New York — November 1998
Even the claymores were gone. Rachel Ellenstein sighed tiredly as she looked around the great circular room. It had become a little ritual for her to go into the room at the end of the workday, to stare at the space that had once held a lifetime's worth of memories.
She still couldn't quite believe that the room's contents were all gone now, the only remaining legacies the holes in the walls where various items had been displayed. She could still see the places where his beloved swords had hung, the faded spots in the plaster where the paint had been covered by various mementos. If she closed her eyes, she could picture everything.
"You're an old, sentimental fool, Rachel," she chided herself, her voice echoing in the acoustically perfect chamber. She opened her eyes, knowing that it was long past time she did something about the empty room. But somehow, the thought of changing it felt like sacrilege.
This had been his room. Rachel knew it had been possibly the only room where the antiques were more than old things; they were pieces of a puzzle — the puzzle who most recently had gone by the name of Russell Nash. She'd known better. Russell Nash had died, leaving her a rich woman with a quietly profitable business, but Connor MacLeod couldn't die. She'd known that since she was eight years old and he'd rescued her from the Nazis.
She'd watched as Connor had painstakingly decorated the room over the years, piece by piece. She'd felt as if she were packing away pieces of herself with every item she'd boxed up for shipment to Connor's kinsman Duncan.
That had been a decade ago, and she hadn't heard from Connor or Duncan in a long time. She wondered what Connor was calling himself now, and chided herself for the thought. It didn't really matter now. He'd made it clear that even if he defeated the Kurgan, he wasn't coming back. She'd never see him again, and no amount of magic would change that.
She chuckled wryly, her mind drifting back in time....
World War II
She was so scared. The gunfire, the bombs, the blood, the harsh sounds of the German soldiers as they ransacked the factory combined to create a horrific nightmare her mind struggled to comprehend. Her parents were dead.
She'd watched, unseen, as the soldiers shot them. She'd been a good girl, hiding in the crate as her mother had told her to do. Now she was alone.
He must've heard her crying, for he found her. She thought he was going to kill her, like the other soldiers had killed her parents, but he wasn't dressed like a soldier, in his dirty white shirt and tan suspender trousers. He didn't even have a gun. His partially unbuttoned shirt was hanging out of his trousers, and his clothes were stained with blood. His lean face was coated by sweat and grime.
"Shh," the stranger whispered. "What happened?"
Her blue eyes were wide as she pointed to her right. "Everybody's dead," she said mournfully.
An emotion she didn't understand flickered across his lean face, and she decided right then that he was like one of her storybook heroes, coming to rescue her. She explained the absence of his white charger and princely crown by thinking that he'd probably had to give them up for the war.
"I'm like you," he told her. "I'm alone." He opened his arms to her, and she went to him willingly, trusting him instinctively.
The machine gun's bullets slammed into his back as he carried her away, and together, they fell to the ground. She shrieked in fright as he groaned with the pain of his wounds. His weight was heavy on top of her small body, and for a long moment, she thought she was trapped, certain that her fate was sealed, as his body became still.
She was prepared to cry again, prepared to submit to death. She was prepared for anything but the small gasp of breath she heard. He turned his head and their gazes met.
"You're alive," she whispered in stunned amazement. "Why didn't you die?"
He smiled. "Hey, it's a kind of magic."
She'd lain still while he'd killed the soldier who'd hurt him. From that moment on, she'd trusted him to take care of her.
New York, 1998
Rachel smiled mistily at the memory of his words. A kind of magic, indeed.
He'd given her the full explanation, later, when he'd felt that she could better comprehend what Immortality meant. She'd kept his secret faithfully, and that was a promise she would take to her grave. No matter what the name for Connor's long life was, to Rachel, it was still just simply "a kind of magic."
Oh, she'd loved him. Worshipped the ground he'd walked on. He'd taken her to America, put her in the finest schools, taught her to love antiques as if they were her own possessions. He'd raised her, watched her grow older, while he never changed.
She sighed and walked out of the room, shutting the doors firmly behind her, but she couldn't stop the memories from tumbling out like a newsreel.
