The Reluctant Vampire

Chapter Four

There was a woman in the bathroom cleaning it. Drina offered her a polite smile and leaned against the wall while Stephanie tended to her business in one of the stalls, and then washed her hands at the sink. She followed silently as Stephanie then led the way outside, but as they approached Harper's car and she saw that he hadn't yet returned, she finally said, "Stephanie - "

"Please don't," Stephanie said quickly, turning to face her. "I know you're feeling guilty about what you think is our manipula ng Harper, but it's for his own good. And we aren't tricking him into anything. We're just making him feel safe enough for his true feelings to grow without his guilt over Jenny's death getting in the way."

"But - "

"Please," Stephanie pleaded. "Please don't ruin everything. I like you. I like you both. The two of you deserve to be happy. Besides, I've had more fun today than I've had since - " She paused, a cloud crossing over her face before she ducked her head.

Drina sighed, knowing she'd nearly said before Leonius had a acked her, and wasn't at all surprised. From what she'd been told, the girl had been pre y miserable since the turn, struggling with her losses and the adjustments she'd had to make. But this day had been one full of fun and laughter. For all of them.

Drina closed her eyes briefly, then reached out to rub one hand lightly over the girl's upper arm. "I had a good time today too, and it's been a long time since I've been able to say that."

"I know," Stephanie whispered, and then li ed her face to smile crookedly. "Your surface memories of the recent past are pre y grim. You put on a good face and seem cheerful and happy, but your days are spent hun ng bad guys and mourning unwilling turns you have to capture or kill. And I know you struggle every day with feeling guilty that you have to do it. You think that if you'd just tracked their rogue sires down a bit faster, they might have been saved before they were turned, or at least before they were made to do something that marked them for death." She grimaced. "It seems a pretty grim life."

"It is," Drina said quietly.

"Then why do you do it?"

She smiled wryly and shrugged. "Someone has to."

"But it kills you a little bit inside every day," Stephanie said quietly.

Drina didn't deny that, but simply said, "It kills all rogue hunters a li le bit inside every day. But for me

. . ." She sighed and said, "Maybe, just maybe, my ac ons have prevented one or two other young girls, like you, from going through what you are." She smiled crookedly. "Surely that makes it worthwhile?"

Before she could respond, they both heard the restaurant door opening and glanced around to see Harper approaching.

"Sorry, I forgot I'd locked the car," Harper murmured, hitting the button on his key fob.

"That's all right. We just got here ourselves," Drina assured him, moving to the back passenger door as

"That's all right. We just got here ourselves," Drina assured him, moving to the back passenger door as Stephanie opened the front door.

"Thank you for lunch and for taking us shopping today, Harper," Stephanie said moments later, when they pulled into the driveway at Casey Cottage. "I had fun."

"I'm glad." He murmured absently as he eased his car into the ght space on one side of the two-car garage.

Stephanie then turned in her seat to peer at Drina in the back, and said, "While you guys are out tonight, I'll check the Internet and look for things for us to do tomorrow."

"Okay," Drina agreed easily, undoing her seat belt.

"Things to do tomorrow?" Harper asked, but the vehicle had stopped, and Drina was already slipping out, leaving Stephanie to answer. However, she got out just as quickly, and Harper followed, repea ng the question as he closed the door. "What do you mean, things to do tomorrow?"

"Well, it wasn't just that we needed warmer clothes and stuff that made us go out today," Stephanie explained, walking around the front of the car toward the stairs into the house. "We were worried about waking up everyone if we stayed in. That will s ll be a problem tomorrow, so we'll have to find someplace to go or something to do to entertain ourselves." She paused at the top of the steps with a hand on the door and pursed her lips. "I guess we're going to be pre y limited without a car, though."

Sighing, she shrugged and pulled the screen door open. "I'll figure out something."

Stephanie started into the house then, and Drina was directly behind her, but Harper caught her arm and drew her to a halt. The moment the door closed behind Stephanie, he asked with concern, "Do you think it's wise to take her away from the house?"

"She's not a prisoner, Harper. We can't keep her locked up in the house. Besides, she was sent down here to live as normal a life as possible," she pointed out, and then added, "And I did call Lucian first to make sure it was all right. He's pre y sure they weren't followed from New York, and she's safe. Apparently Anders and I are just a precaution and babysitters until Elvi and Victor return."

"Oh," he murmured, releasing her arm. "Well that's good news. That she's safe, I mean."

