Disclaimer: The usual -- Connor and Duncan MacLeod, and Rachel belong to someone else (DPP). I borrowed them for a short time, and return them in reasonable condition. Several other HL characters are mentioned as well -- not mine. However, Maggie and Yosef were created in my little brain. Aggie belongs to no one, because cats are just that way. No money, no harm, no fowl (silly cat); just the pleasure of writing for a few friends.
This isn't your typical Connor story. I wanted to focus on the lighter side, a time when he's doing something he wants to do, not compelled to do. The time between the threats from the Game to his life and his loved ones. I couldn't help myself; I love his laugh! Enter at your own risk!
With the self-same winds that blow.
Tis the set of the sail and not the gale
Which determines the way they go.
As the winds of the sea are the ways of fate
As we voyage along through life,
Tis the act of the soul that determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.
~~Ella Wheeler Wilcox~~
The Set of the Sail
Connor MacLeod heard the frustrated sigh at the other end of the sturdy oak table and he frowned. It was only mildly irritating, as if the sigh was a gnat in the room, unnoticed until it hovered by the ear; it had broken his concentration. She had been there when he arrived, entrenched behind a small fortification built with a backpack and books, armed with a pen and spiral notebook, and quiet -- until now. Two or three library patrons had occupied all the other tables in the area when he had arrived, so he chose to sit at the other end of her table with his selection of books on cartography.
He had recently purchased a map in London that bore a striking resemblance to one he had owned two centuries earlier. Tracking down origins and additional information for the seventeenth century map had eluded even his extensive personal library and the Internet. He didn't want to spend time with dusty old books, but he did what was necessary for information, either for business or personal satisfaction. He thought his kinsman might have an idea or two on the subject of old maps, but he hesitated to ask the younger immortal. After the Coranelli debacle a few years back, Duncan was still a little touchy on the subject, and Connor wasn't in the mood to razz him about it at the moment. He'd save that for another time.
The young woman sighed again: a small, disappointed sigh. Connor considered moving to another table as he rubbed the stubble along his jaw, a result of the business trip to Boston. There were several empty tables now, but it would be obvious, if she weren't so oblivious. He only had to stand up, pull another book from the shelf, and sit somewhere else. He turned a page instead; it required less effort.
"There ought to be a law," she muttered as she closely examined the inside binding of the book.
An opening, he thought, looking around. There was no one near to glare or shush, and he leaned towards her. "I beg your pardon?" he said softly.
Her head snapped up from whatever world she had been lost in. Connor saw her expressive eyes reveal a hint of consternation and embarrassment as if she had been caught napping or snoring. "What?" She leaned over her book, as if the five inches would make any difference in the volume they spoke, her brow creased in concentration.
"You said 'there ought to be a law.'" He kept his voice as low as he could. Librarians have no sense of humor...except Benny. Now he had been a funny guy -- a real ladies man, that Franklin. Gone two hundred years now -- where did the time go?
She furtively glanced around before answering in a voice that dripped with whispered disgust. "I finally find a book that almost makes sense to me, and it says 'see illustrations four and five.' That page has been razor-bladed out, so how am I supposed to figure out nineteenth century navigation with no pictures?"
"Navigation? What would you want with...?"
"If I don't understand it, I can't write about it."
A librarian appeared from an aisle, clearing her throat with an indignant 'ahem' and gave them a dire stare. They guiltily pulled back into their books until the woman was gone. Connor leaned forward again, feeling like a mischievous schoolboy although, technically, he had never actually been a schoolboy. "So you're a writer? Published?"
She grinned and whispered in reply, "I remain hopeful."
She wasn't beautiful or stunning. She was just ordinary, with shoulder length brown hair framing an oval face with large, dark eyes. Until she smiled. Her eyes sparkled like sunshine on the water and animated her face. No -- moonlight, Connor amended. Soft, glimmering moonlight. Heather had been his sunshine, with her joyful blue eyes and hair the color of grain in the sunlight. He lit a candle each year on her birthday, although he did not need the yearly ritual to remember her. Heather was all around him. Always around him. Even now, after four centuries, this young woman's smile had brought his Heather quickly to mind as he compared the two, however briefly. Sunlight and moonlight: both breathtaking. God, I miss you, Blossom.
"I could help with the navigation." The words escaped like scattering leaves on a gentle breeze, impossible to return them from whence they came. The thought of a wooden deck beneath his feet, wind filling the sails, and salt spray coating everything in a fine crystalline crust made him yearn for the sea. Creaking wood and cordage, the slap of canvas, wind whistling softly through the rigging, the pounding of the hull against the blue-green water, all created a symphony that would never be heard on land. Some sought holy ground as refuge from the Game; when Connor craved respite, he went down to the sea. On the open water, he could see every ship that approached, and he could steel himself for the awareness of another immortal. His son John was unavailable for six months, an exchange student on the other side of the world, so he wondered briefly if Duncan would be willing to crew for him, and he felt a smile twitch his lips.
The moonlight immediately faded, and he realized his error. He cursed inwardly. Damn! She probably thinks I'm trying to pick her up. Gallantry usually works -- "No ulterior motive, I swear! Except to read something with your name on it."
"What would you know about nineteenth century navigation?" she asked suspiciously. "Do they teach that in the Boy Scouts these days?"
So much for gallantry, he mused. "Sailing merit badge," he explained briefly, "I went the extra mile. You can't always rely on global positioning from a satellite if you lose all power."
"Still...." she dithered, and Connor couldn't fault her. There were plenty of dangerous characters out there in the world, and some had even called him so. But she had nothing to fear from him; she was not part of the Game. She was just someone who could use some of his experience with navigation from a simpler time. Earlier time, he amended silently. Satellites and global positioning had made navigation simpler, almost child's play.
"I have some instruments and books at my antique shop, and my associate will be there." He looked at his watch and realized Rachel would be leaving soon. At her continued hesitation, he pulled out a business card. "Learn what you can from your books and if it isn't enough, stop by -- tomorrow, next week, next month." He pushed the card across the table, and was glad to see her pick it up. "The afternoon would be best."
"Thank you, maybe I will." She smiled again, and Connor stood up, satisfied that she believed he only wanted to be of assistance. He left her and headed for the checkout counter with some books he wanted to take home for further study.
She watched him walk off with two thick volumes, and then she read the card in her hand: MacLeod & Ellenstein, Antiques, 1182 Hudson Street. At first glance, when he spoke to her, she had thought he was in his early twenties, probably a college student. The brown leather jacket worn over a white t-shirt, the stubble on his face, the short, light brown hair -- slightly mussed -- made his age difficult to pinpoint. But then she looked at his eyes -- they were so intense. His eyes did not belong in that young face, and she wondered what he had seen to age them so. Illness? The loss of a loved one? War, she hazarded as she remembered the accent. Heavens, the accent! European probably, but which country?
She focused on his age again. He had been wearing blue jeans and running shoes, she noted when he strolled away, and she grimaced inwardly. She guessed she was easily ten years older than he was, maybe even twelve or thirteen years. Cradle robber, she scoffed at herself for even thinking it. She decided it had been the accent, and the eyes. Or the polished 'to read something with your name on it.' "Get a grip, Maggie!" she muttered. She glanced at the clock on the far wall. Two hours had passed since she sat down. She was going to miss dinner -- again. Damn! She hurriedly returned her books to the shelves, including the two he had left. She stuffed her notebook and pen into the backpack, and pulled out her employee badge.
Ann Winston, the evening supervisor, greeted the younger woman when she came into the back office. "You should set a good example by demonstrating proper behavior, Miss Weir. You know we try to discourage conversation in that area of the library," she sniffed, stifling the urge to smile.
"He knows something about navigation. Can you believe it?" Maggie blithely ignored the reprimand as she stuffed her backpack and jacket into her small locker.
"Still think you're going to be a writer? Some people were born to write, and others were born to shelve." Ann tsked in mock disapproval. "Why don't you start in the children's area tonight?"
"My favorite, thank you. And Mrs. Winston," she threw over her shoulder as she sauntered away, "there's nothing that says I wasn't born to do both."
"You always did multitask well. Remember, let's be quiet out there," Ann paraphrased, and she finally laughed quietly.
Maggie's laughter and her 'see you later, Ann' floated back to the supervisor. They understood each other perfectly. The would-be author loved to be needled concerning her writing; she had often said she would prove to others she was better than they thought. Ann, a staunch supporter, played the game willingly. She was anxious to see the young woman succeed with her writing and during their evening break, they would laugh over it. Navigation! What were the odds? She ran fingers through her short salt-and-pepper hair at the back of her head, briefly wondering if she should be worried about Maggie with that young man with the devilish twinkle in his eyes. Some inner voice told her he was exactly what the girl needed, and Ann returned to her work.
Connor was examining some papers at his desk the next morning when the door chime announced an arrival. He didn't look up immediately, knowing whom it would be. The antique clock had just struck half past eight o'clock, and she was rarely late. "Good morning, Rachel. How was your evening?" He finished making some notations on a pad of paper, tossed the pen on the desk as he leaned back in his chair, and looked up at his adopted daughter as she entered his office. She looked younger than she was, but even so, she could pass as his grandmother if he had been the young man he appeared to be to mortal eyes.
"It was lovely, Connor, you should have come with me. I'm sure you would have enjoyed it! The soloists were very good." She placed the container of coffee she had brought him on the corner of his desk, well away from the papers.
Connor reached out for her hand and pulled her, unresisting, onto his knee, his long arms wrapping around her waist. When no one was watching, he still liked to treat her like the little girl he had taken into his life and heart. "I'm sure I would have enjoyed it with you, Rachel, no matter how the performance went. Did your friend get home all right?"
"Yes, she called me when she got home and she said to thank you again for the ticket."
"There was no sense in wasting it and I really wasn't sure if I would be back in time."
"Well, thank you, from both of us. It was good to catch up with her over dinner." Rachel kissed his cheek, and rubbed away the small smear of lipstick she had left. When she stood up, she smoothed her skirt in an automatic gesture.
"Rachel, I met a woman at --" Connor shifted some papers to the tray on his desk as he spoke.
"It's about time," she interrupted with a smile.
He chuckled briefly, shaking his head in disbelief. My little romantic! "No," he hastened to correct her misconception, "there was a woman at the library yesterday, and she was looking for information about navigation. I told her to come by if she needed more than she can get from the books." He stood and returned a reference book to its place on the shelf.
"Connor, that is so unlike you." Caution had always been a major influence in their lives, and he knew Rachel was concerned about this unusual behavior, but then so was he. He really couldn't explain it.
"I know. I lost my head...." He stopped and swore at himself for the careless phrase. He knew Rachel hated the Game because she had told him so more than once -- every time she had been given reason to worry about him. Never before combat, though, only after he had returned alive. She had confessed to him she could not let him go to face another immortal with angry words between them, her only comfort being that she could blast him when he returned home. Should the unthinkable happen, she did not want to live the rest of her life knowing their last words had been bitter. The taste of that would destroy her more than losing him permanently.
"Don't ever joke about that, Connor," she chastised him, her lips pursed in a small frown.
He gathered her into his arms, and kissed the top of her head. "I'm sorry, Rachel," he apologized. "The woman smiled and the offer just popped out." He released her, and sat on the edge of the desk, crossing his ankles and his arms in a comfortable stance. "I would like to talk to her if she does stop by."
Connor stared at his daughter. "I have no idea," he answered, feeling a stab of regret. If she never came to the store he would never see that smile again -- unless he started haunting the library.
The weekend and several days passed, but there had been no sign of the young woman from the library. Connor finished his lunchtime errands on Wednesday, including a daily stroll through the library -- again with no luck -- and buying a birthday present for Rachel. It had been so much easier in the early years: dolls, stuffed toys, or a record player. But she still claimed each gift was perfect and exactly what she wanted. As he neared the store, he touched the velvet box in his pocket, and hoped the delicate sapphire and diamond pendant was perfect.
He noticed his writer approaching the building entrance from the other direction. He slowed his pace to let her arrive first, just to observe her actions -- to observe her. He was not surprised to see her confirm the address with the card in her hand, and then just stand there, gazing at the door. Debating whether to go in or run. Am I really that scary? he wondered.
He moved quickly, before she could bolt. He stepped in front of her, and grasped the door handle, and turning, gave her an expectant look. "So, have you made up your mind? Are you coming in?"
His eyes were focused intently on her, and he recognized the look she returned. She was mesmerized like a cobra's intended victim. She didn't run and she didn't speak, she only nodded wordlessly. He pushed the door open and allowed her to enter first. With the backpack looped over both shoulders, she couldn't turn sideways to squeeze past him, and she brushed lightly against his chest. "Sorry," she muttered.
A devilish impulse seized possession of his tongue. "I'm not." He watched her grow more flustered. This is too fun, he thought roguishly. Behave yourself, MacLeod!
She looked around at the antique shop as she slipped her backpack off. "This isn't what I expected. It's not -- well -- cluttered."
"The difference is in the age and value of the antiques -- and the price range, I'm afraid. One man's junk..."
"I'm sorry, I should have called first," she apologized.
"...Another man's treasure. It wasn't necessary to call. I'm glad you came today." Treasure, he repeated silently. He hadn't realized he was that eager for her to appear on his doorstep. They had spoken only a few dozen sentences to each other and he still didn't even know her name.
"Then you meant your offer? About the navigation?" Her eyes danced in anticipation, and in that moment the old sea captain remembered exactly why he had wanted to see her again.
"I never say anything I don't mean. Almost never," he qualified. "You are welcome here in my home."
"Home? I thought this was a store."
"It is," Connor quickly explained. "My place is upstairs. Rachel should be around here somewhere." He raised his voice slightly and called, "Rachel?"
"I'm here, Connor," a singsong voice answered from the upper level of the showroom. Connor looked up and smiled. The sight of her always pleased him tremendously and he felt the pride of a father surge through him.
"My friend from the library finally showed up today. Can you handle the store alone for a while?"
"Of course I can, I often do. Just remember, I have to leave a little early today." The woman glided down the few stairs to the main level. "Hello," she said, extending her hand, "I'm Rachel Ellenstein."
"But I thought...." She trailed off as she took Rachel's hand, but she recovered. "I'm Margaret Weir -- Maggie," she said, smiling pleasantly.
Connor watched the exchange closely. "You looked surprised, Maggie."
"The card -- your accent -- I thought you would be Ellenstein," she confessed, glancing between the two of them.
The immortal took her hand in his, holding it only a moment longer than necessary, not enough to discomfit. "Connor MacLeod," he said. Then the forever eighteen-year-old asked with a knowing smile, "What accent?"
Rachel sighed at the old joke, and Maggie snickered. He continued in explanation, "I've traveled extensively, from a very early age." He checked that his cell phone was on, and slipped it back into his pocket. "Rachel, we'll be on the roof. Call if you need anything." He escorted Maggie to his office, his hand on her back, gently guiding her.
He pulled two cylindrical leather map cases from a shelf, gave one to Maggie and tucked the other under his arm to leave his hands free. He located the three books he wanted to show her on navigation and sailing and placed them in her arms. She struggled to hold the books, leather case and her backpack. She finally handed the books back to him until she could sling her pack around behind her, retrieving the books when she was ready for them. He proceeded to slip a compass and dividers into her jacket pockets. "Not too much, is it?" When she assured him it wasn't, he picked up the heavier world atlas and started to pass it to her, stopping short and laughing when her eyes widened. "Just kidding!"
Besides the heavy atlas and the second leather case, he picked up the delicate sextant, and slipped the old chronometer into his pocket. He led Maggie back through the storage room, pointing out, with a touch of pride, a workbench littered with pieces of a grandfather clock he was restoring. There were locked cabinets of inventory waiting for space in the showroom, carefully catalogued, repaired and refurbished. A counter top was strewn with packing material from a shipment that had arrived from Boston that morning. He wanted to give her a grand tour, but first things first: the order of the day was navigation. He picked up a slightly battered world globe and led her back to the elevator in the store. They traveled in silence to the roof level of the building; Connor unlocked the outer door, holding it for Maggie to pass through before him.
Her gasp of enchantment drifted back to him. A portion of the rooftop had been made into an arbor, partially covered in glass that would be closed off and converted into a solarium when the weather turned -- and remained -- cold. Trelliswork supported the climbing vines, and the leaves were beginning to turn red despite the warmth of the day. An overhead network of beams held numerous hanging pots, with a few still displaying the colors of summer. She turned to him, delight on her face. "This is really wonderful, I'm so jealous!" She put the leather case and books on the table in the shade, and let her backpack slip down her arms. "Does it take much work?" she asked as she walked unencumbered over to one of the partially bare rose bushes where she softly inhaled the gentle aroma that remained.
