Nights are the worst, thought Duncan, rolling over in bed and peering at the glowing red display on his clock. Three a.m. Midnight of the soul. That’s just great.
Turning onto his back, He kicked at the covers that had tangled around his feet, and stared up at the ceiling. No whimpered protest came from the other side of the bed, no kick echoed his. Tessa wasn’t there anymore to compete for blanket space.
And she’s not here to goad me out of bad moods or lecture me about how I should eat right, he thought. She’s not here to pry free any details about my past--where I’ve been or what I’ve done, or what I’m doing next. She’s not here to warn me that I’m working too hard or drag me away from antique auctions when her creative well needs filling someplace else. There aren’t any more trips to the zoo with her making faces at the monkeys, or walks through the market with her squeezing all of the melons and grinning at me suggestively. I loved her so much, and I miss her so much.
He listened to the night, but all he heard was traffic. A door slammed. Somebody yelled. In the distance, a siren sounded.
Somebody’s in trouble, he reflected. Sirens never mean happiness for anybody.
Pushing aside the covers, he got out of bed and padded, naked, into the bathroom. After answering the call of nature, he flipped on the light and flinched as it assaulted his retina. Opening the linen closet, he removed a small cardboard box and dropped the toilet lid to sit and examine his flimsy treasure chest.
The box contained a strange assortment of glass vials containing essential oils that Tessa had cherished and used. For the longest time, she hadn’t told Duncan about them--"I thought you’d laugh at me." When she had mentioned them, she’d been surprised to learn that he remembered wise women from his clan using the same substances to heal their neighbors, to help ease childbirth and a score of other worries.
"Do you remember what they used?" she’d asked eagerly.
"I was just a boy then, Tess. They smelled, some burned. Best avoided altogether. I didn’t have much use for medieval band-aids."
After that, she’d started experimenting on him, until he’d begged her to stop. It just didn’t do for a 400-year-old immortal guy to go around smelling like...
"Like geraniums, for one thing. Or roses. Or...What’s that?" he asked as she dripped another potion onto his bare back.
"Ylang ylang. It’s an aphrodisiac, you know?"
He hadn’t known. His grin told her he also didn’t need it. "As though I don’t want you enough already? Come on, Tess. Quit with the smelly stuff. What do you say we go out for some good Italian fare, and make an early night of it?"
"What do you say, I massage these kinks out of your back? You’ll feel much better then, and you can forget that last beheading?"
He shook his head. "I’m fine."
"That’s not what your muscles say. You may be immortal, but you’re not invulnerable."
"Says me. The woman who loves you. Now, roll over and stop whining."
"Yes, madame." He’d let her do as she pleased with him. Afterward, he wanted a shower.
Tessa’s small hands wrapped around his arm stopped him. "You can’t shower until tomorrow morning. At least. You’ll undo all the good I’ve done."
He’d stared down at her in disbelief. "I spent hundreds of years living in cultures that hated water. Or passed weeks on end when I just didn’t feel like bathing. If you think I’m going back to that smelly lifestyle, even for a day--"
"According to my aromatherapy book, the oils need to soak in for twenty-four hours."
"Is this some sort of joke, Tess? Because if it is, I’ll..."
"It’s not a joke. Come on, Duncan. Nobody’s going to doubt your masculinity just because you smell like a rose. Are you really that insecure?"
Her grin was lopsided, threatening to explode into giggles. Her eyes danced. She may not have intended to tease him, but she was still enjoying this.
And how could I deny you anything? "All right, Tess. I’ll not shower. But twelve hours is all I’ll give your greasy little substances to work their magic."
"You’ll feel better for it. Honest, you will."
He had. But he’d never told her so. Half an hour later, he looked down his very aristocratic nose at the maitre’d who narrowed his eyes and started sniffing the air the moment they walked into his restaurant. Tessa had giggled at the two men and hid behind her lover, where he couldn’t reach her.
Returning from his reminiscences, Duncan poked at the little bottles of oil. They clinked, friendly-like. He lifted one to the light.
"Joy," he muttered, reading Tessa’s scribble. That’s not the one I want. Where’s the one marked Pain-Away? Away from my heart, my soul.
Did you have one called Forget, Tessa? So I can forget the memory of viewing your body for the last time, when it lay in its white casket? Forget your far too young to be dead, and too made up. Out of reach forever. Tessa, what would you have given me out of this little box for a broken heart?
His fingers stopped at Valor. *For my knight,* her voice breathed into his ear.
He shivered. Now, I think I’m hearing her. I’ve really gone over the deep end.
No matter. Taking the little bottle, Duncan ran the hottest bath he could stand and deposited a few drops of Valor into the water. Immersing his long Scottish length, he contemplated the little box of magic he’d left sitting on the sink.
Why is it that I sent her other things to her mother, but couldn’t bring myself to send those, as well?
He hadn’t kept much more than the oils. There were a few notes she’d scribbled before she died. One was a grocery list. He’d tucked it away in his wallet.
Duncan needs a razor & toothpaste, he remembered her beautiful writing. Broke hammer; get new one. That last sculpture had been a bear in more ways than one.
Domesticity and the artist. He smiled to himself, closing his eyes and letting Valor surround him. Smells good. Smells... like Tess.
He sat up. He breathed deeply. It did smell like Tessa. Unexpectedly, his eyes filled with tears.
I miss you so much...so much, he repeated. But this helps, a little. If I close my eyes and think of you, I can pretend that you’re in the next room, waiting for me. In a few minutes, I’ll get to hold you again. If I close my eyes and remember, it’s almost like holding you again. Like being surrounded by you again.
*Maybe, now, you can sleep? Tonight, anyway?* That voice in his mind again.
"Maybe," he muttered aloud. At least until the water got cold. Until he shriveled up like a prune.
*At least there’s no chance of your drowning, Tessa’s voice continued. *The bathtub’s far too short for that.*
As if drowning would matter, came Duncan’s half-asleep rejoinder. I’d be better in a minute or so. Coughing up the water is nasty, though....
*Poor thing,* the voice went on, accompanied by a column of soft-swirling air in the bathroom. Gently, it stirred the hair flowing across Duncan’s shoulders, as though stroking it in passing. *Poor Duncan, to love me so. I’m afraid that Valor won’t soothe your sadness for very long.*
Walking up Charing Cross Road from the Leicester Square tube entrance, Dana Ashburn approached the front door of her dream, her pride and her joy. She sighed and blinked at the sting of tears suddenly invading her eyes.
Pleasures and Past-Times
read the display over the antiquarian bookshop. Drawn in letters big enough to be read half a block away, that placard had once made her heart leap with excitement. Now, it only caused a sinking sensation in her stomach.
How many months did Hugh and I scrimp and scrape to afford this place? How many months were we open before he disappeared into thin air, perhaps never to be seen again? Too few. And how many months ago did I approach the London Police to report him missing? Way too many.
The duty sergeant’s reply still rang in her head. "Sorry, miss. Your fellow is a citizen of the Republic of Ireland. Not Northern Ireland, mind you, which’d be part of Great Britain, but Southern Ireland, which’d be a free and independent country. That being the case, you understand that it’s not a matter for Her Majesty’s police force."
"But the crime was committed here," she’d protested.
The sergeant only nodded. "And there’s that, too, miss. According to your own report, there’s no evidence of foul play. Your Mr. Fitzcairn could have taken the whim to return to his homeland for a drink or two, could have taken a holiday on the Continent, or could have bounded off with your bookstore’s receipts--which, as your business partner, he’s entitled to by law."
The sergeant smirked. "On the other hand, if your fellow was to be a British citizen, and if there was to be evidence of foul play, we’d probably be suspecting you, Ms. Ashburn. What with your being his partner, and the two of you living at the same address." The sergeant licked his lips. "What with all that, don’t you know?"
"Yes, I know," Dana muttered to present-day, present-time London. I also know that Hugh wouldn’t just leave me, or his life. He’s been missing for three months, now, and every instinct I’ve got is screaming that he’s in trouble. now. Mark had to have grabbed him. For all I know, Mark could have killed him. But just try telling that to the police.
What was I supposed to say? "Dear kindly Sergeant Kewley, I’ve been psychic since I was ten. My mother died then, and I didn’t want to go to her funeral. I wanted to stay home with her because she was haunting my bedroom and I could talk to her anytime I wanted to. Hugh isn’t haunting me, but I can feel that he’s in trouble, so won’t you please drag in my old boyfriend and ask him what he’s done with my new boyfriend? Uh-huh. Right. Straight off to Wickshire Hospital is where they’d pack me for that one.
Approaching the front door of the bookshop, Dana glanced down at the cement to see new smears and stains. Fresh today, but almost dry now. Dana sighed, shuddered and carefully stepped over the remains. Pushing through the door, she paused to collect herself and sniffed the smell she’d loved for so long: old paper, ink...aging literature.
Better than incense, she thought as she shrugged out of her trenchcoat. "Good morning, Angie. And what did our caller leave us this morning?"
"Squirrel," replied Angie, bookstore clerk, without even looking up from her work. "Fresh killed, this one. Not even stiff yet."
Grimacing, she paused in the act of sorting books. "I can see why you didn’t want to open the store this week. Do you still think Mark is doing this?"
"I know he is." Hanging up her coat, Dana squeezed around a trolley full of oversized used books. "I left the States hoping to get away from him. Instead of making things better, I’ve made them infinitely worse. The police have verified that Mark’s in the country--and probably in London since he flew into Heathrow--but he’s here legally, and he doesn’t have a police record. I know he’s watching me, but since he hasn’t done anything, no one can touch him."
"He’s leavin’ those lovely little corpses, isn’t he? The animals’d think a bit about that."
She threw up her hands in frustration. "I don’t think it’s a crime to leave dead animals on our doorstep. Besides that, I can’t even prove that Mark’s the one leaving our grisly gifts."
