The Reluctant Vampire

Chapter Seventeen

Harper stared at the slender mortal female with short, dark hair and a pinched, angry face. She was trembling, no doubt trying to fight the control Drina had taken of her.

"Sue?" he said finally, his voice as blank as his thoughts as he stared at Susan Harper. He hadn't seen the woman since Jenny's death, and his brain was having a li le trouble accep ng that Jenny's sister would be here at all, let alone pointing a weapon at him.

"Why can't I pull the trigger?" she growled, sounding furious. "I'm trying to, but my finger won't move."

Harper glanced to Drina.

"I woke up as she entered the room," Drina said quietly. "At first, I was half-asleep and thought it must be Leonius, but then I realized she was a woman and mortal and she wasn't going for Stephanie but heading for you. I waited to see what she was up to, but when she pointed the gun at you . . ."

Harper nodded, not needing her to tell him that she had taken control of the woman enough to prevent her harming anyone but leaving her free to think and speak. He shi ed his gaze back to Sue; his eyes slid from her face to the gun and back, before he asked with bewilderment, "Why?"

"Because you killed Jenny," she said bitterly.

Harper sagged in his chair, his old friend guilt gliding through him like a ghost . . . Jenny's ghost. If he'd been the one controlling Sue at that moment, his control would have slipped, and he'd no doubt have a hole in his head. Fortunately, Drina didn't slip at this news, and a er taking a moment to regather himself, he cleared his throat, and said quietly, "I never meant for that to happen, Susan. You must know that. I wanted to spend my life with Jenny. She was my life mate. I'd sooner kill myself than my life mate."

"She wasn't your life mate," Susan snapped with disgust. "Jenny didn't even like you. She only put up with you so you'd turn her. She bought into all your promises of young and beau ful and healthy forever . . . but you killed her."

Harper winced as those words whipped him. He didn't know which hurt him most: the sugges on that Jenny had only been using him or the reminder that she was dead because of him. Susan's saying that she hadn't even liked him fit with what Teddy had said the night he and Drina had flown back from Toronto in the helicopter, and he supposed it was possible. They'd only known each other a week or so before she'd agreed to the turn. And while he was immortal and had accepted her as his life mate the moment he couldn't read her, she was mortal. Mortals didn't understand the importance of being a life mate, didn't automa cally recognize the gi of it. She may have just gone along with it to let him turn her. But he was sure that she would have eventually recognized that he was the only one she could find peace with and passion.

Harper frowned as he recalled that he hadn't experienced that passion with Jenny. He'd been pu ng it down to the fact that she'd kept him at arm's length, and s ll believed that. If she'd even allowed him to kiss her, they both would have been overwhelmed by it, he was sure. Just as he and Drina were constantly bedeviled by it.

Finally, he said solemnly, "She was my life mate, Susan. I couldn't read her."

Susan snorted. "Jenny figured that was the brain tumor."

Harper s lled, his heart seeming to stop in his chest at the words. It was Drina who growled, "Brain tumor?"

Eyes locked on Harper, Susan flashed an unpleasant smile that suggested she was enjoying his shock and dismay. "She was having headaches, and her vision would blur at mes. She was also having trouble concentra ng, and her memory was suffering. It turned out she had a tumor. They'd started chemo to try to shrink it before they operated, but then Jenny met you and decided she didn't need any more treatment at all. She'd just let you turn her and live forever."

"Harper?" Drina said quietly. "A brain tumor could prevent you reading her."

"She was my life mate, Dree," he said quietly. "I was eating. My appetites had been reawakened."

"We can always eat," she pointed out gently. "We just get red of it and stop because it's a bother, not because we can't." She paused a moment to let that sink in, then asked, "Did the food taste as good then as it does now?"

Harper automa cally opened his mouth to say yes, but caught himself and really thought about it. In truth, he realized, it hadn't. It had been okay, some of it tasty even, but he'd only eaten when the others had, and hadn't found himself stuffing himself un l his stomach ached, or constantly wan ng it as he did now.

"And you didn't have the shared dreams," she pointed out quietly.

