by Christine Morgan
Author's Note: Most of the characters presented here are the rightful property and creative brain-children of the wonderful folks at Disney. Vito and the others are my own creations. This story is set about two months after "Hunter's Moon." It is also a very long piece but never (in the author's self-congratulatory opinion) dull. Although other writers have speculated on some of the themes you will find herein, I haven't yet seen any that take quite the stance that I do. Comments are not only welcomed but eagerly sought-after. Last warning -- it's going to get steamy.
Vito Draconi was a man of expensive tastes. Fine wine, imported cigars, luxury automobiles. He was also a man of expensive habits. Horse racing, roulette, and most of all, cards. His passion for poker was not-quite all-consuming, but close. But Vito Draconi was a man of little income. His cousin, Antonio, had inherited the bulk of the fortune. Antonio, who, like his father before him had Americanized his name and turned his back on the rest of the family. Vito hated him. Now Antonio was in prison, and his fortune, made greater by his various enterprises both legal and not, was locked away beyond reach of those who needed it most. Vito, to be specific. Not for long. The three other men were relaxed, at ease. The heist thus far had gone more smoothly than they could have hoped. The security measures had been formidable but not unsurmountable, and the guards had grown lax knowing that their boss and most of his best cronies were taking long vacations at the Iron Bar Hotel. The four of them had gotten in unnoticed, subdued the guards without a single shot fired, and had made it all the way to the penthouse office virtually unimpeded. They were impressed but not surprised by the ease of their task thus far. Their leader, however, was surprised and awed. He'd never thought himself much good at anything, but in his desperation he had discovered a startling knack for larceny. Only one obstacle remained, and since it was something the other three had nothing to do with, they felt that their part was done and they could stand around talking about the latest freakshows on television. Vito only listened with half an ear, but even so he heard enough to dismiss their talk of gargoyles blowing up police stations. Just his luck to hire fools who believed everything they read on the supermarket tabloid headlines. The last obstacle stood before him, its solid steel face seeming to mock him. He could almost hear his cousin's sneery voice inviting him to try it. Antonio, though younger, though a criminal, would always consider himself superior to Vito. Would his newfound talent be able to overcome Antonio's? His stomach knotted. He set down the black metal briefcase-sized object he'd been carrying and walked around the office, trying to settle his nerves. He avoided looking at the other men, sure that they would be regarding him with the same contempt that had so often been his cousin's expression. Instead, he concentrated on the patterns of moonlight and shadow thrown by the panes of the two large skylights. The patterns lay across ankle-deep forest green carpeting, leather chairs, glass-topped tables, and a desk roughly the size of a sports car. Vito went to the desk. Its glossy black surface was filmed with dust. Six sleek phones, now silent and dark, were lined up like sentries. The chair was exactly what he would have expected, a huge wing-backed piece mounted on a swivel. Antonio would have waited facing out, looking through the window at the panoramic view, while some supplicant was ushered into the office. He would then turn the chair, slowly, dramatically, to greet his visitor or prisoner. And the other chairs would be placed with their seats a few inches lower, giving the smug little rat another edge. He suffered a brief urge to write an obscene message in the layer of dust, but overcame it. Instead, he gave the swivel chair a vicious spin. A large shadow flitted across the skylight, or maybe it was the twirling chair, playing havoc with the dazzling lights of the city. He took a deep breath and expelled it in a weary sigh. Nana wouldn't approve of his being here, of his planning to steal from Antonio. From the time they were infants, she hadn't cared what they did to other children, but the cousins were never allowed to fight amongst themselves. Not even name-calling was permitted. And oh, how Vito had lived in uneasy fear and love of Nana, awed by her imposing presence although he had been taller than her by the time he was eleven, terrified of her sharp words or swift-swung cane, or just The Look that would paralyze him. He loved her with every fiber of his being, wanted nothing but to please her, to win a gentle smile or an embrace, and agonized over ways to earn her favor. But no matter what he'd done, Antonio always overshadowed him. Antonio could do anything, break a precious heirloom, talk back, even get expelled, and Nana would always forgive him with open arms. When they'd heard of his arrest, Vito had been filled with vindicated glee, sure that at last Nana would wash her hands of Antonio and give all her love to her devoted Vito. Instead, she had begun to wail for her poor Antonio, and worry about him, and never for a minute did she believe that he would have done such horrible things. It had been her anguish over Antonio that had led to her stroke, Antonio's fault that Nana now needed constant nursing care. It was even possible she would need to be put in a home. All thanks to Antonio. Vito would do better. With Antonio's money, he would pay off the debts and see to it that Nana was treated like a queen. He realized that the three other men were sending sidelong impatient glances his way. It was getting late, and they were pushing their luck at avoiding discovery. His long-practiced poker face concealed his embarrassment at wasting time, and Vito knelt before the safe to take on the greatest challenge. Even with the briefcase-sized object, a portable computer device made for bypassing electronic locks, he was worried. His worries proved groundless. Within less than five minutes, the device had come up with the correct code and unlocked the safe. The door swung open silently on its massive hinges and Vito stifled a whoop of triumph. He signaled urgently to the men and the four of them began stuffing their sacks with bundles of currency and bank notes. The other items in the safe were far more recognizeable and doubtless more traceable than the paper. It was a collection that had been stolen from a museum over a year ago, the wedding jewels of some 17th century Czarina or something. Vito didn't remember the specifics, but he could tell that the rubies were a.) worth a damn fortune! and b.) something no fence in the city would take. He piled them in a bag anyway, since he had room. Maybe on his next trip to Vegas, or better yet, out of the country, he would have some luck turning them into spendable cash. One of his men, called Bugs for his large buck teeth, snapped shut a cellular phone. "Ronnie's on the way with the chopper," he whispered. "Good deal," Vito replied. "We'll meet him on the roof. Let's move." Considerate Antonio had not only provided them with easily- opened doors offering access to the roof, but also a wide and clearly-marked helipad. They could have come in this way and avoided the security and guards below, but it would have attracted attention. Not much, probably, not these days when copters and hovercraft and all sorts of armored flying things could cruise at penthouse level with nobody batting an eye, but Vito didn't feel like taking any more chances. After all that crazy stuff a couple of months ago, with police stations getting blown up and so on, he figured people might be paying a bit more attention. They stood on the rooftop, bags piled at their feet, scanning the sky. Vito pulled off the black mask that had concealed his features and ran his fingers through his crop of thick black hair. The wind felt cool and good. In the distance, he could hear the rhythmic sound of rotors. "Hey, guys, am I interrupting anything?" They whirled as one toward the voice, bringing up weapons. Vito held up a hand, not wanting gunfire unless absolutely necessary. He saw a woman standing on the roof, her dark hair streaming around her shoulders. She was slim and good-looking, although clearly what his Nana would have called, with some disdain, "a mixie." The mixie was wearing tight jeans and a red jacket over a black shirt. She stood in a hipshot way that spoke of either arrogance or a come- on. A smile somewhere between grin and sneer curled her lip. She was spirited and pretty. But she'd seen his face, so they would have to do something. "Who are you?" Vito asked. Beside him, the other men fanned out like a firing squad. Incredibly, the mixie flipped out a badge. "Maza. 23rd Precinct. You're under arrest." The men laughed. Vito glared them into silence and returned his attention to her. "Miss Maza --" "Gee, you're more polite than your cousin Tony," she interrupted. "He always called me sugar." Oh, hell, it was the cop chick who busted Antonio. Still, four