He had given her a beautiful porcelain doll soon after they'd met, she recalled. He had told her that such a pretty little girl like her deserved an equally attractive doll, and she had been stunned to hear him say that. She had never thought herself as pretty. She had clung to the doll as tightly as she had clung to his hand on the day they had left Europe on the strange contraption he had called an airplane.
The noise of the plane and the change in atmospheric pressure had made her cry. To soothe her, he'd rocked her, and told her stories so real she'd later realized that he'd been telling her parts of his past. Sometime during the long flight and after a stop for refueling, she'd fallen asleep, dreaming of princes and knights who looked exactly like Connor. She had woken up in New York City, certain that she was in love.
She passed by a window on her way to the kitchen to make dinner, and her eyes caught sight of the rain. Unable to help herself, she pressed a hand to the glass, feeling the cold seeping through the panes, seeing the rivulets make their own paths. It was a cold, wet night, she thought, not unlike another night in November, so long ago....
New York — November, 1955
It had been raining nonstop for nearly two weeks now, with no end in sight.
It was the kind of rain that should have been sleet but wasn't. As Rachel hurried down Hudson Street, she tucked her gloved hand more securely around her umbrella and thought longingly of warmer weather. Connor had taken her to the Bahamas for Christmas last year, and she had been disappointed to learn that they weren't going to repeat the trip. She shrugged. She was a New Yorker, and a little winter rain wasn't going to dampen her spirits.
Reaching her destination, she unlocked the door to the building she'd always called home, even after living away at college for four years. To her surprise, the doorknob turned easily. Connor always locked the door, even when they were home; it gave him some warning if someone came to the door. Cautiously, she stepped inside. The first floor was in shambles, and she gave a soft cry at the wanton destruction.
The sound of a gun being cocked stopped her forward movement.
"Don't move," a male voice growled from behind her. The man came closer, stopping right behind her, then held a gun to her head. "Where's the money?"
Rachel forced herself to be calm. "I don't know," she lied. Connor, where are you?
"You live here, I know. I've been watching. Don't lie to me." Desperation made the robber's voice edgy, and the gun at her temple shook.
His breath was hot on her ear, and reeked of alcohol. His short, stocky body pressed up against her back, and she wrinkled her nose at the odor his fear and excitement had produced.
She swallowed nervously, and decided the better course would be to play along. "It's — it's in the kitchen," she lied again. "In the pantry."
The robber eased the gun off her head and stepped around her slightly. He leered at her, anticipating his reward. "That's better. Now be a good girl and take me there."
"I don't think so," said a quiet voice behind them, which was somehow both soft yet menacing.
The robber and Rachel both turned in surprise, then Rachel breathed a sigh of relief and recognition. It was Connor. She was almost amused to see the robber stiffen in shock, for Connor was holding his sword, and he looked very ready to use it.
"Rachel, get out of the way," Connor ordered.
Rachel hurried to do as she was bid. She watched as Connor advanced on the would-be thief, a casually chilling smile on his face.
Realizing that the newcomer fully intended to use the wickedly-sharp-looking blade, the robber turned and ran out the door.
"Are you all right?" Connor asked, lowering his sword to embrace her and make sure she was physically okay.
"I'm fine," Rachel reassured him. "Thank God you got here when you did."
"I should have been home sooner," he insisted. "I should have — "
"And done what?" Rachel demanded, cutting him off. She stared at him.
"Brandishing your sword to scare off the burglar wasn't enough? You got here just in time as it was." She paused. "Connor, I'm twenty-two years old. Stop treating me like a child."
He reached out to touch her cheek. "Aye, but you'll always be a little girl to me."
She knew that look, that tone of voice. Rachel sighed resignedly. When would he see how she really felt? she wondered. "I'm fine," she insisted.
She looked pointedly at the katana Connor still held in his free hand. "You can put your sword away now."
He looked like he was going to say more, but decided against it, chuckling instead, before turning to do as she requested.
The remainder of the evening proceeded like any other night, with the exception of straightening up the mess caused by the would-be burglar. It wasn't long before both Rachel and Connor retired to their separate bedrooms.
