Home > Twice Bitten (Argeneau #27)(9)

Twice Bitten (Argeneau #27)(9)
Author: Lynsay Sands

“Lovely,” Martine said behind her. “The girls are starved.”

“Well now, Wyatt, you didn’t mention we’d have two such sexy broads to dine with,” Oscar said, leering up at them. “I wouldn’t have given Vi such a hard time about coming if I’d known.”

Elspeth saw the way Wyatt’s expression tightened, and then the sound of rushing feet drew her gaze over her shoulder as Julianna and Victoria hurried out onto the landing above with excited faces.

“I told you I smelled food,” Julianna said with satisfaction as she started down the stairs.

“Fried chicken,” Victoria moaned, following her.

Wyatt turned to unlock Meredith’s door and then stepped aside to allow Violet and Oscar to enter. When he then shifted his gaze expectantly to them, Martine moved to the side to allow Julianna and Victoria to pass, and then started down the stairs after them, using her hold on Elspeth’s wrist to pull her along.

“Thank you,” Julianna said as she snatched one of the bags of food in passing. Smiling cheerfully, she said, “We’ll take this for you so you can get your coat off.”

“Thanks,” Wyatt said dryly as Victoria took the other bag. Shaking his head, he waited for Martine and Elspeth to follow the girls in, and then stepped inside and closed and locked the door.

Martine immediately ushered Elspeth and her sisters up the hall toward the kitchen, getting them out of the way for Violet, Oscar, and Wyatt to maneuver in the narrow entry.

“There you are.” Meredith smiled in greeting around the open refrigerator door. “Everyone arrived at the same time, I see. What would you girls like to drink? I’m afraid I only have ginger ale or cola when it comes to soft drinks. But I have iced tea, juice, milk, and water or tea and coffee too.”

“I’ll have water, please, Meredith,” Martine announced as Julianna and Victoria set the bagged food on the table and then rushed to join Meredith at the refrigerator. “And so will Elspeth. The twins will have milk.”

“Milk with fried chicken?” Julianna squawked with dismay.

“It’s good for you,” Martine said firmly, ushering Elspeth to the table.

“Yes. It’s good for us,” Julianna agreed, her expression going blank.

“Milk would be delicious,” Victoria added, her own face devoid of emotion.

Meredith’s eyebrows rose at the abrupt about-face, but shrugged and retrieved the milk, saying, “Whatever you like.”

“Take off your jacket.”

Elspeth automatically obeyed, slipping her jacket off one arm and then pausing until her mother let her go so that she could finish the task. However, the moment her mother released her, Elspeth’s mind began to clear. Unfortunately, before it could clear enough for her to think to move out of reach, Martine took her other wrist in hand, silencing her thoughts once more. When her mother murmured, “Hang your jacket over the chair,” Elspeth did so without hesitation. She draped it over the back of the chair, and then settled in it.

Martine promptly dropped into the seat next to her, still holding her wrist.

“Here we are then. All present and ready for the grub,” Oscar said in a pompous voice as he entered the kitchen. “Thank God it’s takeout and not some sad little attempt of yours to cook, Meredith. This should be edible at least.”

Elspeth would have scowled at the man if she could have, but instead merely eyed him silently before glancing to Meredith to see the way she had stiffened, her mouth tightening. It was obvious she hadn’t invited him to dinner, which Elspeth supposed meant Wyatt had. She had no idea why. Elspeth had encountered the man three or four times since taking up residence in the apartment upstairs. Meredith loved her sister and invited her over for tea weekly. Unfortunately, Violet didn’t like driving any more than Meredith nowadays and Oscar had to drop her off and collect her. He didn’t bother to get out of the car when he dropped Violet off, but he did come to the door to collect her when she was ready to go home and had invited himself in when he saw Elspeth there. Oscar was an odious creature who bounced between crude jokes and insulting everyone in his presence. He’d also made rather base passes at her. At least, he had the first time. She’d been too startled to do anything about it then, but when he’d started in on that nonsense on the visits since, she’d quickly taken control of his mind and shut him down. From what she could tell, the man was a pig who had made his wife, Violet, miserable for years and now seemed set on making Meredith’s life as difficult as possible as well.

