The penthouse was quiet in the late morning sun when the woman with platinum hair wandered tiredly through the door and sighed as she eased onto the couch. She was glad that Lucy had decided to go to her sister's after all, get away from town for a while. Amanda knew that as much as she loved the woman like a sister, Lucy was sometimes far too perceptive for Amanda's own taste.
Brooding wasn't something Amanda indulged in very often. She much preferred to leave that particular trait to others, say, a certain Scot, and even then, she didn't tolerate it for long.
If she was in need of a little diversion or money, she acquired previously owned merchandise without the hassle of a sales transaction, or she found herself a handsome benefactor. She most definitely did not spend hours examining her morality, preferring to spend her time on her favorite pursuits: stealing, shopping, and sex.
Lately, though, her perspective on the world had been shifting. Duncan had been trying to get her to see that her actions had consequences. The fiasco with Kalas had scared her, but everything had turned out all right in the end. Then the mortal girl who wanted to be just like her had nearly died, and it had been Amanda's fault for encouraging her.
Even worse, she had placed Duncan in danger countless times just to escape blame for her latest misadventure, and he was someone she loved deeply. He could have been beheaded for some of the burglaries she had committed. She had always been so sure that he could escape, but what if he hadn't been able to? Where would she be now? Moreover, if that was how she had always treated the people she cared about, was it any wonder that she had been so affected by Claudia Hoffman's thoughtless heroism?
For eleven centuries, Amanda had lived with only a passing thought to a guilty conscience. It wasn't a pleasant feeling to realize she could suffer from one. With a half-laugh, she wondered if Methos would know what to do in this situation. She almost picked up the phone to call the old man, but stopped herself. She had no idea where Methos was. Come to think of it, she realized she didn't know where Mac was, either.
Silently, she shrugged. She'd always managed to meet up with Mac over the years, and she suspected that wherever the Highlander would be, the world's oldest Immortal wouldn't be far behind. A small smile played over her lips as she considered the magnetism of one Duncan MacLeod... and then faded as she realized she was distracting herself.
Indirectly, she'd killed Lucy's husband, Marco. Killing Wilson Geary had made things right in one respect, but if Amanda hadn't walked into the theater and said hello to Marco, Lucy might not have gotten jealous... and Wilson would've never been a problem. Or had Wilson just been playing the Game his way, by hunting Marco through his greatest weakness — his mortal lover? Would Marco have still died if Lucy had never walked to the bar, feeling down about Amanda, and let Wilson comfort her?
Amanda exhaled heavily, remembering why she much preferred ignoring deep philosophical discussions: there were never any easy answers. With that thought in mind, she decided to see what Nick was doing for lunch. She'd heard an interesting commercial on the radio on the way home from dropping Lucy at the airport, and she thought that maybe, just maybe, Nick would be interested in joining her....
Across town, Nick was finishing up some body work to the motorcycle he was restoring. Though he missed being a cop, the work he sometimes did for his old friend Bert Myers not only filled a part of the need Nick had for justice, but usually paid well enough to keep the bill collectors happy. The free time Nick now had could be spent doing whatever he chose — a luxury Nick hadn't had in years. The motorcycle was just one of the things that, as a cop, he had always regretted he hadn't enough time for, but now did. Privately, Nick admitted that he wouldn't mind spending more time with a certain blonde named Amanda... even if she drove him crazy.
There were moments when he completely forgot just how old Amanda really was, forgot that she was anything other than a beautiful, charming, deceitful, larcenous, and thoroughly annoying woman, and simply... appreciated his attraction to her. Even as the thought came to mind, Nick closed his green eyes, knowing that his attraction to Amanda came at a cost.
Because of her, his life had forever been altered. His partner was dead, killed by a bullet meant for Amanda. Then, the police department's willingness to sweep the truth of the incident under the rug had gone against Nick's sense of justice. He had chosen to quit rather than to accept a cover-up, but his decision hadn't stopped the truth from getting muddied anyway. The fact that his former comrades on the force seemed to believe that he had quit because he was romantically involved with Amanda only added to the scar on his honor.
As if that wasn't enough, Nick now knew about Immortality, and he wasn't so sure that was a good thing. So far, all the Immortals he'd met had been either psychotic or criminally minded. He was beginning to wonder if there was such a thing as a good Immortal. Amanda had said that there were, but in typical Amanda fashion, hadn't offered any proof.
He wondered if everyone who had known her had found her as maddening, and as attractive, as he already had.
Just then, the phone rang. Nick wiped his greasy hands on a rag and reached for the cordless phone he'd set on the floor of the garage. "Nick Wolfe," he answered.
"Oh, good, you're home," a familiar voice trilled.
"Amanda." Ruthlessly, Nick shoved aside the delight he felt at hearing her voice, after thinking about her for the better part of the last hour. "What now?"
"I'm hurt, Nick. Here I am, calling to ask you to join me for lunch, and you think I'm up to something."
Nick chuckled. "Amanda, you're always up to something. The question is what."
"You owe me lunch, Nick, since you stood me up the other day, remember?"
He sighed, knowing she was right. "Oh, all right," he capitulated. "Giovanna's, in twenty minutes. I promise you, I won't be late this time," he told her, remembering their failed lunch meeting of a few weeks previously.
