by Sue Kelley

Disclaimer: This a work of fanfiction. I do not own the characters of Duncan MacLeod, Connor MacLeod, Richie Ryan or Tessa Noel; or the town of Seacouver or the concept of Immortals. They are owned by Mr. Davis, Mr.Panzer and other people, none of whom I am. If you wish to sue me, I hope you like dogs.

Many, many thanks to the following for their help and encouragement: Judy Schulz, Wendy Myers, JoAnne Briere, and Sandra MacDonald. Special thanks to my wonderful beta readers Dawn Cunningham and Melanie Riley. Without their, encouragement, I never would have posted this story.

12 Days in February takes place during the first season on Highlander, The Series, sometime before Band of Brothers.

Comments and feedback welcomed at


He's back.

I saw him this morning, running in the park, then, later I went by the shop and the "Closed Until Further Notice" sign was gone and people were moving around inside. She was there too.

I didn't go inside today. It was enough to know that he was there.

*** *** ***

I managed to bump into him this morning at the park. He was happy to see me; we chatted. I mentioned that I had noticed the store had been closed; was everything okay?

Something flashed through his eyes, then he smiled and said something had come up, and they'd had to go out of town for week or so. He urged me to come by, said they had some Lalique figurines and he thought I'd enjoy seeing them.

He really wants me to come.

*** *** ***

There's somebody else working there now, a teenage kid with reddish hair. I noticed him a couple of days ago when I was in the shop. He was polishing the shelves, kind of gingerly, as if he was afraid he would break something. She calls him Richie. There was something different about Her today, she seemed a little distracted and didn't like it at all when I asked where He was.

Wonder if She's jealous?

*** *** ***

The kid -- Richie -- is living there with them! I was watching from across the street early this morning and He and the kid left together. I saw them later at the park running. The kid isn't used to it, that's obvious, but He's very patient with him and walks with him when the kid gets tired.

What's going on?

*** *** ***

I've been gone for several days and this morning was the first time I'd been able to run. It was great; the air crisp and cool and just faintly smelling of rain. The leaves are just starting to turn. I didn't see Him until I was finished and doing my cool down stretches. He was just standing there by the gate like He'd been waiting for me.

He asked where I'd been and we chatted about Mexico. There is something so intent about his dark eyes when he looks into mine; I get the feeling he's wanting to say so much more....

Then we heard a horn honking and he looked toward the street, turning back to me and shaking his head. He muttered something about it being the kid's birthday and having to go pick up his present. All the time his eyes just kept staring at me.

After he left I couldn't stop thinking of him...

*** *** ***

I bought a new outfit for running. Pretty form-fitting, and I won't be able to wear the shorts more than a few weeks before it'll get too cool, but it was worth it when I saw the look in His eyes this morning! Unfortunately he had the kid with him and he was making the predictable hormonal comments, but I could tell He was impressed. Later I went into the shop and he greeted me warmly and took my hand to show me something. She was there so He couldn't say anything but He squeezed my hand before He let go.

*** *** ***

I read my old entries today. How funny it seems to realize that it was only a few weeks ago! I didn't even realize we were in love.

I call him Duncan now, think of him that way. She calls him Duncan. Of course, when there's anyone around I say Mr. MacLeod as I've always done, but when we're alone... not that that happens often enough. It's so frustrating! If it's not Her it's the kid. The kid runs with Him every morning now and he keeps up too, so we only get those few minutes when he gives the kid the keys and sends him off for the car.

I know it's hard for Him. He's been with her for so long but anyone can see it's over. She's smothering Him. But He doesn't want to hurt Her. I just have to be patient.

Soon we'll be together. I know it.

*** *** ***

Last night was the Christmas Fire Ball, the fund-raiser for the hospital. I went with one of Daddy's minions. My love was there with Her. She looked good enough, for as old as she is, in a dark red velvet dress. She kept flashing that bracelet like those were real diamonds instead of cubic zirconia.

He and I danced. Just one dance but it could have gone on forever for both of us. It felt so right to be in His arms.

*** *** ***

These long cold days of January are getting to me. How much longer? I want to be with Him all the time, I want to shout our love from the rooftops!

*** *** ***

He's told her.

He didn't tell me, but in the park this morning He was distracted, not His usual self. It's been so cold and icy, no good for running but the sun came out today. He's worried. Early in the afternoon I went by the shop and Her eyes were red and swollen. She was irritated and snappish with him and the kid. Her eyes looked through me coldly and that's when I realized He had told her about us.

I wish He'd warned me, but how like Him to try to spare me from the worry.

Soon, my love...

*** *** ***

She has no pride. How can She stay with a man who doesn't want Her anymore? It's me He wants, me He loves, but She's dug her claws in and She won't let go. She's obviously making His life Hell; he looks haggard and tired and depressed. He doesn't want me to realize how much He's suffering.

My brave love. I'll send Him something. A token to remind Him that I'm here; our time together is coming soon.

I can't wait until He holds me in His arms all night.


Chapter One

Tessa looked up from the ledger when the door opened and the delivery man entered with an armful of roses.

"Wow!" Richie exclaimed in his brash way. "Those must have set Mac back a pretty penny. But isn't he jumping the gun? It's only the second of February; Valentine's Day is still almost two weeks away."

Tessa's spirits lifted at the glowing crimson perfection of the blooms. How sweet of Duncan. He knew how upset she'd been ever since the phone call from France. It was like him to try to cheer her up and he knew how much she loved red roses.

"Duncan MacLeod?" the delivery man inquired.

It took a minute for Tessa to realize he was saying the flowers were *for* Duncan. Startled, she glanced across the shop at Richie. The teen looked as confounded as she felt. Finally Tessa said, "He is not here at the moment." Her voice sounded stilted to her own ears.

"You wanna sign for these?"

Tessa nodded and numbly accepted the clipboard, carefully penning her signature where indicated. The heavy crystal vase shook in her hands as she lowered it to the counter, spilling a little water on the glass. Richie came over as the delivery man exited and used his polishing rag to mop up the spilled water. "Who are they from?" he asked.

"How do I know?" Tessa snapped.

The youth drew back as if she'd hit him. Wordlessly, he took his cloth and went back to the window. The silence stretched between them like a giant chasm.

*** *** ***

The roses were the first thing Duncan noticed when he came into the shop late that afternoon. "Where did those come from?" he asked, greeting Tessa with a kiss.

"They are for you," Tessa answered, trying (and failing) to keep her tone light and amused. "Is there something you've been forgetting to tell me, Duncan?"

The dark-haired Highlander looked at her steadily for several seconds before one long arm snaked out to pluck the card from where it nestled amidst the blooms. He handed it to her. "Here. You read it."

"Duncan," Tessa started. MacLeod just shook his head. Tessa bit her lip at the look on his face and pulled a plain white card out of the envelope. "'Wishing you a wonderful day,'" she read the printed message. "There's no signature."

A tiny frowned creased between MacLeod's eyebrows as he took the card and examined it in turn. "Tessa, I don't know who these are from."

"I know that," Tessa assured him too hastily. She winced. "No, Duncan, I *do* know that."

"We can get rid of them."

Tessa felt vaguely ashamed of herself. "No, don't be absurd, they're beautiful. They perfume the whole shop."

Duncan looked at her steadily for several seconds before he nodded, turning away. "Where's Richie?"

"He went to the post office." Tessa glanced at her watch and realized that it was almost time to close the shop for the day; realized too that Richie had had ample time to complete the errands she'd assigned him. Before she could say anything, she heard the roar of the teenager's motorcycle in the alley.

"I thought we could go out for dinner," Duncan offered.

"I would rather not, Duncan, I'm just not in the mood tonight."

Duncan sighed. "Fine. I'll go start something. I skipped lunch today."

His patient tone irritated Tessa no end. "Why don't you go out?" she snapped. "Take Richie, get him out of my hair for awhile."

"'Out of your hair'?" Duncan repeated disbelievingly.

Too late, Tessa saw Richie in the doorway, his eyes wide and miserable. Clearly he'd heard what she'd said. Tessa's hand flew to her mouth. "Richie, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that the way it sounded."

He refused to meet her eyes. "Sure. I understand." He was obviously fighting to keep his voice steady. "Look, I'm going over to Angie's, okay? Don't wait dinner, she and I are going out for pizza."

"Richie--" Tessa started.

Duncan cut her off. "That's fine, Rich. Be careful riding your bike; the streets are supposed to freeze later on."

"Okay." The teenager's eyes met Tessa's briefly then slid away. "You guys have a nice evening."

Richie left the shop as Duncan walked over to pick up the telephone. He glanced at the envelope in his hand as he punched in a number. After several seconds, he said, "Yes, this is Duncan MacLeod. A dozen roses were delivered to me from your shop today and there's no signature on the card. I was wondering-- yes, that's the address... no buyer's name? Oh, it was a cash sale, I see. Could I talk to the salesperson... no, I understand that, but... yes, I can see... all right. Thanks for your time anyway." He hung up, turned to face Tessa. "They have no record of who ordered the flowers. And business is heavy this close to Valentine's Day so the manager doubts that any of the salespeople could remember the transaction."

"You didn't have to do that," Tessa said finally, her voice very small.

"Didn't I?" Duncan responded evenly. He turned. "I'm going to go work out for a while. Yell if you need me."

*** *** ***

The strained silence between them persisted after Tessa closed the shop, while they worked together to prepare dinner. It wasn't until they'd put the food on the table that Duncan broke the hush. "Looks almost empty," he said, surveying the meal.

Tessa glanced at him quizzically, then back at the table, and instantly realized what he meant. Dinner for the two of them consisted of grilled chicken, a large bowl of salad, and steamed green beans. Had Richie been home for the meal, they would, by necessity, have added at least two more side dishes, as well as bread, in a vain attempt to satisfy his prodigious appetite with healthy fare. "And he never gains a pound!" she laughed. All too soon, the laughter changed to tears.

"Tess--" Duncan said, coming around the table to take her into his arms. He pressed her head into his shoulder. "It's all right, sweetheart."

"No, it's not!" Tessa sobbed. "It's not all right, Duncan. I have been awful to you, and an absolute bitch to Richie..."

"I understand," MacLeod soothed her.

Tessa pulled back so that she was looking into his eyes. "Yes, you do... but does he?"

"No, probably not," Duncan admitted. He studied her face. "Tess, why don't you just go to France? That's what you really want to do."

Ice water flowed through Tessa's veins. She freed herself with a little jerk, turning away and making some absolutely unnecessary arrangement to one of the place settings. "I cannot!"

"Yes, you can. I take you to the airport, we buy you a ticket, you get on the plane. That's half the battle won, Tess."

"Don't you think if it was that easy I'd do it!" Tessa exploded. "You *know* why I can't go!"

"Go where?" a voice asked from the doorway. Richie stood there, looking from Tessa to MacLeod and back again, his face concerned.

"What are *you* doing here?" Tessa snapped. She regretted her sharp tone the second she saw his face fall. The boy looked at the floor, shrugged and started to walk away. Tessa moved swiftly and caught his hand before he could escape. "Richie, no, I'm sorry. I did not mean that the way it sounded." She sighed, hearing the echo of her earlier words. "I say that to you a lot, lately, don't I? Come on," she coaxed, urging him to the table. "Sit down and eat with us."

Richie shook his head as he gently disengaged his hand. "No, Tess, that's okay. Angie's not feeling well, so I came ho-- I mean, I came back. I'm not hungry, though, I ate a lot of lunch."

Tessa's heart smote her as she noticed the boy avoided using the word "home". She knew he was lying about not being hungry; Richie was *always* hungry and if he wasn't, he was sick. Since he looked healthy enough, she decided he was trying to stay out of her way.

"Hey, Rich, you remember that marinated mushroom dish you made for me last month?" Duncan broke in cheerfully.

Richie regarded the Immortal with suspicion. "Yeah. Why?"

"You wanted to make it for Tessa, right? Well, mushrooms were on sale today." MacLeod produced a plastic bag of fresh Japanese mushrooms from the refrigerator. "I've already cleaned them. And we have everything else you need."

Richie hesitated, clearly torn. While he wasn't exactly a cooking whiz, it had amazed Tessa how many unusual things he did know how to make. Richie avoided talking much about his past but he had mentioned once that one of his social workers had taken him to her house for occasional weekends and had taught him to cook.

"Please, Richie?" Tessa coaxed. "I love mushrooms."

Richie's tense shoulders relaxed and a smile crossed his face as he stepped to the counter top and pulled a sharp knife from the block. "I used to hate 'em, until Margie made 'em this way. We need some wine, umm, a dry red... do you have any?"

Duncan gave him an "Oh-come-on" look and Richie laughed. The tension noticeably eased in the room as the teenager prepared the mushrooms, Tessa put together a platter of fresh vegetables and cheeses, and Duncan rummaged around in the freezer until he found a loaf of cranberry bread a customer had brought by at Christmas. While it defrosted in the microwave he set another place at the table. Richie tossed the mushrooms in a marinade of olive oil, red wine, lemon juice and spices. Tessa nibbled, then praised the dish lavishly. Richie grinned.

"Richie," Tessa said after they had all filled their plates and were sitting around the table enjoying the meal. "I owe you an apology. Duncan too. I have been hard to get along with lately, I know."

Richie's fork stilled and he stared at his plate. Tessa waited for him to look up, but when he didn't she went on, "I'm sorry. It's just that my grandmother is very ill and I'm worried about her."

"Your grandmother?" Richie questioned, finally meeting her eyes. "You mean it's not--" he broke off and looked away again. There was a tiny piece of thyme on his chicken and he scraped it off with his fork.

Silence. Finally, Duncan broke it. "What did you *think* was wrong, Rich?" he asked calmly. "Did you think it had something to do with you?"

Richie shrugged, refusing to meet their eyes. Tessa could see the tips of his ears turning pink. "Well, I did kind of wonder if maybe, you know, I was wearing out my welcome here," he finally muttered.

Tessa gasped at the enormity of what he was admitting. *Of course* he'd thought that! Richie had spent his first several weeks with them just waiting to be put out on the street. Tessa would never forget Richie's eighteenth birthday. She'd planned a small celebration after dinner, complete with Richie's favorite chocolate cake. She remembered coming in from the bakery and being greeted by the sight of Richie's packed duffel bag. He'd left out everything they had bought him, the new jeans and decent shirts, and just put in his original meager wardrobe. It had taken over an hour of cross examination before the truth emerged: Richie had assumed they would evict him from their lives since he was technically an adult.

"I'm sorry," Richie said suddenly. "I mean, you guys have been great, and I don't know why I just... guess it's kind of conceited of me to think everything is always about *me*."

"Well, not conceited but, Richie, if we wanted you out we'd tell you. You surely can trust us enough by now to know that." Duncan helped himself to another piece of chicken.

Richie's blue eyes fixed on Tessa. "So, you're going to France? I mean, that's where your grandma lives, isn't it?"

"Yes," Tessa sighed, "that is where she lives. But I am not going there now." Horrified, she felt tears coming to her eyes and she excused herself and hastily left the table.

*** *** ***

Richie looked at Duncan. "I don't get it, Mac. Why can't she go to France? I know she was just there a couple of months ago for that art show, but--"

"She doesn't mean she can't go to France, Rich," MacLeod explained, spearing another chicken breast and putting it on the boy's plate. "She doesn't think she can see her grandmother. See, Richie, they haven't spoken to each other for a long time."

"Why?" Richie asked, logically enough. "Did they have a fight?"

"You could probably call it that. A major disagreement." MacLeod nodded. "See, Richie, Tessa's family is Catholic--"

"So?" Richie interjected. "I mean, you are, too. So am I."

MacLeod smiled. "Yes, we are, but not like Tessa's grandmother. She doesn't approve of Tessa and I living together without being married. To be honest with you, Tessa's parents don't like it very much, either, especially her mother, but they just don't bring it up. To Tessa's grandmother, though, it's a major thing: an unforgivable sin, and when Tessa told her she was coming to the United States with me, her grandmother got very upset."

"Oh." The teen was quiet for several minutes, his eyes on his plate and a frown on his face. Finally he said, "You know, Mac, that really sucks. And it's stupid. What difference does it make?"

"It makes a *lot* of difference to some people, Richie. And Tessa's not entirely blameless: she has a temper and she said some things she didn't mean. Things got very out of hand and now no one knows how to fix it."

"But shouldn't Tessa go to France and at least try?"

"I think so," Duncan admitted. "But that has to be her decision."

"Oh. So what do we do to help?" MacLeod smiled at the teen. "We be patient and understanding with Tessa. And *you* don't think the worst just because she's snapping at you. This is your home, Rich. It will *be* your home as long as you want it."

Richie's eyes widened. For a second his whole very vulnerable heart was in his face for anyone to see. "OK," he all but whispered.

"Good." MacLeod went back to eating his dinner.

*** *** ***

Nobody mentioned France or Tessa's grandmother the rest of the evening. Tessa came back to the kitchen in time for dessert, and they speculated on who had sent Duncan the roses, with Tessa and Richie coming up with ever-wilder guesses until MacLeod finally waved his napkin in surrender. Then Richie cleaned up the kitchen while Tessa adjourned to her workshop and MacLeod to his office. The Highlander was coordinating an upcoming three-day charity auction in Seattle and he was still trying to document some of the pieces. Richie fell asleep on the sofa watching the Friday Night Creepshow and MacLeod woke him up when he went to bed about one a.m.

*** *** ***

The next day dawned cold but clear for a change. It was Saturday, Richie's usual day to sleep late, but he dragged himself out of bed to join Mac for a run in the park. In spite of the frigid temperatures, the park was full of runners, joggers, and walkers, and they saw several people whom one or both of them knew. Richie flirted a little with red- headed Sonya Parrish, whose father owned the furrier's down the street from the antique shop. As usual, Sonya didn't give Richie the time of day but fell all over herself talking to MacLeod, asking several unnecessary questions about a pair of garnet earrings she'd seen the last time she was in the shop. Duncan was polite to her while simultaneously conversing with another woman Richie recognized as a regular customer; Sonya didn't respond well and kept putting her hand on Duncan's arm, leaning over to give him full view of her impressive cleavage. Then she complained of a cramp in her shin and asked Mac to rub it for her. The Highlander jerked his hand back as if he'd been scalded and broke for the car, Richie at his heels. "Man, she wants you bad," the teen commented once they were on the road home.

"Badly," MacLeod corrected.


"She wants me badly, not bad... it's an adverb," the Immortal explained before it dawned on him what exactly he was saying. "Richie, stop laughing!" he insisted, laughing a little himself.

Richie was still chuckling when they got to the apartment, but he managed to control himself before they sat down to the breakfast Tessa had made. The beautiful blonde was in a slightly better mood this morning, and as soon as the meal was over she and Duncan left to go shopping. Richie hastily cleaned the kitchen and then opened the shop promptly at ten. He would much rather work the shop from ten to two, their Saturday hours, than go food shopping with MacLeod and Tessa. Instead of hitting one big nice store like Food Barn or Albertsons that had *everything*, the two of them made it a mammoth excursion. They'd start by driving over ten miles to a large, open-air market on Bleaker Street for fresh fruits and vegetables, then all the way to Fifth Street to a Danish bakery, then back by the French bakery, just down the street, for breads and croissants and rolls. Usually they'd stop by the apartment to unload, then go to the fish market near the docks and to a fancy butchers up by the ritzy old-money area known as Stonegate. There was a specialty market called Petty's Fine Foods in the same neighborhood and there they would finish, buying staples such as flour and sugar, as well as cheeses and spices and gourmet coffee. Richie fully believed neither of them had even been *in* a discount store until he'd moved in. He laughed, thinking of something his friend Angie had said the first time she'd met Tessa, "What are three words Tessa never hears? Attention K-Mart shoppers." Admittedly, Tessa had been rather irate once when Richie had referred to a "blue light special," until she realized it wasn't some kind of kinky sexual thing that teen-age boys had no business knowing.

The unexpectedly heavy rush of business continued through the day; apparently *everyone* in Seacouver wanted to buy their Valentine something from an antique store. Richie was kept hopping all morning. He was always a bit nervous in the shop alone, not that there was much chance he could make a mistake selling something: the prices were in the computer and if the buyer wanted to bargain, Richie was under strict orders from MacLeod to refer them to him or Tessa. He worried more about some thief walking out with some of the merchandise, although, truth be known, he was probably better at targeting a possible shoplifter than either of the two owners of the shop were. "Takes one to know one," as he'd once told Mac. *That* comment had earned him a ten-minute lecture about the past staying in the past, even though he was sure the exact same thought had crossed MacLeod's mind more than once.

There were probably half a dozen other people in the shop when all four of the Parrish girls wandered in around one. All of them were dressed to kill, especially Sonya, who wore tight jeans and a low-cut black sweater. She sauntered over to Richie and demanded to see Duncan.

Richie had spent the last fifteen minutes looking through packing lists and comparing them to computer records, trying to find a certain figurine that bossy old Mrs. Fairgate was insisting they had. He looked up at Sonya's voice and goggled at her considerable charms, so well- displayed for his viewing pleasure. "Umm, he's not here," Richie stammered. "He's, uh--" His mind went completely blank and he could no more remember MacLeod's whereabouts than he could have recited the Greek alphabet.

"Young man! Do you mind refraining from drooling until you find my figurine?" Mrs. Fairgate snapped, loudly enough that everyone in the store could hear. Richie flushed as he heard several muffled titters. Sonya laughed outright as she turned, wiggled her hips provocatively, and stepped to the counter

"Nice roses," she commented, stroking one. Before Richie could stop her she pulled the card from the bouquet and read it out loud. She was smiling as she replaced it in the envelope. "Some women know how to treat their men." She smirked.

The flowers had caught Mrs. Fairgate's eye and she stepped over to admire them also. Unlike Sonya, she just looked at the name on the envelope. "Tessa does have nice taste," she commented approvingly.

"Oh, I *doubt* that Tessa sent these," Sonya purred, stroking the blossoms again.

Something about the proprietary way she was acting about the flowers caused Richie to wonder if she had sent them.

"Young man!" Mrs. Fairgate was done admiring flowers; now she pilloried him with a glare that strongly reminded Richie of the time his third- grade teacher had caught him running a shell game during recess. "Are you going to get around to finding my figurine *this* decade, do you think?"

Richie flushed for the second time in as many minutes as he bent anxiously over the ledger again. Sonya giggled as she sauntered to the door, leaving a trail of Chloe in her wake. "Make sure you tell Duncan I came by, Richie," she trilled.

