"Slow down," Jackie laughed as Vincent charged up the stairs. She had no idea if she was any faster or stronger than she used to be yet, but he was definitely still much faster. She couldn't keep up with him and feared stumbling on the steps in her attempt to do so.
Vincent didn't just slow down, he paused on the steps and turned back to sweep her into his arms.
Jackie managed to bite back a startled gasp. She grabbed for his shoulders and simply held on for dear life as he hurried upstairs and along the hall to his room. Vincent let her feet slip to the floor so that he could open the door, then he herded her forward into his room with the arm still around her waist.
The door had barely closed behind them before Vincent had her in his arms and was kissing her, backing her through the darkness toward the bed as he did. Jackie laughed into his mouth as he urged hers open, then gasped, her laughter dying as one of his hands found her breast.
She didn't know if this was the after-effects of the funeral or what, but Jackie was suddenly desperate to have him inside her, to feel alive. Reaching between them, she undid the belt of his dress pants, then quickly undid the snap and zipper as well. His pants fell open and peeled away with ease to drop to the floor.
Vincent kicked them impatiently away, his own hands already working on removing her clothes as he continued to back her toward the bed. The black dress she'd worn to the funeral came off over her head the moment it was unzipped. Her bra quickly followed. Jackie found herself in only her panties, stockings, and high-heeled shoes when she stumbled back into the bed, then overbalanced onto it with a laugh.
She couldn't see a thing, but it was obvious Vincent didn't have the same problem. He bent to catch one foot and lifted it in the air to set to work on the strap of her high-heeled shoe.
"God, you're the most incredibly sexy woman I've ever seen," he murmured and suddenly stopped trying to undo the shoe. Leaving it on, he bent and caught her panties. With one quick jerking motion, they slid off, then he dropped on top of her, caught her hair in his hand and kissed her again.
This kiss was just as frantic as the first had been, and Jackie responded to it at once. Little moans and gasps slipped from her lips as she arched and shifted beneath him.
"I need you," Vincent muttered, breaking the kiss.
"Yes," Jackie gasped, it was the best she could do at that point. Her mind didn't seem to be capable of long, drawn-out conversations. She needed him inside her, needed to feel alive as only he could make her feel. She needed him. Unable to verbalize all that, she reached between them, caught him in hand and guided him into her.
The moment Vincent realized what she was doing, he took over, thrusting into her with a groan that ended on a sigh.
Jackie shifted beneath him, arching and pushing back into him, urging him on with little moans and murmurs of pleasure. It was only a matter of a few moments before they were both crying out with pleasure. Vincent filled her with one last thrust, then stayed there as he poured himself into her.
Vincent was snoring.
Jackie heard the sound and recognized what it was before she was quite fully awake. Blinking her eyes open, she peered at his profile in the bit of light seeping through the cracked open bathroom door and smiled faintly. She'd never heard him snore before, but good God, it was loud.
They'd made love tonight with an almost desperate edge. It was as if the thought and talk of death brought on by the fake funeral and burial had raised an urge in both of them to reaffirm life. There had been little in the way of foreplay, both of them desperate to be joined, and had ended with their collapsing in a sweaty heap on the bed.
Apparently, however, they'd shifted apart in their sleep. Jackie was now lying next to him on the bed, with her hand on his chest. Vincent was asleep on his back, one arm over his head, the other across his stomach and he was nearly raising the roof with one growling snore after another. It made her smile, then chuckle silently at herself. No doubt in a hundred years or so the sound would annoy the heck out of her, and she'd be nudging him and telling him to turn on his side to silence the sound, but for now it made her smile and want to kiss him.
Easing up on one elbow, Jackie peered down at his sleeping face and brushed a wayward lock of hair off his forehead, then frowned as she noted how pale he was. Vincent's skin was so white, it almost glowed in the dark. Now that she noticed that, Jackie began to notice other things, like the hand across his stomach that was clenched in sleep and moving slightly, as if attempting to rub away pain.
