Tessa looked up as Duncan appeared in the bedroom doorway. His expression was one of mixed emotions, but she could see the phone call had been a good one.
“That was Gregor?” she asked. At his nod, she added, “He’s all right?”
“So far, so good,” he said. “He was calling to let me know he’s doing better, and to thank me.” He unfastened the buttons on his shirt, then sat on the edge of the bed to pull off his boots. A small smile curved one corner of his mouth. “He said he’s thinking about going back to medical school.”
“Really?” Tessa, who’d been brushing her hair, paused mid-stroke. Less than two weeks ago, Gregor had almost forced Duncan to kill him. Could he really have come so far in a matter of weeks?
“That’s what he said.” Duncan gave a small shrug. “Don’t know if he’ll go through with it, but it’s a start.” Barefoot, shirt open, he came over and held out a hand. “May I?”
She gave him the hairbrush, and watched in the mirror as he stood behind her, drawing it through her hair with long, gentle strokes. “You must really have made an impression on him,” she said, relaxing under his attention.
“You could say that,” Duncan agreed. After a moment, he added, “Sometimes a brush with death can make you realize how much you want to stay alive.”
Tessa didn’t immediately reply. The fire crackled; her belly was pleasantly full of the dinner Duncan had cooked for her. Waves of pleasure followed Duncan’s touches against her scalp, and in that moment, she felt particularly glad to be alive.
“I hate that he put you in that position,” she murmured, eyes half-closed. “I know how much you cared about him.”
“He called me for a reason,” Duncan replied. “He was trying to ask for help, the only way he knew how.”
She captured his hand, and kissed the inside of his wrist. “He knew he could trust you.” Turning on the stool and looking up at him, she saw, as always, the honorable and kind man she loved.
“I guess so,” he agreed reluctantly.
Tessa rose, keeping his hand in hers. As always, the attraction between them sparked and warmed easily. She never had to wonder if he found her beautiful—all she had to do was look at him. She understood, because it was the same for her. Reaching for the clasp in his hair, she slid it free, sensing the way his breathing quickened as she ran her fingers through his soft hair.
“Take me to bed?” she asked.
* * *
Hours later, she held him in her arms, his head resting heavy against her breast. He’d needed this tonight, perhaps even more than she had. Her body ached and tingled with how much he’d needed it.
Eventually, her thoughts wandered, and she found herself thinking about Gregor Powers again—about the hurtful things he’d said to her at the racetrack. How do you handle knowing that one day he's going to watch you grow old, wrinkle, and then die... and eventually move on to somebody else? That last part particularly stung, especially when she thought about Linda Plager.
“You’re still awake,” Duncan said after a minute or two. He shifted and kissed her on the forehead, then pulled her into his arms. “What are you thinking about?”
He’d never told Linda or any of his other lovers about his immortality. Only her, he’d said. Which made her wonder… “Are there others like us?” she asked at last. “Like you and me?”
“You mean, Immortals and mortals who choose to be together?”
“To make their lives together. To stay together for a lifetime.” She teased at the hair on his chest, waiting for his answer.
“There have been. Yes.”
“What are you asking?”
“How did they manage it, do you think?” She shifted so she could see his face. He wore that far-away, bittersweet look that she knew meant he was remembering something from long ago—probably long before she was born. Something sad, she would guess.
“I imagine the same way mortals do. One day at a time.”
* * *
She didn’t remember falling asleep. What woke her, though, was Duncan jerking fiercely beside her, then shouting a hoarse cry, “No!” He thrashed, his elbow catching her in the side. She sat up and caught hold of his shoulders, shaking him.
“Duncan. Duncan!” He woke abruptly, sweating and trembling, breathing as though he’d been running. “Shh,” she soothed him, putting a hand against his chest. She could feel his heart racing. “It’s okay. You’re all right.”
He said it in a small, little-boy voice, as if he were still half-caught in the dream. It clenched in her stomach, unsettling her. She wasn’t used to being the strong one, but lately, it seemed he needed that.
“It’s okay. We’re okay. I’m here.” She stroked his hair, damp and tangled, back from his face.
“I was dreaming,” he said, almost a question.
“I’d say so.” Tessa’s own heart rate began to return to normal. “Must have been a bad one.”
“It was.” His eyes were wide, and he searched out her face in the shadows, lifting a hand to trace her features as if he wasn’t sure she was real. She could feel him shaking. “I thought—" His hand dropped to the space between her breasts, pressing close.
“Hey, it’s okay,” she said again. At last, he opened his arms and she went, hugging him as best she could, resting her weight on him. “I’m here.” Some minutes passed, and gradually he calmed, but when she asked gently, “Do you want to talk about it?” he grunted no.
