Home > Meant to Be Immortal (Argeneau #32)(11)

Meant to Be Immortal (Argeneau #32)(11)
Author: Lynsay Sands

“Yeah,” CJ breathed, a frown taking over her face. Millie Vesper was a widow in her late sixties whose children had grown up and moved to the city, leaving her alone in the town where she’d grown up, married, and raised her own family. Apparently, her children had wanted to sell her house and move her to a seniors’ home in the city to be close to them, but Millie had refused and had turned her home into a bed-and-breakfast instead. CJ suspected the woman had done it for company rather than out of any need for money. The woman had chatted away nonstop to her every chance she’d got. CJ had only arrived a couple of hours before she’d headed to the station and had spent most of that time listening to the chatty, but dear, lady tell her about the town of Sandford and its inhabitants. CJ now had the lowdown on who was sleeping with whom, and who wasn’t getting along in their marriage. At least she knew the names of the troubled and misbehaving individuals, but since she didn’t know anyone in this town, she didn’t have faces to put with them.

CJ had listened with polite interest to what had amounted to a soap opera of the goings-on in town, but it wasn’t until she was driving to her appointment at the police station that she’d considered that she should maybe ask Mrs. Vesper about the people there, and Jefferson in particular. CJ suspected the woman would have an earful to tell her, but wasn’t sure if that would be a good thing or not. She was supposed to investigate objectively, and she worried Mrs. Vesper’s bias might influence her.

“A light just came on inside.”

CJ followed Mac’s gaze to a window at the back of the house, and noted the light now shining through the curtains. The sound of the car engine must have woken the old lady, CJ supposed, but it could only be a good thing. It meant they wouldn’t have to knock on her door in the middle of the night.

“Goodness! Aren’t you two a sight for sore eyes!”

CJ glanced around with surprise at that greeting as she ushered Mac into the house. They hadn’t had to knock. Mrs. Vesper had left the door unlocked. Spotting the lady now rushing down the hall toward them in a terry cloth robe, CJ offered a smile and pushed the door closed, then locked it as she murmured, “I’m sorry if we woke you up, Mrs. Vesper.”

“Nonsense, who could sleep with all the goings-on tonight?” she said promptly, her footsteps taking her straight to Mac, who she grasped by the hands and then dragged in for a hug. “You poor dear boy. I heard about the fire and have been worrying about you.”

“I am fine, Millie,” Mac said reassuringly as he awkwardly returned the woman’s embrace. “I am afraid your friend’s house and my things are a loss, but I am well.”

“And that’s all that matters,” Mrs. Vesper assured him, pulling back to meet his gaze straight on as she said it. She then clucked and added, “But I am sorry about your things. And you’d just moved in too.” She shook her head and clucked some more, then pulled Mac in for another hug before leaning back to take in the overly large uniform he was wearing. “The captain’s?”

“Yes,” Mac admitted with distaste as he removed the captain’s hat. “I had best take it off so it doesn’t get wrinkled or dirty.”

“Take it off?” Mrs. Vesper asked with amazement, and then breathed an understanding “Oh” when he next shrugged out of the jacket and dress pants, revealing his T-shirt and pajama bottoms underneath. As he folded the dress uniform and set it on the hall table next to the hat, Mrs. Vesper turned toward the kitchen. “Well now, you two could probably do with some nice soothing tea, and maybe some cookies.”

She bustled off before either of them could protest.

“Looks like we’re having tea and cookies,” Mac said softly when CJ didn’t immediately follow.

Giving up any hope of thinking up an excuse to avoid it, CJ nodded and headed after the older lady with a sigh.

“Now,” Mrs. Vesper said as she began to pour tea into their cups a few minutes later. “You’ll have to tell me what happened, dears, because the grapevine was all a-tangle tonight. First Jeannie called saying the house was on fire and you were dead,” she said with a glance to Mac. Her gaze then switched to CJ and she added, “And then Joan called saying she’d heard from Amelia that you were kind enough to help out at the fire since Charles was without a detective.” Her eyes slid back to Mac. “But that you weren’t actually dead yet. You were boiled alive in a tub of water in the basement, but still breathing when you left the house in the ambulance. They didn’t expect you to survive long enough to make it to the hospital though.”

She didn’t wait for a response, but went on. “And then Margaret called and said John—that’s her husband,” she explained. “He’s a volunteer fireman and went out to help at the fire.” When they both nodded their understanding, she continued, “Margaret said John said you were fine. You were in a tub of water, but the firemen got you out of the house in time and you didn’t even have to go to the hospital to be checked over. That you’d left with CJ and little Michael Simpson to go to the police station.”

