The Immortal Hunter
"I'm two-hundred-and fifty-nine, Dani."
"You're pulling my leg, right?"
"No," Decker said solemnly. "Does the age difference bother you?"
She gave a disbelieving laugh. "Decker, you've told me about life mates, and I know you think
I'm yours, but"
"I don't think, I know."
She started to slide off the bale of hay, but he caught her arm.
She wanted him to kiss her. She wanted to kiss him back. She wantedGiving her head a shake, she
pulled her arm free and started walking toward the door.
He caught her arm and spun her around. "Don't run from me, Dani. I'll just follow."
"I'm not running," she whispered, her eyes on his mouth.
"Yes," he growled, "you are." And then he did exactly what she wanted and kissed her.
By Lynsay Sands
The Immortal Hunter
Devil of the Highlands
The Rogue Hunter
Vampire, Interrupted Vampires Are Forever The Accidental Vampire Bite Me If You Can A Bite to Remember A Quick Bite
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of theauthor's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Anyresemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirelycoincidental.
An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
10 East 53rd Street
New York, New York 10022-5299
Copyright ? 2009 by Lynsay Sands
First Avon Books paperback printing: April 2009
Avon Trademark Reg. U.S. Pat. Off. and in Other Countries, Marca Registrada, Hecho en U.S.A.
HarperCollins? is a registered trademark of HarperCollins Publishers.
Printed in the U.S.A.
"What's taking so long?"
Decker Argeneau Pimms glanced up from a very bored contemplation of his twiddling thumbs atthat question from Garrett Mortimer. He watched the fair-haired enforcer pace back and forth infront of him twice before saying, "I'm sure they'll be done soon."
When Mortimer merely grunted and continued to pace, Decker leaned his head back on the darkleather couch and closed his eyes. The energy in the room was heavy with anxiety, and he wouldhave liked to leave. Unfortunately, this was his cottage. It was also supposed to be hisvacation, but that had fallen by the wayside with one call. The third day of his vacationLucian, his uncle, but more importantly the head of the immortal enforcers and his boss, hadcalled with the news that there had been multiple reports of mortals with bite marks in thearea. Two Council enforcers were on their way north to find the culprit. Could they stay withhim? Would he help out with the search? Like an idiot, he'd said yes.
Decker grimaced at his own stupidity, but knew he hadn't had much choice. He too was a Councilenforcer, the equivalent of a vampire cop. His job was to hunt down rogue immortals whothreatened the well-being of his people or mortals. While the mortals would not be damaged by abite so long as too much blood wasn't taken, it did threaten the well-being of their people byincreasing the chances of their existence being discovered. That was why with the advent ofblood banks, biting mortals had been outlawed in North America. It was no longer allowed exceptin cases of an emergency. Unfortunately, some preferred the old ways, and risked exposing themall by feeding "off the hoof," as they called it. Those who did had to be caught and stoppedfor the safety of the rest, and it was enforcers like Decker and Garrett Mortimer who took onthat job.
Most of the time, Decker got a certain amount of satisfaction from protecting his people, aswell as mortals, from rogue vampires. However, this wasn't one of those times. His vacation hadbeen ruined for nothing. They'd spent the last two weeks searching for a rogue immortal who hadturned out not to be a rogue at all.
He opened his eyes and swiveled his head to peer at the supposed rogue sitting on the oppositeend of the couch. A slender, dark-haired man named Grant. Decker hadn't bothered to find out ifthat was a first or last name. He'd been too annoyed once he'd realized that his vacation hadbeen trashed not to capture a rogue vampire, but because some paper pusher at the ArgeneauBlood Bank had a quarrel with the man and had been deliberately losing and delaying hisshipments of blood. It had forced Grant to feed off mortals between shipments.