to one weren't odds in her favor, no matter how cocky she was. "Miss Maza," he continued, "this is family business. I'd appreciate it if you'd stay out of it." "You know, Mr. Draconi, I'd like that. And I tell you, it makes me sick having to protect the interests and property of a lowlife scumbucket like your cousin. But hey," she shrugged and grinned charmingly, "it's my job." "Yeah?" Bugs said. "Well, my job is to put holes through sneaky bitches like you!" He aimed. "Hold it, Bugs," Jonesy said. "She's too fine to shoot. At least, right away. Get your hands up, sister, you're coming with us." "Do you get your lines from a book or something?" she inquired, leisurely raising both hands high overhead. "101 Ways to Sound Like a Cheap Thug?" The sound of the chopper was closer now. Vito sighed. The nearly perfect crime. Why did the little complications always come up at the last minute. "Grab her," he ordered wearily. "Grab her and let's get out of here." She didn't even flinch as all three guns came to bear on her chest and Jonesy started forward. She just stood there, with that same little smile, hands still high in the air. And something huge barreled into them from behind. Men and guns went sprawling in all directions. It continued past and over them without even slowing. Vito lifted his bruised head just in time to see something massive and winged reach down for Maza's upraised hands, seize her, and lift her off the roof. "Holy shit!" Bugs cried. "Mars needs women! Check it out!" "Let's get out of here!" Vito yelled, scrambling to his feet. The chopper rose smoothly over the edge of the roof, its door already wide open. They raced for it, hauling bags and hauling ass, but Vito screeched to a halt when he saw through the bulging lens of the windshield that the pilot was not Ronnie. Rather, it was some small green thing in goggles and a scarf like some fighter pilot from WWI. A tall man in a beige trenchcoat leaned out of the open doorway with a very large pistol in his hands. "Didn't you hear the lady?" he asked casually. "You jerks are under arrest!" Bruce, normally the calmest one of the group even in a crisis, bellowed like a madman and hurled his bags of money at the cop in the trenchcoat. The sudden move took the cop by surprise and he stumbled back into the copter. Bruce dove after him. Vito saw the green pilot fighting with the controls as the two men rolled and puchced in the rear compartment. His poker face had utterly deserted him. What in the hell was it? Was that stuff about living gargoyles true? "Hey, that ain't Ronnie!" Jonesy screamed, pointing through the windshield. He dropped his bags, drew his gun, and started blasting. "Damn it!" Vito threw himself down just in time to avoid the spray of bullets. The windshield shattered. The copter tipped crazily, spilling Bruce and the cop out of the helicopter, where they landed on top of Bugs. Vito winced with each shot, his head pressed to the ground, his face away from the action. Until, that is, the action came to him in the form of a red taloned foot slamming down about an inch from his nose. Jonesy uttered a strangled squeak. Vito felt Jonesy's boots drag suddenly across his back, and the still-smoking gun, now crumpled like a wad of paper, clattered next to the red foot. Vito squirmed backward, trying to get away from Jonesy and the thing which was shaking him briskly back and forth. Rotors struck the side of the building, filling the night with screeching and sparks. Or maybe the screeching was coming from the monsters. Vito didn't know, didn't care. The money was the furthest thing from his mind. All he wanted was to escape. He scrambled to his feet and ran away from the confusion.He got ten yards and was starting to think he was going to make it when something dropped out of the sky right in front of him. It was blue, it was round, it smelled like pizza, and that was all he noticed before his panicked feet veered left. Left was a bad direction to take. Left was toward the edge. He struck the waist-high rail at full speed, flipped, stared straight down at the street below, groped for purchase, heard someone yell, "Oh, darn it!", and over he went. He plunged, and was just working up a really good shriek, when something plowed into him. A clawed hand seized his shirtfront, ripping out a good deal of chest hair and more than a little skin. The world whipped around, changing places, ground and sky, wall and drop. His limbs flailed. He bashed his crazybone against the wall. And then he was soaring upward, dangling from the grip of some purple winged thing. An incoherent prayer babbled from his lips. He saw the roof rushing toward him, felt its welcome solidity under his feet, and collapsed shaking to his knees. Not for long. The hand yanked him upright and he found himself staring into a face. Female, alien yet cute at the same time, framed with thick brown hair. "Hi!" she said cheerily. "Surrender?" "Sure," Vito managed. "Sure, I surrender." "Nice catch, Angela," the voice he'd heard yell "Oh, darn it!" said. Vito saw the big blue thing approaching. Another monster, a male. He grinned oafishly and spread his hands. "Guess I scared him, huh?" The female patted him on the shoulder. "That's okay, Broadway." "Yeah, at least you didn't land on him," another voice chimed in. It was the red one, with Jonesy's body slung over his shoulder. Unconscious, maybe dead. Vito, still quivering with reaction, looked from one monster to another. They bickered and joked like normal people, but -- He realized that the sounds of fighting had stopped. The helicopter, somewhat the worse for wear, sat on the roof and the green thing he'd noticed earlier was inspecting the damaged rotors and muttering. Bugs was about twenty feet away from the last spot Vito had seen him, sprawled against a thick ventilation pipe and not moving. Bruce, with a bloody nose and an eye that was going to black just beautifully, was being cuffed by the cop in the trenchcoat. "Right to remain silent, and all that jazz," the cop said. Aside from a small scratch on his cheek, you'd never guess he'd been in a fight. FFWHHHOOOOOOHP! Something huge swept overhead and circled. It was the big one, the same shade of purple as the female, with the mixie detective cradled in his arms. Vito watched in amazement as he came in for a landing that was impossibly graceful. "Hey, Goliath!" the oafish blue one called. "We got 'em!" "I saw," the big one, Goliath, replied in a stern tone that said, yes, he'd seen, he'd seen everything, including Vito's near close encounter with the asphalt. The blue one shuffled his taloned feet abashedly. Detective Maza straighened her windblown hair and tapped Goliath on the shoulder. "Um, Goliath, you can put me down now." "Oh!" Embrarrassment flitted briefly across that rugged countenance. "Yes, of course." He gently set her down. She gave him a grin and a wink, then sauntered over to Vito. "Do you believe me this time when I say you're under arrest?" He nodded. "One favor?" She cocked her head. "Yeah? What?" "Call a squad car, please. I'll go peacefully, just don't make me go by air." The gargoyles gathered around him laughed, and the red one clapped him on the shoulder. "He's gotta be the politest crook we've ever caught!" "I know," Maza said. "Weird, isn't it. Don't worry, Mr. Draconi. My partner over there will make sure you get a nice safe ride to jail." "No problem," Trenchcoat said. "Thanks, gang." "Anytime, Matt," the little green one said, swooping over to them. It was different from the others, smaller and built like a flying squirrel. Vito wondered briefly if he was dreaming, then rejected it. Bizzare or not, he'd been arrested by gargoyles. * * "That was close, Elisa," Matt scolded. "They could've shot you. You took too big of a chance." "It did seem dangerous," Goliath agreed. "Hey," she said, leaning companionably against his arm. "I had my guardian angel looking out for me, didn't I?" He scowled down at her, though the expression was softened by the emotion in his eyes. "Just because I protect you does not meen you need go putting yourself deliberately in danger." "He's right," Matt said. "Guys, come on," Elisa said. "We got the crooks. That's what matters." "Not more than your safety," Goliath said seriously. "I knew you wouldn't let anything happen to me," she said, touching his cheek. Matt cleared his throat. "Well, I'd better get these jokers downstairs. Have a great vacation, Elisa. See you when you get back." "Vacation?" Goliath echoed. She heaved a sigh. "Yeah. The guy who's filling in for Chavez just about croaked, especially when he pulled my file and saw all the vacation time I used up during our scenic world tour. But my grandparents are having their fiftieth anniversary next week. I've got to go to Vegas. The whole family will be there. Well, except Derrek, and I've got to help Mom and Dad cover for him." "When do you leave?" "Day after tomorrow." She chuckled. "I'd invite you, but I don't think the rest of the family is quite ready yet." Goliath was silent a long time, looking over at the younger gargoyles clustered around the helicopter. Lexington was climbing all over it