"Not too much -- I do the watering and some trimming, but I have someone come in every few months to replace what I've killed." He chuckled and assured her he was just joking -- again. "Sammy likes to think of himself as an exterior decorator, so he comes and changes things around every so often. We'll be closing it up in a week or so, and I can't wait to see what he has in mind for this year."
Maggie glanced around, her eyes grew large, and she made a beeline to a narrow bench. "Bonsai! I love this one, how it looks like it belongs on a cliff top somewhere, the branches bare from the constant winds except for the tufts of newer growth. It's an art form I enjoy -- it's living, changing, never-ending."
Connor thought briefly that those same words described his life -- living while loved ones died, changing and adapting to blend in as the decades rolled past, and the neverendingness of it all -- until the battle was lost. He didn't dwell on it though. It was part of him that was always in the background until a phrase brought it to his attention. Immortality was something he had learned to accept long ago.
"... I mean, paintings and sculpture," Maggie was still talking, "and things like that have their place, they're beautiful or thought-provoking, but when they are done, that's it. Even books, once they're published, but then those can revised into newer editions, so it's not quite the same, but these...." She looked up at the man beside her, and her words trailed off, a tinge of pink staining her cheeks. "I was rambling, wasn't I?"
"Were you? I only noticed the enthusiasm, which is always enjoyable." Connor soothed, directing her towards the table. "I'm glad you appreciate that bonsai is a form of art, so ramble on, or don't. I have plenty of time."
"I wish I did, but I have to go to work later. It's just that this is so perfect up here -- so restful." She sighed wistfully as her eyes strayed from plant to plant.
"It's all Rachel's doing. She wanted someplace to bring her lunch when it was nice out and I thought it was a good idea. Sometimes I come up here to read in the evening, or just listen to the city. The only drawback is the city lights. I can't see the stars, not like on the open water."
"Well, I like it."
He held a chair for her, inviting her to sit. "I like it, Connor," he prompted next to her ear, wanting to hear her say his name.
"I like it, Connor," she parroted obediently, with a hesitant smile at him as he sat next to her.
"Shall we get down to business, Maggie?" He intercepted her bemused look. "What is it?"
"The way you say my name -- 'Meggie' -- it sounds soft." She tilted her head in consideration. "I believe I like that, too."
"Good. I don't think I can wrap my mouth around the American pronunciation." He tried it a few times, slaughtering the pronunciation, until she begged him to stop, or she would have to change her name. He grinned at her, and obliged.
"So, what have you learned about navigation so far? What's this?" He held up the intricate looking instrument with a small scope, mirrors, a pointer and a scale.
"That's a sextant, that's for the latitude, right? How far you are from the equator? I always get those mixed up, latitude and longitude. I think it's because the latitude lines go east and west, but they indicate how far north and south you are from the equator."
"Think northern and southern latitudes, that might help; I think the two phrases get used occasionally in books. The compass is in your pocket, if you'll get it out."
She pulled out the dividers and looked at him expectantly. "The other compass," he laughed, looking at the long, narrow, hinged tool. "That's the dividers. It's used for measuring, and I'll show you that later. The compass you're thinking about is used for drawing circles."
"You're right. I should have guessed when there wasn't a stubby little pencil in there. I thought this was a watch," she said pulling out the silver case, flipping it open to reveal the magnetic needle that pointed forever north.
"This is the watch -- a chronometer, actually." Connor pushed the old timepiece towards her. "It was originally made in 1767, although a few parts have been replaced since then. The chronometer was the most accurate timepiece of its day. It wasn't that they kept time exactly, but each either gained or lost the same amount of time very consistently. This one, at its best, was only one minute slow each week. On a four-month voyage, the captain of the ship adjusted it one minute each Sunday. By the time the ship returned to England, it was only a minute off the time at the Greenwich Observatory."
Maggie was properly awed by the feat and the information. "That's incredible! But how do you know that?"
"I'm an antique dealer, and I like to verify the provenance whenever possible. The same family owned this particular piece since it was first made, and I've had the opportunity to read the ship's logs. It loses two minutes a week now that it no longer has all the original parts."
"How sad that the family had to sell a piece of their history."
"Well, it has a good home."
"Then you aren't going to sell it?"
"Not in this lifetime." Or any lifetime. "It isn't always about money. An antique dealer can be a collector, too," he admitted. "How are you at reading maps and charts?"
She blinked at the swift change of topic, but answered his question readily. "Road maps, excellent; topographical maps, pretty good; sea charts? I haven't seen too many of those, but I imagine if I'm in the middle of the Atlantic, I should sail east or west, and I'd hit land eventually," she joked.
"But if you were in the middle of the Pacific, it would be best to know which shore was closest. America could be just over the horizon. If you chose to sail west, you might run out of food and water before you made dry land."
"No buts, Maggie. You either know what you are doing, or you are dead, or very, very lucky. The ocean can be an unforgiving mistress." He was completely serious, and she shivered.
"Then teach me, but just remember that I only want to write about it. I am not planning on sailing around the world any time soon."
"Too bad," he said with enough longing in his voice that she looked at him, her eyebrows peaked gently in question. He grinned at her, feeling sheepish; he was surprised he had bared this part of himself to a new acquaintance. He did not answer the unasked question, but only pulled his chair closer so they could examine the book together.
Time passed and shadows lengthened as they studied and talked. Laughter erupted often; scowls of frustration put in an occasional appearance. An abrupt breeze swirled flower petals around them, and they both instinctively reached out to hold down the various pages and maps. They each looked at his hand that covered hers for a long moment, and then he simply said, "You're quicker than I am." The breeze died and he reached for her hair, her soft brown eyes growing wide, her breath as still as the air around them -- and he plucked a yellow rose petal from her tresses. She let out a slow breath, and reached for his shoulder to remove one that had landed there, twirling it in her fingers.
"Red is your color," she cooed. With a soft giggle she returned to the calculations she was making on the notepad, the velvety rose petal still pinched between her fingertips of her free hand. Connor looked at her head bent over the paper, sunlight catching red and gold highlights in her brown hair and he wondered what had gone through her mind. Did she think I was going to pull her close for a kiss? And why the hell didn't I?
Patience, MacLeod, he heard in the back of his head. You don't want to scare her off, do you? You have to walk before you run.
He scowled at his old teacher mentally; I know how to walk, and how to run.
Ah, the voice returned, but does she?
You damn peacock! The voice in his head chortled, fading away. I hate it when you're right!
When the cell phone rang, Connor answered it absently, "MacLeod -- What do you mean you're leaving? It's that time already?"
Maggie yelped when she glanced at her wristwatch. "I have to go! Damn and double damn! I'm going to be late for work." She started closing books and shoved her note pad in her backpack.
"Rachel, hold on a moment. Help me with this, Maggie, and I'll put you in a taxi. Where do you work?"
"The library -- where we met," she explained as she slipped her backpack on. "It's not that far, but my shift starts in a few minutes." She started carefully rolling the newer maps to put them in their case.
"Rachel, could you flag down a taxi for us? Thanks -- we'll be down in a minute." Connor dealt with the older charts he had brought up to show her what he -- what sailing masters had to deal with in earlier centuries. "I've never seen you there before," he said as they scrambled toward the elevator. He would have to revise his opinion about librarians; this one had kept him in stitches for most of the afternoon.
"I spend a lot of time in the children's area. Somehow, I don't think that's quite your idea of a 'good read.'"
"Not recently, anyway." He remembered the hours he had spent with Rachel and then with John in libraries when they were growing up, until they were old enough and confident enough to jump on bicycles or the bus and go alone, or with friends. He sighed. Even for immortals, time could pass too quickly.
"Thanks again; I learned a lot," Maggie said as the elevator door opened on the main floor.
"You're coming back, aren't you? That last calculation you did put us in the middle of the Gobi Desert."
"It was off the coast of Yemen," she said wrinkling her nose, "and I transposed some numbers and screwed up the lat...longitude -- so sue me." She laid the paraphernalia she had carried down from the roof on the table in his office, and headed towards the front door.
He followed her, donning his long coat. He grabbed his oldest companion from its place by the door, and slipped the katana under the cloth. "I enjoyed teaching you and talking to you." A thought formed in his mind -- crazy, slightly insane. "I'd really like to see you again. Maybe we could go sailing, and you can show me what you learned." Just once, he mused. I can't drag her into my world, but just once. Ever since he spotted that map in London, almost a month ago, he wanted to be on the water so bad, he could taste the tang of salt air, despite the traffic fumes. It was a long way from cursing at Ramirez for taking him out on the loch that day, some four hundred plus years ago -- the old haggis, he thought fondly.
She considered his offer as he locked the door behind them. "I don't have any free time until this weekend, so Saturday afternoon, or any time Sunday might be fine, or the following weekend, if you're really serious about it."
A taxi pulled up as they reached the curb, and Connor hustled both women into it. "Connor, I'll take the subway," Rachel protested as she entered first. Connor climbed in last, but the large cab allowed him to ease past Maggie to sit between the two women.
"Not tonight. My treat, I insist." He gave the driver the approximate address of the library, and turned back to Maggie. "When it comes to sailing, you'll find I am always serious. Shall we make it all day Sunday? Sailing, and dinner?"
"All day?" she gulped. "Let me think about it."
"You don't trust me," he accused, sensing her reluctance.
"I don't know you," she quickly returned, "not really."
"I do," Rachel said. "Connor, are you planning on taking advantage of this girl?" Maggie slouched into the seat wishing she were elsewhere, if the muttered 'damn' was any indication.
"Not on the boat." His wide grin teased both ladies as he said, "After that, who knows?"
"You'll be safe on the boat, Maggie. When Connor sails, he is all business. He'll treat you like crew, and you'll probably hate him after that."
"Rachel!" Connor protested.
"Then I'll go sailing with you,' she relented, "and we can discuss dinner later. Thanks for the lift and the help today." She hopped out as the taxi stalled in traffic near the library, and waved without looking back as she disappeared into the crowd.
Rachel gave her address to the driver. "You know she thinks you're younger than you are," Rachel said as the taxi moved forward with aggravating slowness.
He took her hand in his. Besides just enjoying the companionship and warmth of her touch, they often used gentle pressure as a warning when conversation strayed too close to that 'kind of magic.' "They always do, Rachel. Age is such a relative thing, don't you think?" The gentle pressure from Rachel's hand turned into a small vise, and Connor winced briefly.
"Connor, you're treading on thin ice there," Rachel warned, glancing at the cabbie.
His laugh was short. "I know." The conversation turned to his recent trip to Boston, John's latest e-mail, and their mutual friends. They carefully continued to edit their remarks because of the driver. When they neared Rachel's neighborhood, she turned to the man who had taken her in all those years ago. "What are your intentions toward that girl, Connor?" she asked quietly.
"Young woman then. I like her, you know."
"You hardly talked to her!"
"Anyone that can make you lose track of time is all right in my book. You need more distractions in your life," she sighed.
"Why -- when I have you?" He kissed her hand tenderly in a loving gesture.
"Connor!" She wanted him to be serious.
"I like her and I hope we can develop a good..." he paused as he searched for the right phrase, "working relationship." Connor was grateful that Rachel cared, but he was unsure of what he was really feeling towards his new friend; he wanted to examine it closely before discussing it, even with this woman who had been part of his life for over half a century. There were many things to consider before he got involved with any woman, his immortality being chief among them. But how often did he get a chance to go sailing and pass on that knowledge and expertise gained over four hundred years?
"A working relationship, if she's going to crew for me. Do you want to come with us on Sunday?"
"No, thank you. I've crewed for you before, and I'll stick to 'our' working relationship at the store." She leaned forward and spoke to the driver. "You can pull over here." She kissed Connor's cheek, and then wiped it from habit. "I'll see you tomorrow. Sleep well, my dear one."
Connor directed the cabbie back to the library, and he went eagerly in search of moonlight on the water.
The Children's Nook, decorated with storybook characters on the walls, was furnished with child-size shelving, tables and chairs. Soft denim beanbag chairs were scattered around, some occupied by children of various sizes and ages. A few normal-size tables were near the entrance for parents, and more than one woman looked up at the young man that entered. His eyes obviously searched for someone, and disappointment shuttered his features after his glance swept the room. Those that continued to watch him saw the gray eyes brighten a few moments later, a satisfied smile on his face.
Maggie had just finished helping a five-year old make a selection, and she stood up to return to her work of shelving books. A distinctly non-childlike voice spoke directly behind her. "Excuse me, I was looking for...."
She spun around in surprise and said gleefully, "Connor! That was quick -- I barely left the message on your machine."
"What message?" He shrugged, raising his hands briefly in emphasis.
"About -- oh, come on!" She was used to leading the littlest children to the books for their age group and she held out her hand without thinking. She felt his long slender fingers wrap securely around hers, but when she tried to tug free without being too obvious, he did not release her hand. Momentarily embarrassed, she glanced down at the cool, reassuring fingers -- strong, lightly tanned, calloused, yet not roughly so. She had spent more than a few covert moments that afternoon watching those hands as they handled the navigational instruments, pointed at maps or turned pages. The awkwardness fled when she finally looked up into his smiling eyes and recognized the satisfaction in them -- he was not trying to rattle her and that was gratifying. She smiled back at him, guiding him quietly away. "You don't know how glad I am to see you," she said as they entered the back room.
"You are?" Connor asked, leaning one shoulder against the bank of lockers as she dialed her locker combination.
"I realized I still had it in my pocket after the cab pulled away." She pulled open her locker and fumbled around her jacket, a moment of panic coursed through her until she found the object she wanted. She pulled out the compass and handed it carefully to its owner. "We left in such a rush, and I didn't want to drop it coming down from the roof. You said it was a family heirloom so I didn't want to be responsible for it any longer than necessary. I tend to misplace things," she wryly admitted with a shrug.
"Thanks, and here I thought you were just happy to see me," he pouted.
Maggie grinned at his mock disappointment. "I am delighted to see you. I had a great time this afternoon, and I want to say thanks for making the effort to explain everything to me. I was beginning to get a vague idea of what it was all about after almost three weeks of trying to struggle through it on my own. You cleared that all up in a few hours, and probably saved me weeks of research."
"I'm glad I could help, Maggie, but you still put us in the middle of the Sahara."
"That was Yemen, off the coast," she repeated the correction. "Stick with me, kid, and I'll show you the world," she laughed, fingering an imaginary cigar.
Connor chuckled. "About Sunday...."
Her heart sank a little. "I understand if you need to cancel," she lied.
"Cancel? Hell, no! I need your address so I can pick you up before the crack of dawn. I asked Rachel if she wanted to go, but she said 'no way' -- practically called me Captain Bligh! We'll have breakfast and lunch aboard, and as you said, we'll discuss dinner later."
An authoritative and familiar voice spoke from the doorway. "Maggie, you know you are not allowed to have anyone back here."
"She was just returning my property," Connor intervened before Maggie could speak. "I'm leaving now. I'll see you on Sunday." He kissed Maggie quickly, and was gone before she recovered her equilibrium.
"Well?" Ann Winston prompted the girl who sagged against the lockers for support.
A bemused Maggie returned, "What?"
"Take a five minute break, then back to work. Oh hell, take ten minutes!"
A startled Maggie repeated, "What?" She peeled herself upright.
"Go after him, girl! I doubt he is running." Maggie, an obedient young lady, complied.
Connor had reached the bottom of the outside steps, when Maggie burst through the doors. "Connor!" He pivoted as she neared him, and she halted just above him. "She really is very nice -- my boss," Maggie said in explanation. "She gave me ten minutes." Then the words came out in a breathless rush, "Why did you kiss me?"
"... come after me?"
The questions were asked simultaneously and then answered in unison in the next breath:
"I wanted to."
Connor chuckled, and Maggie smiled, enjoying his soft staccato laugh more each time she heard it. He reached out and took her hand, pulling her down to the step just above him, their faces almost level. When his arms went around her waist, it felt good to Maggie; it felt right, and she snaked her arms around his neck. Displays of affection were never easy for her, but she didn't mind too much this time. Ah, hell! she thought, I don't mind at all, except....
"What is it?" he asked when she sighed, their foreheads touching.
"I'm older than you, Connor."
"Looks can be deceiving -- I thought you were younger than me, around twenty-five," he said.
She pulled away slightly to study him. "Sometimes you look twenty."
"Looks can be deceiving; I haven't been twenty anything for a few years."