Harper nodded silently, thinking that it wasn't just the lack of shared dreams but the lack of passion. He'd been eager to experience it with Jenny, but not eager enough to try to change her mind when she'd insisted they wait un l a er the turn. Harper had just let it go, thinking everything would be fine a er he turned her. He certainly hadn't been obsessed with it as he had been since Drina had arrived here in Port Henry, his mind constantly undressing her and doing things to her that le him half-erect when she wasn't even in the damned room.

By the me Harper had actually kissed Drina outside that restaurant in Toronto, he'd already undressed and made love to her in his mind a hundred mes. During their shopping expedi on, he'd fantasized about her in every pair of pretty panties and bras she'd bought, and the black dress had been no better. Harper had assured himself that it was just the appe tes Jenny had reawakened, that they were making themselves known again now that some of his depression was easing, but those damned boots had kept him under a cold shower for nearly an hour as he'd got ready for their trip to the city, and it hadn't eased any in Toronto. As she'd spoken of Egypt, he'd imagined her dressed up like Cleopatra and mentally stripped away her clothes and laid her on a bed of pillows to sink his body into hers. As she'd told him about her time as a gladiator, his fantasy had switched to ravishing her in the middle of an arena with the crowds cheering him on.

It had been the same with each revela on of her life. In his mind, Harper had made love to Drina as a concubine, a duchess, a pirate, and a madam all before he'd even touched her. But even that hadn't prepared him for what happened when he'd finally kissed her there outside the restaurant. The passion that had exploded over him had been overwhelming, and he was quite sure that if the waiter hadn't happened along, he'd have made love to her right there pinned up against the wall. Harper hadn't experienced anything like that with Jenny. He hadn't imagined her naked or dressed or anything. He'd mostly thought about how happy they would be once she was turned, and they were able to enjoy the shared pleasure and peace a life mate offered.

"Harper?" Drina said quietly.

"She wasn't my life mate," he acknowledged quietly.

When she released a small sigh, he glanced over curiously, surprised to note that she looked relieved, happy even. Harper took a moment to wonder if she had been jealous of Jenny but didn't have to think hard. He could s ll recall his rage at the idea of her going downstairs to give the doorman "the night of his life." He hadn't reacted much be er to the idea of Marguerite finding her another life mate. S ll, he smiled crookedly, and asked, "Were you jealous of Jenny?"

"Of course," she said simply, not taking her eyes or concentra on off Susan. "I don't share well, even with ghosts."

Harper smiled faintly and reached over to squeeze her hand. He knew it wasn't well-done of him, but he actually liked that she'd been jealous.

Drina glanced his way long enough to note his expression and wrinkled her nose at him. "But now I don't have to be jealous of the selfish little mortal."

"Don't call Jenny selfish," Susan snapped, fury replacing her glee of a moment ago.

"Why not?" Drina asked coldly, her full concentra on on the woman once again. "It's what she was. She didn't care for Harper at all. She was using him. And she stole his one turn for her own selfish purposes."

"She wasn't selfish; she wanted to live," Susan snapped. "And she didn't steal anything, he turned her willingly. And look where it got her anyway!" She was furious, almost foaming at the mouth as she spat the words. "That wonderful turning killed her. He killed her."

"She killed herself," Drina said grimly. "Her heart, her whole body would have been weakened by the chemo. If she'd told him about the cancer, Harper would never have turned her un l she'd had the chance to heal and build up strength. She killed herself by keeping it a secret. But then she couldn't tell him, could she?" Drina added dryly. "He would have realized she might not be his life mate then. He would have been more cautious and had others try to read her."

"She wanted to live," Susan cried.

"And in so doing didn't care that she was condemning Harper to a living death with no chance of ever turning a true life mate when he encountered her," Drina said heavily.

"Oh, right, he's really been suffering!" Susan gave a bi er laugh, and then her expression sombered and she turned her gaze back to Harper. "You really seemed to care when Jenny died. I thought you were suffering like me, so I tried not to blame you." Her gaze shi ed to Drina, and her lips twisted bi erly.

"But then this slut showed up, and Jenny suddenly meant nothing. I couldn't believe it when Genie called and told me how the two of you were humping in the schoolyard. She was sure you'd have screwed her right there in the snow in front of everyone if Teddy hadn't come along to stop you." Her mouth ghtened. "I didn't believe her at first, so I was going to come over and see what was going on, but then I saw you through the back window as I walked up to the house, the two of you going at it in the pantry like a couple of horny teenagers, groping each other through your clothes and . . ." She paused, her mouth twisting with disgust and grief.