like a child with a new toy, while the other three were reliving the battle and teasing each other. "Is it because we live in the castle again?" he asked finally. "Is that why you do not visit us as much? Or is it something else?" "Oh, hey! Goliath! No! It's ... well, you know, with the precinct getting blown up, and people hurt, and trying to track down that last Hunter ... I've been really busy. All the cops have. That's why I had such a hard time getting the week off. It isn't the castle. Xanatos, yeah, he and I are never going to be pals, but I believe him when he says I'm welcome to drop by anytime." "So it is nothing else?" he pressed. "What else would it be?" she asked. Then, "Oh. That." "Yes," he said. "That." It was her turn to fall silent and watch the others, and to notice that the others, in the midst of their chatter, were busy watching them. "Can we go somewhere else?" "Do you not need to help Matt?" "Nah. I'm technically off tonight, but when he told me he was going after Draconi, I didn't want to miss the fun. What do you say?" She looked up at him appealingly. "The park?" "Very well." He raised his voice. "A fine job tonight! As always, I am proud of you all. The other police will be here soon; it is time to leave. Enjoy the rest of the night." "Aren't you coming back with us?" Lex blurted, puppy-eager. Angela trod carefully on his tail. "Ow!" he cried. "Have a wonderful time, Father, Elisa," she called pointedly. "Oh!" Lex said. "Jeez, Lex," Brooklyn said, rolling his eyes. "Come on. Forget the copter. It's evidence." "How about Chinese?" Broadway suggested. "You just had a whole pizza!" Brooklyn said as they leaped one by one from the roof and glided away. "Yeah," Broadway's voice trailed back, "but I'm still hungry." Elisa laughed softly. "I've really missed you guys. It was a lot easier when you were just upstairs and I could come up on my coffee break." "I -- we," Goliath said, "have missed you too." He turned toward her, leaned closer. "Very much." Elisa lifted her chin, gazed into the warm depths of his dark eyes. "Goliath ..." she breathed. "Yes ... " he said, although it was not so much question as affirmation. She caught herself and hastily backed off. "Um, do you think you guys could look after Cagney while I'm gone?" He twitched, his fists and wings and tail jerking as he, too, caught himself. "We would be happy to. Although I doubt Xanatos cares for pets." "Aw, he'd love cats," Elisa said lightly, wishing her heart rate would drop a little so she wouldn't faint. "All sneaky and quiet and suspicious, just like him." Red and blue light fanned across the roof as the paddy wagon arrived to take Matt's charges into custody. "We had better go," Goliath said. "Yeah. In a minute, this place is going to be crawling with New York's Finest." She spared one look back at the open door to Tony Dracon's penthouse office and shook her head. "Dracon. He's going to laugh his butt off when he hears about this." Goliath stepped close to the rail and opened his arms to her. She paused a moment to admire him, so massive and magnificent, the wind stirring his hair, wings half-spread as if to test the breeze, muscles flexing in his powerful chest. For a moment, her inner guard broke down. She let her longing wash over her, and stumbled as she nearly swooned. As always, he was there to catch her, moving with the incedible grace and swiftness that belied his size. His strong hands closed around her upper arms and he steadied her. "Are you all right?" "Yeah," she said, bringing her hand up to stroke the underside of his arm, the bony spur at his elbow. "Yeah, I'm fine. Let's go." He gathered her up. She slid her arms around his thick neck, feeling the lifepulse there, steady yet foregin, a triple beat. Handling her as if she weighed nothing but was more precious than anything, he sprang onto the rail and off. This time, the rollercoaster feeling in her stomach was overshadowed by a different inner pull, lower, more intimate. It brought a flush to her cheeks and made her glad for the wind that made speaking difficult, knowing that her voice would be unsteady. She rested her head on his shoulder, gazing up at the firm angle of his jaw, the alert motion of his eyes as he scanned the sky for any threats. His hair streamed back, dark and lush. Although she knew its texture was silky yet coarse, she wanted to touch it and find out. "Oh, God, what's the matter with me?" she moaned to herself. "What did you say?" he asked. "Nothing." "Here is the park," he said, beginning his long circular descent. She saw the moonswept treetops, the glimmer of the ponds, the manmade scars of the trails. She wondered briefly if they would see their old friend, the jogger in grey, the poor man who seemed to run into strange things in the park no matter what time of day or night he chose to exercise. It was a miracle the guy hadn't bought a treadmill yet. Goliath landed in a wilder section of the park, where huge rocks stood like sentries and the waterfall whispered secrets to itself. He squeezed her closer for a moment, she was sure it was unconsciously, and then let her feet find the earth. He tossed back his hair and flipped his wings into their resting position. "Elisa ..." he said, uncertainty and hesitation saying more than any words could have. "I have been staying away," she admitted, kicking stones into the stream. "Because of what happened." "But why?" he asked, hurt. "Do you regret --" "No!" she said earnestly. "But I thought you would. That I'd gone too far. Done something I shouldn't have done." "You wanted to." "God, yes!" "And I wanted it as well. What is wrong with that? Why do you think I would object?" "Because ... well, because," she blundered, looking away in distress. He tipped her face up to meet his gaze. "Because you are a human, and I am a gargoyle." "Yes," she sighed. "Do you remember that time with the mirror?" "I have never forgotten." "Me neither. For a while, I was a gargoyle, and then you were a human, and for moments there it seemed like things could work out. But even if I did get Puck to change me again, it wouldn't be real. I'm human. I'll always be human." "I know. And it does not change the way that I feel." He sat on a low rock wall and beckoned for her to sit beside him. He took both of her hands and folded his own over them. "At first, I tried to deny those feelings. For many reasons." "Like what?" "That you might see me as a monster." "No, never! Sure, you scared me that first time we met, but who wouldn't be scared, running into a gargoyle when you'd never even thought they existed. But not a monster, Goliath, never." He nodded. "I soon came to know better. Another reason was Demona." "Yeah, I know." "I fell asleep thinking her dead. I awoke in a strange world and found her alive again. I was blinded. I soon came to know better of that as well. But the main reason, Elisa, was for my clan." "I don't understand," she said. "We thought we were the last gargoyles in all the world. We had a responsibility, a duty." He took a deep breath. "Demona was the only female of our race. That is why I held on to hope for so long. Not because I still cared for her but --" "To have children," Elisa said. "To carry on the gargoyle race." "Yes. And not only was I her mate but leader of our clan. The responsibility logically rested with us. Xanatos and his fiendish cloning perhaps made that a foolish and outdated ideal, but I do not trust his science or any that so tampers with life." She laughed. "Believe me, Goliath, I don't think test tubes are ever going to replace doing things the old fashioned way." "Nor should they. When I think of Thailog ..." he trailed off, pain clouding his eyes, then cleared his throat and resumed. "Avalon changed all of that. I found that my clan lived on, strong and thriving. I found other clans all over the world. I knew we were not the last. It was a shedding of the stone of my soul. Now Angela is here, and someday the continuance of the clan will be through her." "So you don't have that responsibility anymore," she said, feeling a little stupid because she hadn't ever thought of that aspect. "But we're still human and gargoyle." "Does it matter? I think of my brother Coldstone and his mate. They are so changed now from when I knew them, yet it does not hinder their love. Form, Elisa, does not matter. Not to me. It does not change the fact that I love you." She closed her eyes and let out a long shuddering breath. Finally, the words had been said. She'd though them, he'd thought them, they had maneuvered around the subject with looks and gestures, but now it was out. She felt him release her hands and stroke her hair back from her brow. "Elisa? Look at me." She did, gazing at his stern and inhuman face and finding it handsome beyond measure. "I love you too," she whispered. "And you're right. Form doesn't matter." "Then there is no reason we should not admit our love --" he began. She started to say that her family would never go for it, but then realized that public opinion was the last thing she should be thinking about. Besides, her parents had accepted Derrek and welcomed Maggie, and Beth already knew although