Tessa frowned at her beautiful Fendi bag, wishing it had about three more compartments. Duncan had bought the absurdly expensive purse for her at Christmas, but that was before she had taken on this latest curator job in Paris, as well as teaching part time at the Sorbonne. Now, the stylish bag was just not large enough to hold a sketch pad, her wallet, her keys, a small make-up bag, her collection of drawing pencils and pens, her class notes, a book she had been trying to finish for the past month, plus her date and address book. She stuffed the last of the materials in the top, trying to jam them in enough so that even if she couldn’t close it, they wouldn’t fall out.
“Tessa?” Duncan’s voice called from topside. “You’re going to be late.”
“I’m coming as fast as I can!” she shouted back. Men. They had no idea how complicated a woman’s life was.
She was halfway to the stairs when the phone rang.
“Oui,” she answered, waving away Duncan, who had poked his head in the door with a frown of impatience.
“Tessa, it’s Andrea. I’m afraid we have a small crisis,” announced the familiar voice of the woman who co-taught her evening art class.
“Andrea, I’m running late for a director’s meeting at the museum, can’t it wait?”
“I don’t think so,” Andrea answered. “You had made arrangements for two models to pose for the life drawing class tonight, and one of them has called in sick. Do you have the number of someone I can call for a replacement?”
“Merde!” Tessa muttered. “No, it’s after five now, and there is no way you will be able to reach the agency I normally use.”
“Well, I’m not sure what to do. I hate to cancel, but the last several lectures have been about drawing multiple human figures, and tonight was going to be the first practical application.”
“Well, you’ll just have to use the one model, and do the best you can,” Tessa almost interrupted her in her impatience. Now Duncan was standing at the top of the stairs, hands on his hips, head cocked, and foot tapping the floor.
“I don’t suppose…” Andrea began, then let her voice trail off.
“You don’t suppose what?” Tessa sighed. Andrea was not one to be rushed.
“Well, you’ve done a lot of drawings of that young man of yours, and I was impressed with them. Could he work with us this evening? I know it’s unusual, but it is your class, after all, and he would really be helping us out.”
“Andrea, I really don’t think Duncan would do that!” Tessa felt her face heat up at the very thought.
“You don’t think I would do what?” Duncan asked, coming down the stairs with a look of resignation. It was hardly the first time they had been late to an appointment.
Tessa covered the phone’s mouthpiece. “It’s Andrea. A model pulled out of the class tonight, and now she’s talking about canceling. But we’d just have to make it up at the end of the semester, and with the exhibit schedule, I don’t know how I could do that.”
Duncan’s dark brows huddled together in the middle of his forehead. “Modeling? You mean posing, like you sometimes have me do?”
Tessa nodded, then felt her face get a little warmer. “But this is a life drawing class, Duncan. The models are generally nude.” She had to consciously control her mouth when it wanted to pull into a smile at Duncan’s expression. He blinked several times, his swarthy face flushed a little darker, and he swallowed and turned away.
“Here,” Tessa handed him the phone. “You can talk to Andrea about it. You don’t need to feel obligated if it makes you uncomfortable.”
“Well, I’m not saying it would make me uncomfortable,” Duncan sputtered a bit, handling the receiver she had shoved into his hand as though it might bite him. “Andrea?” he asked tentatively.
Tessa could hear Andrea’s effusive, gushing tone from several feet away, and just watched as Duncan tried several times to interrupt with, “Yes, but…” then, “Well, that’s not really what…” and, “I’m sure you do, but…” followed by, “Can’t one of the students…”, and “Oh, I see.”
There was a long pause as Andrea made her case to Duncan, and he threw up one hand and rolled his eyes at Tessa, while she held up her wrist, pointing at her watch.
Finally, Duncan just interrupted the stream of words. “Andrea, all right. It’s just an hour class isn’t it? An hour and a half?” Duncan responded after a pause, then sighed. “Okay, just this once. Calm down, Andrea, I said, just this once! Eight o’clock? In the studio where Tessa usually holds her class? I assume the room is heated?” Duncan’s mouth twitched as now Tessa was rolling her eyes.
They almost ran to the car to make up for lost time, and Duncan drove like a mad man, even though he was usually a pretty staid driver, always mindful of how easily his mortal love could be hurt. He dropped her off in front of the museum and Tessa dashed up the stairs, and it wasn’t until she had slipped into the meeting, smiling her apologies, taken off her coat and caught her breath that she seriously thought about her lover of a dozen years posing nude in front of her students.