Later that evening
She was all alone, and the soldiers were coming for her. She couldn't escape. There was nowhere to hide anymore, and she couldn't stop running.
She knew someone was supposed to rescue her, but he was dead, dead, dead, and she was screaming....
Hands lifted her from the pillow, gently shaking her.
"It's all right," someone said. "Wake up, Rachel, you're dreaming."
She snapped awake as if a switch had been thrown in her brain and blinked at the change from darkness. The light was on, and Connor was sitting beside her on the bed, his light brown hair tousled. He held her in his arms, his gray eyes narrow with concern.
"You were dreaming, little one," he murmured. He smoothed the blond tangle of her hair away from her flushed cheeks and her shoulders. "Only dreaming.
You're safe now."
She swallowed past the rawness of her throat. "I always am, with you," she said involuntarily, leaning her head on his shoulder. She sighed heavily, relaxed now, secure. Her cheek moved and he stiffened. Abruptly, she realized her cheek was resting on bare skin, not a pajama top. The glow from the bedside lamp burnished Connor's hair and highlighted it to a dusky gold. She almost felt scandalized about his nudity when she lifted her cheek away from his muscular upper arm, but she breathed a little more easily when she noticed that he was only bare from the waist up. He was wearing maroon silk pajama trousers, but his muscular chest was completely bare. The sight was breathtaking, and she relished the thrill it gave her.
He would never know how she felt, how every man she'd dreamed of looked exactly like him. He'd always been her knight in shining armor. She'd been in love with him forever, and he hadn't a clue.
"Did I wake you?" she asked softly.
"Not really." He smiled. "I've always been a light sleeper. I heard you scream. What were you dreaming about?"
She tried to remember, but the memory was wispy, vague. She shrugged and shook her head. "It's gone now. She leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek, as she had a million times before in gratitude. She pulled back slightly and caught sight of his eyes.
She had always thought that he had wonderfully expressive eyes, but she suddenly realized that something had changed. His eyes had darkened, and she could see her reflection in them, and not just her reflection of her face, but a reflection of her own feelings. Was it just a trick of the lamplight? Was she reading more into his expression than was really there?
He was looking at her as if he longed to touch her, but he was holding himself back. It was the same way she had often looked at him.
Rachel's breath caught in her throat, and she dropped her gaze, unable to look any more. She was afraid she was just projecting an old, hopeless dream. But she could not look away from him completely, and she found herself staring at his lips.
She watched, hypnotized, as his mouth drew closer.
"No." The single word came out as an oath, and Connor tore himself away from her. He stood and walked away from the bed.
With a will she hadn't known she possessed, Rachel followed him. She slipped out of bed and faced him, suddenly wishing that her knee-length flannel gown was silk and lace. "Why not?"
He stared at her for a long moment. He shook his head. "Because," he said simply.
"I know what I want, Connor. I think you want it, too. Why can't we love each other this way? We're both so alone." She closed the distance between them. She reached out to touch his cheek, and she found her hand snared in mid reach.
His hand gripped her wrist, and she let her arm go boneless under the pressure. She smiled past the tears that threatened to fall. "What would be so wrong? I know you. You know you can trust me. I love you."
"Don't." His full lips had thinned to a straight line, and he backed up a step as he let go of her.
"Don't what?" Rachel asked, advancing. "Don't love you? How can I not, when you've been everything to me?"
Still, he hesitated, shaking his head again. He started to turn for the door, but now it was Rachel who grasped his strong forearm, stopping his movement. His gaze clashed with hers.
Rachel rushed to convince him, swallowing past the tears that were now falling, unheeded, down her cheeks. "You know I'll never hurt you." She searched his eyes, looking for confirmation. She slid her hand down his arm to take his hand in hers, then she drew it to her cheek, keeping her gaze locked on him.
Connor gave a sharp intake of breath, and his eyes darkened even more.
Rachel smiled bravely at the sound, then turned her head to kiss the palm of the hand she still held. She kissed the roughened skin delicately, learning every inch of his long and slender, yet powerful, fingers.
Involuntarily, his hand rose to cup her cheek, and as his fingers traced the curve of her face, she trembled.