"So you're thirty-two, no big deal. What's five years, give or take?"
She blinked -- twice -- looking at him, saying nothing.
"Not thirty-two? Leave me a few mysteries, Maggie. Age doesn't really matter much these days, at least I hope not."
"Sure," she agreed too quickly. "Not between friends."
"Hmmm. Friends...." He tried it out, tasting the sound of it, stretching it to see how it fit, and then accepted her decision. "Well, it's better than nothing. All right, friend, I still need your address."
"I'll come to the store, that's not a problem," she shrugged.
"It is at four in the morning -- a big problem."
"I have to go back in. May I call you tomorrow?"
"Then good night, my friend." He kissed her on the forehead, and let her go, except for one hand. "And call me tonight when you get home. My number is on the card if you still have it."
"I do, I will. Good night, Connor." With her promise he released her and she turned, taking the steps an unladylike two at a time. Mom would have a conniption, Maggie thought. Oh hell, decorum be damned.
Ann, a small smile on her face, waved at Maggie as she sped past the main desk. A job well done, she nodded approvingly. Maggie glanced at her watch and held up two fingers close together. With two minutes to spare.
Connor stood where Maggie left him for a few moments, and pulled the compass from his pocket. The antique was the size of a large pocket watch, in a handsomely engraved silver case. The inscription was there: C. MacLeod, 1765. He had seen it so many times he hardly ever noticed the inscription anymore, except in reflection -- he always remembered the moment he first lay eyes on it though --
He had been in Portsmouth for a month, and he was completely bored by it all. His purchased commission had finally come through and he would be leaving England in his wake. It couldn't happen too soon in his opinion. At the moment, though, all he really wanted was a change of clothes -- and a tankard of ale would not go amiss. He was near the harbor when he sensed another immortal nearby in the fading twilight and his pulse leapt in anticipation. The dragonhead katana crossed blades with a fine Spanish rapier, but fortunately, even in the shadows he had recognized the cursing of his kinsman. "I thought you were in India, cousin," he said with delight, glad to see him, relieved to know he was still alive.
"Connor?" The voice was astonished, and Duncan stepped from the shadows.
"In the flesh." The older of the two Scots opened his arms wide and bowed slightly from the waist.
"More like flesh pots!" The younger one grimaced visibly in the low light. "You stink like a harlot!"
"Please, Duncan, an expensive harlot doesn't stink. The greedy wench didn't appreciate the perfume I brought her, and she threw it at me -- a well-aimed throw. She was expecting diamonds or pearls if I understood her tirade -- so difficult to decipher words with all the crockery flying about." Connor shook his head in mystification. He was almost two and a half centuries old, and some women were still unfathomable to him. "I was returning to my lodgings to change clothing; if you come with me, we'll celebrate your arrival -- and my departure."
"You're leaving? But I've just returned!" Duncan protested the bad timing.
"Duty calls and I report aboard ship in two days time. In a few years, maybe I'll have a command of my own. Ironic, isn't it, that we sail for India when you've just returned?"
"Better you than I." The voice sullen, Connor could imagine the thundercloud crossing Duncan's face; he did not need to see it. No one knew Duncan as well as Connor, nor Connor as well as Duncan. Few people could penetrate the walls the two kinsmen chose to erect; they were similar in that respect, at least, although the walls around Connor were often higher and thicker. Dissimilar in appearance, one fair and slight, one dark and sturdy, other qualities cloaked them both well and the same: courage, devotion, and a goodly dose of Highland stubbornness.
"Whatever it was, you have my condolences."
"You know me too well, Connor. I've no wish to speak of it."
"Then the matter is dropped." He slapped Duncan on the shoulder and would have pulled him into a warm embrace, but white teeth flashed in the face darkened by the sun, and a firm hand was placed against his chest, holding him off.
"Connor, you know I care for you dearly, like a brother, but could you stand downwind of me?"
The older MacLeod laughed outright as he stepped back. "Of course."
"No," Duncan said a moment later as they walked up the street, "even that doesn't help. You go ahead, I'll be right...I'll be behind you."
Connor roared and again slapped his cousin on the shoulder. He was that confident in Duncan's love for him that he led the way to his rooms, the younger Scot following not too closely behind. There were few immortals he would allow to follow him, Duncan probably being the only one still alive.
They spent the evening reminiscing in a tavern and they were well into their third tankard of ale when Connor asked him about India. Duncan revealed the sad tale of Vashti who had followed her husband in death, by suttee, after she had spent a final night in his bed. Connor listened intently and offered his opinion, although he knew words were generally ineffectual against heartbreak. "Upbringing and culture are hard things to overcome, you know that. Look at you, the chieftain's son! Even though you were banished, you still gather the weak to you and you try to protect them. I doubt you'll ever change."
"Vashti wasn't weak!" the younger immortal glowered darkly in her defense.
"She needed protecting, at least you thought so after you saved her the first time. But no, she wasn't weak -- she withstood your charms and did what she believed she was supposed to do."
Duncan slammed his fist down on the table, rattling the tankards. "I loved her, damn it!" The hush that followed turned many eyes to them briefly, and then talk resumed. He stared morosely into his tankard and lowly said, "I loved her, and I thought she loved me."
"I imagine she did." Connor laid a hand on his cousin's arm, a consoling gesture -- a counseling gesture. "She wanted to be worthy of you in her next life -- or in some life to come -- so she did what she thought she must. I'm not saying it was right or wrong, but it was what she had to do. Did you tell her about...?" Connor's words trailed off cautiously, knowing his kinsman would fill in the rest.
"No, there was no time. There is never any time. We have all we need -- too damn much -- and there is never enough for them."
Assessing his clansman's needs, he stood and pulled Duncan up with him. "I know just the diversion you need, brother."
The establishment of Madame Trevane had an air of refinement about it, but it was anything but refined in the upper chambers. It was near daybreak when Connor forcibly dragged Duncan from soft arms and tender flesh, throwing his clothing at him, laughing at Duncan's hangover. Chagrined, Duncan pulled on his clothes, and followed Connor out the door. They stumbled together back to the lodgings of the new naval officer, and tumbled into bed, fully clothed, eventually waking to a sun high in the morning sky.
That afternoon they rode to the countryside to hone their fighting skills in a long match. Unseasonably good weather had dried the meadow grass and birds twittered in the willow trees along the stream. With their coats removed, they faced each other dressed in loose linen shirts and breeches. Ducks paddled swiftly to the far bank as the steel blades rang out, the aquatic fowl quacking their disapproval particularly when both swordsmen fell into the water. The MacLeods hauled themselves out, laughing, and continued the match. Weakened by blood loss from a multitude of wounds already healed, Duncan accidentally died in the second hour when he failed to block a swift move. When the younger immortal revived sufficiently from his death, partaking of bread, cheese and wine for strength, the match resumed again. Connor jested that his protégé needed to spend more time practicing with one sword, rather than with the other. A moment later, Connor looked down as the Spanish blade slipped between his ribs.
"I didn't -- teach you -- th--" he gasped, his heart and one lung pierced. The elder Scot fell to his knees hearing his name cried in anguish as he passed into death. His first returning breath hurt like hell, as it always did, and Connor briefly panicked as he felt another immortal nearby. He thrashed wildly, but he heard his name spoken in their old tongue.
"Conchobhar! Rest easy." Duncan sat on the ground a distance away, his knees bent in the crook of his elbows, his hands clasped around the hilt of his rapier. Sorrow etched his face, and Connor realized again how much love his kinsman had for him. It was rarely mentioned, but they both knew it. Connor had pressed his student hard at first, as Ramirez had pressed him, but the lessons had been necessary if Duncan was to survive the Game. The metal of the dragonhead katana had been folded two hundred times before it had been forged into the blade, and the bond forged over the past century between the MacLeods was just as true.
"A good thrust, Duncan," Connor coughed as the ache in his chest slowly receded. "Who showed you that? I haven't seen that particular move for two hundred years...since Ramirez."
"I -- I think it was Graham who taught me it. Graham Ashe."
"Then he taught you well." Connor rubbed vanished wound, willing the residual pain away. "I need to practice my defense on that one. But be warned, young one, only use it if you have a second blade. If your sword is wedged in there, between the ribs, your opponent only has to bring up his sword, and it is finished." Connor hauled himself up and stretched his arms overhead, flexing muscles, rotating shoulders. "Shall we call it well finished? There's a public house just two miles away where we can gather our strength with a good meal, some fine ale, and then return to town. We can spend our last hours together in more --" he raised his eyebrows suggestively, "-- pleasurable pursuits?"
"The twins?" Duncan grinned, stripping the shredded bloodstained clothes off.
"Oh, aye," Connor nodded, mirroring his kinsman's actions, "and their mother is a delightful creature, as well."
"The mother? When did you --?" Both of the savage Scots plunged into the cold stream, thinking nothing of it as the mountain lochs of their youth had been far colder. When the blood was washed away, they climbed out and pulled on fresh clothing amidst good-natured ribbing for their mistakes, past and present. Connor never did explain about the mother, he just smiled broadly and spurred his horse on when his kinsman tried to return to the subject. He raced ahead, leaning far over the horse's neck urging him on with words and strong caresses. Duncan followed in close pursuit, but his horse was handicapped by the additional weight of the sturdy Highlander. "I should know better," Duncan said as he left his horse in the care of the hostler and followed the old teenager into the inn, "than to race you, on foot, horseback, or anything else."
"Aye," Connor grinned at him over his shoulder, "you should."
When Connor reported to the quay on the final morning for the skiff out to the ship, Duncan offered him a parting gift. "So this is where you disappeared to late yesterday morning," he said, admiring the compass. "But I'm not Connor MacLeod these days."
"It's to remind you who you are, you stubborn fool." Duncan's words hit hard. Connor knew he was a MacLeod; it permeated his soul so thoroughly he would never forget it, but it stung that Duncan thought he needed that reminder. "And to show you the way home," the immortal continued with a softer voice.
"We have no home, Duncan. Haven't you realized that yet? The Scotland we knew is gone from us, those we've loved taken from us. We're wanderers, you and I, and it will always be so."
"The Highlands are still there, Connor, steadfast and firm. And those we've loved we keep with us always."
"There is truth to your words, Brother," Connor nodded his understanding. "Heather is always with me but I need no compass to take me to my heart -- I am drawn to her side in my dreams and in my thoughts. This wasn't necessary."
"If it's necessary, it is an obligation or a bribe, and that isn't what is between us. I want you to have this because you took me in when I was lost and alone, and you showed me the way to go. I can't repay that, except to say thank you. When you look at it, I'm saying thank you with my whole heart. You saved my life, Connor, you gave me direction when I had none." Duncan's upper lip stiffened and his voice trembled slightly with emotion.
Connor remained outwardly passive but his heart was warmed by his kinsman's gesture and words. "Then I shall always treasure it, and I will remember," he promised. His eyes looked directly into Duncan's and further words were unnecessary. He climbed down to the long boat below the quay and stood between his trunks already aboard. "Duncan." The salutation was brief and answered the same.
"Connor." Duncan hesitated a moment and then called down to him as the skiff pulled away, "Be careful in India. There is at least one there, Kamir, and I'm not sure I trust him at all."
"You know me, Duncan. I'm always careful," Connor shouted back jovially. He nodded his head to acknowledge Duncan's words that floated to him on the breeze.
"Fair winds, Brother."
New York City
"Ah, yes, good old great grandpapa Charlie, sea captain of the His Majesty's Navy," he murmured slipping the precious gift from Duncan back into his pocket. She had asked, and the lies had already begun. He had let her think he was young, but he had never actually given her an age; a lie by omission, but there was nothing he could do about that. He could feel the katana at his side, and he decided to walk home. During the day, very rarely, he sometimes went without it, although a small handgun was always present when he did. There was relative safety in the daytime crowds. No immortal really wanted to announce their existence with a quickening on crowded streets, but there was always a risk when he went out without the katana. Connor never took that risk at night.
His walk was uneventful as he took in the sounds, sights and aromas of the city. All of his senses, all of them, reached out in every direction as he treaded warily, his posture one of 'don't mess with me.' He walked past the Chinese restaurant at first, but retraced his steps quickly, picking up takeout for his evening meal. Once home, he removed the katana and hung his coat by the door. Even though the blade had touched nothing since his sparring sessions in Paris with Duncan several weeks before, he sat on the sofa and checked it carefully for nicks that were non-existent, a nightly ritual. What do you think, you old peacock? Am I getting into deep water here? If she had been interested in antiques, would I have said anything? Navigation, though... and then she smiled. God, like moonlight on the loch. You thought the same of Heather, I know, but my Blossom was sunshine. And it's easy to tease this Maggie, as you teased Heather. I think you would like her, Ramirez, but you liked them all, didn't you? Friends, she said. What do I know about... ah, a good idea: teacher and student. That should work for a while. Captain, crew.
He walked past the desk and the flashing light of the answering machine caught his eye. He pushed the play button, and he stood listening as he opened the cartons of food. The first and second were dial tones. He was digging chopsticks into the cashew chicken when Duncan's strong voice filled the loft. "Connor? Pick up, Connor!" he heard his clansman demand. "If you are planning on going walkabout again, would you let me know before you do? I was trying to sleep and I had this vision of you sailing off into the sunset -- incommunicado. I didn't want to say anything, but you were being a little -- hell! a lot wistful when you were here. Don't do anything rash! Damn it, Connor, pick up the phone!" Connor grinned as he heard the resigned sigh. "Call me as soon as you get this message, Connor."
"Demain serait mieux, mon frére," Connor muttered and looked at the clock. It was after midnight in Paris. "Tomorrow would definitely be best." Another dial tone, and then, "Connor? I'm so sorry; I seem to have walked off with your compass. I didn't mean to, honest! I don't want to carry it home on the bus if I can avoid it, I know I might as well carry a sign saying 'Mug Me,' knowing I had that with me, knowing it is valuable. Can you come by the library? If you can't, I'll call when I leave, and if you're home, I'll bring it by... oh, this is Maggie." He envisioned her grimace of self-disgust before the machine beeped. He had seen it a few times that afternoon when light dawned after she had struggled with mastering the various tools and theories of navigation. He smiled, replaying the message several times just to hear her voice. It intrigued him. She wasn't from New York, he could tell that much. Midwest, a hint of the South, definitely some Pacific coast in there. Hell, with a name like Weir, even a bit of Scotland is possible, unless I'm just imagining it. Maybe the influence of a grandparent.
He had considered asking her about her family during their afternoon together, but asking personal questions meant answering personal questions. Until the end of the day he wasn't sure he would see her again, and now he would have to remember every detail of what he had told her. Being silent about his immortality was an exercise in memory; trying to fit a convoluted tale into the time span he allotted himself. He would have to keep track of the story or it was possible she would suspect he was lying. But it was only for one more day. He had become quite an expert at prevaricating over the centuries, answering a question with a question, diverting the subject into safer waters.
The Lady of the Loch was a 33-foot sloop-rigged keelboat, with a teal hull, and would be perfect for the outing. He could handle the Lady alone if Maggie proved inept at sailing, or prone to seasickness -- time would tell. He played the messages again, while he finished his dinner. Afterward, he picked up the phone and called Ezekiel Martin in Connecticut. Zeke had been taking care of the sailboat for a decade, and although Connor was completely pleased with him, he knew he would have to find another marina at some point. The last time they met, the man had asked how he managed to look so young, but then guffawed before Connor could answer. "Everyone looks young to me," said the 72-year old. "You stay that way as long as you can, you hear me? I woke up one day and wondered how my father got on the other side of my mirror -- course that was my first morning after I got back from Korea, but that's no never mind -- you keep those good looks of yours, young fella, and you'll have the ladies crawlin' all over you. Lucky for me that I married before I went into the army, and my wife was just happy to have me home."
"Hey, Zeke," MacLeod began when the man came to the phone, "could you put the Lady in the water for me? I'd like to take her out on Sunday."
"A little late in the season, isn't it?"
"It's never too late for sailing, Ezekiel. Check the engines and sails, and top off the tanks. I appreciate it."
"It's what you pay me for. Would you mind if I used her during the following week? My sailboat is in dry dock for refitting and I have some army buddies dropping in. No harm will come to her, I swear."
"I know you'll take good care of her, so go ahead. I may need her again the following weekend as well, as long as the weather holds -- or my crew doesn't bail on me."
"No bailing necessary, she's as watertight as a submarine."
"Very funny. How's your family?"
Zeke sped through the lineup of five children, umpteen grandkids, and a brand spanking new great-grandson.