She peered more closely at his face, wishing it was a little lighter in the room so that she could see his expression. From what Jackie could see, it looked to her as if he were grimacing slightly.
It was then she realized that Vincent hadn't yet fed today. They'd got up late this afternoon, he'd joined her in the tub and made love to her, then they'd divided what little time they'd had before going to the funeral between teaching her to bring on her teeth, and trying to eliminate more people from the list of the employees who had worked on the New York play. She'd fed twice, grabbing a bag from the refrigerator and slapping it on her teeth once she'd finally learned to bring them on, then again before leaving for the funeral, but Vincent hadn't fed at all. And she hadn't even noticed, Jackie realized and immediately felt guilty. She now understood what it meant for him to hunger. She'd experienced it and had even experienced mild cramps, but knew right now what Vincent was suffering was much worse than that if the pain disturbed his sleep.
Vincent moaned and shifted on the bed, turning on his side and drawing his legs up so that he was almost in a fetal position. He had to feed, Jackie decided. It would only get worse as more time passed.
Slipping from the bed, she collected her clothes from where they'd landed on the floor and tiptoed to the bathroom. Vincent was still asleep when she slid back out several minutes later. Jackie paused at the bedside to peer at him for a minute, then made her way out of the bedroom and headed downstairs.
She was at the foot of the stairs when she heard the murmur of voices coming from the kitchen. Knowing Marguerite was the only one still up and about, Jackie frowned, then moved to the kitchen door and pushed it open. Her eyebrows rose when she saw Marguerite and Tiny seated at the table.
"I thought you'd gone to bed," Jackie said to Tiny with surprise and he lifted his large shoulders in a shrug.
"I couldn't sleep."
"Oh," she hesitated, then said, "Vincent hasn't eaten yet today. I'm going to order takeout. Are you hungry?"
Tiny considered the question, then nodded. "I could eat something."
He shook his head. "Whatever you're getting. You'll probably be limited to pizza at this hour anyway."
Frowning, Jackie glanced at the clock to see that it was 3 A.M. He was right, their options were limited at this hour. Jackie let the door ease closed and headed for the office. Grabbing the phone book, she settled at the desk to look through the yellow pages in search of a pizzeria that would be open now. She found one she knew delivered more than pizza, but wasn't sure what else was on their menu.
Shrugging, Jackie punched in the number and sat back to wait for them to answer. Pizza would be fine. It was one of Tiny's comfort foods and she suspected he needed comfort food tonight. Funerals were a depressing business.
Finished placing the order, Jackie hung up and sat back in the desk chair, her gaze sliding to the couch. The sight of the large leather sofa reminded her of the first time Vincent had made love to her... and it had felt like lovemaking. It had felt like he was cherishing her with his body, something she'd never really experienced before Vincent. And tonight, at the funeral home, he'd introduced her to Cassius as his life mate.
"Life mate," Jackie whispered aloud. Her feelings on the matter had fluctuated over the days since she'd awakened to find herself turned. Marguerite had said that after watching her children and their mates flounder around, she'd decided it might serve better simply for her to tell her she was Vincent's life mate so that she could keep it in mind and come to accept it.
Jackie had kept it in mind, all right. The possibility hadn't been far from her mind for more than a moment in all the hours since then. A true life mate, fated to be with him, meant to live the equivalent of several lifetimes as his mate and love and partner. Who wouldn't like to be that? Life mates didn't divorce and Vincent had claimed her as his tonight. Had he meant that? Or had he merely introduced her to Cassius as such to freak him out? Jackie thought he might have meant it, his eyes had certainly appeared to her to be full of love as he'd looked down at her at the time, but he hadn't said anything tonight once they were alone in his room. Vincent hadn't told her he loved her, or even whispered that he'd meant what he'd said.
