Sneak Peek of Lynsay Sands' TWICE BITTENby Erika Tsang
Lynsay Sands’ TWICE BITTEN goes on sale in two weeks (March 27th)! Here’s a look at the first chapter:
Elspeth stumbled into her apartment, pushed the door closed, and leaned against it with relief. Normally she didn’t mind living on the second floor, and wasn’t bothered by the steep, narrow stairs leading up to it. Today was not normal. Today those stairs had been hell, and the pain of mounting them had left her shaky and sweaty.
Eager to reach her bed and collapse on it, Elspeth pushed away from the door and staggered up the hall. She dropped her keys and purse on the entry table in passing, and then shed her coat and tossed it over the couch as she crossed the living room. The apartment was dark and silent except for the soft shuffle of her feet on the hardwood floor as she made her way to the bedroom. Once there, she didn’t bother to remove her clothes or even her boots, but simply stumbled to the bed and dropped to lie across the bottom. A cry of startled pain slid from her lips when her face slammed into something much harder and lumpier than her memory foam mattress should have been. When there was an answering shriek, and the bed moved under her, Elspeth instinctively rolled away.
Tumbling off the bed, she hit the floor with a hard jolt and squeezed her eyes closed as agony shot through her. She was aware of noise around her, a rustling from the bed and the patter of footsteps from the hall, but was too busy taking deep breaths to try to manage her pain, and didn’t bother to look around until she heard, “What on earth is going on? Elspeth? What are you doing on the floor?”
Elspeth forced her eyes open. The lights were now on, and Martine Argeneau Pimms stood in the open bedroom door. Dressed in a long red silk nightgown, the tall blonde was peering at her as if she was the one out of place in her own apartment.
“Mother?” Elspeth said with bewilderment. “What are you doing here?”
“Your sisters and I decided to surprise you with a visit.” She gestured to the bed, and Elspeth turned her head to see the twins, Julianna and Victoria, kneeling at the end of her bed in matching pink babydolls that did nothing to hide their voluptuous figures. They looked like the stars of a porn film, the Boobsy Twins, waiting for the pizza delivery guy.
“Surprise,” they said together with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.
Elspeth just let her head fall back wearily to the floor and asked, “How did you get in?”
“Your landlord. He let us in after I explained we were family,” Martine said with a shrug.
Elspeth sat up abruptly, alarm replacing the exhaustion of a moment ago. Her landlord was a lovely elderly lady named Meredith MacKay. “He let you in?”
“Yes, and he’s a cutie,” Julianna announced.
Victoria nodded. “A super cutie.”
“Girls,” Martine growled with irritation. “Enough of this nonsense. It’s late, nearly dawn, and—Where are you going?” she interrupted herself to ask when Elspeth suddenly lunged to her feet and hurried past her.
Elspeth didn’t respond. It would mean she’d have to stop grinding her teeth, and if she did that she wouldn’t be able to prevent the moans and groans of pain she was desperately suppressing. Crossing back through her apartment, she grabbed her keys off the table where she’d just left them, and rushed out into the hall.
Much to Elspeth’s relief, going down the stairs was much easier on her wounded leg and back than going up had been. Still, she was trembling by the time she got to her landlord’s door. Elspeth knocked sharply and then began to rifle through her keys in search of the one to Meredith’s apartment.
“Elspeth Pimms! What are you doing?” her mother hissed, coming down the staircase after her.
“It’s fine, Mother. Go back upstairs,” she whispered.
“No. Get back here! I want to talk to you. What are you doing getting home so late? And why aren’t you obeying me? You . . .” Her words trailed off as Elspeth finally found the right key and quickly unlocked her landlady’s door.
Pushing it open, Elspeth hurried into the apartment, nearly crashing into a large, burly man. Catching herself at the last minute, she stumbled to a halt and then gaped at the blond hunk in front of her. Her knock had obviously roused him from sleep. The man was sporting some serious bedhead, his short blond hair standing up in all directions above wide, startled baby-blue eyes in a chiseled face. He had pulled on jeans that, while zipped, were not buttoned, and he was shirtless, his wide, muscular chest bare . . . and damn, he smelled good, Elspeth thought as she stared at his beautiful chest and inhaled the deep, spicy aroma of him. A scent that was oddly familiar.
