Twice Bitten

By: Lynsay Sands

One




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.”