"Yes," Drina agreed, and turned back to the door, only to back up a step when it suddenly swung open and Stephanie reappeared, her coat already off but her eyes wide.

"We forgot our clothes!" she squawked with disbelief.

Drina laughed at her expression and turned away to slip past Harper and off the stairs. "Close the door; the garage isn't heated, and you aren't wearing your coat. I'll get the bags."

She was at the trunk of the car before Drina realized she didn't have keys, but Harper was already there beside her, handling the ma er. They each took half the bags and carted them into the house. Stephanie was immediately on them, taking as many bags as she could handle and traipsing out of the room to dump them in the dining room before returning for the rest.

"I put the ke le on to make cocoa," she announced as she gathered the rest of the bags and turned away again. "Hurry up and get your boots and stuff off. We can have cocoa and cookies while we sort through all this and decide what you should wear tonight, Drina. I think it should be the black dress and FM shoes with those fishnet stockings."

"What fishnet stockings?" Drina asked with surprise, but Stephanie had already rushed out of the entry again.

"The ones she threw in the cart while you were in the changing room," Harper answered for her, his voice dry.

"Oh," Drina murmured, and wondered if she'd have the nerve to wear the outfit she'd bought today. She'd only really allowed Stephanie to convince her to buy the dress and shoes to make sure Harper was thinking about what she would look like in them. But really, they weren't quite her style. The dress was a li le too low cut at the neckline, and a li le too high at the thigh, and the shoes looked like they'd be killer to wear. Fortunately, she did have a dress and shoes of her own with her. Although she had to admit it was a bit conserva ve since she'd brought it for the wedding. It wasn't really Night Club material either

. . . at least not if the Night Club was anything like Noche.

Sighing, she hung up her coat, and quickly shucked the new, ridiculously high-heeled, thigh-high boots that she'd also allowed Stephanie to talk her into. She then padded into the kitchen, leaving Harper s ll working on the laces of his second boot.

Stephanie was pulling down mugs from the cupboard, presumably for the cocoa, but Tiny was also there. The big mortal was bent over and peering into the oven at something that was emi ng really delicious smells.

"You're up early," Drina murmured, blinking as she took in his present garb. The man wore flowered oven mi s and a matching apron. He should have looked ridiculous, but since he was wearing only jeans and his bare chest was barely covered by the apron on top . . . well it was oddly sexy, she decided with a slight shake of the head.

"I'm mortal," Tiny reminded her with amusement. "Daytime is my time."

"Yes, but I thought you and Mirabeau - "

"Tiny and I conked out around four in the morning and were up by noon," Mirabeau announced, entering the kitchen from the living room. Her expression was grim as she asked, "Where were you guys?"

"We went shopping and out for lunch," Stephanie announced happily, busily dumping a pale brown powder into the five mugs she'd collected.

When Mirabeau raised a cold eyebrow in her direc on, Drina said, "Just to Wal-Mart, and I called Lucian first to be sure it was all right." She then added, "I apologize for not leaving a note, but I thought you were day sleepers and expected we'd be back long before anyone woke up."

"See, I told you there was nothing to worry about, Beau," Tiny chided gently as he retrieved a tray of li le circles from the oven. "Now stop looking at Drina as if she murdered your kitty and come have a cookie."

Mirabeau blinked at Tiny's words and then relaxed. She even managed a smile for Drina. "Sorry. I was just worried when we got up, and you were all gone. The only reason I didn't have Lucian on the phone and Teddy Brunswick out looking for you was because Tiny checked the garage and saw that Harper's car was gone."

"I should have left a note, and will in future," Drina assured her.

"And your cell number too," Mirabeau said at once, moving over to slide an arm around Tiny and press a kiss to his bare arm. Her voice was somewhat distracted when she added, "We should have exchanged numbers the minute you guys arrived last night. Then I could have called you at least."

"I'll write mine down now," Drina decided, and moved to the refrigerator, where a magne zed notepad took up a corner on the front. She immediately scribbled down her number on the pad, and then turned to hand the pen to Mirabeau, saying, "I don't know Anders's number, but we can have him put his here as well when he gets up, and then anyone who wants it on their phone can do so, but it will be on the fridge if anyone needs it."

Nodding, Mirabeau slid away from Tiny, took the pen she offered, and then pulled a cell phone out of her back pocket.