Decker suspected the man wouldn't be in trouble for his actions, since feeding on mortals insuch emergencies was allowed. However, Grant was chewing viciously at his nails and looked asanxious as Mortimer. Decker couldn't blame him. Having to face Lucian Argeneau could be apretty intimidating event. The head of the Immortal Council, as well as leader of the Councilenforcers, was also one of the oldest living immortals around and, consequently, could be hardas stone.
"Maybe I should go up and see if everything is all right," Mortimer muttered.
Decker shifted his attention back to the blond-haired man as he came to a halt in front of him.He shook his head. "Not a good idea, my friend."
Mortimer frowned, grunted, and then continued his pacing, but his eyes kept shifting to thestairs at the end of the room. Decker knew it wouldn't be long before Mortimer couldn'trestrain himself anymore and went charging upstairs to be with Samantha. Decker understood thatcompletely. He'd probably feel the same way if the woman were his life mate.
He leaned his head back and closed his eyes again, thinking that Mortimer's finding Samanthawas the only good thing that had come out of this hunt. One of their kind finding a life matewas always a happy event. It was just a shame that the woman came from a family in which theparents had died and the three daughters left behind weren't close to the few relatives left.It meant they were one another's only family& and that Sam was reluctant to be turned and haveto disappear from their lives in ten years to prevent their catching on to the fact that shewasn't aging. That decision was the reason she was presently upstairs being grilled by Lucianwhile Mortimer went slowly crazy, waiting to find out what his future held.
If Lucian decided that her not becoming one of them was fine and she posed no threat to theirpeople, the two could be together. However, if he decided otherwise, Sam would either have toagree to the turn, or her memory would be wiped and she would not remember ever meeting the manpresently pacing a hole into Decker's basement carpet. Mortimer, however, would be leftremembering everything, a love found and lost& and he would never again be able to go near herfor fear of bringing back memories of their time together. It was a hell of a thing to have togo through, and Decker sincerely hoped he was never faced with such a situation.
A low sound of frustration brought his eyes open again. Mortimer had stopped pacing and was noweyeing the stairs grimly. Afraid the man had reached the end of his tether and was about to dosomething he would later regret, Decker tried to distract him by asking, "What's this I hearabout a new enforcer headquarters and you possibly running it?"
Mortimer tore his eyes from the ceiling and shrugged. "Now that Lucian has met his life mate,he's finding it inconvenient to have us using his house as a home base when we're working inthe area. He decided a proper headquarters was the solution and has arranged for the purchaseof a house not far from his place on the outskirts of Toronto. He offered the job of running itto me when he got here."
Decker nodded, pretending he hadn't overheard the entire conversation earlier. He thencommented, "It will allow you to stay close to Sam."
"Yes." Mortimer sighed, and then frowned and added bitterly, "If we're allowed to be together."
Decker grunted, mentally kicking himself for not realizing this conversation would lead rightback to Sam and what was going on upstairs. He was trying to come up with something else totalk about when he heard the sound of a chair scraping across the hardwood floor overhead. Itwas followed by the soft pad of footsteps. "It sounds like they're done talking."
"Thank God," Mortimer muttered, but Decker couldn't help but note that he didn't appearrelieved. If anything, the man was growing even tenser as he waited to hear his future.
Decker looked toward the stairs, watching as first Sam and then Lucian came into view. Hedidn't bother looking to his uncle, who was always stone-faced and hard to read. Instead hefocused on Sam, but she was as expressionless as the man behind her, a result of being alawyer, he supposed. A poker face probably came in handy there, he thought, and read her mind.What he found was a muddle of both anger and relief. It seemed Lucian had been his usual heavy-handed self, telling Sam point-blank the punishment would be death should she ever betray theirpeople and give their presence away. But he'd agreed to allow her to be Mortimer's life matewithout turning.
Decker also found that Lucian had managed to convince her to give notice at her law firm andcome to work for the enforcers. Decker found that surprising because he knew that until meetingMortimer, her career at the prestigious law firm had been the focal point of her life. Itseemed, however, she'd realized these last two weeks that she didn't care for the fact that ithad almost taken over her whole life, and while she wasn't ready to give up her sisters, shewas willing to give up her present position to find the time to make a life with Mortimer. Ithad helped that Lucian had told her there were a lot of legal issues that needed tending whenthey hunted down and exterminated rogues. People could not just disappear in today's paper-plagued world. Not even immortals.
