The Lady Is a VampBy: Lynsay Sands
An Argeneau Novel
“Last day, Fred,” Jeanne Louise commented, offering a smile to the guard as she approached the security station. The mortal man had worked the exit of the science division of Argeneau Enterprises for nearly five years now and was being rotated out to another area to prevent him from noticing that many members of the staff didn’t age. She would miss Fred. He’d been a smiling face wishing her a good night and asking about her family for a long time.
“Yes, Miss Jeanie. Last day here. Off to one of the blood banks next week.”
Jeanne Louise nodded, her smile fading slightly and expression sincere as she said, “They’ll be lucky to have you there. You’ll be missed.”
“I’ll miss all of you too,” he assured her solemnly, walking around the counter to the door to unlock it for her. He pushed it open then and held it, turning sideways to let her slip past as he said, “Night, Miss Jeanie. You enjoy the long weekend now.”
“I will. You too,” she said, smiling faintly at his calling her Miss Jeanie. He always made her feel like a child . . . which was impressive since he was only in his late fifties and she was more than forty years older than he was. Not that he would believe that. She didn’t look over twenty-five. It was one of the benefits to being a vampire, or immortal, as the old timers preferred to be called. There were many such benefits and she was grateful for every one. But it didn’t stop her from feeling bad for mortals, who didn’t enjoy those benefits.
Great, a guilt-ridden vampire, she thought wryly and gave a chuckle at the cliché. Next she’d be angst ridden, mopey and whining about her long life.
“Yeah, not gonna happen,” Jeanne Louise muttered with amusement and then glanced around at the sound of a stone skittering on pavement. Spotting one of the guys from the blood division entering the parking garage behind her, she offered a nod and then turned forward again to make her way to her car. Slipping into her convertible, she started the engine and quickly backed out to head out of the garage, her mind distracted with considering whether she should stay up and take care of some chores today, or just go home to bed.
That was one problem with being a vampire, Jeanne Louise acknowledged as she turned out of the garage and started up the street. The hours were off-kilter with the rest of the world. Her shift generally ended at 7 A.M., but she’d stayed behind to finish up when the others had left. It was now 7:30, which meant that to perform some of those chores she was thinking of, she’d have to stay awake for another two hours and then head out to those places that weren’t yet open. Under a hot, beating sun.
Frankly, at that moment, staying up another two hours was an exhausting thought.
Home to bed, Jeanne Louise decided, taking one hand off the steering wheel to stifle a yawn as she slowed to a stop at a red light.
She’d just come to a halt when movement in her rearview mirror caught her attention. Glancing toward it sharply, Jeanne Louise caught a glimpse of a dark shape popping up in the backseat and then a hissing sound was accompanied by a sudden sharp pain in her neck.
“What the—?” She grabbed her neck and started to turn at the sound of the back door opening and closing. But then her own door was opening and the dark figure was reaching past her to shift the car into park.
“What?” Jeanne Louise muttered, frowning at the garbled word and how slow her thought processes suddenly seemed. And then the man was scooping her up to shift her into the passenger seat and sliding into the driver’s seat himself. Vision beginning to blur, Jeanne Louise watched him shift the car back into drive, and then she lost consciousness.
Jeanne Louise stirred sleepily and tried to turn onto her side, but frowned as she found she couldn’t. Opening her eyes, she stared at the ceiling overhead, noting that it was a plain white, not the pale rose of her bedroom at home and then she tried to sit up and recalled what had woken her. She couldn’t move. Because she was restrained, Jeanne Louise saw, gaping down at the chains crisscrossing her body from her shoulders to her feet. Good Lord.
“It’s steel. You won’t be able to break it.”
Jeanne Louise glanced sharply in the direction the voice had come from, her gaze sliding over what was a very small room, all white with nothing but the bed she lay on. The only interesting thing in there with her was the man addressing her from the doorway. He wasn’t overly tall, perhaps four or five inches taller than her own five feet six, but the man was built with wide shoulders and a narrow waist. He was also rather attractive in a boy-next-door sort of way, with brown hair, a square jaw, and eyes a brighter green than she’d ever seen . . . and she’d seen a lot of mortal eyes in her one hundred and two, almost one hundred and three, years of life. These easily beat out every other set she’d ever seen.
“How do you feel?” he asked with what appeared to be real concern.
“I’ve been better,” Jeanne Louise said dryly, glancing down to the chains again. Steel, he’d said. Cripes, he had her bound up like a crazed elephant or something.