Angie slammed a book down on the cart with enough vigor to raise dust off this ancient estate collection. "It’s not your fault Mark’s off his nut. Too bad there’s not a real Sherlock Holmes about. He’d fix things for you, right off." She tossed a well-worn Conan Doyle atop the nearest pile.
"Dearie?" she asked gently, "Any word yet from Hugh?"
Dana shook her head. "I really think that Mark’s abducted him, but I can’t prove that, either."
"So until a body is found...." Angie trailed off in horror, realizing what she’d just implied to her employer about the man she loved.
"No. Until Hugh escapes. Until then, I’m stuck."
"Tell me about it." Stomping to the back of the store, Dana nearly ran into a tall tower of boxes that hadn’t been there the evening before, when she’d left. "Angie, what is all this?"
"They delivered those books you bought at auction in Paris," the girl called from the front desk.
"So many? I didn’t buy that many. Did I?" Maybe I did...I do love an auction...It’s a good way to forget for a little while. "Oh well, they’re here now. Delivered and stacked, no less. That’s one positive in a month of negatives."
"Good on you, maybe. And just who d’ya think stacked all those bloody boxes?" Hands on hips, Angie glowered first at the boxes, and then at Dana. "And who’s going to sort them all, now they’re here? And price ‘em, and shelve ‘em? Who’s that t’be?"
"Uh, I...I was going to start on them right now." Hefting the first box, she hurried--with dignity, she hoped--into the back room, which doubled as office and warehouse.
The business had to go on, and Dana was trying to learn to go on with it. This was a part of it--the buying and the sorting, as well as the shelving. But Hugh had always done the buying.
My poor, sweet Hugh. Where are you now? I need you. And I need you before I ruin our business, too.
Shoving aside the latest pile of catalogs, Dana deposited her box and began hunting her cutter. Fat lots of anonymous books bought at auction were always fun: you never knew what titles you’d get. Most of them were awful, but more than once they’d gotten a book worth three hundred pounds for an investment of only fifty francs.
The estate sales were the best, and this estate had been large. Not only had she been able to bid on the books found in Mr. and Mrs. Lefabre’s estate, but they’d owned their own bookstore. Dana had gotten a good portion of that store’s English editions, including a mangled Poe that had once been beautiful--and autographed. Poor Edgar Allan.
The first box wasn’t very exciting. It contained children’s books, many of which she already had on the shelves. The second box held more items of interest, including biographies on Atila the Hun, Rasputin, and Dracula. Opening the third box, Dana found ragged, 19th-Century sheet music stacked atop a collection of works by George Bernard Shaw.
Sheet music. Like there’s a crying demand for that. We’ll just set you over there for awhile, and see about better stuff.
Reaching in, Dana scooped out the fragile papers, only to have something more solid slither onto the books below. In between the Victorian selection was something that was definitely out of place: a bare compact disc sparkled up at her in all of its modern, lasered rainbow glory.
"What are you doing in there? You’re no antique. You’re not even printed matter," she demanded in irritation. "Probably something wonderful, like Smashed Pumpkins or Rude Puppies.
The disc remained strangely silent as Dana picked it up. Turning it over, she wondered that its transit across the Channel hadn’t scratched it beyond repair. Then again, maybe it had: after all, the computer hadn’t yet tried to read it.
It’s probably music theory notations, she speculated, noting that it had traveled beneath a stack of blank books for musical composition. The disc itself offered no clue: its face contained only a strange, mystical, almost-Greek symbol that Dana had never seen before.
Leaving her ever-growing pile of books, she turned on the computer that Hugh had insisted upon. Sweet Hugh, ever the dreamer, ever the one to be suckered in by a new toy.
"The Internet’s all the rage," he had said. "Antiquarian booksellers are all getting into the act. Customers can order without coming into the store. Zip! They inquire if we’ve got a book. Zip! E-mail back a YES. Zip! magical Mastercard numbers order the book within a few hours. Zip! we mail it along to the customer. Armchair service for an armchair product."
Agreeing with him before he’d voiced the argument, and knowing how much he loved to talk, Dana had let the Irishman prattle on. Of course, his accent helped hold her interest. He could have recited Burke’s Peerage all day without her complaining about the lack of plot.
Setting the disc in the CD-ROM drive, she accessed the directory.
HISTORY.ASC 143,231 9-10-92 09:36a
HUNTER.DBF 2,311 8-24-92 11.57a
HUNTER.HTF 9,009 9-03-92 05:55p
IMMORTAL.DBF 876,989 8-24-92 11:56a
IMMORTAL.HTF 1,198,276 8-24-92 11:55a
README.ASC 356 9-03-92 07:30a
WATCHER.DBF 861,040 8-24-92 11:58a
WATCHER.HTF 2,021,911 8-24-92 11:40a
Database and hypertext files? She grimaced. Oh, great. I’d probably need access to a UNIX system to look at these, not this our little DOS Pentium. Still, the README file might hold some hints. Maybe it will work on Hugh’s word processor? Let me see....
Pulling up the file, she was rewarded with the sight of the letters scrolling obediently down the screen.
These files are authorized for use only by the Watcher Archive Development Taskforce of Western Europe. Use a word processor to convert and read the ASCII files. Use Excel to access the database files.
Use an Internet browser program to access the hypertext files (photos and other graphics included).
If you don’t know how to do this, you probably shouldn’t be looking at this disk. If you have any questions, please contact Adam Pearson.
Okay, Mr. Pearson, that’s clear enough, thought Dana. I’ve got a browser, so maybe I don’t need a UNIX system after all. Let’s see just what this is all about, shall we?
The bookstore’s front doorbell dinged as Dana opened the HISTORY.ASC file. Leaning back in her chair, she looked into the front room to see that the first customer of the day had arrived--an elderly man with a shock of white hair.
Not a regular. I don’t have to meet and greet. Good. Turning back to the screen, she began reading the words scrolled there. Fifteen minutes later, she pushed back from the computer, shaking her head in disbelief.
Let me see if I’ve got this right. According to this group called the Watchers, immortality is bestowed on a chosen few who can’t die unless they’re beheaded. For some weird, unexplained reason, these Immortals have an obligation to fight one-on-one with a katana or broadsword or rapier or...whatever. Something sharp and shiny. Can’t these guys just say ‘a sword?’ Their objective is to behead their fellow Immortals and receive the Quickening, which is basically a mystical transfer of the victim’s power and knowledge to the victor. Every Immortal is looking forward to the Gathering, where only the most powerful will remain to battle it out.
In the end, only one will still be alive to receive the Final Quickening and...Do what with it? Live forever without having to raise another sword on this tiny little dirtball that’s hurtling through space on its way to meet its own fate? Become like Hitler or Kali or some benevolent or nasty god who rules in peace or destruction? Or maybe the last Immortal will be discovered and stalked and studied by whatever world governments exist down the line. And how can there be one remaining Immortal if baby Immortals-to-be are being born and placed with us mortal folk all of the time?
Even when the final Gathering takes place, how can it be final? According to this scenario, there will always be kids out who grow up and die and revive, so doesn’t that mean that the Game will never end? I wonder who wrote this flight of fantasy? It sure holds the imagination. It’d make a great scenario for a wargame. Or a Hollywood motion picture.
"What’s that rubbish?"
Dana nearly leaped out of the chair at Angie’s voice sounding over her head. "Don’t sneak up on me like that!"
"Who’s sneaking? I wheeled our squeaky cart back here and have been standing at your elbow for ever so long, watching you stare at that screen. If you aren’t hearing, s’not my doing. What are you reading that’s so terrible interesting, anyway?" Angie bent closer to peer at the screen’s information.
"Some sort of immortal combat CD came with the books I bought in Paris. I got curious and was looking at it."
"Immortal combat, eh? Too bad the fighters aren’t real. You could hire one to off Mark for you."
She sighed. "The rules of the Game don’t let it work like that."
"They never do. I’ll bet men invented it. Men...You can’t live with them, and you can’t kill them. I’ll leave you to it. And I’ll try not to startle you next time."
Angie returned to her shelving; Dana returned to her disk. Leaving the history file behind, she switched programs and called up the Immortal database. Name after name scrolled by.
Good lord, she thought, somebody went to all the trouble of inventing biographies for all of these characters. What for? No game needs this many characters or players.
One of the names leaped out at her.
V. Montgomery Webster? She blinked at the screen. Do they mean the Montgomery Webster who’s a Member of Parliament? But...he’s a real person.
Webster wasn’t the only one. Searching further, Dana found three more world-renowned illuminaries within the next few screens. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach. Her palms tingled. Her instincts were screeching, trying to warn her that what she was looking at was far from fiction.
With shaking hands, she fumbled at the keyboard to access the Immortal hypertext file. Full-color photos and stats on each Immortal followed. From the addresses listed for the famous people, she could tell that the research was thorough. At random, she chose one.
Lord Simon Douglas
60 Felsham Road
Putney, London SW15 1BA ENGLAND
See also Lord Arthur Winston Douglas
She accessed the reference and stared at the Victorian photograph.
Lord Arthur Winston Douglas
14 Felsham Road
Putney, London ENGLAND
See also Lord Winston James Douglas
Lord Arthur looks like Lord Simon, she pondered. There’s no difference, not even in their ages. They could have been twins, except for the dates of birth and death. Same address probably, if I keep in mind that you a lot of the streets were renumbered after the war. What’s going on here? She accessed the next reference.
Lord Winston James Douglas
14 Felsham Road Putney, London ENGLAND
Her hands began to shake as she tried to maneuver the mouse.
This isn’t a game. It’s real. And whoever put these records together tracked the life of every Immortal, from the beginning of their immortality, to their beheading. If the immortal is still alive, they’ve been tracked up to the present, she realized. Everybody and everything is in here.