she hadn't said so with more than knowing and sympathetic looks. " -- except for your responsibility as a human." "What?" she gaped at him. "Wait a minute, Goliath, what responsibility? You mean to carry on the human race? You mean I should marry a human and have a bunch of kids? Hold on! This is the nineties. Nobody has to have kids anymore. Besides, there's too many of us humans already!" He held up his hands peacably. "Elisa --" "Don't you even try to tell me that because I'm a woman I have to have kids!" "I would never dare say such a thing." He was stifling a grin now. "Not to you." "Hmph. I'd like to hear you say it to Angela. Gargoyle or not your daughter or not, she'd give you nine shades of holy hell. She may have been raised by a tenth-century princess, but she's a modern girl." "Why are we talking about Angela?" he wondered aloud. "All I was saying, Elisa, was that you might want to be with your own kind." "I am with my own kind. I work with them. I share the subway with them. They live in the same apartment building as me." "That is not what I mean. What about Jason?" She tore herself away from him, rose, and stuffed her hands in the pockets of her jacket. "Yeah, okay, I was attracted to him. Maybe I was thinking I should start dating humans. Matt and the guys at the station give me enough of a hard time about it." She paced through the grass, kicking at sticks and stray stones. "But I'd never had a relationship that worked out. Every guy I ever got involved with turned out to be some sort of a jerk. Jason was just the most flamboyant of them. None of the others ever tried to kill my best friends and blow up my job site." He came to her, concern etched deeply in his face. "Who has hurt you, Elisa? What happened? Tell me." She laughed bitterly. "Tell you? Goliath, some guy cuts me off in traffic and you're ready to bounce him off the nearest building. You think I'm going to turn you loose on my old boyfriends?" His fists clenched as if he was already imagining what he might do to them. Moonlight glinted on his bared fangs. "I cannot stand to see you hurt." She laid a hand on his arm. "Look, it was years ago, okay? I'm over it." She considered. "Well, maybe not. Maybe that's why I fell in love with you. Because I knew you'd never hurt me, never let me be hurt." He gripped her gently by the upper arms and pulled her close. She let herself be drawn against his smooth, broad chest. His skin felt like fine suede stretched tight over sculpted concrete. She could hear the odd triple rhythm of his heart, could smell his scent. All my men wear English Leather or they wear nothing at all, she thought. Slowly, she brought her arms up and rested her hands at his waist. He folded his wings around her, wrapping her completely in his warmth. She had never felt so secure, so safe, so loved and wanted. "But I thought you'd want to be with your own kind," she said. "Especially after Avalon, when we met other gargoyles. I started worrying that you might find someone else. A big handsome guy like you, leader of the clan, quite a catch. What she-gargoyle wouldn't be tempted?" He chuffed with amusement. She felt the hot exhale of his breath stir her hair. "Were you jealous?" "Yeah, a little. But not anymore. You had plenty of opportunity. But what now?" "A very good question." "I mean," she said, hardly able to believe what she was about to say, "form does matter for some things." He drew back and looked down at her with a startled expression. Blushing brightly, she shrugged. "Well, it does! You're too tall for me to kiss without a stepstool." "Oh," he said, raising a brow ridge as if to say, is _that_ what you meant. "Then allow me." His grip shifted to her waist and he lifted her. She leaned toward him and pressed her lips firmly to his. Last time, she had leapt up and planted a quick smooch, but this time she lingered. At last, she raised her head and they looked at each other, both somewhat dazed. She ran her fingers through his hair. "Kissing isn't a gargoyle custom, is it?" "Is that your way of saying I do not do it properly?" She laughed. "No!" He chuckled as well. "It is not our custom, although it seems Angela learned it by observing the princess and Tom. And it is on most of the television shows. We've adopted other human customs such as names. Why not this?" "Do you like it?" "Yes. You?" She nodded. "Yeah. That's the problem." "Why?" She twined her arms around his neck. "Because form does matter for some things," she repeated, this time letting there be no doubt what she meant. "Elisa --" "No, Goliath, better not say anything. Damn! I keep telling myself that I'm not going to get like this, but whenever I'm around you, I can't help it!" He ran his fingers firmly up and down her back, just along the insides of the shoulderblades. She shivered, then shivered more as she realized that he was caressing her where wings would join her back, if she had wings. If she was a gargoyle it would probably be an incredible turn-on. Even without wings, it was having a dramatic effect on her. Not for the first time, she wondered just what was concealed beneath that loincloth. The thought made her melt into tingles and she kissed him again, her lips moving hungrily over his mouth, along the line of his jaw, finding the pulse below his ear and nibbling, feeling it quicken, hearing his deep ragged gasp, feeling his talons pressing her back ... Until they sprang apart as if electrocuted and stood breathing heavily, staring at each other. "Oh, wow," Elisa said. "Indeed," Goliath replied. "If we don't get out of here, I don't know what's going to happen," she said. He nodded, seemingly trying to compose himself. "I believe I can carry you home without further incident." "You must have a stronger will that I do," she said. "Are you sure?" "Yes," he said. "My resolve is firm." "Oh, is it?" she asked slyly, raising an eyebrow. He matched her expression. "Yes, it is." His voice was low and insinuating. "Damn it!" she said. "This is not helping the situation!" "Agreed. I'll take you home, Come, Elisa." "Not quite on command," she said, then mentally kicked herself. "Sorry. Look, maybe I'd better walk." "Through the park after midnight? Your protector cannot allow that." "Well, all right," she said, letting herself be picked up again. "But who's going to protect me from you?" "The same one who will protect me from you." "Nobody?" "Nobody but ourselves." "Oh, we're doomed," she laughed as he leapt to the top of a rock and soared over the city. * * Jail. He was in jail. Nana was going to be furious. Two of her grandsons in prison. She had fretted and worried over Antonio, but would she do the same for Vito? He doubted it. She would sniff and tell Aunt Carla that Vito had always been irresponsible, forgetting his lifetime of duitful adoration. He slumped on the bunk, letting his hands dangle between his knees. His mind raced, but each way encountered nothing but dead ends. He'd been caught red handed, and nobody would believe him if he started spouting off about gargoyles. Most likely, they'd either send him to the looney bin or think he was trying to pretend to be crazy to get a lighter sentence. "Hey! Draconi!" a voice called. A smug, full-of-authority voice. A cop voice. He raised his head and glanced briefly at the blue suit on the other side of the bars. "What?" The cop grimaced in disgust. "Your fiancee made bail. We gotta let you go, scumbag." Surprise filled him, but his poker face was firmly in place. "It's about time," he said. The cop unlocked the cell. Vito emerged, trying to look bored and disdainful and above them all, despite the shapeless grey garment they'd given him after confiscating his possessions. Hope sang like an uncaged bird in his heart. Nana had saved him! It had to be Nana, with her "dear friends" that happened to be wives of some of the most powerful criminals in the city. Who else could come up with the outrageous amount of money the cops demanded as his ransom for freedom? And some daughter or cousin to play this imaginary fiancee. They led him out of the cellblock, past an array of scaffolds and painters. The stink of paint had nauseated him all night, and the ugly color they'd chosen for the walls was an affront to his refined tastes. He was led out into the waiting area, where he saw two giant goons stuffed uncomfotably into fine suits. He knew the type. Big, bull-necked thugs who would look more at home in a cave, eating raw mammoth and dragging their women around by the hair. Slow-witted but loyal, pit-bulls of men who sank their teeth into orders and never let go. Exactly the sort the husbands of Nana's "dear friends" frequently employed. And judging by the frustrated sneers on the cops' faces, they knew it too. But with the bail paid and all the ducks in a row, there wasn't a damn thing they could do. Vito reveled in it, momentarily setting aside worries over what he'd have to do to redeem himself. The goons moved aside and a woman stepped into view. The moment she saw him, she cried, "Vito!" and came at him with catlike sinuousness. Although he had never seen her before in his entire life, he smiled and said, "Hi, sweetheart." Then, as