The door shut behind her. Richie took a quick look around, counting heads. One of the Parrish girls, one of the blonde ones, Renee or Vickie, left the shop, leaving the other blonde one looking at a collection of snuffboxes. The dark-haired, chubby one, said something to her in a low voice, and then they both left also. Richie was totally involved in pleasing the harridan in front of him. Several minutes later he found the figurine she wanted (it would have been much easier had she not kept insisting the figurine was a horse when it, in fact, was a unicorn), wrote the ticket, and then managed to stifle a groan when she handed him her American Express card. For some reason, the credit card reader didn't work on American Express and he had to call the number in. As usual, the computer that answered the phone put him on hold; Mrs. Fairgate tapped her foot impatiently and pointedly stared at her diamond-encrusted wristwatch, while three other customers decided they must instantly pay for their purchases. The phone clutched between his shoulder and his ear, ignoring Mrs. Fairgate as much as he was able, Richie managed to write the ticket for a tall black man's purchase of a set of four silver thimble-sized goblets. Giving the man the total, he stooped down to grab tissue paper and a box and dropped the phone. He grabbed it and put it back to his ear only to hear the dial tone. 'Shit!' he berated himself, barely managing to keep from saying the word aloud. Tossing the box and the tissue on the counter, he sighed and redialed the number.

*** *** ***

Richie heaved a giant sigh of relief when the last customer finally left the shop at 2:10. He flipped the lock on the door, reversed the sign so it now read "Closed", and made a bee-line for the kitchen. His stomach had been clamoring for nourishment for at least thirty minutes.

There was no indication that Tessa and MacLeod had been back yet. The light was blinking on the answering machine. He hit the button. Tessa's voice filled the kitchen. "Richie, hello, we ran into some friends and they've invited us to lunch. We should be home around three." There was a pause and then she went on, "There's not much in the kitchen to eat. I suppose you can order a pizza. There's twenty dollars in the top drawer of the desk."

Richie laughed out loud. Poor Tessa. Although he had finally convinced her the occasional chili dog was a tasty treat, he had been less successful with other items in the junk food genre. Neither of the adults in the household was overly impressed with the gooey, greasy sausage and onion pizza from Richie's favorite pizzeria. Richie was too hungry to wait for it to be delivered and he started rummaging through cupboards in search of something fast. Luck was with him; he found a lone can of extra-spicy chili at the back of a cupboard; he dumped corn chips in a bowl, spooned the chili on top and topped it off with the last of the grated cheddar cheese, then stuck it in the microwave. Frito-chili pie. Just the thing.

Richie was reaching into the microwave when he heard a woman's shrill scream from the alley in back of the building, followed by a horrendous, grinding crash. Startled, he dropped the hot bowl, and china fragments, globs of chili, and melted cheese went everywhere. Richie ignored the mess as he bolted for the back door. The deadbolt was still on and it took him several seconds to get it undone, then the door finally opened and he burst out into the alley. The sudden shock of the frigid air was like ice water cascading over his body.

"Shit!" the obscenity escaped numb lips as he saw his motorcycle, or rather, the crumbled and mangled pile of metal and plastic that had once *been* his motorcycle. The bike had been parked between the dumpster and the brick wall, and had been crushed between the two when some terrific force had collided with the dumpster, sending it into the wall of the warehouse.

Richie took two steps toward the wreckage, looking up and down the alley. No cars in sight; most of the businesses around closed at noon on Saturdays and any cars normally parked in the alley were already gone. As he turned back, he saw something protruding from behind the crushed dumpster.

A foot, the red shoe half torn off.

Richie's heart started pounding wildly and he felt icy sweat break out on his face and the back of his neck. He forced himself to move closer to the dumpster, until he could clearly see what was behind it.

"Oh, God!" Sonya Parrish lay there, her body crumpled, her back twisted at an impossible angle, eyes staring sightlessly up at the sky.

*** *** ***

Chapter Two

"What the hell?" Duncan exclaimed as he turned the corner and found the alley entranceway blocked by orange barrels and streamers of yellow tape. A grim-faced uniformed policeman motioned for the Highlander to turn his car. Instead, Duncan put it into 'Park' and got out.

The same policeman came over quickly. "I'm sorry, sir, crime scene. I can't let you park here."

"Crime scene!" Tessa exclaimed, scrambling out of the passenger seat. "What happened?"

"Ma'am," the officer started.

"It's okay, Burroughs." A somewhat overweight black man wearing a worn gray suit approached. He was no stranger to MacLeod.

"Detective Powell," the Highlander greeted the new arrival. "Mind telling us what's going on?"

"Why don't you pull your car around to the front of your shop?" Powell suggested. "There's been a hit-and-run in the alley behind your place."

Duncan's gut twisted. "Where's Richie?" he demanded. Behind him he heard Tessa gasp.

"He's in your apartment. He's fine, MacLeod. We're just asking him some questions."

"What kind of questions?"

Powell sighed. He glanced from one of them to the other. "Please, can we discuss this inside? It's cold out here."

*** *** ***

"Richie! Are you all right?" Tessa exclaimed, running into the kitchen with MacLeod on her heels.

Richie sat huddled at the kitchen table, a mug of tea clutched in his shaking hands. He looked up and Duncan was struck by how huge his eyes were in his colorless face. "She's dead," he mumbled.

"Who's dead?" Duncan looked to the other person in the room, a tall, very thin man in his early thirties.

Powell had entered behind them in time to hear the question. "Her name was Sonya Parrish. Her father owns a shop down the street."

"Parrish Furriers. Down at the end of the block, across the street." MacLeod put his hands on Richie's shoulders, concerned over how badly the kid was shaking. Tessa removed the mug from his grasping fingers and slid into the chair opposite, still holding his hands.

Richie's eyes focused on her. "Sorry about the mess, Tessa," he said softly. "I'll clean it up."

Duncan looked around, seeing the spilled chili and broken crockery. "It's okay, Tough Guy, it can wait," he reassured the boy, speaking in a calm, even tone.

"I just have a few more questions." The tall man looked apologetically at MacLeod. "Oh, I forgot... I'm Bill Marshall."

"*Detective* Bill Marshall. He's new," Powell explained. He introduced MacLeod and Tessa.

"So, Richie, you saw the victim -- Sonya -- around 1:00, you said?"

Richie shrugged. "Yeah, somewhere around then. She came into the shop."

"Did you speak to her? Did she make a purchase?"

"No. I mean, yes." Richie rubbed his hand across his face and took a deep breath. "Yes, I spoke with her. But she didn't buy anything. She wanted to know where Mac -- Duncan was. She only stayed a minute or two."

"And then?"

"I closed the shop a little after two, 2:10, 2:15, around there. I came in here to get something to eat. Then... I heard somebody screaming, and then... this crash! I ran out, but the door was locked and I couldn't get it unlocked, by the time I got out, there was no car... and my bike was smashed... then I saw her... I saw her..."

"Yes, Richie, that's fine," Marshall said soothingly. "Then what did you do? Did you check for a pulse or touch her, or touch anything--?"

Richie shook his head slightly. "No. Her eyes were open, and the way she was laying... I just ran in here and called for help."

"Yes. We logged your 911 call at 2:36. Now, is there anything else you can think of that would be helpful? Did Ms. Parrish say anything unusual when she was in the shop?"

Richie hesitated, then shook his head. "No. Nothing I can remember."

Bill Marshall looked up at MacLeod. "You had an appointment with Ms. Parrish?"

"No," Duncan said.

"But she asked for you."

"She may have, but I didn't have an appointment with her." Duncan was uncomfortable both with the topic and with the looks both cops were giving him. He asked, "Isn't this a little far afield looking for a reckless driver?"

"Possibly. Except that the indications are that this *wasn't* an accident. Richie here didn't hear the squeal of brakes; there are no visible skid marks."

"What are you saying?" MacLeod asked.

"That it looks like someone deliberately ran Ms. Parrish down. This is now a murder investigation."

*** *** ***

It happened so fast. I didn't plan to do it, not really. I heard her in the shop, and she was talking about *my* flowers. Kind of hinting around that *she'd* sent them, and I just got so angry. I left the shop and walked toward the car, trying to cool down.

I was sitting behind the wheel when I saw her leave. But instead of walking back to the fur shop she went around the corner. I was curious, what was she doing? So I started the car and followed her. She went down the alley. I just pulled into it, I could see what she was doing, but she paid no attention to me. She never did

She went to the door. *His* door. She tried the knob as if she had the right. It must have been locked and she turned, started walking toward me, wiggling her hips like the slut she was.

I couldn't think. I couldn't breathe. He's *mine*! I wasn't blind to all of that this morning in the park, then to go to the shop and take credit for *my* gesture of love... bad enough She's still in the way, refusing to get out, now this bitch was after my man, too.

I don't remember what happened next. I must have just floored the gas pedal and aimed directly for her. Did she even try to get out of the way?

They said on the nightly news she was killed instantly.

Too bad. She really should have suffered more.

*** *** ***

Duncan came out of the bedroom, yawning. Richie's bedroom door was still closed, not a big surprise to the Highlander, who had heard the teen get up several times during the night. Duncan followed the smell of coffee to the kitchen, where he found Tessa, sitting at the table with the phone in front of her, nervously smoking one of her rare cigarettes.

"Any word from Paris?" MacLeod asked, pouring himself a mug of hot coffee.

Tessa shook her head, crushing out the half-smoked cigarette. "Maman said she'd call around 10:00 our time. It's only 9:30." She shook her head at Duncan's silent offer of more coffee. "Is Richie up?"

"No. I don't think he got much sleep."

Tessa shook her head. "I don't think so, either. I heard him up walking around about three." She managed a slight smile. "He raided the refrigerator."

"Well, he didn't eat much dinner." Duncan sat down across the table from her. "Seeing Sonya's body like that really got to him." He sighed. "I'll have to remember to call our insurance agent first thing tomorrow about his motorcycle."

Tessa looked startled. "But you're leaving for Seattle tonight."

Duncan shook his head. "I can postpone leaving until tomorrow evening." He looked grim. "Tessa, I don't like leaving you and Richie here alone with a murderer on the loose. I think we should close the shop and the two of you come with me to Seattle."

"Have you sensed another Immortal?"

Surprised, Duncan shook his head. "I don't think this is an Immortal, Tessa, but that doesn't mean there isn't any danger."

Tessa reached out and stroked his arm. "Duncan, we're in no danger. We'll be perfectly safe; we barely knew Sonya. Even if someone *did* deliberately run her down, it has nothing to do with *us*!"

"It happened directly behind *our* home, and she had just been in *our* shop not an hour before," Duncan pointed out. He looked thoughtful. "I wonder what she was doing in the alley in the first place?"

The ringing of the telephone interrupted Tessa before she could say anything. She answered with a look of dread on her face, which rapidly changed to one of puzzlement as she spoke to whoever was on the other end. Hanging up, she said, "That was Detective Marshall. He wants to come by and ask Richie some more questions." She looked helpless. "We need to find out about funeral arrangements, I suppose, and send flowers, call on her parents, don't you think?"

The phone rang again. This time, MacLeod knew it was Tessa's mother as the blonde immediately broke into French. Giving her some privacy, he left the kitchen and walked down the hallway to Richie's bedroom.

Much to his surprise, his soft knock was promptly answered by the teen's voice telling him to come in. Duncan opened the door to find Richie, fully dressed, sitting on the corner of his bed, staring at the TV. 'Hour of Prayer' was on the television but Duncan knew Richie wasn't seeing it.

"Detective Marshall called," Duncan informed the boy. "He wants to come by and ask you some more questions."

Richie jabbed the remote, silencing the choir in the middle of a hymn. "Man, what does he want! I told him everything I know yesterday."

"Are you sure?" MacLeod asked.

Richie looked alarmed. "What do you mean?"

"I don't know, you just had an odd look on your face yesterday when you said that nothing else had happened."

Richie studied the pattern of his bedspread. "Well, there was something kinda weird, but it couldn't have anything to do with her getting killed." He looked up. "Mac, I think maybe Sonya sent you those roses."

It took Duncan a second to remember what Richie was talking about, then, startled, he asked, "What makes you think that?"

"She said so. When she was in the shop. Well, she didn't actually come out and *say* that, but she implied it." He repeated the conversation between Sonya and Mrs. Fairgate.

*** *** ***

Detective Marshall was very interested in Richie's additional information. He turned up within fifteen minutes, dressed more casually today in jeans and a green and white turtleneck sweater. He made notes of what Richie reported and then asked if he could speak to Duncan alone. MacLeod led the policeman into his office. As soon as he'd shut the door and waved Marshall to a chair, the detective fired off the question: "Now, Mr. MacLeod, you said yesterday that you had no idea why Sonya Parrish would have come into the shop to see you... do you want to change your answer now?"

Duncan seated himself behind his desk. "No."

Marshall raised his eyebrows. "The young lady sends you a dozen roses, shows up at your business implying the two of you had an appointment, and then is killed directly behind your home. Sounds like there is some connection there."

"Detective, are you accusing me of something?"

"Mr. MacLeod, if I were, you'd be downtown and I would have read you your rights. Ms. Parrish had stopped seeing other men over the last couple of weeks, her sister says she was infatuated with you. So I am asking you, were you involved with Sonya Parrish?"

"I've known her since she was a child, for God's sake!"

"She was nineteen, almost twenty. Not a child any longer," the detective corrected him. "And more than just passingly attractive, Mr. MacLeod."

Duncan clenched his teeth. "I was not having an affair with Sonya, or anyway else involved with her. I've known her casually since we opened this shop twelve years ago." He was uncomfortable with what he had to say next, "The last month or so, she's been hanging around here a lot; she's in the park when I've gone there to run; and she seems...seemed to... well..."

"She had a crush on you?"

Duncan shrugged. "I suppose you could say that. I really hadn't paid that much attention."

"You gave her no encouragement?"

"No! Of course not!"

"Yet she stops dating, sends you expensive presents, and is killed right outside your home." Marshall flipped his notebook closed. "I understand you're leaving town tomorrow?" At Duncan's nod, he went on, "I would appreciate it if you made sure to leave a phone number where I can reach you. I'll leave you my card. Feel free to call me, just in case you think of something else you need to say."

*** *** ***

I had to hear His voice. I had to know He was there. I called several times but the kid or She answered. I asked once to speak with Him but She said He was in a meeting and couldn't be disturbed... a meeting on Sunday? How obvious can she be? She just wants to keep me from talking to Him.

*** *** ***

Tessa was in slightly better spirits after talking to her mother and learning that her grandmother's condition had stabilized. She suggested going to the Parrish's home to pay their respects.

Richie didn't want to go; the mere mention of it obviously horrified him, but Tessa tried to talk him into it, pointing out that the Parrish's might want to ask him questions. It was the wrong thing to say and Richie bolted for his room. When MacLeod followed him there, he found the kid staring out the window, arms crossed around himself and shoulders hunched defensively.

Duncan pushed a pile of motorcycle magazines aside and seated himself on the corner of the bed. "Do you want to talk about what's bothering you?" he asked calmly.

"Nothing!" Richie snapped.

"Wrong answer. Try again."

Richie let out a deep sigh. His shoulders slumped. After a minute, he turned and sat down on the bed opposite Duncan, but he kept his eyes on the bedspread and didn't meet the Highlander's concerned gaze. "It's just, I feel like I should have done something more."

"More?" Duncan prompted.

"Yeah. I mean, if I'd gotten out there faster or something..."

Duncan saw exactly where this was going. "Richie, you couldn't have saved her. By the time you heard her scream, it was over. Even if the door had been unlocked and you had gotten to her immediately, it wouldn't have made any difference: she was killed instantly."

Richie still didn't look up. "I could have identified the car."

"Well, maybe," Duncan conceded. "Maybe not." He reached out and grasped Richie's chin, gently guiding the boy to look at him. "Richie, Sonya's death wasn't your fault."

Richie held his gaze for a minute, then looked back down. "I really don't want to go to see her parents, Mac."

"I know, but I think you should. Please? We'll just stay a few minutes, then maybe we can go out for an early dinner. Tessa wants to try that new steak and seafood place at Pelican Point."

*** *** ***

The Parrish family lived in a rambling three-story home in the exclusive, old-money, Swan Lake Park area. The house was on a corner lot, facing the lake, and the street was crowded with cars. Duncan had to park the T-Bird almost a block away.

The door was answered by a plump, fifty-ish woman wearing a white apron over a dark dress, eyes red and swollen with weeping. She took Tessa's coat -- Duncan kept his, as always wanting his sword close; and Richie felt so chilled he kept his on. Then she led them along the oak-floored entrance hall, past a dining room with the long table covered with platters and bowls of food, down two steps to a huge sunken living room crowded with people. Arched windows in two walls let in the weak February sunshine.

Sonya Parrish's parents were holding court on a long sofa covered in green brocade. Next to them was their other daughter, Valerie, looking as if she still couldn't believe what had happened. Mr. and Mrs. Parrish greeted Tessa and Duncan quietly, thanking them for coming.

Richie tried to tell himself it was his imagination, but it seemed like everyone in the room was staring at him, either blatantly or surreptitiously. He stammered condolences to the Parrish's, to the sister, and to an elderly woman standing nearby whom he thought was Sonya's grandmother but turned out to be Mr. Parrish's stockbroker. Duncan and Tessa had abandoned him, moving around the room talking with people they knew. Richie spotted several faces that were vaguely familiar, but he was too nervous to strike up conversation with anyone. Tugging anxiously at his tie -- Duncan had got the knot too tight and it was choking him, Richie fumbled with the French doors and escaped outside to the terrace.

The terrace looked on the back of the property, facing the gardens, and was probably a place of beauty in spring and summer, but now was coldly uninviting. Richie walked over to a fountain, drained now for winter, and sat beside it, staring at the thin layer of ice at the bottom.

"Aren't you freezing?" a feminine voice asked.

Richie looked up to see a face he recognized. Renee... no, maybe not. Vicki? About his own height, with long, curly blonde hair. She'd made an effort to discipline the hair into a severe French braid, but little tendrils curled all around her face. Maybe twenty or a little older. She was Sonya's cousin or something, and her family owned the jewelry store three doors down from the antique shop.

He realized he hadn't said anything and he flushed, muttering hello. He was nervous about calling her by name -- he *thought* her name was Vicki, but maybe it was Renee. There were several Parrish girls, they all ran in the park in the mornings. He was unsure how they were all related to each other. Richie could remember Sonya because of her red hair; her sister Valerie was dark, shorter than the others and heavy. This girl and another one--Renee?-- looked so similar Richie thought they must be twins.

"I asked you if you were okay?" the blonde repeated, sitting next to Richie on the bench.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Richie muttered.

He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. Renee-- or Vicki-- was wearing a close-fitting plain black slack suit that probably cost the earth, but didn't look that much different from her running clothes. "Can I ask you a question?"


"Are you Vicki or Renee?" Richie blurted.

The girl laughed, a nice laugh, genuinely amused. "I'm Vicki. Renee's my sister. Don't worry, everybody gets us mixed up. Even our father!" Then she sobered. "Now, can I ask *you* a question?"

Richie braced himself. "Yeah."

She hesitated. "Was Sonya... well, was-- did she say anything when you found her?"

Richie's heart started pounding in his ears. He shook his head abruptly. "She was..." For some reason, he couldn't make his mouth say the word, "dead" so he substituted, "already gone."

Vicki let out her breath in a long sigh. "And you didn't see the car or anything?"

Richie shook his head again. "No. I wish I had. I mean, who could do something like that?"

"Probably a lot of people."

"What?" Richie exclaimed, turning to stare at her.

Vicki shrugged. "Hey, it's the truth. Sonya was my cousin and I loved her, but she was also a stuck-up snob who got what she wanted any way she could. And she didn't care who she hurt in the process."

Before Richie could do much more than close his gaping mouth, the French doors opened again and Duncan stuck his head out. "Richie, are you ready to leave? Oh! Hello, Vicki, I didn't know you were out here."

The girl stood up and walked toward the door, flashing MacLeod a brilliant smile. "Oh, you can't leave now, Duncan! I wanted to speak with you. I'm thinking about taking the training course at Sotheby's, going into appraisals, possibly, and Daddy thought you could give me some advice."

"Yes, he mentioned that inside. I'm sorry, Vicki, but we have dinner reservations... why don't you come by the shop sometime and I'll be glad to speak with you."

"Maybe after we run sometime?"

MacLeod smiled. "That would be fine. Richie, we really need to go."

Tessa came out behind Duncan, wearing her coat. "Duncan, we really do need to leave... there you are, Richie! I've already said our good-byes to the Parrishs." She glanced at Vicki. "Hello."

"Hello. I suppose I'd better get back in there. Thank you for talking with me, Duncan, I'll look forward to continuing our discussion at another time." With a brief wave to Richie she slipped back into the house, closing the French doors behind her. Tessa turned to Duncan.

"That's odd."

"What is?" Duncan responded, taking her arm and nodding to Richie to follow as he headed for a flight of stone steps that would take them to the yard.

"I've never known any of those girls to call you 'Duncan' before. It's always been 'Mr. MacLeod.'"

Duncan shrugged. "I've never noticed." He looked back over his shoulder at Richie. "You coming?"

"Yeah." Richie frowned. He thought about telling them what Vicki had said about Sonya, but then he changed his mind. 'After all, her cousin just got killed, she probably doesn't even know what she's saying.'

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

"I am the Resurrection and the Life, he who believes in me shall not perish but instead will have Everlasting Life."

In the four hundred years of his life Duncan MacLeod had attended far too many funerals. He remembered the plaintive wails of bagpipes cutting through a misty Scottish morning; the heavy smell of incense in a Paris cathedral; burials on uncounted battlefields where the able bodied labored to inter the dead before the fighting began again. The last funeral he had been to had been the services for Richie's old friend Gary, in a small, shabby church downtown. Every pew had been filled, and more people had stood at the back, as the priest said in English the prayers Duncan had learned in Latin so long again. Seated near the front, next to Richie and his friend Angie, MacLeod had been impressed by the depth of love, of caring, and of grieving there had been over the young man in the coffin.

He felt very little of that honest emotion here, in the biggest Baptist church in Seacouver. Yes, every pew was filled, but, save for the tears shed by Sonya's mother, the rest of the congregation could have been gathered for any reason that would have required them to dress up.

Duncan shifted his eyes to his own family; to Tessa, sitting next to him, and beyond her, Richie, his face very pale, reddish curls slicked back ruthlessly, hands clenched tightly against the slacks of his good black suit. He'd been assaulted by reporters upon their arrival at the church, the police having released his name as the person who found the body.

MacLeod glanced at Tessa, noticed that her eyes were fixed on the mourners in the first pew. Her face was totally unreadable but Duncan imagined he knew what she was thinking.