Why in the world would the Watchers put all of this on one disk? For a secret organization like this to have survived throughout the centuries, they had to have long ago realized the dangers of gathering all of their data together in one place. This is insanity. How did this disk come to be in that box? And how many more disks are there floating around out there? Should I tell someone about this?
Fifty more photos flew by.
If I should tell, who should I tell? Lord Douglas? Montgomery Webster? This Game is damn serious! If I was an Immortal, I’d definitely want to know about this breach in security. I wonder...If I give back their disk, would they help me find Hugh?
Webster might be the one to ask about that. Webster could use British government resources to help me, and that could attract attention. Or maybe he’d use them to shut me up? These men don’t sound nice, and if they’re accustomed to nipping off people’s heads, what about one filled with secrets--like mine? Then again, maybe a total stranger would be better.
Connor MacLeod’s was the next data file displayed on her screen.
Scottish, huh? Almost 500 years old, huh? I’ll bet that he could help me find Hugh.
Yesssss, said her instincts. Look twice at this one, Dana. His eyes tell you he can be trusted.
Yes, but for all that he’s from Scotland originally, and probably very familiar with present-day England, the notation says that he’s moved to New York. Too far away. I don’t think he can help Hugh or me.
She dropped down to the next page. Duncan MacLeod. Is he a brother to Connor? Cousin? Father? Can’t be that...the Watchers said Immortals are sterile. She eyed Duncan’s build. Too bad. If this photo’s to be trusted, he’d sire great sons. He’s living in Paris, huh? On a barge? I didn’t know the affordable housing shortage was that bad.
Hey, you, said her psychic sense. Paris isn’t that far. This is another MacLeod, another Scot who’s been around a long time. Mark doesn’t know England. This one would. This one can help. And he’s close.
Yeah, but does he really exist?
Snatching up the phone, Dana called directory assistance in Paris. Was Duncan MacLeod listed? Yes. His number followed. She called that line, too. (I can always hang up on him if he answers.)
Staring at his photograph, she listened to the recording on his answering machine.
"This is Duncan. I’m not here right now. Leave a message."
She hung up on the answering machine. She was so nervous, her heart was pounding so hard, she could hear its beat in her ears.
He’s real. Which means this Immortal stuff just might be real, too. She eyed Duncan’s photo, still on the computer screen. I can see taking the trouble to put an MP and a few other famous people into your game. But why search out regular guys from France to the States? That’s going to a bit too much trouble...unless the author was a hopeless, compulsive perfectionist.
So, Dana, what about this MacLeod guy? Are you going to see him, or not? Think about it.
Taking deep breaths to calm herself, she sat very still and studied him. Letting her mind drift where it willed, she thought, I like the clear, direct look in his eyes. Brown, aren’t they? He looks more Italian than Scottish. Martial arts expert, antique dealer...Wasn’t Connor MacLeod listed as an antiquities dealer?
She didn’t bother going back to check. Duncan and Connor both fight with a katana...and they’re martial arts experts. I’ll bet. Use it or lose it. Would Duncan help me, or greet me with that shiny blade of his?.
Talk to the man, her heart urged, for Hugh’s sake. You hopped over the Channel to attend the auction. You can hop over again to talk to Mr. MacLeod.
Approach a stranger with a personal problem? That’s not like me. But Mark’s out there stalking, and Hugh’s gone missing, and...I’m so scared. No one else will listen to me. Duncan MacLeod’s probably seen enough weird stuff in his life, my story will seem tame by comparison. I’m not getting anywhere alone. I’ve tried. Exhausted all the possibilities. So...What choice do I have? And what could it hurt?
Exiting the hypertext file, Dana took out the CD and turned it in between her fingers. Nothing happens by coincidence, right? Maybe finding Duncan in those books wasn’t a coincidence. Maybe he’s the miracle I need to find Hugh. If I don’t try, I’ll never know. And if Hugh is never found, or if he turns up dead, I’ll never know if contacting Duncan could have brought him back alive.
She held up the CD, caught the rainbow shine in the light. What harm can it do to talk to the man? At the very least, I’ll let him know that some hacker is using his name, perhaps illegally. This might be the ultimate in embarrassing wild goose chases. Maybe. But all of my instincts are shouting, "NOT!"
Decision made, Dana slipped the CD into a plastic jewel box and called her travel agent.
Ewwww. Not a very impressive place for an Immortal to live, was her first thought as she approached the gangway leading to the old barge docked on the Seine just below Notre Dame. In fact, it looks a little...seedy. She eyed the bright orange marks visible at water level. Mr. Barge has been sitting here a very long time with no intentions of moving. He needs a paint job. Military grey might be nice. Utilitarian, anyway.
Pausing at the bottom of the span, Dana shielded her eyes from the uncertain Parisian sun--which only came out when she was trying to see something--and stared upward. Should I just stand here and shout hello, or should I hike up there and hope that Duncan MacLeod is sunning himself on deck?
Picking her way cautiously up the gangplank--and feeling as though she was violating some unposted no trespassing sign--Dana reached the top of the gangway. No half-naked Immortal hunk was in sight. The sigh she heaved was a combination of relief and disappointment.
Well, rats. Okay, what’s the proper etiquette for seeking out an Immortal if you’re not an Immortal? How do I avoid getting my pretty little head whacked off before I can explain why I’m here? She settled for hoping for the best and knocked on the door. After all, I haven’t a sword.
All of her agonizing was for naught, though, since no one answered the door.
"Maybe I should have called first?" she muttered at the portal that stood unimpressed and unpassable, weeping rust at her.
Should I be peeved, or relieved? Half embarrassed, she realized that she was more the former than the latter. After I’ve come all this way, the least he could do is be home. So what if he might have a job? So what if he might have better things to do than to be at-home for worried booksellers with errant compact disks? I went to all the trouble of getting myself psyched up for this, and blast it, he should be here!
Short of kicking the door and breaking her tennis-shoed toe, there wasn’t much Dana could do. Scuffing disgustedly back down the gangway, she wandered down the wall of the Seine and up the stairs to join frenetic Parisian civilization once more.
What do I do while waiting for the elusive Mr. MacLeod? I’m too worried about Hugh to go sightseeing, or to eat a proper meal.
She ended up ducking into a nearby market for some bread and cheese. On impulse, she grabbed some dry cat foot on her way to the checkout and decided to take the Metro to Pere Lachaise Cemetery.
Once there, she nodded at the ancient guarding the gate and made her way down the mini-boulevards. Wild cats peered at her from the ancient monuments, unwilling to be touched, but curious regarding her invasion of their domain. Ripping open the bag of cat food, she tossed some their way.
Some of the animals scattered, fleeing from the unexpected barrage of tasty projectiles. Others, wiser and more experienced in the bizarre ways of two-legged visitors, pounced to devour the food as though they hadn’t eaten in days. Perhaps they hadn’t. The life of a Parisian street cat wasn’t easy; was the life of a cemetery cat much better?
Field mice and birds, that’s about all they get. And the occasional can of tuna left by suckers like me.
Heading for the back of the cemetery, Dana perched opposite a massive art-deco sphinx monument in ugly, heavy granite flight. The cats came flitting through the shadows behind her.
I got you to follow me easily enough, she noted, glancing at them out of the corner of her eye, and otherwise ignoring them. Here’s hoping it’s the same with MacLeod. Peace, guys. No claws, okay?
She tossed more cat food. Only the bolder ones had followed--the ones who had no compunction about gobbling down her offerings and then staring pointedly waiting for more.
Nibbling on her bread and cheese, Dana kept glancing at her watch to see if it was time to return to the barge yet. No, Nope... the minute hand kept informing her that a very few seconds had passed since she’d last consulted it.
Once the bread and cat food were gone, Dana found that she couldn’t sit still. Wandering down the boulevard, she headed toward Chopin’s tomb, only to exchange his for someone else’s when he brought her no peace.
Dead people sure make lousy conversation, she thought. As a major distraction while I wait for Duncan MacLeod, this is definitely the pits.
As though taking exception to her criticism, the clouds over Paris opened in wet wrath. Growling beneath her breath, Dana slipped inside a nearby tomb. The rusted iron gate squeaked and stuck as she entered, trying to refuse her request that the living be allowed to rest with the dead for awhile. The small house smelled musty and moldy. Spider-infested tuna cans clanked at her feet.
The rain eased into mist, and Dana decided that it was time to make a break for it, and abandon this historic little hole. Heading back to the Seine, she waffled between dread and anticipation at the sight of MacLeod’s barge. Would he be home?
Gawd, I hope so. I’m fresh out of cat food, and the line to get into the Louve is far too long.
Striding with false boldness up the gangplank, Dana returned to the by-now familiar door to pound authoritatively upon it. Once again, Duncan MacLeod did not answer. Sighing, she pounded again, but to no avail.
Turning, she rested her back against the door. What do I do now? For all I know, he might not even be in the city. He might be somewhere down south, taking somebody’s head!
The way those guys move around, he could be anywhere on the planet! Stupid, innocent, idealistic little Dana, holding out her hands and waiting for a miracle to drop into them....
Heading for the gangway, she halted abruptly as a man in a black trenchcoat strode off of it, nearly colliding with her.
Backing away, she looked up. Her eyes widened into Duncan MacLeod’s as the thought registered, He’s a lot bigger in person. He looked much...safer on disc.
She wasn’t prepared for the sheer masculine power of the man. Nor was she prepared to realize just how broad he was, and how visually intimidating. His eyes were gentle as she’d remembered them, but tinged with sadness--and surprise. His hands were huge, and he felt like no one she’d ever met before.
I’m alone with him. No one knows where I am. If Mr. MacLeod isn’t an honorable fellow, I’m in deep trouble. Perhaps at the bottom of the Seine.
His eyes stared right at her, almost as though he was looking through her thoughts and down to her very soul. Her intuition was trying to reassure her, but her logical mind was shrieking that it might be time to panic.