“Tessa?” Dr. Fontaine called, and she looked up. “Are you all right? You suddenly went white, and now your face is quite flushed.”
Duncan had the devil of a time finding a parking space in the rabbit warren of streets near the Sorbonne. He would have been better off just driving back to the barge and walking or taking the Metro. He had found half a dozen errands to run since he had left Tessa off at the museum, and only now realized he had been working very hard at avoiding thinking about this pending ordeal. The things he did for Tessa, he thought with a half smile as he pried the Citroen into a space just barely large enough, and turned off the motor. He sat for a minute, then looked at his watch. It was time. Past time, actually. Well, if he was late, that would cut down on the total time of ‘exposure.’
He chuckled at his own mental pun, remembering a hot, steamy afternoon in a heated wooden tub, about 300 years ago in Japan, when Hideo Koto’s lovely young maids were determined to personally scrub every square inch of his bare flesh. Now that had been embarrassing. He assumed he had lost some of his Scottish reticence in the intervening centuries, but it was still a disconcerting notion. It wasn’t as if he didn’t know his body was in good shape, he firmly told himself. It damn well better be, for all the effort he put into it!
But it wasn’t for public display. He slowly got out and closed the door, meticulously locking the car. The steps up the front of the old building were taken ponderously, even though he knew he was a little late. He was reaching for the handle of the front door, when he froze, as Immortal Presence washed over him like a bucket of cold water dumped on his head.
“Not now!” he muttered to himself, automatically reaching inside his coat for his katana. He opened the door, peering up and down the wide hallway, which was well-populated with students heading from one class to another, or just standing and talking. None of them looked like a threat, so Duncan stepped cautiously inside. It was entirely possible that an Immortal taught or took classes at the Sorbonne. He didn’t personally know of any, but that didn’t mean anything.
It did mean if the sensation didn’t go away, that somehow he was going to have to keep his sword within easy reach, while posing nude for an art class. Now there was an interesting logistical conundrum.
Keeping his hand on the hilt of the katana inside his coat, Duncan worked his way towards Tessa’s studio classroom, watching warily behind and in front for anyone making suspicious moves. Finally, he reached the room’s double doors. The windows were blacked out, and a “Quiet, Please. Closed Session. Do not enter without Instructor’s Permission” sign was taped where it couldn’t be missed.
He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and gave himself a quick lecture. This is only an hour and a half, and they are only interested in drawing shadows and lines. This isn’t about you, it’s about the art, and this is for Tessa and you would do anything in the world for her. And if there is an Immortal in the room, all the more reason for you to confront who it is, so just suck it up and open the damn door! He blew out the breath and pulled the door open, feeling the approximately thirty or so pairs of eyes in the room turn towards him in unison.
Actually, it was thirty-one. In the center of the room, on a raised stand, leaning casually up against a stool, was…a naked Immortal. Duncan was absolutely certain of it. Those knowing eyes were far too old for that youthful face, and Duncan’s hand tightened around the hilt of the katana.
“Duncan!” With a strong waft of perfume and a whirl of gauzy fabric, Andrea was on him like a moth on a porch light. “I was afraid you had decided not to come! Vite! Vite!” she tugged and pushed him towards a screen set up in the corner. “The class has already started!”
The ‘young’ man lounging on the pedestal met his eyes, and Duncan swallowed past a suddenly dry throat. The look was disturbingly…relaxed. How could he be relaxed? They were two Immortals, and now they were going to be naked in front of… “I don’t think…” Duncan began, feeling slightly sick to his stomach.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Andrea continued pushing him until he was behind the screen. “It will be over before you know it,” she winked at him. “There are some hooks there for your clothes. Hurry, the other young man is waiting!” she admonished.
“Who the hell is he? I didn’t know there was going to be someone else. If you’ve found a replacement, you don’t need me,” Duncan insisted in a loud whisper.
“Oh, no you don’t!” she snapped. “This is an exercise in multiple figures. We had two models lined up and one of them pulled out. Didn’t Tessa tell you?”
“No. Nobody told me much at all, and I’m beginning to think it was deliberate,” Duncan growled and Andrea looked a little taken aback.
“Well, it’s too late to back out now,” the woman insisted. “God! Men! You think nothing of wearing those ridiculous thong bathing suits and prancing around like peacocks, but when it comes to showing the real thing….pfffft!” she said, waving her arms in disgust. “Now hurry up, you’re holding up the whole class!”