Jackie had wanted to bring it up and ask him about it, but hadn't had the courage to do so. Then she'd got carried away with their passion and let it slip away. She wished she'd had the courage to ask. She wished she'd had the courage to tell him she loved him, that he was good and smart and funny and the perfect balm for her wounded soul. She loved him.
She glanced up with surprise as Tiny slipped into the room.
"You didn't come back and I started to worry," he said as he moved to the desk to peer down at her.
Jackie smiled faintly, then shrugged. "I was just thinking."
"Worrying you mean, about Vincent, and the case, and? He paused at the flicker of her expression, his eyebrows rising in question. "What's wrong?"
Jackie stared at him for a moment, guilt soaking through her, then admitted, "I wasn't thinking about the case. I should have been. That's why we're here, but instead, I was sitting here thinking that I love Vincent and wondering if he loved me back."
Tiny hesitated, obviously debating which issue to address first, then he settled on the corner of the desk and said, "Yes, he loves you. I knew he was coming to care for you early on, but the night you were attacked it was obvious he loved you. Vincent was so upset, and so determined to save you." He shook his head. "And tonight he introduced you as his life mate. Vincent loves you, Jackie."
Jackie felt a smile pull at her lips. She'd known Tiny for ten years. The man was an excellent judge of people, both mortal and immortal alike. It reassured her that he thought Vincent loved her.
"As for not thinking about the case," Tiny went on, and Jackie felt herself stiffen as she realized how quickly her concern had shifted from guilt over not thinking about work, to relief that Vincent might love her. What was the matter with her?
"I think you should cut yourself some slack there, Jackie," Tiny went on. "You were attacked and nearly died no more than a couple days ago. Your body has been going through major changes since then and still is. And you're falling in love for the first time in your life."
"But Bastien asked me to come here to help catch the saboteur. That is my primary job. These other distractions are just?
"Your life," Tiny inserted dryly. "We will catch the saboteur, but your life is important too."
Jackie opened her mouth to respond, then paused and glanced toward the door as the buzzer sounded. "That will be the pizza."
Tiny started to get up, but Jackie waved him back to his seat as she stood and moved toward the door. "I'll get it."
Jackie moved to the panel and flipped on the monitor to show who was parked at the gate. When she saw the pizza delivery name on the top of the car, she pressed the button to open the door and said, "Come on up."
She then turned and moved to lean in the office door as she waited for the pizza. "We only have two or three immortals left on the list that we haven't eliminated."
Tiny eyed her solemnly and for a minute she feared he wouldn't go along with the topic change, but in the end he nodded.
Relaxing a little, Jackie sighed and ran her hand through her hair. "I don't think any of them are the saboteur. I'm starting to think stealing the list was just a red herring."
"You mentioned that as a possibility at the time," Tiny murmured and frowned. "But surely the saboteur wouldn't go to all the trouble of stealing it from the office and attacking Stephano just to send us down the wrong path?"
"Wouldn't he?" she asked with a frown. "It's kept us from looking in other directions and had the benefit of upsetting Vincent at the same time."
Tiny looked troubled at the possibility, then they both stilled as a knock sounded at the door. Straightening, Jackie turned and moved to answer it.
Vincent was having a nightmare. He was lying stretched out on the cold tiles beside his pool and ugly little demon things with sharp, sharp teeth were perched on their haunches on his chest. They had ripped open his stomach and were feasting away on his insides. It was a most unpleasant dream and terribly painful, and yet in the dream he wasn't screaming, Jackie was. Vincent could hear her terrified screams, but couldn't see her. He tried to raise his arm to knock off the little creatures on his chest, intending to get up and look for Jackie, but he couldn't move his arm, he couldn't even move a finger.
Vincent blinked his eyes open and stared at the figure bent over him. Coming from the nightmare he'd just been having, he almost struck out at the figure, but was glad he hadn't when he recognized Tiny's voice.
"Wake up! They took Jackie!"