“El? How—? What are you doing here?”
That question in a bewildered tone drew Elspeth’s attention away from the man’s chest, and back to his handsome face. Frowning when she saw the combination of recognition and confusion on his face, she asked, “Who are you? And what are you doing in Merry’s apartment?”
For some reason her questions made his head jerk back as if she’d surprised him. Before she could ponder that too long, footsteps sounded behind him.
“Good morning, Ellie dear. Perfect timing as always. The kettle just came to a boil.”
Elspeth leaned to the side to peer around the large man, and smiled with relief when she spotted the white-haired woman standing in the kitchen doorway further down the hall. Noting that she looked fine and healthy, Elspeth said uncertainly, “Morning, Merry. Is everything okay?”
“Oh, yes, wonderful.” The woman smiled at her brightly, skin wrinkling around twinkling blue eyes much like those of the man between them. “That young buck in front of you is my grandson, Wyatt MacKay. He came to visit . . . as a surprise,” she added, her tone as dry as dust.
Elspeth’s eyebrows rose a bit, and then understanding and sympathy covered her face. Meredith’s son worked for a large insurance company. He’d started here in Toronto, but twenty years ago had been offered a promotion that had meant moving to British Columbia. Despite having to leave family and friends behind, he’d accepted and moved there with his wife and their young son, Wyatt . . . who was obviously the now grown-up hunk standing in front of her. That explained how Wyatt had known her name, she supposed. No doubt Merry had mentioned her. The question now was, why the “surprise” visit?
“Elspeth, come here, please.”
Elspeth glanced over her shoulder, a little startled to see her mother standing in the open doorway in her silk robe. She’d quite forgotten she had her own visitors to deal with.
“Is that one of your sisters, dear?” Meredith asked. “I was a little surprised when Wyatt told me that your sisters had arrived and he’d let them into your apartment last evening while I was having my bath. You didn’t mention they were coming.”
Hearing the concern in the woman’s voice, Elspeth turned back and leaned to the side again to give her a reassuring smile around Wyatt’s wide shoulders. “Because I didn’t know. My mother and sisters decided to surprise me with a visit, too.” Grimacing, she added, “It must be a full moon or something.”
“Yes,” Meredith said with a conspiratorial grin.
“Mother and sisters?” Wyatt asked with surprise and Elspeth realized her mistake. Her mother didn’t look a day over twenty-five, which was why she usually introduced her as a sister. Not doing so now had been a slip-up. Before she could decide how to deal with that slip-up, her mother spoke again.
“Well, we had to surprise you, Elspeth.” Martine’s voice was grim. “If we waited for an invitation or for you to come to us, we would never see you. You have not come home once since taking that job at the university and moving here.”
“It’s only been two months, mother,” Elspeth ground out, turning back to the beautiful blonde. Her eyes narrowed when she saw that she’d entered the apartment and was moving toward her. Elspeth took a nervous step back, knowing that if her mother touched her she’d take control of her and make her leave. Actually, Elspeth was a little surprised that her mother hadn’t already taken control of her, but then she recalled her mother’s surprise that she wasn’t obeying her and wondered if the pain she was experiencing was somehow interfering and making her able to resist.
“No dear, you moved in six weeks ago today,” Meredith corrected her gently.
“Right,” Elspeth said, turning to offer the woman a grateful smile before swinging back to her mother. “Not even two months, just six weeks without a visit. I don’t know what I was thinking. I mean, I had just moved to a different continent, and I was getting settled into my new apartment, and preparing for the summer classes, as well as helping out Mortimer, but really I should have made time to fly back and forth from England every weekend to visit.”
Martine narrowed her eyes and took another step closer. “Helping Mortimer?”
Eyes widening with alarm as she realized what she’d given away, Elspeth moved back and opened her mouth to try to fast-talk her way out of the corner she’d painted herself into. But all that came out was a weak “Uh” as she bumped up against the man still standing behind her.
Frankly, considering the alarm bells screeching in her head and the sudden cold sweats coursing up and down her body, even that pitiful response was impressive.