she reached him, he swept her up and took a long, deep taste of her crimson lips. The armful of woman tensed furiously. Her teeth nipped warningly at his lip, a warning he chose to ignore. For the benefit of the cops, he ran a well-practiced hand over her taut, full bottom and gave it a good squeeze. It was a gamble. Would she, whoever the red-headed spitfire was, go ballistic and blow the whole deal? Or would she play along? He was wagering his future that she would not give up her charade. The woman squirmed out of his grasp and waved her finger in his face. "Naughty boy," she said, her mouth curved in what might have been a playful lover's smile but her eyes flashing daggers. The cops rolled their eyes at each other. They looked like they'd just bitten into jelly donuts filled with rancid cream. Vito liked seeing them look that way. "I missed you," he said, giving her a good once-over just to make absolutely sure he had never seen her before. Although he doubted he had ever been drunk enough to forget a drop-dead babe like this. Her hair was a magnificent tumble of a red deeper than auburn, as rich as the rubies he'd so briefly held last night. Well dressed, but in a slightly tawdry way, one button more then necessary left undone on the clingy silk blouse, the skirt seamlessly smooth with just a bit too much slit up the side, the shoes strappy and high-heeled. In other words, she looked exactly like the sort of expensive bauble the cops would expect someone like him would have as a fiancee. So, he turned and grinned at them in a way that implied none of them could hope to tame a tigress like this. They muttered among themselves, probably calling her a cheap tart but really dying with envy. "Is everything in order?" the redhead purred at the duty officer. "Yes, Miss Winger," the cop said. She took Vito's arm, plucking at the sleeve of the grey baggy garment. "Come on. Let's get you some real clothes." He raised a hand in a sardonic little half-wave to the cops and followed her out. At the bottom of the steps, a long limo was waiting. He grinned. Nana had spared no expense. The goons piled into the front. The woman slid into the rear, revealing thigh most of the way to Paradise. Vito joined her, sinking into the plush leather seat with a sigh of contentment. "I don't believe we've met," he said, finding the discreetly hidden bar on the first try and coming up with a chilled split of champagne and a pair of glasses. "Miss Winger, was it?" "Mona Winger is the name I gave them," she said. "But I'm also known as Dominique Destine." The glasses fell from his nerveless fingers. "I understand you're something of a thief," she said. Her eyes challenged him. "I have a little job for you. Interested?" He retrieved the glasses from the carpeted floor. By the time he sat up again, his poker face was restored. He leisurely opened the champagne and filled both glasses, watching her out of the corner of his eye. When he did not immediately answer, her face tightened and her fists clenched. Here was a woman who did not like to be kept waiting. He'd heard of her, of course. Nana's "dear friends" kept tabs on all the wealthy and influential people. Possible competition, or possible exploitation. He was intrigued, very intrigued. "Miss Destine," he said, with the most charming smile he could muster, "I am always interested." * * Elisa kicked the door shut behind her and made it to the couch just before her precarious stack of packages fell. Most of them landed on the couch, which was good luck, but also on Cagney, which was bad. The feline, rudely awakened, yowled and streaked into the kitchen with her tail puffed to roughly the size of a football. "Sorry!" Elisa called. She snickered a bit, then yawned. "Oh, man, why do I always wait until the last minute to pack?" That, she reflected, was one of the most convenient things about her trip to Avalon. No worrying about packing, no time to put it off. She'd just hopped in the boat, her cop instinct and her woman's heart telling her that if she didn't, it would be a long time before she saw Goliath again. This time, she had really intended to pack earlier in the day. But she'd stayed out far later than she'd planned, first helping Matt bust Draconi, then meeting with Goliath. The memory made her warm all over. She glanced at the wide skylight windows, hoping to see him there, but the sky was only just going orange. Too early. Luckily, or not, depending on which point of view she took, the people in the apartment next door had been having a huge party by the time Goliath flew her home. Much of the party had spilled out onto the roof. It had been too chancy to try and land, so he'd had to set her down in the alley and let her take the elevator up. If things hadn't worked out that way, she would have invited him in. And God knows where that would have ended up! She shied away from that train of thought. Four hours of sleep last night had left her brain feeling a bit like pudding. She'd fully intended to sleep until noon, but her mother had called at eight to remind her to bring her photo album (too bad she hadn't thought to pick up a camera on her Avalon-travels; that would have gone over big at the family reunion; throw in a few shots of Derrek and really freak everybody out). Back to sleep at nine, but then Matt called at just past eleven with the news that Vito Draconi had been bailed out by some woman bearing a suspicious resemblance to Demona's daylight form. Matt himself, who would have recognized her and possibly been able to do something, had arrived just as the limo was pulling away, and by the time he got it sorted out, they were long gone. So Elisa had dragged herself down to the station and joined him in some rigorous ass-chewing of their fellow cops. After that somewhat satisfying encounter, she and Matt had done some fruitless poring over information, trying to find a connection between Demona and Draconi, coming up blank on every turn. Then, wired on six cups of coffee and three donuts, she had decided she might as well get her shopping and packing done. The stores were naturally jammed with idiot customers and unhelpful sales staff, the way stores always seemed to be when she was in a rush or short of temper. It took two hours to find a dress she could stand, knowing that they wouldn't throw her out if she turned up in her regular clothes but that it would just give her platoon of aunts and great-aunts and other assorted relatives one more thing to harp at her mother about. She'd been halfway home when she realized she'd forgotten shoes to go with the darn thing, so she'd had to battle the stores all over again. If she'd been thinking more clearly, she would have just decided to buy shoes in Vegas, but she had reached that stage of gritty determination where she had to get it done now, today. Finally, she was home. With the dress, the shoes, a present (thank God for complimentary gift-wrapping!) and other assorted stuff. She looked wistfully at her bed, thought about grabbing a quick nap and then packing, and realized that if she didn't pack now, she might just sleep the night away and miss her flight. More ammo for the relatives. Plus, she was starving. She went into the kitchen, earning a baleful glare form her cat, and rummaged through the well-stocked cupboards. She settled on macaroni and cheese, the staple of her college and Academy days, and put water on to boil. While the pasta cooked, she dug out her suitcase, found a crumpled postcard, Vermont in the autumn, leaves, very pretty, half a message on it beginning, "Dear Beth." That had been four years ago. A hunting trip. With one of those boyfriends she wouldn't tell Goliath about. Nothing but bad memories there. She threw it in the trash and began packing, starting with the present and the photo album. When that was done, she went back in the kitchen, jazzed up the mac and cheese a little with a boiled egg and a can of tuna. The sound of the can opener brought Cagney around, mewling as if all was forgiven. "Here ya go, Cagney," she said, putting the can on the floor and letting the cat push it around with her nose. She sat at the kitchen table, glancing up each time the breeze gusted past her windows, her inner clock almost as attuned as a gargoyle's by now to the rising and setting of the sun. By the time she'd finished her dinner and Tupperwared the leftovers, she was feeling drowsy. "A hot shower, that's the ticket. Whaddaya think, Cagney?" The cat, having gleaned every last scrap of fish from the can, was eyeballing the counter as if contemplating a jump. When Elisa spoke, she looked around with quickly-masked guilt. "Tough luck, it's all gone," Elisa said. She set her suitcase right in front of the door so she couldn't possibly forget it, then headed for the shower. Forty-five minutes later, she emerged from the steamy bathroom and donned her typical sleep attire. An oversized T-shirt, underwear, and socks. That way, if she ever needed to move fast, all she had to do was pull on jeans and sneakers and go. She stretched out on the sofa and started flipping channels. Amazing. So many choices, and nothing good on. She settled for COPS and