"Sam's agreed to work for us," Lucian announced as he stepped off the stairs. "She'll do whatshe can to help you organize the enforcer headquarters, and handle any legal matters that comeup on the job."
Decker didn't miss the relief that flashed across Mortimer's face as he hurried to Sam andslipped his arm around her waist to draw her to his side. Engrossed in each other, neither paidattention when Lucian moved to stand in front of Grant and glared grimly down at the dark-haired immortal.
"I understand you've been having trouble getting your blood supply and have been forced to feedoff of mortals?" he asked.
Grant nodded, fear plain on his face. When Lucian simply stared at the man, his gaze fixed,Decker was positive he was reading the immortal's thoughts. Apparently he was satisfied by whathe found there, because he nodded and said, "Someone is already looking into the situation withthe employee who was holding up your orders. I've also arranged for a generator to be deliveredand installed so that your blood supply isn't ruined every time the power goes out up here.That should keep you from having to feed off the locals in future. But," he added sharply, "ifyou have any further problems, you're to call Mortimer at once. I won't forgive anotherincident like this."
Grant cringed back into the cold leather cushion at the warning. "It wasn't my fault. I"
"You forget I can read your mind," Lucian interrupted grimly. "Pride is the reason you didn'tcontact someone about the problems you were having getting blood. That and the fact that youreally prefer your meals warm, and the situation gave you the perfect excuse to feed off thehoof. If you really want to feed that way, you'd best move to Europe. It isn't allowed here.The next time a situation like this comes up involving you, you'll find yourself staked andbaked. Got it?"
"Y-yes sir," Grant stammered.
Apparently satisfied that he'd made his point, Lucian glanced to Mortimer and then to Decker ashe commented, "Fortunately, there doesn't appear to be any cleanup to do here. Grant, at least,had the good sense to take his meals in a wide area, feeding as far north as Parry Sound andall the way down to Minden. It means he's managed to avoid raising suspicion among the mortals,so you boys can gather your stuff and head"
"Excuse me," Grant said timidly from the couch.
Lucian frowned and turned on the man. "What?"
The immortal shrank under his glare and then stammered nervously, "I never fed in P-ParrySound& or M-Minden."
Lucian stared at him for a moment. "We had reports from other immortals who had spotted bitemarks in Parry Sound, Burk's Falls, Nobel, Huntsville, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, Minden, andHaliburton."
Grant shook his head. "I never went further south than Bracebridge. Gravenhurst, Minden, andHaliburton weren't me. Neither is Parry Sound to the north." He licked his lips and thensuggested, "Perhaps I am not the only one who has been having trouble getting supplies."
Another moment of silence passed as Lucian apparently read Grant again. Lucian cursed andturned to Decker, saying, "It seems your work here isn't done. You'll have to split up and
check both the north and the south, but first contact Bastien to see who else gets suppliesfrom the Argeneau Blood Bank and might be having similar problems to Grant. We'll check withthem first."
Decker raised an eyebrow at the mention of his cousin, Bastien Argeneau, the head of ArgeneauEnterprises. His gaze slid toward the window, where sunlight was visible on the horizon. "Thesun's rising, Bastien will have left the office and gone home by now."
Lucian grimaced. "Yes, and since meeting his life mate he's started shutting off the ringer onthe phone while they're sleeping unless there's an emergency call he's waiting for." He thoughtfor a minute and then glanced to Grant. "Do you know any of the other immortals up here?"
"Not many. I tend to keep to myself," Grant said apologetically.
"Well, you can stop that," Lucian growled. "An immortal without family and friends is morelikely to go rogue."