Although often unconventional in her art, in some ways Tessa was the model of the French matron. The French had rather strict ideas of what constituted proper attire for a funeral, and very few of Sonya's relatives matched these requirements. Her sister, Valerie, was wearing a deep green Chinese-style tunic over corded black silk pants. A beautiful outfit; Duncan remembered it. Sonya had worn the same clothes to a benefit luncheon that both Duncan and Tessa had also attended. Unfortunately, Valerie was three inches shorter, and probably fifty pounds heavier, than her sister had been. Vicki, sitting next to Valerie, wore the same severe black suit she'd worn the evening before; complemented today by heavy, barbaric gold necklace and earrings.

His eyes shifted again, to the third young woman in the pew. Vicki's lookalike sister Renee wore a short and low-cut glittery black dress. She restlessly fingered a charm bracelet that encircled one tanned wrist. The jangle of silver was audible in the hush.

Seated next to her was an unremarkable young man who kept glancing at his wristwatch. MacLeod thought he'd met him once but he couldn't be sure how he was connected to the family. Beyond him was Gordon Parrish, the jeweler, and his much younger wife.

The voice of the minister cut into his thoughts as he invited the congregation to stand and join him in the Lord's Prayer. The service was ended.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

"Man, I hate funerals!" Richie exploded in the car, ripping off his necktie violently. "I'm never going to another funeral, not even my own!"

Duncan glanced in the rearview mirror, carefully schooling his face to hide his concern at Richie's pallor. The night before had been a replay of the previous night, with Richie restless, tossing in a shallow sleep. Duncan idly wondered if Tessa would consent to drugging Richie's Coke with a few of her rarely-used sleeping pills, then discarded the idea. Making a sudden decision, he pulled into the left-hand lane and signaled for a turn, rather than following the cortege straight to the cemetery. "Do you mind not going on to the cemetery?" he asked belatedly. "I thought we could go have a late lunch. I need to leave for Seattle about five or so."

"*Mind*? No, I'm thrilled." Richie balled up his tie and tossed it into the air, then caught it before it hit the seat.

*** *** ***

I saw the look on her face at the funeral. So condescending, so smug. She really is a bitch.

He looked at me helplessly. He wants to be with me. He knows we are destined to be together, it has been ordained by the gods... but She is in the way.

A part of me is angry; why doesn't He throw Her out of His house? Then we could be together.

But no. I have to be understanding. I have to be patient. He's mine, and soon everyone will know.

I wrote Him a note, reminding Him of our love, reminding Him that I was here waiting for him. I went to His apartment late in the afternoon. His car was parked right behind the door with the trunk open. I looked in and saw a suitcase. He's leaving? Or is She...

Voices. I hid quickly. He came out, my love, my Duncan. She and the kid followed. They were saying good-byes, He opened the car door. She threw herself into His arms, pressing Her body up against His. He hated it. I know He did. He had to hate it, probably pretended it was me.... then He got in the car and drove away. She and the kid went back inside.

Where is he going? Where is my love going?

*** *** *** *** ***

Chapter Three

Counting sheep never worked for Richie Ryan. Oh, he could visualize a fat fluffy sheep trotting along a dirt path, spotting a nice white picket fence and lightly vaulting over it; but then, instead of concentrating on the next sheep approaching through verdant green meadows, his restless mind wondered what had happened to the sheep that had already jumped. Did it bump into a wolf? Fall down the side of a mountain? Turn into lamb chops and a sheepskin vest?

At 2:32, he rolled over onto his left side and shut his eyes tightly. 'I'll lay really still until I fall asleep,' he told himself.

At 3:07, he got up, went to the bathroom, came back to bed.

At 3:52, he drained the glass of water by his bed.

At 4:19, he shot out of a shallow doze with the agony of a cramp stabbing through his leg.

Finally, at five a.m., his eyelids feeling like sandpaper, he gave up even attempting to sleep and stared into the darkness, his mind replaying the last few days in a staccato series of pictures. Sonya in the shop, smelling the roses. Sonya's twisted body in the alley. Her eyes, open and staring at nothing. Detective Marshall's lean, intent face as he asked the same questions over and over again. Vicki's hard eyes as she commented that Sonya wasn't a nice person. Mac's quizzical expression as he looked at the mystery roses. Tessa's distress over her grandmother. Vicki and Renee and Sonya's sister Valerie at the funeral.

Suddenly, Richie kicked off the covers and vaulted out of bed. Sleep was impossible and he had to get out for awhile.

The clock showed 5:32 when he tip-toed into the kitchen. The keys to Tessa's Mercedes were on the counter. He was just going to take a drive to clear his head; Tessa never got up before 7:30. He'd be back before she even knew he, or her car, was gone. Snagging the keys, Richie quietly slipped down the passageway to the alley door.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Tessa yawned, stretched, reached out for Duncan. She woke up fast when her searching hand encountered only the empty bed. Then she remembered, Duncan was in Seattle. The bed suddenly seemed huge and cold and empty without him, and she curled on her side, wrapping the comforter tightly around her body.

The two of them had talked for a long time before Duncan had left the night before. The Highlander was worried, wanting Tessa and Richie to go with him. "I just don't like the two of you being here alone," he'd insisted.

"If we're both here, we're not alone," Tessa had pointed out. Duncan had not been amused.

Under other circumstances, Tessa would not have been opposed to going. Some time alone with her lover would be wonderful. They had had precious little of that lately.

It wasn't Richie's fault and Tessa tried not to blame him even in the privacy of her own thoughts. Even if Richie had chosen some other shop to break in that night over six months before, Tessa's life with Duncan would have been radically changed anyway by his sudden re-emergence into the Game. For twelve years she had known very little about the ways of Immortals, until that night when their lovemaking had been interrupted by a teenage thief, a masked man crashing through the skylight, and the arrival of Duncan's kinsman Connor.

Her mind briefly touched on the memory of her reunion with Duncan on the island, the look on his face as his kinsman, his oldest friend, turned to leave them to their privacy. "You didn't say good-bye," she'd commented as they watched the canoe slip through sapphire waters. "We never do", he'd replied.

Connor was gone when they'd returned to the apartment over a week later. An envelope, addressed to Duncan, was propped next to the coffeemaker, along with the key Tessa had loaned to the older Immortal. Duncan had quickly read the note inside the envelope, a frown creasing his forehead. He'd kissed her and left, saying he would be back for dinner, and he was, bringing with him not only take-out Italian from the Venetian Gondola restaurant, but also a seventeen-year-old boy. "You remember Richie, Tessa," the Highlander said casually as he unbagged fettuccini, veal scaloppini, salad and bread. The kid, cleaned-up and looking even younger than he had the night he'd broken in, divided his attention between her and the sight of the hot food. Tessa noted the thinness, the shadows around the sunken blue eyes, and the slight trembling of his hands, and realized that eating regularly was not something Richie Ryan had been doing lately.

Late that night, after their unexpected guest had eaten everything in sight and then disappeared into the night, Duncan had calmly mentioned he'd offered Richie a job. Tessa thought he was joking. He wasn't. Richie turned up at eight the next morning. He worked hard, Tessa had to admit, but he never said too much to her and seemed unaccountably nervous. He was much more relaxed with Duncan. Tessa, hearing their laughter and easy camaraderie, had first been surprised, then briefly jealous, then sad as she contemplated what a wonderful father Duncan would have made.

Tessa was jerked from her memories of the past by the shrill ringing of the phone. She sat up in bed, switching on the lamp and instinctively looking toward the delicate silver carriage clock on her dresser. 6:05. No one would call that early, unless... her heart pounded. Unless it was bad news from Paris, ten hours ahead of Seacouver time.

Tessa snatched the receiver. "Hello?" Her voice was tremulous to her own ears.

"He's with me, Tessa."

"What?" Tessa frowned. "Who is this?" It was a woman's voice, at least she thought so, but muffled and indistinct.

"He's with me, Tessa. He's mine. Get out of his bed, get out of his house, because he's mine now."

"I don't know--" Tessa started. There was a click as the phone was hung up on the other end. After a few seconds, Tessa heard the impersonal buzzing of a dial tone.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Leaning against the salt-soaked wood of the pier railing, Richie watched the ocean turn from black to gray to pearly blue as the sky lightened in preparation of day. In another hour, there would be hustle and bustle all around as the two dozen tiny shops that lined the long wooden structure opened for business, but now the pier was deserted save for him and a few early-morning fishermen.

He'd had a foster mother once who always came here when she was troubled and often brought him with her. When he'd asked her why, she'd said it was to throw her troubles out over the immenseness of the ocean, let that vastness just swallow them, wash them away. It had never worked that well for Richie, but he still found the endless roll of the waves to be soothing.

His chaotic mind calmed, at peace, he turned and headed back to where he'd left Tessa's car. He was shaking from the cold, but impulsively decided to go by the park for his regular run anyway.

In spite of the frigid wind, the promise of a sunny if cold day had brought many runners to the park. Renee and Vicki were already there, loosening up with stretching exercises; Valerie pulled up in a new Jeep Cherokee while Richie was doing the bare minimum of warm-up. He exchanged a few comments with each of the girls, told a petulant Vicki that MacLeod was in Seattle on business, then set off at a slightly faster pace than normal; fast enough, he hoped, to discourage any of the girls from joining him.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Tessa let the rush of hot water cascade over her body.

'It was just a crank call,' she tried to reassure herself as the bathroom fogged with the steam from the shower. 'Just a crank call.'

The hot shower did much to restore her equilibrium and she felt more like herself when she finally turned off the faucets and stepped onto the floor. Wrapping her hair in a plush towel, she dressed without her usual care and padded to the kitchen. She'd have coffee and maybe a piece of toast before doing her hair and make-up.

Ten minutes later, she wrapped her hands around a steaming mug and gratefully savored the Colombian blend they'd found Saturday. She glanced at the refrigerator, where the phone number for Duncan's Seattle hotel was posted on a bright yellow index card, and decided to call. It was early enough that he should still be in his room.

The phone rang as she reached for it. Smiling, sure that it was Duncan, she answered, ready to tease him about reading her mind, she answered it. "Hello?"

The shrill, breathless voice barreled through the receiver. Tessa reflexively winced, yanked the phone away from her ear as the voice screamed, "Get out of my place, you bitch! Why are you still there? Who's keeping you company in Duncan's bed while he's gone? Does he know? I'll tell him! Get out now before he puts you out--"

Tessa slammed the phone back into the cradle and backed away, heart thundering in her ears. She contacted something and she shrieked, whirling around, the coffee mug she had been grasping flying from her fingers.

"Hey, Tess-- hey!"

"Richie!" Tessa gasped, her voice high-pitched and as breathless as the one on the phone had been. She threw her arms around his neck.

"Tess, what's wrong?" Richie gasped.

Realizing that she was holding him too tightly and he couldn't breathe, Tessa made herself let go and step back. Her coffee mug had shattered on the floor and a puddle of dark Colombian Roast marred the white tile. Tessa reached for a paper towel, but Richie caught her shaking hand. "Tess?" he repeated, his voice sounding a little scared. Tessa gently disentangled her fingers and patted his arm. "It's all right, Richie, I'm sorry. I've just had a couple of crank phone calls this morning."

"Crank calls?" Richie frowned. "Like heavy breathing, that kind of thing?"

"Something like that," Tessa answered evasively. She looked at him, realizing for the first time that he had been out. "Where did you go this morning?"

Richie took the keys out of his pocket and handed them to her. "I went to the park for a run. Hope you don't mind, I borrowed your car."

"No, that's fine." Tessa noticed he was clutching a brown paper bag. "What do you have there?"

"I stopped off at that bagel place, you know, the new one? They had fresh blueberry bagels, fifty cents each." Richie pulled a plate from the cupboard and proudly unloaded his purchases. He'd got two blueberry and two whole-wheat, as well as a container of almond-honey cream cheese. Tessa was touched by his gesture. She gave him a quick hug as she said, "It's getting late. We'd better get started on this feast if we're going to open the shop on time this morning."

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Business remained brisk all day with a lot of traffic in and out of the shop. Richie unpacked several deliveries that had come the day before, and Tessa was glad to be busy; it kept her mind off the phone calls that morning.

Around 1:30, the steady stream of customers slowed a bit and Tessa left Richie to mind the store while she slipped into the kitchen to make them a quick lunch. While slicing ham and tomatoes for sandwiches, she eyed the phone and decided to call France.

Her mother answered and was delighted to hear her voice. She immediately gave Tessa the very welcome news that her grandmother's condition was much improved and the doctor was talking about releasing her before the weekend. "She won't go to her apartment, of course," Mme. Noel said, "She'll come here." A brief pause, and then Tessa's mother went on, "Tessa, why don't you fly home for a few days?"

*Home*. Tessa thought longingly of the gray stone chateau surrounded by well-tended gardens. The grove of fruit trees that were her father's pride and joy. The formal dining room with the long polished cherry table and the glass fronted cabinets with their collections of 18th century crystal and porcelain. The chance to talk with Grandmere...

"Oh, Maman, I would love to but I can't," she sighed. "Duncan will be out of town most of the month and I have my work, and the shop..."

This was greeted by a disbelieving silence from the other end of the phone. Finally Mme. Noel said, "Excuses, Tessa!"

"But, Maman--"

"You and I both know the real reason you won't come. Your pride!"

Stung, Tessa snapped back, "Have you forgotten that I'm 'dead' as far as Grandmere is concerned? No, no, wait, how did she put it? Oh, that's right... I never existed! She never had a granddaughter named Tessa."

Tessa heard her mother sigh. "Mon chere, that was years ago. Your grandmother has changed."

"She hasn't changed enough to read the letters I sent her," Tessa raged, feeling tears clog her throat. "She has never called *me*... or sent me a Christmas card or... or..."

"She has pride too," Mme. Noel pointed out. A dry laugh. "It must run in the family. Tessa, I know she wants to make amends with you, she doesn't know how. Please, ma petite, she almost died. The next time she might, and then you will never have the chance."

Tessa wiped tears away angrily with the back of her hand. "Why should I be the one to make the first move--"


"Make the first attempt," Tessa clarified. She whipped up her self- righteous anger. "She knows where I am, if she really wants to... to make peace."


Tessa saw Richie standing in the doorway, an odd look on his face. "Maman, I have to go now. I will speak with you later." She hung up the phone and whirled on Richie, snapping, "What are you doing in here?"

*** *** ***

Richie let out a strangled groan as he recognized the young woman approaching the shop.

Far be it for Richie Ryan to try to avoid the company of a good-looking female-- and Valerie Parrish was that, even if she was overweight for someone who regularly ran three miles a day-- but he was starting to feel almost haunted by Valerie and her cousins.

Valerie entered the shop smiling. The thought occurred to Richie that she looked nothing like the rest of the family: whereas her sister Sonya had had red hair and green eyes and Vicki and Renee were both blue-eyed blondes, Valerie had very dark hair, almost black, cut short and smoothly fitting her head like a cap. Her eyes were very light, a pale, washed-out grayish blue.

"Hey, Valerie," he greeted her. "What's up?"

"I just dropped some things off at the Northside Gallery."

Richie nodded. The Northside Gallery wasn't a real art gallery; it was more of a place to buy regional crafts. Valerie did ceramics. She called herself a "potter", and the previous Christmas, when he'd been agonizing over what to get Mac and Tessa, she'd made a set of mugs and sold them to him really cheap. The mug that Tessa had broken this morning had been from that set, he realized.

Valerie was looking in glass-fronted cabinet. "Oh, here they are," she said, reaching in. Richie moved quickly to her side and saw she was holding the garnet earrings. "I want to buy these."

"They're expensive," Richie warned her.

Valerie shrugged. "Easy come, easy go," she quipped. Her eyes were oddly triumphant. "I have money, Richie. And someday soon I'll have a lot more."

'How nice for you,' Richie thought. He took the platinum AMEX she offered him and stepped behind the counter to write up the purchase. He realized they were out of charge slips. A quick glance in the drawer revealed there were no more there, and he hesitated. "Valerie, I-- I can't find any charge slips; can you write a check instead?"

The girl raised her perfectly arched eyebrows. She pursed her lips as she slowly shook her head. "I really can't. Surely you have some more slips around somewhere?" Her voice was amused.

"I'll have to check with Tessa," Richie said reluctantly. He didn't want to leave the shop unattended, but she showed no sign of budging, so he darted back to the apartment. He could hear Tessa's voice coming from the kitchen, she must be talking on the phone. Not wanting to interrupt her conversation, he stopped just inside the door.

Tessa looked like she had been crying, but her voice sounded angry. She was pacing around the kitchen, the phone clenched between her neck and shoulder, gesturing wildly with her hands. She was speaking very fast, in French, and before Richie could make his presence known she had turned around and seen him.

Her face darkened, she said something into the phone and then slammed it down. "What are you doing in here?"

The raw venom in her voice shocked Richie. He stammered, "Umm... we're out of charge slips... I can't find--"

"Did you look in the drawer?"

"Yeah... yeah I did. Tess, what's wrong?" Richie blurted.

Tessa glared at him for a minute, and then her face slightly relaxed. "Nothing. I was just-- that was my mother on the phone and--"

"Is your grandmother okay?"

"Yes, Richie, she's much better. She'll be coming home this weekend, probably." Tessa pushed past him, saying, "There should be more charge slips in Duncan's office."

"So when are you going to go to France to see her?" Richie asked, following Tessa down the hall.

Tessa stopped, swung around and looked at him. "I'm not going to France, Richie. Don't you see that I *can't*--"

"Look, Tess," Richie broke in, "I can take care of the shop, or we can close for a few days, and--"

Tessa interrupted, "You're awfully cavalier about closing the shop, Richie. Oh, I forgot, Duncan pays you, anyway. You have food and clothes and a place to live--- what do you think pays for all that?"

The raw venom in her words slashed through Richie's gut. He took a deep breath, holding onto his temper with an effort. It helped that he knew it wasn't the shop that was making Tessa so reluctant to leave. He'd spent a long time that morning thinking about Tessa and her grandmother, and he felt he had to make her see how wrong she was. "Tess, Mac told me about your grandmother, and how she... feels, or felt, about you living with him. But Tessa, don't you see that isn't important? What's important is that you have a chance to make it right now. So what if you both said things, she's your grandmother! She's *family*!"

All of a young boy's intense longing for a family was in his tone, in the pleading expression on his face.

"Richie, be quiet," Tessa said, her voice low and furious. "It's none of your business."

Everything inside Richie screamed at him to let it go, to walk away, to get the charge slips and go back to the shop and never bring it up again, but he couldn't. He owed Tessa too much, cared about her too much, to do that. "Tessa, your grandmother was wrong twelve years ago, or however long ago it was. But now, *you're* the one that's wrong. By not making up with her, not giving her a chance, you're being just as small-minded and as stupid as she--"

The instant the words left his mouth he knew he'd gone too far. Tessa's face went absolutely sheet-white, then turned crimson with rage. Before Richie could even think, her hand had come up and slapped him across the face.

Richie staggered back, more from shock than pain because she had not hit him very hard. For one shattered, terrifying second, Tessa disappeared, to be replaced by every hostile, disapproving, impatient adult that had ever been given control over a young boy, lost and adrift in the foster care system. His heart pounded wildly and he wanted to run.

Then Tessa shoved past him; he could hear her racing footsteps, then the slam of her bedroom door.

Richie stood there, stunned. Then, as if his feet had a mind of their own, as if his body was driven to perform when his mind was totally occupied with the end of life as he knew it, he walked into Duncan's office, rummaged around in the desk until he found a bundle of charge slips, then retraced his steps to the shop. It was empty; Valerie had apparently left. The garnet earrings lay tossed on the glass-topped counter. Richie numbly picked them up, polished them on his sleeve, and returned them to their black-velvet cushion. Moving very slowly, meticulously, he locked the case, then proceeded to pull out soft flannel rags and a spray bottle of Windex and rub the fingerprints and smudges from that case and all the other cases around. Then he polished the windows, interrupted several times by customers. From outside himself, he saw himself waiting on them, talking, even laughing once at a joke someone told. His laughter sounded hollow and strained in his ears.

The phone rang and he answered it, as he had so many times before, "Antiques". He wondered if it would be the last time. He was sure that any second Tessa would come back in and tell him to pack his bag.

MacLeod's voice greeted him from the other end of the phone line, sounding so cheerful and so normal that Richie felt unwanted tears prick his eyes, clog his throat. It took him several seconds to find his voice. "Uh, hi, Mac. How's Seattle?" There was a pause, then the voice of the Highlander slowly answered, "Seattle's fine, Richie... well, actually it's raining... Richie, is something wrong?"

"Wrong? Umm, no, nothing. Umm, it's cloudy here but it hasn't rained yet, it's really cold though..." his voice trailed off.

This time MacLeod's voice was sharp with concern. "Rich, what is it? You don't sound like yourself at all. Where's Tessa?"

"Tessa? Well, she's, uh, not here. In the shop, I mean. She's in the apartment."

"I just called the apartment and there was no answer."

"You did? I didn't hear the phone. Maybe you dialed the wrong number." "Richie, I didn't dial the wrong number! I know my own phone number."

"Oh. Well, then maybe Tessa's just not answering."

He heard MacLeod take a deep breath. His voice was oddly calm, as if he were forcing himself to be patient. "Why wouldn't Tessa answer the phone?"

Trapped, Richie had to come up with an excuse and he blurted out the first thing that came to him. "Uh, well, she got a couple of weird phone calls this morning. You know, umm, nuisance calls."

"What? What kind of nuisance calls?" MacLeod exploded. "No, never mind. You go tell her I'll be calling in three minutes, and tell her to pick up the phone!"

"I can't leave the shop," Richie protested weakly.

"Richie!" MacLeod's voice thundered in his ears. "Do as I say!"

*** *** ***

Tessa scrabbled furiously through her dresser drawers, searching for cigarettes, swearing in French. She heard a light tap on the door and her head came up, strands of disheveled blonde hair hanging in her eyes. She didn't say anything.

She heard Richie's voice, tentative, sounding very young. "Tess... Mac just called. He's going to call you and he said for you to answer."

Tessa didn't respond. After several seconds, Richie's voice came through the door again. "Tess? Did you hear me?"

"I heard you."

A sigh. "Tessa, I guess I said too much. I'm sorry."

Tessa didn't know what to say. After over a minute, she heard the boy sigh, then the sound of receding footsteps. Suddenly, her anger deserted her, replaced by a blistering shame and deep sorrow for hitting him. She started for the door, but then the phone rang demandingly. Tessa hesitated, her hand still on the knob, then turned to answer it.

*** *** ***

Duncan MacLeod hung up the phone a little more forcefully than usual after a very unsatisfying phone conversation with Tessa. His lover had stubbornly insisted nothing was wrong, even though the tremulous quality of her voice was a dead giveaway that there was, indeed, something *very* wrong. She denied that the anonymous phone calls of the morning had upset her and seemed angry with Richie for telling him about them.