"You sound like a proud patriarch. I'll bet the baby looks like you."
"Yep, he sure does -- poor kid."
Connor dutifully chuckled and felt a twinge of jealousy. It didn't matter how many children he took in over the centuries, none would ever look like him. They might develop his mannerisms and speech patterns, but they would always resemble someone else. He loved his children and was extremely proud of the lives they went on to live without him. Maybe that was the problem. Not having the grandchildren around him, or great-grandchildren. He envied Ezekiel and his patriarchal status. At least I still have Rachel and John -- for now.
The evening was nearly a disaster for Maggie. She had to think twice before shoving a book into its place. She was efficient enough dealing with library patrons; left alone -- her fantasies took flight. She even missed her bus stop and had to walk back an extra block. If it weren't for regular bus drivers, she would've had to take the subway or train back from lord-knows-where.
"Aunt Aggie, I'm home!" She carefully locked the three deadbolts and flipped the two safety latches. Aunt Aggie came and rubbed against Maggie's legs, purring, demanding to be cuddled. After shedding the backpack and jacket, Maggie scooped up the shorthaired agate colored cat. She cradled Aggie in her arms and scratched the cat's chest absently. "What trouble did you get into today, Ags? Plants all seem okay, books fine. Pictures? You knocked Teddy over again. I'm beginning to think you don't like her." Maggie stood the picture of her childhood dog upright, and then exchanged it with another. It was probably just the location. She hauled the cat and her backpack with her into the kitchen. "Trash is fine, no dishes on the floor, cupboards closed. What about the bedroom?"
The bedroom and bathroom were just as she left them, slightly rumpled, and she put the backpack on the desk and turned on the computer. "Good Aggie, you get a little extra tonight." In the kitchen, she made herself a ham sandwich, and spooned a small amount of plain yogurt into Aggie's bowl. "You really are a silly cat." She left the cat to her treat, and returned to the bedroom and her computer, carrying her dinner with her.
Almost an hour later, she reached for her backpack for the notes she had made that afternoon. "Connor!" She startled the cat sleeping precariously on her lap, who showed her displeasure by sinking claws into tender flesh. Maggie saved her work quickly, and then reached for the phone, pulling the business card out of her pocket at the same time. She shoved the cat to the floor when the claws came out again. "Bad cat!" she scolded.
"MacLeod," he answered. She shivered in delight at his gruff voice. The soft rasp tickled her ear as easily as Aggie's tongue could tickle her fingers -- both were pleasantly rough.
"This is Maggie. I'm sorry for calling so late."
"Did you just get home? I was a little worried."
"Really?" His concern pleased her for some reason she couldn't fathom for she normally treasured her independence and self-sufficiency. "Well, I was going to call the moment I walked in the door, but then I started writing -- I didn't wake you, did I?"
"Are you trying to find out if I'm in bed?" he drawled.
"No!" she yelped in embarrassment. "No, I... I -- why do you do that?"
"Sorry, you're just so damn easy to tease. Don't worry about the hour; I was only watching TV. I shouldn't complain after the way we lost track of time this afternoon."
"About that -- how do you really know so much about navigation?" She went to the bed, stretching out with a low moan. Aggie jumped up and proceeded to knead her human's abdomen.
"I told you, didn't I? The sailing merit badge."
"Navigation isn't part of the badge. I checked and it's mostly about safety. Stop it! That tickles!"
"It isn't? I could have sworn...."
"I said stop it!" she howled. "Can't you see I'm on the phone?"
In the flickering light of the muted television set, Connor sat a little higher against the headboard, the dark bed sheet down around his waist. The initial twinge of envy altered to the tension he always felt before combat. "Is there someone there with you?" He tried to dampen it, and he hoped to hell she couldn't hear the jealousy. To be fair, the subject of her relationships had never come up, and there was her insistence that they would be 'friends.' But the question effectively changed the subject away from his experience with navigation from the past.
"Ah!" she cried out. "Klaus! Get off!"
"Klaus? His name is Klaus?" He couldn't believe he was saying the words when they emerged from his mouth. "Why don't you bring him along on Sunday."
There was silence until Maggie chortled. "Her -- and she hates water. My cat dug her claws into me."
"You should have heard it from this end. 'Stop that, it tickles,'" he mimicked, and laughed in relief. "'Klaus, get off.' I was imagining a tall blond...."
"Tall blond? That would be Hans -- but that was over long ago," she sighed dramatically. "I was ten and he was the 17-year old lifeguard. We all took turns thrashing around in the local pool just to have him rescue us." She giggled as she finished.
Connor laughed with her, but then sobered. "Is there someone now?"
"With my jobs, classes, and writing, I don't have much time. Occasional dates, but they lose interest pretty fast -- or I do."
"I just didn't want there to be any false assumptions on my part, Maggie. You understand?"
"I think I do...but we're only going sailing, aren't we?"
"Sunday we are only going sailing. The week after that -- who knows?" He paused seductively. "We might even go sailing again."
"Maggie..." he mimicked, and then worried. "You're not laughing."
"What happened at the library was... was...." She searched for the right word.
"Nice," Connor supplied, although he suspected it wasn't exactly the one she was rummaging for. "What happened was nice."
"Well, yes, it was, but it really wasn't me."
"That sweet, shy girl wasn't you?" he bantered.
"I -- I just don't want you to be disappointed with what happens on Sunday, or what doesn't happen."
"Maggie, me darlin'" he teased again, "I have the patience of a saint. The only thing that could possibly disappoint me on Sunday is if you don't go with me... that, and being sick all over my nice, clean deck, although I could deal with the second one. Okay?"
Her sigh told him she wasn't sure she believed that, but she would pretend she was willing to accept it for now. "Okay." He wrote down the phone number and address she gave him and they said goodnight. He punched the button for the dial tone, and called her right back. She answered immediately. "Hello?"
"Just checking. I would hate to give someone a wakeup call at three-thirty in the morning, and have it be a wrong number."
"Good night, Connor."
He heard mild exasperation in her dismissal. "I can hear the smile in your voice, and I'm glad -- I like your smile. Sleep well, Maggie." He hung up before she could respond.
She finally fell asleep just before dawn.
The next few days were a frenzy of activity for Maggie, at work on Thursday and Friday, and at home on Saturday morning. She was finished with her usual laundry and shopping chores -- and a good cleaning of the apartment -- by eleven on Saturday. It needed it anyway, she convinced herself when she returned the vacuum to its place in the closet. All that was left was going down to get that last load out of the dryer. She would be able to spend the afternoon writing, and completing a class assignment due Monday morning.
Trying to decide what to wear for a brisk autumn day out on the open water was her next task. Deck shoes, a long sleeve shirt, wool sweater and a windbreaker were easy choices, but jeans, dark slacks or khakis? It was too cold for swimming, or even sunbathing, but if it turned warm in the sunshine, a pair of shorts might be useful. "Aggie, you want to pick something out for me? Where are you, anyway?" A yowl from the back of the closet answered that question, and a huge puff of powder exploded in her face when she went to investigate.
The cat, completely freaked, eluded capture and bounced off the dark blue bedspread. She hit the plant stand in the hallway, which crashed to the floor, potting soil sprawling fan-like through the narrow passage. Aggie ricocheted off several more objects in the living room, including the dark gray sofa, the three-tier plant stand, and the tall case housing Maggie's doll collection. The carefully balanced dolls tumbled like ten pins, and three of the photographs on top of the case crashed to the floor. The cat finally came to a quivering, sneezing mass of fur behind the heavy floor-length draperies.
The powder was heavily scented, and Maggie didn't want her pet getting sick from trying to clean herself. She grabbed a clean bath towel and the cat, wrapping Aggie from the neck down, and she tried to figure out how she was going to clean the powder from the fur. She cursed her pack-rat tendencies -- she had never intended to use the gift of the powder, but throwing it out had seemed wasteful.
When the doorbell rang, she opened it, expecting to see a neighbor wondering what the noise was all about. It was Connor. He was casually dressed in his long trench coat, a faded red T-shirt, jeans and white running shoes. He looks good, Maggie thought, and I am a total frump in my sweats. Life is so blasted unfair!
"I was in the area and I thought...."
She closed the door in his face.
Connor spent the latter part of the morning in a bookstore, searching the shelves for a particular book, and doing some browsing. Ever since he learned to read in Edinburgh four hundred years before, he felt like he was playing catch-up on all the classical literature. If he only read a book once he might read everything he wanted to read, one of the more pleasant aspects of immortality. But he was drawn back to favorites time and again. New authors and titles just extended his 'must read' list. He stubbornly persisted, though, plowing his way through them one at a time, sometimes two and three at a time. Books were scattered throughout his home, in the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room, anywhere he might have a few spare moments to read. It was easier to pick up a handy book, rather than to hunt one down.
He left the store with a bag of books, and found himself driving over to Long Island. It was difficult to locate an address at four in the morning, and he decided he would reconnoiter in the daylight to prevent any delays the next day. Nothing was going to come between him and a full day on his boat. He hadn't planned on stopping, there was no reason to, but a parking space opened up directly in front of her building as he approached. Someone came out as he walked up the steps, allowing him in the secure building, so he could surprise her at the door.
It was meant to be.
She shut the door in his face.
That definitely was not the reception he expected. He guessed that if he had called first, she might have put him off, but showing up on her threshold apparently was not the best plan either. "Schemes o' mice and men gang aft a-gley," he muttered. Connor waited for her to reopen the door, confident her good manners would force her to do so -- eventually. He schooled his features to refrain from laughing outright when she succumbed.
When the door swung open she only asked, "You couldn't have been here ten minutes ago?" She stepped aside to let him enter, still struggling with a hissing and wriggling towel.
"If I had known you wanted me here..." he began but he trailed off, wondering how/if/when to tell her she should check out a mirror.
"Ten minutes ago, the place was spotless. The kitchen is clean, you can... no, you would have to walk through the mess in the hall. Just stand there while I think."
"I thought I would see if you wanted to go out for lunch, but we can order in. Chinese? Italian? Deli?"
"I am in no mood to entertain, Connor, I'm sorry. I have to clean this disaster, take care of Aggie, plus I have a paper to write before I go to work at five."
"Of course you do. I'm going to help."
"I am perfectly capable of wielding a broom and dust pan. Where are they?" He took off the coat and hung it on the coat rack near the door.
She sighed and her shoulders slumped. "You're not going to leave, are you?"
"Not until you are squared away, and tapping away on your keyboard."
"All right," she yielded, a reluctant grin on her face. "First the cat. The phone's over there -- watch out for the glass. Speed dial AG for the vet."
She took the phone from Connor when someone answered, tucked it between her ear and shoulder, and talked to the vet for a few minutes. "But she hates the vacuum cleaner! All right, thanks anyway, doc." She motioned for Connor to take the phone from her.
"I don't like that pained look, Maggie," he said, setting the phone back in its cradle.
"It's the only one I've got right now. Are you sure you want to help? I hope your shots are all up to date."
"All that I'll need," he said truthfully. "What's the plan?"
"She suggested a groomer, but pointed out with the dog show, every groomer in the tri-state area is probably booked. I think she was joking when she mentioned the vacuum cleaner, but I don't see another option. So we'll keep her wrapped up and start vacuuming with the hose attachment. She's going to hate me for weeks. Do you want to hold, or vacuum?"
"I'll hold her." He put his trench coat back on and pulled on black leather gloves. He took the securely wrapped feline from Maggie and sat on the couch. "Bite me, and you're history, Cat. Go ahead," he nodded.
Maggie draped several blankets over the machine she had pulled from the closet. She explained the deadened noise might be less disturbing to Aggie, although she didn't hold out much hope for that. She sat on the edge of the coffee table, the wide nozzle in her hand. "You ready?"
"All systems go." He tightened his grip for the initial frenzied burst, feeling the cat's heart beating wildly.
One section at a time, they cleaned the fur as best they could. Oddly, Aggie became less frenetic each time they rewrapped her. "Good lord, she's purring," Connor said when they finally began on the last section, which included the tail and a hindquarter.
"Yeah, right," Maggie said skeptically, carefully moving the nozzle repeatedly over the fur.
"Really!" He took her hand and laid it over the animal's body, which vibrated in contentment.
Maggie chortled. "Damn, but you're right. If she likes it, I have this horrible feeling every time I try to clean the place, she's going to be underfoot, looking for a little vacuum massage. You little hedonist!"
"That is a strong assumption on such short acquaintance," Connor said, deliberately misunderstanding, to see her reaction.
She looked at his face suspiciously and Connor knew it wasn't a good day for him to play poker. She bluntly asked, "What? You like pain?" The question was tinged with sarcastic humor.
"Not when I can avoid it," he said honestly.
"And how about pleasure?" She switched off the vacuum cleaner.
"Very pleasurable," he drawled softly in the quiet.
"So your point is...?" Her eyebrows rose.
"Hedonism can be a good thing. I'm just surprised you figured me out so quickly."
"You know the old phrase? Takes one to know...."
"To know one. Are we finished with the kitty cat?"
"I'll put her in the bathroom until the rest of this disaster is taken care of. Think we could get F.E.M.A. in here?"
"Only if you want to fill out endless forms -- in triplicate. What do you want for lunch?"
"Dial F-I for Italian, F-C for Chinese." She tiptoed through the dirt towards the bedroom.
"Italian," Connor decided. He called after her, "Any preferences?"
"No anchovies," she requested. A moment later, he heard her deep, throaty howl.
"I guess she found a mirror," he said to no one, and then he called in an order for lunch. When she emerged ten minutes later, she was dressed in jeans and a light blue t-shirt, her wet hair slicked back. Connor had finished cleaning the broken glass from the photographs, and was vacuuming the white splotch on the sofa.
"I wonder what Freud would have said about that?"
She arranged the pillows on the other end of the sofa. "About what?"
"Your shirt. It's powder blue." He caught the pillow she threw, and tossed it back to the sofa. "Sorry," he laughed when she clobbered him with it in a two-fisted swing. "If I had told you that you had a smudge on your face you would have spent the next ten minutes trying to figure out where it was."
"Well, it's a good thing you didn't have a camera." Twinkling eyes diminished her whiney pout.
"I do, up here." He tapped his head with a finger. "I'm going to remember that Uncle Milty look for a very long time. I'll just try not to mention it again."
"If you know what's good for you, you'll try real hard."
He acknowledged her warning with a laugh, indicating he didn't take her threat very seriously. Threats with swords, yes; threats with pillows, no. "It is a good thing I showed up when I did. You would have had a handful trying to clean the cat by yourself."
"I am glad you showed up," she admitted. "I was trying to decide what to wear tomorrow, when Aggie went berserk. How cool is it going to be out on the water?"
"Cool enough, maybe cold even. The temperature dropped last night and I think our warm weather is gone. There are extra jackets aboard, if you don't have anything warm enough."
"A wool sweater, and a windbreaker?"
"Layers are good, but you might want another layer or two. The weather reports indicate it will be brisk out there. There are pea coats on board if it turns really cold. Tennis shoes, if you have them; the gummed soles are better footing than running shoes."
"Then I'm set."
"What do you want to do about the plants?"
"Sweep up the dirt that we can, and re-pot the things, I guess."
"Two of them are root bound. There wasn't much soil left in the pots. And two of the pots are broken."
"Why am I not surprised? I have a couple of temporary pots in the kitchen window and a small bag of potting soil under the sink. I keep meaning to get to these things but I start writing..." She shrugged as an indication of what was most important to her.
"I'll take care of it. What else has to be done?"
"The cat and powder exploded in the bedroom closet. I'm afraid to look."
"You go take care of that, and I'll finish out here; take the vacuum -- I'll come get it when I need it." He consulted his watch. "Lunch should be here in about ten more minutes."
"You can turn on the TV if you want to -- there's probably a football game, or soccer, or something -- or the stereo, but I don't know if I have anything you would like." She disappeared into the bedroom. He looked briefly at her CD collection, but elected to just push the play button and take his chances. From the titles she had, he did not expect it to be Heavy Metal and a moment later soft strains of Morning from Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite filled the room. He laughed as visions of a cartoon flash through his head. He had more classical music "ruined" for him by the innovation of cartoons than all the bad orchestras and piano recitals he had ever heard -- and he loved it. He found the broom and dustpan, the flowerpots and soil and a pair of scissors. He sat on the floor in the hallway and began the project -- the floor was already dirty; he would clean it when he was done.
While he worked with smooth expertise on the plants, he thought about the phone call he had made to Duncan in Paris two days earlier. After assuring Duncan that he had no immediate plans on going "sail-about," he mentioned briefly that he was going sailing that weekend.