"I thought I saw someone in the yard," Drina muttered with a frown.

Harper raised an eyebrow. He knew what Susan was talking about. The day Stephanie had given them ten minutes alone while she prepared for their trip to London. He'd drawn Drina into the pantry and -

"How could you forget Jenny so quickly?" Susan asked plaintively.

He shi ed uncomfortably, not sure how to answer that. Just days ago he'd felt guilty for le ng go of his grief over Jenny so soon, but that was when he'd s ll thought her a life mate. All of that had changed, however, and his mind was swirling with confusion between what he'd always thought and what was true. But Sue didn't really want an answer anyway, and continued.

"I hated you for that. Jenny died, and it was your fault, and you were just moving on, humping on this -

this ho - like she was some kind of bitch in heat. I followed you when you le a few minutes later. I trailed the three of you all the way to London and you were all laughing and having a good me as you walked into the mall. You had your arm around Bat-bitch here and kept kissing her and squeezing her."

"Bat-bitch?" Drina asked with disbelief, and then her eyes narrowed. "You are the one who tampered with the car brakes."

Susan li ed her chin defiantly. "I knew an accident wouldn't kill any of you. I just wanted you to suffer. But it didn't even slow you down. The next night you two were up in the porch, going at it against the windows for anyone and everyone to see."

"You threw the Molotov cocktail into the porch," Drina said wearily, and then arched an eyebrow. "And the one at the gas station I presume?"

"By then I wanted you dead," Susan said, staring at Harper and not bothering to glance Drina's way, even as she added, "And slu y vamp there too. Jenny was dead and the two of you were - " She paused and took a breath, rage burning in her eyes, as she said, "I knew the Molotov cocktail probably wouldn't kill you when I threw it at the porch. But then when I saw your car at the house the next night and crept in to see what was going on and caught her going down on you in the upper hall . . ."

Harper's eyes widened incredulously. He was amazed that she'd managed to get into the house and up the stairs without their realizing it. The house was old, the stairs creaky. They should have heard something. Of course, they'd been a bit distracted at the me, he acknowledged with a grimace, thinking it was a good Goddamned thing that Leonius hadn't been behind this. The man could have slaughtered them that night before they'd realized he was there.

"I wanted you both dead then," Susan finished dully. "You shouldn't live and be happy when Jenny is dead. I went home and fixed up another bo le. I was going to come back and set the house on fire, but I was afraid you'd just get out and heal like you'd done the last me, so I waited. I heard you saying you would go to the gas sta on, and I knew that was perfect. If it exploded . . . well, you couldn't survive that. So I followed you there, but she got out and went inside. I almost threw it anyway, but by then I wanted her to suffer too."

"So you waited un l I came out," Drina said, sounding impa ent now. "Only he caught it, and you fled. So when you heard the search had been called off, you came here to watch the house, and when everyone went to bed, you came in intending to blow his brains out and presumably mine too. All because your stupid, selfish sister decided to steal Harper's one turn and basically killed herself."

"She wasn't stupid. And she was dying, she was desperate," Susan said at once.

"She wasn't dying yet," Drina said coldly. "It was a benign tumor. They were trying to shrink it and then planned to remove it, but she thought it would be more fun to be a vampire. Young and pre y forever, banging any guy she wanted and then ge ng them to give her whatever she wanted by controlling them. Don't bother denying it, I'm in your head. I can read your thoughts," Drina added coldly.

"That was just wild thinking: She wouldn't have done that," Susan muttered.

"The Jenny I knew would have," Teddy said dryly, making his presence known, and Harper glanced over to see him in the doorway, with Anders, Tiny, and Mirabeau crowded behind him. The police chief shrugged, and explained, "I'm an old man, don't sleep well, and have to get up ten mes a night to take a leak. I was in the bathroom when I saw Susan creeping around the backyard headed for the door. I woke Anders, and we came down to see what she was up to. Decided not to interfere, though, ll we knew what was what."