It’s all true, she realized. Look at those eyes: he is 400 years old. He is immortal. He’s got the spiritual depth and the grounding to survive that long. And I’m way out of my league with him. I never should have come. I should have sent the damned disk Federal Express and enclosed a begging letter asking, "Can you help me?"
"Can I help you?" he echoed. He was so close that his voice vibrated her own chest when he spoke.
She stepped further back. "Um...Never mind. I-I don’t think so. That is, I thought so, but I don’t think so now. I came from London to talk with you about a friend, but it’s okay. We don’t have to talk. I’ll just give you this and won’t trouble you, okay?"
Pulling the CD from her pocket, she held it out.
He glanced at the sign of the Watchers. His expression didn’t change, but his body stiffened. He didn’t take the disk.
"Come inside." Slipping past her, he went to unlock the door.
Spinning about, she followed warily at his heels, prepared to chuck the disk at him and run, if she had to.
"There’s no need for me to come in, really. Just take the thing, will you? You obviously know what it is, so you probably want it back."
Pushing open the door, Duncan slipped a hand beneath her elbow to guide her inside. "After your coming all the way from London, I can’t let you go without at least offering you a drink for your thoughtfulness."
She hung back. "Yes, you can. It’s fine. I gotta go."
"There’s no need to be afraid. I won’t hurt you. Come inside. We’ll talk."
"No way. I really need to go now."
His brown eyes were intense. "Why?"
"If you want the honest truth, it’s because you’re a damn scary man," she blurted. "I thought that I could handle this Immortal stuff. I can’t. Sorry. I’ve really got to go."
"Please come inside. Please." His grin was warm, his tone was soft and coaxing, but his grip on her arm gave her little choice.
With her sneakered feet skidding on the floor, he practically dragged her inside his private apartment. She briefly considered grabbing the doorframe and letting her nails scritch around the molding as she lost the battle, but thought better of it when she tripped on the threshold and nearly fell against him.
No sense looking stupid as well as terrified. There’s no way I can win against those muscles.
Once she was safely inside, Duncan released her arm. Reaching over her head, he closed the door and smiled down at her. "This is much nicer, don’t you think? We’re out of the rain now."
"I hadn’t noticed it raining," she managed through clenched teeth.
"It’s Paris," he replied dourly. "It must be raining." He left her standing in the small entry, free to fling back the door and run for her little mortal life. "So, what can I get you to drink?"
Glancing down, she saw that she still had the CD in her hand. Rats.
Why rats? an irate voice spoke inside her head. You have what you wanted: the man’s at home and you’re inside with him. Are you going to be a mouse and run away, or brace yourself for what’s probably going to be one of the strangest conversations of your life?
Turning the disk in her hands, she debated for a few seconds. When she looked up, it was to discover that Duncan MacLeod was peering at her--like some mischievous ten-year-old--from around the bulkhead leading into his private chamber.
"Tea," she ventured shyly.
He looked startled. "What?"
"You offered me something to drink. I’ll have tea, if you don’t mind. With sugar and milk. If you have it."
It was his turn to look sheepish. His head disappeared, and she heard his heavy footsteps padding away, toward whatever passed for a kitchen on a barge.
Stepping forward, she peered around the bulkhead and into MacLeod’s sanctuary. It was sparse, to say the least. No sword was in sight. No feminine touch regarding furnishings was obvious, either.
Returning with the tea, Duncan handed it to her, then crossed to the couch. "Have a seat."
He seems to be giving me plenty of space now, she reflected, and was grateful for it.
I’m waiting, said his body language. His eyes were friendly. There was nothing hostile about him. And she still had the blasted CD in her hand.
Stepping forward, she laid the CD on the table and spoke quietly and carefully, lest he think she was always as scattered and stupid as their introduction had suggested.
"This came in a box of books I purchased at auction for my bookstore in London. I thought you might want it back."
"You came all the way from London for this?" Folding his arms, he quirked an eyebrow. "The Immortals is just a game, Ms...."
"Dana Ashburn," she supplied. "And I don’t think it’s a game. I think the Watchers told the truth. In the wrong hands, that truth could be very dangerous. Don’t you think so?"
His eyes had lost their friendly look.
Maybe I should be glad he doesn’t have a case of swords in sight. She drew a deep breath. "I didn’t copy the files, and I didn’t come to return the disk to you as some altruistic gesture. I want something in return."
"I’m hoping that you can help me. As an Immortal."
It was more a command than encouragement, and Dana felt a shock run through her. This man was not feeling kindly about this.
"A friend and I co-own the bookstore," she plunged in. "That friend has gone missing. I have an ex-fiance who might be considered psychotic; I believe he may have abducted Hugh. I know that Mark followed me to London, I know he’s been stalking me."
MacLeod settled back into his chair, looking totally immovable, emotionally as well as physically. "Call the police." She shot him an irritated look. "I’ve already done that. Three months ago, thank you. I’m not totally stupid."
"They won’t help. Because I can’t offer proof that Mark’s behind Hugh’s disappearance, and because Hugh’s an Irish national living in London, the police won’t help me."
Duncan considered that information for a moment. "How is Mark stalking you?"
"He keeps appearing and disappearing in crowds. He leaves dead animals on my doorstep and makes harassing phone calls. After Hugh disappeared, my car alarm started going off at two in the morning. Same time, every time. I had it checked, and nothing was wrong with it. It’s disconnected now. I thought that, by setting it off, Mark was trying to lure me out of the house in the middle of the night."
Good plan, said MacLeod’s eyes.
"I came here on impulse, thinking that perhaps your Immortal knowledge and experience could offer some hope. If you can’t help me, perhaps you know someone who can. Or will."
Duncan swirled the ice cubes in his glass of tea. "Why ask me? Why not hire a private investigator?"
"Because I know that Mark is definitely capable of hurting people, if not killing them. I don’t want to risk him hurting an investigator. It’s reassuring to know that he can’t kill you. And--with a convoluted, insane kind of American logic--I’m assuming that since you were born in Scotland all those years ago, you must know England and Europe as no mortal could know them. That means you might be able to find Hugh where other, um...younger...investigators might fail. I can’t just go on with my life and not try to find Hugh. You know the world far better than me. You’ve lived a lot longer. I know that I can trust you--"
He laughed. "How can you trust me? You didn’t want to come in here. You said I was damn scary. Now, after three minutes’ worth of conversation, you’ve changed your mind and think you can trust me?"
She squirmed where she stood. "I trusted you before, too. But you’re...intimidating."
"Intimidating?" He sounded genuinely surprised. "How am I intimidating?"
"First, you’re Immortal. That’s pretty weird and also pretty neat where I’m coming from."
"Where do you come from?"
"Baltimore, originally. Second, you’re a lot bigger in person than in your picture."
He laughed. "It’s done with mirrors."
The grin made him look a lot less scary, and she answered with a tentative one of her own.
"Uh-huh. Third...You know how to kill people. And have."
"Show me a man who doesn’t."
She shook her head. "My sister married a retired Army Ranger. He has an aura like yours. Big and powerful. Unstoppable. He’s trained to survive anywhere, in any terrain, by any means available. He has the patience of a spider, the skills of a ninja, and the grounding of...well, of a samurai when the samurai tradition meant something in Japan. So do you."
He nodded acknowledgement of the compliment. "Thank you, though I think you’re easily impressed." He gave a crooked smile. "I’ve been told that I have hair like a girl."
"That comment had to come came from a jealous hairdresser. There’s nothing feminine about you."
He stared at her, she stared back at him.
What else do you want me to say? she wondered. Did I offer you too many compliments? Not enough? I told the truth, Mr. MacLeod. What happens next?
He didn’t seem to know. Eventually, he asked, "Can I get you anything to eat?"
"No, thanks. I had lunch at Pere Lachaise."
"The cemetery?" For the first time, he looked as if he didn’t believe her. "I know there’s no McDonald’s there."
"I brought a picnic. As crazy as it sounds, whenever I’m upset--and Paris this close to Bastille Day can upset me quite a lot--I run away to the cemetery. To watch the cats and visit some old friends...so to speak. It gets me away from the pushy tourists and lets me calm down. I’m not morbid, really I’m not. It’s just...A lot of the time, I feel much closer to people in books or in history than I feel for the living. To visit their last resting place lets me say hello and good-bye to them, I suppose. I like cemeteries. Everybody has a story to tell. You can learn a lot at Pere Lachaise, if you know the stories that are buried there."
From the way his features had softened, she sensed that his attitude toward her had changed.
"It makes a strange sort of sense," he admitted. "Each year, no matter where my cousin, Connor, is on his first wife’s birthday, he lights a candle for her. She died in 1582, by the way."
"Oh, so Connor’s your cousin. I wondered if you were related."
"You know about Connor?"
She glanced toward the disc on the table, and nodded.
"Did quite a bit of reading, didn’t you."
She nodded. "He still remembers Heather, all of these years later?"
Duncan nodded. "Connor doesn’t forget anything. Ever." He drank down the rest of his tea. "What exactly is it that you want me to do?"
"Find out what happened to Hugh--if he’s alive or dead. And make Mark leave me alone."
He sat forward on the couch. "Start at the beginning. Tell me about Mark."
It encouraged her that he was asking for more information. Coming to the couch, she dared to sit down on the corner furthest from her host. His proximity still had the ability to make her heart do somersaults.
"Mark and I dated in college, and got engaged right after graduation. Once the ring was on my finger, his personality changed. He didn’t want me seeing anyone else--including extended family and old friends. He wanted to be the only one in my life. I made excuses for him, telling myself that he was insecure, that things would settle once we were married. He just needed some time to learn that I really loved him, that he was the only man in my life. Then everything would be all right."