“The tranquilizer I used on you can cause headaches and a fuzzy feeling as it wears off,” he announced apologetically. “Are you experiencing anything of that nature? Do you need an ibuprofren or something?”
“No,” Jeanne Louise said grimly, knowing it would go away quickly on its own thanks to the nanos. She then narrowed her eyes on the man’s face as she instinctively tried to penetrate his thoughts and take control of him. She intended to make him get her out of these ridiculous chains, explain himself, and then she would call her Uncle Lucian and have him send someone to deal with the man. That was the plan anyway. It didn’t go that way, however—because she couldn’t penetrate his thoughts, or take control of the man.
Must be the drug he gave me, Jeanne Louise thought with a frown and gave her head a shake to try to clear it a little more before trying again.
“Nothing,” she muttered with bewilderment. The drug definitely had to still be affecting her, she thought, and then scowled at him. “What did you give me?”
“The latest tranquilizer we’ve been working on in R and D,” he said mildly, and then disappeared out the door and briefly out of sight.
Jeanne Louise frowned at the empty space, his words running through her head. “R and D” was research and development. But R and D for where? It couldn’t be a normal tranquilizer for mortals; that would have hardly slowed her down let alone knocked her out. But—
Her thoughts scattered as he returned and approached the bed.
“Do you work for Argeneau Enterprises?” Jeanne Louise asked, eyeing what he held in one hand with interest. He was holding a tall glass of what appeared to be ice water and she was suddenly terribly aware that her mouth and throat were parched.
“I do. I’m in R and D like you, only I help develop new drugs while you have been working on genetic anomalies, I believe,” he said easily as he paused beside the bed.
Jeanne Louise frowned. Bastien Argeneau, her cousin and the head of Argeneau Enterprises, had hired her directly after she’d graduated from university seventy-five years ago. She’d worked for Argeneau Enterprises ever since. At first she’d actually been in the department this man claimed to be in, but twenty-five years ago, Bastien had asked Jeanne Louise to choose who she wanted from R and D and form a team. She would be heading up a new branch of the department, one dedicated solely to the task of finding a way to allow her cousin Vincent and her uncle Victor to feed without the need to bite mortals. They desperately wanted to be able to feed off bagged blood like everyone else did. It made life much simpler. However, both men suffered from a genetic anomaly that made bagged blood as useful to them as water. They would starve on a diet of bagged blood. She was supposed to figure out why and if they could be given some sort of supplement to prevent that. She’d been heading up the team working on the problem ever since and they still hadn’t figured out what the exact anomaly was that caused it, let alone how to fix it.
Sighing at what she considered her failure, Jeanne Louise glanced to her captor again, noting that he was standing beside the bed glancing from her to the water and back, his expression troubled. Catching her questioning glanced, he asked, “Can you drink water? I mean, I know you people can eat and drink, but will it help or do you need blood only? I have some laid in for you.”
Jeanne Louise stared at him silently. I know you people can eat and drink? You people? Like she was another species altogether. An alien or something. The man knew she wasn’t mortal. But what exactly did he know? She eyed him solemnly, once again trying to penetrate his thoughts, and once again failing. Then her gaze slid back to the water. It looked so damned good. The glass was sweating, rivulets of water running down the outside and Jeanne Louise would have paid a lot just to lick up those drops. But she had no idea what was in the glass besides ice and water. He could have drugged it. She couldn’t take the chance. If he worked in R and D at Argeneau Enterprises, he had access to drugs that could affect her.
“It’s not drugged,” the man said as if reading her thoughts, which she thought was rather ironic. He was mortal, one glance at his eyes proved that, and mortals couldn’t read minds. Immortals could, yet she couldn’t read his while he seemed to be able to read hers. Or her expression, she supposed.
“There’s no need to keep you drugged,” he added as if to convince her. “You’ll never escape those chains. Besides I need you clearheaded to consider the proposition I’m going to put to you.”
“The proposition,” Jeanne Louise muttered with irritation, giving a tentative tug on her chains. With a little time and effort she might have broken the chain . . . if he hadn’t gone crazy with it, wrapping it around her and the bed like it was linen around a mummy.
“Water or blood?”
The question drew her gaze to the glass again. There was no guarantee the blood wouldn’t be drugged too. She debated the issue briefly and then gave in with a grim nod.