Unable to rid of himself of a feeling of disquiet, he checked to make sure he had his room key and then went downstairs. He was supposed to meet Larry Simpson, from the auction house, and Marina Bolt, representing the Bolt family interests, for a late lunch in the hotel restaurant. As he strode across the elegantly-appointed lobby, he heard a woman's voice calling his name. He turned around and was shocked to see Vicki (Renee? -- no, it was Vicki) Parrish hurrying toward him.

She grasped his arm tightly, her whole face lit up by a glowing smile. "Duncan!" she exclaimed, "Isn't this wonderful?"

MacLeod managed to disentangle his arm. "Vicki, what are you doing here?"

"Oh, I just came to Seattle for a day or two, shopping, you know, Seacouver is *so* provincial, we don't have nearly the shops that Seattle has. I saw you-- I mean, this is just like *fate*!"

Over her head, Duncan saw Larry Simpson enter the hotel, saw the look of surprise on his face as he spotted MacLeod and the girl. Duncan stepped away, saying, "Vicki, I'm sorry, but I have a meeting--"

Her face fell. She grabbed his arm again. "But-- I was hoping we could talk. I wanted to speak with you about that internship at Sotheby's--"

"Maybe another time." Gently, Duncan pulled his arm loose and turned to go meet Simpson, saying, "Enjoy your shopping, Vicki."

"Oh, I *will*."

Something about her voice alerted MacLeod and he swung around to look at her, but nothing seemed different. She gave him a slight smile as she turned to the elevators, and MacLeod realized uncomfortably that she was staying in the same hotel. Then he moved to greet Simpson. "Did I interrupt something?" the auction house representative said in an amused tone.

Duncan looked back at the closing elevator doors. That niggling feeling was back, but he couldn't pinpoint what was wrong.

*** *** ***

The long afternoon wore on. Tessa stayed incommunicado in her room or her workshop. Richie handled the shop as best he could.

Around five, the door opened to a young Oriental-looking man wearing the gray uniform and red baseball cap of a well-known delivery service. He was carrying a dispatch pouch and as he crossed the shop he was unsnapping it. "Delivery for Tessa Noel?"

"She's busy right now." Richie stared as the pouch came open to reveal a large, rectangular box, about five inches deep and elaborately swathed in emerald green velvet, cream colored satin ribbons and flounces of lace. The box was topped with a corsage of white and pink silk roses. "What is that?"

"Chocolates," the courier answered cheekily. "Godiva chocolates, to be exact. From Saks Fifth Avenue in Seattle." He grinned at the look on Richie's face. "Somebody must like this lady a lot. She a looker?"

"Yeah, well, that's an understatement," Richie replied, signing the sheet on the proffered clipboard. He glanced at the sender's name: Duncan MacLeod.

"What is that?" Tessa asked, entering the shop from the apartment as the delivery man exited from the front.

Richie's shoulders stiffened at the sound of her voice. "It's for you."

Tessa came past him. She had changed clothes, wearing her red silk dress with the black and silver pattern. He could smell the scent of her perfume, strong, as if she had just put some more on.

Tessa was reading the card. "It's from Duncan," she said with evident pleasure. "What a beautiful box." She pulled the satin ribbon loose and then lifted the top of the box.

True to what the delivery man had said, it was chocolates, dark ones, light ones, white ones. Some of them were topped with jewel-like flowers.

"Help yourself." Tessa offered him the box.

Richie stared at her. Her blue eyes looked back at him, calm and clear, and, he realized dizzily, free from anger. Before he could say anything, she made a quick movement forward and embraced him. She said, her voice tight, "Richie, I am so sorry."

Richie felt all the tension that had built up in him throughout the day drain from his body. He clung to her, not sure who was trembling more. Somehow, all the awful thoughts he'd been having, visions of Tessa throwing him out, interspersed with nightmarish memories, vanished like snowflakes in the summer sun.

"I don't blame you for not speaking to me," Tessa murmured into his shoulder.

"No, I'm not not speaking to you," Richie protested. He chuckled as he realized that didn't make sense. "I just don't know what to say. Tessa, I'm sorry. Me and my big mouth."

"No," Tessa said, stepping away from him but still holding his shoulders tightly. She looked into his eyes. "Richie, you shouldn't have to guard what you say. You have a right to an opinion, and I have the right not to agree with it. Just as you have the right to not agree with mine." She lightly touched his cheek. "What is *not* right is me hitting you because I don't like what you're saying. Richie, I have no right to ask, but can you forgive me for that?"

Richie stared at her. Then he started laughing. "Tessa, I... to tell you the truth, I forgot you even slapped me."

"Richie," Tessa started. Then she gave up, shaking her head. She muttered something under her breath that could have been "Men!" "Eat a chocolate," she sighed.

"Don't have to twist my arm." Richie greedily snatched two or three from the box, putting one in his mouth. "Mmmmm," he crooned as the exotic concoction melted on his tongue, exciting his taste buds and reminding him he'd never gotten around to lunch.

Tessa was looking around the shop. "You've been cleaning?"

Richie shrugged, helping himself to another candy. "Kept me busy." He chewed. "Mmmm, lemon cream. Aren't you going to eat any?"

"Don't speak with your mouth full," Tessa admonished gently. She sighed. "Not now, my friend Natalie called and she wants me to meet her for an early dinner. She has some new project that she is excited about." She hesitated. "Do you want to come along?"

Richie shook his head, popping another chocolate into his mouth. "No thanks. Natalie's your friend from school, right? You two'll talk about art and all that stuff all night long." He gave her an impish grin, slightly marred by the streak of chocolate across one tooth. "I'll stay here and keep your candy company."

Tessa laughed as she started back to the apartment. "You're welcome to all you want, but those are *Godiva* chocolates. They're very rich. Don't eat so many you spoil your appetite for a real dinner. I'll put a casserole in the oven for your dinner."

*** *** ***

Chapter Four

The shop was supposed to close at six. At ten minutes after, the last customer finally left and Richie sighed with relief as he flipped the sign over to say "CLOSED". He straightened the collection of Venetian glass that the customer had been scrutinizing, did a hasty job of sweeping the floor, then turned off the lights and headed for the kitchen, the box of Godiva chocolates in hand. He ate another one while reading the note Tessa had left on the counter, instructing him to turn up the oven to 350 degrees. A peek inside the oven revealed C-B-C casserole: chicken, broccoli, cheese and rice, one of Richie's favorites. He grinned and gobbled another chocolate, then resolutely replaced the top on the box. Tessa was right, the rich confectionery was making him a little queasy. He poured himself a glass of cold milk, then scooped up the evening paper. He glanced without much interest through the News and Opinions sections, perused the Sports page, noted two of the Friday the Thirteenth movies were on the USA channel that night, then paged rapidly to the comics section.

The timer went off at seven. Richie silenced it and opened the oven door. Somehow the casserole didn't smell as good as it usually did. The milk had failed to ease the burning in his stomach and now Richie realized he didn't actually have much of an appetite. Still, Tessa had gone to the trouble of making him dinner, so he put a couple of spoonfuls on his plate and carried it over to the table.

By eating very slowly and taking tiny bites, he was able to clear the minuscule portion off his plate. He poured another glass of milk and drank it quickly. His gut was still burning, accompanied by a dull pain. Frowning, he opened the Godiva box again and counted empty papers. "I ate twelve?" he squeaked. "Tessa'll never let me live this down." He closed the box again, covered the casserole dish with aluminum foil and shoved it into the refrigerator, then carried his plate, glass and silverware to the dishwasher, which was already full of dirty dishes. Richie groaned. Tessa and MacLeod weren't Simon Legrees by any means, but they did expect him to do certain things around the house in addition to running errands and working in the shop. Richie complained a lot when they were around to hear, but secretly he didn't mind. It wasn't like doing chores for his various foster parents; this was his home too. Unfortunately, running and then emptying the dishwasher was something he forgot to do more often than not. Richie put the soap in and turned on the machine, then filled the sink with hot sudsy water to wash the few dishes he'd dirtied with dinner.

He was looking for a clean dish towel -- he'd also forgotten to put the wet laundry in the dryer -- when nausea violently twisted his stomach. Richie made it to the sink just in time to heave streams of chocolate- colored vomit over his freshly washed plate.

After several seconds of violent retching, he managed to stand upright. Clinging to the counter, he ran hot water into the sink, using the sprayer until no sign of his sickness remained. Leaving the dishes where they were, Richie turned and staggered for his bedroom, clutching his stomach. The dull pain was increasing with every beat of his pulse. He fell to his bed gratefully, curling up on his side with his knees pulled towards his chest.

He lay very still for several minutes. The room was filled with winter darkness as he hadn't turned on the light. Richie shivered, but was afraid to move enough to slide under the covers, afraid of bringing on another bout of vomiting.

Finally, he moved experimentally, sighing with relief when the nausea didn't strike again. Moving very slowly, he sat up, switched on the light, and yanked his soiled shirt over his head, flinging it vaguely toward the bathroom. He leaned over to untie his shoes.

An invisible knife plunged through his abdomen, twisting, tearing, stealing away his breath. Richie gasped for air, feeling cold sweat break out under his arms, in the small of his back.

His guts twisted again. Richie fell to the floor, curling up on his side, moaning. "Please, stop," he gasped. Nothing had ever hurt like this.

A third agonizing spasm. Richie gagged but nothing came up. Struggling up to hands and knees, he lurched toward the bathroom.

*** *** ***

Duncan sighed with relief as he parked his T-Bird in its spot behind the dumpster. Tessa's white Mercedes wasn't there, and the absence of Richie's motorcycle reminded him he'd forgotten to call the insurance agent. Unlocking the back door, he followed the brick passageway until he came to the brightly lit, empty kitchen. There were some dishes in the sink, the dishwasher hummed industriously, and he idly noticed a velvet-covered box on the counter.

He assumed Richie and Tessa had gone out somewhere, maybe to dinner or to see a movie, not that it was easy to imagine one they could agree on. He opened the refrigerator door to survey the contents. Worried about what was happening at home, he'd only picked at lunch in the hotel. Coming home had been an impulse, but he was glad he'd done it.

He suddenly realized the faint tingling he'd been vaguely aware of was actually the presence of a pre-Immortal nearby. Letting the refrigerator door close, he started through the apartment, calling Richie's name.

Lights and faint noises led him to the teen's bedroom. The door was ajar and he rapped once before stepping inside, saying, "Richie, it's freezing in here, why don't you turn up the-- Richie!"

Richie was crumpled on the cold tile floor in his small bathroom. He was naked except for his boxers. His body was soaked with sweat but he was shivering violently. The tiny room stank with sickness.

Duncan knelt on the floor beside the boy, trying desperately to discern what was wrong with him. Richie's eyes were closed, but at the touch of Duncan's hand, they flew open. The bloodshot white was stained a faint yellow.

"Richie?" Duncan gripped his shoulder, wincing at the icy chill of the flesh. "Can you hear me?"

The boy nodded slightly, then a strangled groan escaped his throat and he curled up even more tightly, arms clutching his stomach.

"Richie," the Highlander said insistently, shaking the boy's shoulder, "You've got to tell me what's wrong?"

"Stomach," Richie managed to force out through chattering teeth.

'Well, that was rather obvious,' MacLeod thought. He stood, reaching back into the bedroom for the thick quilted bedspread. Yanking it free of the bed, he wrapped the teen in its warm folds, but Richie struggled and tried to push it away. "Easy," Duncan soothed, soaking a washcloth in warm water and using it to bathe Richie's face and neck. "Just take it easy. Richie, where's Tessa?"

"She... went out" Richie started coughing, a strangled, gasping exertion that left pinkish froth flecking his lips. A tiny trickle of blood oozed from the corner of his mouth to puddle on the white ceramic tile.

Alarm bells shrieked in Duncan's mind. "Rich," he said, managing to keep his voice very even, very calm, "You need to get off this cold floor. I'm going to lift you into your bed." Suiting action to the word and ignoring Richie's faint mumbling of protest, MacLeod lifted the teen, bedspread and all, and gently placed him on the bed. Then he went back into the bathroom and located the bucket under the sink. "Richie, I'm putting a bucket right here on the floor in case you need to vomit. I'll be right back. You just stay still, okay?" He waited for Richie's slight nod before leaving him and speeding out to the kitchen.

He rummaged through a drawer for the list of emergency numbers that always seemed to drift to the bottom under flashlights, batteries and coupons. As he had hoped, the name Jon Bolt was scribbled on the paper, along with home, office and pager numbers.

Jonathan Bolt IV, MD had been a friend of MacLeod's and Tessa's since shortly after they had moved to Seacouver. He was related somehow to the impossibly rich and socially prominent Bolt family of Seattle, but instead of going into the family business of lumber, textiles and banking, or into politics, which was rapidly becoming a Bolt calling, he'd chosen to go into medicine and set up his practice in Seacouver. (He'd told Duncan once he couldn't see practicing in Seattle, where every hospital had at least one wing named for a family member). He'd been Tessa's doctor for years and, the few times they'd managed to drag Richie in for medical care, Bolt had provided it.

'Please be home,' Mac prayed as he punched in the first number. The phone was picked up almost immediately and with relief he recognized the physician's voice. "Jon, it's Duncan."

"Duncan?" Surprise colored the other man's tone. "I thought you were in Seattle? Mother said she was going to have lunch with you today."

Marina Bolt didn't look old enough to have an almost-forty year old son. Duncan said, "I came home tonight. Jon, Richie's really sick. He has bad stomach pain and he just coughed up a little bit of blood."

The other man's voice sharpened instantly. "How long has he been sick? Has he had any injury to his chest or stomach recently?"

"No, not that I know of. He can't have been sick for very long because he said Tessa went out this evening, and she wouldn't have left him alone if he'd been ill or hurt."

The doctor asked a few more questions, then said, "Well, it's probably just a virus, but I don't like that coughing up blood at all... look, Duncan, why don't I run over and take a look at him? I can be there in fifteen minutes. Just keep him warm and quiet, and don't let him eat or drink anything until I see him."

*** *** ***

The minutes dragged like years to Duncan as he sat by Richie's side, helpless to ease the violent cramps assaulting his friend. Richie's hands knotted in the bedspread as he moaned with the pain. The pillow beneath his head dampened with sweat.

Duncan heard voices in the hallway. He stepped out just in time to catch Tessa in his arms. "Duncan!" she exclaimed, "Jon says Richie is ill? He was fine when I left."

The tall, solidly-built Jon Bolt squeezed past her into Richie's room. "What time did you leave, Tessa?" he asked, going to the bedside and opening his black bag. "Hi, Richie," he added gently as the teen's eyes opened. "Hear you're a little under the weather tonight."

"I left about 5:30." Tessa had made no move to free herself from Duncan's arms but stared with something closely akin to horror at the writhing figure in the bed. "What's wrong with him?"

"Why don't the two of you leave me alone with my patient for a few minutes?" Bolt suggested, breaking out a blood-pressure cuff. "I could really use a cup of coffee."

Duncan recognized the ploy for what it was, but pulled Tessa from the room anyway.

Once in the brightly-lit kitchen, Tessa went directly to the refrigerator and pulled out a covered casserole dish. "He hardly ate any dinner," she said in a worried tone. Then, as she turned to the coffeemaker, she caught sight of something and a smile broke over her face. "Oh, Duncan, I know what it is." Swiftly she moved toward the velvet box MacLeod had vaguely noticed on the counter. Lifting the lid, she counted under her breath in French, then laughed a little dryly. "I told him Godiva chocolates are too rich. Twelve missing; that's enough to give anyone a stomach-ache!"

Duncan doubted seriously that an overindulgence in chocolate had brought on Richie's illness. "Where did Godiva chocolates come from, anyway?" he asked.

Tessa stared at him, the blood draining from her face. "What do you mean? *You* sent them."

"*Me?* I didn't send...." Duncan stared at the lavish box, cold chills running down his spine. He lunged for the box and upended it on the counter, examining the remaining candies carefully. Several of the chocolates had tiny, round holes in their bottoms.

Rapid footsteps in the hallway. MacLeod looked up as Bolt burst into the room. "We need an ambulance," the doctor snapped. "I think Richie has been poisoned!"

*** *** ***

Chapter Five

"I mean, *arsenic* in the Godiva chocolates? Somebody's been reading too much Agatha Christie."

MacLeod stared down into a cup of inky fluid that the hospital cafeteria proclaimed to be coffee. "Is that a professional observation, Detective?"

The floor-to-ceiling windows of the cafeteria revealed early morning of another cold, dreary February day. It was too cold, too dreary and way too early to have to cope with a chattering, hyperactive police detective, but nonetheless, Det. William ("Hey! Call me Bill.") Marshall, clad in still another Armani suit, had turned up at the hospital practically with the dawn and "invited" Duncan to join him for coffee.

The police detective glanced at his watch (Rolex, noted Duncan. Either Seacouver paid its police force well or this guy was taking bribes). "I left a message for Richie's doctor to join us. I have questions about this lab report. I hope the hospital didn't analyze *all* the chocolates, I want the police lab to do another analysis. If this report is right, there was way more arsenic in those candies than needed to kill someone. And Richie ate *twelve*? Lucky he isn't dead right now. Wonder where he is?"

It took Duncan a minute to dissect that utterance and realize that it was the doctor, not Richie, whom Marshall was wondering about. Before he could say anything, Bolt was there, sliding into the empty chair at the table with a mug of coffee and a plate of scrambled eggs and toast. "Sorry to keep you waiting, Billy Boy, but I *do* have patients to see, you know. Including one very sick young man named Richie Ryan."

"Jon!" Marshall exclaimed. "You're Ryan's doctor?"

"How many 'Dr. Bolt's' do you think there are in Seacouver?" Bolt asked dryly, shoveling a forkful of eggs into his mouth.

Duncan looked from one to the other. "You two know each other?"

"You could say that." Bolt grinned. "Billy is my baby cousin."

The detective rolled his eyes. "Funny, Jon. Really funny. And for your information, nobody told me what Ryan's doctor's name was."

Duncan stared at Marshall. "You're a Bolt?"

"Well, yeah." The young man actually blushed. "But, you know, keep it quiet, okay? Don't tell Powell. It's not exactly the background someone expects for a cop."

'Well, that explains the Armani and the Rolex,' Duncan thought. He fixed his eyes on Bolt. "How's Richie?"

"Just checked him. Oh, and when you go back, he'll be in room 411. We're moving him out of ICU. And I requested a cot be put into his room; Tessa looks dead on her feet and you don't look much better." Bolt scooped the last of his eggs into his mouth, then pushed his plate away and took a gulp of coffee, making a face. "Think they mixed the formaldehyde up with the coffee water again," he muttered.

"So I assume Ryan is going to make it?" Marshall asked.

"Barring complications, yes, he will. But it was touch and go; there were a couple of times last night I thought it was all over."

Duncan had known that already, but still, hearing the words gave him cold chills. If he hadn't chosen to come home last night... then at this very moment Richie could have been waking up as an Immortal, a burden he was not nearly ready for. As horrifying as that thought was, it was dwarfed by another: if Tessa had eaten any of the tainted chocolates she would be dead now, dead forever, with no return possible.


Duncan blinked, realized that Marshall was speaking to him. "I'm sorry. My mind wandered..."

"Understandable." Marshall took another sip of his coffee. "Saks in Seattle won't open until ten this morning. I did check with the courier service here in Seacouver, but the order originated in Seattle. They're checking. Are you quite sure you didn't order those chocolates to be delivered?"

Duncan slammed down his mug. "Detective, I am sure I would remember buying a hundred-dollar box of candy. I'm even more sure that I would remember if I had doctored same with arsenic! Are you accusing me--?"

Marshall held up a hand. "Actually, no, I'm not. You don't strike me as stupid, Mr. MacLeod. If you had poisoned those chocolates you'd make damn sure not to send them in your own name. What I was getting at, is maybe, if you did order them, they were intercepted either before or after they were delivered and tampered with at that time."

"Oh." Duncan grudgingly admitted that made sense. "Well, no, I didn't order them."

Marshall took another sip of coffee, his eyes never leaving Duncan's. "Who knew you were in Seattle, MacLeod?"

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"This whole thing reeks of inside knowledge; this was no random nutcase type of thing. Look at the facts, MacLeod, those chocolates were loaded with arsenic. *Someone* sent them, using your name, knowing you wouldn't be around to disprove that. Ms. Noel had no doubts that the chocolates were from you. Apparently you do send her gifts, often enough that she felt no suspicion when the chocolates arrived." He paused. "Tell me something, if you *had* sent those chocolates, would you have expected Richie to eat them as well?"

Duncan snorted. "Detective, Richie is eighteen years old. He is *always* hungry, and he loves chocoalte. The surprise would have been if he'd left any for Tessa!"

Marshall's eyes sharpened. "So it's possible that Ms. Noel wasn't the target? Even though the candy was delivered to her? Possibly it was Ryan all along?"

"Why would someone want to kill Richie?" Bolt asked. "Or Tessa, for that matter?"

Not for the first time today, MacLeod uneasily wondered if another Immortal was on the scene. He was aware that many of his kind regarded human beings as little more than pawns in the Immortal game. But what good would it do someone after his head to kill Richie? Or Tessa? He wondered about Felecia; after all, she'd used Richie once, but this somehow didn't seem her style.

"Richie was the last person to talk to Sonya Parrish before she was killed, as far as we know. He is also the closest thing we have to an eyewitness to her murder," Marshall was answering his cousin's question.

Duncan frowned. "You think the two are connected?"

"I don't know, Mr. MacLeod. But it just seems that a lot of dangerous things occur around your shop."

*** *** ***

It was in the newspaper tonight, just a small article buried on the back page of the city section. One-and-a-half inches of type, most of it about Tessa Noel and Duncan MacLeod. Richard Ryan's near-death would have probably received no notice at all if he'd resided elsewhere.

I guess I'm sorry about Richie. Damn Her anyway. She should have eaten those chocolates.

*** *** ***

Richie struggled to open his eyes. He had to wake up. Something was wrong, he knew that. But his eyelids stubbornly refused to lift. Richie finally gave up and lay still, trying to figure out what was happening.

He hurt. His body ached all over, like that time he'd had the flu, but worse. There was a burning itch in the back of one hand and he wanted to scratch, but he couldn't figure out how to do it. There was also something stuck into his nose. It was even more annoying than the itch. Richie remembered how to move his hand and mentally ordered it to reach toward his nose.

Something warm caught his hand, pulling it back down. A familiar voice said, "Leave the oxygen alone, Richie."

'Oxygen?' Richie wondered. He recognized the voice as Mac's and somehow the vague fear he'd felt disappeared. If Mac was here, things couldn't be that bad; the Highlander could take care of them. He opened his mouth and tried to say something, but his lips and throat were so dry all that came out was a hoarse croak.