She shifted uneasily on the couch, remembering. "He was verbally abusive, and I tolerated it--mainly because he didn’t do it when we were around other people, and I didn’t know that I shouldn’t have had to tolerate it. He got worse as time passed. The abuse threatened to become physical as well as verbal.
"My family owned a few horses. Mark would torment the stable cats--slinging them by their tails and threatening to poison them until I cried and begged him to stop. ‘You love them, don’t you?’ he asked. When I said yes, the cats began disappearing, one by one. Whenever I started wondering if it was Mark making them disappear, I’d shove away the thought. I was young and ignorant, and I didn’t want to consider the possibilities.
"We were out in the ring one afternoon, readying a new horse for lungeing. In what he called a joke, Mark tied the nylon lunge line around my neck and threatened to spook the horse on the other end. Seeing this, my father leaped over the fence and threw Mark off the property. Afterward, as Dad helped work the horse, he interrogated me about Mark’s behavior. I admitted that it wasn’t the first time Mark had threatened to hurt me. Dad knew enough not to insist that I break off the engagement. Instead, he asked if I felt safe when I was with Mark. Did I trust him, did I want him touching me? That afternoon, I came to realize that Mark frightened me, and that I really didn’t want to tie myself to him.
"My father went with me to break off the engagement. When I gave back Mark’s ring, he didn’t say a word. Just took it and stood staring at me while his face turned red. The next week, Dad informed me that I was moving to New York. I didn’t argue. I think I sensed what might happen if I stayed within Mark’s reach. I moved and found a job with a large publishing house. My parents wouldn’t tell Mark where I’d gone, and my phone number was unpublished, so we lost touch.
"About ten months ago, Mark and I ran into each other at an bookseller’s convention. He’d become a regional manager for one of the larger chains. I was the publicist assigned to help Hugh promote his new book. After the convention, when Mark began harassing me in New York, Hugh talked me into moving to London and starting the bookstore. I don’t know how Mark found me in London, since I’ve been using a different name."
"He probably tracked you through your old employer."
She nodded. "Hugh disappeared weeks ago. I’ve frequently seen Mark peering through the bookstore display window, but when I go to the door, he’s not around. Someone’s jammed the shop lock twice, leaving a broken tool in it both times. I can just see Mark losing his temper while trying to pick the lock, and managing to break it.
"I told you about the car alarm, and about someone calling at rude hours. When I pick up the phone, they don’t say anything. They don’t hang up, either. Mark used to do this when we were in school, just for the hell of it. Since the phone’s in Hugh’s name, the phone company won’t put call tracing on it unless he requests it. I’m living in Hugh’s home and keeping things going at the shop, but this can’t go on indefinitely. The bookstore’s in both of our names, but the house is in his. No one else will look for Hugh: his parents are dead, and he was an only child. There’s no family left. Just me." She blinked, and sniffed discreetly; the tears were starting to get the better of her.
Duncan politely offered a napkin. "Has anything else happened?"
"A week ago, someone started putting dead things on the bookstore’s front step. Until then, I was the only one who ever opened the shop, so there’s no doubt who it was meant for. The first day, it was a bird. Next it was a squirrel, then a cat. I asked my assistant to open yesterday. She got another squirrel. Given my suspicions as to what Mark did to the stable cats, I’m afraid this might be the beginnings of a pattern that will only get worse. If he’s victimizing me this way, what comes next? Angie? The customers? Me? But worse than anything he could do to me--what’s he done to Hugh? I--I love him, Mr. MacLeod. I can’t bear that he’s missing, hurt...maybe dead. Because of me."
The tears won the battle, and she wept while Duncan sat silently for a long moment. Rising from the couch, he retrieved the disk Dana had brought. Even as she watched, he broke the disk in half, then broke it again. Dropping what remained into the trash, he reached for the phone.
"Can you tell me the flight you’re taking home to London?" he asked. "I need to make a reservation."
It feels good to be back in London, Duncan thought, exiting Heathrow to enter the parking garage, and deliberately slowing his stride to match Dana’s. Curse of the tall. I remember how Tessa used to complain that I practically made her run. And she had long legs. Lovely loooong legs.
A moment later, Duncan met Dana’s car.
He eyed the MG. "You’ve got to be kidding. I think I’d better take a taxi. Or the Tube."
She laughed and unlocked his side first. "It’s bigger than it looks."
"I don’t think so."
Dana slipped inside, and Duncan crammed himself beside her.
My kneecaps are in my ears, he observed, only slightly exaggerating.
"That’s not so bad, is it?" she asked of the human pretzel squashed beside her.
"Please tell me that your flat is bigger than this car."
She eyed him quizzically. "I think it is. I don’t know what you’ll think."
The trip into the city was uneventful, except for the fact that Dana kept trying to shift gears using Duncan’s kneecap, rather than the prescribed gearshift.
"Sorry," she muttered each time she made a grab for him.
I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not intentional, he snarked to himself, after nearly leaping out of his mini-seat for the fifth time. Who’s blushing more...her or me?
He turned his attention to staring at the view off of the A30 carriageway into London. Regardless the heavy industrial areas, Duncan thought the city was every bit as beautiful and full of promise as the first time he’d seen it. The Thames glittered, welcoming him home. Salmon fit for eating swam there now--something that hadn’t been possible for centuries.
They’ve cleaned it up beautifully. Even Big Ben, so I’ve heard.
Chelsea was Chelsea, and so was Tite Street. Neat brick houses stood in a row, each echoing its brother.
Glad they didn’t get bombed in the Blitz, Duncan reflected. So much was lost, then.
Dana’s parking space was waiting. Swinging into it, she shut off the engine and offered a bright smile. "Home at last. Thanks for coming with me."
"Wouldn’t have missed it for the world." He grunted as he pushed open the tin-can door. One long leg ventured out to stretch itself tentatively. The other followed with a bit more effort. And still, he sat there.
"Are you okay?" asked Dana, waiting for him curbside.
"My butt’s numb, but I’m fine. Just give me a minute to peel myself out of here.
Suiting action to words, Duncan unfolded himself from the car. Snap, crackle!, said his back.
"That didn’t sound good," said Dana.
"You’ll never get me back inside this car. Not ever," Duncan proclaimed, snagging his bag and sword case before Dana could.
Laughing, she led the way into the flat. "I’m putting you upstairs, in Hugh’s room."
Does it have this many books, too? he wondered, staring around the entry to the small apartment.
"Didn’t know you decorated in early literature," he observed, passing stack after shelf after box of books, books, books.
If Dana hadn’t told him what business Hugh was in, Duncan still would have known. Bookshelves lined every bit of available wallspace. And there were actually books in them. There seemed to be no rhyme, reason or sorting method. Children’s volumes were shoved in with nature tales were shoved in with biographies were shoved in with classics were shoved in with science fiction were shoved in with adventure were shoved in with sharks. If it had words on paper, in it went, evidently.
The shelves couldn’t hold it all, so floor stacks had been started up the sides of the stairs. Dana negotiated them easily, but Duncan had to slow down and brace his satchel on the balustrade, the better not to knock over a stack or two on his way up.
"I know it’s crowded," offered Dana, "but it’s Hugh. It looked like this when I got here. You said that you needed to get to know him in order to find him." She gestured broadly. "This is Hugh."
"Not necessarily. Not really. Not...well, only a little. He just likes books, that’s all. And this is his room." She pushed open a door to a tiny room.
Setting down his bag, Duncan glanced around the room. More books. Going to the closet, he slid the door aside. More books in boxes. No clothes. Two pairs of running shoes. Some boots. More books. Why am I not surprised.
Going to the antique chest of drawers, he glanced at Dana. "May I?"
First drawer. Underwear and socks. Second drawer. Sweaters many. T-shirts, many. Third drawer. Jeans. And nothing but.
A wallet lay atop the dresser. Glancing through it, Duncan found £80 in small bills, and a driver’s license containing information that nearly stopped his heart. The warm blue eyes and crooked smile of one of his longest and most trusted friends looked back at him. ‘Hugh Fitzcairn’ read the license.
Sweet Watcher’s database, Dana didn’t read far enough. Or closely enough, Duncan thought. If she had, she would have discovered that her boyfriend is one of us. And I considered saying no, that I wouldn’t, couldn’t help her? Hugh, forgive me. You’ll never know how close I came to abandoning you.
Duncan waved the wallet at Dana. "Most men keep their wallets with them. Was Hugh in the habit of leaving his behind?"
"No. But he disappeared on a Saturday afternoon. He went off to get some dinner for us at the store, and never came back. And since then, there’s been no word."
A few credit cards were keeping the cash company inside the wallet. Beyond that, only a photograph of Dana graced the calfskin.
Hugh isn’t the type to go off and leave without word, Duncan pondered. Especially when he was in a relationship that was working, with a store that I assume was profitable. And with a fine lady. Hugh’d never leave a fine lady. Unless he had her jewels in his pocket.
"Do you have anything related to Mark?" Duncan asked abruptly.
Dana led the way to her own room down the hall. Pulling a box loaded with scrap books and photo albums from beneath her bed, she handed up the first one.
"Right after Hugh disappeared, I called home and had my parents send over this stuff. But no official was interested in it, since no one believed my theory regarding Mark. I hope you can find something useful in this mess."
She sorted through the box as Duncan dared to settle on the bed and began flipping pages of the scrapbook.
Graduation announcements, greeting cards, a lock of hair from both their heads, the obligatory cards that came with floral arrangements, pressed roses and corsages...Therein were all of the trappings of a youth passed in the 70'--a youth that Duncan couldn’t identify with.
I don’t think there’s much here to help in any investigation, he thought, before seeing the postcards.
Sent by Mark from summer vacation for three years running, they had their own scrapbook.
"Bored as hell, wish you were here, the boy had written. I could kill Mom for dragging me all the way out here and making me stay in these stinking casinos while she’s off working." The postcard was a photo of Harrahs of Las Vegas--the free kind found in chests of drawers in hotel rooms.