amused herself by criticizing the officers on the screen until she finally fell asleep. * * FFWHHHOOOOOOHP! Goliath skimmed over Elisa's building, making sure none of her neighbors were out and about, and then dropped silently onto the roof. He peered through the skylight and saw Cagney poking around the trash can. It was laying on its side, and the cat had done fair work spreading the garbage around. Right now, she had her nose stuck in something that looked like an eggshell. He reflected that the time the cat had spent in the care of Broadway seemed to have rubbed off on her personality. Disappointment stabbed him. If Cagney was making such a mess, it was a good indication that Elisa was not home. But the lights were on. He moved to another window so he could see into the living room area. Aha. The television was on, and from this vantage point he could see a sheaf of long black hair and a single arm hanging over the side of the sofa. Elisa. He tapped on the glass but she did not stir. A cold finger of fear pressed at the base of his spine. She could be hurt, sick. Living alone as she did, with numerous enemies not all limited to the natural laws ... he knew that Demona would cheerfully kill Elisa given the chance. Or the last Hunter, still unaccounted for, might harbor a grudge ... No. Unthinkable. He opened the window, carefully, quietly, and listened. No sound but the television and Cagney's rummagings. He lowered himself into the apartment and strode silently to the sofa, where Elisa lay. His breath caught in his throat at the sight of her. She was sleeping deeply, dusky lashes soft against her cheeks, one hand loosely wrapped around the remote control and the other trailing over the edge of the cushion. He had seen her asleep before, and now as always it caused a surge of protectiveness in him. Her defiant, determined mask was stripped away, leaving her vulnerable and achingly beautiful. His gaze moved from her peaceful face over her slim figure. When the scantiness of her garb registered, he flushed a darker hue of violet but allowed himself to look. The shirt she wore was white, with an athletic team logo emblazoned on the front, and it reached to mid-thigh. From there, her legs stretched long and smooth and golden, ending in her tiny feet, encased in pale blue socks. So unlike a gargoyle, he thought. No excrescences of bone at brow or elbow or knee, neither tail nor wings. Delicate rounded ears tucked away beneath her hair. Blunt teeth, visible through slightly parted lips. So small, so frail by comparison. His eyes, seeing her, were the eyes of love. Her skin was like cinnamon, caramel, honey. Her form had its own lithe grace, its own subtle but definite musculature. And its own undeniable femininity. Two darker points marked the pale expanse of cloth over the gentle mounds of her breasts. He knew the soft weight of those breasts, having felt them press sweetly against his chest or arm many times in the course of their touches, accidental and supposed accidental. Cagney disturbed his admiring study of Elisa by batting something against his foot. He glanced down, saw a thick crumple of paper. He bent and picked it up, smoothing it. A postcard. On one side, a photo of trees, their leaves aflame with autumn's colors. On the other, a distinctive scrawl he recognized as Elisa's writing. Dear Beth, Well, I owe you an apology, sis. You said Mark was a jerk and you were right. This trip has been nothing but a nightmare. We had our first argument on the drive up and it's only gotten worse. He's been drinking non-stop with all his jerk buddies, and -- The rest of it was scratched out, but Goliath didn't need to read more. He slowly crushed the postcard in his fist, until it was a wad of pulp and smeared ink. He went to the kitchen, righted the can, rid himself of the postcard, and cleared away Cagney's mess. The cat sat on the table as he did so, grooming her paw and occasionally looking at him with contrived innocence. When he had finished that task, he went back to Elisa. She had shifted slightly in her sleep, the remote tumbling between her body and the sofa cushions. Her shirt had ridden up even more, allowing him a glimpse of pale blue cloth beneath. He knelt beside her and tenderly gathered her into his arms. She murmured and moved, eyelids fluttering. "Elisa," he whispered. "You are safe." She smiled faintly and burrowed against his chest. Her breath was slow and even. He could feel the silkiness of her bare legs against his arm, smell a ghost of soap and shampoo. He carried her into her bedroom, the only part of the apartment he'd not yet seen. It was unremarkable except for the pictures on the nightstand. He paused, touched by what he saw. He'd always wondered what he looked like during the day. One photo had caught him in his fiercest pose, wings spread, claws raised. It had been taken on a stormy day, the sky dark and turbulent in the background. The other depicted him in thoughtful repose, chin resting on his fist, and the sun laid a sheen of gold over his grey stone casing. The bed was neatly made, so he used his tail to peel back the blankets. He lowered her onto the cool sheets. She rolled onto her side, drawing her knees up like a child, causing her shirt to pull up in the back. Goliath admired her sleek flanks, concealed only by thin blue fabric instead of a thick tail. He reached for the blanket, then paused, wanting to drink in her beauty a while longer. Wanting more than that, as well, but aware that it was an impossible fancy. Their embrace last night had been sheer delight, and it, along with their heated flirtation, had left him in such a state he could barely glide straight. But they both knew it was not to be. They could be satisfied with their love, without needing more physical affirmation. Couldn't they? They had to. From his reading, and from cable television and videos the others watched, he had come to know a bit about human mating. He suspected it might be possible, but most likely dangerous. And he could never willingly endanger Elisa. If her physical strength matched her strength of will and character, he wouldn't have worried. But flesh, flesh could be so weak. He drew the blankets over her and tucked them around her shoulders. She sighed, began to snore in a rather cute manner. He bent over her and kissed her cheek, trying this new human custom. Like something out of a children's story, her eyes opened dreamily. "Goliath?" "Yes," he said, brushing his lips against hers and stroking her hair. "Sleep, Elisa." She looked around, frowned prettily. "How did I get in here?" "I carried you," he explained. "You'd fallen asleep on the sofa. I let myself in, fearing you might be ill. Only exhausted, it would seem." "Not so tired." She grasped his wrist, brought his hand to her lips, kissed his knuckles. "Stay with me?" "Elisa, you are weary and not thinking clearly," he said, trying to calm his pounding heart. "No. Goliath, I know what I'm saying." "But you do not know what it means." She sucked the end of his finger into her mouth, her tongue flicking teasingly. He shuddered and his tail convulsively lashed, almost knocking over her nightstand. "Elisa ..." he said warningly. She let his finger slide from her lips and brought his hand lower, laying it squarely on her left breast. "I'll take the chance," she sighed, arching her back. He wrestled with temptation as fiercely as he'd ever wrestled with an enemy. He could feel the warmth of her body through her shirt, feel the odd double beat of her heart against his palm and her quickening breath. Part of his mind reasoned that it could be so, if done carefully, tenderly, slowly. Another part of his mind insisted that it was too dangerous, that he might hurt her in his passion. She was looking up at him, her dark eyes filled with love and longing and trust. "Your bed would not support me," he argued desperately. "No problem," she replied. She slipped from the bed and began throwing pillows and blankets on the floor. Goliath stood, still torn, his hand still tingling from the contact. "I am too heavy," he tried again. "I would crush you." She smiled at him, slow and rich. "I think we can find a way around that." She pulled her shirt over her head and stood before him gloriously bare-breasted. The blue undergarment was snug and low over her hips. "Elisa," he began, trying one last time, but he couldn't think of any more arguments. Or any reason to argue. She stepped close, reached around as if to embrace him, and ran her hands along the sensitive spot where his wings joined his back. The last few protests melted from his mind. His tail snaked forward and wrapped around her hips. He sought her lips in a kiss and found her mouth warm and open and sweet. One of her hands slid down his back, over his belt and loincloth, to the thick base of his tail. The blankets reached up to recieve them. He reclined and she bent to kiss him, her hair falling like dark wings on either side of his face. * * Vito poked through the freezer, looking for something interesting and not finding it. He tried the fridge and cupboards, but they were still empty. The kitchen was huge. The fridge was