Amanda stepped into the abbey with an unconscious sigh of relief. Home would always mean here, no matter how far she'd roamed or how many other places she lived. The abbey had been her first real home after a life spent on the streets. Though not the grand structure it had been all those centuries ago, the cloister and the small church attached to it still stood. She smiled as she made her way through the church towards the rear entrance to the cloister, converted now to be a home for the woman who'd once served as abbess. There was another, more direct entrance to the cloister, but Amanda rarely used it, preferring, as her hostess did, to go through the church.
For a moment, Amanda paused, hating that the church had been reduced to not much more than an empty space with a well-tended altar. There wasn't much call for a working church in this area anymore; the village that had sprung up around it was long gone, victim of a lack of sustainable employment. Yet Amanda still made a sign of the cross, dipping her head in acknowledgement of the faith that had been one of the few constants in her life. As long as the former abbess still lived, the altar would be tended so that the church and the cloister would remain as Holy Ground.
Since Amanda had been expected, the door leading into the cloister was open, and the scent of warm, sweet cheese pastries wafted through the air of the short hallway. With an appreciative sniff, Amanda paused, letting the proximity warning of another Immortal settle before calling out, "Rebecca? Are you baking up a storm again?"
"Well, it's either that, or pray, and I know you like these," the slim, elegant blonde said with a laugh, stepping forward to draw her former student out of the hallway and into the kitchen. Amanda let herself be led, envying as always just how gracefully her teacher moved, then stopped short just inside the room.
The younger immortal whistled softly, taking in the room, with the gleaming, new-looking appliances merging seamlessly with the ancient stone counters. She tried to remember the last time she'd been in this kitchen, and realized it had been at least fifteen years. "Complete renovation?"
Rebecca smiled as she depressed a button by the door, shutting and locking the entrances through the security panel. She waited until the last dull boom of the outer doors faded before replying. "It was time. Everything was falling apart."
"I wondered when you'd be motivated to change. Last time I was here, you were still closing the doors by hand, and the stove was that -- what did your assistant then call it? -- oh yes, a piece of junk her grandmother used to cook on."
Rebecca laughed. "Jane never did understand why I didn't change with the times as quickly as she wanted me to."
"She was a lovely woman, as I recall. She still around?"
"No," Rebecca said with a sigh. "Died about a year after you met her. I've only been back here three years. I wasn't expecting to run into you at the market in Paris last week; I heard you were in Istanbul."
"It was getting too hot in Istanbul, and I missed Paris," Amanda said breezily. "Besides, there's only so many ways I can do a fan dance for tourists without getting bored." She wasn't surprised Rebecca had heard about her; the immortal grapevine had gotten even faster and more accurate with the advent of telephones.
"In other words, you were nearly caught, again," Rebecca noted, shaking her head. "You should be more careful, Amanda; Interpol is getting better organized at tracking people."
"Which just means I need to sharpen my game," Amanda said with a shrug, eyeing the oven. She itched to taste the pastries, which were currently baking. Smell told her they were likely Rebecca's cheese-filled tarts from a recipe the older Immortal had learned as a child. "You experimenting with that recipe again?"
Rebecca grinned. "Of course. Have to make sure the oven's the correct temperature somehow, and I don't trust the oven thermometer."
Amanda laughed again and took a seat on one of the barstools that lined one side of the kitchen island. "You do better than me. I've been accused of sticking to foods that travel well." She helped herself to a glass of tea from the pitcher that sat on the counter before taking a sip from her newly filled glass.
Rebecca leaned on the counter and took a sip from her own glass. "Who said that?"
Amanda shrugged carelessly. "Someone who thinks all I'll ever be is a pretty thief."
Rebecca's eyes flashed at that. "You always hide your other strengths, Amanda. Sometimes it's okay to let them shine."
"Only you would call my talent at cooking a strength, Rebecca," Amanda said fondly.