MacLeod must have heard it. His voice was more alert as he asked, "Richie? Are you awake?"

'Geez, Mac, that's a stupid question! I mean, do I look like I'm asleep?' Then Richie remembered his eyes were closed. He made a mighty effort, and managed to force them open.

Early afternoon sunlight streamed through vertical blinds, illuminating a totally unfamiliar room. Pale blue walls, a polished wood crucifix directly opposite the bed. MacLeod was seated next to the bed, leaning over a little so Richie could see his face. The Highlander looked bad, with dark circles under his eyes and lines of stress crossing his forehead. His hand tightened on Richie's and the teen looked down, only then seeing the needle stabbed into the back of his hand.

"Oh, man," he moaned, his voice sounding strangled even to his own ears. His eyes met MacLeod's. "Hospital?" he managed to choke out.

Duncan nodded. His hand disappeared for an instant and then returned, clutching a dark yellow, plastic tumbler. There was a straw stuck inside and he angled this to Richie's lips. Richie greedily slurped up the water, feeling the coolness of it soothe his aching throat. Too soon, MacLeod pulled the straw away and Richie protested, "More."

"In a few minutes," MacLeod soothed. He rested one hand on Richie's forehead. "You scared us pretty good," he scolded gently.

Richie frowned. "What happened?" he asked, the words coming easier this time. "Was there an accident?" He frowned, trying to remember; something had happened to his motorcycle, he thought, had he been on it? Had a crash? He discarded that idea. Everything ached, but all of his limbs seemed to be in working order. He greedily eyed the tumbler that MacLeod still held and the Highlander rewarded him by again placing the straw to his lips. Then Richie leaned his head back against the pillows, his eyelids falling closed. He was asleep before MacLeod could answer.

*** *** ***

Duncan MacLeod smiled gently as Richie's breathing evened out in sleep. Time enough for the boy to learn the details; for him to learn how close he'd come to death. Death, then rebirth into an Immortal life; that knowledge could wait for years, hopefully. Right now, the important thing was that Richie was safe. No, he amended that thought, looking across the room to where Tessa, exhausted, slept on the cot, the important thing was they were *both* safe. MacLeod's family was safe and somehow he had to keep it that way.

*** *** ***

The chocolates were a mistake. Anybody would have realized a kid like Richie would have eaten them and She wouldn't. Probably afraid of putting on weight.

Oh, God, Duncan, when will this be over? When will *She* be gone, so we can be together the way we are meant to be? I see your face, looking so tired and worn and I know you're missing me as much as I'm missing you. The feel of your arms around me, the press of your lips, the tone of your voice as you croon my name... I must have these things, Duncan. I must. You are mine. We will be together.

Soon. Together for ever. Till death and beyond.

*** *** ***


Tessa put down the magazine she'd been leafing through. "Richie? I thought you were sleeping."

The youth shook his head. He'd regained much of his normal color in the two days since the poisoning, but there was still a pinched, tired look around his mouth and eyes that went straight to Tessa's heart. "I've been thinking," he said tentatively.

"What about?"

Richie's fingers plucked idly at the coarsely-woven hospital blanket. "About you. And your grandmother."

"Richie--" Tessa started. Then she shrugged. "Okay. What about me and my grandmother?"

"I think you should go see her," Richie said firmly. He held up a hand to forestall any protest Tessa might make. "Hear me out, okay? She's family. She's your *grandmother*! That's important. So she was wrong about you and Mac, maybe she knows that now. The thing is, if she dies, it'll be too late then to make up with her and what does it matter then who was right and who was wrong?"

Tessa looked at him for a long moment. "Richie, why is it so important to you that my grandmother and I resolve our differences?"

He refused to meet her eyes. "It just is. She's family."

Tessa knew there was more to it than that. Richie was very close-mouthed about his past, but he surprised her then. Looking anywhere but at her face, Richie muttered, "When I was real little, I don't know, not too long after Emily died and I went to the orphanage, I had a foster grandma assigned to me. I can't remember what her real name was, I always called her Nana. That was what her real grandkids called her. She'd take me home sometimes on Saturday, not very often, mostly she just came to the shelter and read to me or played games." He grinned wistfully. "Candyland and Chutes and Ladders and... oh, there was one called Operation, where you had to use these tweezer things to pull out things without making the buzzer sound. I was pretty clumsy and she had arthritis, so we played our own version, the one who made the buzzer sound the most won."

"What happened to her?" Tessa gently prodded him, afraid of spoiling the mood.

"I got put in a foster home. She still came to see me, maybe once a week. Then Children's Services was going to have this Fun Day at Pier 19." He caught sight of Tessa's puzzled face and explained, "That's when the amusement park was still open. She was going to take me. She said she wanted to." There was something about the way he looked when he said the last sentence that made Tessa's throat ache.

Richie took a deep breath, turned his head slightly so that he was looking out the window and not at Tessa. "I was really excited. My foster mom, Tammi, she was one of the good ones, she took me to K-Mart and bought me this real cool shirt and shorts to match." Richie smiled, a wistful little smile at some memory. "She slathered sunscreen all over me, she was always worried about me getting sunburned. And then we waited. I stood by the window and watched the street for that big old brown car Nana drove. She was supposed to come about ten, I waited, and then it was ten-thirty, then eleven. I started closing my eyes, thinking, when I open them up again Nana would be there, but she never was."

Tessa had to swallow several times over the lump in her throat. "Richie?"

Richie was looking into the past. "About noon, the phone rang and Tammi answered it. I could only hear part of what she said, but I knew Nana wasn't going to come. SO I went in my room and I took off the outfit and put on my old shorts." His lip curled up in a half-smile. "I was actually cleaning my room when Tammi came in."

"What had happened to Nana?"

Richie shrugged. "Petey, he was one of her real grandkids, he'd had a seizure, a pretty bad one I guess, and she had to stay home with him because both of his parents worked. Tammi felt really bad, she kept saying that she would have taken me herself, she even called my caseworker to try to get tickets, but the caseworker was already at Pier 19. She was trying to make me feel better and not be mad at Nana, and she said, 'Richie, you have to realize Petey is her *real* grandson and she had to take care of him." One or two tears slid down the side of Richie's nose but he didn't seem to notice and Tessa pretended she didn't see them. "The next week, Nana came at her normal time. She kept saying she was sorry, and I kept saying I understood. I did. I mean, Petey was her real grandkid, and I was just someone she'd been assigned to. I said that and she got real upset. She said that wasn't true, that she cared about me, that sometimes she forgot I wasn't her real grandson. You know, all the things adults say when they're feeling really bad about something but they don't know how to fix it. She said she'd take me to Pier 19 for my birthday, cause it would still be open. I knew we wouldn't go, it cost a lot of money and the State wouldn't pay for things like that, but she kept saying we were going to go."

Richie fell silent, remaining that way for so long that Tessa feared he was done talking. She knew how hard it was, still, for Richie to open up about his childhood. While she was still trying to figure out how to prompt him, the teen surprised her by saying abruptly, "Nana died the beginning of September. She just went to sleep one night and she didn't wake up again. On my birthday, I got up and got ready for school, but Tammi told me I wasn't going. She said we were going to Pier 19, just like Nana had promised." Richie took a deep breath. "When Nana's kids were going through her stuff,, they found a peanut better jar with some money in it, it was labeled, 'Richie's birthday'. She'd been saving money to take me to the amusement park. At first I didn't want to go, 'cause Nana wouldn't be there, but Tammi said she would be there, that she would be watching from where she was, and that she wanted me to have a good time." Richie looked down at his hands, pale against the blue blanket. "I wanted to cry, you know, Tess? But I didn't."

Tears were spilling down Tessa's face now. "Why not?" she asked gently.

Richie shook his head. "If you cry in front of people, they... that gives them a hold over you, you know? Gives them something they can use against you."

"Richie--" Tessa started.

The door opened and Duncan entered the room. "Hey, you two, I have it all worked out--" he stopped suddenly and looked from one to the other. "Am I interrupting something?"

Richie shook his head violently. Tessa noticed him blinking away tears. "Nah," he said easily, glancing away, "I was just talking Tessa's ear off about nothing. So what have you worked out?"

Duncan shot an apologetic glance at Tessa, realizing he had indeed interrupted something very important. "Umm, well, I asked Connor to come stay with you, Richie, while Tessa and I go to Seattle, and he'll be here tonight on the midnight flight!"

Richie stared at him. "Connor? You mean Sir Lancelot? Mac, I don't need a baby-sitter... 'specially not an Immortal one!"

Duncan sighed. "Richie, you're getting out of the hospital tomorrow. I *have* to be in Seattle and I told you... I will not leave you here without somebody I trust keeping an eye on you--"

"I can take care of myself! It's Tessa the nutcase is after, not me, you need to worry about her!"

"Excuse me--" Tessa tried to interrupt.

"I *am* worrying about her!" Duncan fired back. "But I can't be in two places at once and you don't want to go to Seattle--"

"So you called in Sir Lancelot? Geez... why don't you just have the police arrest me! Don't I get a say in this?"

"No!" Duncan roared.

"Will both of you *please* stop yelling?" Tessa pleaded. This got results as both of her men shut up and gave her their attention. She shot Duncan a black look before turning to Richie. "Richie, I know how you feel. I don't like this either. But Duncan has it in his head we both need to be protected. Call him overprotective," she threw another dark look at her shamefaced lover, "but we may as well go along with him. You *can't* stay by yourself right now, so it's either Connor, or stay here in the hospital until we get back."

Richie blanched. "Stay here?" he squeaked. "No way, man, I want out of here!"

"So you'll stay with Connor?" Tessa prodded.

A long sigh. Then Richie nodded. "Just call me Guinever, I guess."

Duncan's lips twitched. "Not unless you start wearing a wig and a dress, and *then* I'd call a psychiatrist," he said dryly. "And, by the way, Richie, I wouldn't call Connor Sir Lancelot to his face... he might take it in his head to show you how to joust."

*** *** ***

They left the hospital when visiting hours ended at nine. Tessa was very quiet on the drive home and finally Duncan asked her, "Are you angry with me?"

After a pause, Tessa shook her head. "No. Not really. I just don't understand why *you* have to be in Seattle. Simpson and Green are handling the auction, why do you need to go?"

Duncan glanced in his rear view mirror at the car that had been following much too closely for the last several blocks. He slowed down to turn onto the freeway and noticed the car behind him did, too. "It's not just an auction, you know," he said finally. "It's a three-day event that should raise several million dollars for cancer research."

"A very worthy cause," Tessa agreed. "But that doesn't explain why you have to be there in person. You've authenticated all the pieces already."

"I know." Duncan sighed. "Tess, if it was any other auction, or anybody other than the Bolts, I'd tell them I couldn't leave Seacouver right now. But... my obligation to the Bolt family goes back a long way."

"How long?" Tessa asked, suspiciously.

"About one hundred twenty-two years," Duncan admitted, adding hastily, "The current generations don't know that, of course." He glanced in the mirror again, noticing that the white Taurus was still close behind. Frowning, he suddenly switched lanes and then cut across four lanes of traffic to exit without giving a signal. Horns blared.

"Duncan!" Tessa protested.

MacLeod didn't answer her, watching in the glass to see if the car had followed. When he didn't see it he circled the block and with a few turns got on a street that would take them all the way to the Heights district, albeit a much longer route than the freeway would have been. "Do you have your cell phone with you?" he asked Tessa.

"Yes, in my purse," she replied, pulling it out. Duncan took it and punched in the number of Detective Bill Marshall's cellular phone. The policeman didn't answer but after four rings a recorded voice told him to leave a message.

MacLeod stated his name, then said, "I think we were followed from the hospital tonight. A white Ford Taurus two-door, Washington plates, the first two numbers were 7--6." He clicked the phone shut and handed it back to the startled Tessa.

Duncan took a roundabout way home but there was no sign of anyone following them. Still, he parked in front of the shop rather than in the alley behind, and held Tessa's arm tightly as they entered through the glass door. Tessa sighed, bending down to pick up the mail from the doormat. "I think--"

Duncan threw her down, covering her with his body as a gunshot shattered the glass of the door. A second shot exploded the window, showering glass shards all over the floor and obliterating a delicate vase displayed on a pedestal.

Then there was silence.

*** *** ***

Chapter Six

"How well are you acquainted with the Parrish family? The girls, really, Renee, Vicki, Sonya and..." Detective Bill Marshall hesitated, then stole a peek at his notebook. "Valerie," he finished.

Duncan squinted through eyes drawn tight with fatigue. Huddled next to him at the kitchen table, Tessa gripped his hand tightly and stared down into a mug of coffee.

The blue and white delft clock on the kitchen wall read 12:37 a.m. Exactly three hours since two bullets had blasted through the window of the antique shop. Duncan's terse 911 call had brought first a car from the private security company that kept an eye on the area; then, three uniformed cops; next a carload of technicians and a photographer; and finally, Detective Marshall, tonight dressed in blue jeans, Nikes and a cashmere sweater.

"What does that have to do with the fact that someone took pot shots at us?" the Highlander asked, belatedly remembering the question Marshall had asked.

Marshall stirred another spoonful of sugar into his coffee; by Duncan's count that made three. "A lot, I think. Either this neighborhood is starting to rival the Strip for violence, or everything that has happened here lately: Sonya Parrish's death, the poisoned chocolates, the shooting tonight, the phone calls you reported, are all connected." He took a noisy sip of coffee. "We found the vehicle that killed Sonya Parrish. A Ford Explorer, registered to Sonya Parrish herself."

Duncan frowned. "Sonya drove a red Mercedes convertible." He knew the car well; Richie drooled over it almost every morning in the park.

Marshall nodded. "She apparently had two cars. She didn't use the Explorer much anymore, but her parents, her sister, and her two cousins all had keys to it. Any one of them who took a notion could borrow it. The last one that *admits* to borrowing it is Valerie Parrish. She says she took it to Seattle the day before her sister was killed; needed it to bring back some clay or something for her pottery. Then, after the funeral, Renee went to borrow it, couldn't find it, and eventually they got around to reporting it as stolen. We found it at the airport, in the long-term parking lot. Of course, no one working there remembers anything about it. There were a lot of smudged prints, but the only clear ones belonged to Valerie, which would make sense as she admits to having it last." He paused. "Also, Ms. Valerie Parrish has access to arsenic. It's used somehow in her pottery, I admit I didn't get the details but she did purchase a pound of the stuff recently. Those sales are registered, of course."

Duncan broke the silence. "So you think *Valerie* killed her own sister, threatened Tessa and tried to kill her, too? Why would she?"

"I don't know what I think yet. I plan on questioning her downtown tomorrow, with her attorney present. Right now everything is circumstantial--" He broke off at the sounds of commotion from the shop area. "What the hell--"

One of the uniformed cops entered, propelling a handsome man in a long, light-colored trench coat in front of him. "Hey, Bill, this guy says he belongs here."

"Connor!" Duncan exclaimed, leaping up from his seat with a sudden burst of energy. "I wasn't expecting you until morning."

"It *is* morning," Connor MacLeod pointed out in his slightly French- accented voice at the same time as Bill Marshall demanded, "You know this man?"

"He's my--" Duncan hesitated briefly. 'Kinsman' and 'Clansman' were terms that meant nothing to the average American. He substituted, "-- cousin."

"Oh." Bill Marshall made a gesture, and the uniformed cop dropped Connor's arm. The older Immortal glanced around the kitchen, taking in Tessa's strained face, then he indicated their coffee cups. "Any more of that around?"

"I'll get it." Tessa stood but instead of going to the coffeemaker she approached Connor and gave him a swift hug. "Thank you for coming."

Brilliant white teeth flashed in a tanned face. "Me miss a chance to revel in your beauty, Tessa? Never!" He winked, flirting outrageously; Duncan rolled his eyes, and Tessa emitted a choked little giggle.

*** *** ***

After eliciting the phone number of the hotel Tessa and Duncan would be staying at in Seattle, and learning that Connor would be staying in the apartment with Richie, Marshall left, promising to contact them after his interview with Valerie Parrish. Tessa poured fresh coffee for the two Immortals, then excused herself to go pack.

As soon as she was out of earshot, Connor leaned forward. "You sure there isn't another Immortal around?"

They'd discussed this on the phone. Duncan shook his head. "I haven't felt anyone. No, Connor, I'm starting to believe this doesn't have anything to do with me being Immortal--"

A scream tore through the air.

Duncan reacted a split-second faster than his kinsman, standing up so suddenly that his chair crashed over backwards. He bolted from the kitchen, toward the bedrooms, Connor hot on his heels.

Tessa stood in the doorway of their bedroom, face milk-white, one trembling hand pressed to her mouth, eyes wide with horror. Duncan put his arms around her, gently moving her away even as he took in the total destruction of the room.

The top of Tessa's dressing table was a mess of broken china and shattered glass; the overwhelming scent of warring perfumes heavy in the air. Drawers were pulled out, makeup and hair ornaments, lingerie and stockings tossed haphazardly on the floor. Tessa's jewelry box was smashed to smithereens, gold and silver glinting through the shards of polished wood and ripped velvet.

Tessa was still staring over his shoulder and he turned, the shock of what he was seeing kicking him in the gut.

Their bed stood amidst the carnage of the room. His side was undisturbed, the spread tucked in, the pillows lying plumply at the headboard.

Tessa's side was gone. A sharp knife had stabbed and gouged through the maroon silk coverlet to the blankets, sheets and mattress beneath. Pillowcases were shredded, with the feathers lying in pitiful heaps on the mutilated bed.

*** *** ***

Twenty minutes later, having thrown toothbrushes and not much else into an overnight bag, Duncan and Tessa sped away from Seacouver. The Highlander was driven by a sense of panicked urgency he hadn't experienced in the last hundred years. His mind shied away from the last time he'd felt such panic; carefully avoided the memory of Little Deer, her throat slashed, stiffening into death in his arms.

Tessa broke the oppressive silence. "What about Richie?" she asked, her voice very small and uncharacteristically subdued. "Duncan, we should have called the police--"

"Connor will call them," Duncan reassured her. "He'll take care of Richie." He had no qualms on that subject. His clansman would protect the pre-Immortal with his life, if necessary.

Which it shouldn't be. The mutilation of their bedroom -- his things carefully spared, Tessa's demolished -- had eliminated any doubt in Duncan's mind about who the psycho's real target was.

*** *** ***

They arrived in Seattle around four a.m. and checked into The Towers, the luxurious and historical hotel that had started its existence as Lottie's Tavern over a hundred years before. No trace of the original structure remained, of course, but Duncan could never step foot inside the place without remembering buxom, impossibly blonde Lottie; without visualizing the Bolt brothers and lean, sardonic Aaron Stemple standing at the bar. Four men who had built a city, a state, and an empire that their descendants still held. A discreet gold plaque on the Registration Desk informed customers that the hotel was a property of the Bolt- Stemple Corporation. Similar plaques graced many of the major buildings across the city.

The Registration clerk was unknown to MacLeod and looked a little non- plussed at the absence of luggage. Their suite was on the top floor, facing the harbor and no doubt in daylight commanded a spectacular view. In spite of the day's horrors, Tessa was asleep almost as soon as she fell into the king-sized bed. It took Duncan a little longer, but he wrapped his body around hers and soon joined her in slumber.

*** *** ***

Tessa woke suddenly. The clock on the bedside table read a few minutes past nine a.m. Duncan snored beside her, still deeply asleep. Quietly, so as not to wake him, Tessa slipped from the bed and wrapped herself in the luxurious terry-cloth bathrobe provided by the hotel. She stepped out onto the balcony. The sun was a glowing ball in the flawless blue sky, the air cool and crisp.

She remembered days like this from her childhood, visiting her grandparents in their chateau in the hilly wine country far from Paris. Grand-mere, tiny, petite, with her masses of silver hair wound around her head in a cornet, playing with her for hours in the little stone cassecrout nestled behind the kitchen garden. They'd had lavish tea parties for Andre and Heloise, Tessa's two favorite dolls. Later, when Tessa's parents had bowed to her entreaties and bought her an American Barbie doll, Grand-mere had taught Tessa to sew and they'd spent hours creating the tiny garments to clothe the insatiable five inches of plastic. Tessa remembered always being a little frightened of her grandfather, but Grand-mere for many years had been her closest friend, a confident even more than Tessa's sisters.

Until the first time Grand-mere had met Duncan. The Highlander had charmed Tessa's parents, flattered her sisters, chatted about wine knowledgeably with Grand-pere. Grand-mere alone had been cool to him, her exquisite politeness never thawing in spite of his efforts. "He is too old for you, ma petite," she had told Tessa.

That, of course, was months before Duncan had revealed his Immortality to Tessa. The night he finally did, he asked her to come to America with him, to live with him in Seacouver, a city she had never heard of in a state she could barely locate on the big globe in the library. The next day she had told her grandmother, setting off an argument so bitter that the memory of it endured years later.

Tessa's mind wandered back to the story Richie had told her in the hospital. Her heart ached for the little boy, waiting by the window for his Nana to come. She thought about what he'd said, that crying in front of people gave them power over you.

Twelve years later, the memory of what her grandmother had said that day still had the power to hurt Tessa. But now, for the first time, she could see it from her grandmother's point of view: fear that her beloved granddaughter was leaving her home, for a man that she wasn't even married to. A betrayal of the moral and religious beliefs that Grand- mere had built her life upon; that she had tried so hard to found in Tessa herself.

Tessa felt the tears trickling down her face. She let them fall, knowing that they signified the beginning of forgiveness. The start of healing.

*** *** ***

The subdued ringing of the phone next to his ear pulled Duncan from his exhausted sleep. Wearily, he fumbled for the instrument.

Connor was on the other end of the line. Duncan went cold at the sound of his kinsman's voice, the world spinning back. "What's happened?" he demanded. "Is Richie all right?"

"Richie's fine," Connor reassured him. "He's lying down in his room." The older Immortal took a deep breath. "Duncan, Detective Marshall just called. Valerie Parrish didn't show up at the police station for her interrogation and a warrant was issued for her to be picked up."

'Oh, God, is she in Seattle?' Duncan thought crazily, but Connor's next words relieved his mind even as they filled it with a saddened horror.

"Duncan, she's dead. They found her in her car, down at Ocean Park; she must have been there for hours. Shot once in the head. They're saying it was suicide."

*** *** ***

Chapter Seven

Richie wandered out of his bedroom at the sound of voices. Connor was in the living room with Detective Bill Marshall. From the looks of things, Marshall was just leaving. Richie answered his greeting shortly, then plopped down on the sofa and stuck his feet up on the coffee table. Tessa would have disapproved, so after a second he ceased his silent rebellion and shifted so that he was lying down on the couch. In spite of the fact that he'd just taken a two-hour nap, he felt groggy and sluggish.