almost as big as a walk-in closet, the freezer deep enough to store bodies in. The stove had twelve burners and two seperate ovens. Not that the stove had gotten much ise lately. The microwave, tucked behind a sliding wooden panel reminiscent of a roll-top desk, bore the brunt of the meal-making. He knew what the problem was. No servants. A kitchen like this, all brick and mellowly gleaming wood and racks of copper-bottomed pots hanging over massive butcher's blocks, a kitchen like this cried out for a chef and a complete cooking staff. He'd been here a week, and still hadn't quite mustered the nerve to ask why she had no servants. It wasn't just the kitchen. A cleaning service came in twice a week, but no live in maid, although the house could have clearly used one. Or two. Or a half-dozen. No butler. No housekeeper. Nobody at all, except Dominique. A chauffeur from her company picked her up in the mornings, dropped her off mid-afternoon, but never in the evenings. No cocktail parties. No elaborate dinners for wealthy business owners or politicians. It was strange. Everything about the place, and his hostess, were. He could not fault the decor. The house, a manor if there ever was one, was crammed to the rafters with priceless antiques and artwork. From the outside, it was a brooding gothic hunk of stone acrawl with statues that made him shiver in unpleasant memory of the other night. Within, the house groaned with mahogany and marble, looking frozen in time from a hundred or more years ago. But appearances were deceiving, for behind the decor was the latest in state-of-the-art everything. Intercoms, voice-activated lights, a computer system that would have impressed Bill Gates, a television screen big as a garage door (although, like the microwave, discreetly hidden when not in use). The security of the grounds would be a challenge to a better thief than Vito. He was constantly amazed. Intrigued. He didn't know what to make of his hostess. Or captor. Or employer. Even that much was still unclear. She had a job for him, he had the run of the house, but he wasn't supposed to leave. As for the woman herself, she was beautiful and wealthy but lived alone. Everything she ate came either from a restaurant or prepackaged for the microwave. He suspected she didn't know how to cook. She had a spectacular collection of antiques but seemed indifferent to them. No personal effects. No photos, no phone calls from family or friends or lovers. Just this huge museum of a house. Unless she kept her personal things in her quarters. In the forbidden north wing. That was another thing which gave him the creeps. He had the run of the house, except for that wing. He did not feel the least bit of a desire to go and look, even when she was out, because the deadly look in her eye when she had informed him it was off-limits was more convincing than a threatening gun to the head. And there were the noises. At night, only at night. An occasional yowling screech that reminded him of a childhood camping trip when some sort of wild cougar or mountain lion screamed the nights away in the nearby hills. He put it out of his mind. If the eccentric Dominique wanted to rattle around this big somber house like the last peanut in the jar, that was her business. Once he'd done what she wanted him to do, he would be on his way. Of course, he would be eagerly sought after by the police, having failed to appear at court. But he would have enough money to do what he'd set out to do in the first place. Already, Dominique had arranged to have Nana well cared for by top-notch around-the-clock private nurses. Himself, well, Monte Carlo was looking better and better. A good place to lay low and have fun until the heat was off back home. Not really hungry, just thinking of food as a way to pass the time, Vito made his way back to the study where the plans and diagrams were spread out over a marble-topped desk. A gooseneck lamp cast a circle of light directly on the words: Hall of Antiquities Arcanum. Next to that legend was a small symbol, an eye within a pyramid, like on the back of a dollar. He bent to his work again, chewing thoughtfully on the end of a pencil as he made his notes and added to the list of equipment he would need. She had assured him that money and legality were no problem, which was good because some of the gear he wanted was still experimental and military. He had come into his own, an artist finally discovering his true medium. The morality of his task never even crossed his mind. He didn't wonder what she wanted the item for. It was just the object of his quest, and what happened to it afterward was no concern of his. An untold amount of time later, a crick in his neck and his right hand cramping, he looked up from his work to see her standing directly beside him. He yelped and dropped the pencil. A quick glance at the clock showed him that it was two in the afternoon, He'd been working for four hours. "I didn't hear you come in," he said, embarrassed by his little outburst. "They never do," she said. "Until it is too late." "How was work?" he inquired, thinking once again that the skirt and jacket power executive look was really quite sexy. She exhaled in a sound that was almost a growl. "I'm having some trouble with a few of my competitors." She hadn't told him precisely what Nightstone Unlimited did, and he didn't bother asking. Instead, he turned his notepad toward her. "I think I've found a way to bypass the security in the final room," he said, hoping to cheer her up. It worked. She seized the pad, studying it eagerly. "You are a genius! How soon will you be ready?" "Well, here is the list of things I'll need. Once they're assembled, I can go on a moment's notice." She yanked the pins from her hair and shook it free. "Wonderful! I knew you were a worthy acquisition!" "Thank you," he said politely, for Nana had drilled into him that compliments, no matter how lefthanded, were to be accepted gratefully. "Shall we celebrate?" A guarded look immediately darkened her eyes. "Celebrate?" "A nice dinner out, maybe a bit of theater?" "I don't go out," she said coldly. "And you are a wanted criminal." He shrugged. "Dinner in, then? Let me call out for groceries, and cook you a meal. Fettucine, maybe some nice veal, a salad?" She eyed him speculatively until he was feeling really nervous, but he didn't let it show. Finally, she nodded. "But be quick. I have to work tonight." He smiled agreeably and went for the phone, leaving her poring over his list. * * She had to admit, he was a good cook. It was a skill she'd never bothered to learn herself. For many centuries, she had survived by stealing food from humans. By the time she was in a position to no longer have to do it, she had other things on her mind than learning domestic skills. She made do fine with the microwave and restaurants, preferring restaurants now that she could go to them, liking to sit and have humans wait on her, cook for her, clean up after her. She would have enjoyed having servants, except that they might see too much, and consequently talk too much. While Vito cooked, she made several phone calls and arranged to acquire the equipment he needed. The human impressed her, she had to admit. By reputation, he was a worthless gambler. By appearance, he was nothing special, good-looking as humans went, graceful but lacking muscle. But his devious mind -- that was something she could really respect. In less than a week, he had taken a series of security measures which had stymied her for the better part of a year, and had come up with a plan that would let one man slip by with a minimum of gear. She was starting to believe he could really pull it off. And then the golden apple would be hers! With its powers combineed with her own knowledge of sorcery, she could bring the humans to their knees! She sensed Vito looking at her curiously, and wondered if her thoughts had shown on her face. She gave him a bright smile. "This is delicious!" It was. Whatever else he was, he knew his way around a kitchen. Because she was in the privacy of her own home, she allowed herself to eat her fill, something she couldn't do in a restaurant without attracting attention. Vito noticed, to be sure, but she wasn't terribly worried about his opinion. Most likely, he wouldn't live long after committing the robbery. And if she was lucky, she could use him as bait for that infernal detective, Goliath's little girlfriend. Two, maybe three for the price of one. So she ate. Four pieces of breaded veal, a mountain of pasta, acres of salad. He would be wondering how she kept her figure, not knowing about the incredible demands of her metabolism. Come sunset, she would change and burn off more calories in that span of seconds than an athlete preparing for the big game. He might have been wondering, but he was too polite to comment on it. Instead, he offered her another glass of wine and asked if she was ready for dessert. She took the wine, but decided to wait on dessert. She went into her favorite sitting room and settled into a deep leather couch, sighing in contentment. "The equipment you want should all be here by the end of the week," she