When Harper's gaze slid to Tiny and Mirabeau, it was Mirabeau who spoke.

"We weren't asleep yet," she said with a shrug, but the color that crept up her cheeks gave him a good idea of what had been keeping them awake. That bedeviling new-life-mate horniness, he thought wryly, as she continued, "We heard someone going downstairs and thought Anders was trying to pull a fast one, so came to investigate."

Anders rolled his eyes at the words but slipped past Teddy and into the room to take the gun from Susan's hand, saying, "So, no Leonius this time."

"Does that mean I don't have to go to Toronto?" Stephanie asked quietly. She had apparently been awake to hear what was going on as well. Harper watched her sit up on the couch, and then turned to Anders, along with everyone else, waiting to hear what he had to say.

"Well, answer the girl. There's nothing worse than not knowing," Teddy said grimly when Anders didn't respond right away. He then turned and marched out of the room.

"No," Anders said simply.

Stephanie frowned, "No, I don't have to go? Or no, it doesn't mean I don't have to go?"

"Lucian wants you in Toronto," Anders answered.

"It's all right, Stephanie," Drina said quietly, and Harper no ced she'd relaxed now that Anders had Susan by the arm. She was no longer bothering to control the woman. "I'm sure it will just be temporary. Once Elvi's place is fixed up, we'll come back."

Harper hoped she was right but knew they'd all do everything they could to ensure that was the case. Stephanie had gained herself four champions during her short stay in Port Henry. Five if you counted Teddy, he thought, as the mortal returned to the room with a cordless phone pressed to his ear.

"Yeah, I need you down here at my place. You need to take Susan Harper into custody," he said into the phone as he handed Anders a pair of cuffs. "I'll explain when you get here." Teddy hit the bu on to end the call, and then raised an eyebrow at Anders. "What are you waiting for? Cuff her. She's under arrest."

"Teddy," Susan said with dismay. "You can't arrest me."

Teddy arched his eyebrows as he peered at the girl. "Four counts of a empted murder is serious business, Susan. I certainly am arresting you."

"But he killed Jenny," she wailed. "And he's a vampire. Not even human. He's a monster."

"Jenny's death was an accident, one it's sounding like she brought on herself," he said, and then added sternly, "As for his being a monster, Harper never intended her to die, and it wasn't his fault since she didn't tell him about the tumor and chemo. You, on the other hand, have been deliberately cu ng brakes and firebombing Elvi's house and apparently the gas sta on. If I were you, I'd rethink who the monster is here."

"You can't arrest her," Anders said quietly.

"What the hell do you mean?" Teddy asked with amazement. "Of course I can. The woman's a menace. She needs to be locked up, probably in the hospital, but the courts will decide that."

"You can't charge her with trying to kill Harper," Drina said quietly.

"They're right," Harper said, when Teddy opened his mouth to protest. "How are you going to explain that we didn't die from any of the a acks? And what happens when she starts squawking about vampires and Jenny's dying during the turn?"

Teddy's troubled gaze slid to Susan. "Well, what the hell are we supposed to do with her then? We can't just let her loose. She'll just try again."

There was silence for a minute, and then Anders quickly cuffed Susan and urged her across the room.

"You can lock her up, but I suspect Lucian will want her in Toronto as well."

"Teddy," Susan cried, jerking around and looking at him pleadingly.

He frowned, but sighed, and asked, "What will Lucian do?"

Anders shrugged. "Depends."

"On what?" Teddy asked at once.

"Does she have family here?"

"She and Jenny were all that was le . Grandparents were all gone by the me they were out of grade school. The mother died while they were in high school, and the father had a heart a ack a couple years back." He paused, and then added, "I think they have an aunt and a couple of cousins in London, but they weren't close as far as I know."

"Then he'll probably have her memory wiped and relocate her to the other end of Canada or somewhere down in the States," Mirabeau said quietly. "Give her a job with someone who can keep an eye on her and a new home. The works."

"Memory wiped? Like she won't know who she is?" Teddy asked with a frown.

"No." It was Drina who answered this me. "They'll wipe her memories of Harper and vampires in general, alter her memories of Jenny's death so she believes she died from the tumor alone, and probably put it in her head that Port Henry is full of bad, sad memories for her, and she doesn't want to return."