"Yes, well, it's not like you intended to poison a vicar, is it?" Rebecca stood and, pulling a towel off the counter, removed the pastries out of the oven. "And hands off, woman, or you'll not get any."
"But, darling, I was so hoping I could," Amanda said flirtatiously, deliberately misinterpreting.
Rebecca inhaled sharply and set the pan on the top of the stove with a clatter, nearly shaking the miniature pies off. "Amanda!"
The younger woman cocked her head to one side and said innocently, "What? Did I misread the invitation?"
Rebecca glared at her. "Yes." She took a deep breath and let it go, closing her eyes for a moment. "Want to go to Greece and forget about men for a while?"
Startled, Amanda reassessed her companion. Over the centuries, Rebecca had been teacher, friend, and partner-in-crime. Occasionally, they'd shared lovers; other times, they'd weathered accusations they were more than the close friends they'd become, but they'd never crossed that line. Amanda had never doubted that was the way it would always be. "All right," Amanda said sternly, "who broke your heart this time?"
"I did not say my heart was broken," Rebecca replied sharply, reaching for a spatula to transfer the bite-sized cheese-filled pastries to a wire cooling rack on the island.
Amanda reached over to snag a pastry, getting her hand rapped for the attempt. Easily, her other hand grabbed another, dodging the spatula Rebecca aimed her way. Blowing on the tart to cool it off, Amanda quickly popped it into her mouth, ignoring the slight burn as she tasted the rich treat. "Nobody does tiropita like you do. I love that you made them this size." She leveled her gaze at her old friend. "You might not have a broken heart, but the last time you made that offer, I'd just put Derek Markham in jail and you'd just broken up with Frank Roberts because he couldn't handle the truth."
Rebecca said nothing, using the excuse of turning off the oven to buy herself a little thinking time. Amanda waited, eating another of the addictive pastries, taking a cue out of her former teacher's handbook. Rebecca hadn't ever let Amanda run from the things that mattered -- like a chance at real love.
When the silence had stretched to nearly its breaking point, Amanda said casually, "I'm thinking of joining the circus again. You think it's been long enough for the Amazing Amanda to reappear?"
"Not likely," Rebecca retorted. "And why I bother trying to keep you from stealing bread in my house, I'll never know. You've never changed, Amanda."
"Pot calling kettle," Amanda said mildly. "Besides, it's not stealing if you know about it." When that brought a snort, Amanda laughed, then took a sip of tea as she considered the situation. "Let's see. No one puts you in quite this kind of mood like a good looking, charming, articulate, well-educated mortal who had, until recently, not known you were filthy rich and owned a historic abbey. He's had to work hard for everything he's ever owned, probably put himself through school on scholarships and grants, maybe a loan or two, and is currently a proud owner of some thriving little start-up. He's adventurous and open-minded in bed, but he had no idea that your definition of such dates back to when you were a little girl in Mycenae. You did a little too good of a job of being Rebecca Horne, passionate but modest professor of Greek. Am I right?"
Rebecca winced. "Your talent for judging people has sharpened, I see."
"Well?" Amanda pressed. "Am I right?"
"Yes. His name's John Bowers, and --" She inhaled sharply. "He refuses to tell me why my having an abbey bothers him. It's not like it's being used as one by anyone other than me."
Amanda rolled her eyes. "Please tell me you didn't tell him you had 'this place out in the country.'" At her friend's look, Amanda groaned. "Oh, God, you did."
"Well, it is out in the country," Rebecca pointed out logically.
"Rebecca, you took a man from the city and out into the middle of nowhere. I still remember that feeling when you did the same to me, and the abbey was a lot bigger back then. If I couldn't believe the abbess was teaching me to fight, do you think a modern guy would believe you see this place as 'just the family home'?"
"I thought he could handle it, same as you."
"Yeah, well, you always did push people into things they thought they weren't ready for."
Rebecca sighed. "Did I? I look at you and think maybe I didn't teach you enough."