Well, if the other Immortal was naked, he couldn’t exactly get to his sword any faster than Duncan could. Now Andrea was standing there, tapping her foot, making him feel like a recalcitrant, cowardly twelve-year old.
Damn! He pulled off his jacket and coat, hanging them carefully so his sword was within easy reach, then signaled for Andrea to at least turn around, rather than watch him disrobe.
She cast her eyes impatiently to the heavens, but turned around, crossing her arms as she waited.
“You didn’t tell me who he was,” he groused, yanking off his shirt, toeing off his shoes, and with a large intake of air, and a swallow, he unzipped his pants and let them fall.
“He’s a graduate student in the languages department and does this for the extra money. Are you ready yet?” she asked impatiently, peeking over her shoulder. “Oh, my!”
“What?” Duncan asked suspiciously, holding his trousers protectively in front of his chest.
“This is perfect! Just perfect!” she grinned, clapping her hands together in delight. “Two beautiful men with such contrasting body styles and skin tones. “I couldn’t have asked for better.”
“Well, uh…” Duncan wasn’t sure what to say. He was now down to his briefs and socks.
“Just yank the damn things off and get your bare arse out here,” a baritone voice called in a clipped British accent. “At your age, you can’t possibly still be all that modest.”
Duncan felt himself blush at the taunt. He steeled himself, hung his trousers on a hook, pulled off his socks, yanked down his briefs and with another cleansing breath, stepped out from behind the screen.
The room was deathly silent. Duncan walked very deliberately up to the platform and stepped up, meeting the other Immortal’s amused stare. “Duncan MacLeod,” Duncan said, letting his eyes harden. “Of the Clan MacLeod,” he added softly.
The dark head inclined slightly in acknowledgement. “I know,” he responded, then his eyes traveled slowly from Duncan’s face, down his torso to…somewhere below his waist, and Duncan felt his face get hot, but he forced himself not to move a muscle. “Your reputation precedes you,” the Immortal said softly.
“All right, class,” Andrea clapped her hands. “Now pay attention. We are extremely fortunate tonight that Duncan was willing to, uh, stand in, for someone who didn’t show up, and you can thank Tessa for that,” she added with a smile that Duncan was certain held more humor than gratitude. Oh, Tessa was going to owe him for this one. Big time.
Andrea gestured grandly to the two men on the pedestal. “Tonight, in Adam and Duncan, we have two distinct variations of the human form, showing all its subtle differences and wonderful similarities.” She walked up to Adam, placing a hand on his shoulder, using her other hand to airily punctuate her words. “They are two marvelous examples of the classic mesomorphic body type. An artist’s dream, really,” she added, stroking Adam’s shoulder as though it were a favorite velvet pillow.
Duncan shifted his weight uncomfortably and crossed his arms, looking everywhere but at ‘Adam’, whoever he was, and everywhere but at the dozens of pairs of eyes staring at them both. He could almost feel them on his skin, and it took all of his 400 years of self-discipline not to dash back behind the screen.
Andrea’s hand touched him, and his attention, which had wandered far from her little speech about how beautiful Adam’s smooth, pale, long, lean, hairless torso was, and how much it contrasted with his own darker, heavier frame, snapped back. Andrea talked in technical terms about the differences in their skin tones as she arranged the two of them like manikins, even undoing Duncan’s ponytail and carefully combing it out with her fingers so it spread across his shoulders.
Adam was maneuvered to lean against a prop Grecian column, one arm languidly stretched up above his head until the detail of his musculature was outlined in the bright light and shadows formed by the strong side lights shining onto the platform.
Duncan needn’t have worried about the temperature, because those lights radiated heat and soon he was awash in sweat, which seemed to please Andrea, who finally finished arranging Adam and moved Duncan to stand in front and, initially to his relief, had him turn his back to the class.
Unfortunately, that meant he was facing Adam, and unable to avoid that amused, knowing look. “I should think you would be used to being stared at, MacLeod,” Adam whispered. “I hear you’ve always made quite a spectacle of yourself.”
“Let’s just get this over with. If you want a challenge, now’s neither the time or place,” Duncan snarled.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Adam sighed, his face so close Duncan could feel his warm breath on his cheek. “We both have our swords handy. I’m ready anytime you are.” Adam deliberately looked down and Duncan’s eyes automatically followed, then widened as Adam’s long, slender, uncut cock…twitched.