“Elspeth?” Martine’s eyes were narrow and cold, Els-peth noted vaguely as she felt Wyatt’s hands settle on her shoulders to balance her. Distracted by his touch, she barely heard her mother ask, “What have you—?”
“Oh, there’s the kettle!” Meredith interrupted cheerfully as a whistling sound came from the kitchen. “Come along, dears, and we’ll have a nice cup of tea. Do you like tea, Mrs. Pimms? If not, I can make some coffee.”
There was silence for a moment as her mother kept Elspeth pinned with her gaze, but then she released her and offered Meredith a sweet smile. “Tea sounds lovely.”
“Oh, good. I still have some cookies too. Wyatt made a good effort, but didn’t quite manage to eat them all. They’re homemade peanut butter chocolate chip,” Meredith told her mother. “Elspeth just loves my cookies.”
“I am sure she does,” Martine said stiffly, and Elspeth bit her lip. Her mother was not the cookie baking type. Actually, her mother hadn’t cooked a day in her life that Elspeth knew of.
“Come along then, girls, Wyatt,” Meredith said firmly, turning back into the kitchen. “Let’s have some tea and cookies.”
Much to Elspeth’s relief, her mother nodded and moved forward, but as she slid by her, Martine growled, “We shall talk about what you are doing for Mortimer when we return upstairs.”
Elspeth grimaced, but nodded. “Of course, Mother.”
“She’s your mother?” Wyatt asked with obvious disbelief as her mother followed Merry into the kitchen. “She doesn’t look old enough to be your mother.”
“She’s older than she looks,” Elspeth said wearily, and when Wyatt just arched one eyebrow in question, she glanced toward the kitchen door and added spitefully, “It’s amazing what a little dermabrasion and Botox can do.”
“Botox!” The squawk was followed by her mother’s head poking around the kitchen doorway to scowl at her. “I would never stoop to that poison.” Turning her gaze to Wyatt, she added, “I just happen to have excellent genes.”
Rolling her eyes, Elspeth limped around Wyatt, heading for the kitchen.
“Why are you limping?” Martine asked sharply as Elspeth moved past her into the room.
“It’s nothing. I’m fine,” Elspeth muttered, and then forced a smile as she walked toward Meredith. “What can I do to help, Merry?”
“Everything is pretty much ready, dear,” her friend assured her with a smile as she set the kettle back on the stove with one hand, and dropped the lid on the steaming teapot with the other. “I had it all prepared and was just waiting on the water to boil. But you can take the plate of cookies to the table if you like. I’ll get out another cup. I thought it would be just you, me, and Wyatt when I set them out.”
“You were expecting her?” Wyatt asked, moving to take the tray holding the teapot, sugar, cream, plates, and spoons. He carried it to the table where Elspeth was setting down the cookies. Three cups already sat waiting on the table, she noted as she straightened.
“Oh my, yes. Ellie often stops in for tea when she gets home from work in the morning. It’s a nice start to the day for me, and a chance to unwind before bed for her,” Meredith said with a complacent smile.
Feeling his gaze on her, Elspeth glanced Wyatt’s way, noting the various expressions crossing his face as he watched her. In the end, his expression settled into a combination of perplexity and suspicion. Elspeth supposed he was worrying that she was trying to worm her way into his grandmother’s will or something. To be honest, after what had happened with Madeleine Cartwright, Meredith’s previous tenant in the basement apartment, Elspeth supposed she couldn’t blame him . . .
Which was probably why Wyatt was here, she thought suddenly. Elspeth knew Merry’s son had been trying to convince the woman to move into assisted living ever since her husband’s death five years ago. When Merry had confided that to her, Elspeth had thought it was to ease his guilt about not being here for her, but between Madeleine Cartwright’s efforts to swindle her and an incident with a phone scam recently, Elspeth suspected the son, Wyatt’s father, was concerned she might give away his inheritance. No doubt Wyatt had been sent to either convince her to move to an old folks’ home, or find the evidence needed to prove she was incapable of caring for herself and force her into one.