“It was just a dream,” he said. “I’m sorry I woke you.”
He held her, and eventually, she slept. When she woke again in the chill of early morning, his side of the bed was cold.
* * *
They planned to re-open the store in two days, so the next day was a busy one for all of them. If Duncan was preoccupied, Tessa could barely spare time to wonder about it. She also had a park dedication coming up in two weeks, and the mounting still wasn’t finished. They didn’t stop for lunch, and probably would have worked through dinner as well, if Duncan hadn’t insisted on fixing a quick meal of soup and sandwiches.
Richie ate for two, and Tessa couldn’t blame him—Duncan had sent him running all over town all morning, then moving furniture for most of the afternoon. The hard work didn’t seem to dampen his spirits, and he chattered on about Halloween, motor cross, and the people he’d met that day.
“I met this girl, I think she’s like, some kind of palm reader. Her uncle owns a bar up on Robson. It’s not like, a regular bar, though. They have pool tables, but it’s nice. Classy, you know? You two would like it.” At Duncan’s expression, he laughed. “No, I’m serious! She took me up to see it before they opened. Trust me, it’s your kind of place. Got an actual wine cellar and everything.”
“Why don’t we go tonight?” Tessa suggested. Duncan could use a distraction. First Darius, then Gregor and Linda, then Michael Moore—it was no wonder he was having nightmares. Richie deserved a break, too, after all his hard work. They all did.
“Really?” asked Richie, surprised. “You serious?”
“Sure, why not? We can celebrate re-opening the store. What do you say?”
Duncan looked surprised, too, but seeing that she meant it, he acquiesced. “Yeah, sure. If you say so. Sounds like fun.”
* * *
Do you think there’s such a thing as fate? Something that drew us together?
I think what drew us together was you.
* * *
When she was younger, Tessa had always pictured herself being married one day. It wasn’t something she thought about a lot, but it was always there, a vague future certainty. A husband. Children. Focused on her art as she was, she’d still thought, one day, that would be her life. Then she’d met Duncan, and the picture had faded, reshaping itself into something different. Something real, and valuable. She still sometimes had a pang or two, but she’d chosen her life, and she didn’t believe in holding on to regret.
On the night that Duncan proposed to her, Tessa fell asleep feeling safe, loved, desired, and content. Some might say it was strange for them to get married after all this time, but to her, it made sense. It felt right. So much had happened in the past year—their lives together had been tested against the weight and stress of Immortality, and the ties that bound them together had held, and strengthened. Duncan asking her to marry him was, for him, an act of faith and trust. It was a promise of forever, and he asked the same of her. She hadn’t known until he did so that she had it in her, not for certain. But he’d asked, and she’d heard only ‘yes’ in her heart.
In the hour before dawn, Duncan woke beside her, crying out. She was so deeply asleep, it took her several moments to realize he was having a nightmare again, perhaps worse than before. He sobbed.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” Tessa struggled to get her bearings. Duncan sat up, breath labored. He swung his feet to the floor and rushed into the bathroom. She paled when she heard him retching. “Mac?”
At last, he stopped. He flushed the toilet, then turned the water on and leaned down to wash his face and swish water into his mouth. She rose and followed, leaning one hand on the door frame. “Duncan? Talk to me.”
He straightened up and met her eyes in the mirror. “I’m all right.”
“You don’t look it.”
He let out a breath, bracing himself on the sink, and bowed his head so she couldn’t see his face. “Go back to bed, sweetheart.”
From the way he said it, she knew he had no intention of joining her. He had nightmares from time to time—of course he did. She’d had her share as well. But in thirteen years, she’d never known him to look as shaken as he did right now. She’d never known him so terrified as to make himself sick. Something was deeply wrong; she knew it. But Duncan was locked in protective mode, and it would take a careful approach to get him to tell her what was really going on.
“Tell you what,” she suggested at last. “Why don’t I make us some tea?”
* * *
Neither of them was a tea-drinker by habit, but in her childhood, Tessa’s mother had always made tea when she was sick or upset about something: anise and lemon with honey for a sore throat; peppermint for an upset stomach; chamomile for bad dreams. How her mother would laugh if she could see Tessa now—her wild-spirited, artist daughter, who had resisted most attempts at mothering, following in her footsteps.
They had a few tins stashed away. Tessa brought Duncan a steaming mug, and he accepted it with a soft, “Thanks.” They sat on the couch together, Tessa with her feet curled under her, and drank the tea as the first pink edges of dawn tinged the skylights.
How long had it been since Duncan had spoken to his own mother? she wondered. It would have been around 1620, or a little after. Sometimes, when she thought about his life in those terms, she would find herself filled with a profound sadness that defied words. She tried not to think about it too often.