One arm slid around her waist and her heart went crazy. She pressed her hands against his chest, loving and yet fearing the feel of him, the scent of him. Brazenly, she leaned closer and kissed him on the mouth. This time, Connor kissed her back. She moaned helplessly, awash in the new sensations his touch was producing. This was more than she'd dreamed, and she was both pleased and frightened by it.
He must have heard her moan, felt her trembling, for he drew back again.
There was an expression in his eyes she'd never seen in all the time she'd known him, something wild and barely controlled. "Rachel," he said raggedly.
Her body was tingling all over, and she felt far warmer than her nightgown warranted. She didn't quite know how to answer the plea she heard in his voice.
Instinct guided her to press her body close, to slide her hands across his chest, reveling in the contrast of his soft, wiry hair and the well-defined pectorals, and up past his shoulders. She caressed the muscles of his bare back, loving the strength she found there. He felt so strong and solid against the soft curves of her body. His nearness was making her head spin, and she couldn't get enough of the feel of him. She could feel his heart thudding against her own as her hands tentatively explored the muscles of his back.
His breathing quickened, and she smiled, giddy with his response.
"Rachel," he protested again, but she silenced him with a kiss. Something told her that if she only had tonight for the rest of her life, she didn't have the time for protests, either his or hers.
She heard the rain pound harder at her bedroom window, in a rhythm that matched the drumming of her heart. She felt his continued resistance, and sought to assuage his fears by deepening the kiss. She felt strange, shuddery, and she didn't recognize this woman who was being far more brazen than Rachel had ever known herself to be.
At last, he began kissing her back. His tongue traced the bottom edge of her lip, silently coaxing a reply to a question Rachel didn't understand.
She parted her mouth slightly to ask what he meant, and found his tongue had moved between her lips, then came deeper. She stiffened in surprise, and Connor started to pull back, but she intuitively held him closer, urging him on. She'd only kissed a few college boys before, but it had been nothing like this. Soon the memory of those schoolboy kisses paled in comparison and was forgotten in the very exciting and scary reality that this was Connor she was kissing.
He sighed against her mouth, whether in resignation or in pleasure she wasn't sure. His tongue made quick thrusts into her mouth, and she trembled. She was glad that she was holding on to him; her knees were quivering.
His hands moved to unbutton her gown. His fingers were light, but it seemed to take forever as he made his way through the buttons. The first button, at the hollow of her throat, was followed by the brush of his lips to the newly revealed flesh. She breathed deeply, wondering if he'd repeat the kiss with each button. He undid the next button, then the next. She gasped in delight as his mouth touched her skin again and again with each button he undid, until just the top curve of her breast was revealed. His fingers left the buttons to trace the gentle curve
Then he eased the fabric slowly apart to reveal her breasts and looked into her eyes, registering the faint shyness there and the excitement she couldn't hide. His fingers outlined one smooth curve, and she shivered at the experience his touch evoked as he traced a pattern up and down, never quite touching the hard, aching peak. His hands felt rough and callused against her soft skin, yet he touched her with agonizing gentleness. The contrast was driving her crazy.
She felt him undo the rest of her buttons, which ran nearly the length of her gown, pushing away the knee-length material from her body. Her skin prickled at the sudden change in temperature as the discarded gown fell to the floor behind her feet.
Connor bent his head to hers again and kissed her, more urgently than before, and then his mouth moved to the soft skin of her jaw, her neck. His arm was behind her, supporting her, keeping her safe, and she leaned back into the strength of him, and Connor's mouth moved lower still. Rachel gasped at the intimacy of his touch when Connor finally touched the aching peak of her breast, the slight nuzzling there, the quick flickers of warmth from his tongue that resolved into a firm tugging. Helplessly, she gripped his arms, his firm muscles sliding under the silk of his skin, creating an ache she
couldn't name somewhere in her. She was whispering something she didn't understand, pleading with him for something she didn't even know about. She needed... something
She closed her eyes, hoping that it would somehow ease the pounding in her head, the strange inner excitement in her veins, even as she pulled him closer, her arms rising to encircle his neck. She felt him against her, felt the hard, warm contours of his lean body and the heat of his hair- roughened skin against hers. The sweetly intoxicating musk of his body filled her nostrils, overwhelming her.