"What?" He sat up abruptly, fully awake now. His gaze shot automatically to the bed beside him where Jackie should have been, but Vincent could see in the light coming from both the bathroom and bedroom doors that she wasn't there.
"Where is she?" he asked with concern.
"That's what I'm trying to tell you," Tiny growled unhappily. "She ordered a pizza. I think she wanted to feed you. The pizza guy buzzed and she opened the gate, then there was a knock on the door and she went to get it and..." Tiny shook his head. "I was sitting on the desk in the office. There was no scream, no warning, nothing. Just silence, but I started getting Jackie's hinky feeling. It was too quiet, I guess.
"I went into the hall to see what was happening, but it was empty. I opened the front door and she was walking to this pizza delivery car. There was a young guy at the wheel, staring straight ahead like he was in a trance and Jackie was walking to the car with a woman."
"A woman?" Vincent shifted the blankets off and got up to start pulling on his clothes. "Why? What did they do once they got to the car? What happened?"
Tiny shook his head, his expression upset. "I didn't know what was happening. I didn't do anything," he mourned, obviously feeling guilty. "I thought the saboteur was a man. Wasn't it a man who attacked her on the beach the night you had to turn her?"
"Ye? Vincent paused. Everything had happened so fast that night and he'd been in such a panic...
"It could have been a woman," Vincent admitted, feeling like he'd been punched in the stomach. Frowning, he growled, "What happened? You said someone took her?"
"She got in the front passenger seat of the car, but she was walking funny, almost like a robot, stiff and blank-faced. The woman got into the backseat and the pizza guy turned the car and drove off."
"Jesus!" Vincent had his pants on now and snatched up his shirt as he headed out of his room. He tugged it swiftly on as he jogged down the stairs.
Marguerite was in the hall, peering into the office when he reached the bottom of the stairs.
"Have you seen Jackie and Tiny?" she asked as she spotted him. "Jackie went to order pizza and Tiny followed to tell her something and they never cameoh," Marguerite interrupted herself as Tiny reached the top of the stairs and started to hurry down after Vincent. She frowned at their upset expressions. "What's happening?"
"Someone's taken Jackie," Vincent said grimly.
"Who?" Marguerite asked with alarm.
Vincent stilled halfway up the hall and whirled to face Tiny. "What did the woman look like?"
"She was one of the two women who came over just before Cassius at the funeral," Tiny said. "The little one who looked so young."
Vincent stared at him blankly, then finally said with disbelief, "Lily? The thin, little blonde who looks about fourteen?"
Tiny nodded, then frowned with realization and said, "But Lily had normal eyes at the funeral. They weren't metallic like the rest of you guys. She couldn't have been controlling Jackie and making her get in the car. She couldn't be the attacker."
Confusion covered his face and he added, "But Jackie wouldn't just walk off like that either. Maybe there was someone else in the car too."
"Lily is an immortal," Vincent said on a sigh and moved to his office.
"Why would she have done all this?" Marguerite asked, following him.
"I'm not sure." He grabbed his Rolodex off the desk and began looking for Lily's card with her address on it.
"What are you doing?" Marguerite asked. She pointed out, "She'd hardly take Jackie to her house."
"She might have," Vincent argued and desperately hoped she had. It was the only place he could think to look for her.
"Marguerite's right," Tiny said. "That hasn't been her pattern. She attacked Stephano at the office, killed that one woman in the hills, and attacked Jackie here on the beach. She won't take her back to her house."
Vincent stared at them, feeling completely and utterly helpless. His mind was running in circles, panic stealing his ability to think. Where would Lily take her? Why would Lily do this? Where was Jackie? His mind seemed stuck in stupid, like a hamster running on a wheel and getting nowhere... and then his phone rang.
"Maybe that's Jackie," Tiny said hopefully as Vincent pulled the phone from his pocket and flipped it open.
His shoulders slumped as he recognized Christian's voice. Vincent's voice was dull when he said, "Yeah."