"Didn't mean to disturb your dreams, Duncan. And what the hell did you mean by wistful?"
"You tell me. You know I can't get into that thick head of yours."
"Maybe I'm missing John more than I thought I would or maybe I was just glad to see you again and that no one was after our heads. Ever think of that?"
"When was the last time you went home?" The younger immortal's voice had been soft with understanding.
"Which home would that be?" the elder prevaricated.
"Connor!" Duncan's voice had hardened with a threat. Connor knew if it had been possible, his kinsman would have reached through the phone line and shaken him like a rag doll.
"A year and a half ago, on her birthday." No explanation of whose birthday was ever needed between them. "Maybe it's just this time of year. We were always crazily preparing for winter, but there was still time and energy for us."
"I know. When you love someone that much, there is always energy and there is always time, no matter how crazy life gets."
"You miss Tessa, don't you?"
"Everyday, but we're different, you and I. You light a candle and hold on to the past and I keep one in my heart -- but I move on."
"You only think you do," Connor had said insightfully.
"Allow me my delusions. I learned from the master."
"I didn't mention names, did I, oh, He-who-won-the-Prize?"
Connor had sworn roundly at his kinsman before continuing, "What the hell was I supposed to think? I hadn't heard from you in a couple of years."
"I know, I know! I don't write! I don't call! Such an ungrateful child! If someone kills me, I'll make sure we pay you a visit so you can take the bastard's head."
"You do that -- what the hell were we talking about anyway?"
There had been silence on the other end for a few moments, then Duncan replied, "Wistful -- you -- why?"
"It was that damn, black-hulled garbage-scow of yours, you bohemian. It wasn't much, but I could feel each swirl and eddy around it all night, every night. I just might go sail-about after all. Want to crew for me? We'll take the Lady down to the Caribbean and play pirate for a few decades. You, me, John."
"Who are you and what have you done with my kinsman?" the younger MacLeod had demanded and Connor's response had been laughter. He had always been the one to remain focused on the Game while Duncan was comfortable with the occasional respite. "All right," Duncan had continued, "no one laughs quite like you, Connor. The offer is tempting, Cap'n, so very tempting. But maybe just a few weeks between hurricane seasons."
"Wimp! I'll talk to you on Monday, Duncan... assuming I come back into port."
"Damn it! That's not funny, Connor!"
"Connor?" The voice came from above, not inside, his head. "Can I get by? I think our lunch is here." He looked up at Maggie, remembering where he was. Aggie sat in the doorway of the bedroom, studying him through narrowed eyes.
When he leaned toward the wall, she stepped over the one long leg that was extended, briefly touching his shoulder for balance. The phone rang and she grabbed it, speaking,. "I'll buzz you in."
"How did you know?"
"We're only two floors up, Antonio rings the bell on his bike when he comes through the alley." She pulled open the door and stood in the doorway, her wallet in her hand.
"It's already paid for," Connor said, continuing his work.
"I included that in the amount."
"You re-pot my plants, and clean my cat -- I really think I should be buying you lunch."
"I'm not working two jobs and going to school. It's nothing, Maggie -- don't worry about it."
"It won't do any good to try to reason with you, will it?" she asked, resigned. "Thank you for lunch. For everything."
"My pleasure," he grinned, teasing.
She stuck her tongue out at him. "Hedonist!" and in the next breath, "Thank you, Antonio," she said sweetly to the teenager standing in front of her. The boy had arrived when she was looking at the other one sitting on her floor. She took the bag, closed the door, and tried unsuccessfully not to blush. Connor roared with laughter.
"Don't worry, he probably doesn't know what it means."
"He's a straight-A student. If he doesn't know what it means, he'll look it up. I'm doomed to eat Chinese for a month now."
"It could have been worse."
She looked at him quizzically. "How?"
"You could have called me a sadist."
Maggie flamed. The words were strangled, but clear enough. "If the shoe fits...." The comment literally flattened Connor. He rolled in the dirt in helpless mirth.
Maggie stepped over the laughing Scot in silence, and took the bag into the small kitchen to set the table and unpack their lunch. A slightly more sober Connor brushed himself off, swept up the dirt and the roots he had cut away, and then scrubbed his hands at the sink. He wondered if he had completely stepped over the line with her, but he was still trying to figure out exactly where that line was. She finally remarked casually, "You ordered enough to feed an army."
"You haven't seen me eat." He grinned at her, wanting to believe he had been forgiven for his joke.
"Lasagna, spaghetti, chicken parmesan, breadsticks, a salad. Which do you want?
"All of the above. It's sort of a do-it-yourself combo platter."
"Smart thinking. I hate deciding sometimes, when everything sounds so good." She included some serving spoons with the table setting, and sat down. "Dig in."
Partway through the meal, after he made a teasing remark, Maggie glanced at the clock and excused herself to run down to the laundry room to get her clothes before they disappeared. Connor sat alone in the kitchen with the cat staring at him from the floor.
"What are you looking at? She asked me -- I told her. Is it my fault her lips are enticing?" Aggie took this as an engraved invitation, and sprang into his lap, curling up to sleep. Connor looked down at the cat. Wrong female, he thought, but he rubbed her head and returned to his meal.
When Maggie returned to the kitchen she held two business envelopes. "You don't mind, do you? The rest was bills and junk mail, but these..."
Connor swallowed as he waved an empty fork, comfortable enough in her kitchen -- with her -- to forgo table manners. "Go ahead." She was either ignoring his earlier remark, or it didn't bother her as much as he feared.
"Thanks. I'm still trying to get an agent," she explained, "and I sent out some letters about two weeks ago."
"These are the first responses?"
"No, the last two... oh hell!" She jerked her hand away and shook it vigorously. "Paper cut. Damn, that stings."
He took her hand and glanced at the wound. "You'll live," he pronounced solemnly.
"In agony for a few days," she pouted.
"Band-aids?" He stood, dumping Aggie to the floor. He had forgotten the cat.
"Cupboard by the fridge -- other side -- and the ointment, please." She pulled out the single sheet of paper. "Dear Ms. Weir, We thank you for your inquiry, but we are currently not adding to -- Well, that was certainly worth the paper cut," she said sarcastically, tossing the page aside.
After he doctored her finger and placed a 'kiss to make it better' on the band-aid, she returned to her meal in silence.
"Aren't you going to open the other one?"
"One major disappointment a day, that's my limit -- and one paper cut."
"Wouldn't it be like ripping a band aid off? Do it quick and get it over with?"
"Could you open it? I'm wounded!" She raised the bandaged finger and managed to look woebegone.
"Ah, poor baby," Connor soothed, sighing. Rachel had twisted him around her little finger very much the same way when she was a youngster. 'A cookie would make me feel better,' had been a favorite ploy. John had always taken his lumps like a little man, scorning band-aids after the age of four, unless a grownup insisted -- and demanded cookies as his due. "The risks I take for helpless women," he grumbled good-naturedly. He pulled out the single sheet of paper and held it across the table for her to read. Maggie pushed her plate aside and leaned forward.
"Dear Ms. Weir." She looked up and grimaced at him. "I'm beginning to hate that." Her dark brown eyes returned to the letter. "I was pleased to receive your letter of the 18th and I will be in... oh my god! Oh my god!"
She looked over the paper at Connor's eyes and repeated herself in disbelief. She snatched the letter, but even holding it in her hands, Connor noted, did not seem to make it real to her. She was trembling -- if the shaking page was anything to go by.
"Good news?" Connor asked, pinching his paper cut until it healed a brief moment later.
"It's just a meeting, but..." she shoved the letter at him; her breathing was quick and shallow.
"Don't hyperventilate!" he warned, and he scanned the letter. "This is great!" He was truly glad of this opportunity for her.
"It's a foot in the door."
"She says she wants to see the rest of the story." He raised an eyebrow. "It isn't finished, is it?"
"The one she wants is finished. The navigation is for a different story, a sequel actually." He could see she was still reeling, by her wide eyes and shaking head.
"Can I see it? Your story."
Her whole demeanor changed in an instant. She had landed so hard that Connor imagined he had heard it. "Are you just being nice?" she asked suspiciously.
"Ask me that when I tell you what I think of it."
"It's a children's story, for young teens. You wouldn't really be interested."
"I used to be a young teen; let me read it," he cajoled.
"All right," she relented with a tiny smile. "Are you finished eating?" He helped her clear off the table and he washed the few dishes they used. She went to get the stack of papers that was her first finished story of book length, and brought it to him. "This is what I sent her, the first chapter, and this is the rest of it. You can read it in the living room while I work on my paper." She paused a moment, thinking. "You don't have to be anywhere this afternoon do you?"
"I'm exactly where I want to be," he said honestly. Or at least close enough for now, he thought, watching her walk out of the room.
Maggie returned to the bedroom where she vacuumed a few more items of clothing and added more to the recently emptied laundry bag. Her thoughts churned as she went about her task, but she wasn't thinking about the letter from the agent at all. She was thinking about the young man in her living room, the one who had shown up unannounced, with a grin, and a helping hand with incredibly long fingers. The one with eyes that twinkled and a laugh that tickled.
Twenty-seven or so. Only seven years younger, that isn't so bad. You are not falling for him, she told herself severely. He's just being nice, spending a little time before spending an entire day together. So what if he's charming, and funny and generous? You've resisted that kind before. What makes this one so different? she asked herself, and then mentally ticked off, Attitude, accent -- eyes! Oh god, the eyes! More than once, both today and the day in the roof garden, she had caught him looking at her speculatively, his storm-colored eyes on her lips. The last time she had asked if he was memorizing them, and he had told her when he memorized them, she would certainly know about it. His look had been seductive, and she had hastily excused herself to the laundry room. Why do I have to be so socially inept when it comes to flirting with men? she wondered, not for the first time in her life.
Frustrated with the pile of laundry she was accumulating, among other things, she just shut the closet door. It would have to wait. Maggie called Ann at home while the computer was warming up. "Ann, I need a huge favor. I need Wednesday or Thursday off -- maybe. An agent wants to meet me, but those are the only days she'll be in town. Yeah, the one from Chicago. Her plans aren't definite, but if I can be flexible...."
"I can't give you Thursday off, Lizzie will be gone, but if you had to call in sick -- well, the library won't fall down around our ears. Wednesday would be better though."
"I agree. I don't think I could stand the suspense. Thank you, Ann. Remind me to tell you about exploding cats on Monday."
"Oh dear! Aggie didn't climb in to the microwave, did she?"
"Eeewww! That's sick! No, it was bath powder, closet, nosy cat. I'd still be cleaning if Connor hadn't shown up."
"Who? Your new boyfriend?"
"He is not my boyfriend." Damn, damn, and triple damn, she swore at herself. Say that a little louder, why don't ya?
"Could've fooled me."
"You are impossible," Maggie chided with affection. "Thanks for believing in me, Ann."
"Anytime, dear, anytime. Bye now."
Connor was more than halfway through the story when Maggie came out of the back room. He was stretched out comfortably on the sofa, his stocking feet propped up on the armrest at the far end. He absently scratched the purring heating pad on his stomach.
He looked at her standing hesitantly in the doorway. "Do you want to know how it's going?" When she nodded, he held his hand out in invitation to come closer. With his knees bent and pressed against the back of the sofa, there was enough room for her to perch on the edge. "You sent just the first chapter? To all of them?"
"Just the one in Chicago, when one of her authors suggested it -- not the whole book, just a sample." She leaned her crooked arm unconsciously across the top of his knees. Her short fingernails picked at the outer seam of his jeans, and Connor tried valiantly to ignore it.
"Diabolical! She probably read it and screamed, 'Where's the rest of it?'"
"But what do you think?"
"I'm just glad I have the rest of it. You sucked me into the story with the first chapter. It has a good plot, nice character development, and good research on the historical part, although I had a question on one point. Nothing major, don't worry," he assured her quickly. "I like that you have a brother and sister, their parts nicely balanced; this could appeal to boys and girls, giving you a larger audience. If you get the right artwork for the cover... will there be illustrations in the book?"
"That isn't my decision, is it?"
"I'm not sure; your agent should know."
Maggie shivered with anticipation. "My agent! I like the sound of that."
"Make sure you have someone, a lawyer, read the contract and explain it to you before you sign it. If your first book sells -- and I think it will if it's handled the right way -- you could become the next famous children's author."
"I don't want to be famous, I just want to earn a living writing books."
"Be prepared for it, anyway. Have the agent checked out, too."
"Now you're scaring me."
"I don't mean to, just be careful. If your agent is good, she'll protect your interests, as well as her own. How is your paper going?"
"It's almost done. I have to leave in an hour."
"If I drive you to work, when do you have to leave?"
"Really? An hour and a half, maybe two hours. Thank you, Connor."
"I should be able to finish this. Go away."
"Can't I just watch you read?"
"If you sit there much longer, playing with my knee, it won't be reading done on this couch," he warned.
She understood. She went away. Entirely too easy, Connor chuckled to himself. "Hey, watch the claws, Cat!"
Aggie yawned in his face.
Before Maggie climbed down from the SUV two and a half hours later, Connor stopped her by resting his hand lightly on her arm. She turned back to him, the question unasked from her lips. Silently, he reached up and stroked her cheek with his fingertips, followed by his thumb, and Maggie instinctively turned into the caress, her eyes drifting closed. Waiting -- for what? She did not draw away when his hand crept to the nape of her neck. He paused a few seconds -- probably to give her every chance to run, she thought. She didn't resist when he pulled her close, and the tender kiss was undemanding, although it was delightfully promising for the future. "Have a good evening, Maggie. Call me when you get home -- if you remember," he chuckled.
"I will." She reached the sanctity of the ladies room to change into the uniform the restaurant had supplied. She had several minutes to lean against the door of the bathroom stall, to cool her warm face against the cold metal. She was afraid she could easily fall for him, and she didn't know what she wanted. He was younger than she was, but his maturity level surpassed most men she knew, and certainly seemed to surpass hers. He could laugh and tease her worse than her brothers, but he had also been very considerate. For some reason, the word chivalry floated into her mind, and she spent the evening thinking of knights on white chargers. Fortunately -- for herself, the restaurant, and the customers -- she didn't foul up any orders. At the end of the evening, she wondered if the silly grin probably plastered on her face had anything to do with the generous tips she had gotten that night.
Connor drove back to his place on Hudson, growling in frustration when he felt an immortal presence briefly wink on and then fade away as he continued to drive. Any other time he would seek the source, but with the prospect of sailing in front of him, he did not wish to chance anything that might foil those plans. He hoped Monday would be soon enough to learn if it was friend or foe in the vicinity. He changed direction several times, twice pulling to the side of the street to see if the immortal aura returned. Duncan had told him it was generally known among their kind that Manhattan was his territory, and most stayed away, unless they were headhunting. There were two immortals in the New York area that he knew well, laying low, trying to live normal lives for a while. He wondered if it could have been one of them. Halfway from the garage to his front door, the cell phone in his pocket vibrated.
"MacLeod," he answered.
"BenAvram," a voice said. "Please tell me you were on Long Island a short while ago."
"As a matter of fact, I was -- just after five. I'm almost home now."
"Thank God. Would you warn a person next time?"
"I can't do that, Yosef. If you get used to thinking it's me, you'll stop being cautious. I don't want to see you dead because of it."
"You're right -- as usual. How are Rachel and John?"
"They are both well, thank you for asking. And your family?"
"Well enough -- I have to go. Miriam is still glaring at me for breaking five plates when I sensed you."
"Watch your head, my friend."
"From an immortal -- or from Miriam?"
Connor snorted. "Which ever one is nearer."
"I will. Shalom."
Connor unlocked the front door and checked the answering machine in his office before heading upstairs for the evening. Yosef BenAvram had been a friend for just slightly more than fifty years, although in some ways Connor felt he had known him much longer. They had met in a New York synagogue when Connor had taken his newly adopted daughter to study at yeshiva. Meeting for the first time on holy ground, both immortals had been fractionally more relaxed than they normally would, and they discovered numerous things they had in common: interests, acquaintances, and one teacher -- the Egyptian, Tak Ne, whom Connor had known as Ramirez.
BenAvram had been a favorite object lesson Ramirez used when he regaled Connor and Heather with tales of his past. "The daft boy was as nervous as a cat anytime he sensed another immortal," the Peacock had scoffed in humor, "but a good fighter, I'll give him that. And in a fight against mortals, he was a good one to have at your back. Few I would trust with that, Highlander, the way I trust you. A true brother." MacLeod had found it to be so. Once he had defeated the Kurgan, receiving the essence of Ramirez in the quickening, he realized the bond of friendship the Egyptian and Israelite had shared. It strengthened his friendship with the older immortal.