Her mouth ghtened, and she added, "They'll probably veil her sense of loss over Jenny too so she can move on."

Teddy grunted at this and shook his head. "So she tries to kill Harper, nearly kills you and Stephanie along with him, and gets into the immortal version of the Federal Witness Protection Program?"

"That's about it," Mirabeau said wryly, and shrugged. "She isn't wholly in her right mind, Teddy. Jenny was all she had. She's grieving."

Drina made an impa ent sound, and Harper squeezed her fingers gently, knowing she wasn't too pleased by this outcome. Not that Teddy looked as if he thought it was a fair deal either.

"And she calls you guys the monsters," Teddy mu ered, shaking his head. He scrubbed one hand through his gray hair, then sighed and stepped back out into the entry when they heard the crunch of snow under res. Glancing back into the room, he gestured Anders forward. "My deputy's here. He'll take her down and lock her up until Lucian can send someone for her."

"Teddy?" Susan said unhappily, as Anders walked her to the man, "please don't let them - "

"I don't want to hear it, Susan. I'm red and heartsick. You did this to yourself," Teddy said sternly. "And you're ge ng a hell of a good deal. If it were up to me, you'd be locked up for what you've done. You tried to kill the man, caused no end of pain to all three of them, damned near burnt down Elvi's house . . . and you could have killed that semi driver or someone else with that brakes stunt too. Just thank your lucky stars they aren't demanding your head on a platter."

Shaking his head, Teddy turned to the door to watch his deputy approach the house, mu ering, "I thought I lived in Goddamned Mayberry with a bunch of Aunt Beas and Andies. Who knew Port Henry had so many homicidal nutcases running around? I think it's time I retired," he added wearily as he opened the door. They were all silent as Teddy turned the woman over to his deputy. The moment she was out of his hands, Anders slipped his cell phone from his pocket and started punching numbers. Calling Lucian Argeneau, Harper supposed.

"Well, that takes care of that." Teddy closed and locked the front door, then turned back to stand in the doorway to the living room to survey his guests with a sigh. He grimaced as he noted Anders talking quietly into his phone, then glanced to the others, and said, "I'm hoping this means we're off high alert and are back to thinking that this Leonius fellow is still in the States?"

"It looks that way," Drina said, sounding a li le more cheerful than she had at the prospect of Susan's lack of punishment for what she'd done.

"Right." Teddy turned away. "Then I'm to bed. I'm too damned old for this nonsense."

"Sleep well," Harper murmured, a sen ment echoed by the others. They all smiled wryly when the man snorted at the very possibility.

"He means it about re ring," Stephanie said sadly. "He's very depressed about what's happened in Port Henry the last couple of years."

"He just needs some sleep," Harper assured her, and hoped it was true. He liked the man. Teddy Brunswick did his best for the people in this town, mortal and immortal alike. Unfortunately, the man was nearing re rement. Unless he turned out to be a life mate for someone, they would lose him in another year or so. Harper frowned at the realiza on and thought perhaps he should suggest Drina talk to her aunt Marguerite about se ng that special skill of hers for sniffing out life mates onto Teddy. She usually found mates for immortals, but she might be able to find an immortal for him. It would certainly be handy if Teddy became one of them.

"Lucian's sending someone for the woman," Anders announced, pu ng his phone away. "I'm going back to bed."

"So are we," Mirabeau said on a sigh. "Good night, guys."

Harper murmured good night, and then glanced from Stephanie to Drina. The two females were peering at each other, Drina eyeing the girl with worry, Stephanie peering back, her expression a portrait of misery.

"I don't want to be a no-fanger," the teenager said suddenly.

Harper winced, guessing the girl had read that worry from one of them despite their best efforts to keep the thought from their minds.

"We won't let you," Drina said quietly. "We'll find a way to help you."

Stephanie nodded but didn't look as if she believed it as she lay back down and turned over to face the back of the couch.

When Drina sighed unhappily and se led back in her chair, Harper released a li le sigh of his own. He wanted to tell her everything would be all right, but he wasn't yet sure his plan would work, so simply gave her hand another squeeze and closed his eyes to sleep as well.

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