"I have friends," Grant said quickly, and then added reluctantly, "Well& one. He lives justnorth of Minden and I visit him every couple of weeks." Apparently afraid Lucian wouldn'tbelieve him, he added, "You can ask Nicholas. He'll vouch for me."
"Nicholas?" Lucian asked sharply as Decker stiffened at the name. "Nicholas who?"
"Nicholas Argeneau," Grant said, sounding bewildered that he would even need to ask. "I saw himon my way out there the last time I went. I told him I was headed to a friend's. He'llremember. He can tell you."
Lucian had gone stock-still and Mortimer muttered a curse. Decker himself felt as if the bloodin his veins had turned to mud and stopped moving. Everything in him had come to a screechinghalthis blood, his heart, even his thoughts as those words echoed in his head.
It was Sam who asked in a whisper, "What's wrong? Who is this Nicholas Argeneau?"
"He's a rogue who's been evading us for nearly fifty years," Mortimer growled.
"What?" Grant paled and shrank back into the cushions again as if afraid Lucian would reach outand throttle him. He started to babble, "I didn't know Nicholas was rogue. I moved up this wayfifty years ago to escape the city and hadn't heard. I would have called Argeneau Enterprisesat once if I'd known Nicholas was rogue."
"Go home," Lucian ordered grimly. When the man breathed out his relief and rushed eagerly forthe stairs, he added, "And no more biting or I'll come deal with you personally."
A handful of breathless assurances of future good behavior drifted back to them as the manhurried up the steps. They ended on the clack of the screen door slamming upstairs.
"So," Mortimer said quietly into the silence that had fallen over the room. "What are we goingto do about Nicholas?"
Decker's gaze slid back to his uncle to find Lucian staring straight at him. His face was itsusual expressionless mask as he answered, "We hunt him."
"Where the hell is he going?" Decker muttered under his breath as he steered the SUV down therutted dirt road to follow the white van ahead.
"Hell if I know," Justin Bricker answered.
Decker glanced briefly to the younger immortal, his temporary partner for this hunt, but didn'tbother explaining that he'd been talking to himself. He returned his concentration to the road,squinting in an effort to see where he was going. While their kind could see in the dark betterthan mortals, even he was straining in the almost complete absence of light out here. It was astarless night, and Decker had turned off the headlights several miles back to prevent beingspotted by Nicholas. The enforcer SUVs had several modifications; an absence of driving lightsthat came on every time the vehicle was started was just one of them.
"I didn't expect it to be this easy to track him down," Justin said suddenly.
Decker grunted, surprised by it himself. Nicholas Argeneau had been rogue for a good fiftyyears, during which time no one had even caught sight of the man. For it to have taken a mereday of showing his picture around to pick up his trail seemed too easy. Way too easy. It madeDecker suspicious and wary. Why hadn't Nicholas erased the memories of the mortals he'dencountered? He must have done that in the past to have remained off the radar, and yetsuddenly he wasn't doing so. Instead he appeared to have left a trail as clear as radioactivegreen cookie crumbs.
Justin cursed beside him and grabbed for the dashboard as the dirt lane came to an end and theyfollowed the van off-road, bouncing over tall grass and bushes.
"Maybe he's tired of running," Justin suggested suddenly through gritted teeth, no doubt tokeep from biting off his tongue as they jolted over the uneven trail. "Maybe he wants to becaught."
Decker didn't respond. He didn't for a minute think Nicholas was giving up, and he didn't knowwhat was going on, but Justin Bricker's constant need to talk was beginning to drive him crazy.He had no idea how Mortimer, Justin's usual partner, had taken it all these years.
"I can see that," Decker muttered between his teeth, steering the SUV to the side of the road.He parked as far into the woods as he dared without risking getting stuck. Hoping it was farenough that their prey wouldn't notice them, he then turned off the engine and ordered, "Watchhim."