Connor returned from seeing the detective out. His forehead was creased in a thoughtful frown. "Do you want something to eat?" he asked.

Richie made a face and shook his head. The Immortal persisted, "You should eat something. You haven't eaten anything all day."

"Not hungry." That wasn't exactly true. Richie's body was screaming for nourishment, but he was sick of juice and soup and tea, and he couldn't think of anything else he could have. "Soft diet," the doctor had said. Richie wasn't real sure what all that entailed, but somehow he knew pizza and chili dogs were verboten.

Connor narrowed those piercing eyes of his and abruptly turned on his heel, heading for the kitchen. Richie continued to lie on the couch with his eyes closed, hearing from a distance vague sounds of water running, metal clattering. Connor had switched on one of Duncan's Celtic music CDs and Richie let the soft music bear him away.

A voice saying his name woke him some undetermined amount of time later. He looked up to see Connor sitting on the arm of the couch, balancing a tray. His traitorous stomach growled as it recognized the smell of food. "Eat," the Highlander said firmly, putting the tray down so that he could slide a pillow behind Richie's back. He plunked the tray across the teen's lap and offered a fork.

Richie thought about arguing, for form's sake if nothing else, then discarded the idea. He wouldn't put it past Connor to force-feed him if he took the notion. Besides, the scrambled egg, slice of toast, and a dish of applesauce, looked tasty and good and not all washed out like the hospital food.

Connor waited until Richie had speared the first bite of egg before he stood up and moved to the armchair, taking his own mug of tea with him. He said nothing as Richie made short work of the food, only giving him a faint grin as he stood again to take the tray. He returned bearing another cup of tea. Richie accepted it, held it for a second, feeling the warmth of the mug in his chilly hands. Connor had built a fire and, in spite of himself, Richie started to relax. "What did the cop say?"

"He was bringing me up to date on the investigation," Connor answered patiently. "The police feel that Valerie Parrish was the one who killed her sister, and poisoned you. Arsenic is used in ceramics, you know, and they found a cache of it in her workshop."

Richie rubbed one hand over his suddenly-aching head. "Why? I mean, why kill her sister? Or go after Tessa?"

"Marshall said Valerie had a history of developing totally unrequited feelings for men, then almost fantasizing a romance with them. When she was in boarding school she developed a crush on the riding teacher. Detective Marshall had a picture of him, the man didn't look unlike Duncan. A lot of little things happened: a girl who had a late riding lesson one evening found her underwear scattered on the front lawn the next morning; the French teacher, who dated the riding instructor, had her tires slashed, things like that. This went on for several months, until finally the riding instructor got engaged to the French teacher. The night after they announced the engagement, somehow the riding instructor fell off the roof of the stables. He was killed instantly. They found a note in his room from Valerie, threatening to throw herself from the roof. She denied the note, denied ever being on the roof."

Richie sucked in a horrified gasp of air. "Why didn't they arrest Valerie, or something?"

"The police couldn't prove she even met him, much less pushed him. The Parrish family is wealthy. They donated a huge amount of money to the school; the next semester none of the Parrish girls returned, but the Parrishs still donate over a hundred thousand dollars a year to the school. Money talks." He sighed. "The police are looking all over for Valerie's diary. Her parents said she always kept one, but it hasn't turned up yet."

After a silence, Richie said, "So it's all over?"

Connor nodded. "Apparently so."

"That means you don't have to hang around to baby-sit me."

Connor raised his eyebrows. "Is that what I've been doing?"

Before Richie could answer, the phone rang. The teen started to sit up but Connor had already answered. He said, "Hello?" Then, "No, this is his... cousin (here he made a face at Richie) Connor MacLeod. Who is this, please?"

He listened, his face becoming grim. When he next spoke, it was in another language that Richie thought was probably French. The teen stiffened, thinking automatically of Tessa's family.

Connor finished the conversation, depressed the switch hook and, pulling a piece of paper from his pocket, punched buttons rapidly. He said, "Duncan MacLeod's suite, please," then frowned. "All right, but make sure he gets the message as quickly as possible. Tell him to call his home immediately." He looked over at Richie and his grim expression softened. He added, "Tell him that Richie is fine but that Connor needs to speak with him as soon as possible." He hung up.

"What's wrong?" Richie asked, dreading the answer.

"That was Tessa's sister. Tessa's grandmother had another stroke. She's not expected to live."

*** *** ***

Tessa called and spoke to Richie before her six p.m. flight to New York. From there she was taking an overnight to Paris. The blonde was practically incoherent, battered by wild emotions, relief that she'd finally found it in her heart to forgive her grandmother, fear that it might be too late to tell the woman, grief, all mixed up with anger at Valerie Parrish. Richie soothed her down, promised to take care of himself and listen to Connor and Duncan, and finally wished her good luck and hung up. For awhile he sat at the kitchen table and watched Connor, who was preparing dinner, humming while he chopped up vegetables and breaking out into actual song while making fettuccini Alfredo. Richie listened hard, but he didn't understand a word. Connor confided the words were Gaelic, it was an old battle song. He laughed when Richie asked what it meant and declined to answer, saying something like, "Duncan would have my head."

"That bad, huh?" Richie asked with a grin. "You know, your generation didn't invent sex."

"We did with sheep," Connor dead-panned, breaking out into a grin at the sight of Richie's stunned face.

Richie realized he was being teased and he relaxed, laughing a little himself. Connor MacLeod wasn't anything like he'd imagined, based on his memories of the man, and Duncan's almost worshipful tales. Still, he managed a token protest when the Highlander plunked another cup of tea in front of him. "What is this obsession you guys have with tea?" he demanded. "I get a headache, Mac makes me a cup of tea. I get the flu, Mac makes me a cup of tea. I get kidnapped by some nutcase Immortal who wants to use me as a pawn, and after Mac rescues me, he makes me a cup of tea. Now I've been poisoned, and you want me to drink tea. Is it an Immortal thing or a Highland thing?"

Connor actually appeared to be thinking about his answer. "Actually, in the Highlands, at least when I was your age, it would probably have been a dram of whiskey. But since the law of this land says you're too young, tea will have to do for now." He looked pointedly at the cup until Richie lifted it to drink, then went on, "What do you mean, an Immortal using you as a pawn? How many times has that happened?"

Richie could feel himself flushing. "Uh, I don't know. Once or twice. Course, the first time, I didn't know I was being used."

Somehow, Richie found himself telling Connor all about Felicia Martins and her plot to destroy Duncan by killing those whom he loved. "I fell for her, hook, line, and sinker," he said bitterly. "I don't know why I thought somebody like her would care about somebody like me. She talked me into running away with her, but she just wanted to use me as bait to lure Mac into a fight. It worked, too, but I don't know why he just didn't let her kill me, or whatever it was she planned."

Connor rummaged around for a clove of fresh garlic, which he started to mince into tiny bits. "Her plan couldn't have worked that well, because Duncan still has his head and I presume this woman doesn't have hers?"

"Oh, no, she does. I mean, I guess. Mac didn't take her head, at least." Richie could feel his face turning hot. "I asked him not to. I begged him. So he didn't. He just walked away." Richie could remember the desolation he'd felt as the Highlander vanished into the darkness. Richie had spent that night miserably drinking bad coffee in a 24-hour diner down by the docks. When he'd finally returned to the apartment, he'd expected his bags to be packed and waiting, or at the very least to find an enraged Duncan and a furious Tessa. The memory of those hateful words he'd spat at Tessa ate away at him.

Mac and Tessa were waiting all right, both of them expressing relief to see him. Not one word of reproach. The subject of Felicia Martins never came up again. But she visited Richie a lot in his mind, in those lonely hours before dawn, when Mac and Tessa were asleep in their room and Richie was alone with his blistering shame. Now, on the couch where Felicia had made love to him so passionately, across from a five- hundred-year-old Immortal that must have seen her kind many times before, Richie just wanted to escape the crush of crowding memories. He stood up.

"What?" Connor asked.

"I'm going to get the mail," Richie explained over his shoulder, hurrying into the darkened shop. A pile of letters lay on the carpet underneath the mail slot. Richie shuffled through the envelopes. Gas company, electric company; bills probably. A couple of long envelopes for Mac, an art magazine for Tessa, and finally a square lavender envelope addressed to Richie Ryan. Richie glanced at the return address and felt the blood drain from his face.

The return address was for Valerie Parrish.

His hand shook as he tore open the envelope. A card fell out, Snoopy cavorting across the top of his doghouse. Inside, the printed message read, Sorry to hear you've been under the weather. Get Well Soon! Below was scrawled several lines of ornate handwriting: "Richie, I'm in San Francisco for a few days. Just talked to my mom and she said you'd been in the hospital. Hope you're feeling better. Valerie."

Richie looked at the envelope again. Postmarked two days ago in San Francisco.

Lost in thought, Richie jumped when someone banged on the shop door. He glanced out the window and recognized Bill Marshall in the fading light. Connor appeared in the doorway as Richie let the detective inside.

Marshall's usually cheerful countenance was grim. He greeted Connor and Richie shortly, then asked if they could sit down. Eyes narrowed, the Immortal led the way to the living room, switching on lights against the early evening gloom. The fire was burning and Richie was drawn to it.

Marshall sat on the edge of the sofa. He refused Connor's offer of something to drink, then said, "We've turned up some new information in our investigation.

'He sounds like he's reading a script,' Richie thought dizzily.

"There is no way Valerie Parrish could have shot at Ms. Noel and Mr. MacLeod, or committed the vandalism here. She was in San Francisco, at some meeting, there are at least a dozen people who spoke with her there. She returned to Seacouver on Pacific Northwest flight 712, which didn't land until almost midnight."

Connor broke the silence that followed. "And?" he asked calmly.

Marshall removed his wire-rimmed glasses and rubbed tiredly at the bridge of his nose. "We got the preliminary autopsy report back today. Valerie Parrish had a bullet wound in her head, but according to blood tests, she was already dying from a massive overdose of chloral hydrate. There is no way she could have been conscious to fire that gun. Plus, the gun that was found in the car doesn't have her fingerprints on it." He replaced his glasses and stared at the other two. "Do you understand what I'm saying? Valerie Parrish didn't commit suicide. She was murdered!"

*** *** ***

Duncan, why don't you call?

She's gone, isn't She? I did what you wanted, I drove Her away. I followed Her to the airport and I saw Her get on a plane to New York. She's gone, my love. Out of our lives, just like Sonya... and Valerie...

I didn't want to kill Valerie. Sonya I didn't mind, the tramp, flaunting those breasts and that figure... but Valerie was different. It was an accident, really... when I got your note that she had been following you, harassing you... I was so angry. I thought she was in San Francisco! I knew if she was thinking about something she'd go to Caprica Beach. She always did, so I drove there and found her car. She was asleep, can you believe it? Just lying there, tilted back in the front seat, sleeping.

I hesitated. She was my cousin. And we had always been friends. But then I looked at the note You sent, and I knew what You wanted me to do.

I looked in her purse, she always carried a gun. I took it out and shot her in the head and then I wiped it off and dropped it into the car next to her. She never woke up. I'm glad about that... it would have been harder if she'd been awake.

So why don't you call? Are you still angry with me about Richie? That was an accident, how was I supposed to know he'd eat the chocolate? It was supposed to be Her... and I punished Her.

I went into Her room... Your room. I looked at the bed. I knew which side was hers... I don't know how, but I knew.

I got into Your bed... I laid there imagining how it will feel when we are there together, when You take me into Your arms and kiss me, suckle on my breasts, thrust into me again and again. Filling me with Your seed, Your essence. I want it Duncan, I need You, now. I physically ache from needing you...

But She was still there, I could smell Her perfume and I was so angry, I just grabbed the knife and started stabbing again and again. Believing, needing to believe she was lying there...

Maybe I went too far, but I found that baseball bat under Her side of the bed and I just let loose! It felt so good, my love. Almost as good as it will feel when we are finally together. The way we are destined to be.

The police questioned me about some shooting. Is that why You haven't contacted me? Duncan, I didn't do that! I wouldn't have risked Your life no matter how much I wanted to get rid of Her.

Please, my love. Call. Write. I need You.

*** *** ***

I don't understand it. I can't believe it.

It was on the news tonight, a short, thirty-second blurb about the big auction in Seattle. My man, my love, Duncan was there. He wasn't in the interview portion but I saw him in the background.

He was with a woman. A strange woman. A new woman. She was talking with someone else and he came up and put his arm around her.

Why why why why?

How can he do this to me? After everything I've done for him, for us... how can he flaunt another woman in front of everyone?

I've got to know. I'll go to Seattle. I'll find out the truth.

If he has betrayed me....

*** *** ***

"We saw you on the news last night," Richie teasingly told Duncan over the telephone. "Good thing Tessa didn't see it!"

He heard the Highlander snort. "They *would* have to turn the camera on me right about then! I was ducking that news crew all night."

"Who was that, anyway?"

"Oh... Mary Simpson. Of Simpson and Green -- I'd just heard she was pregnant. They've been trying for several years." MacLeod changed the subject. "So, how do you feel? Connor treating you all right?"

"Yeah, he is. I think he's going stir-crazy, though, he went running this morning even though it was sleeting."

Duncan laughed. "That sounds like him. How do you like his cooking?"

"It's good," Richie admitted, "But he keeps threatening to make something called haggis. What is it, anyway?"

"You don't want to know!" Duncan laughed. "But don't worry; I don't think he could find all the ingredients in Seacouver, anyway."

"But what is it?" Richie demanded. Duncan told him. Richie felt himself turn green. "You mean, you actually *eat* that?"

"Well, I used to. Actually, it wasn't too bad, the way my grandmother made it," Duncan assured him cheerfully.

"I'll take your word for it." Richie shuddered. It was his turn to change the subject. "Have you talked to Tessa?"

"About an hour ago. It wasn't quite as bad as it sounded on the phone; her grandmother is unconscious, but it looks like she may make at least a partial recovery." Duncan's voice became cautious. "Richie, I'd really like to fly to Paris to be with her when I'm done here in Seattle. Connor said he'd be glad to stay a few extra days, if that's all right with you?"

Richie's face fell; he'd been looking forward to Mac's return. But of course the Highlander wanted to be with his girlfriend and her family through this difficult time. What else had he expected?

He swallowed once, then twice. Still he couldn't say anything. Duncan's voice came through the receiver, sharp with anxiety. "Richie? Are you still there?"

"Yeah, Mac, I'm here," Richie managed.

"You don't like the idea," Duncan said shrewdly.

Richie had to say something, anything but the truth, so he babbled the first thing that came into his head. "I just wish Connor didn't have to baby sit me, I'm really okay, Mac."

He heard a sigh from the other end of the phone. "Rich, Connor isn't baby-sitting. Besides, if Valerie Parrish didn't try to kill you, someone else did, and I--"

"No one tried to kill *me*," Richie argued. "It was Tessa."

"We *think* it was Tessa." Duncan sighed again. "Humor me, okay, Richie? Whether you like to admit it or not, you could have died from eating those poisoned chocolates. I can't be with both you and Tessa, and I don't want to leave you--" he bit off the next word he was going to say.

Richie felt rather guilty. He hadn't realized how scary his close call would have been to his friends. "Hey, Mac, it's okay. Really. You go to Paris. Hey you'll be there for Valentine's... wow! Valentine's Day in Paris with your true love! Sounds like a movie."

Duncan laughed. "We'll bring you back something," he promised. "What would you like?"

"Anything, just no chocolate, please!"

"Okay. You take it easy. Dr. Bolt said you'd be having those weak spells still for several days... don't overdo!"

Richie snorted. "Like Connor would let me! He's a bigger mother hen than you are. He won't even let me sweep out the shop."

"Did my ears deceive me?" Duncan mocked. "Since when do you volunteer to sweep?"

"Ha Ha." Richie looked up as Connor entered the room. "Uh-oh, here's the man himself." He held out the phone to the blond man, saying, "It's Mac." When Connor had accepted the instrument, Richie headed for his bedroom. He wouldn't admit it, even to himself, but sweeping out Tessa's workshop in defiance of Connor's orders, then cleaning up the living room while Connor had been occupied in the shop, had taken a toll on his strength.

*** *** ***

The soft gloom of nightfall shadowed the hallway as Connor tapped lightly on Richie's bedroom door and then opened it and peeked in. The teen was curled on his side, one hand tucked under the pillow, breathing deep and regular. It was cold in the room and Connor unfolded the blanket at the bottom of the bed and spread it over the sleeping form, then quietly exited. Once in the living room, he switched on a shaded lamp, consulted his watch, and hesitated. Making up his mind, he scrawled a few lines on a sheet of notepaper and propped it up on top of the television. Grabbing his long coat and the keys to his rental car, he left the apartment.

*** *** ***

You bastard.

You used me.

I loved you! I love you. But you never cared for me, did you? You just used me to get rid of the others. Sonya. Valerie. Even your "beloved" Tessa. How many others are there? The woman you were hanging all over in Seattle. And now...

My own sister.

Did you think she wouldn't tell me?

No man uses me, Duncan MacLeod. No man makes a fool out of me.

You'll pay.

*** *** ***

A loud, insistent pounding pulled Richie from the depths of deep sleep. He raised his head, confused at the darkness that filled the room. With difficulty, he focused his eyes on the clock, surprised to note it was past seven thirty. He heaved himself out of bed.

He heard the pounding again as he walked into the softly lit, quiet living room. Wondering briefly where Connor was, he headed for the shop, then heard the banging again and realized someone was knocking on the back door. He frowned as he jogged through the empty, brightly lit kitchen and down the steps into the darkened workshop. With one hand resting on the deadbolt, he called, "Who's there?"

He heard something that sounded like a sob, then a woman's voice, muffled. "Richie? It's Vicki Parrish. Please, I need to talk to you."

Richie frowned. "Vicki?" he asked doubtfully. "What's going on?"

"Richie, please let me in! The police came to talk to me today and that Detective Marshall says Valerie didn't kill herself, that she was murdered, and he's acting like maybe I had something to do with it! But I found her diary--"

"Valerie's diary?" Richie questioned through the door. "You need to take that to the police."

"I can't!" the woman wailed, her voice still muffled by the heavy door. "Richie, she was having an affair with... with Duncan!"

Richie's blood ran cold. "That's a lie," he said angrily, undoing the deadbolt and flinging the door open. He blinked at the shapeless blur before him. Vicki was protected against the raw February night by a long, dark-colored cloak, with the collar and hood pulled to up shelter her face. A slouch black hat covered her blond hair. One hand, covered with a thin, black leather glove, reached out to catch the door.

"Come on in," Richie said, stepping back to allow her to squeeze past him into the darkened room. His senses were assaulted by the heavy scent of her perfume as he carefully closed and rebolted the door. Turning to follow her, he was surprised to see she had stopped on the steps, short of the kitchen door. She turned to face him and in the faint light leaking in from the kitchen Richie could see the glint of silver as she raised her arm.

Too late, he spotted the wicked-looking knife clasped in her fist and jumped backward, stumbling over the step and crashing into the brick wall.

A jolt like electricity flashed through his body, followed by a frozen instant before the pain tore through his lower chest. He collapsed to his knees, one hand going up to futilely curl around the hilt of the knife buried deep inside him. A patch of red, sticky fluid darkened his shirt.

His whole being focused on the agony in his chest, Richie was only vaguely aware of the woman moving, running past him. Icy air swept over him as she opened the door, slipped out and closed it behind her.

Richie opened his mouth to yell, to scream, but the sharp pain robbed him of oxygen. Red and silver spangles danced in front of his eyelids. His body seemed so heavy and unwieldy as he felt his arms collapse beneath him. His head hit the floor hard. He curled up on the floor, trying to twist his body against the pain. The roaring in his ears got louder and louder as he surrendered to the darkness around him.

*** *** ***

Chapter Eight

Connor whistled along with the radio as he parked his rental car alongside Tessa's white Mercedes. He grabbed a large bag of groceries with one hand, and lifted the fragrant sack from a nearby Chinese carry- out with the other.

He thought about just knocking on the door, then discarded the idea as he thought Richie might still be sleeping. He was reaching for the keys when he noticed the door was not quite closed.

Instantly, the Highlander's instincts for danger, honed and refined in almost five hundred years of fighting for survival, kicked in, and he dropped the bag of groceries, pulling his sword from beneath his coat in almost the same smooth movement. Carefully setting the Chinese carry-out down on the step, he eased the door open and reached for the light switch, grateful he'd replaced the bulb that morning.

Acid white light flooded the workshop, assaulting Connor's eyes that were accustomed to the dark of the alley. It took a few seconds for his vision to clear and then he immediately saw Richie, huddled at the foot of the steps leading to the kitchen.

"Richie?" Connor said, moving cautiously to the boy's side, keeping his sword at the ready even though he was fairly sure no one else was in the building. He squatted down beside the still figure. "Are you-- oh God!"

Blood soaked Richie's gray T-shirt, surrounding the dark hilt of a knife buried just below the left breast. Richie's eyes were closed, his face ghastly white. He was breathing, though; harsh, fighting breaths, which raised the hair on the back of Connor's neck as he recognized the desperate sound of lungs working against escaping air.

"Richie, stay still!" he commanded, putting down his sword so he could yank off his jacket and drape it over the young man. He didn't know if Richie could hear him as he went on, "I'll be right back."

In the kitchen, the Immortal grabbed a handful of clean cloths from a drawer as he punched the numbers 9-1-1 into the phone's keypad. The calm voice at the other end took the information and promised him an ambulance would be there within the next few minutes. Connor hung up and bolted back to Richie's side. 'Not yet, God, not yet. He's not ready for the Game.'

An ambulance screeched to a halt in the alleyway scant minutes later. Connor stood up and moved back a few steps, out of the way, as the paramedics rapidly assessed Richie's condition. Coincidentally, it apparently was the same crew that had responded to the call of Richie's poisoning. The Immortal didn't miss the glance the two paramedics exchanged. "This kid is having a bad month," one of them muttered.

Careful not to jar the knife still sticking out of the teen's chest, the two paramedics stanched the flow of blood with bandaging material, started oxygen and an IV, and placed Richie on the stretcher. The younger of the two listened through a stethoscope to Richie's breathing, a concerned frown creasing his brow. He said something to his partner in a low tone about "Diminished breathing on the left," then shifted his gaze to look at Connor. "You riding along, or following us?"

Connor chose to go in the ambulance. He made a quick detour into the kitchen to tear the piece of paper with the number of Duncan's hotel from the pad by the phone.

The trip seemed to take hours, even though Connor intellectually knew it was only a few minutes. He made himself as small as he could, but held Richie's hand and silently repeated every prayer he could remember.