Well, Elspeth thought now, if that was the case, she’d do whatever was necessary to prevent it. Merry loved her home and was perfectly capable of taking care of herself in it. She merely disliked driving now and needed a little help getting to the bank and the grocery store. There were services to help with that. As for Madeleine . . . well, Merry had trusted the wrong person there. However, that wasn’t due to senility or any other age-related issue. It was just her sweet nature.
“Ellie is working nights?”
Groaning inwardly at her mother’s sharp question, and knowing that gaining this kind of information was exactly why her mother had decided that tea sounded “lovely,” Elspeth busied herself removing plates from the tray and setting one by each of the fancy and delicate china teacups with their beautiful hand-painted flowers.
She then walked back to the cupboards to fetch a fourth plate. Her mother wouldn’t eat, but Elspeth knew that if she didn’t fetch a plate, Merry would, so she saved her the trouble.
“Oh my, yes. Of course, as you know, she won’t be once summer courses start up,” Merry said, and Elspeth had to bite her lip. Unfortunately, her mother didn’t know. At least, she hadn’t known that Elspeth was working nights right now for the rogue hunters. And Elspeth had rather been hoping she never would. But Merry continued chattily, “Until then, though, she’s been helping out that special division of the police and working nights to do it. You must be proud of her.”
“Hmm.” Her mother turned a sharp scowl on Elspeth.
“You work for the police?” Wyatt asked, and Elspeth was relieved to turn her attention away from her mother until she saw that Merry’s grandson was looking like he wasn’t sure what to make of that, or if he should even believe it.
“Yes, she does, dear. Ellie’s a criminal behaviorist,” Merry said, not hiding that she was impressed. “She’ll be teaching criminology courses at the university once summer classes start. In the meantime, she’s working for the police. In fact, Ellie’s the one who realized what my former tenant, Madeleine, was doing and got her to confess and give back the money she’d stolen.”
Not all of it, unfortunately. Madeleine had spent most of the money, but Elspeth had made her give back what remained and had then made up the difference herself. She hadn’t told Merry that. She’d known the woman wouldn’t accept her money. She’d also known Meredith needed it. The dear lady had a bit of a nest egg, and the rent she earned on the apartments covered her mortgage, utilities, and heat, but she still needed to eat and pay for the various medications she took for arthritis, high blood pressure, and other ailments.
Elspeth noted the way Martine’s narrowed gaze shifted from her to Wyatt to Merry, and was quite sure her mother was reading their minds to find out what they were talking about. Whatever she learned, she pretended she hadn’t and asked, “Who is Madeleine and what did she confess to?”
“Oh.” Merry clucked and shook her head as she settled in a seat at the table. “She was my tenant in the basement apartment. She lived here for nearly a year before Elspeth moved into the upstairs apartment, and she . . .” Merry paused, her mouth tightening before she admitted unhappily, “I’m afraid my arthritis was acting up this winter past. I was having a little trouble getting around and Madeleine was sweet enough to offer to help with little chores, like shopping and banking and such. I thought she was so lovely for helping me like that, but shortly after Elspeth moved in, she realized Madeleine was doing more than helping me. She was helping herself to my accounts.”
Meredith shook her head. “I was so surprised and disappointed when Elspeth made Madeleine confess what she’d been up to. I just don’t know why she’d do that. I guess I was an old fool for trusting her, but she seemed so nice.”
Elspeth reached out to pat Meredith’s hand sympathetically. “She seemed nice to me too, Merry.”
“Yes, but you saw through her act,” Merry pointed out.
Aware that Wyatt was staring at her, Elspeth forced a smile and lied glibly, “Actually, I just recognized her name from a report that crossed my desk on a previous case she was involved with.”
Elspeth was quite used to lying. She’d been trained to it from birth . . . as all immortals were. Lying was a necessity to ensure the survival of their kind. Mortals would not take well to learning that they shared the world with immortals. Most would call them vampires, but that was a title her kind didn’t care for. Besides, it didn’t really fit them. Immortals were not dead and soulless as vampires were purported to be.
“This Madeleine woman had done this before?” Wyatt asked, his voice sharp.
“Apparently,” Elspeth said with a shrug.
“Then why wasn’t she charged in this instance?” he asked at once.