Gently, he eased her down on the bed, and she moaned softly. His hands roamed intimately over her breasts again before he kissed her taut nipples, rousing a melting sweetness inside of her. She forgot to be afraid, hypnotized by his touch. She never dreamed that his hands would feel so warm, so gentle, or that his mouth could cause such a tender fire throughout her body.
Slowly, his hands moved downward, skimming the sides of her body to her thighs. His tongue made a path down her ribs to her stomach, dipping briefly into her navel. She tried unsuccessfully to suppress the giggle that his action caused; she'd always been ticklish around her stomach.
Hearing her, he glanced up, and smiled as her gaze met his. She sighed at the heated, amused look he sent her. He rose briefly, and she whimpered at the sudden chill. Then his body covered hers and his lips pressed against hers. It occurred to her that she didn't know where his pajama trousers had gone, but the feel of him against her was so delicious a sensation that she didn't really want him to stop.
His fingers slid over the tops of her thighs. She gasped as he touched her where she'd never been touched before. Unconsciously, she stiffened, but Connor made soothing noises as his hands explored the region between her thighs. His fingers burned into her tingling skin, and she shivered with desire as he stroked her.
She was trembling, wondering what he was going to do next, but Connor didn't speak. It was as if he was afraid to interrupt the spell that had somehow been cast over both of them. She was barely aware that he was also shaking, trying desperately to hold on to some measure of control. She wanted to taste him again, so she opened her eyes and found his dark gaze upon her, searching.
"Connor, please," she whispered longingly.
Her words seemed to be the reassurance he'd been seeking. His knee eased between her quivering legs. She felt the first touch of him and jerked slightly, not expecting the intrusion.
She whimpered, and shifted her lower body slightly, wanting more and unconsciously seeking it. She gasped as he slid in deeper, and pain mixed with pleasure. She clutched at his shoulders, and looked up to see him as still as a statue over her.
His lips parted, and he breathed out slowly, as he looked down at her incredulously. He moved again, then stopped instantly when she shuddered.
"Rachel, I'm sorry," he whispered, stilling his movement.
"I'm not," she informed him, aching for more. "It's too late to turn back now. Please, Connor." Instinctively, she lifted her hips, drawing him deeper into herself.
He groaned, closing his eyes. His weight was a welcome burden on her body, and she wrapped her arms around his back, pressing him closer. He began moving again, but slowly, tenderly, cherishing her with his body.
The blood was pounding in her head, rushing in her ears, and she arched up against him, wanting him to stop, wanting him to continue, wanting more, not understanding why. She tried to compare what she was feeling to what she knew, but the images were flying by too fast, the thoughts jumbled and incoherent. He was whispering to her now, soothing noises that she barely heard past her own helpless moans. His movements were causing a kind of silvery tension that made her body sing with pleasure. She couldn't breathe; she was sure she was going to die from the ecstasy. She was reaching for something she couldn't name; her thoughts were jumbled, and the world felt like it was about to go spinning wildly.
"Please," she begged. "Connor!"
She looked into his eyes as his mouth covered hers. He was trembling with his own need and the last vestiges of his self-control. She sighed into the kiss, and arched into him. He groaned against her lips, and shuddered with the force of his release. She cried out his name as she found what she'd been seeking.
They lay cradled together for a long moment before Connor kissed her gently.
He then rose and slipped on his pajama trousers. "I'll be back," he told her.
He was gone so long, she thought for a moment that he wasn't coming back.
She felt confused, abandoned, but then she heard him run water in the bathroom next door. He returned with a warm wet washcloth.
Gently, he washed her. The gesture seemed far more intimate than what had just transpired, and she watched him with curious, loving eyes. She felt like her body was glowing, though she was becoming more aware of a chill as her sweat and the water dried on her skin.
She could feel him withdrawing with each passing second, the mask of self-control locking into place before her gaze. She leaned forward to kiss him as she had a few minutes before, but he turned his cheek. Her body still felt drugged, but the happiness of the moment was fading.
