably. Jackie tried moving other parts of her body, but it seemed she'd been given back control of her mouth and head only.

"You're an immortal," Jackie said abruptly.

"Wow. I can see why Vincent hired you, your powers of deduction are brilliant," Lily said dryly.

Jackie ignored the sarcasm and said, "Your eyes don't have the metallic gleam immortals have. I assumed you were mortal."

Lily laughed. It was an unpleasant, mocking laugh. "My eyes are silver-green."

"They're hazel," Jackie said.

"Look at me."

Jackie turned at the order and peered at Lily as she bowed her head and lifted a finger to each eye. She blinked in surprise as Lily removed something, then lifted her head to reveal beautiful sea-green and silver eyes.

"Colored contacts," Jackie breathed, feeling incredibly stupid. One of the secretaries in her own company wore colored contacts. Some days she came in with green eyes, some days with blue. Yet, Jackie had never considered colored contacts. God, for a detective, she was an idiot, but it had never occurred to her to think that an immortal would want to hide their beautiful eyes behind contacts. "Why?"

"Many of us wear them. Having silvered eyes tends to draw attention."

"I've never met another immortal who wore them," Jackie argued.

"Would you know they were immortal without their silvered eyes?" Lily asked archly, then laughed again. "You've probably met many immortals and just not recognized them, because you didn't see silvered or bronzed eyes."

Jackie breathed out slowly, knowing Lily could be right.

"Immortals who don't have to interact a lot with mortals don't tend to bother, but anyone who wants to blend with mortals, does their best to blend."

"I didn't know," Jackie muttered. Bastien had never mentioned this tendency and her father had never made a note of it. Perhaps her father hadn't known, and perhaps Bastien simply didn't think of it. She was pretty sure Bastien never used contacts. Nor did anyone who worked for him that she knew of, but then Argeneau Enterprises was filled mostly with immortals.

"So much mental effort wasted on my eye color," Lily said with a shake of her head, making it obvious she was reading Jackie's mind. "I would have thought you'd ask me something more important."

"Why did you steal the list of employees on the New York play when you weren't even on it?" Jackie asked, and the question brought another smile to Lily's face.

"No, I wasn't on the list," Lily admitted with amusement. "As it happens, I was on vacation, first in Canada, then in New York."

"The fire at the theater in Canada," Jackie realized. Lily would have had to go there to set it. And then she'd followed Vincent to New York to sabotage that play too.

"Yes," Lily said, having read her thoughts. "I planned it all out ahead of time, and didn't want to risk being under suspicion for the sudden case of anemia that went around in New York. So, I asked for some vacation time. I flew to Canada, caused a little trouble, then flew to New York ahead of Vincent and took a position on the janitorial staff as a young boy named Bob. I put overalls and a baseball cap on and pretty much disappeared for everyone. It was incredibly easy." She smiled faintly. "But to answer your question, I stole the list to lead you down the garden path." Her smile widened. "And you all followed so easily."

Jackie felt her mouth tighten. She'd wondered about that the night the papers had gone missing, but they'd had to look into the names on the list anyway. Of course, there had been reason to do so when the lists had shown up missing from the office as well and Stephano had nearly died.

"It was a lot of effort to get us off the track; removing the list from every office and then attacking Stephano."

"Yes, but it was worth it," Lily assured her, then added, "though I never meant to kill Stephano. Up until then it was all terribly easy. I simply went into work early, while all the mortals were still on shift, and had them erase the computer files while I pulled the hard copies."

"Accounting was the last office," Lily said and pursed her lips. "I'd done all the others. The human day secretary was still there when I arrived, but it was getting late. Meredith, the night girl would be there soon.

"As I'd done with the other offices, I had the day girl erase the computer files, but then I sent her on her way and went into the filing room to retrieve the hard copies myself. I was coming out of the filing room with the files when Stephano Notte walked in."

"And you killed him," Jackie said when she stopped and grimaced at the memory.

"Not right away," Lily countered. "He was in a rush. Apparently, he had some hot date that night, but needed some information from Phillip's files before he went. He asked what I was doing there, of course and I said I'd needed a file for Vincent, but that Meredith had been leaving the office as I arrived and said to feel free to grab it myself. Was there something I could do for him?"