said. He grinned and sat next to her. "This is going to be a fascinating challenge. But let's not talk about work." Her guard went up. "What do you want to talk about?" He shrugged. "Movies. Travel. Art. Whatever." "Very well. You first." She listened to him ramble for a while about his dear sainted Nana and his assorted family, which, by the sound, formed a far bigger clan than hers had ever been. Typical of humans. He described a horse race in such vivid detail that she could almost taste the dust of the track. He then went on about various women he'd known. Then, when she had been lulled by her warm belly full of food and his pleasant voice, he leaned over and tried to kiss her. Tried? Succeeded, catching her completely by surprise. Her first instinct was to whip the hell out of him with her tail, but she forgot she didn't have one and she nearly threw herself on the floor with the effort. Vito drew back. "Dominique? What's the matter?" She stared at him. "How dare you!" He blinked. "I thought --" "You thought wrong! Did you think I could possibly be attracted to you, a lowly hu--" she bit off the word so sharply that she caught her lip between her teeth. He hadn't noticed her lapse. "Don't tell me you've never had lovers before," he said. "As beautiful as you are, that would be a genuine crime." She had a sudden vivid image of her scarlet-tipped nails digging into his face, gouging his eyes, ripping out his silver tongue and slapping him with it. She sprang from the couch before thought could become deed and stalked to the window. Never had lovers before! She fumed, she raged, thinking that she should just whirl on him and tell him all about Goliath and Thailog, both huge brutes far more masculine than any human could ever hope to be, that she would die before she would submit to a human's lusts. All those words were on her tongue when she thought of MacBeth, and everything she had sworn to forget came rushing back. The one thing she had never told Thailog. That one day she wished she could pretend had never happened. They had been planning a picnic, he ever the romantic fool. She had sensed that he was getting close to proposing, so she had agreed. But the day of the picnic had turned up cold and rainy. She remembered arriving at his house with her umbrella, and being ushered into his cozy living room. Where a blanket had been spread on the middle of the green rug, and he had greeted her with a bouquet of fresh wildflowers and a fully-laden picnic basket. She had played along, cooing and giggling, drinking champange. Feeding him choice morsels from the basket, and letting him feed her. And eventually, as she had intended to happen, he produced a diamond and asked her to be his wife. And she had accepted. All according to plan. Except for what had happened next. * * She admired the ring, turning her fair hand this way and that. It was quite a rock. I'm to be Lady MacBeth, she thought. Maybe I should get a dog, name it Spot, and then whenever it does something bad, I can say -- She burst into giggles. MacBeth leaned closer. "Oh, my dear, you are lovely when you laugh," he said. "I am so happy," she replied, which was true because everything was going exactly as she planned. She laid her hand along the side of his face, his beard tickling her palm. "I will try to be a good wife," she added, which was a lie because she and Thailog were plotting to ruin him and steal his fortune. "You have made me the happiest of men," he said. He kissed her and she let him, knowing that it was what he expected. But instead of a simple kiss, as before, he kept on. He pulled her into a close embrace, his hands moving over the thin sundress she'd worn. She had to keep playing along, at least a bit. She returned his kisses, pretending at passion, doing things she thought he might like, such as nibbling on his ear. But something had happened. She discovered that her body had a hard time telling the difference between pretended arousal and the real thing. Her body wanted to respond, her body liked the feel of his large hands on it. "My love, wait," she murmured against his neck. "We shouldn't." "Why not? We're engaged," he said, and began showering kisses down the smooth column of her throat, onto her bare shoulder. Her hands clutched his back and she couldn't help but notice what a powerfully-built man he was. No Thailog, to be sure, but more than a mere human. How could MacBeth, immortal king and warrior-born, ever be a mere human? How could MacBeth be tugging down her sundress, and how could she be permitting it? How could her fingers be twining themselves in his short, thick silver hair? How could her voice, her own voice, be moaning encouragement as his lips found her proud breasts? How could this be happening? It couldn't be. Her mind grasped eagerly at that straw. They were enemies, age-old enemies. Surely this was some dream. Surely she wasn't completely out of her dress now, clad only in lace panties. And surely she wasn't tearing at his shirt, burying her face against the silvery curled mat of hair on his chest. And surely he wasn't ... oh, not that, surely not pulling at his belt and her helping him, and what was happening to her? Linked, they were linked by sorcery, immortal together, each sharing the other's pain when they were in close proximity, but she had never guessed nor imagined that they might share each other's pleasure too, so that each sensation passed between them, redoubled, and returned in an increasing wave of sheer passion. Never guessed that she would feel everything he felt, so that when she opened herself to him she knew not only the sensation of being deeply filled but also of filling, of enclosure in soft yet snug flesh. And he felt it too, that unbelievable combining of two selves into one. Both were rider and ridden at the same time, exploding in a series of shattering climaxes so intense that he did not lose his stiffness even after flooding himself deep within her but kept on, and she encouraging, sometimes rolling so that she was atop him, other times being gladly pinned beneath his weight, giving but never taking because all that was given was returned twicefold, until it became unbearable and they collapsed in a breathless heap, but even then their hands moved, seeking and finding, leisurely, as they drifted into exhausted sleep. Her last thoughts before succumbing to the darkness were completely unlike her, wondering if it was possible after all these centuries to change, to reconcile with him. Much of her bitterness welled from the same spring as his, a spring called loneliness, of dwelling in that eternal flux-state of immortality, perpetually alone, never daring get close to others because ultimately those others would age and die, but they would not. And for the first time she wondered if they could share the rest of eternity together, making it less bleak, giving them a reason to go on other than vengeance and hatred. She could forsake her fury, not an easy task but a worthy one. Never mind Thailog, who was not Goliath as she wished Goliath had been but Xanatos in Goliath's form. MacBeth had honor and nobility. MacBeth, though human, was at least of her time and had shared the eons as she had done, while Thailog was just a hatchling with an adult's body and a well-stocked memory. She could turn from him, confess all to MacBeth, and after his initial shock and possible anger, they could go on. Together. Now and forever. Those thoughts would be banished from her mind when she awoke, perilously close to dusk and still curled nude beside him. But as she drifted off, those thoughts were poignant enough to bring tears to her eyes. * * She realized three things almost immediately. First, she was in New York, not Paris. Second, that her hands were moving over her own body in a selfish lover's caress. Her breath fogged the window, her pulse raced, her legs were weak from remembered passion. And third, that she was not alone. Vito Draconi was staring at her with an expression of polite amazement and arousal. She felt her face flame and tore her hands away from her full breasts. Her blouse had slipped a few buttons, revealing a satiny brassiere as red as a fire engine. Her skirt was hiked to her waist, proving without a doubt that the panties matched the brassiere. The familiar rage, made sharper by embarrassment, started to build in her heart like a volcano bulging toward eruption. She took a step toward him, knowing that when she reached him she was going to rip open his throat with her teeth and spray a hot mouthful of his own blood back into his dying face, and never mind the apple. Also knowing that he would die with that same polite, slightly inquisitive expression. But before she could take the second step, she suddenly saw him as if for the first time, saw the appealing symmetry of his features, the lithe contours of his body. She felt a twinge in her low belly, like the plucking of a single harp string. She threw herself upon him with a snarl that would have done credit to her nighttime form, and the only things that were ripped open were his clothes. * * The End
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