Abruptly, she realized that he was trying not to look at her, as if he could somehow erase what had happened by not meeting her eyes. She caught his right hand in hers when he would have moved away again, causing him to look at her.
She stared at him, silently daring him to look away. She didn't know herself at the moment, but she didn't want him to leave her. Not now, not when he'd just made her feel more than she'd ever felt.
"Rachel." Her name was an oath, a plea, and a sigh.
"Love me," she entreated. She leaned forward again and kissed him, stopping his turning away when he would've made the kiss chaste by grasping his face with her hands. She felt his shudder and intuitively pressed her advantage, her hands dropping to press his body closer to her own.
He shook his head. "Rachel, please don't," he pleaded raggedly.
The warmth of their lovemaking was slipping away too fast, and she didn't want to let go just yet. With a courage she hadn't known she possessed, she kissed him again, silencing him. She tried to remember what had pleased him before, and brushed her fingers across his nipples. She ran her tongue insistently along the edge of his lips, and knew a thrill of satisfaction when he surrendered.
This time, Rachel knew what to expect, and she savored the sensations. Once again, he was a tender lover, and as she drifted off to sleep, she smiled, content.
Morning dawned, but it was still raining, and as Rachel stood to get dressed, she realized she ached in unfamiliar places. She smiled at the memories of the previous night. She was a woman now, in all the ways that counted, and she was in love with Connor. He loved her too, she knew.
They'd be happy together, and they'd never be alone. She hugged herself tightly, a smile on her face as she danced around her bedroom, enthralled with the way her dreams had come true. Even the rain seemed beautiful. She couldn't wait to see Connor again.
She made her way down the kitchen after noticing that the door to Connor's bedroom was open, the room empty, the rumpled bed indicating where he had slept. She hadn't really expected him to stay with her. She squashed the little voice in her head that was disappointed that he had not. She poured herself a cup of coffee and stepped out into the living room. She wondered where Connor was.
She turned into the den, seeking him out. He stood at the window, staring out at the rain. Joy bubbled up inside her and she smiled at the sight of him. Setting her coffee mug down on a table near the door, she stepped forward to greet him, and felt the first stirrings of dread. She pushed the fear aside, telling herself she was just nervous, but something didn't feel right.
He didn't turn, didn't acknowledge her presence as she drew closer, until she was nearly close enough to touch him. Then he turned to face her, and for a moment, she forgot to breathe. He looked so sad, she realized suddenly. Unconsciously, she paused to take a good look at him.
Had she made him unhappy? she wondered. No, that wasn't quite it. With a sudden flash of insight, she realized that she had not made him happy, that she could never really make him happy. The morning had dawned, the night was gone, and she was left with the memory of a love that had only existed for a short space in time, and could never be again. He would never love her the way she loved him. If she asked, she was sure he'd stay with her if she wanted him to, but it would be out of obligation, out of honor, out of a sense of duty.
Hoping she was wrong, she closed the distance, her gaze searching his.
She took a deep breath, hating the way her heart was falling to pieces inside her. She could read the regret in his eyes as the uncomfortable silence lengthened between them.
As casually as she could manage, she greeted him. "Good morning, Connor."
Connor smiled, but the smile never made it to his eyes. He kissed her hand in a courtly gesture that only served to emphasize the gulf between her heart and his.
She felt an acute sense of loss as she struggled to accept the reality of the moment. Had she been mistaken about his desire? she wondered. Was there anything she could've done differently? She cursed her inexperience and wished she knew what to do in this situation.
He hesitated just for an instant, then pulled her to him in an embrace. His voice was rough. "I'm — "
She shook her head fiercely, loving the feel of his body against hers, a body that she now knew more intimately than she'd ever dared to dream.
"Please, Connor. I wanted you. I don't regret it." She forced herself to smile past her inner pain, somehow knowing that the words she said now would shape her future. "I love you."
He smiled again, but there was a shadow behind the answering softness in his gray eyes.
A stranger would not have noticed the guarded wariness, but Rachel knew Connor. She had stared at him across a thousand dinner tables, drawn his face in her school notebooks a hundred times, seen that look intensified when another Immortal passed through their lives.