He immediately bent, sliding one hand beneath her head and lifting it, then placed the glass to her lips and tipped it. Jeanne Louise tried to just sip at the water, but the moment the liquid touched her tongue, so cold and soothing, she found herself gulping at the icy drink. Half of it was gone before she stopped and closed her lips. He immediately eased the glass away, laid her head gently back on the bed and straightened.
“Are you hungry?” he asked then.
Jeanne Louise considered the question. Her last meal of food for the day was usually breakfast in the Argeneau cafeteria about an hour and a half before heading home. She wasn’t hungry . . . but he’d have to unchain her to feed her and that thought was appealing enough to bring a smile to her lips.
“Yes,” Jeanne Louise said, quickly hiding her smile when she noted the way his eyes narrowed.
He hesitated, and then nodded and turned away to leave the room once more, presumably in search of food for her.
Jeanne Louise watched him go, but the moment the door closed behind him, she turned her attention to the chains, trying to sort out if they were one long chain wrapped around her and the bed over and over again, or several of them. She supposed it wouldn’t make much difference. Bound up as she was, she couldn’t move enough to get the leverage to try breaking one let alone several lengths of chain.
Her best bet was for him to unchain her so that she could sit up and eat. She could overpower him easily then. Of course, it would be easier all the way around if her mind wasn’t still affected by the drug he’d given her and she could just take control of him. She’d just make him unchain her then and save herself a lot of bother. Jeanne Louise had no idea what this proposition of his was, but mortals who knew about them were few and far between. They were either trusted retainers, higher-ups in Argeneau Enterprises, or exceptionally brilliant scientists who had to know what they were dealing with to do their jobs. He was obviously one of the latter—a brilliant scientist working on drugs in R and D. But no matter what group they belonged to, mortals in the know had tabs kept on them. They were given sporadic mind checks to see that they were okay mentally and not planning anything stupid like going to the press about them. Or kidnapping an immortal, chaining them to a bed and propositioning them.
Somebody had obviously fallen down on the job here, Jeanne Louise thought grimly. The knowledge didn’t worry her much. She wasn’t scared, she was just annoyed that her routine was being disrupted this way and that she’d probably be up most of the day as this mess was cleaned up. They’d have to find out what the man’s plans had been, who else, if anyone, he’d told about them, then the man’s mind and memories would have to be wiped, and the situation set to rights. Jeanne Louise wouldn’t have to take care of all that. The Enforcers were in charge of things like that, but she’d probably be kept up for hours answering questions and explaining things. It was a huge inconvenience. Jeanne Louise disliked having her routine disrupted.
Her thoughts scattered and she glanced expectantly toward the door as it opened, satisfaction curving her lips when she saw the plate of food her captor held. He would definitely have to unchain her to eat. However, she soon figured out that the guy wasn’t just smart at his job, when he shifted the plate to one hand and bent to do something beside the bed that made the top end rise with a quiet hum.
“Hospital bed,” he said straightening, a grin claiming his lips at her vexed expression. “They’re handy.”
“Yes,” she said dryly, as he paused and glanced around with a frown.
“Be right back,” he announced and set the plate on the floor beside the bed before heading out of the room again. He wasn’t gone long. Not even a minute passed before he reappeared with a wooden chair in hand. He set it down beside the bed, then scooped up the plate again and settled into it. The fellow then immediately scooped up some food on a fork, but when he held it toward her, she turned her head away with irritation.
“I’m not hungry.”
“You said you were,” he pointed out with surprise.
“I lied,” she said succinctly.
“Come now, I warmed it up and everything. At least try it,” he coaxed as if speaking to a difficult child. When she merely cast a scowl his way, he smiled charmingly and held the fork of food up. “It’s your favorite.”
That drew her attention to the plate and her eyebrows rose slightly when she saw that it was indeed her favorite, a cheese omelet and sausages. It was what she had for breakfast in the cafeteria at work each morning. When her gaze shifted to his face in question, he shrugged.
“I thought you should be comfortable while you’re here. I have no desire to make you uncomfortable or unhappy.”
Jeanne Louise’s eyes widened incredulously and then dropped meaningfully to the chains. All she said, however, was a sarcastic, “Helloooo?”
“I’ll remove those after you’ve heard my proposition,” he assured her solemnly. “I just needed them to keep you in place until I do.”
“You can stick your proposition,” she growled and then narrowed her eyes on his face again and tried to slip into his thoughts, but again came up against a blank wall. The drugs were still affecting her. She fell back on the bed with annoyance, and then scowled at him.
