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When a Lady's in the Case

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Duncan stepped onto the barge. Stars still shone in the sky, but only because winter nights stretched even longer in Paris than in Seacouver. The windows of his and Tessa’s living quarters glowed dimly, while the storage compartment that had become Richie’s room rested snug and dark behind its shades. Quietly, Duncan pulled out his key.

Restoring Amanda’s loot to the museum had not taken long. Duncan had walked the irreplaceable book past police and reporters into the hands of a demoralized security staffer by projecting the dutiful confidence of someone just doing his job, and had then disappeared in the commotion. No, what had eaten up the rest of the night was ensuring that Amanda would not revisit the scene of her crime and pull the same ruse in reverse. After that, Duncan had gone out of his way to confirm that no one — mortal or immortal — followed him home.

In the months since Connor had come proclaiming the start of the Gathering, Duncan had tired to the bone of grudges and challenges harassing Tessa and Richie on the way to him. Tessa, braver than he wished she ever need be, now took such outrages nearly in stride, and Richie, poor kid, was born to it. But when friends like Fitz, Grace and Amanda trailed danger in their wakes . . . well, no one trailed danger quite like Amanda. Duncan smiled ruefully and resolved to phone Rebecca Horne with word of her favorite student.

Inside, in light flickering from the covered hearth, Duncan looked straight down the long room. When he found the bed still made and vacant, his eyes dropped first to Tessa’s desk, and then to her favorite corner of the couch. There, fully dressed, but with her makeup washed away, and an art journal in one hand and a pen in the other, his beloved had fallen asleep. A hurricane candle guttered in its own melted wax on the little table between the couch and the porthole.

Silently, Duncan hung up his coat and set aside his sword. He slipped the journal and pen out of Tessa’s hands; he intended to pick her up and carry her to bed. Instead, though, he sat on the trunk that served them as a coffee table. For a moment, he just watched her sleep.

A dozen years ago — even five years ago — Tessa would have easily stayed awake until he reached home, and been none the worse for it the next day. Time was passing. Water through his grasp. She was differently beautiful every day, and when he stopped to listen, those differences accused him of everything he could not give her. That’s what Amanda had meant, with her half-serious proposition to run off together and pretend away the missing parts of their lives. He had happily played that game with Amanda before, but it was a game; he could never quite tell whether she understood what that meant to him. Similarly, he puzzled that Tessa, who wielded well-earned assurance in art and business, stood up to authorities in two languages on two continents, defied killers mortal and immortal, and challenged him every day since he had been blessed to jump into her tour boat, could nevertheless feel shaken in her standing as a lover when provoked by Amanda or Rebecca Lord. They played games, this part and that. Tessa strove earnestly, honestly, body and soul united. . .

Even if she could not grasp the parking laws in the states to save her life.

“Duncan,” Tessa breathed, blinking awake. She reached out and brushed her fingertips across his cheek; they came away damp, glistening in the sun just beginning to dawn through the windows. “Are you all right?” She sat up and put both of her hands on his neck, as if confirming that it was still attached.

“I’m fine, sweetheart.” Duncan leaned forward. Their lips met easily, practice making perfect. Their mouths moved together, leisurely, mutually forgiving yesterday’s misunderstandings. He turned his head and kissed her temple. “Want some breakfast?”