She could see that he really didn't want to let the events of the night change their relationship. She wanted so much to have his love, his acceptance, his body, his heart, everything from him, but it was rapidly becoming clear that he didn't feel the same way. An intimate relationship would never work for him, and she wasn't going to settle for less than all of his love.
"Last night..." she began, swallowing past the lump in her throat. "We shouldn't repeat that." She stared at him, desperately hoping he'd disagree.
"Rachel...," he started to say. "If you want...."
She blinked and kept her face calm, though her cheeks felt stiff and hot.
If she wanted. She did want, but she wanted him to want it, too, and he did not. He never would.
He didn't want her love. The realization was like a slap in the face. She dropped her gaze, sure he could see the hurt that was welling up inside her. This hadn't been how she'd pictured the morning after, not in a million years. She felt ice spreading through her stomach, and she took a deep breath. She remembered the joy of the previous night and tried desperately to keep that happiness from being tarnished. Oh, Connor, I'll always love you, she thought, grieving silently at his rejection. Her heart breaking, her chin high and her back straight, she pulled her pride around her like a cloak.
Through tearstained eyes, she met his gaze. Her voice was surprisingly steady when she spoke. "Thank you, Connor, for last night." She stepped forward and kissed him. He closed his eyes, though not before she saw regret and longing in them. He stood passively, rigidly, while her lips met his unresponsive ones. She sighed resignedly and took a half step back, suddenly feeling far older than twenty-two. "You'll always be special to me, but I...." She took a deep breath, summoning a strength she didn't feel. "I don't think it's a good idea for us to continue...." She floundered for words.
Connor nodded in understanding, breaking the embrace. The shadow of wariness in his eyes changed to relief.
Her heart crumpled like a house of cards blown by the wind. She wished she had never seen that look on his face.
Forcing a smile, she proceeded to ask Connor about the dinner party that was planned for later that evening at a mutual friend's house. She pretended not to notice the pent-up sigh that escaped his lips; he would never know just how much pain she was feeling.
Smiling brightly, she chattered on about the plans for dinner.
New York — November 1998
Rachel closed her eyes as the rain began to pound harder at the window. She ignored the cold seeping through her palm as she held it against the window pane, knowing that it only echoed the feeling in her heart, heavy and cold with the weight of her memories. In all the years she'd spent with Connor, they'd never spoken of that night, treating it as if it never existed. In time, she chose not to remember it, either. But on a night like tonight, she couldn't forget.
Oh, she'd been so brazen. So sure of herself, sure that she could make him happy, sure that she knew how to cure his loneliness. Had she really thought that in one night she could banish the demons that five centuries' worth of living had wrought? Oh, yes, she had. Connor had always taught her that she could do anything she wanted to do. She laughed softly at the younger version of herself and opened her eyes.
Removing her hand from the window, she realized abruptly how cold her palm had become, and she rubbed her hands together, trying to get warm.
He'd never hurt her, she remembered, never acted as though her love was unimportant. It just wasn't something he'd wanted, nor was it something he'd accept because the price was too high. Like the romantic he'd once gently accused her of being, she'd kept right on loving him, hoping that someday he'd change his mind.
She sighed. It was getting late, and there was no one in the world who could give her the one thing she'd wanted all her life. She knew she'd never regret the years she spent with Connor MacLeod, especially one rainy November night. And if she sometimes wondered what would've happened under different circumstances, and if her heart didn't always agree with her head about what did happen, well, then, that was her right.
"When I look into your eyes
I can see a love restrained
But darlin' when I hold you
Don't you know I feel the same
If we could take the time to lay it on the line I could rest my head
Just knowin' that you were mine
So if you want to love me
Then darlin' don't refrain
Or I'll just end up walkin'
In the cold November rain
I know it's hard to keep an open heart
When even friends seem out to harm you
But if you could heal a broken heart
Wouldn't time be out to charm you
And when your fears subside
And shadows still remain
I know that you can love me
When there's no one left to blame
So never mind the darkness
We can still find a way
'Cause nothing lasts forever
Even cold November rain"
— "November Rain" Axl Rose (Guns n' Roses)