Elspeth’s gaze shifted to Meredith’s sister. Pale and almost shamefaced, Violet cast a quick glance to Merry before looking unhappily away. It didn’t take mind reading, or even much thought, to know the woman was feeling guilty for what she’d told her husband and more so for what he’d done with the information. It was also pretty obvious Meredith hadn’t yet forgiven her sister for it. Her face was set in a scowl, and the usually polite and generous woman didn’t ask what Violet, Oscar, or even Wyatt wanted to drink. She merely pushed the two glasses of milk she’d poured along the counter toward the waiting Julianna and Victoria, and then quickly carried the three glasses of water she’d also gathered to the table. She set one in front of Martine, another in front of Elspeth, and then settled in the chair next to Elspeth with the third glass as Julianna and Victoria followed with their drinks.

“Well,” Wyatt said after a brief pause. “Sit down, Aunt Violet, Oscar. What would you like to drink?”

Elspeth was vaguely aware of the couple’s answering and Wyatt’s puttering around, fetching drinks for them, but most of her attention was on Meredith. With the eight of them squeezed around the round table made for six, it was a bit cramped and Merry was close enough that they bumped arms on occasion. She could also hear her heartbeat—slightly elevated thanks to her agitation—as it pumped the sweet elixir of life through her veins. Blood. Elspeth fancied she could smell it there under Merry’s thin, crepey skin. Deep, red, luscious blood that would ease her pain and sate her hunger.

“Elspeth.”

Blinking at that sharp voice, Elspeth realized she had leaned toward Meredith and quickly straightened and turned to her mother. She noted her concerned frown, but then glanced around as Oscar said, “Shove over, Vi, and make room so the twins can sit on either side of me. I’ve always fancied being with twins.”

“Stay put, Violet,” Meredith growled, her body stiff. “The twins can sit between us.”

“Always out to ruin my fun, aren’t you, Meredith?” Oscar said, sounding churlish. “What’s wrong with the girls sitting with me?” Shifting his gaze to Victoria and Julianna, he offered a lecherous smile and said, “I could be the thorn between two roses.”

“You might prick them,” Meredith snapped.

“That’s the hope,” he admitted with a laugh.

Meredith gaped at him with disgust. “Have you no shame? Your wife is sitting right beside you.”

“So?” he asked with indifference.

“So?” she echoed with dismay and then glanced at her sister as if expecting her to speak up for herself. When Violet lowered her head, avoiding her eyes, Meredith’s mouth tightened. Shifting hard eyes back to Oscar, she growled, “These girls are my guests. Stop acting like an old lecher and let them eat in peace.”

Oscar’s eyes narrowed and his mouth opened, and then just as suddenly snapped shut, his expression going blank. Elspeth knew at once that her mother had taken control of the man and shut him down before he could behave too badly. She wasn’t sure that was a good thing. She thought Wyatt should probably see just what the man was truly like. At least then he’d know just who was carrying tales to Merry’s son. Unfortunately, her mother had nixed that, and before Oscar had even said anything really bad. Still it had been enough to make Wyatt’s mouth thin out with anger. He apparently didn’t think much of his comments, Elspeth decided as she watched Wyatt carry the drinks he’d collected for himself and his aunt and uncle to the table and distribute them before taking his seat.

“Eat your food, Elspeth,” Martine said suddenly, and Elspeth glanced down to see with some surprise that her plate was full of food. Somehow a piece of chicken, coleslaw, macaroni salad, and fries with gravy had all landed on her plate. Her mother must have placed it there, Elspeth supposed. Certainly she hadn’t put it there herself.

   
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