“Fine. Tell me about this proposition of yours,” she said finally. Anything to get out of there.
He hesitated, but then shook his head. “I don’t think you’re in a state of mind to listen. You seem rather annoyed.”
“I wonder why,” she said dryly.
“Probably because you’re hungry,” he said mildly and held out the forkful of food again.
“I told you I’m not hun—” Jeanne Louise paused, scowling as her stomach gave a loud rumble. Apparently she was hungry after all. It was probably the smell of food causing it, and the fact that she’d been so wrapped up in work she’d only eaten half her breakfast that morning. At least that’s what she’d told herself when she’d pushed away her half-eaten meal. Forget the fact that she’d been skipping meals a lot, and only eating half meals when she did bother with food recently. It just didn’t seem to be quite as flavorful or tempting as it used to be. Even chocolate didn’t seem as yummy as it had once seemed.
In truth, Jeanne Louise suspected she was reaching that stage where food lost its appeal and became more a bother than anything else. Mind you, while her breakfast had seemed bland and boring that morning, the same thing smelled damned good now and she actually was feeling a bit hungry, she acknowledged, eyeing the forkful of food. When he began to move the fork from side to side as if trying to tempt or amuse a child, she turned narrowed eyes his way. “If you start making airplane sounds I’m not eating for sure.”
A startled chuckle slipped from his lips and he grinned. But the fork steadied. “Sorry.”
“Hmm,” she muttered and accepted the food. It was as good as it smelled, and after chewing and swallowing she asked reluctantly, “How did you know it was my favorite?”
“I’ve had breakfast the same time as you in the mornings for years. Well, I did until a month ago,” he added and then shrugged. “It’s what you always get.”
Jeanne Louise peered more closely at him now, noting the buzz cut hair, dark brown eyebrows, green eyes and pleasant smile. He was a good-looking man. It was hard to imagine she hadn’t noticed him in the cafeteria at some point over these supposed years they’d had breaks together. But then she did tend to get into her work and walk around a little oblivious a lot of the time, she supposed. Jeanne Louise wanted desperately to find the cure for her uncle and cousin and even took her notes with her when she went for her breaks so that she could glance over them while she ate. As focused as she was on her obsession, Jeanne Louise supposed Uncle Lucian himself could have been in the seat next to her and unless he said or did something to catch her attention, she probably wouldn’t notice.
Her eyes shot back to his as something he’d said caught her attention. Eyes narrowing, she asked, “Until a month ago? Don’t you work for Argeneau Enterprises anymore?”
“Yes, I do,” he said quietly. “I took a couple months off.”
Jeanne Louise stared at him silently, processing this information. If this plan, whatever it was, hadn’t been in his mind before he’d taken the break . . . well, it may be that no one had messed up after all. There wouldn’t have been anything for one of the team who kept tabs on mortals to find.
“Eat?” he asked quietly, urging the forkful of food closer to her lips.
Jeanne Louise’s eyes dropped to the fork and she almost shook her head in refusal on principle alone, but it seemed like cutting off her nose to spite her face when her stomach was rumbling eagerly and her mouth filling with saliva at just the prospect of the food he offered. Sighing, she opened her mouth somewhat resentfully, closed it around the fork when he slid it carefully inside, and then drew the food off with compressed lips as he removed it. They were silent, eyeing each other as she chewed and swallowed and then he scooped up another forkful for her.
“It would be easier if I could just feed myself,” she pointed out dryly when he raised the next forkful.
“Yes, it would,” he agreed mildly and when she opened her mouth to snap a bit impatiently that she’d prefer that, he slid the fork in, silencing her before the first word could leave her lips. As she chewed, he added, “But I know your kind are very strong and I don’t want to risk you trying to escape. I’m sure once you understand the situation, there won’t need to be such caution. But until then . . . this is just the better way to handle things.”
“My kind,” Jeanne Louise muttered the moment she’d swallowed. “We are human, you know.”
“But not mortal,” he said quietly.
“The heck we aren’t. We can die just like you can. We’re just harder to kill. And live longer,” she added reluctantly.
“And stay young, and resist disease, and can self-heal,” he said quietly, slipping another forkful of food into her mouth.
Jeanne Louise eyed him as she chewed and swallowed and then said, “So let me guess, you want that. To be young, to live longer, be stronger, be—”
He shook his head and silenced her by slipping another forkful of food past her lips even as he assured her, “I don’t.”