"What was Mark’s mother doing in Nevada?"
"He used to tell me that she was a prostitute, but I think she really was a dealer. At least, she talked about having gone to school to become a dealer."
Maybe she was both, surmised Duncan.
"Mark said that she had to go to Vegas each summer to afford living in Baltimore the rest of the year."
"Atlantic City was a lot closer. I wonder why she didn’t work there." Duncan removed three more postcards from their safety sheets.
"Her ex-husband had family in Atlantic City."
"So Mark came from a broken family?"
Dana shrugged. "I guess. Her second husband was Mark’s stepfather. I never heard him mention his real father."
"Hi, Sweet Dana," Duncan read. I’m sitting by the pool watchin’ the babes walk by, wishing it was you and not them. Two more weeks and we’re coming home. How many kisses you got waiting for me?"
Duncan scanned the rest of the cards to discover much of the same.
"You’d better not be seein’ anybody else. If you do, I’ll punch him bloody. Just kiddin’ babe. I know you’re true to me. But I’m calling you tonight and you better be home.
So even then there were signs of his insecurity and possessiveness? Duncan thought.
Duncan took the photograph she held out.
"This is the last picture of us together, taken the day were engaged. He doesn’t look much different now, except that his hair’s a little shorter."
If Dana was a slight 5’4", then Mark was a 6’3", wiry man with a long face and shoulder-length black hair.
He’s all arms and legs, thought Duncan. Like an adolescent who never filled out.
There was nothing unusual about the man, except his eyes. They looked a bit more manic, a bit more amused than they should have. Duncan handed the picture back to Dana.
"What do you think?" she probed.
"I think that you might have a point about Mark."
She smiled tightly. "At last, somebody believes me. So where do we start?"
Rising from the bed, Duncan wandered over to the window. "If Mark’s watching you, he probably saw me arrive. With my luggage." Lifting the curtain, he peered out, into the narrow alley between Tite Street and Paradise Walk. "We already know that he’s the jealous type. Acting as though I’ve replaced Hugh might lure him out of the woodwork."
"As though you’ve replaced..." Dana shook her head and frowned. "I’m not certain I understand. How, exactly, are you thinking about replacing Hugh?"
"I’ll take you out to dinner tonight and work with you in the store tomorrow. And we’ll be friendly with each other."
Dana’s mouth opened, but Duncan held up a hand, grinning.
"Not that friendly, Dana. Just enough. Mark will get used to seeing us together. Hopefully, he won’t be able to stand it. Of course, for this plan to work, it’s going to need some affection on both our parts." He glanced over his shoulder. "Think you can manage that?"
She looked suspicious. "What sort of affection?
"Hand-holding. The odd kiss. Believe me, nothing more serious. Or strenuous. Just a visual performance."
He grinned at her. "I’m an older man. My heart can’t take much."
She eyed the muscles outlined beneath the t-shirt he wore. "I can see that. I’ll have to be careful not to over-tax your strength. You did say something about dinner?"
"Do you have someplace close in mind?"
"Foxtrot Oscar’s right around the corner."
"Foxtrot..." He raised a quizzical eyebrow.
"Oscar," she confirmed. "As in Wilde? He used to live up the street, and the restaurant’s probably in his honor. It’s a trendy little place, full of Sloane Rangers and students, but the food is good."
He gestured toward the door. "Lead on."
* * *
On the walk to the restaurant, she snuggled against him and slipped her arm through his as though she’d been doing it for days. Giving him an adoring look, she rubbed her cheek on his shoulder.
"Am I overdoing it?"
"Not at all." He grinned down at her. "We could kiss on the street corner, but that might be over the top."
"Mmm. Turn left."
He turned. The restaurant was right there, and Dana led the way inside. Over the next hour, Duncan discovered that it was surprisingly easy to be with Dana. She wasn’t Tessa, by any means, and little things kept reminding him of that fact. He hadn’t realized how often Tessa had made him laugh, until he began spending time with someone that he had to make laugh. He worked hard at it, as he was learning that Dana’s natural mood was Very Serious. Had it been that way before Hugh’s departure? Duncan doubted it: Hugh wasn’t the type to stay serious around.
Dinner was a quiet, uneventful affair in the back of the small restaurant, with Duncan seated with his back to the door and Dana watching for Mark, in case he chose to make an appearance.
"I don’t think he will," was Duncan’s assessment. "It’s too public, too obvious. If he’s watching, it’ll be from across the street. Someplace inconspicuous."
"No fisticuffs outside the door?"
Duncan shook his head. "He knows nothing about me. Yet. If he’s the stalker I think he is, he’ll watch and wait, get my measure before trying to lure me out. He certainly must have learned how to get to Hugh."
"I hadn’t thought about that. I wonder what he did to Hugh?" She frowned into her shrimp scampi. "Well, I’m not going to think about this any more tonight. You’re here, I’m safe, and wherever Hugh is, I hope he’s safe, too. I’m going to enjoy my dinner...even if I have to pretend to do it."
* * *
"There’s Mark," murmured Dana the next morning as they walked up Kings Road, on the way to the Sloane Square underground station.
"At the newspaper stand. Trying to hide behind The Daily News."
Ushering Dana down the station steps, Duncan stole a look at the man in question. The open hostility of his gaze came as no surprise to Duncan, who met it with unruffled coolness, and a nod.
Catching up with Dana, he took her hand. "It’s all right. You’re safe. And I’ll make sure you stay that way."
She handed him his ticket. "You don’t think it’s my overactive imagination, then? You think I might be justified in my fear of Mark?"
Dana gave a shudder that was almost a sob. "I may be safe, but what about Hugh?"
Duncan declined to answer, but it was highly probably that Hugh Fitzcairn was not safe at all.
The morning passed quietly, with Duncan making Angie’s acquaintance and then settling into the business of pretending to be a bookseller.
Joe should be here, he thought, helping Angie sort new books on the trolley, in preparation to trucking them around the store, filing them onto the shelves. Not only could he teach me a lot, he could help shelve stuff. At least I can do a better job than Hugh. Duncan grinned to himself. His filing system at home was as impulsive as his life. No wonder he needed a partner.
A quick glance up from told him that Dana was doing the same job he was, safely nearby. And what a partner. Hugh always had great taste in women.
Keeping a constant eye on the crowd moving past the front windows all morning, Duncan watched for Mark but didn’t see him.
He’s there, he thought. Out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind with that joker. That type never gives up. And it never ends without somebody’s death, if you let them play out the game.
"Do you want me to go out and bring back some lunch?" he asked about two.
Dana looked up, startled, then glanced at her watch. "I had no idea it was that late. Things have gotten so far behind here, with Hugh gone. There’s just so much to do."
"Lunch?" Duncan prompted.
"Oh. Sure. Yeah, now that I think about it, I’m starving." She smiled at him, then turned toward the desk by the front door. Taking twenty pounds from the drawer, Dana handed it to him. "There’s a Chinese restaurant a few doors up. Just tell them it’s the usual for us, and order whatever you’d like. Tea is free."
"Naturally." Stuffing the bills into his pocket, Duncan left the store.
In less than a minute, Duncan had Mark tagged. The man was perched precariously on the branch of an oak tree in a small park across the road. A small, pirate-sized spyglass clutched in his hands, he had it trained on the bookstore.
He hides in a tree and nobody ever notices? Duncan grinned to himself. Nobody ever looks up. Hugh probably never looked up. Hugh was probably too busy looking at Dana. I wonder what Mark does when it rains? Amateurs, he snorted to himself as he strolled casually down the street, hunting the appealing smells wafting from the Chinese restaurant.
"I found your boyfriend," Duncan announced over his almond chicken in the back room a half an hour later.
Dana’s eyes widened. "Hugh?"
"Umm, no. Wrong boyfriend. Sorry, I should have been more specific." He offered an apologetic grin. "Mark’s up in a tree across the street."
Dana stabbed at a wonton. "He would. So what do we do?"
He shrugged. "Go about our bookish business. Hug occasionally. Touch noses. Make him crazy. Let his butt go numb."
Narrowing her eyes, Dana lifted her chin. "It’ll be a pleasure. And I hope he gets tent caterpillars or aphids or something. Where it hurts."
True to her word, Dana made it look good. The pleasure, unfortunately, was all hers. Duncan found it discomfiting when someone other than Tessa snuck up behind him to stroke his back, nuzzle his neck, and slip in between him and a bookcase to plant a warm kiss on his lips.
He did his best to respond, sliding his arms around her hips and molding her against him, but anyone who knew him would also have known that his heart wasn’t in it. Angie’s startled yelp behind them told Duncan that his performance--however lackluster--was still good enough to fool the hired help. And, therefore, probably Mark. No, make that definitely good enough to upset hothead, unstable Mark.
Dark came early to London in the fall, and so it was that Duncan bade good-bye to Angie and Dana at six o’clock that night, promising to lock up after them. He and Dana parted with a kiss in the well-lit shop, and Dana assured him that she would be all right with Angie accompanying her to the tube station.
Duncan made an elaborate show of pretending to lock the front door behind the two women, of disappearing into the back of the shop and shutting off the lights. Sneaking through the bins of books and back to the front window, Duncan was in time to see Mark drop out of the tree and begin following Dana and Angie down the street.
Slipping easily into the darkness, pausing only to lock the front door after himself, Duncan stuck to the shadows and padded after Mark, stalking the stalker with far more efficiency.
Dana and Angie parted at the Tube station, with Mark following Dana. He rode the same train to Sloane Square, got off, and hung back as Dana climbed the stairs from the Tube to street level. Every few steps, Dana would pause to cast a look down at the crowds behind her. Once, she met Duncan’s gaze and skittered right on, smart enough to know not to acknowledge his presence. Turning, she hurried up the stairs, acting as though she didn’t want to be caught alone on the dark streets waiting above.