When they’d drunk most of the tea, and he was calmer, she broke the quiet. “So, are you going to tell me what’s going on?”
He gave a not-very-convincing shrug. “Just nightmares. It happens.” But he still wouldn’t meet her eyes.
“Are you sure that’s all it is? Because you don’t sound convinced.”
After a moment, he said, “A few months ago, I would have said yes. But now...” He began to look agitated again, and Tessa’s concern deepened. He got up and went to the kitchen window, his hands resting against the edge of the sink as if he needed the support.
Tessa set her mug aside and followed. She put a hand on his shoulder, but waited, knowing that sometimes he found it easier to talk when his back was to her.
“Darius dreamed of his death before it happened,” Duncan said at last. “He dreamed of Thackery’s death, too. He knew what was coming. I think...I think he didn’t tell me for a reason. Maybe to protect me.”
Alarmed, Tessa took a small step backward. What was he trying to tell her? “Is that what you keep dreaming about? Your death?”
But he swallowed and turned, reaching out to caress her face with the backs of his fingers, then stroking her hair with both hands. “No,” he said, with a break in his voice. “Not mine.”
Tessa’s eyes widened. At last, she understood. Of course. “You think there was something to what Greta said to me, don’t you?”
“I didn’t want to think so,” he said. “But now, I’m not so sure.” He took her hands in his and leaned against the counter so they were eye to eye. “These dreams…they’re so real, it’s like it’s happening right in front of me. And I had the exact same one the last three nights.” He swallowed, and looked apologetic. “It might be nothing. I don’t want to scare you.”
Tessa gave a watery laugh. “Too late.” He stroked his thumbs over the backs of her hands, and she studied him, realizing that as many years as she’d known his secret, there was still so much about Immortals that she didn’t know. “Duncan, have you ever...have your dreams ever come true before?”
“No. But Darius wasn’t the only one.” He hesitated, as if reluctant to tell her too much. “Connor says he gets them sometimes. Rebecca, too.”
Tessa straightened under this news. She said, “I think you’d better tell me what you saw.”
He drew a deep breath, and told her.
* * *
It was after noon when Richie came home, brandishing a bottle of champagne decorated with a white satin ribbon. “Hey, kids, look what I brought! A little engagement present.” But when he saw their faces, his expression grew serious. “Something wrong?”
Duncan sighed, pacing away. “We’re not sure yet. But why don’t you put that in the fridge, and we’ll save it for later.”
“Whatever you say,” Richie agreed, and did so. “So, want to tell me what’s going on? Or is this on a strictly need-to-know basis?”
“Something like that,” Duncan said. “Until we’re sure, let’s all stick close to home, all right? And keep your guard up. If trouble comes knocking, I want us all to be ready for it.”
“I can do that,” Richie said.
Sitting still and doing nothing while waiting for bad things to happen was not Tessa’s forte. She’d learned, over the years she’d spent with Duncan, but it never became much easier, and watching him stand guard while wrestling with his own fear would drive her crazy if she let it.
The best thing was to keep herself busy, so she spent the afternoon with Richie, cleaning every inch of the store and making sure everything was perfect for their re-opening the next day. Presuming there was a tomorrow.
They’d been at it a few hours when Duncan, whom she’d last seen watching the alley through slitted shades, suddenly appeared in the studio doorway. “Tessa, Richie, go back to the apartment and wait for me. Lock the door, and don’t open it for anyone.”
Tessa’s stomach plummeted, and her heart sped up. “He’s here? It’s really happening?”
“He? He who?” asked Richie.
Duncan said tightly, “No time to explain. Just do as I asked.”
Richie caught sight of Duncan’s katana, held low but ready at his side, and his eyebrows went up. “Roger that. Tess, come on.”
They hurried to the apartment and shut the interior door. Richie threw the deadbolt. The late afternoon sun angled across the kitchen, and Tessa moved to shut the blinds. “You sure I don’t need to know what’s going on?” Richie asked, eyes falling on the fireplace tools. He picked up a poker, and she admired his quick thinking. They didn’t keep a gun in the house, and she’d never wanted one, but maybe with the way things had been going lately, that was foolish naiveté. “Who’s out there? An Immortal?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Tessa said, rushing to the phone on the kitchen wall and fumbling in her pocket for the number Duncan had given her. Thankfully, she got a dial tone.
“Try me,” Richie said, then saw what she was doing. “Wait, who are you calling?”
Tessa didn’t answer, pushing the buttons carefully despite the way her hand was shaking. It rang only once before someone picked up. “Hello? This is Tessa Noël.”
The gravelly voice on the other end said, “He’s at the store now?”
“Yes. In the alley. Please hurry.”
“Don’t worry, Ms. Noël,” the voice said. “We’re on it. Everything’s going to be all right.”
