Home > The Vampire's Mail Order Bride (Nocturne Falls #1)(11)

The Vampire's Mail Order Bride (Nocturne Falls #1)(11)
Author: Kristen Painter

Since she’d passed out as soon as she’d gotten into the room, she took a few minutes to fire up her laptop and log on. Captain was busy disemboweling his catnip mouse. She quickly scanned the New York news sites for mention of the shooting. Nothing. Frustrating. She was dying to know what was happening. Okay, bad choice of words.

She closed her laptop. She’d think about it later. Right now it was time to play the potential fiancée. She trotted downstairs, deliberately making her steps heard so there’d be no accidental eavesdropping again. Stanhill was alone in the kitchen, busy with dinner.

He smiled at her. “Master Ellingham is out on the back patio. Just through the foyer and out the French doors in the great room. You’ll see him.”

“Thank you.” She followed his directions, taking her time as she wandered through the house. The decorating was heavily masculine, but reserved and classy. Kind of British hunting lodge meets the Deep South. Each room was more impressive than the next. If Hugh had done the decorating, it said a lot about him. Like maybe she’d misjudged his being an ass based on one comment. Which, considering he hadn’t been the one behind bringing her here, was pretty excusable.

Sheers muted the view through the French doors. She opened them and took a breath. The garden beyond was charming. Very…English in that slightly constrained-but-overgrown-enough-to-look-lived-in sort of way. A few last rays of sun broke through the trees, giving everything a golden glow.

Except the man of the house.

Hugh stood in the shadows on the flagstone patio, a glass of red wine in his hand, looking very regal. And utterly handsome in black trousers and a crisp white shirt. If Delaney wasn’t careful, she might get her heart broken. He turned, a subtle smile erasing his serious resting face. “Hello again.”

“Hi.” She moved closer but not enough to invade his space. “This place…the house, the garden…it’s incredible.”

“Thank you. I’ve worked hard on it. My home is my sanctuary. But then I guess that’s true for most people.” He took a sip of his wine. “What’s your house like?”

She froze. Did Annabelle live in a house? An apartment? She had no idea. He’s just a guest at the restaurant, keep him happy. She laughed. “Nothing like this. Did you pick out everything yourself?”

He glanced toward the great room. “It’s really more of a collection than a deliberate act of decorating.”

If that was his idea of a collection, then her random assortment of candy molds was more like a flea market accident.

His gaze shifted to her in a very purposeful way. “I just like what I like.”

The little hairs on the back of her neck lifted the way they did when someone flirted with her. Was that where they were now? Flirting? She looked toward the garden and bit her tongue before her nerves caused her to blurt out a random chocolate fact.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m a terrible host. I haven’t offered you a glass of wine. Red all right? It’s very good. Local, actually.”

Anything but Chianti was fine with her. “Great.” So long as she didn’t drink too much and forget who she was pretending to be.

“I’ll just be a moment.” He slipped inside.

Before she went to sleep tonight, she was going to Google Annabelle Givens and study that woman until she knew everything about her. Maybe that would help with her nerves.

Hugh returned and handed her a glass, then raised his in a toast. “To new beginnings?”

So much for keeping a safe distance from him. He was so close she could smell his cologne. It was spicy and complex, like good dark chocolate. Her mouth watered. Down, girl. “New beginnings.”

They clinked, then drank, and for a moment, she could picture herself in this place being the woman she was pretending to be. Sophisticated, cultured and assuredly beautiful Annabelle Givens. Annabelle had to be that kind of woman, or Adelaide Poirot never would have matched her with a man like Hugh.

The sun dropped a little farther, turning the sky the most vibrant shades of orange and pink. “It’s really beautiful here. Lots of trees and nature.”

Nothing like Brooklyn. She took another sip of her wine.

He gave her an odd look. “Doesn’t upstate New York have a lot of trees and nature?”

She drank some more wine, buying herself a little time to cover her slip. “Oh, sure, but it just seems greener here. More quiet and peaceful too.”

He laughed. “If you like quiet and peaceful, don’t go into town.”

“Gets rowdy, huh?”

“After dark, things really start up. Plus, this weekend is the Panic Parade.” He sighed and shook his head like he thought the whole thing was a little nuts.

“The Panic Parade?”

“I believe it grew out of the traditional May Day celebration. Except May Day has been reinterpreted as a cry for help as opposed to a celebration of spring.”

“I get it.” She canted her head and laughed softly. “Although, I have to admit, the whole every day is Halloween thing threw me. What’s up with that?” Ugh. Annabelle had probably never said what’s up with that a day in her life.

His grin didn’t fade. “It’s how the town makes money.”


“Tourists.” He took a deep breath. “When my family bought this town—”

“You own this town?” Oh boy. She was in deep. No wonder he was filthy rich and didn’t need to get out of bed until the day was nearly over. He owned everything! All right, slow down on the wine. And no wonder Annabelle had been so bummed her match had been canceled.

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