They lost touch with each other three decades before, when Yosef moved to Israel in the Sixties. He had only recently returned with a wife and three stepchildren in tow. MacLeod wondered if BenAvram would agree to get together someplace on holy ground to spar. It never hurt to practice with a friend, and on holy ground, they never went for the head, it was too risky. An out-of-the-way cemetery that he knew of would do nicely.
Connor spent his evening in the kitchen, cooking two meals that could be reheated aboard ship. He also wrapped a present he had bought for Maggie, partially as an apology for the next day. Put him on a deck, Rachel often said, and wait for the cat-o'-nine tails to come out. He thought he had mellowed a little, but somehow he suspected it might not be enough. He hoped Rachel had only been joking.
In all his years at sea, a mighty cuff to the head or a few weeks of bread and water dealt with minor offenses, such as fighting, drunkenness, and petty theft. Only two men had deserved and received the severe lashings he had ordered. One man had stolen food from the ships stores when supplies were low. He had received the lashes from the crew in a gauntlet, and had been left in the next port. The second man, through sheer cussed laziness, had not done his job properly. Two crewmen had been severely injured, and a third was crippled for life. Connor had wielded the lash himself, knowing if the crew had their way, the man would not have survived the ordeal. Watkins was put in chains in a storage room with only one key, and Connor kept it on his person until they reached port. The man was removed from the ship just before they sailed, so Connor knew his men were not guilty of the murder. Watkins had been killed within a week of their sailing, if the reports had been true.
He might not resort to the lash often, but he could be a cranky old seadog if the crew did not move fast enough. More than one man had to be fished out of the ocean after the captain tipped him in. A simple 'next time, you'll swim for it' brought an immediate adjustment in attitude. "Patience," he muttered to himself. "Patience." If he kept saying it, maybe it would make the next day tolerable for both of them. Expect nothing, and be pleasantly surprised.
Maggie was almost ready when Connor gave her a wakeup call at half past three, and she told him so. "Then I'll be downstairs at four. I'll see you soon." She made sure Aggie had enough food and water, in case the unforeseen happened, and double-checked the contents of her bag. She was as ready as she could possibly be -- except for him. How can I ever be ready for him? She fussed for a few more minutes, moving magazines that were fine where they lay, and petting Aggie who wasn't interested in being disturbed at the moment. She finally gave up and went down to wait inside the door.
She was expecting the SUV he had driven the day before, and was surprised to see him get out of the small sports car. She ran down the steps, and he stowed her bag before handing her gallantly into her seat, kissing her hand in the process. "Buckled in?" he asked as he slid smoothly behind the wheel. "Keep an eye out for cops when we get on the highway," he ordered with a knowing grin.
She grew very quiet as he zipped in and out of traffic on the Interstate. When he finally asked how she could watch for cops with her eyes shut, she turned to him, squinting through slits. "I didn't think you would want me gasping and clutching at the dashboard every five seconds."
"No, only at me." Four softly spoken words, blunt and to the point.
"What?" she choked, certain she had heard him incorrectly.
"I want you gasping and clutching at me." Maggie had no response for that revelation, and she faced forward again. "Don't worry, Maggie. I'm just telling you how I feel -- anytime you want to seduce me, you go right ahead -- I won't mind." His face was bathed in the dark glow of the dashboard as he watched the road ahead. Unable to see his changeable gray eyes, she could only read his tone -- teasing, as usual. This time, though, she realized he was completely serious despite his teasing, as he had been the day before at her kitchen table. She stifled an uneasy laugh at the thought of seducing anyone.
"So, my driving makes you nervous?" Connor changed the subject, and Maggie was grateful.
"A little, for this much traffic, but it's their driving more than yours because not everyone uses signals. Ninety miles per hour is fine in Montana, nothing to hit but cows and deer, the occasional moose, but here --ahh!" She sank lower in the seat when a car ahead pulled in front of them, not signaling, and Connor slowed down quickly.
"I take your point." He kept the speedometer at 70, still well over the speed limit of 55mph, but much more reasonable in her opinion. "You know we'll be crawling back into the city, don't you? With the end of weekend traffic."
"I know. Thanks for slowing down, Connor."
"Hmmm," he wondered aloud, "the car, or us?"
"Both!" she quipped without thinking.
Connor laughed, patted her knee, and then covered her hand with his. Maggie stared down at their hands resting on her thigh, struck again by the cool reassurance of his casual touch. She slid down fractionally in the seat, willing herself to relax, but it was difficult to do when his thumb occasionally slipped underneath and stroked her palm. It was going to be a long day being with someone who could make her limp with a simple touch, but calm her with another. The gentle caress continued until the man beside her had to downshift for their exit.
It required only one trip from the car to the Lady. Besides Maggie's tote bag, the cooler and bag of food, Connor had brought the navigational equipment, charts, some books, and the brightly wrapped gift in a closed carry all. They stowed everything in short order, and Connor showed her where the foul weather gear and extra jackets were, in case she needed them.
"Is this...?" She opened a door and closed it again. "Ah, yes, the all important head. That will come in handy."
"So you know about that do you?"
"Navy brats tend to pick up on these things. Port, starboard, bow, stern," she rattled off, "all hands on deck, red sky at night..."
"Then you know sailing." Connor was delighted.
"Sorry, Dad flew jets. Some of the lingo, none of the skills." She cupped her hands over her mouth. "Ah-oo-ga! Ah-oo-ga! Dive! Dive! Dive!"
"But that's submarines," Connor observed.
"Bubbleheads," she agreed with a broad grin. "I watched a lot of movies as a kid."
The old sea captain shook his head in wonder, and then he had her read the checklist as he prepared for getting under way, and showed her the safety equipment and procedures. Zeke had done his job well in preparing the boat. Connor quickly went over the different sails as they removed the covers, and indicated the lines for each sail. It was a start.
"I'll cast off," Connor said when the list was completed.
"I can do that," Maggie offered eagerly.
That's what crew is for, Connor thought with satisfaction. "Bowline first," he suggested.
She scrambled onto the dock and freed the line indicated from the mooring, tossing the cable to the deck. The tide was going out, tugging gently on the boat, and when she released the stern line, the Lady of the Loch began to move away from the pier. She eyed the distance, hesitating.
"Jump!" Connor ordered, holding his hand out.
She leapt over the widening chasm. Connor caught her as she landed, but he ended up on the deck, with Maggie partially on top of him. "Nice landing," Connor chuckled.
"Nice trap," the aviator's daughter said. "Permission to come aboard, Cap'n?"
"Granted. Oof!" Maggie pushed lightly against his chest to stand, and then held out a hand to pull him up. Connor started the engine and they left the dock, motoring out of the marina into the harbor. Maggie pulled in the bumpers from the port side that had protected the Lady from the wharf, and then clambered up to the bow to coil the bowline. "Come take the tiller, while I run up the sail. Keep it steady; just to the right of that buoy, do you see which one? Good girl." He kissed the top of her head, and went forward.
Maggie experimented with the tiller and quickly learned she had to move it opposite the way she wanted to go. Knowledge is power, she thought with a smirk. She watched Connor release the ties on the sail -- surefooted, capable, he moved as if he had been doing this all his life. Now that is power, the woman thought, realizing she had a lot to learn about sailing. His nimble fingers made quick work of it and he began pulling on the halyard to raise the sail, first one and then the other. The task done, he took the tiller from her, and shut off the engine. They rounded the buoy, and sailed east into the sunrise.
"Are you ready for breakfast yet?" the captain asked.
"I'm famished," his crew admitted.
"There's a quiche in the cooler. Put it in the microwave for 3 minutes on high. There's bottled orange juice, or coffee in the thermos. I'll have coffee. You're not feeling queasy are you?" His voice went from a brisk command to gentle concern in mere seconds.
"Not yet. I brought some ginger snaps, just in case."
"You let me know. We don't have to stay out here all day."
The expression on his face was one of pleasure and satisfaction, and she would have to be heaving her guts out to call it quits and deprive him of this time. Below, without the distant horizon to focus on, she distinctly felt the up and down of the small boat. She hoped it wouldn't take long to acquire her 'sea legs.' She hurried back on deck with the thermos and a mug for him, a small bottle of orange juice for herself, and the package of cookies.
Connor eyed the ginger snaps suspiciously when he took the coffee mug from her. "Already? We're barely past the break water."
"Just when I'm below. If I start eating them now, it might head off any problems. How do we sail against the wind?"
He briefly explained the theory of tacking to her and steered the Lady starboard into a port tack, the wind filling the sail from the port side. He let her get the feel of the wind in the sails for herself while he went below to get the quiche. He came back just as she started to panic. "Connor! Another boat! What do I do?"
He looked in the direction she pointed. "It's a speed boat, it has to give way to us, since we're under sail." He watched as the boat came closer, and he gritted his teeth, his eyes narrowing. Some boaters got their jollies by coming as close as they could and then veering away in the last seconds. If he had an eight-pounder mounted on the Lady, he'd put a ball across their bow as they passed. Then he laughed. A 3" gun mount would be a hell of a lot more accurate. Too bad they aren't legal on pleasure boats. He would have to settle for getting the name and registration, and reporting the behavior to the Coast Guard. He picked up the old spyglass from its place near the tiller. The speedboat finally turned, giving them a not-so-wide berth on the port side, but within legal limits, and Connor breathed easier. The less he had to deal with authorities, the better.
"Ready to come about to a starboard tack?" He instructed her on the method, and let her do it while he served their breakfast, ducking as the boom swung across the boat. "Very good. Now hold the course, adjust the sail to let it fill completely. Good, good. Not bad for a beginner." He handed her a plate with her breakfast on it, and hauled on the halyard for the jib before serving himself.
"Thankee, Cap'n," she beamed, "for the compliment and the breakfast. This is wonderful. Did you make it?"
"I did, and I made lunch, too. Move the tiller about an inch away from you. Good. Can you feel the difference in her?" He was pleased to see Maggie nod, her face fierce in concentration. He was reasonably certain she was enjoying herself, from the sparkle in her eyes. He ate his breakfast quickly, learned from decades of experience on the water: eat when you can, sleep when you can, heaven only knows when there would be another chance. The wind was not holding steady, so Connor was satisfied with the tacking course they sailed. When they turned to run before the wind, unsteady winds could be dangerous. A sudden change in wind direction could cause the sail to jibe and swing the heavy boom over the deck, smashing into anything in its way. But until that happened, the speed would be thrilling.
Connor breathed deeply, content with what he had: a deck beneath his feet, the salty air, a mug of hot coffee, and a crew willing to learn. It could not get much better. Well, he amended, it could be a little warmer. He wrapped his hands around the coffee mug to absorb the heat. He had endured worse cold -- killing cold going around Cape Horn -- and this was nothing in comparison. He glanced at his crew. She had pulled her sleeve down over the hand on the tiller and only the tips of her fingers on the other hand were visible as she ate the breakfast balanced on her lap. He checked the horizon for obstacles, and seeing none close in the general direction they were heading or any on a collision course, he went below and rummaged through the locker. He found gloves for them both and a pea coat for her. It would be warmer in an hour or so, but once miserable, he found crew had a hard time returning to a happier frame of mind. He came up on deck and took the tiller from her.
"Put these on until it gets warmer. Are you doing all right?"
"I'm fine, but these will help." She shrugged into the pea coat, which looked too large, and slipped on the gloves. She helped herself to another slice of the quiche, consuming it while she watched Connor maneuver the boat to get the most speed he could out the wind. He nudged and caressed the tiller of the Lady, his eyes on the sails and the water around them. When the speed was sufficient, he prepared to tack.
"Get down!" he warned, and he pushed the tiller away. They turned to starboard and the boom swung from the left to the right side of the ship. There was a moment of hesitation in the speed until the Lady's inertia turned her fully into the port tack. The wind filled the mainsail and the boat began to regain the speed she had lost. Connor tugged on the halyard for the jib, bringing it around to the right side of the mainsail. Wind filled the smaller forward sail, and the boat leapt minutely forward again.
"How long has it been since you've been sailing?" She asked, turning her face to the wind to push her hair back from her face, a finger loosening a strand that had caught in the corner of her mouth.
He had observed her watching his face, watching his hands. "Why? What do you see?"
"The closest word? Ecstasy -- like you've died and gone to heaven. How long?"
"Too long." Since John left, but I can't tell you that. "I'm glad you came with me, Maggie." He glanced up at the sail and moved the tiller an inch.
"So am I. Even with the cold, it's great."
"Wait until we run before the wind. Do you want the tiller again?"
"No, you're having too much fun. I'll just watch and enjoy the view." She settled back against the cushions and looked at him.
"Make yourself useful instead. That blue carryall? Bring it up on deck and no peeking!"
"Aye-aye, Cap'n." She saluted saucily and gathered the dishes to take below. Back on deck, she opened the carryall when he directed her and saw the present. "For me?" she quivered optimistically, an eager note in her voice.
"For my cousin. I thought we'd sail to France to give it to him -- of course for you."
She expressed her delight with the book on sailing that he gave her, particularly the historical section. She stuffed the gift back into the carryall to protect it, and she sat next to Connor and gave him a quick kiss. "If I had known you were going to give me a present, I would have brought you something." She tied her hair back with the sparkly white ribbon from the gift-wrapping. She knew she had forgotten something that morning.
"You've given me the best present I could have right now, someone to sail with me." His arm draped around her shoulders, he gave her a quick companionable squeeze.
"I'll bet there are a lot of people that would love to go sailing."
"But not necessarily ones I would want to sail with. Pull out the sextant and take a reading." She jumped up for the bag that was tantalizingly out of reach, but turned when he said, "I just want to be sure we're not off the California coast, headed for Death Valley."
"Yemen!" she corrected him yet again, humor twitching her lips. "You're not going to let me forget that, are you?"
"Never, Powder Puff," he promised, "and I'll bet you'll never transpose numbers again."
She groaned just before she slugged him; wisely, she moved swiftly away.
"Ow! You hit me!" He was astounded by her attack.
"A girl has to defend herself somehow -- and you deserved it." She wrinkled her nose at him.
"I should have you keelhauled for mutiny! At least hit you back," he complained, unable to reach her, his hands busy with the tiller. He used his elbow to keep the Lady on course, and rubbed his upper arm, the pain faded, but he was milking it for sympathy.
"Ah, but you're a gentleman. You would never hit a lady."
"Don't be so sure -- it depends on the lady. Sluggers like you had to be tomboys."
"Don't let my mother hear you say that. She tried so hard to teach me to be a lady," Maggie languished in true Southern belle fashion. "But it was four against one, with one abstention-Daddy."
"Well, I think you should kiss it and make it better."
"I like it fine, right over here." She pulled out the sextant for a reading while Connor cussed under his breath. The powder puff was learning to read him too easily.
After a pleasant dinner at a seafood restaurant near the marina, the drive back into the city was worse than Connor had anticipated. It was after ten o'clock before they turned onto her street and he parked just a short distance from her building. "Invite me in," he requested after he circled the car and opened her door. At her silence, he continued, "You still don't trust me, do you?" He crouched down to her level, trapping her in the low seat of the Porsche, leaving her no room to maneuver.
"I don't trust myself," she admitted in a whisper.
"That's promising. Trust me, then," his voice low, he looked at her earnestly. "I only want to kiss you senseless, without your neighbors watching. Nothing more, at least not tonight; it's been a long day and we're both exhausted. Invite me in," he repeated.
She gazed at him for several long seconds, and then pasted a smile on her face. "Thank you for today, Connor. Could you help me with my bag?" He heard brittleness in her voice; she was still unsure.
This isn't going well. He cursed his impetuous request silently, but he wasn't going to rescind it.
"I would be happy to." He assisted her from the car and carried her tote bag, waiting patiently while she fumbled with her keys. The moment of truth, he reflected as she pushed open the door. She entered and stood aside for him to step over the threshold. At her apartment, he held his breath again. She pushed open the door and she assumed he would follow behind her.
"Hi, Aggie. Did you behave?" She scooped up the cat and Connor recognized a shield when he saw one. He left the carryall by the door and followed them into the kitchen. He watched the yogurt ritual as he leaned against the doorjamb, wondering how long she would be able to put it off. He had to give her credit, though. When she looked at him and he silently held out his hand in invitation, she smiled and moved near. "It feels right to have you here. I guess yesterday helped with that. Outside just now, I wasn't sure."