"You're kidding." Disbelief was clearly etched onto Nick's lean features. He sat back in the booth of the Italian restaurant. "You want to go to a guns, coins, and gems show and you're not going to steal anything? Oh, I get it. You're just scouting it out so you can steal something later."
Amanda rolled her eyes. "Give me a break, Nick. I doubt if anything is left overnight other than the booths themselves. I'm just curious, and I thought you might be interested." She paused and took a bite of her pasta salad. "Besides," she added loftily, "what can happen in a place like that?"
"With you?" Nick scoffed. "Everything."
"Oh, come on, Nick," Amanda wheedled, "it'll be fun."
Nick merely glared at her, not believing her one iota.
Mentally, she sighed. Life would be so much simpler if Nick believed her more, she decided. She never lied... well, okay, so she maybe didn't remember to tell all of the truth all of the time, but certainly other people did that, didn't they? Her eyes narrowed as she considered what buttons to push to get what she wanted from Nick.
Oh, yes. She smiled, and began her attack.
"One of these days," Nick swore nearly two hours later, "I'm going to learn not to listen when you ask me if I want to go somewhere."
She smiled as she cut a leisurely, but quick, path through the milling crowd. Patting Nick's arm, she told him, "Darling, relax. Just because I sensed someone else doesn't mean we have to fight."
"And running is the answer?" he hissed through clenched teeth.
"Would you rather that I lost my head?" she countered in an undertone as, abruptly, their path was blocked by a group of enraptured spectators watching a lecture on coin collecting.
"No," Nick growled, frustrated at his inability to fully understand the code Amanda lived by, and his lack of control over the current situation.
Not for the first time, he thought the Game was a senseless affair. He knew the rules allowed for escape if Amanda wasn't directly challenged, but he thought knowing that who the other Immortal was before she ran away might be useful information. How that would help, he wasn't sure, but he didn't think that just blindly retreating was necessarily a good strategic move.
However, he rapidly realized that Amanda had lived for centuries by doing a lot of running away in much the same manner as she was doing now... and that if he cared anything at all for her, he would help her in that direction whenever possible.
His eyes scanned the crowd, and at last he saw an opening. Tugging on Amanda's hand, he pulled her through the gap, earning him an annoyed, mildly wounded look. He was about ready to reply to that when she stopped short.
"Damn it, what is she doing here?" he heard Amanda mutter before greeting a young, full-figured woman with long hair the color of dark chocolate and pale ivory skin. Nick saw that the woman had a China-doll look to her face and wore a navy blue suit. He guessed her age at eighteen, suspecting that this was the Immortal Amanda had sensed.
"Michelle!" Amanda said gaily. "What are you doing here, darling? I thought you were in Geneva! Don't tell me you already graduated from school!"
Michelle smiled, embracing Amanda warmly. "Yes, I did," she confirmed with a laugh, "but now I'm a store manager for De Marci Jewelers. I was working at a store south of here and they liked my skills enough to promote me." She grinned. "Been a long time, teach. Where's Mac?" She raked an appreciative gaze over Nick. "And who's this?"
"I have no idea where Mac is," Amanda replied even as Nick wondered who the heck "Mac" was and if it was anyone that could pose a problem later on for either him or Amanda.
Before he could ask for clarification, however, Amanda was making the introductions. Nick resolved to ask Amanda later.
"Nick, I'd like you to meet Michelle Webster, my former student. Michelle, this is my friend Nick Wolfe."
Nick smiled and shook hands with the young woman. "Nice to meet an old friend of Amanda's." Were all female Immortals blessed with beauty? he wondered. Then Michelle's relationship to Amanda sunk in.
"He knows about us?" Michelle asked significantly. At Amanda's nod, Michelle's smile grew wider. "Not as old as you think," she reassured Nick. Her gaze raked his form in clear appreciation. Boldly she asked Amanda, "Yours?"
Nick was so busy trying to process the information that Amanda had mentored someone, he nearly missed the hopeful look Michelle sent Amanda. He reconsidered his initial impression of Michelle of 'young and attractive' to 'young, attractive, and on the prowl.'
Amanda narrowed her gaze at Michelle. "Down, girl," she ordered.
Michelle pouted. "Why do you end up with all the really delicious ones?"
Amanda laughed and feigned innocence. "They see me first?"
Her former student shook her head resignedly, but chose not to comment.
Smiling, Amanda took a moment to study the younger woman. "Are you in town long?"
Michelle nodded. "We're using this show to promote the grand opening of our store here in town." She glanced at her watch, noting the time. "Listen, why don't we meet for drinks after the show?"
"Sure," Amanda agreed readily. She took the pen and paper Michelle proffered and wrote down a phone number. "Give me a call."
Too readily, Nick realized. He had just enough time to digest the information before Amanda dragged him off in the direction from whence they'd came. She was apparently taking advantage of the fact that Michelle had been approached by a conventioneer, and thus didn't see their exit.
"Amanda!" Nick protested, wrestling his arm from her surprisingly strong grip. They'd traveled the length of the convention floor and were now near the front entrance. "What the hell is going on?"
She smiled widely. "Isn't it obvious? We're leaving."
"No, you're running, and dragging me with you."
She glared at him, unhappy that he'd called her bluff. She sighed. "Please, Nick? Can we just leave? I promise I'll explain later."
He stared at her, then relented. "I'm going to hold you to that."
She rolled her eyes, knowing he'd do exactly that.