Reaching across the island, Amanda grasped her teacher's hands. "And who's always been willing to teach me more if I ask, hmm? Not your fault I had to learn from my own mistakes. Besides, I distinctly remember you and I weren't precisely law abiding in Verona in 1635. We certainly weren't proper ladies, at the very least."
That brought a smile to Rebecca's fine-boned face, remembering how they'd been a scandal. Even in a city and time where mercenaries were welcome, women weren't supposed to be able to fight - much less be good at it. "True. I just...I worry that you'll lose your head for something minor."
"Which won't be your fault," Amanda said firmly. "So is John going to be a part of your life, or is he gone for good?"
"I asked him to marry me."
Shocked, Amanda stared at her. "And he turned around and walked out on you? Did he give you a reason?"
"He said he needed time to think about it. He had no idea we were headed towards such a deep commitment."
Amanda's heart ached for her friend. "How long have you been seeing each other?"
"Three months, but it felt right." In a telling gesture, Rebecca tore a pastry apart.
Seeing the motion, Amanda's eyes narrowed and her heart ached for her old friend. If Rebecca had one major fault, it was that she tended to love deeply, with few reservations. "Shall I go talk some sense into him?" Amanda asked, only partly joking. "Or shall I just pack a bag and tell Lucy I'm headed off to Greece for a while? I'm sure she'd love to join us in Tolo."
"I thought you promised to leave your -- oh, yes, what did you call her -- your airtight alibi alone for a few years? Isn't she still mad at you for getting her arrested in New York in 1975?"
Amanda flushed at the reminder. "Rebecca, it's been three years. Surely she can't hold a grudge that long, and she won't live forever. Besides, she loves me like the daughter she never had."
Rebecca shot her a look. "And does her mothering work on you?" At Amanda's amused smile, the older woman continued, "I see. How many times do I have to tell you that just because it was yours once doesn't mean you have to have it back?"
"And who called me about that necklace she made in the sixteenth century on display at a certain museum in Germany, hmm? Or that vase from Mycenae last year?"
Unrepentant, Rebecca shot back, "I didn't say you had to get them for me, now did I? Though I must say that I did enjoy seeing them again, without all that glass between me and them."
Amanda hid a grin. "Much as I hated doing so, I did put them back -- for a finder's fee."
"There's only so many times you can pull that scam, Amanda," Rebecca warned as she popped the pieces of the broken pastry in her mouth and ate them. "I think this needs a bit more salt."
"You always say that," Amanda commented as the doorbell intoned deeply.
For a moment, the two women froze, each unconsciously sitting up straighter as they tried to figure out if there was another Immortal nearby. The abbey was Holy Ground, though both knew such places were not always respected by headhunting immortals.
"You expecting company?" Amanda asked, meeting her teacher's eyes. "I didn't feel anyone, did you?"
"No." Rebecca took a deep breath. "John said he'd have a reply to me today by noon."
"He's late," Amanda noted, "by three and a half hours. Want me to kick him out?" She rose to her feet, prepared to do battle on her teacher's behalf.
"No. But --"
"I'll leave him in one piece, I promise," Amanda interrupted.
"I said no, Amanda," Rebecca reminded her firmly, moving swiftly to intercept. "If you want to meet him, you'll just have to wait."
Amanda sighed impatiently, pouting. "Fine. But don't expect me to save him any pastries."
"You will if you want me to make you more," Rebecca said, and moved to disable the security and unlock the door.
Never one to follow orders unless they involved her personal safety, Amanda waited until Rebecca had moved out of the kitchen. She crept out of the kitchen and stepped into the hallway, wanting to see who had charmed her mentor.
He was a tall, handsome man with graying brown hair; his most distinctive feature was a straight nose set in an oval face. He wore a crisply pressed light blue dress shirt, no tie, khaki pants, and well-worn loafers. He looked nervous, though Amanda silently applauded him for trying to hide it.
"I hope I'm not too late, Rebecca," he began without preamble.