CJ had to cough to cover the burst of laughter that tried to slip out of her mouth at the mention of little Michael Simpson. Mrs. Vesper made it sound like the man was four years old when he was about twenty-eight or so, tall, and rather well put together. Though not as well put together as Mac, she admitted to herself, mentally comparing the two.

“So?” Mrs. Vesper set down the teapot to eye them both expectantly. “What happened?”

“Joan and Margaret got it right,” Mac told her when CJ didn’t respond. “I was trapped in the basement, got in the tub, and fortunately the firemen got me out in time. The EMTs started to take me to the hospital but turned back when they realized I was fine, and then I left for the police station with CJ and Officer Simpson.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Vesper breathed, and shook her head. “Well, this has been an awful start to your move here.”

“It was not the best start, no,” Mac agreed with a wry twist of the lips.

“Well, have a cookie, dear. Cookies always make everything seem better,” Mrs. Vesper assured him. “You too, CJ. Have a cookie.”

CJ reached for a cookie, and Mac followed suit, but while she immediately took a bite of hers, he just turned his over in his hands, eyeing it as if he’d never seen one before.

“Are you just going to hold that like you did the coffee at the station?” CJ asked with amusement. “If so, give it to me. Mrs. Vesper’s cookies are too good to waste.”

“He’s probably a dunker,” Mrs. Vesper guessed, and then tsked as she glanced down to see the three full cups still sitting in front of her. “Goodness, I poured them and then didn’t give them to you. Here you are, dears.”

“Thank you,” CJ murmured as she took the teacup the older woman now held out. Setting it on the table in front of her, she added cream and sugar and then pushed the sugar bowl and cream toward Mac. He immediately added a teaspoon of sugar and a dollop of cream just as she had done, but he didn’t dunk his cookie in his tea; he simply took a bite and chewed it experimentally, his eyes widening as he did.

“This cookie is really good, Mrs. Vesper,” he complimented the minute he’d swallowed. “Delicious. It has been millennia since I’ve had anything so tasty.”

The older lady beamed under the exaggerated praise, and then said, “Now aren’t you sorry you wouldn’t have them when you stayed here?” Turning to CJ she added, “I couldn’t get this boy to eat a thing when he was staying with me. He ate out for every single meal.”

“I stayed here for a week or two last month while I searched for a house in the area,” Mac explained to CJ. “At first, I hadn’t settled specifically on this town and was doing a lot of driving around, both here in Sandford and farther afield.” He shrugged. “A lot of the time it was just easier to stop at whatever restaurant was nearest and eat there rather than rush back for meals.”

“You didn’t have that excuse when you stayed here Tuesday and Wednesday night this week, though,” Mrs. Vesper pointed out with a bit of asperity and told CJ, “He was only supposed to stay Tuesday night, but the moving truck was held up at customs and he stayed Wednesday as well.” Head swiveling back to Mac she added, “And you didn’t eat a thing then either.”

Mac nodded solemnly. “But I assure you I certainly shall not make that mistake this time now that I know what a fine cook you are.”

Mrs. Vesper started to smile, but then blinked. “This time?” she asked with alarm.

Mac nodded, his mouth full of cookie again, and it was CJ who explained. “He needs a room now that his house has burned down.”

Mac swallowed so that he could add, “One next to CJ’s room if that’s possible.” He winked at the older woman and confided, “She’s guarding my body.”

“Guarding your body?” Mrs. Vesper echoed, her wide eyes turning to CJ.

“It will be fine, Mrs. Vesper,” CJ assured her. “I suspect it will turn out that Mac’s house burning down was just a firebug who thought it was still empty. After all, he’s just moved in and hasn’t lived in Sandford long enough to have made enemies.”

“Oh, goodness, no, dear, he hasn’t,” Mrs. Vesper agreed.

“But until we know for sure, we have to at least take precautions to ensure he’s safe from further attacks,” CJ pointed out. “Just in case. But I don’t want you to worry. You are in no danger. No one knows he’s here, and I took precautions leaving the police station and on the drive to ensure no one followed us,” she assured her. “And, no doubt, Captain Dupree will make arrangements for him elsewhere after tonight.”

“But my dear, you work for the SIU,” Mrs. Vesper pointed out with a slight frown. “Why are you guarding his body instead of one of our town’s police officers?”

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