Mark followed Dana home, as Duncan expected, but the man lagged behind when she approached her front door. Fumbling with the key, Dana made it unmolested inside the house, and Mark strolled down the opposite side of the street without giving the front door a second look. Pausing at a Victorian house that had long been converted into apartments on the opposite side of the street, Mark let himself in.
How convenient, thought Duncan. Bringing out a credit card and jimmying the lock, Duncan snuck inside moments behind Mark and listened at the bottom of the stairs.
...second floor (or first floor, as they call it over here)...third floor...Oh, so you live on the third floor. The apartment overlooking the street. So you can watch Dana all of the time, eh? Weren’t you just the lucky bastard to find this flat.
Climbing the stairs after Mark, Duncan was struck by the buzz signaling that another immortal was nearby.
Mark’s an immortal? Well, now...that improves things.
Reaching the third floor landing, Duncan palmed the familiar hilt of his katana, and drew it into the light. Thus prepared, he rapped firmly on the door.
The door opened. Mark’s sullen face appeared in the narrow, chained opening between door and doorframe. Duncan watched his eyes widen in shock, the color drain from his face.
Time for introductions.
Duncan held the sword over his head, poised and ready for battle. "I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. And we have something to discuss."
"Holy shi--" Mark yelped, then threw his weight against the door, trying to slam is shut, but Duncan’s heavier frame was there, ramming the door against Mark’s shoulder, shattering the flimsy security chain, and driving him backward.
Following through, Duncan nearly cut off Mark’s nose. "I don’t kill unarmed men. I suggest that you find your sword. And don’t worry. It’ll be a fair fight."
All of the blood drained from Mark’s face as Duncan advanced, kicking closed the door behind him and standing ready once more.
"You want the sword, take the sword!" Mark shrieked. "Please...please just don’t hurt me!" A dark stain spread over his crotch as he wet himself. Shivering against the paneling, he began sobbing and hid his face.
Reaching down, Duncan grabbed the man by his shirt collar. Forcing him to his feet, Duncan shouted over his screams. "I don’t want your sword. I want your head!"
"Le-Let me go," he managed through chattering teeth, fingers digging uselessly into Duncan’s arm. "I’ll get it for you, I promise."
I’ve made a mistake, thought Duncan. This can’t be an immortal.
Disgusted, he released Mark so quickly, the man hadn’t time to get his legs back under him. Crumbling to the floor, Mark had to half-crawl, half-stumble down the hall and into an adjoining room. Seconds later, he slunk back with something that looked suspiciously like a sword wrapped in a towel.
"I didn’t steal it, honest," he whimpered. "It was on him when I took him."
Unwrapping the sword, Duncan identified it as a very familiar, 17th Century rapier. The initials HF that were part of the ornate handle erased all doubt of whose sword it was.
With Fitzcairn’s sword in Duncan’s left hand, and his own katana in his right, the Highlander advanced. "Did you kill him?"
Stumbling backward, Mark fell over himself trying to get away. "Uh--No!"
Rolling onto his side, he climbed up the couch and over it, putting the heavy piece of furniture between him and Duncan. "Man, relax. The neighbors--they’ll hear all this. They’ll call the cops. They’re fussy old Brits--they’ll do it. You better get out of here--"
The Highlander walked calmly around the couch to bring the katana within a hair’s breadth of Mark’s throat. As it was, a fine line of blood spread across the skin.
"What did you do with Hugh’s body?"
Eyes widening as he felt something wet drift down his neck, Mark reached up a hand and began shrieking when his fingers came away bloody. Backing away from Duncan, he ran across the hallway and into the kitchen. Grabbing a paper towel, he reached for the phone.
The katana bit through the wire. A moment later, Mark’s face kissed the refrigerator and stayed there. The rapier took up residence between his eyes, which crossed as Mark tried to focus. Duncan planted the tip of his katana at the base of Mark’s skull.
"Tell me what you did with the body."
Mark gasped. "Got rid...."
Flailing about, Mark tried to point, only to be rewarded by the katana drawing blood.
Duncan let the man breathe a little as his knees threatened to buckle again. "Where?"
Duncan stepped back. The bloody paper towel that had been caught between Mark and the refrigerator floated to the floor. He didn’t try to retrieve it. It was just as well; Mark was trembling so badly, Duncan doubted that he could have completed the effort.
"Show me," the Highlander ordered.
Scuttling sideways and trying to keep Duncan always in view, Mark headed for the living room. His trembling crab-walk came to a halt before the fireplace, and Mark pointed to the floor. He was quaking so badly it was hard to tell exactly where the wobbling finger was pointing, but it seemed to be downward.
"You buried him there?"
A convulsive movement of the head came in answer to the question. Duncan took it as a nod. The buzz coming from beneath his feet told him that the immortal in question was very much alive, and might like some visitors.
"Rip up the boards. Now."
Mark stared at him. "No way! He’s gonna b-be really g-gross. All rotten. I can’t."
"Noooo," Mark wailed. "I c-can’t. He’s a rotten, stinking corpse, and I can’t look at that. I’ll throw up or pass out or something."
The tears looked genuine, but Duncan was far from sympathetic. If you think this is bad, just wait for the shock you’re about to get. Duncan smiled slightly, and lifted the katana. "You should have thought of that before."
Resting the flat of the katana on his shoulder, Duncan made a vague motion with Hugh’s sword. The message--and choice--was clear: Do it or join him.
Mark’s protests deteriorated into small hysterical whimpers as he sank slowly to his hands and knees. Two sobs later he retrieved a bloody crowbar from beneath the couch.
"Is that what you used on Hugh?"
Another convulsive jerk of the head.
"Oh, he’s going to rather angry about that." Crowbars hurt. Fractured skulls hurt, and, Immortal or no, the headache is vile and lasts for days.
Mark made several attempts at fitting the prybar between the stones, his shaking hands knocking it out of place repeatedly before it bit down and he could throw his weight on it, popping the stones free of their cement. Yanking up the surrounding boards, he gestured at what looked like a heavy, black plastic body bag.
"Gotta get a knife," he stammered.
"Don’t bother." Leaning over the hole in the floor, Duncan swept his katana carefully across the plastic.
Mark immediately clapped his hand over nose and mouth, squeezing his eyes shut.
"Will you stop that!" Duncan commanded, pulling down the man’s arm. "Just get out of the way."
Leaning farther over, he swept aside a brown-stained blanket and revealed Hugh Fitzcairn. Tied hand and foot and gagged, the immortal’s long hair was plastered to his head, long-dried blood was smeared across his face. Fully conscious, he glowered at his captor.
The high scream behind him told Duncan that Mark had recovered the fortitude to open his eyes.
"Alive! Oh, God--he’s alive--He’s aliiiiiive—"
"I can see that!" shouted Duncan. "Get him out of there, man!"
"Noooooo! He’ll kill me. If I let him go, he’ll kill me!"
"Probably. But fair’s fair. You killed him, didn’t you?" Duncan gestured at the gag.
Mark hesitantly removed it.
A string of vitriolic Gaelic was released. Duncan smiled. Fully healed, I hear. So much for the gentle bookseller of Charing Cross Road. "Untie him."
"I told you; he’ll kill me!"
Duncan nodded. "Now untie him."
Shaking his head, Mark backed off. Exasperated, Duncan leaned down as Hugh lifted his hands, so that the katana could do the work Mark would not.
Sitting up carefully, Hugh rubbed his wrists. "I’m very glad to see you again, old friend. Thank you for the rescue." His voice was raspy from disuse. "Glad to see that you’ve got my sword."
Cold blue eyes rested on Mark. "Soon as I get my feet under me, laddie, you’re going to meet whatever God you call your own. That’s a promise."
Climbing awkwardly from his dusty coffin, Hugh slowly stretched the kinks out of his back.
"Bloody weeks, that’s how long I’ve been down there," he snarled. "Nothing to drink, nothing to eat. Nothing to listen to, but the rats. Couldn’t clobber the boards to make a sound. Buried alive, I was."
"Oh, rather like that week in Italy? But that time, you had some company." Duncan grinned at his friend. "An attractive little serving wench, as I remember."
"This was not at all like Italy, and she was a beautiful lady." Hugh glowered, then smiled that crooked smile that made Duncan grin even wider. "I got more rest, this time, for sure, laddie."
"And how did you let this fool take you? You’re better than that. Are you getting old, or just feeble-minded from the drink?"
"I go for us some supper, and this bloody American waves me down and asks directions to Victoria Station. In helpful Anglo-Irish fashion, I turned to point the way. Next thing I know, he cracks me upside the head, busts my skull, and shoves me into the car. I wake up here, right as Immortal rain, but can’t do a wonderful thing to save myself. Thought I’d be down there forever, I did. Thank you, Duncan MacLeod."
Offering his hand, he clasped arms with Duncan MacLeod, then saw the return of his sword. Turning it, Hugh let the blade catch the light.
"I owe you a drink or two at the Ripper," he said, referencing a pub in the East End that had seen better days, but was always good for a game of darts and an astonishing, extensive argument over current politics.
"I think you’d best go home first," Duncan grinned. "There’s another sweet wench as would like to see you."
"Dana!" Hugh exclaimed, slapping his palm to his forehead. "My poor sweet, frightened Dana. She must be frantic. Did this lout hurt her? I promised to keep her safe. But the first month out--" Standing unsteadily, Hugh glowered at Mark.
"He scared her good" said the Highlander, "but I don’t think he ever came close to her. I’ve been with her for a bit."
Hugh raised an eyebrow. "How did you find her? How could you even know about her?"
"Didn’t. She found me."
"Found you? How? Why?"