“Now gentlemen,” Andrea admonished. “No talking, please. Duncan, I want you to drape your right arm over Adam’s left shoulder. No, get a little closer, hips touching. That’s right. Now, Duncan, reach your left hand behind you, to the middle of your lower back, tightening your back muscles. Perfect. Gorgeous. Now Adam, turn your face so it’s against Duncan’s hair. We want to see that magnificent profile of yours against the dark softness of all that hair.”
Duncan heard Andrea sigh with happiness. “Oh, yes, class. We are indeed blessed. Long and lean against hard and muscular. Pale and sharp against dark and smooth. So many contrasts, and yet so very much alike, aren’t they?” There was a long moment of silence, then she clapped her hands, the noise startling Duncan and he jerked a little.
To his monumental embarrassment, especially with his hip snugged up against Adam’s, his own cock jerked to life and he suddenly had a horrifying vision of getting a hard on while in a nude embrace with another Immortal, a man he didn’t even know, in front of an audience of mortals. The slick sweat that had already coated his body began to run in rivulets and suddenly not getting an erection was all he could think about. Of course, in response to the adrenaline rush, his cock did, indeed, begin to fill and stir. Duncan took long, deep breaths, and while their positions did not allow him to look into Adam’s eyes, mentally he dared the man to say a single bloody word. But Adam was still as a stone.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Duncan could feel Adam’s warm, smooth skin under the hand Andrea had draped so carefully over Adam’s shoulder, and the man felt very much alive. But there wasn’t a whisper of movement other than the slow rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. No sweating, no nervousness, as though lounging around nude with a strange Immortal in front of a roomful of people was something he did every day.
Who was this guy, Duncan wondered. Cool didn’t begin to describe him, and Duncan didn’t know whether to resent his aplomb, or admire it, because he had the oddest impression that ‘Adam’ was actually enjoying this. He had turned his face into the side of Duncan’s neck in the same position that Tessa took when she was seeking comfort, and Duncan could feel the soft, even breaths on his shoulder. After awhile, they calmed him a little and he could almost stop worrying about…that other thing.
Adam’s right hand was on his hip, fingers splayed wide at Andrea’s direction because – she said – Adam’s fingers were wonderfully long and looked so interesting against the flesh of Mac’s bare buttocks. That hand, which at first had been disconcerting, was now a comfortable, easy weight, almost holding him in place. He evened his own breaths, trying to match Adam’s, hoping the time would pass quickly.
Another sharp clap of hands jerked him out of what had become a near meditative state, and he found himself taking in a sudden, deep breath.
“Time’s up, class. I think we should thank Adam and Duncan for an extraordinary visual treat today,” she announced, leading the group in enthusiastic applause.
Duncan didn’t turn around, but he did turn his head towards the group a little, managing to offer them an awkward smile. But Adam grinned broadly and gave them a grand bow, like a courtier from a Renaissance royal court, which, Duncan concluded, he probably was.
Duncan quickly ducked behind the screen, grabbing his briefs and getting them on as quickly as he could. He even managed to jerk on his trousers before Adam bothered to saunter over. The two men were silent as Duncan dressed in what he knew was unseemly haste. Contrasts, Duncan thought with a snort. They couldn’t have found much more contrast if they had tried. Adam moved with liquid ease, like warm molasses, languidly pulling on a pair of well-worn jeans and a stretched-out sweater that effectively hid the fact that his body looked to have the strength and stamina of an Olympic swimmer.
“You decent?” A familiar voice called on the other side of the screen.
“Not usually,” Adam answered before Duncan had the chance to respond.
“I’ve always suspected that of you,” Tessa poked her head around the screen, looking at Adam with a grin. “But, as for you,” she laughed, coming into Duncan’s arms, “there’s nothing I haven’t seen before.” She kissed him, then examined his face closely. “Are you okay? You look a little flushed. Did it bother you? The students were raving about you both.”
Duncan shrugged, reaching for his coat, comforted by the weight of the sword in its folds. “It was okay, but not something I care to do again anytime soon.”
“Hi, Adam,” Tessa moved out of Duncan’s arms, and took Adam’s hand, giving him a quick peck on the cheek. “Think my Duncan has any future at this?”
Adam looked over at Duncan, and Duncan glowered at him as hard as he could, but Adam only chuckled. “I think he has quite a future ahead of him, and I’m sure he could do whatever he put his mind – or any other body part – to.”