She frowned. "I knew I'd probably have to kill him, but I could hardly do it there in the outer office where anyone passing by might see."

"So you lured him into the inner office," Jackie said.

Lily's mouth tightened with annoyance. "Don't rush me. I'm telling this."

Jackie bit her lip and waited for her to continue.

Annoyed, Lily took her time about it, her eyes drifting to look out the window as she made her wait. Jackie took that opportunity to peer around the front seat of the car herself. She needed a weapon, something to defend herself with when they got to wherever they were going. She had no doubt that Lily intended to finish what she'd started the other night, and while she'd be harder to kill now, she could die. Immortal was really a misnomer, she thought as Lily finally continued.

"Anyway, I asked if there was something I could help him with... or did he want to wait for the night secretary?" Lily made a face. "He hesitated, but his impatience won out. Men are always impatient, no matter if they are human or immortal," she added in a lecturing tone. "So I sat at the secretary's desk and pretended to look for the file he wanted printed up, but I was really making sure the file I'd asked the day girl to remove had been erased. It had. So then I put one foot against the extension under the desk and used the other to pull the power plug.

"Stephano saw the computer blink off and asked what had happened and I frowned with confusion then said,'Oh yes, that's why Meredith had stepped out. She'd gone to see Sharon, she mentioned she was having computer problems and wanted to find out who she should call in to deal with it.' I frowned prettily, then brightened and said,'Phillip's computer should work though. Do you want me to try that, or would you rather wait for Meredith?"

"Once again, his impatience sealed his fate. Stephano turned and led the way into Phillip's office. He walked to the desk, then paused and turned back to gesture me toward the chair to do the grunt work for him."

Lily sneered. "Lord knows the big vice president wouldn't lower himself to doing the grunt work of a secretarial-type job. So, he politely paused and turned back to gesture me forward, only I'd grabbed the letter opener off Meredith's desk in the outer office when he turned to lead the way into the inner office, and the moment he turned back to face me in Phillip's office, I plunged the letter opener into his heart." She smiled. "Lights out."

"I did try to slip in and wipe his memory beforehand," Lily suddenly announced, as if that would make a difference. "As we were walking into the office, I slipped into his thoughts and tried to wipe them, but as I say, he had some ability at blocking us and I wasn't sure it had taken. I couldn't take the chance that it hadn't and he'd recall my being there. You might have put two and two together." She shrugged. "So he had to die."

Jackie managed to keep from showing any emotion at the blas?way the woman said it, as if she were announcing that a fake nail had broken so she'd taken it off. However, it was difficult. In her mind's eye, she was seeing Stephano Notte lying pale and seemingly dead on the floor of the office, and Neil's upset at his brother's state, as well as Elaine's tear-glazed eyes as she thanked Vincent for saving her son.

Controlling her expression did little good, however, since Lily was inside her head and could read her thoughts. Her face suddenly clouded over with anger. "He's alive!"

Jackie winced as the blonde spat the words. All their efforts to keep Stephano safe had just been thrown out the window.

"I should have cut off his head," she snapped. "If he'd been an immortal I would have, but he was mortal, I thought..." She paused suddenly and frowned. "If he's alive, why didn't you come after me the minute he told you who had stabbed him?"

Jackie tried not to think anything at all, but knew she'd failed when Lily suddenly burst out laughing.

"Oh, that's precious," she crowed. "He couldn't remember. The wiping took after all." She laughed softly, then said, "Hmm... Maybe I'll let him live then, after all."

Jackie felt her mouth tighten. She glared at the woman who spoke so carelessly about taking the life of a good man, a brother and son, as if it meant nothing. And she supposed it did mean nothing to Lily. None of them meant anything to her; except a means to upset Vincent, but for what? Before she could ask that question, the car began to slow and she glanced around sharply to see where they were.

They were no longer on the highway. Apparently, they'd left it while she'd been distracted listening to Lily. It looked to her as if they'd left the city altogether. Now they were on a road that appeared rarely traveled. There was an occasional house, but mostly there were trees and the occasional glimpse of ocean seen through bald patches in the woods along one side. It was a coastal road, she realized with confusion, and wondered what they were doing there.