"We're stopped at the stoplight on the corner two blocks from your house. There's a pizza delivery car stopped on the opposite side and Jackie is in the front seat with some pimple-faced kid driving. What's going on?"
"Is there anyone else in the car?" Vincent asked sharply, moving out of the office and up the hall.
"Yeah. It looks like there's a blonde in the backseat. I can just see her head over the front seat... It looks like your production assistant."
Vincent grimaced and his hand tightened on the phone. It wasn't that he hadn't believed Tiny, it was just that it was hard for him to accept that little Lily was the one behind all this madness. She'd worked for him for about six months and hadn't even been on the play in New York. She'd been on vacation then. Still, as Tiny had said, Jackie wouldn't just wander off. Someone had to be controlling her and it appeared Lily was that someone. But was she doing it on her own, or for someone else?
"Do we stop them?" Christian asked.
Vincent hesitated, unsure what to say. If Lily was working with someone else, Jackie might be safe if he had Christian and the boys stop the car somehow. But, if Lily was the saboteur who was out to make his life a misery, stopping the car might get Jackie killed on the spot. He wanted to catch Lily if she was the saboteur, but was more concerned with Jackie being alive than doing so.
"The light's turned green, they're driving past us," Christian announced. "What's happening, Argeneau? What do we do here?"
"Either Lily's the killer, or she's taking Jackie to the killer," Vincent said grimly. "You need to follow them, but not let them spot you."
"Turn around, Marcus!" Christian barked at the other end of the line, then said into the phone, "What are you going to do?"
"We'll follow you," Vincent announced firmly.
"Fine. Call me once you're on the road and I'll tell you where we are," Christian instructed.
Vincent's mouth tightened as the phone went dead in his hand. Flipping it closed, he headed through the kitchen to the door leading into the garage.
"What's happening? What did he say?" Marguerite was hard on his heels as he snatched his keys off the hook by the door and hurried into the garage.
"Christian's going to follow them. We're to call once we're on the road," Vincent announced, leading the way out to his car. He got into the front seat, hit the remote to open his garage door as Marguerite slid into the passenger seat beside him, then handed her his cell phone and started the engine as Tiny got into the backseat. "Call Christian back and see what's happening."
"How do I call him?" Marguerite asked, staring at the phone uncertainly as Vincent steered out of the garage.
"Give it to me, Marguerite. I'll do it," Tiny rumbled from the backseat.
Vincent was aware of his aunt handing the phone back to Tiny, but concentrated on his driving as he raced up the driveway. The gate was closed, and Vincent tapped his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel as he waited for it to open. His gaze shifted to the rearview mirror as Tiny found Christian's number on the received calls page and dialed back.
Tiny put the phone to his ear just as the gate finished opening. Vincent steered through and paused at the street, unsure which way to go.
"Christian?" Tiny's voice rumbled and Vincent shifted sharply to glance in the backseat.
"Ask him which way we should go when we leave the driveway," Vincent ordered.
Tiny nodded and asked the question. He listened briefly, then his head lifted and he barked, "Right."
Vincent turned the steering wheel right and pulled out with a squeal of tires. "Have they caught up to the car yet? They didn't lose her, did they?"
"They're following it now," Tiny answered after a pause during which he listened to Christian speak.
"Tell them not to lose them," Vincent hissed.
"Turn left here," Tiny ordered a moment later and Vincent turned left.
"Christian says they're on the highway," Tiny announced.
Gritting his teeth, Vincent nodded and followed the directions Tiny continued to give. He was speeding and fear was making sweat trickle down his back. He couldn't believe it was Lily: sweet, smiling Lily. He'd kill the little bitch if she hurt Jackie, he thought coldly.
"Vincent?" Tiny asked suddenly and Vincent glanced in the rearview mirror to see the troubled expression on his face. "If Lily is an immortal, why doesn't she have the metallic eyes?"
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