“Well, well, well,” Tessa said, looking between the two of them. “Maybe I should be jealous,” she teased.
“Oh, I don’t think you have anything to worry about, Sweetheart,” Duncan replied, drawing her in for another lingering kiss. “My career as a nude model is over. I need to go to the men’s room. Why don’t you go say hello to Andrea and wait for me out front?”
Tessa slipped away with a casual wave to Adam, and the two men were left alone. After a few seconds of tense silence, Adam snickered. “You should see yourself. You’re a walking thundercloud, MacLeod. Oops, I made a pun,” he observed, and chuckled again.
“Very funny.” Duncan moved close enough that most sane people would be intimidated and move back, but Adam held his ground, maintaining that irritating look of sardonic amusement. “Are you going to challenge me?”
“Oh, relax, MacLeod,” Adam sighed, turning and picking up a battered old bookbag off the floor and slinging it over his shoulder. “I’m not after your head. It’s much too interesting right where it is.” He turned to go, but Duncan blocked his way.
“Just a warning,” Duncan said softly. “Stay away from Tessa or anyone else I care about. I don’t want you modeling for her classes anymore. Got it?”
Adam’s face lost its smile, and for a moment he just looked sad. He took a big breath and nodded. “Yeah, I’ve got it MacLeod. The big, bad Immortal will be careful not to taint any portion of your perfect life.” He looked in the direction Tessa had gone. “Can’t say as I blame you, either.” With an easy move, he slipped right past Duncan and was gone.
The drive home was fairly short, but the silence was deafening. Duncan followed Tessa down the stairs into the living room, suddenly feeling very tired. The notion that Tessa had been around another Immortal without him knowing about it had shaken him. For that matter, the whole experience had shaken him.
He went to the bar, poured Tessa a glass of wine, and himself a double shot of scotch. He took both glasses to the couch and sat, handing Tessa her wine and putting his arm around her, holding her close.
“What’s wrong?” Tessa asked quietly.
"Yeah, right,” Tessa admonished, slapping him on the thigh. “Come on, talk to me.”
Duncan shrugged, not sure how much to reveal to this woman he loved more than life itself. He had tried to protect her from the worst of the ugliness of Immortality, but now she knew about the Game, had even seen him take a Quickening. He forced himself not to shudder at that memory. But if she started thinking there were Immortals behind every tree and bush, she would never have a moment’s peace.
“I guess the posing thing was more uncomfortable than I thought it would be. I also found your friend Adam a little…odd.”
Tessa laughed, then took his chin in her hand, turning his head so their eyes met. “Did he…?” she started, then her eyes widened. “He didn’t!”
“Did he make a pass at you?”
Duncan had been taking a sip of his scotch and almost snorted it out his nose. “Is that what you were thinking?”
“Duncan! You’re over 400 years old and absolutely gorgeous. Surely men have made passes at you before. It’s hardly a reason to think badly of someone. Adam is a lovely young man.”
“I didn’t say I thought badly of him, and he didn’t make a pass at me,” Duncan insisted, although his mind was suddenly busy re-examining every nuance of the hour and a half the two of them had spent embracing in the buff.
“Oh, really?” Tessa asked. “Disappointed?” and when Duncan looked over she had an all-too-familiar ‘gotcha!’ expression on her face.
Duncan fell back on the old adage that the best defense was always a good offence. He put down his glass and pulled Tessa closer, burrowing his face into the soft silk of her hair, nipping lightly along her shoulder until her head fell back and she sighed with pleasure. “Actually,” Duncan growled as he deliberately nuzzled his day-old stubble into her neck, “the man whispered sweet nothings in my ear for the entire time and I got such a hard on, I thought I was going to come right there in front of Andrea and everybody.” Tessa began to giggle and he leaned further toward her until she fell back, pressed into the soft leather of the couch. “We made a date for a rendezvous later,” Duncan continued as he let his hands slip under her blouse to the soft, silky flesh hidden there, “so I could ravish his long, lean mesomorphic body.” He kissed her and she opened up to him, welcoming the invasion. The flicker of arousal he had fought so hard to squelch earlier in the evening became a burning need, and he deliberately chased away any more thoughts of the mysterious and fascinating ‘Adam’. After all, he had the most beautiful woman in the world, right here in his arms.
And he strongly suspected he would meet Adam again another day.