"I like it when you smile," he said, walking backwards, drawing her into the living room. They moved slowly, a step at a time, Connor's steps shorter, bringing Maggie inevitably closer. "It reminds me..." he hesitated.
"What?" She was only inches away but he still did not take her into his arms. It was too soon. She wasn't laughing yet. A smile, no matter how pleasant, could be forced, but laughter, real laughter, was the true indication of her relaxation.
His free hand brushed her hair back from her face, touching her cheekbone lightly, softly with his fingertips. "Moonlight on the loch: soft and shimmery. But if I reach out, it disappears. How do I capture it? So elusive."
"I don't know," she murmured, stretching her neck as his fingers trailed down the side of her throat, gasping as he traced another line up the center to her chin, and he kissed her quickly.
"Oh no! It slipped away again." His distress was fabricated to amuse her.
"Connor!" She laughed at his nonsense, a throaty chuckle. He was relieved to hear that laugh; her fear had finally dissipated, just as morning mist vanished in the warm sunshine.
"Oh, there it is again. Should I just admire from a distance... or..." the back of his legs touched the couch, "should I just fall in?" He tugged, and she squealed as they fell together onto the plush sofa, his arms enfolded her to keep her from slipping away.
"Nice trap," she giggled from his chest.
"Nice landing," he responded, his lips twitching. He remembered that morning as well, and then he sobered. "At least the moonlight is still there. I was afraid it would disappear behind a cloud." He freed one arm and touched her brow, and then her cheek again. She turned her head slightly and kissed his palm, concentrating on the fleshy pad below his index finger. He moved his fingertips to her mouth, and she glanced at his face, her eyes sparkling. When her tongue flitted out briefly to caress the tips, he shifted her up, and captured the moonlight in a tender kiss. He did not invade the soft confines of her mouth, but circled the edge, nipping, tracing, teasing; stroking her back roughly, touching her face gently. He found her pulse below her jaw with his lips, and lingered there for a moment to feel it racing, to let her catch her breath.
When she ducked her head to seek his lips, he growled deep in his throat, and took again the mouth she offered. This time he was a little more daring in his exploration, desire kindled by her sweetness.
When she shifted uncomfortably against him, he knew the reason for her concern. "No, wait," Connor implored when she tried to move away. "Just lay quiet for a moment."
She rested her head on his chest just over his heart. "Connor?"
"Hmm?" He drew lazy circles on her shoulder, trying to suppress the normal urges of a man with a woman on top of him. It was too soon, and he had promised, but it still didn't lessen his desire.
She turned her head to look at him. "Did you capture the moonlight?"
"You're still here, so I guess I did. I have to go."
"I said I would kiss you senseless; I didn't realize you would do the same to me. Go sailing with me next Sunday?"
"I'd love to!" She started to rise, but he pulled her back down for one more kiss.
"Okay," he finally pushed her away and sat up. "I'm out of here. Bathroom?"
"Sure. Back in the bedroom." Wisely, she stood and turned away, walking towards the back of the apartment, but she stopped in the kitchen. "Light switches are on the right, both rooms."
He eyed the cat sleeping in the middle of the bed, seemingly oblivious to the world around her. Lucky cat. He didn't want to leave, but he preferred a relationship built at least partially on trust. He couldn't tell her who he really was, so his actions would have to suffice. Afterwards, he cornered Maggie in the kitchen for a lingering farewell kiss.
"Hmm," she smiled, "I do like your kisses." She slipped an arm through his and walked with him to the door.
"Then I'll be sure to bring more next weekend. Call me and let me know how your meeting goes."
"I will. I spoke to my cousin last night in California. She said she'd look over the contract forms, assuming one is offered. Hell, I'm as nervous as a cat in a room full of rockers."
He gave her a reassuring hug, and a quick kiss on the tip of her nose. "It will be fine, Maggie. Just be yourself. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Connor." But she did not immediately let him go. Instead, she reached behind his neck and brought him down, for a brief, chaste kiss. "Thank you for today."
"My pleasure." He turned away, laughing briefly when he heard the whispered "hedonist" floating after him. If that's true, why am I leaving?
Connor leaned against the SUV patiently, watching the seabirds float on the breeze with little effort. BenAvram was late, but the Highlander was not concerned. Traffic, on occasion, was like that. The cemetery was in the back of beyond, and judging from the overgrowth, not recently used. It would be perfect for the sparring, and he would remember this place for future use. He heard another vehicle approach, and forced himself not to grin at the Ford minivan. Yosef had become the family man all right, but having met the raven-haired Miriam and her rambunctious boys, Connor could hardly blame him. Some risks were worth taking.
"MacLeod," the tall, swarthy, dark-haired man nodded when he got out of the van. "Thanks for the invite. I can always use the practice."
"So can I. Best two out of three?" Connor threw off his coat, and BenAvram did the same. In a few moments they would be warm enough. Their eyes met, honestly, without guile. Nothing had occurred to change their friendship -- they would both be going home.
"Time limit. I promised Miriam I'd be home by nine. I seem to remember one of our matches lasted for two hours once."
"I was toying with you."
"I seem to remember you died in that one."
"Selective memory. Shall we?"
"We shall." They circled each other warily, weapons raised in preparation. Connor saw the first opening, and lunged, but he was blocked by Yosef's weapon.
"Nice sword by the way? Is it new?" Connor asked, backing away, circling, pausing.
"Only to me. The previous owner challenged the wrong man. I like it better than that centurion's weapon I carried for so long. It's lighter, and stronger. Not to mention less questions asked." Blows were struck, one after another, in rapid succession, and they both backed off, breathing just a little quicker.
"I've noticed there are more collectors out there now." The two katanas clashed in an astounding flurry of thrusts and parries, and both men retreated, pacing around each other, eyes wary. It was fifteen minutes into the match before first blood was drawn. "Damn," Connor said, "I liked this sweat shirt."
"I think your mind is elsewhere, my friend." BenAvram chastised.
"Never when I fight." MacLeod shook his head in denial and feinted to the right, struck left, but the steel was blocked.
"Ah, but we're only practicing. What's her name?"
"What makes you think it's a woman?" Connor lunged again, and managed to nick his opponent. "Heh!" he gloated briefly.
"We're brothers," BenAvram said, shaking off the pinprick. "There is very little that will distract either of us from the Game, but a good woman is very capable of doing that -- presuming there is no immediate danger. I know Rachel distracted you for a time."
"She's my daughter." The fight continued as they bantered back and forth.
"Of course. I didn't mean it that way. I remember the few weeks before her first prom. Oh, close, but no cigar, MacLeod. You were definitely distracted, wanting to protect her from that pimply-faced walking hormone. Any woman -- daughter, wife, lover -- will be a distraction to men like us. We either worry about them, or we want them -- or we worry about wanting them-Hah!"
"Nice move! Or we want to worry about them. Her name is Maggie, and we went sailing last week. I'm teaching her about navigation."
"Sure you are. And I'll convert the Pope to Judaism. Is that where you were the other night?"
"I dropped her off at work." Thrust. Retreat.
"So I can expect sensing you again." Block. Advance.
"I told you," Connor attacked with renewed vigor, and plunged beneath Yosef's defenses, "don't assume it is me!" The wound in BenAvram's side did not drop him, but he called a brief break, giving that one to MacLeod. They both sprawled in the grass to rest for the next round.
"I won't assume, MacLeod, but I won't panic Miriam either."
"How much does she know?"
"All of it. I didn't tell her about the Game at first, but I did before I married her. We have to, don't we, to be honorable? And the amazing woman married me anyway. What about this Maggie of yours?"
"She's not my Maggie. I've only known her for two weeks."
"Is that all? Odd, isn't it, how sailing can create bonds so quickly? But time doesn't matter if it's right. I knew the minute I laid eyes on Miriam in the orange grove she was the one for me -- if I could just find a way to explain what I was. Now you, you're a private guy. I can't see you teaching just anybody about sailing -- wait -- navigation you said. She must be beautiful, or rich, or both."
"Her riches lie in her smile, and her humor, Yosef." Connor let the slur on his character slide. Rich, indeed!
"So, that's the way it is. A little smile, a little hip wiggle, and Connor MacLeod is a goner. You and Tak Ne -- two of a kind, I swear!"
"She's not like that!" Connor protested.
"And you defend her honor -- curiouser and curiouser." Yosef fell silent, rubbing his side.
Connor tugged at the grass in front of him, his katana lying across his lap as he waited for BenAvram to heal. In a real battle, off holy ground, there would have been no time-out, the fight would have continued until one was disarmed, and probably beheaded. Over the centuries the Highlander had lost many to the Game he had called acquaintance, and some he had called friend, a few he had called brother. He had lost track of many he had known, hearing of a death, hearing rumors of battles waged and lost.
One by one, after he defeated the Kurgan, those still alive reappeared in his life. Duncan and Yosef, others he had known for a century or two, even one student who refused to take heads had survived off holy ground -- somehow. 'Brother,' Yosef had called him, as Ramirez had called him centuries before. A kinship built on trust and belief in a greater good, and their uniqueness. Ramirez told him there could be only one. But had the millennia distorted the truth in the telling of the tradition? One left standing? Or was it simply that either good or evil would be the final victor? No one really knew the answer, but it didn't matter. As long as there were immortals with evil intent, or simply after his head, he would fight.
His thoughts drifted to the mortals. Besides the damn Watchers, there were few alive who knew what he was, and from whence he came. Could he tell Maggie the truth? To share a secret that was not his alone, he had to be certain of her. It was still too early in their relationship, but after spending only two afternoons and a Sunday with her, he was certain the 'working' relationship was not going to be enough. Not for him. She made him laugh one moment, and aggravated him the next. Watching her emotions flit across her face was becoming a favorite pastime for him. He wanted to make love to her, but was satisfied for now to just kiss her briefly or even just hold her hand. He just wanted her close. Yosef was right -- he was a goner. But how the hell do I tell her the truth?
When Connor took her out on Saturday to celebrate, Maggie bubbled happily about the contract she had decided to sign with Rosalie; her cousin's approval had been received by e-mail the night before. "I like Rosalie, and so would you. She's witty and charming --"
"And intelligent -- she snapped you up."
"Yes, there is that!" Maggie barely avoided smirking. After a picnic lunch they took a leisurely stroll through the zoo, laughing together at the antics of the animals. Maggie giggled as she claimed each remark Connor made was more outrageous than the last. A man nearby howled when his child threw the cellular phone into the primate exhibit, and the animal that retrieved it did a fair imitation of holding it next to an ear before chewing on the plastic case. "Even if a chimp could use a cell phone, who would he call -- George of the Jungle?" An impromptu rendition of the theme song left a few grownups wondering about the couple, but three children nearby joined in. "Watch out for that tree!" the ensemble warbled.
As they moved from enclosure to enclosure, Connor kept Maggie close -- an arm draped over her shoulders, her arm pulled through his, or just holding her hand. He was content with her, but he wondered how long it could last. He usually avoided long-term relationships unless the woman knew him for what he was, knew that his life could be -- and too often was -- unsettled and dangerous. Brenda had known and had saved his life with a timely intervention when he had battled the Kurgan, distracting the dark one while Connor scrambled for his fallen sword. And his dearest Heather, who had given up any hope of children to stay with him in those first decades of his immortality -- her love had given him life.
He still wasn't sure which was the best way to go -- let them find out the hard way, or gently ease them into it, as Duncan had tried with Tessa. 'Immortality is a curse' he had told Heather, and occasionally still felt it to be so. But without it, he wouldn't have known this woman at his side, or Brenda, or Sarah. Rachel and John. Ramirez and Duncan. So many others as well. Even Heather had been met after his first death. So many lives had touched his existence, those he would permit near, and he couldn't imagine not knowing any of them. Cursed, yet blessed. That was one for the philosophers. One thing was for certain: when... if he told Maggie his true age, she would probably hit him in the arm. Hard. Learned from three brothers, she had said, just to hold her own against them.
The petting zoo, filled with noisy children and nosy animals, was their final stop. "You don't really want to, do you?" Connor groused by the gate. "Goat and donkey shit everywhere."
"It's tradition! I've always gone to the petting zoo if there was one." She eyed him frankly and said, "I suppose someone your age wouldn't necessarily understand about tradition."
Oh yes. She is going to slug me hard.
When Connor pulled up in front of her building she leaned towards him automatically for a kiss. Connor was pleased with the progress they were making, but he hastily declined her naïve invitation to come upstairs. "You know what I want, Maggie, but the time still doesn't feel right. I don't want to rush you, and I certainly don't want to scare you off before we go sailing tomorrow. I've been looking forward to it all week."
"So have I." Her sigh was wistful. She gave him one last lingering look when she closed the door to the SUV, and then she turned away. Connor was sorely tempted to follow her and sweep her off her feet. He wanted to make love to her all evening and all night, but he merely gripped the steering wheel tighter and fought the impulse. During their picnic, he had made it clear to her what he wanted, but that he was willing to wait for her to make the critical decision. In the frank discussion, she had revealed to him the low number of sexual encounters she had in her thirty-odd years, her lack of desire stemming from discomfort and the lack of pleasure. He had cursed at the men and boys she had known for not doing it right. "But if one of them had," she had reasoned, "I probably would have married the man, and have had a passel of kids by now, and who would you go sailing with?" He had no answer for that. Who indeed?
Their second expedition took them out around Plum Island at the eastern end of Long Island. Connor taught her more about sailing and map reading, and called her navigation close to perfect -- New Jersey being a hell of a lot closer than the Gobi. She threw the last bite of a Twinkie at him, and he cussed mildly at her for fouling his deck with crème filling. She laughed in his face, and then kissed him quickly, dancing just out of reach, his hands busy with the tiller as the wind shifted yet again.
They pulled back into port just before sunset as a cold front moved in, and they quickly swabbed down the boat, leaving everything shipshape. They talked about next Sunday's trip, and the possibility of going to Mystic Seaport if the weather didn't cooperate; the winds had been distinctly frigid that afternoon. As they walked along the dock to the ramp, a family approached on another platform to the main one when the children decided to race. They laughed and shoved each other as they jockeyed for position, and the parents shouted for them to slow down. The two boys pushed past Connor and Maggie on the narrow walkway, followed closely by the girl. Connor saw Maggie misstep and grabbed for her, but he only managed to snag the carryall on her shoulder. Maggie, flailing, slipped over the side of the dock with the empty ice chest close behind.
The cold water was a shock to her system. She had a clear enough head to struggle out of the heavy pea coat that threatened to drag her under, and then to grab for the floating ice chest. The parents hurried forward, and helped Connor pull the bedraggled form out of the water. "We're sorry, man. The kids..." the man tried to explain as his wife hurried after the children.
"You talk to those kids about safety. If this happens again, I'll report you to the marina board. There is no excuse for what happened." In the persona of a sea captain, Connor's words may have carried weight with the man, but he didn't stay to find out.
He led the shivering Maggie back to the boat, and the man followed the couple with the ice chest and both carryalls, leaving them on the deck of the Lady before quickly -- wisely -- disappearing. In the cabin, while pulling the small curtains over the portholes, Connor briskly ordered her out of her wet clothes. He produced a sheet for her to wrap up in, and he made up the starboard bunk, piling three wool blankets on it.
When he turned around, she stood there huddled miserably in the sheet, and he draped the last blanket over her shoulders. He washed her hair with the remnants of the warm water left in the small water heater to remove the saltwater residue and oil. He rubbed her head vigorously to dry her hair, and handed her a washcloth. "Sponge bath, and then into bed. I'll take these clothes topside to the dock and rinse them with the hose. Give you some privacy," he said gruffly. He left her alone in the cabin to scrub the marina residue from her skin, and rinse her panties and bra the small galley sink.
By the time he came below, she was huddled under the weight of the blankets, still shivering. The sheet was in a heap on the floor, and the blanket tossed on top of the berth. "S-sorry, C-connor," her teeth chattered as she spoke.
"It wasn't your fault. I'm just glad it didn't happen out in the ocean when the boom jibed."
"S-so am I."
"Was the water that cold?"
"Yes-s." Her stuttering breath was drawn in and let out, and Connor was chilled just listening to her. "My legs-s were nearly froz-z-en below the c-coat I had on. I'm n-never going to be w-warm again."
"You should have gone below if you were that cold when we were out."
"And th-throw up? N-no w-way!"
Connor made a decision. "Do you know what they say about desperate circumstances?"