"He's coming around," the paramedic announced suddenly. Connor leaned over to see that Richie's eyelashes were fluttering against his pale skin. After a few seconds they opened, revealing blue eyes that were glazed with pain and shock.

"Richie?" Connor asked, gripping his hand a little tighter. "It's going to be all right, lad, we're on the way to the hospital."

Richie's eyes shifted to focus on Connor. His lips moved. Connor said, "Don't try to talk now."

Richie ignored him, fixating him with a desperately pleading glance. "Vicki," he forced out, the word barely audible.

Connor frowned. "Vicki? Vicki Parrish? Did she do this to you, Richie?"

Richie's head moved faintly up and down, then a confused expression crossed his face and he shook his head, ever so slightly. He looked as if he was trying to say something else, then his eyes slid shut. Connor shot an anguished glance at the paramedic, who reassuringly told him Richie was just unconscious again.

*** *** ***

The hospital Emergency Room was a madhouse. The gurney bearing Richie vanished behind swinging doors while Connor was gently but firmly directed to sit at a desk, opposite a young woman with a computer. The woman, really more of a girl, had short hair of an impossible orange color and wore too much blue eyeshadow and bright purple lipstick. Her manner, though, was brisk and professional as she asked Connor questions. Connor told her Richie's full name, address and phone number; surprised himself by knowing Richie's birthdate and shook his head to questions about insurance and allergies. He did mention that Richie had recently been released from this same hospital. The girl typed a series of commands into the keyboard (Connor idly wondered how she did this without breaking those long, pointed nails), then said, "Okay, he's still in here," apparently meaning Richie's information was still in the computer. She picked up the phone and, after several seconds, announced to someone on the other end that "Richard Ryan's doctor is Bolt", listened, then punched another series of buttons and told someone to "Page Dr. Jon Bolt to ER." She put papers in front of Connor, who signed them without reading, then invited him to find a seat in the crowded waiting room.

Before he did that, Connor looked around and spotted a bank of pay phones along one wall. He went to the nearest one and reluctantly dialed the number of the Seattle-Seaview Towers Hotel.

*** *** ***

Less than three minutes after receiving his clansman's call, Duncan MacLeod raced from the Grand Ballroom of the hotel to the heavy plate glass front doors. A taxi was just pulling up outside and he fell into the back seat, ordering the cabby to take him to the airport. The driver regarded the tuxedo-clad, wild-eyed Immortal with a doubtful expression until Duncan pulled a fifty-dollar bill from his wallet, glad that he'd had both it and his sword on his person, and waved it at the man. The driver's face lightened and he put the vehicle into gear.

Duncan spent the thirty minute-drive to the airport deliberately trying to calm himself, to blank his mind. Connor's message had been simple: Richie had been injured and Duncan was to get to All Saints Hospital in Seacouver as quickly as possible. Duncan knew the situation must be pretty bad for Connor to send for him; if Richie was only slightly hurt, Connor would have waited to call until he could give a full report.

Luck was with him at the airport, there were seats available on the last commuter flight of the night. Duncan used a credit card to purchase a ticket, then started for the indicated gate, stopping short at the security checkpoint as he remembered his katana, secreted in his clothing. He detoured to the gift shop, where he grabbed a flight bag at random and added two magazines and several garishly-colored souvenir tee shirts. In the privacy of a men's restroom he placed his sword carefully in the bag, then shrouded it with the clothing and laid the magazines in on top. He backtracked to Ticketing, where he ignored the clerk's curious expression as he checked the bag to Seacouver, then strode quickly down the concourse to Gate 45.

It took twenty-eight minutes for the plane to fly from Sea-Tac south to Seacouver. As soon as the plane stopped moving, Duncan was up and out of his seat, racing through the deserted airport to Baggage Claim, where he waited impatiently for his concealed sword. 'The airport is probably the one place in this city one can get a taxi without ringing for it,' he thought in gratitude as he stepped into a yellow cab.

The cab dropped him at the Emergency Entrance of the hospital. Once inside the automatic doors, the sensation of another Immortal crashed over him and he looked around, spotting Connor immediately. He strode to his kinsman's side. "Connor, what's going on? Where's Richie?"

Before Connor could answer, a nurse stepped out from the swinging doors and called his name. Connor grabbed Duncan's arm and guided him to the doors, where the nurse seemed slightly surprised to see two men but didn't say anything. She led the two of them through a confusing maze of corridors and cubicles until she came to a stop outside a door marked "Trauma B". Jon Bolt was there, looking relieved to see Duncan. "I thought you were in Seattle," he said.

"I just got here. What the hell is going on?" Duncan demanded. He thought he felt the faint tingling presence of a pre-Immortal but he was too distracted and too worried to be sure. Bolt looked at Connor; he'd met the other Immortal during Richie's previous hospitalization, and Connor shook his head.

"Richie was stabbed," Bolt said carefully, "In the left lower quadrant of the chest. The knife punctured his lung and it's only working at partial capacity, we're going to monitor it closely in case we need to insert a chest tube. We're giving him some whole blood to make up for what he's lost. I want him in ICU tonight and then, if he stabilizes, as I have every belief he will, we'll move him into a regular room tomorrow sometime. He'll need to stay in the hospital for several days, possibly even a week."

Duncan searched the doctor's face anxiously. "But he's going to be all right?"

"Eventually, he should be." Bolt managed a smile. "He went into shock, which is not that unexpected, and the chest injury is going to be painful. We're going to have to keep him pretty heavily sedated for the next day or two." He sighed. "Would it do me any good to tell the two of you to go home and come back tomorrow?"

Both Immortals shook their heads and Bolt shrugged. "I didn't think so," he said good-naturedly. As he turned to go back into the cubicle he paused and said over his shoulder, "Oh, my cousin is on his way over to talk to Connor. One of the ambulance attendants reported that Richie indicated to you who his assailant was." He vanished behind the curtain.

Duncan looked at Connor. "Who stabbed him?" he demanded, his voice ice- cold.

"Vicki Parrish." Connor's voice was equally deadly.

*** *** ***

Chapter Nine

Technically, ICU visiting hours were the first ten minutes of every hour. Duncan rapidly figured out if he stayed quiet and out of the way, no one would make a fuss if he stayed longer. The unit was full and the nurses actually seemed relieved that he was there to watch Richie. Someone came into the cubicle every fifteen minutes to take his blood pressure and listen to his heartbeat and breathing; sometimes to adjust an IV. A stocky blond man showed up around four a.m. to draw blood. It took him three tries to hit a vein and Duncan winced in sympathy. Richie never moved.

There were no chairs in the ICU cubicles. When Duncan felt he couldn't stand any longer-- when he had to take a break from the equipment and the IVs and the nurses and Richie's too still, white face-- he walked down the hall to the waiting room, where Connor had commandeered one of the shapeless orange couches. The two Immortals sat silently, side by side, Duncan sipping at the disgusting coffee Connor had procured from somewhere.

The sky was just starting to lighten in the east with the promise of a new day when Duncan finally broke the silence to ask the question that had been bothering him. "Where were you?"

Connor had been expecting the question. "We didn't have anything for supper. I went to the store and then came back by that little take-out place. Richie was asleep when I left so I didn't want to disturb him."

"You left him *alone*," Duncan ground out between clenched teeth. "Damn it, Connor--"

Connor had his own feelings about leaving the young man alone; he wasn't going to be on the receiving end of his kinsman's ire, also. "Are you blaming me for this?"

The smoldering silence stretched between them for several seconds. Finally, Duncan let out pent-up breath in a long sigh. His shoulders relaxed. "No," he said quietly. "I'm not blaming you. I might have done the same thing. All the evidence pointed to Tessa being the one in danger, not Richie. I'm sorry."

"You don't need to be." Connor gripped the other Immortal's shoulder tightly. "But there's only one person to blame here, Duncan, and that is Vicki Parrish."

Duncan shook his head. "I just don't understand that! I've known that girl for at least eight or nine years, I never thought she was unbalanced."

In Connor's opinion, Vicki Parrish was more than just unbalanced, she was certifiable. Which was too bad. They'd probably lock her up in a high-class mental hospital with swimming pools and a tennis court, discharge her as cured after six months or so and God alone knew what she'd do next. Remembering Richie's pale face as his life's blood spilled onto the cold, dusty floor, Connor clenched his fists together and wished he could have just a few minutes alone with the woman responsible.

*** *** ***

Richie was moved into a private room on the third floor just before noon. He still hadn't regained consciousness and, in addition, there was some congestion in his damaged lung that was worrying his doctor. But ICU, already near capacity, was hit hard with a wave of admissions and some patients just had to be transferred.

The head nurse politely but firmly suggested the two MacLeods make themselves scarce while Richie was being settled into his room. By unspoken but mutual consent, they went to the cafeteria for a surprisingly good lunch, then returned to the third floor. From somewhere, Connor found a cot, extra pillows and a blanket, and strong- armed Duncan into lying down for a rest. The younger Immortal protested, but he was asleep within minutes.

When he woke again, bleary and with a pounding headache, the room was gloomy with approaching night and Connor was seated in a chair close to the bed, reading a magazine. Duncan staggered into the bathroom to splash cold water on his face. When he emerged, Connor arose from the chair, pushed his kinsman into it, and left the room, mumbling something about coffee.

Duncan absently glanced through the magazine Connor had left behind, then rolled it into a tube. He anxiously studied Richie's face, looking for some signs of improvement. The green oxygen tubing was dark against the teen's face, the paleness only lightened somewhat by the hectic flush of fever in his cheeks. His breathing sounded slightly better than it had earlier, though, and Duncan took heart from that. He covered Richie's hand with his own, saying gruffly, "Ach, lad, can't I turn my back on ye for one second?"

"Sorry," Richie said in the faintest of whispers. As Duncan watched, too startled to speak, sunken eyes opened, blinked a few times, then focused on him. A faint smile crossed Richie's lips. "Hey, Mac."

Overwhelming relief swept over the Immortal, almost sending him spinning from the chair. He closed his eyes for a second, blinking back the sudden tears, then swallowed once or twice before he could respond. "Hey yourself. How do you feel?"

"Weird," Richie admitted. "Like I hurt, but I can't really feel it. Guess that's a good thing, huh?" He coughed, and a spasm of pain crossed his face.

Duncan squeezed his hand. "Relax, Richie, just relax. Try not to take deep breaths; let the oxygen help you."

Richie closed his eyes as his labored breathing eased. "What're you doin' here?" he asked, voice drowsy. "Did you go to France?"

"No," Duncan answered, glancing up in concern at the bank of monitors above Richie's head. He didn't know what all the readings meant, but he was sure the blinking red light wasn't good. "We can talk about that later," he said gently. "Just go back to sleep now."

"Okay..." Richie sighed, turning his head a little. "Where's Connor?" He was asleep before Duncan could answer.

*** *** ***

Jon Bolt came in not too long after Connor had returned with hot coffee from the cappuccino bar across the street. He examined Richie with a frown on his face. When he was done, he gestured for both Immortals to accompany him out into the hallway.

"What's wrong?" Duncan asked anxiously, once the door had closed.

"Possibly nothing," Bolt responded, his face and voice very serious, "but I'm not willing to take a chance. Duncan, Richie's lungs are both congested and he's running a low-grade fever. I want to start him on some heavy-duty IV antibiotics immediately, to ward off any further infection." He made a note in the chart. "I'm also going to increase the oxygen, because he's having to work much too hard to breathe. Now, visiting hours will be over soon." He regarded the stubborn expressions facing him. "*One* of you can stay, if you insist. But only one." He stepped away toward the Nurses Station.

Connor and Duncan engaged in a short, fierce battle of words which ended as many of their battles had throughout the centuries: Connor won. He promised to call Duncan if anything happened, so the younger Immortal reluctantly called a taxi to take him home.

Once there, he showered and changed into a pair of rarely-worn silk pajamas and a matching robe. Remembering how long it had been since he'd eaten in the hospital cafeteria, he went out to the kitchen. Two brown paper sacks leaned against the wall just inside the passageway. Something had leaked inside one of the bags, making a sticky mess. There were traces of greasy black fingerprint powder on the phone and the door jam. Duncan switched on the overhead light and walked down the steps to Tessa's workshop, seeing more fingerprint powder and a dark, irregular stain that he belatedly realized was Richie's blood. He slammed the door shut, his stomach rolling. Forcing himself into action, he put the teakettle on to heat, and glanced through the refrigerator. As Connor had said, there wasn't much there, but in the freezer he found a bag of frozen chicken soup left over from when Richie and Tessa had both had the flu just before Christmas. He put the bag in the microwave to thaw.

The phone rang, shockingly loud in the too-still apartment, as he made tea, toast and soup. Bill Marshall's voice barreled from the receiver. "MacLeod? I need to talk to you, show you something."

"Tomorrow? At the hospital?" Duncan asked wearily.

A brief silence. "Well, I'm in my car... only a couple of miles away from you... do you mind if I come over right now? I don't think this will take very long, but you need to see this. We arrested Vicki Parrish this afternoon, and just finished searching her home."

"Did you find Valerie's diary?"

"Valerie's? Oh, yeah, we did... but that's not what I want you to see. MacLeod, we found Vicki's diary, as well as some letters."

"Letters?" Duncan frowned. "What kind of letters? From whom?"

"That's just it, MacLeod. They're love letters... supposedly from you!"

*** *** ***

"For God's sake, Detective! Anybody could have typed those letters and that doesn't even look like my signature."

"I never said you wrote them, MacLeod," Bill Marshall pointed out. "What's important is that Vicki Parrish *thought* you wrote them."

"And quoting *Byron*? I hate Byron!" MacLeod stared down at the offending sentences in mingled disbelief and fury. There were three letters, carefully tucked into protective plastic sleeves; all three were typed on plain white paper and had the name "Duncan" scrawled across the bottom in purple ink.

Detective Marshall plucked the letters from Duncan's hands and placed them back in his briefcase. He removed two brown, accordion style folders and offered them to MacLeod. "These are Valerie Parrish and Vicki Parrish's diaries," the police detective stated. "I would appreciate it if you could look at them."

MacLeod hesitated. It didn't seem right to go through the personal thoughts of either girl. Then he hardened his heart, telling himself that Richie was in the hospital and Tessa had had to flee her own home. If something in these journals could help--slowly he reached for the book bound in blue leather that Marshall had indicated was Valerie's. He quickly skimmed the last week of entries, feeling rather surprised that so little mention was made of Sonya's death. Valerie went into details about the conversations she'd had with other relatives at the funeral, but never mentioned it was her *sister's* funeral. MacLeod saw his name a few times but the references were casual in the extreme: "Saw some rather nice earrings at Duncan's shop this evening. Wonder if I can talk him down on price? Richie waited on me today and he *won't* bargain. I remember Vicki trying that one time when she wanted those Venetian goblets."

Duncan closed the book and reached for the other one. There was a scrap of yellow paper marking a page near the end; Duncan flipped there first and read aloud: "I got into Your bed... I laid there imagining how it will feel when we are there together, when You take me into Your arms and kiss me, suckle on my breasts, thrust into me again and again. Filling m--" he broke off, horrified, and read the rest of the entry silently with a growing nausea in his gut. "Oh, my God!" He stared at Marshall. "It was *Vicki*? All the time? She was the one who was trying to kill Tessa?"

Marshall nodded. "I read the whole diary this evening. She doesn't refer to Ms. Noel by name but it's pretty clear she was obsessed with you and increasingly angry with her for usurping what she felt was her place with you. Then, the last entry, she's angry with you, seems to think you made a pass or something at her sister. I think she came here to kill Richie to get back at you."

Duncan shook his head helplessly. "But... those letters, the ones supposedly from me... who wrote them?"

"She could have written them herself," Marshall answered. "The shrink- guys have some long name for it... a good lawyer-- and her family will make sure she has the best-- is going to plead insanity, of course, and judging from that diary... it may not even come to trial. The DA is talking about requesting an evaluation at the State Hospital before they make the decision whether or not to try her for murder."

"*Murder?* You mean, Sonya and Valerie? Her own cousins? You think *she* killed them?"

"You haven't read the whole diary yet. She admits in there to shooting Valerie, but she doesn't say anything about the drugs. She must have had some kind of blackout when she killed Sonya, because she says in the diary she doesn't remember exactly what happened." He stood up, gathering the things he'd brought. "Tomorrow morning, first thing, I'm going to see Richie and get him to sign a complaint against Victoria Parrish for assault with intent to kill. That, with the other evidence we have, should make sure she's left in jail or in a hospital instead of making bail. I don't care which as long as she isn't on the streets of this city."

Duncan walked him to the door. Before Marshall left, he pointed out, "This has been pretty traumatic for all three of you, MacLeod... but it's all over now."

"Except for the trial or the hearing or whatever."

"Well, yeah, but it'll be awhile before that. None of you will need to attend the arraignment; all the DA will need is Richie's sworn statement. You've got to time pull your lives back together."

*** *** ***

MacLeod was exhausted but he couldn't fall asleep. Pictures kept racing though his mind: Tessa; Richie in the hospital; Sonya's funeral; Vicki Parrish, her blonde hair gleaming in the sunshine, running through the park, looking beautiful and normal and healthy and sane.

He finally fell into an uneasy doze just before dawn, waking with his heart in his throat at the shrill ringing of the phone. It was Tessa, calling with good news from France: her grandmother had rallied and the two of them had had a long talk and decided to put the past behind them.

She sounded so happy that he hated to have to tell her about Richie, about Vicki; but soon enough she asked why had he gone back to Seacouver, what had happened to the plan of him flying directly to Paris from Seattle? Only then, very reluctantly, and downplaying the severity of Richie's injury, did he tell her about the stabbing.

"*What*!" her voice shrieked from six thousand miles away. "Richie was *stabbed*? Is he going to be all right? Who did it?"

Duncan told her what he knew. There was a long silence when he finished recounting the story. Finally, Tessa repeated, "Vicki? Vicki killed her own cousins? But *why*? She never struck me as mentally unbalanced."

"I'm starting to think the whole family is nuts," Duncan admitted. "Reading her diary, even the little I read of it..."

"I'm coming home," Tessa announced suddenly.

"No! Tessa, don't. You and your grandmother haven't spoken for over twelve years, you need to catch up for lost time. When this story breaks here it will be a madhouse, and--"

"--But Richie!"

"Connor and I can take care of Richie," Duncan stoutly insisted. He caught sight of the clock and fell back against the soft pillows he'd piled on the couch with a feeling of dismay. After ten. He had planned to be at the hospital hours ago to relieve Connor.

It took several more minutes to dissuade Tessa from catching the first available plane to the US. Finally, with Duncan assuring her that he would call her instantly if the situation changed, she reluctantly agreed to stay put, at least for the present.

No sooner had he hung up the phone than it rang again. Duncan snatched it up, sure it was Connor. "Hello?"

"This is Jay Travis from the Seacouver Journal. Mr. MacLeod? I'm calling in regards to the statement issued by Seacouver Police this morning that--"

"No comment," Duncan interrupted, gently hanging up the phone. He fell back with a sigh. His brain felt as sluggish as molasses. After several minutes, he struggled up from his makeshift bed on the couch and went to the ruined bedroom to gather clean clothes. He thought he heard the phone ring again as he was climbing into the shower, but he resolutely ignored it as he turned both water taps on full blast.

*** *** ***

Chapter Ten

As he approached Richie's room, Duncan heard voices raised in anger from within. Frowning, he flung open the door. "What's going on?"

Richie was in the bed, propped up in a semi-sitting position. There was a hectic flush in his cheeks and his eyes looked sunken and miserable. Connor protectively stood next to the bed, his jaw thrust forward aggressively. An attractive red-haired woman that MacLeod had never seen before stood frozen next to the bathroom door.

Bill Marshall was the one doing the yelling. He looked up when Duncan entered, his face dark with anger. "MacLeod!" he snapped. "Maybe you can talk some sense into your young friend here."

"What's the problem?" Duncan repeated, going closer to the bed and casting a worried look at the teen. Richie didn't look well at all.

"Detective," Connor said, his voice so cold that Duncan winced, "I suggest you leave. Now."

"I'll leave when Richie signs the complaint against Victoria Parrish!" Marshall strode to the foot of the bed. "Richie, don't you understand... without your signature the complaint isn't valid. The arrest warrant *and* even the search warrant could be rescinded... that.... nutcase could be on the streets in a matter of hours!"

"I can't sign what I don't believe!" Richie burst out. "And I can't swear it was Vicki. It was dark and she was all covered up in some cloak thing...."

"But you *told* Connor here it *was* Vicki," Marshall insisted.

Richie shook his head. "I didn't mean that. She...hell, I don't even know for sure it *was* a 'she!' It *could* have been Vicki, she said she was Vicki... but there was something... something not right." His voice trailed off as he started coughing, deep, wrenching coughs that robbed him of breath and whitened his face with the pain. A flashing red light flared into existence on the monitor board.

Alarmed, Duncan leaned over Richie and gripped his shoulder, speaking as soothingly as he could. "Richie, calm down. Just relax. Breathe through your nose... let the oxygen help you."

"I can't--!" Richie croaked, wrapping one ice-cold hand around the Highlander's warmer one. "Mac, I can't... breathe..."

"Yes, you can," Duncan told him firmly. He squeezed Richie's hand tightly in return. "You just need to relax, Richie. Just relax. Close your eyes." Duncan deliberately lowered his voice to just above a whisper; made it slow and calm and soothing. Richie obediently closed his eyes and tried to slow his breathing. His hand gripped the Immortal's in a crushing vice.

The door opened again and a nurse hurried into the room. She looked around disapprovingly at all the people, marched over to the bed and took a quick look at the monitor, then reached for the connection to the oxygen tubing and fiddled with it for a moment. There was a hiss and the little metal ball in the glass tube showing how much oxygen was being delivered rose from the "2" to the "3". Then she swung around, announcing, "There are only supposed to be two visitors in here at one time; two of you need to leave now."

Duncan, still holding on to Richie's hand, wasn't going anywhere; Connor crossed his arms and skewered Bill Marshall with a piercing blue stare.

The red-haired woman-- whoever she was-- gulped once, then slid out the door, Marshall held his ground, glaring back at Connor before switching his gaze to the nurse. "I am a police officer investigating a crime," he announced haughtily.

"Then, I suggest you investigate it somewhere else," said a masculine voice from the doorway. Duncan looked up to see Jon Bolt. "This patient needs rest and quiet. I am going to ban all visitors except for his family."

"He doesn't *have* family," Marshall snapped. "Jon, I'm warning you--"

"No, Detective, *I'm* warning *you*!" Bolt raised his hand. "I don't care who you are or what crime you're investigating; I am this patient's physician and you being here is interfering with his recovery. As far as family goes, Duncan MacLeod is listed as Richard Ryan's next of kin; that makes him *family*. Connor MacLeod is his cousin, that makes *him* Richie's family, also. They can stay. You may leave, now, on your own, or in a few minutes when a security guard arrives to escort you out of this hospital."