Jackie somehow doubted it made any difference that they weren't in the hills. While Lily had killed the woman Vincent had fed on and left her body in the hills, she didn't think for a minute that because they were at the beach rather than the hills, the production assistant had different plans for her. It appeared Lily had decided to change her pattern and kill Jackie on the beach.

Suitable, she supposed, since the first attack had taken place on the beach as well.

Lily had gone quiet. Jackie glanced at her to see that she was concentrating on the side of the road, appearing to look for something. When the woman stiffened and her eyes shot to the back of the driver's head, Jackie turned to peer at the side of the road, her heart sinking when she saw the dirt road they were approaching. Her gaze slid back to the driver now that she could actually look at him, and Jackie peered at his blank face. He was young, perhaps eighteen, with short brown hair and a long face.

"Does he drive you to all your murder scenes?" The dry question had slipped from Jackie's mouth before she realized she was going to ask it.

Lily turned hard eyes her way, then slowly smiled. "No. For the other one I took control of a taxi driver. I'd never seen this young man before tonight when he pulled up to the gate to buzz. I slid into the car while he was waiting for the gate to open."

"How did you know I'd open the door and it wouldn't be Marguerite or Vincent?"

"Because it was your voice that answered over the intercom when he buzzed. Besides, I knew it would be either you or Tiny to open the door. Neither Marguerite nor Vincent would have ordered the pizza."

Jackie supposed that meant Lily hadn't figured out they'd been having Vincent feed off delivery people in an effort to keep from marking anyone else for death. At least, she'd done something right, Jackie thought grimly, then realized she shouldn't be thinking such things. Lily might read them and then go after the delivery people. Fortunately, she seemed to be distracted controlling the driver.

To get these thoughts out of her head, Jackie asked, "And what if Tiny had answered the door?"

"Then it would be him sitting here tonight and I'd have saved you for another time," Lily said easily.

Jackie felt her stomach roll over at this news. Tiny was a target too and if Lily succeeded at killing her tonight, Tiny's days were numbered. If that were the case, there was little hope for him, especially since Lily wasn't on the list of people on the New York play, and they'd been concentrating their efforts that way.

Unless Tiny had seen her getting into the car with Lily, Jackie reminded herself. If he'd seen her... She frowned to herself with worry. It was possible he hadn't.

"What were you doing in the house the night I caught you in the office?" she asked suddenly.

Lily glanced at her with amusement. "You didn't catch me in the office. You followed me out of it and fell on me coming over the fence."

Jackie managed not to wince at the description. It made her sound completely incompetent. When she showed no reaction to her words, Lily shrugged and said, "I'd followed you that night, but lost you after your little rendezvous in the storage room with Vincent." She tilted her head and asked, "Is he a good lover? I presume the two of you snuck in there for hanky panky?"

Jackie started to recite "Itsy Bitsy Spider" in her head. She so wasn't revealing anything that personal... or endangering anyone else.

Lily's mouth compressed with displeasure as Jackie apparently managed to block her out, then said, "After I lost you, I went back to the house to wait for you to return. When you pulled in, I tried to follow on foot. I'd snuck Sharon's remote out of her purse that evening and planned to just open the gate and walk up, but the remote didn't work."

"We changed the sensor and code," Jackie said with satisfaction. She added, "But why did you break the panel? It didn't get you in."

"I was annoyed," Lily said with irritation. She frowned and said, "If you hadn't followed me, I never would have attacked you that night. I was just going to slip in and leave a message so that Vincent would know he wasn't as safe as he thought he was. But you came into the office before I could do anything. I tried to get out when I heard you coming, but you were barefoot; by the time I heard you I couldn't get out quick enough."

Jackie suspected she was telling the truth. There was really no reason for Lily to lie at this stage in the game.

Her thoughts scattered as the driver turned down the road Jackie had noted just a moment ago. The car rattled and bumped over the hard-packed dirt, moving along a path between the trees and Jackie felt her heart sink. It looked like they'd arrived.

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