“Then what do you want?” Jeanne Louise asked with frustration when she could speak again. “What is this proposition?”
He hesitated and she could see the debate going on behind his eyes, but in the end he shook his head again. “Not yet.”
This time when he raised the fork to her lips, she turned her head away and muttered, “I’m not hungry,” and meant it. She was too frustrated and angry to care about food anymore. Besides what she’d eaten had taken the edge off her hunger.
He was silent for a minute, but then sighed, set the fork on the still half-full plate and stood. “I’ll let you rest for a bit. The drug should be out of your system by the time you wake up again. We can talk then.”
Jeanne Louise didn’t even acknowledge his words with a glance, but stared grimly at the wall as he bent and did something to make the bed slide back into a flat position. She didn’t move until she heard his footsteps cross the floor and the door open and close. Then Jeanne Louise slowly allowed herself to relax and let her eyes slip shut.
She wanted out of there and back to her own life. But she was also tired, and there was little she could do until the last of the drug wore off. The moment that happened though, she would take control of the situation and make the man release her, Jeanne Louise promised herself. He wouldn’t be expecting that. While there were mortals who knew about them and knew some of their skills and strengths, the immortals’ ability to read and control minds was not usually one of the skills revealed. Mortals didn’t take the knowledge of those attributes well. It tended to freak them out to know their thoughts could be heard, and “her kind” had learned over the years to just keep that bit of knowledge to themselves. Of course if his job had depended on that knowledge, he might have been given it. But Jeanne Louise doubted that was the case or he would keep her drugged rather than wait for her head to completely clear to make this proposition he had.
Whoever he was, she thought with a frown as it occurred to her that she had no idea what his name was or much of anything else really. All she knew was that he worked in R and D at Argeneau Enterprises and took the same breakfast break as she did.
Which meant he probably worked the night shift too. That was interesting. Mortals usually didn’t like the night shift. It was usually full of immortals, while the mortals stuck to the day shifts. She wondered briefly why he would work the night shift, and then let the matter go. She needed to rest. Jeanne Louise wanted to be awake and alert when he returned.
Paul pulled the door closed behind him with a little sigh and moved up the hall to the stairs, his mind running over everything he’d done so far, looking for any problems that might arise, but he didn’t see any. He’d waited until she was off Argeneau property and away from the cameras on the grounds before making his move and it had all gone as smoothly as he’d hoped.
Hers had been the only car at the traffic light when Paul had hit her with the tranquilizer. That, of course, had been pure luck. God or the Fates had been smiling down on him this morning.
The tranq had worked as quickly as it did in testing and it had only taken seconds for him to get out of the backseat, shift her to the passenger seat and slide behind the wheel himself. The whole thing had been over within a moment.
The only place where he could see a problem was when he’d crawled out of Lester’s trunk and got into the backseat of her car at Argeneau Enterprises in full view of at least three security cameras. But he’d worn dark clothes, and a balaclava to cover his face. There wouldn’t have been much for the cameras to catch. Paul had snuck onto the property in the trunk of Lester’s car, but there wasn’t anything the other man could tell them. Paul had broken into Lester’s garage, jimmied his trunk open, got in, and hitched a ride into Argeneau Enterprises. It meant he’d had to hold it not quite closed until the end of the long night shift.
Moments before Lester had returned to the car, Paul had slid out of the trunk and made his way to Jeanne Louise Argeneau’s car. His main concern had been that it might be locked, but few bothered in the parking garage. It was so well patrolled and had so many damned cameras, no one would try anything there as a rule. Much to his relief, Jeanne Louise hadn’t had her car locked, and she hadn’t worked past her usual half hour after end of shift but had arrived just moments after he’d gotten in. If Paul was spotted moving from one car to the other on the cameras and security had been on their way, they’d been too late. His only worry now was that Lester might be thought of as a co-conspirator in the whole business and get in trouble. That would make him feel bad. Lester was a good guy.
Aware that he couldn’t do a damned thing for the man right now, Paul pushed that worry away as he mounted the steps out of the basement. They came out in the kitchen, and he headed for the sink, intending to dump the food Jeanne Louise had left unfinished and rinse the plate. But halfway there he changed direction and instead walked out of the room and up the hall to the stairs to the second floor. Paul mounted those quickly, slipping one hand under the plate as he went to check that the food was still warm. It was and still looked fresh and tasty enough that it made him hungry. He only hoped Livy would think so too, but feared she wouldn’t. Nothing seemed to tempt her appetite anymore.