“Because I didn’t want her charged,” Meredith said firmly. “At least not on my behalf. I got my money back and I didn’t want to go through all the trouble of a court case and the embarrassment of admitting to being conned like that. Besides,” she added solemnly as she took the tea bags out of the pot, “Madeleine already has other charges to deal with. With or without my charging her, she is going to jail.”
Elspeth merely nodded and murmured, “Thank you” when Meredith poured tea into her cup.
After ascertaining that Meredith didn’t want to charge Madeleine, Elspeth had taken the woman to the police station and ensured she confessed to the other illegal activities she’d been involved with. Meredith hadn’t been the first victim. In fact, Madeleine Cartwright hadn’t even been her real name. Her birth name was Nina Albrecht. She’d taken on the Madeleine alias because she was already wanted by the police for several similar cases in Alberta, as well as fraud, shoplifting, and writing bad checks. Madeleine/Nina had been arrested on the spot, and since she’d already tried to evade the previous charges by fleeing to Ontario and changing her name, she wouldn’t be let out of jail until the court case, and then she wasn’t likely to get out for some years.
“What branch of the police department do you work for?” Wyatt asked Elspeth as his grandmother poured tea into his cup.
When Elspeth hesitated, it was Merry who answered.
“She works with a special division that goes over information and tips and decides which are most likely to need investigation, and which are bogus. She also sorts out the threat level involved with the ones that they deem are real,” Merry told him, excited color in her cheeks.
Wyatt’s eyebrows rose and he eyed Elspeth speculatively. “Something to do with Crime Stoppers?”
“Oh, no, it’s far more extensive than Crime Stoppers,” Meredith said at once. “They get tips and leads about things from all over North America; the US and Canada both. And it isn’t just called-in tips. They track large purchases of certain items and such. It’s a new initiative,” she told him proudly, repeating Elspeth’s own explanation a month earlier. “And very exciting.”
“I didn’t realize that any of our branches of the police worked directly with the US,” Wyatt said, the suspicion in his eyes growing. “Except perhaps the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.”
Elspeth hesitated, and then just shrugged. Now that the adrenaline was dissipating, her earlier exhaustion and pain were returning and she simply couldn’t be both-ered to make up more lies or defend herself. She considered slipping into his mind to remove his suspicions, but was too tired even to do that. Meredith’s grandson could think what he liked for now. She’d deal with him later if he became a problem. Her gaze slid over his hard eyes and grim expression. Wyatt was a very attractive man, or would be if he smiled, she thought.
She glanced to her mother, eyebrows rising as she took in her concerned expression.
“You are swaying in your seat and you have got blood on Meredith’s chair,” she announced, getting to her feet.
Frowning, Elspeth looked down to see there was a smudge of blood on the pale gray, faux leather chair she was perched on . . . and she was indeed swaying, she noted with a little concern of her own. More worrisome than that, though, she was starting to have trouble focusing her eyes. She really should have grabbed blood when she got home this morning rather than stumbling to her room. She’d intended to but by the time she’d pulled into the driveway, her only objective had been to get to her bed.
“Can you stand?”
Elspeth refocused on her mother to see that she’d grabbed one of the napkins from the holder in the center of the table and was waiting to clean up after her. Nodding, Elspeth forced herself to her feet, but had to grab the table to steady herself as the room began to revolve around her.
Wow, I’m not in good shape, Elspeth acknowledged with surprise as she noted the way her legs were trembling. She was also sweating like crazy . . . and now the pain was becoming unbearable. Oh jeez, this isn’t good, she thought with dismay.
“Not good at all,” her mother agreed in a grim voice as she quickly wiped the blood off the chair. Crumpling the napkin in her hand, she then scooped Elspeth up as if she were still a child.
Elspeth gasped with surprise and glanced wildly around.
“I took control of them,” Martine said even as Elspeth noted that both Meredith and Wyatt had blank expressions on their faces. Carrying her out of the kitchen, her mother added, “I’ve given them both a memory that you were weary and we left them to reminisce so that you could retire.”
“Oh,” Elspeth breathed and allowed herself to sag in her mother’s arms.
“Do not fall asleep,” her mother growled as she carried her out of Merry’s apartment and upstairs to Elspeth’s. “You have got some explaining to do.”