"Both our numbers are new. We lost our phones in New York, so Lucian sent us new ones," she admi ed on a grimace and began to punch buttons, presumably in search of her phone number.

"My phone's in my back pocket, Beau," Tiny rumbled as he began to slide cookies off the metal cookie sheet and onto a plate.

Mirabeau immediately moved over to slide her hand in and dig out his phone. Drina turned away to hide a smile when she saw that while Mirabeau was retrieving the phone with one hand, she hadn't been able to resist gliding her other hand under the top of his apron and over his bare chest.

"What smells so good?" Harper asked, coming into the kitchen from the pantry.

"Chocolate chip pecan cookies," Tiny announced, his voice gruff as Mirabeau retrieved her hands and his phone and turned back to the refrigerator.

"That sounds interes ng," Harper decided, and moved forward to peruse the li le discs. "Can I have one?"

Tiny paused and glanced at Harper with surprise, "Well, yeah sure, that's why I made them."

Nodding, Harper took one and li ed it to his mouth to try a bite. Eyes widening as he swallowed, he pronounced, "Mmmm. Good."

Tiny stared at him silently. When his gaze then slid to her, Drina promptly turned away to begin collec ng the Wal-Mart bags from where Stephanie had set them. But she heard him say, "Have another." And she glanced over her shoulder to see Tiny watching the man closely.

"Thanks." Harper took a second cookie, and glanced to where Stephanie was hovering over her cups of cocoa. "Can I help you with that?"

"Well, it's ready except for the water, but if you'll pour the water in when the ke le boils, I could help Drina carry the bags up to our room."

"Okay," he said agreeably.

"Thanks." Stephanie grinned at him and rushed around the counter to Drina's side.

"I'll help with the bags while you boys oversee the food and drink," Mirabeau announced, as Drina straightened and headed for the stairs. She had just started up when she heard Tiny murmur, "So you're eating again, Harper?"

"Oh, yeah, I started a year and a half ago when I first came to Port Henry and met Jenny."

"Your life mate?" Tiny asked.

"Yes, mee ng a life mate reawakens old appe tes, of course, and I guess they don't just die if the life mate does. They'll go away again eventually, but it will take a while I suppose."

"But I didn't think you'd been eating since Jenny died," Tiny said mildly. Drina paused on the stairs, wai ng un l Harper answered with, "I guess I was too depressed to be bothered, but going out with the girls today perked me up some, and my appetites are back."

"Hmmm," Tiny murmured, and Drina con nued up the stairs just as Stephanie and Mirabeau came out of the dining room and started up the stairs behind her.

"Okay, spill," Mirabeau said firmly as soon as they were in the room Drina and Stephanie were sharing.

"Yes, Drina, show her what you got," Stephanie said lightly, dropping her bags and hurrying to close the door behind Mirabeau.

"I didn't mean - " Mirabeau began.

"She knows," Drina pointed out on a sigh. The kid seemed to know everything. There probably wasn't a thought in this house the girl didn't hear.

"I just wanted to close the door so the guys don't hear," Stephanie said in a hushed voice as she moved past Mirabeau to Drina's bed. Sprawling on the twin bed, she smiled at Mirabeau, and said, "Marguerite picked Drina for Lucian to send just as she suggested Tiny and you bring me here."

Mirabeau's eyebrows rose as she recognized the significance of that. "Harper's your life mate?"

"It would seem so," Drina said wearily, dumping the nearest bag on the bed and beginning to sort through the clothes that spilled out.

"Christ. That means we have another distracted hunter guarding Stephanie," Mirabeau mu ered with disgust. "What was Lucian thinking sending you here if - "

"Because he doesn't care if I'm distracted."

"What?" Mirabeau asked with surprise.

"He planned to send someone named Bricker down here to replace me the moment Harper and I acknowledged we were life mates, but it turns out there's been a sigh ng of Leonius in the States, which means you guys weren't followed. Stephanie's safe, and Anders and I are just - " Drina snapped her mouth closed as she realized what she was about to say, but Stephanie finished for her.

"Babysitters," the girl said with amusement, and then reassured Drina, "It's okay. I'm not upset."

"Huh." Mirabeau mu ered and leaned against the dresser drawers at the foot of the bed. She was silent for a moment as she took it all in, and then glanced to Drina and asked, "So what's all this nonsense Harper was spouting downstairs about his reawakened appetites being leftovers from Jenny?"