Paul forced a smile at that soft query as he crossed the pretty pink bedroom to the canopied bed to peer down at the little blond slip of a girl who almost disappeared in all the soft fluffy pillows and comforter. “Yes, baby. I’m here.”
“Mrs. Stuart said you went to work last night,” she said with a hurt expression.
“Yes, baby. Just for a bit. I’m back though,” he said quietly, not surprised that she knew. Paul had driven Jeanne Louise’s car to the parking lot where his own car had waited, relieved to find it empty. He’d quickly switched her to his car, then had driven straight home and into his garage. He’d carried her down into the basement through the garage door to chain her up before heading into the house proper and finding the babysitter.
Mrs. Stuart had reported that Livy had suffered a rough night then. He’d been disappointed but not surprised by the news. They all seemed to be bad lately. But not for long, Paul reassured himself and then tipped the plate of food slightly for her to see. “Are you hungry?”
“No,” she said dully, turning her head away from the food he presented.
Paul hesitated, but then said gently, “Sweetie, you have to eat to keep your strength up so you can get healthy again.”
“Mrs. Stuart said I wasn’t going to get healthy again. That God was . . .” Livy frowned as if trying to recall the exact wording and then said, “calling me home to be with Him. She said if I was very good and He liked me, maybe I’d get to see Mommy. But she doubted He would ’cause I was naughty and crying. Do you think God will like me even though I was crying?”
Paul simply stood frozen. All the blood seemed to have slid from his head and down his body to pool in his feet, leaving him empty and weak. His brain was having trouble processing what she had said. And then the blood came pounding back, rushing up through his body and slamming into his brain, bringing a burning rage with it.
He didn’t say a word; he didn’t dare. The expletives roaring through his head were not for a child’s ears. After a moment of struggle, Paul managed to bark one word, “Yes.” Then he turned stiffly and simply walked out of the room, straight downstairs and back into the kitchen. His movements were jerky and automatic as he scraped the food off the plate into the garbage pail. He then walked to the sink, but rather than rinse it under the tap as intended, Paul suddenly found himself smashing the empty plate across the top of it. He didn’t even realize he was going to do it, and hardly noticed let alone cared that bits of shattered glass flew up to spike his face and neck.
The stupid vicious, nasty old cow. He never should have had Mrs. Stuart watch Livy. He’d known she wouldn’t be able to keep her Bible-thumping to herself, but he’d had no choice. Mrs. Stuart used to be a nurse before retiring, and there was no one else he’d trusted to know what to do if there had been a problem. But he’d never let the old bitch near her again. If she was good, God might like her? But he probably wouldn’t because she’d cried? The child was dying of cancer, being eaten alive, wasting away and suffering a pain that he couldn’t even comprehend, and couldn’t prevent. They had given him a prescription for pain meds for Livy, and the strongest dosage they could, but they did little for the girl. The only other option was to keep her sedated in hospital until she died and he refused to do that. He wouldn’t simply watch her die. He wanted her cured, but until then, nothing seemed to ease the pain she was suffering and for Mrs. Stuart to suggest that her crying because of that excruciating pain might make God not like her so she wouldn’t see her mother—
Stiffening, Paul sucked in a breath to calm himself and then turned to peer blankly at the five-year-old girl standing in the kitchen doorway. In the next moment, he was rushing forward to scoop her up. “What are you doing out of bed, baby? You shouldn’t be up.”
“I’m tired of staying in bed,” Livy said unhappily and then reached up to touch his chin. “You’re bleeding. Did you cut yourself?”
“No. Yes. Daddy’s fine,” Paul assured her grimly, carrying her back to the stairs and up. She was all bones and pale skin and his heart ached as he held her. The child was precious, the most precious thing in his life. Paul lived for her, and he’d die for her too if he had to. But for now, he’d put her back to bed and then catch a couple hours of sleep himself. He’d stayed awake all night and needed to be alert and on the ball when he talked to Jeanne Louise Argeneau. He needed to be clear and persuasive. He needed to convince her to make his child one of her kind. He’d give her anything she wanted to get her to do that, including his own life, just so long as she turned her and taught her to survive as a vampire. He’d give anything and everything to know she lived on. He’d failed her mother, his wife, Jerri. But he wouldn’t fail Livy. He had to convince Jeanne Louise to save her life. She was his only hope.