“Thank you,” she said, but the line was already dead.
“Who was that?” Richie asked.
“Dawson,” she said, breathing a little easier. Duncan had said he trusted the man, and that had to be good enough.
“Dawson? The Watcher, Dawson—that Dawson?”
“That’s the one,” Tessa agreed.
“Whoa. This day gets better and better.”
She gave a short laugh. “Tell me about it.” She took in and let out a long breath, calming her nerves, then went into the kitchen and turned on the electric kettle.
“So, now what?”
“Now, we wait,” she said, busying herself with the tea and mugs for the second time that day. What was it her mother had recommended for nerves? Rose? Lavender? She couldn’t remember.
“Richie,” she interrupted, turning sharply. “Don’t ask me any more questions, all right? I don’t know much more than you do.”
Richie, intuitive as always, made the sudden connection. “Wait a minute. Does this have to do with what Greta said last night? Her psychic vision, or whatever?” At Tessa’s expression, his eyebrows rose. “You serious? She was right?”
Tessa shrugged helplessly. “Maybe? I don’t know. I don’t know anything! This is all new to me.”
Richie was instantly at her side. “Tess. Mac’s not gonna let anything happen to you—you know that, don’t you?”
“Of course I know that.” She met his eyes, glad that he was with her. “I just hate this,” she admitted. “All of it. I hate that I can be used against him.”
“Hey. It’s not your fault. And anyway, we’re too smart for them. Mac’s not gonna let that happen. And we’re not gonna let it happen. Right?”
She let out a breath, closer to a sob than she would have liked. “Right.” He held up a fist, and she gave him a fist bump, laughing a little despite herself. It wasn’t the first time he’d been her rock, and she hadn’t always appreciated that as much as she did now. This was how it had to be; she’d been the one to point it out, in fact. Duncan had wanted the three of them to leave town this very afternoon, to get them out of harm’s way, and never mind the cost. Tessa was the one who’d insisted they stay, knowing that if it wasn’t Duncan, it would be some one else's family, some other Immortal murdered while trying to protect someone they loved.
There was a knock at the door, and they both jumped. “It’s okay, it’s me,” Duncan said from the other side. “It’s over—they’re gone. You can open the door.”
Tessa and Richie exchanged a look, and Richie hurried to let him in. At the sight of him, Tessa felt her throat close. He looked better than he had all day; the unbearable tension had left his face, and he drank in the sight of her like he was letting himself really see her for the first time since that morning.
“It’s over?” she asked.
He nodded, and came toward her, sword still in his hand. “Yeah,” he said. “It is. At least, for now.” He put one arm around her and held her close. “It’s gonna be okay.”
She closed her eyes, and tried her best to believe him.
* * *
Dusk had fallen. The three of them sat at the kitchen table, picking at Vietnamese take-out and trying to pretend everything was normal. Tessa could see Richie was brimming over with questions, and she had more than a few of her own, but before either of them could find a way to broach Duncan’s forbidding silence, the phone rang. Duncan answered it.
He spoke little, but she could tell from his face that whatever Dawson had to tell him, he didn’t like it. Though he kept himself still and controlled, she had seen that barely leashed fury before—in Paris, after Darius’s murder.
“Thank you,” he said at last. “I won’t forget this. But Dawson—this can’t happen again.” After a short pause, he said, “Good. Then we understand each other.” He hung up, then stood with his hand on the phone for a minute, as if a part of him was tempted to rip it off the wall, or maybe smash a fist through it.
“Mac?” she asked softly, and he straightened. When he turned, the fury was safely banked, giving way to his more usual calm. She rose and went to him, putting a hand on his arm. He covered her hand with his, giving her a small, tight smile and a squeeze of reassurance.
“It’s all right,” he said. “He won’t be coming after us again.”
“But who was he?”
“His name was Pallin Wolf. A Watcher.” He said it like the word left a bad taste. “He’s dead.”
“Was he one of Horton’s?” Richie asked.
“Dawson says he thinks so.” Duncan grimaced. “He also swears Wolf and his goons were the last of them.”
“And you believe him?”
“I’d like to,” Duncan replied, “but I’m not counting on it.”
Tessa felt the sudden need to lighten the mood. She was tired of feeling scared and helpless. “Well, I don’t know about you two, but I think it’s time to open Richie’s champagne.” They looked at her, and she managed a smile. “After all, life is short.”
“For some of us,” Richie said wryly, heading for the fridge. “But I like the way you think.”
Duncan’s gaze held Tessa’s, and all his love for her shone in his eyes—a feeling she never tired of, as if she were infinitely precious, and known, and cherished. “For all of us, Rich,” he said, and Tessa knew that whatever the cost, whatever trouble might come their way, it was worth it.