"Depends," Rebecca replied calmly, "on what you think you might be late for."
"A chance to be your husband," he told her. "A chance to love you for the rest of my life." He paused, waiting for a reply. When he didn't get one, he said more urgently, "I love you, Rebecca, more than anyone else I've ever loved in my life. I reacted badly to the idea that you didn't need me to support you; I was brought up to be an old-fashioned man in that way. I'm sorry, but nothing else, let me be the one you can lean on."
"And if I said I have friends who'll be there for me in ways you can't?"
"Then I'll just have to meet them, accept them as your friends, and figure out whether they can be my friends as well."
Amanda rolled her eyes. If she let this continue, she thought, then Rebecca would put this man through hell. Amanda remembered all too clearly just how her former teacher could question someone's motives until that someone either gave up or got mad enough to argue or both. She stepped out of the doorway where she'd been hiding and declared, "Rebecca, if you don't give this poor man a break, I'll take him home with me."
"Don't you dare," Rebecca snapped, turning to face her.
Amanda held up her hands, surrendering -- for the moment. "Well?" she prodded a heartbeat later.
Rebecca glared at her. "Do you want me to tell Duncan just who stole the rubies he was supposed to guard?" she hissed.
Amanda's eyes widened in alarm. "You wouldn't!"
"Want to try me?"
Miffed, Amanda exhaled heavily and backed down, crossing her arms. "Fine. I'll just go be a piece of furniture." She flounced out of the hallway, but, once inside the kitchen, stopped short of being out of hearing range and positioned herself so she had a decent line of sight on the proceedings. Rebecca had never chosen less-than-interesting partners, and Amanda was intrigued.
"That one of the friends you were mentioning?" John hazarded.
"She is," Rebecca said, nodding. She drew herself up to her full height, a telling gesture Amanda knew Rebecca used to project calm.
"Well, she can't have my heart or my soul, not even if you're willing to share my body with her," John told her blandly.
In the kitchen, Amanda's eyes widened and her jaw dropped. Rebecca, if you don't keep him, I will! she thought hastily.
"In that case," Rebecca drawled, surprise and pleasure in her voice, "I'd better make sure you're legally mine."
John nodded. "If you're willing to do it now. I was late getting a priest for us. Figured you already had a church. If you want to invite the world for the reception, feel free, but --"
Rebecca swiftly closed the distance between them and then kissed him thoroughly, shutting him up. "Later, we can plan the reception. Right now, I want to get married. Amanda! Come meet my husband-to-be and bear witness."
"You sure you don't want me to stand up for you?" Amanda teased as she stepped into the hallway, sauntering towards John with her hand outstretched. "I'm Amanda Darrieux."
"No, I don't want you to stand up for me," Rebecca said dryly, "because I know you know what that means." She tried to glare at Amanda, but it wasn't working; she was simply too happy.
"Oh, you do?" John asked with interest as he accepted Amanda's greeting: kisses on both cheeks. "A student of history as well?"
Amanda glanced over her shoulder at Rebecca and gave her a conspiratorial smile. "More of art, actually. I take it the priest is waiting for us?" At John's nod, Amanda smiled. "Then let's get you two hitched."
The taste of the pastry faded in Amanda's mouth as the memory of that day dissolved in her mind and she was brought abruptly back into the present. For a moment, the thirty-year-old memory clung like a spider's web on velvet, and she nearly missed the answer to the question she'd forgotten she'd asked.
"My great-grandmother's recipe," the Greek teenager told her with a distinct accent, looking pleased. "You like?"
"Tastes just like the one a friend of mine used to make," Amanda told her honestly, finishing off the sweet treat she held. Impulsively, she bought a few more, wanting to linger in a happy memory a little while longer. It had been far too long since she'd let herself remember Rebecca and the man she'd loved until she'd died. Smiling, blinking past the edge of tears, Amanda hurried out of the shop. There was someone who'd appreciate good Greek pastry like this, and he was waiting for her on the other side of the city.