Marshall stared at his cousin. He hesitated, looked as if he would argue, then collapsed like a deflated balloon. He turned on his heel and strode to the door, turning back to announce to no one in particular, "I'll be back!"

Bolt swung back to look at his patient. He shot an apologetic glance at Duncan. "I apologize for my cousin," he sighed. "It's no excuse, but the Parrish case is his first big case to handle on his own. He's very anxious to make an arrest."

"I thought they had already arrested Vicki Parrish?"

Bolt shook his head, pulling out his stethoscope to listen to Richie's chest. Removing the earpieces from his ears, he said, "They haven't charged her with anything. The police can only hold her twenty-four hours without charging her; that woman with Billy was Marla Lopez from the district attorney's office. My guess is that DA Parker is hemming and hawing about charging Vicki without some positive evidence. This case has received a lot of notoriety and there's an election coming up. The picture in the morning paper couldn't have helped much... Vicki Parrish looked like a scared child." He fixed Richie with a firm gaze. "You, young man, need rest. And I'm going to make sure you get it." He gave the nurse brisk instructions.

"I'm sorry," Richie gasped. He coughed again.

"What are you sorry about?" Duncan asked warmly. "You're the victim here, remember?"

"I just... I'm not sure it was her..." the teen managed. He closed his eyes as the nurse injected a syringe of something into his IV. "There was something... different, about her. Something wrong."

"Do you have any idea what it was?" Connor asked. Richie just shook his head. His breathing was growing deeper, more regular. Bolt reached for his pulse, counted it, then nodded with a satisfied air.

"He'll sleep for awhile now," the doctor assured them.

*** *** ***

Connor took the Mercedes and went back to the apartment for a well- deserved rest. Duncan stayed with Richie, who dozed fitfully most of the day, waking from his shallow sleep with frightened gasps from dreams he claimed he couldn't remember. As the afternoon wore on, his temperature continued to slowly rise and his breathing worsened.

Connor returned to the hospital around six o'clock. Dr. Bolt had brought another doctor in to see Richie and Duncan had gone to the waiting room to be out of the way.

"How's he doing?" Connor asked, but before his kinsman could answer Dr. Bolt came into the room, a grim expression on his face.

"What's wrong?" Duncan asked, fearing the worst.

"Let's sit down," the physician said, gesturing to one of the shapeless orange couches. Duncan sat obediently, his heart pounding suddenly. Connor stood behind him, one hand lightly resting on the other Immortal's shoulder.

"First of all, Richie is in no immediate danger," Bolt started. "However, he isn't stabilizing the way I'd hoped. His temperature is up, and he seems to be developing what we call 'mechanical bronchitis'. Because of the nature of the original injury, he is also highly at risk for pneumonia."

Duncan raised his eyebrows. "And... what?"

"He needs more oxygen than what we can administer through the canula... that's the tube in his nose," Bolt broke off to explain, apparently seeing the looks of confusion on both Highlander's faces. "I've ordered a face mask, instead. Obviously, that's going to make it difficult for him to talk, but he should be discouraged from talking, anyway. I've also ordered several different medications through his IV, as well as a stronger pain med. These will make him very groggy." He hesitated. "Look, Mac, I know you want to stay with him, but it's really not a good idea. I think he'd rest much better if the two of you would go home for awhile. I promise, I'll have the resident on call contact you if there's any change in his condition tonight."

Duncan shook his head. His instincts were screaming for him to stay. Deep inside, he was afraid that Richie might not make it through the night, even though the doctor had said there was no immediate danger. 'If he dies from this lung problem, will he come back? Or is that natural causes?' His mind was racing too crazily to make sense out of the thoughts and he looked at Connor imploringly, silently pleading with his kinsman to support him.

"What if the person who attacked him comes after him again?" Connor asked.

Duncan hadn't even thought of that.

"I hardly think that's likely, do you?" Bolt asked evenly. "Billy has posted a policeman on Richie's door. Besides, this is a hospital. There are monitors on Richie and staff in and out of the room all the time. After visiting hours anyone unfamiliar is questioned. Richie is probably safer here than he'd be anywhere."

Duncan still hesitated, but he didn't want to antagonize Bolt. He compromised, "Would it be all right if one of us stayed out here in the waiting room all night? That way we'd be close by but we wouldn't disturb him."

Bolt tossed up his hands. "Fine, although I think it's unnecessary. Go get some dinner, though, both of you are starting to look hollow-eyed. Richie should still be awake, if you want to go say good-night to him."

*** *** ***

Sleepy blue eyes slowly opened as Duncan leaned over the bed. Richie tried to smile, his mouth distorted by the oxygen mask. One hand came up to feebly push it away but Duncan stopped him. "You leave that alone," he scolded gently. He went on, "Look, Rich, your doctor has ordered Connor and I out of here for the night. We're going to go grab something to eat, then Connor will be down in the waiting room. I'll be back tomorrow morning, and there will be a policeman at the door all night."

Richie's eyes narrowed in confusion. He shoved at the mask again and this time Duncan wasn't fast enough to stop him. "Why police?" he managed to say.

"Just a precaution," Duncan soothed, recognizing that Richie was very sleepy and probably wouldn't even remember this conversation. He made to replace the mask but the teen resisted.

"I remembered... what was wrong," he said, his eyelids drifting closed.

"Wrong?" Duncan repeated, confused. "Oh, you mean about Vicki, or whoever attacked you? What was it?"

Richie's voice was so soft the Highlander could barely hear it. "The bracelet," he breathed, slipping into sleep. Duncan smiled and carefully slipped the mask back over Richie's nose and mouth, then quietly stepped to the door, Connor in tow. A white-coated young man entered the room as they were leaving. Duncan nodded at him; he'd seen the man before and thought he was the resident Bolt had referred to. The police officer seated outside Richie's door looked up from his paperback and nodded to the two kinsman as they stepped toward the elevator.

"Do you want to eat in the cafeteria?" Duncan asked.

"Not really. Are there any decent places to eat around here?" Connor replied.

"Several, in the mall across the street. Do you want Italian or Mexican or Chinese or steak? Loud or quiet? Trendy or traditional?"

"Steak, quiet and traditional?" Connor asked hopefully. Duncan laughed.

"You're in luck. It's still early, the party crowd won't hit O'Malley's for another hour or so."

"Lead the way."

"I wonder what Richie meant by 'the bracelet'," Duncan mused as they disembarked the elevator and walked briskly to the main entrance.

"Was that what he said? Duncan, did you see his eyes? They have him so drugged he doesn't know what he's saying."

"I suppose so," Duncan said. He caught sight of the newspaper stand. There was a huge picture of Vicki Parrish on the front page of the evening edition. The grainy photograph showed her getting into a car outside the City Civic Center complex. There were several other people in the photo: Duncan recognized both her parents and Renee standing behind her. A banner headline proclaimed "Murder Suspect Freed!" He wanted to read the article so he dug some coins out of his pocket to purchase a paper.

*** *** ***

'Geez, what are they giving me in that IV?' Richie thought blearily.

He wasn't asleep but he wasn't really awake either. No matter how hard he tried he couldn't seem to move, not even his eyelids. His mind was alert one second and completely fog-bound the next.

Richie imagined he was lying on the beach. 'I can't be on the beach, I'm in the hospital,' but he could feel the waves pulling at him, hear the roar of the sea breeze in his ears, feel the warm sun beating down.

A specially big wave crashed over him, pulling him out to sea. He didn't struggle, letting the water tug him further and further out. Warmth.... soft breezes...

'No! I'm not asleep!'

He could see another wave crashing toward him, something clear and purple riding the crest of it. A plastic bag... no a jellyfish! It was going to land on his leg... in a panic, he kicked it away.

"What was that?" a woman's voice demanded sharply.

"Just clonus. Muscle spasm." A man's voice.

"I thought you said he was asleep."

"He is. The stuff they've got him on is so strong he'd sleep though World War III. Plus, I doubled the dose. He's out."

"You doubled the dose! That was stupid!" The woman's voice was coldly angry. Richie tried to think; he knew that voice from somewhere. Where?

A vision rose before his closed eyes: a tall figure, huddled and concealed by a dark cloak. The arm raised. A glitter, a muffled tinging... then he was at Sonya's funeral. The muffled ching ching as Renee toyed with her bracelet through the prayers.

Renee. It was *Renee*, not Vicki, who had been in the apartment that night.

"--Don't call me stupid," the man was saying in an irritated tone. "They won't be doing a quantitative analysis of the drugs in his system when they do the autopsy. Anyway, the cause of death is going to be pretty obvious, a slit jugular."

'Who is he talking about?' Richie wondered, struggling again and failing to open his eyes.

"No, I've changed my mind about that," the woman was saying, her voice fading in and out like a badly programmed radio signal. "Can you make it look like natural causes?"

"But you said--"

"Forget what I said! I've reconsidered. We don't have to convince a jury that Vicki is crazy; Daddy is already sure of it after the police showed him her diary. He's called the other trustees, and our family doctor. By this time next week Vicki will be safely tucked into some nice, expensive nuthouse."

The man's voice was farther away now. "I'll have to go out to the main desk and disable the alarm there; would never do if someone came running in to check on him while we were in the middle of something."

Silence. Richie felt himself drifting away again and he struggled to overcome the drowsiness. Something was telling him he had to stay awake. God, if he could only open his eyes!

A sound... a door opening? A voice, the man's voice again. "Okay, that's all taken care of. How'd you get rid of the cop?"

"Dumped something nasty in his Diet Coke. He's vomiting his guts up right about now." There was a gloating satisfaction about the woman's voice that Richie didn't care for at all. She went on, "Go on, get it over with."

'Get *what* over with?'

"Me? What makes you think I'm going to do it? You're the killer, baby, not me."

"Oh, really? Then how did all that chloral hydrate end up in Valerie? You put it in her milk shake at lunch!"

"Hey, Valerie was still alive when your crazy sister shot her! And what was all that about, anyway? The whole deal could have been off right then!"

"Don't be stupid," the woman said again. "Although I'll admit it, I wasn't expecting Vicki to actually shoot her. Guess she's farther over the edge than I thought. Come on, Jeff, get it over with!"

"Okay, okay. Hand me that pillow over there."

Silence, then suddenly cool plastic fingers touched the side of his face, loosening the tight elastic band that had been biting into his cheek. Richie would have cheered with relief, if he'd been able to, when the oxygen mask was pulled from his face.

'Thank you, whoever you are.'

Then there was a rustling sound and something soft, smelling faintly of Clorox and disinfectant, came down on his face. It just rested lightly there for a second, then he heard the woman say, "Don't leave any marks."

"I know what I'm doing."

"Then do it!"

The softness pressed down. Tight. Hard. Too tight. Richie struggled to take a breath, but there was no air. His chest throbbed and there was a roaring in his ears. He tried to raise his hands but they wouldn't move.

Richie could hear and feel the stuttering of his heart. His limbs were weighted down with concrete. He had to move. He had to had to had to.......

*** *** ***

Duncan couldn't help glancing over the paper while he and Connor waited for a server. Connor just grinned when his kinsman opened the paper and squinted to read it in the dim light. Reaching over, he pulled the second section free and bent his head to it.

Duncan frowned at what he was reading. Under the big headline were two smaller headlines, one on each side of the black-and-white photo of Vicki Parrish. The left hand column was headed "DA Says Insufficient Evidence To Charge Parrish". The other one read "Parents To Seek Psychiatric Care For Parrish."

Halfway down under that was another heading. "Fatal Attraction?" Duncan caught sight of his own name. He skimmed the article hastily.

Police sources refuse to confirm or deny that love letters and incriminating diary entries of Vicki Parrish point to a "Fatal Attraction"- type obsession with a local antique dealer, Duncan MacLeod.

The article was continued on page A-9. With a sinking heart, Duncan turned to the page and was greeted by a photo of himself and Tessa in evening dress. The caption read:

Seacouver antique dealer Duncan MacLeod with his girlfriend, artist Tessa Noel, shown here at a charity event last year. MacLeod and Noel own the antique store behind which Sonya Parrish was run down. Their teenage assistant, Richard ("Richie") Ryan, was stabbed in that store two days ago and is listed in stable condition at All Saint's Hospital. Ryan discovered Sonya Parrish's body on February 4 and may have been the last person to speak with her alive. Sources report incriminating letters and diary entries link Vicki Parrish with Duncan MacLeod. Parrish was detained for questioning but not charged with the assault on Ryan or the murders of her cousins.

"Duncan, are you ready to order?"

Duncan started to look up, then his eyes were caught by another picture and he frowned. That was familiar, where... oh, of course, it was Vicki and Renee with their parents, leaving the church after Sonya's funeral. The two girls were standing together and one could see the minute differences that were so hard to determine when they were apart. Renee had been caught with her hand smoothing her hair out of her face. A heavy silver charm bracelet dangled from her wrist. Duncan remembered with a pang how annoyed Tessa had been--

A *bracelet*?

Horrified, Duncan stared at the picture again. His eyes drifted to the male figure behind Renee. A perfectly ordinary young man with hair that was not quite blond, not quite brown. Average height. Average build. Duncan studied his face and felt his heart stop beating.

The face was familiar. It took him a second to place it, then he knew. It was the man he'd seen going into Richie's room as he was leaving.

With a roar Duncan leapt from his seat and sprinted for the street door, Connor fumbled a fifty dollar bill from his wallet and threw it on the table. "Keep the change!" he yelled at the startled server as he bolted after his kinsman.

Duncan had longer legs but Connor was faster. He caught up with the other Immortal in the hospital parking lot. Saying nothing, they burst through the heavy plate glass doors into the mail lobby, ignoring the outraged security guard that shouted something at them. Down the long corridor to the bank of elevators. One was just opening its stainless steel doors and Duncan jumped aboard, frenziedly jabbing the button for the fourth floor.

"What's going on?" Connor demanded.

Duncan was resting his hands on the doors. waiting for them to open. "I saw Renee's boyfriend tonight, going into Richie's room--" The doors slid open and he bolted out. Connor hesitated, glancing toward the deserted Nurses Station. Then his eyes fell on the empty chair propped against the wall.

Outside Richie's room.

An elderly man in a blue robe, making his slow way down the hall pushing his IV pole, looked up in surprise as Duncan MacLeod let out a roar. Connor recognized it for what it was: a Highlander battle cry. Doors along the corridor opened as visitors popped their heads out to see what was going on. A young nurse in a cheerful blue print top over white slacks ran out of the med room. "What--" she started.

Duncan ignored all of them, flinging open the door to Richie's room. His horrified eyes took in the scene at a glance and he literally flew across the room, grabbing the man who was leaning over Richie, grimly holding a pillow down on his face, by the collar of his lab coat, swinging him around and throwing him into the wall. The man hit hard and dropped to the floor, stunned.

Connor blocked the door so that the young woman couldn't escape. Her eyes darting fearfully around the room, she made a fruitless dash for the window but Connor grabbed her long blond hair and her shoulder, shoving her into a chair. "Stay there," he ordered, his voice cold. The woman winced and made as if to move, but Connor shoved her again, not gently.

Duncan threw the pillow aside and leaned over Richie, patting his cheeks and speaking anxiously. "Richie, Richie! Can you hear me? Come on, open your eyes."

The nurse was in the room by now. "What the hell--" she said, then her eyes fell on her patient and she gasped, racing to the bed and grabbing the oxygen mask from where it had been thrown. Elbowing Duncan aside, she fitted the green plastic sphere over Richie's nose and mouth, then reached for a dial on the console and twisted it. "Hit the emergency call button!" she snapped at Duncan, who was staring anxiously at Richie.

"Hey, what's going on here?" A uniformed policeman stood in the doorway, one hand touching his gun, the other arm wrapped around his stomach. His pasty greenish-white complexion answered the question of where he'd been.

The nurse, her face grim, saw the man crumpled on the floor. "Jeff? What are you doing here?"

"You know him?" Duncan snapped.

"Well, yes. He's Jeff Morrisson, he's a nurse up on... eleven, I think. Oncology."

"He's also a murderer," Duncan said grimly. His eyes shifted from Richie's still face to the nurse. "How is he?"

"His breathing is easier... his vital signs are getting stronger. What do you mean, Jeff is a murderer?"

"I didn't kill anybody," the man on the floor muttered.

"Murderer?" the cop echoed sharply, still hunched over. He pulled his gun, stepped inside the room and then finally noticed the woman pinned in the chair. "Is this Vicki Parrish?"

"No," Duncan answered coldly, keeping one hand reassuringly on Richie. "It wasn't Vicki that tried to kill Richie. Meet her sister. This is Renee Parrish. And that," he pointed a finger at the crumpled mess on the floor, "is her boyfriend."


"So it was all just about money?" Richie asked in disgust.

The sun had finally decided to once more grace Seacouver with its presence. Clear blue painted the sky seen from the hospital windows.

Richie was propped up in bed, the oxygen mask exchanged once more for a canula and yards of green tubing. Only one IV needle was still stabbed into the back of his hand. Two days since the arrest of Renee Parrish and Jeff Morrison, Dr. Bolt had finally relented and allowed a chastened Detective Bill Marshall in to talk to him. Duncan was there, too, of course, but an emergency call from another "old friend" had sent Connor to New York early that morning.

"Five million dollars," Marshall answered. "That was the amount in the trust fund David Parrish left to his grandchildren. They were to inherit the principle five years from the date of his death... May 11 of this year. With Sonya and Valerie dead, and Vicki either in prison or declared incompetent, Renee would inherit the whole amount."

"So this was never about Tessa, or me, after all?" Duncan asked.

"Only in that Renee knew about her sister's obsession for you. Vicki really *is* mentally disturbed. Renee realized that back when they were in boarding school. Apparently it was Vicki, not Valerie, who killed the riding instructor. Renee set things up so that it looked like it was Valerie. Even their own parents believed Renee. In a rather twisted way, I think Renee does love her sister, she seems to have persuaded herself that Vicki would never be able to handle the money and that if Renee inherited all of it she could take care of her." Marshall shook his head. "Jeff Morrison is talking his head off, hoping for a deal from the DA. He says Renee realized over a year ago that Vicki was attracted to you. She fed that, even sent Vicki cards and letters and gifts supposedly from you. Convinced Vicki that if Tessa Noel was gone, you'd be free for her. But she didn't want Vicki to kill Tessa, at least not right away, she wanted to get rid of her cousins first, so she convinced Vicki that Sonya and Valerie were both in love with you."

"So did Vicki kill them?"

"We may never know for sure who did what. Renee isn't talking, and Vicki is so confused that neither her statement or her diary is of any value whatsoever. As I said, Morrison is talking his head off, but *he's* not even sure who did what. He did confirm that Renee ran over Sonya, but set it up so that Vicki would half-believe she did it." Marshall shook his head. "As for Valerie, Morrison dumped the chloral hydrate in her milkshake, on Renee's orders. He swears he didn't know it was enough to kill her, but he can tell that to a jury and see if they believe him. Vicki did shoot her, which Renee wasn't expecting. Then Renee told Vicki Duncan had come on to her. Vicki was enraged, so Jeff took her to a couple of bars where she made quite a scene. He took her home and gave her some of the chloral hydrate, just enough to make sure she slept through the night and didn't notice her sister was gone. Renee dressed up in Vicki's cloak and came to the shop." He sighed. "Richie, can you tell me why you knew it was *Renee* that stabbed you, not Vicki? They look so much alike, and in the dark, all covered up like she was... how did you know?"

Richie coughed, then grinned sheepishly. "It was the bracelet," he admitted. "Renee wore that silver charm bracelet to Sonya's funeral, I remembered because she kept playing with it during the service and the noise was really irritating Tessa. When she raised her arm to stab me, the light from the kitchen caught the silver. Plus I heard it. But I didn't remember it until later." He coughed again.

"Why was Renee trying to make Richie believe she was Vicki?" Duncan asked. "If she was going to kill him--"

"She wasn't planning on killing him, just wounding him. She thought he would tell the police that it was Vicki, then we would find the diary entries and letters, and come to the conclusion... well, come to the conclusion that I did. But when Vicki was released because Richie refused to sign the complaint, Renee panicked and decided he needed to die before he could realize who it was that really stabbed him."

"Wow," Richie said. He shuddered. "It was really weird, it was like a dream, you know? I could hear them, but I couldn't move and then--"

Duncan gripped his shoulder reassuringly. "It's all over, Richie."

"Well," Dr. Bolt broke in, "I have to see the rest of my patients. Richie, you keep up the good work and I may let you out of here day after tomorrow--"

"What about tomorrow?" Richie argued. Bolt glared at him.

"Keep that up and you'll stay longer." The doctor steered his cousin toward the door, narrowly escaping being hit when it flew open and Tessa Noel whirled into the room.

"Tessa!" Duncan exclaimed, catching her in his arms. "When did you get here?"

Tessa dropped the armload of packages she was holding and wrapped her arms around the Highlander's neck. "My plane landed an hour ago. I wanted to surprise my two favorite men."

"Oh brother," Richie groaned as his two friends busily made up for the time they'd been apart. "Uh, hello? Remember me?"

Tessa giggled as she broke loose from Duncan's hold and came to the bedside to soundly hug Richie. "Of course we do. Who do you think all those presents are for?"

"Me?" Richie squeaked, craning his neck to see all the packages. "Really?"

"Yes, really." Tessa retrieved one of the parcels, a square fully fourteen inches across and five inches deep and wrapped in cheerful red and gold paper with a massive gold bow. "You're supposed to open this first. It's from my grandmother. With her thanks."

"'Thanks?'" Richie repeated, struggling with the bow.

"For talking some sense into her very stubborn granddaughter," Tessa blushed as she admitted.

"Aww, Tessa, I didn't do anything. What is it, anyway?"

"Yes, you did do something, and I'll always be grateful to you. I don't know what it is. Grandmere is still confined to the hospital, so she gave my niece the money."

Richie finally had the bow off and eagerly tore at the paper. He caught sight of the contents and his happy face changed suddenly. "Oh. Wow," he said with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm.

"What?" Duncan asked, leaning over to see. "Oh..."

"Oh, Richie, I'm so sorry. She didn't mean..." Tessa's voice trailed off. "She... she didn't know, I'm sure she thought you'd like them."

Richie looked up from the lavish box of chocolates in his lap. After a second, his familiar grin returned. "Hey, I've got an idea," he announced. "Why don't we give these to the nurses? That way maybe I'll get an extra backrub tonight in gratitude!"

After a moment of stunned silence, laughter rang through the room.

The End

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