Leaving the keys in the ignition to save time should Nicholas notice them and try to get awayin the van, Decker crawled over the seat and all the way to the back of the SUV where the bloodand weapons were. He moved to the cooler first, retrieving a couple of bags of blood andtossing one over the seats into Justin's lap. "Drink up. You'll need your strength."
"I gather you don't think he's going to give up when he sees us, then?" Justin asked dryly andthen slapped the bag to his mouth.
Decker snorted at the very suggestion. He waited for his own canine teeth to drop down, andslapped a bag of blood to the fangs with one hand as he reached with the other to unlock andflip open the nearest weapons case. His eyes slid over the guns inside. While you weren't
likely to kill an immortal with a gun, you could slow him down and even temporarily
incapacitate him& especially using bullets that were coated with the tranquilizer Bastien'stechie boys had developed.
"He's getting out of the van," Justin announced.
Decker glanced forward to see that Justin had already drained his bag and was shoving it in thesmall bag at his feet, one filled with fast-food wrappers. The man liked to eat as much as heliked to talk, Decker had noticed. Shaking his head, he glanced past him to peer out the frontwindshield, but couldn't see much over the seats. Pulling his own now-empty bag from his teeth,he asked, "What's he doing?"
"Walking around to the back of the van& opening the door& he's digging around inside, gettingsomethingI think he's getting out weapons." Justin glanced back, worry on his face as he asked,"Do you think he spotted us?"
Decker's mouth tightened. He set aside the empty bag and turned back to the case before him."Come pick your weapons."
"Should we call Lucian or Mortimer?" Justin asked as he headed back to join him.
Decker considered the question as he chose two guns and a box of coated bullets. Lucian hadsent them north as a mere precaution. He'd also sent Mortimer and Sam west for the same reason,but he and his life mate, Leigh, were searching the Haliburton area where Nicholas had actuallybeen seen by Grant. Decker suspected his uncle had expected to find him there, and hoped to bethe one to get to him first. It meant both couples were far enough away that they weren't goingto be of any use at this point. He shook his head. "It would take at least an hour, possiblytwo for either of them to get here. We're on our own."
Justin nodded slowly, and then transformed from the good-natured, slightly mischievous sidekickhe usually acted, to the hunter he was. His shoulders straightened and his expression becamegrim as he began to select weapons from the case.
Unwilling to risk Nicholas creeping up on them while they were distracted, Decker took hisweapons and the box of bullets and made his way up front to the driver's seat. A glance showedthat Nicholas now had a quiver full of arrows and a crossbow slung over his back, but was stilldigging around in the back of the van. Looking for more weapons, Decker supposed, and kept aneye on him as he loaded his guns. Nicholas was still busy in the back of the van when Justinrejoined him in the front of the SUV.
"Now what?" Justin asked, eyeing the rogue. "Try to creep up on him and get the drop?"
"Sounds good to me," Decker muttered. He reached for the keys in the ignition and then thoughtbetter of it. If Nicholas became aware of their presence before they reached him, he might hopin the van and try to take off. If that happened, Decker didn't want to be fumbling to get thekeys in the ignition to give chase. Leaving them in the ignition, he reached up and shut offthe SUV's interior light so it wouldn't come on when the door opened. Fortunately, anothermodification performed on all their vehicles ensured there was no beeping to warn that the keyswere still in the ignition, and he was able to slip silently out of the vehicle even as Justindid.
Afraid even a quiet click would give away their presence, Decker didn't close the door all theway, but left it cracked open. Justin did the same, and the two men moved cautiously forward,easing through the grass as silently as possible. Neither man spoke, but halfway there, Justinmoved to the other side of the trail so that they were approaching from opposite sides. It wasthe kind of thing Decker's usual partner, Anders, would have done automatically, but he andAnders had worked together for decades. Decker supposed he shouldn't be surprised by Justin'sactions. This might be the first time he'd worked with him, but Justin had done this withMortimer for years and knew what he was about. Dropping his worry about the kid being able tohandle himself, Decker turned his full attention to their quarry as they moved up silently onhim.