"He believes it," Stephanie said simply, sitting up to help Drina sort the clothes they'd bought. Mirabeau narrowed her eyes. "Why? Hasn't he tried to read you?"

Drina shrugged. "Probably. But I'm older than him by quite a bit. He wouldn't have been able to read me anyway."

"And you've tried to read him?" Mirabeau asked.

"The minute I met him," she admitted quietly. "And I can't."

"Why haven't you told him?" she asked at once.

Drina took in Mirabeau's grim face with a sigh. It looked like she had some explaining to do.

"The girls are taking a while," Tiny commented as he helped carry the cookies and cocoa to the diningroom table.

"They're probably oohing and ahhing over what Stephanie and Drina bought today," Harper said with amusement. "Speaking of which, a bit of advice; if Mirabeau decides to take Stephanie shopping - just hand over the keys and let them go. You'll save yourself some humiliation and several shocks."

"Humiliation and shocks?" Tiny asked, a smile pulling at his lips.

"Hmm. I spent the day being considered 'one of the girls' and learning things I never wanted to know about women," he said dryly.

"Like what?" Tiny asked curiously.

"Do you know what they call high heels?" Harper asked, not expecting him to know.

"Ah, yes," Tiny sat back with a nod. "Good old FMs."

"You knew about that?" he asked with surprise. "Do you know what FM stands for?"

Tiny nodded again, and then explained, "My best friend most of my adult life has been a female . . . and, come to think of it, she's probably treated me more like a girlfriend than a guy friend," he admi ed with an unconcerned chuckle.

"Hmm." Harper shook his head. "Well, I've never been treated like a girlfriend in all my life. It was a bit lowering."

"Nah." Tiny shook his head. "It's a compliment. It means they don't see you as sexually threatening. You're a friend rather than a man friend."

"And that's a compliment?" Harper asked doubtfully.

"It is if you're only interested in being a friend," he reasoned, and then shrugged, and added, "But I suppose if your interests lie in a more sexual rela onship, then it's probably less fla ering. Fortunately, I never had that kind of interest in my friend, Jackie. She's more like a combina on buddy and sister type for me."

"Jackie? Vincent's wife? The one who is flying in at the end of the week to help oversee your turn?"

Harper asked. The big man had called Jackie last night to tell her he would be turning soon. Apparently, his friend had insisted on being there for it, so they'd had to set a date and me. The end of the week had been the decision.

"Yes." Tiny smiled faintly, and then they both glanced toward the stairs as they heard a door open and the cha er and cla er of the girls returning. Harper smiled, finding himself oddly eager to see them again. The day just seemed brighter with the girls around.

"You look gorgeous." Stephanie sighed where she lay on her bed, hugging her pillow. Drina surveyed herself and thought that she looked like a prostitute on the loose.

"You do not," Stephanie and Mirabeau said as one, making her scowl and turn to the older woman.

"It's bad enough her reading me, but you too?" she asked with disgust.

Mirabeau grinned and shrugged. "You're an open book at the moment. It's hard not to."

Drina scowled and turned back to the mirror to sigh at her reflec on, but her mind was on the conversa on that had taken place in this room earlier in the a ernoon. Much to her surprise, once Drina and Stephanie had explained things, Mirabeau had decided they were doing the right thing and had offered to help.

Actually, that had been something of a relief. Drina had found it increasingly difficult not to feel guilty about the head game they were playing with Harper as the day had worn on. But Mirabeau's assurance that it was probably the smartest move had made her feel a little better.

Now, however, she stared in the mirror at a woman she hardly recognized and wondered what the hell she was doing.

"This is the style nowadays," Stephanie assured her, sitting up on the bed, her expression earnest.

"She's right," Mirabeau agreed. "This is what they wear at the bars and clubs."

"So, everyone dresses like pros tutes now? What's it called? Hooker Chic?" Drina asked dryly, tugging at the low neckline of the black dress she'd somehow been convinced to wear after all. Mirabeau chuckled at her acerbic words. It was Stephanie who said, "Stop fussing with the neckline. It isn't that low. You're just used to more conservative clothes."

Drina couldn't argue that point. She'd always been self-conscious at what she considered a too generous chest and so tended toward high necklines or even turtlenecks.

Sighing, she started to turn away from the mirror and immediately paused to peer down at her high heels.

"I won't be able to dance in these."

"Then kick them off before you step on the dance floor," Mirabeau suggested. "I've seen women do that."