"Des-s-sperate m-meas-sures, oh!" Her body clenched violently for a moment, as it tried to generate heat.
He leaned over the bunk, arms on either side of her, and peered directly into her dark eyes. "Do you trust me?"
"T-too cold anyth-thing els-se."
"Roll to starboard," he ordered, praying this wasn't a mistake.
Maggie did as Connor requested, and curled on her right side facing the inside hull. A few moments later, she listened to him curse a blue streak, and he promptly apologized, muttering something about bathing suits and foul weather. She felt him slip into the berth with her, spooning against her back, as he murmured in her ear, "Think of me as a giant hot water bottle."
"Yeah, r-right." She tried to relax against his warmth when he pulled her close, but it was an intimacy she wasn't used to experiencing. His bare chest against her back provided heat she so desperately needed against her skin, but she could also feel an ember growing within her. So this is what desire really is, some corner of her brain registered. Should have taken Seduction 101 in college.
"You're like an ice cube!" he groaned, his breath tickling her neck.
"S-so," she joked feebly, relaxing minutely, "you're calling me f-frig-gid?"
"A regular ice maiden." He briskly rubbed the top of her thigh with a sure hand, stimulating blood flow to the skin.
"At least you're not stuttering. And it's supposed to sting." He began a massage, warming the deep muscles below the surface. "If it didn't sting, I'd be packing you off to the emergency room. Roll over."
"You first." He was in a swimsuit he had found in the locker, but she was stitchless. He laughed, and complied with her request.
When she squirmed around to cuddle against him, he suggested she put her arm around him to get closer. "You're still like ice, woman," he complained.
"It was your idea... but it's working."
He took her hand and kissed her palm before enfolding it in his long fingers for safekeeping. "Good."
Maggie was thawing quickly and the heavy weight of the blankets and the heat from Connor's body was soothing, and a languor settled over her. I could stay like this forever. She slept.
She woke when a cool draft hit the back of her neck and it took a moment to get her bearings. She debated whether to wake Connor so they could leave, or just stay there for a while longer. As she breathed his scent, huddled against the smooth skin of his back, she made her decision. She was warm, and she was tired, and she chose to simply roll over. The berth was not that wide, and she woke Connor who grumbled in good nature, and he followed her a moment later. His arm rested comfortably over her, so she placed her hand over his, holding it as he had held hers, and she attempted to go back to sleep. She shifted her hips uncomfortably against the hard bunk, and snuggled further under the blankets.
"If you keep that up, there may be consequences," Connor warned in an amused tone.
She opened her eyes in sleepy slits as she acknowledged his voice. Her eyes widened and she sucked in a quick breath when she understood what he meant. Before she could decide whether to remain still or pull away, he made the question moot by pulling her even closer, the third option that hadn't quite coalesced in her startled mind. His lips touched the back of her neck and then her shoulder, causing her to gasp, trembling, desiring. When his hand splayed wider across her midriff, his thumb brushing the gentle curve of her breast, she turned her head in his direction. "Maybe," she said softly, hesitantly, "I wouldn't mind the consequences." Damn, did I really say that? Yes, a small voice niggled, and you meant it!
At the startling admission from the woman in his embrace, Connor propped himself up on his elbow and looked down into her captivating eyes. "Are you sure?" He had only intended to fluster her once more into adorable confusion.
"Sure?" She turned away, depriving him of the ability to fully read the emotions flitting across her face. He permitted her to lift his hand from where it rested under hers and she placed it in her right hand, lacing her fingers with his, but only for a moment.
He watched their hands dance and mate as she talked -- caressing, trembling, seducing -- first hers, and then his when her fingers stilled briefly. "I've watched you sail the Lady. You know every inch of her; you can coax every moment of speed possible out of her with a simple caress of the tiller, a tug on a line, even on a tacking course." Connor listened as she spoke softly, remembrance having brought even more tenderness to her voice. It sounded as if she was trying to convince herself of something. What she had succeeded in doing, though, was convince him. I can wait as long as it takes. You will be worth it.
Her moan was low when his fingertips brushed her palm, and she again took over the caressing in self-defense, sending his senses reeling. "But then you turn her around and run her before the wind. Giving her freedom, but still caressing the tiller to keep her on course, still coaxing more from her than anyone could think possible. God, it's exhilarating! I almost understand why you love sailing so much." She stilled their hands by intertwining her fingers in his and curling her fingers down. He returned the clench gently. She again twisted her head to look at him over her shoulder, her eyes on his lips, and then the soft brown eyes rose to meet his gaze.
"If it's possible, I want to run before the wind, Connor -- with you." Her quiet sigh was wistful, as if she thought her request was too much to hope for, and he was curious whether she doubted his abilities or her own.
Do you really mean it? he wondered, searching her face for affirmation of her words.
To answer his unspoken question she wryly smiled and whispered, "I'll try not to jibe, Cap'n."
He growled low in his throat, and murmured, "Moonlight." He covered her soft, enticing lips with his own, turning her onto the slower, tacking course. There would be time for running before the wind once he learned how she handled.
Her dream soft, she struggled to retain it when the world around her intruded. It didn't begin as a coherent thought at first, but she wondered how the voices managed to be just outside her window, two stories up. And when did her down comforter get so heavy and her waterbed so hard? Wait -- she didn't own a waterbed, but there was a distinct rocking motion to the boat. The Lady!
"Connor?" Her eyes popped open, and her hasty glance swept the cabin when there was no answer. She was alone, and she felt abandoned as the voices on the dock receded. Bereft of his presence, she struggled to sit up in the tangled blankets, wondering where he had gone. When she felt a chilly current of air on her bare back, she sank down under the warmth and weight of the woolen blankets, and she heard the soft crinkle of paper. A note? Her soul trembling as much as her fingers, she found the folded letter and opened it gingerly.
Meggie, she read and warmth enfolded her -- that was just like him to spell it that way, I wanted you to wake in my arms, slowly, but it was not to be. I've gone to get you something to wear, and I'll be back ASAP. So go back to sleep, and I'll wake you when I return. C. The small postscript calmed her soul. We ran before the wind, didn't we?
Her lower lip escaped the teeth that had held it in bondage. Relief swirled through her like a river eddy reaching every crevice, the tension dissipating quickly. She read the note again, several times, before placing it on the countertop above her head. 'I wanted you to wake in my arms' soothed her, and the postscript thrilled her. She drew the blankets up to her chin and rolled over on her side. Curling around the pillow he had used, the scent of him still lingering there, she buried her nose in it, remembering.
How had he done that? she wondered. He had known each sensitive spot on her body that would make her yearn for his touch, stroking or nuzzling every inch of her until she had burned for him. She hadn't thought it possible, having never known such passion, but she had begged for him to complete the sweet torment. His response -- to return to each tender spot and make her moan and tremble anew. Driven beyond anything she had ever imagined she had alternately tried to escape or she pressed against him. It was insanity. Damn, she thought when she recalled his words from a lifetime ago -- 'I want you gasping and clutching at me.' He certainly called that one.
He had caressed her face and neck with kisses, and then her breasts had received the ardent attention of his mouth. When his hand had begun an intimate exploration, his lips returned to hers to gather her small gasps. The fervent kiss had swallowed her exultant cry along with her soul when he entered her at last. Sensation had crashed upon sensation, like the storm swells that pound the beach, and she remembered little after that until the shattering climax. She had been unprepared for being scattered to the winds, and Connor had to hold her, gathering the pieces, putting her back together with soothing strokes of his hands and whispered words.
Connor still couldn't believe there had been nothing on the boat for Maggie to wear except foul weather gear and some bathing suits. A note from Zeke had indicated the clothes had all been used the day before, and he had taken everything home to wash and he would have them back on board first thing in the morning. Connor had completely forgotten he had given his permission for the boat to be used while Zeke's sailboat was dry docked for repairs.
Everything, except the clothes in the locker, had been left exactly as it had been the week before, and checking the clothes locker was not on the checklist -- yet. It certainly would be in the future. Connor and Maggie had gotten to the boat early, ran through the checklist and were away from the dock earlier than anticipated. Poor Zeke probably got the surprise of his life to get to the slip at sunrise and see the Lady was already gone. Connor certainly had the surprise of his recent life when he had pulled out the swimsuit and saw the note. There had been no answer at Zeke's home when Connor had tried to call him.
Connor flashed some money at the man locking the store entrance, pleading for some help in this emergency, and he was allowed in. He ran to the sports section at the back of the store and grabbed some medium size navy blue sweatpants and a sweatshirt, but the shoe size stumped him. He finally decided on some slippers, with some thick socks. He paid the young man, who tried to refuse the extra remuneration Connor wanted to give him, but Connor insisted. He ran back out to the car, with a grateful wave to the store employee.
As he drove back to the boat, he thought about the woman he had left sleeping after their passion. He hadn't meant for it to happen this way, for her to take him seriously, quite so soon. He had been planning flowers and a romantic candlelit dinner, but her sweet offer, her smile, and his desire, had written the outcome in stone. He would know when he got back to the boat if it had been a mistake. Her face would tell him, no matter what words she uttered. God, but she had been sweet, he thought. He pulled into a parking spot, and turned off the engine. He sat there for a short time, remembering the sweetness, reliving the moments --
She was completely overwhelmed by her response to him, and it took time to settle her. But once she was calm, relaxed in his arms, he took her hand and brought it up to his face, kissing her palm. "My turn, I think." She rose to look at him, her eyes wide with surprise. "I know your sensitive spots, don't you wonder about mine? Besides there." He laughed at her confusion for only a moment.
Her exploration was tentative at first; his face, his neck, his chest and arms, growing bolder as his low sighs and groans encouraged her. Her tantalizing touches, whisper soft, meant he was ready for her too soon. "Seductress!" he breathed heavily, making her giggle.
"You have me confused with someone else."
He took her chin and brought her gaze to his own. "No confusion, Maggie." Unbelievably, his thought processes still worked, but centuries of practice had helped with that. "While men want women basically for one purpose, there are a variety of reasons to want a specific woman. Beauty, intelligence..."
"A bodacious set of ta-tas?" she grinned ruefully.
"There is that," he agreed honestly. "But yours are just fine, very nice." The subject of discussion momentarily distracted him. "Where was I?"
"Uhhh...explaining the facts of life?" She was breathless.
"Yes, the facts. The fact is, when Rachel asked me your name, and I didn't know, I thought I would never see your smile again. But that was just the beginning, Puff. Ouch!" He captured her hand to prevent her doing further damage to his rib cage. "I could drown in those whisky eyes of yours."
"Whisky eyes?" She melted the words in her mouth like warm chocolate, but then wrinkled her nose. "My brothers called them 'mud.'"
Connor chuckled, More ammunition for the future. "What would your brothers say if they walked through the hatch right now? Would I have to fight them off?"
"Fight them off? Only for the tiller. They would demand we go sailing, and wonder about your choice of crew, girls being next to useless -- well, except for..." her voice trailed off in bashfulness, and Connor laughed delightedly.
"And I admire your ability to make me smile. Rachel will tell you at times it's not an easy talent to come by."
"So, as long as we amuse each other, we're okay?"
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I like your laugh. Although," she said, pulling her hand free to return it to its previous employment, "the rest of you is rather nice, too."
"That's the other thing, seductress," he finally remembered through the thickening haze what he wanted to say. "There's something to be said for abandoned passion, but what you're doing is -- is --"
"Nice?" she chuckled.
"Nice never felt so good," he groaned.
She levered herself up to reach his mouth with her own. When he murmured something against her lips a little later, she raised her head. "What did you say?"
"Now," he repeated, reaching for her knee to pull her over him. Her squeaky gasp of surprise warned him she hadn't quite expected this. He stopped from lowering her exactly where he wanted her, although he barely resisted laughing at her expression. "I won't break."
She ducked her head, her voice muffled against his shoulder, "Good to know."
He laughed until she raised her head. She stared at his mouth, a yearning expression in her eyes when they met his. He fell silent, and then he took her mouth greedily -- tasting, nipping, his tongue entering to dance with hers. His hands found her breasts, molding and softly circling as the tips were revealed in hardness. His hands then slid down her waist to her hips, and stilled. "Now?" he begged against her soft lips once again.
She drew an unsteady breath. "Show me."
Teacher, student. Captain, crew. A voyage of exploration and discovery that revealed secrets that delighted and awakened passions unknown. When she slept at last, exhausted, he slipped from the berth and wrote her the brief note, adding the postscript with a tender smile --
Now, he entered quietly, and leaned over her prone body, placing a light kiss on her brow. He wanted to slip in with her -- slip into her -- but the hour was late and they still had to return to the city, so he stood away from the berth. "Hmm," she smiled sleepily, and opened her eyes. "Good thing it's you."
"I brought you some clothes."
"I saw your note."
The words tumbled from their mouths simultaneously, her eyes drifting to the bag in his hand, his to the note on the countertop, and then they came back together. Scotch and storm swirled together for a moment, but then she drew a breath and lowered her eyes.
After all that, she's still reserved? Shit! What have I done?
"They were closing, so I just grabbed something. I hope they fit." He placed the bag on the bed, and he sat at the small galley table on the port side, where he couldn't reach her.
She sat up -- blankets tucked modestly under her arms -- and pulled the sweatshirt out, the thin plastic bag crinkling noisily. She smiled wryly down at the silk-screened ship in full sail on the front. "You're determined that I remember tonight, aren't you?" She pulled it over her head, giving him a brief tantalizing glimpse of soft curves.
"I -- oh hell, I didn't even notice." He groaned inwardly. I shouldn't have left her alone, to think, to regret.
"So, since it's not the thought that counts, shall we chalk this up to a Freudian slip?" With her comment, he relaxed a little. If she could still make a joke, hope remained. She tucked the sweatpants under the blankets, and lay back, wriggling to pull the soft, fleecy bottoms on.
Connor couldn't resist grinning at her wolfishly, "All that squirming-you're giving me ideas, you know?"
She stilled, gave a final tug of the sweat pants, and rolled to her side, facing him. Her head propped up with her hand, she frowned in exasperation at him from the other side of the Lady. "You still do that!"
"Do what?" he asked, the moment of truth approaching rapidly. The situation could still go either way -- she'll either laugh it off or refuse to talk to me ever again.
"You make outrageous remarks, and get me all flustered."
"That's probably why. I find you irresistible when you're flustered."
She was silent for a few moments, still frowning slightly as she considered his teasing words. Then her face brightened. Her response to his statement was brief, and uttered with slow deliberation as she chuckled and stretched out her hand to him, "Then what the hell are you doing -- way -- over there?" Her eyes glistened invitingly, and her smile mirrored that brightness, the moonlight that so entranced him. But it was the passion that surrounded her soul, an aura calling to him like the guiding beam of a lighthouse in the dark night, which welcomed him home after a long voyage. Connor accepted the invitation with an answering smile of his own. Contentment and reassurance filled his soul as they slowly undressed and explored each other anew.
The water in the harbor shimmered as the moon continued its ascent through the night sky. The darkened Lady rocked gently in her slip, tugging on mooring lines that held her firmly in her place.
Any errors about sailing (or anything else for that matter) are mine. The poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox was found at http://members.aol.com/beardog632/sail.htm (a very nice site on sailing, I enjoyed it).
I believe I fudged a little (or a lot) about hours for the NYC libraries (IMHO libraries should have longer hours -- mine do), but this is fantasy, after all.
The kitty massage? Totally out of left field -- do not try this at home -- but it was just too funny to not leave in. And yes, there is at least one cat out there that eats yogurt...no way would I make that up. Maybe it is normal, I don't know.
Thank you (I think) to MacNair for suggesting I write something "more" after I captioned a fru. Who knew? ["So, have you made up your mind? Are you coming in?"] A definite thank you for her help in the process of revision and her support in this attempt. (but it sure was fun watching her shake her monitor -eg-)
A special thank you to Monica for her help in beta reading and for pointing out in the first draft that I tend to write in run-on sentences, although where she ever got that idea, I don't know, because so much of my stuff can be short and choppy, which is confusing to some but enjoyable to others, but don't we all talk that way, anyway, so what's the problem? Go figure. Thanks, Mon, for your help and for being a friend.
Thanks to Lisa (my other beta), who asked for more. ("More?" I squeaked!)
And a heartfelt thank you to my clan sibs for their friendship, encouragement and demanding natures. They loved the additions to the story as they came along, but were wondering if I would ever get this done...thanks, you CDCrazies. I love you all!
They all got the first version for Connor's birthday. Thanks to all of you for not throwing stones or there never would have been a rewrite.
© 2001 lynnann
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