Duncan grinned. "Wanted a better man, I’d guess. Long story, Fitzy. Gotta get you home. But before we go, what are we going to do with him?" He jerked a thumb toward their cowering host.
"Oh, he’s mine," growled Fitzcairn. "I’ve a lot to pay him for--old insults and new. Yes, I could hear you down there. And then there’s Dana’s insults to settle."
Sword clutched firmly in hand, Hugh began advancing murderously toward Mark.
"Get away from me!" squeaked Mark
"Where I come from, there can be only one," Hugh said murderously.
"One...what?" Mark asked, in terrified fascination.
"One man for Dana, one of her choosing," said Fitzcairn, growing stronger by the moment. "You should have stayed across the Pond, Marcus me boy. Stayed where it was safe, with your memories of the lady who doesn’t want you."
"Are you going to hurt me?"
"Not at all."
Mark relaxed visibly, until Hugh flexed his fingers on the rapier’s hilt and continued.
"I’m going to take your head, which won’t hurt a bit." Hugh’s tone said that should have been obvious. "Cheer up, little boy. You’ve had a good run. It’s not every century somebody manages to nest me under their hearth."
Wide-eyed, Mark backed up.
"Don’t raise your hands that way, fool, else you’ll give the mortician something else to sew on. You wouldn’t care to hold him steady for me, would you, Duncan?"
"I don’t think so."
"It’s nothing personal, mind you," Hugh remarked, continuing to stalk his victim. "It’s just that if I let you live, Dana won’t ever be free of you. Neither will I. One day, you’ll probably get it into your head to kill her, and that just won’t do."
"I love her!" Mark was sniveling, wiping the back of his hand under his nose. "I’d never hurt her."
"You already have. Now, be a good boy. Turn around and face the window so you’ll not see the blade. I’ve already promised you won’t feel a thing. Quick and neat--though not clean," he added ruefully. I’m afraid you’ll make quite a mess."
In the end, Mark did turn around, and Hugh did take his head. A moment later, he and Duncan were tuning out the lights and leaving the front door slightly ajar before sneaking down the stairs.
"Do you think we should have stuffed him under the floor boards?" Hugh grinned.
"I don’t think the neighbors deserve those remains." Grasping his friend’s collar, Duncan stopped him on the stairs. "And you’ve always told me you were English. What’s all that Gaelic I just heard?"
Hugh was searching his pockets for his pipe--which appeared to be lost.
"What of it?" He shrugged. "With a name like Fitzcairn, how could I have been English? You’ve always had the corner on Celtic immortality. I figured there should be only one." He grinned at his companion. "How did you find me?"
"Dana asked me to."
"Dana...beautiful, gentle Dana." As they emerged from the building out onto Tite Street, Hugh’s eyes sought the front door to his house across the street. "How has she been? Is she home now?"
"She loves you. How do you think she’s been? And yes, she’s home."
Letting themselves quietly into the house, Hugh motioned his companion to follow him up the stairs to the second floor.
"Duncan, is that you?" She caught them as Hugh gathered towels from the hall closet and headed for the shower.
The highlander appeared at the top of the stairs. "It’s me."
"Any word on Hugh?"
Duncan glanced toward Hugh, who waved frantically back. It was a moment before Duncan could interpret all the flapping to mean, "Keep your mouth shut!"
He smiled. "We’re a lot closer than we were to finding him."
"Really? Is he alive?" Off his nod, she danced in place. "Oh, Duncan, that’s wonderful news! Will it be soon?""
"Um...sooner than you’ll think. I’ll tell you about it at supper, all right?"
All smiles, she nodded. "Come down when you’re ready."
Taking a shower, Hugh washed away all traces of his ordeal. Reappearing in his bedroom, where Duncan was waiting for him, Hugh cast off his towel and dove into his chest of drawers for a fresh set of clothes.
"Should I stay up here while you and Dana have your reunion?" Duncan asked.
"Good heavens, no. She’ll want to know all of the details, and when we tell her that we’ve known each other for a very long time, she’ll want to know all about that, too."
"You’re forgetting that she doesn’t know you’re an Immortal."
He paused in the act of putting on his jeans. "You’re right. I’d forgotten about that."
"Well, she knows I’m an Immortal. It seems that she found one of the Watcher’s disks in a book shipment to your store. Traced me to Paris with it."
"A what? A disk? With all of us on it? Who the bloody hell was stupid enough to make that up? We’ve got to go string him up by his balls! Is he a Hunter? Are there more disks out there just waiting to be discovered?"
"It’s alright, Fitzy. The matter’s already taken care of, so put on your shirt. I destroyed the last copy. We’re all safe."
"Y’sure? I don’t fancy having this happen again."
Fitzcairn grinned. "You’re a good friend, y’know? I’m definitely in your debt. I’ll have to make this up to you somehow."
"I’m sure. But you’ve better things to think about tonight." Duncan clasped his shoulder. "Come on."
Coming down the stairs, the two were in time to see Dana take a casserole from the oven.
"Would you mind setting the table for two?" she asked.
"You’d better make that for three, my love," Hugh said from the doorway.
Freezing for a moment, she squealed and dropped the casserole, shattering pyrex, and spreading cheese and broccoli across the linoleum. Flying over the mess, she threw herself against Fitzcairn, buried her nose in his neck, and burst into tears.
Grinning as Hugh shrugged and hugged her back, Duncan retreated. "I’ll go out and get something to replace that."
Leaving the house, he pondered, You’ve got to love happy endings. Dana’s a lot younger than Fitzy, even in terms of appearance, but there’s a lot of love there. I guess Tessa was right. Age doesn’t matter. Heart does.
He headed toward a Kentucky Fried Chicken he’d seen on King’s Road. Oh, Tessa...I miss you. I used to see that kind of devotion in your eyes and wondered if you really understood me, understood my life. Now, and far too late, I know that you did.
Right now, Hugh and Dana are probably sitting in the living room. Hugh’s sword is in her lap, and she’s asking why he didn’t tell her about what he is. They all ask that. And the answer is always the same...The Gift must be kept secret.
But, oh, what a gift your love and understanding were, Tessa. I took it so much for granted, as I took our years and our life together for granted. I will always miss you. I will always remember you. You gave me so much, loved me so much, and we never even got to say good-bye. Sometimes, that’s the hardest part of having lost you...Never having gotten to say good-bye.
Wiping away tears, Duncan wandered into the fast-food restaurant. This cheap, greasy fare would have to be a suitable substitute for Dana’s ruined casserole; Duncan simply hadn’t any interest in wandering further afield for less fattening fare. It probably wouldn’t matter to anyone tonight, anyway. Hugh and Dana would never really taste it--even if they could tear themselves away from each other long enough for a few bites.
Returning to the house, Duncan delivered supper and tried hard to join in Hugh and Dana’s happiness at the table. But his gladness was forced, and his attention wandered far too often than even instant potatoes and grungy cole slaw warranted.
"What’s wrong?" asked Hugh eventually, after it became obvious that Duncan really wasn’t interested in the conversation. "You’re certainly off beam here, not your cheery self at all. What don’t I know about?"
"A few months ago, I lost someone for whom I cared very deeply," came the quiet reply.
"Tessa? That beautiful blond with all the legs?"
Duncan nodded, chin tight and eyes hardening as he fought the wave of sorrow that came with the memory of the last time he had held her.
"Did she finally wise up and find someone new then? Someone not--" Hugh let his voice trail off at Duncan’s stricken look.
"She’s dead." Duncan’s voice was flat, emotionless.
"Oh, laddie. I’m so sorry." Hugh’s eyes filled with sympathy and shared pain.
"Seeing you two together..." Duncan shrugged. "I miss Tessa. That’s all."
"That’s all?" said Dana. "That’s quite a lot. When I thought Hugh was gone, it was everything."
"No matter. Life happens. At least you two have another shot. A life, with honesty and love." He gave Fitzcairn a hard look.
Hugh winced. "Yes, yes, I’ll get to that."
"Which, the love or the honesty?" demanded Dana.
"The love is here, my darlin’, and always will be. And I’ll share with you everything, always."
Dana smiled, the special kind of smile that sent tingles down Duncan spine. And it wasn’t even aimed at him: Hugh was going to be as mindless as a pudding in short order. Time to excuse myself.
"I have to be going," Duncan announced, rising to his feet.
"Oh, must you?" The words were proper, but Dana’s eyes never left Hugh. Her fingers were dancing up his arm.
"Truly? Must you?" added Fitzy, waving Duncan toward the door with his free hand.
Duncan smiled and shook his head. "Time to bed. I’ve got business back in Paris anyway. Call me, Fitz?"
"Count on it."
Leaving the table, Duncan sought the front door. Hugh’s voice floated out with Dana’s giggle a moment before he closed the front door.
"Sure I will call him...in about five years or so, when I’ve had my way with you."
Duncan scuffed down the stairs, and out into the damp London dark.
Wonder when the first plane to Paris leaves? he mused absently, around the ache in his heart. They love each other so much. Just like Tessa and I. At least they’ve got another chance. Maybe now they’ll be wiser than I was, and treasure every moment.
They should. Love like that is too rare, and too hard to come by. I should know. Tessa, I love you. I miss you.
With that, Duncan headed off into the immortal darkness.
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OBIGATORY DISCLAIMER: The Highlander stories here are entertainment only, and no money is earned from them. They are not intended to infringe upon the rights held by Davis/Panzer Productions Inc., Peter Davis and/or William Panzer, Christian Charret and/or Marla Ginsburg, Gregory Widen, Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment, Hemdale Home Video, Lamb Bear Entertainment, Transfilm-Lumiere-Fallingcloud Productions, Dimension Films, Miramax, Republic Pictures, Lumiere Pictures, Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment or any of their affiliates, associates, distributors, or subsidiaries. The stories are Copyright © 1995, 1997, 2008 for the authors. All Rights Reserved.