"Is that the helicopter?" Stephanie asked, suddenly leaping off the bed and hurrying to the window as they became aware of a distant whir. Pulling the curtains aside, she peered out at the sky, and then gave an excited little hop. "It is!"

"Time to go," Mirabeau said cheerfully, moving to open the bedroom door.

"I hope I don't have to walk far in these," Drina muttered, following her. Releasing the curtains, Stephanie laughed and hurried a er them, saying, "At least you won't have to worry about blisters. The nanos will heal them as quickly as they form."

Drina didn't bother to respond; she was too busy worrying about the curving staircase ahead and making it to the ground floor without taking a header. Seriously, she really shouldn't have bought these shoes or the dress. She should have bought something she would be comfortable in. But who knew Stephanie the great puppet master-cum-cupid, would maneuver Harper into taking her out tonight?

"Never underestimate the great Stephanie," Mirabeau said with amusement from in front of her.

"Stop that," Drina snapped. Good Lord, she definitely didn't like being read. Mirabeau just laughed, but she managed to subdue her amusement as they reached the main floor and headed into the dining room.

"Oh good, the helicopter is here and - "

Drina tore her eyes away from watching her feet and glanced to Harper in ques on when his words died abruptly. He was staring at her, his mouth open, her coat in one hand and the other half-li ed toward the window as if he'd been gesturing outside to where the helicopter was. He looked rather stunned. She wasn't sure that was a good thing. He'd already seen her in the dress. It shouldn't elicit this effect, whatever this effect was. Horror was her guess.

"It's not horror," Stephanie hissed with exaspera on behind her. "It's awe. While he saw the dress, he didn't see the dress, stockings, heels, jewelry, makeup, and hair. You've taken his breath away."

"Here's your coat," Tiny announced, taking the long faux leather coat from Harper's unresis ng hand and crossing the room to hold it open for her.

"Thank you," Drina murmured, slipping first one arm and then the other into the sleeves.

"You're welcome," Tiny said cheerfully, and she swore his eyes were twinkling as he shi ed his gaze from her to Harper, who was s ll silent but had closed his mouth and lowered his arm. "Well, you two kids have fun."

Drina smiled wryly at the man, though she couldn't have said whether it was at his calling them kids when they were both pre y much ancient, or at the sugges on they have fun when she was posi ve that was impossible.

"Right," Harper said, snapping to life as she reached his side. "The helicopter landed just across the street in the schoolyard." His gaze dropped to her heels and turned, concerned. "Can you manage in those shoes? It's icy out there."

"Maybe you should wear the thigh-high boots, instead, Drina," Stephanie suggested suddenly. "Those are FMs too, but would have more traction. They'd also be warmer."

"Thigh-high boots would work with that dress," Mirabeau decided. "In fact, they'd be sexy as heck with it."

"The shoes are fine," Drina insisted, flushing with embarrassment at all the a en on. Everyone in the room was now staring at her legs in the fishnet stockings. Fishnet, for God's sake! The only thing she could think of that would be sluttier was the thigh-high boots.

"Well, I suppose Harper can carry you if you find it too slippery," Stephanie said cheerfully.

"Right. The boots then," Drina snapped, tossing a glare at the teenager as she moved out into the pantry to get them. She almost tried to don them right there, leaning against the wall, but gave up that idea when she nearly fell over just trying to remove the shoes.

Sighing with exaspera on, she carried the boots back into the dining room and sat down to quickly remove her shoes. She then tugged on first one boot, and the other, trying to ignore just how much leg she was flashing while doing so. Drina then stood up and moved back to Harper's side.

"All set," she said with forced cheer.

Harper tore his eyes away from her boots, swallowed, nodded, and then took her arm and ushered her to the door, muttering, "Don't wait up."

She was crossing the deck when Drina decided she was glad to be wearing the boots a er all. It was cold as the dickens, and the boots at least kept her legs from freezing. They were also easier to walk in than the shoes, which were probably an inch taller. Not that the boots didn't have high heels too, but they were at least manageable. She'd felt like she was on stilts in the shoes.

Drina eyed the helicopter as they crossed the street. She then glanced around, no ng that traffic had slowed to a stop, and people were looking out the windows of the surrounding houses. As transporta on went, it definitely wasn't your low-profile choice. By her guess, every phone in town would be ringing before they'd lifted off.

Heck, half of them were probably already ringing, she thought wryly, as they ducked to rush under the blades to the helicopter door.

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