The New York Yankees were down by two, top of the ninth, bases loaded. Sitting on the edge of his couch, Nick Wolfe calculated the odds of the team winning, and felt certain he would win the wager he had with Lucy. He dearly wanted to win; a steak dinner at the best restaurant in the city was on the line. Either way, he knew that a few hours in the company of the charming, fifty-something woman who'd been Amanda's confidante and housekeeper for years wasn't something he'd miss willingly. He was really into the game when the door to his duplex burst open and a slender blonde in a cherry red leather mini-dress stormed in, the tails of a matching, whisper-thin scarf fluttering after her like a pair of wings.
"I could kill him!" she declared, moving through the living room to pace in front of (where else?) the TV.
"Amanda...." Nick began, annoyed.
She ignored the warning in his voice. "He owes me!" she continued ranting. "I saved his life!"
"Okay, so you're mad at him, I got the picture. Now would you move so I can watch the game?"
"I'm not mad," Amanda demurred quickly, and reached back behind her to switch off the TV with barely a pause in her pacing. "I don't get mad. I get even."
"Amanda!" Now Nick was really annoyed, and as Murphy's Law would have it, he couldn't find the remote control fast enough to turn on the TV. He started to dig for it in the cushions of the couch, then glanced at Amanda, who now stood with her arms crossed, tapping her foot. He sighed resignedly and promised himself he'd check the scores later. "All right, who's it now that's got you all not mad?"
"He's a second-rate thief," Amanda huffed, pacing again. "Couldn't steal the Guttenberg Bible without my help. Would've lost his head if I hadn't come along and saved him." She continued to rant, listing various faults of the unknown man.
"Amanda, sometime in my lifetime, please?" Nick finally interrupted her. "I get the point. What did he do to get you so riled up?"
"Aidan is my friend," Amanda continued, stressing the possessive. "I knew her first. I was the one who introduced them. And who gets asked to help? Not me, nooo."
"Aidan? Wasn't she at Nash's party?" Nick's eyes narrowed. "And if it wasn't you, then which of your long-lived friends was it?"
Amanda glared at him. "You know, not all of my friends are immortal."
"Not all of your friends would want you to steal the Guttenberg Bible," Nick countered. "Or would be vulnerable to losing his head. So who was it?"
Caught by the logic of that, Amanda stood, arrested in half-movement. "Cory Raines," she answered finally. "You know, Nick," she offered in an abruptly sweet tone, "I'm in the mood for some sushi. Want to join me?
"Amanda, you are not leaving until you tell me what's going on."
"But, darling, this doesn't involve you."
"You made it my business when you walked in and interrupted my game." Nick's voice hardened. "Now tell me."
"No, I'll just– "
"Get even with him?" Nick finished dryly. "Come on, Amanda, be realistic."
"Yes, but Cory was in Egypt, and I'm on the same continent as Aidan! I had to find out from Joe that Cory helped Aidan – Duncan didn't call me, and Cory didn't even consider asking me. I wouldn't be surprised if Adam told them I was busy."
She sounded so thoroughly affronted that Nick barely managed to suppress the snicker that threatened to escape his lips. Twitching his mouth into a semblance of a serious expression, he pointed out, "But you have been busy, Amanda. You had that grand idea of signing up for the circus in Russia, and then the next thing I know, you're back in town, talking my ear off about your security company and how I must see this new art show." His eyes narrowed as he took in her appearance. "That wouldn't happen to the ruby necklace from that art show that you're wearing, now would it?"
"Well, I told you it would match exactly," Amanda said, preening slightly without directly confirming that she had stolen it. Nick knew her well enough, though, to take her statement as acknowledgment that she had.
He sighed. "You were supposed to be checking out the security system for that gallery for a potential security system project, not helping yourself to the merchandise."
She looked at him, all innocence and charm. "I wouldn't want to get rusty."
"Like that's going to happen?" Nick scoffed. "You've had centuries of practice being a thief."
"My point exactly. Cory's just a child. How could he possibly have the better connections?"
"Maybe," Nick suggested, "he took the time to not piss people off?"
Amanda stared at him a long moment. Her eyes reflected her growing outrage at his words. She held his gaze a few seconds more, then turned and stalked to the door.
Swearing, realizing he'd hurt her feelings, Nick rose swiftly and intercepted her before she could yank open his front door. "Damn it, Amanda, what do you expect me to say?" he demanded, grabbing her by the arms and forcing her to face him. Her back ended up against the door. "You come barging in all riled up about something, and interrupt what I'm doing, and expect me to be sympathetic to you? I'm sorry if I'm not what you expected, but it doesn't mean I don't give a damn." He gentled his tone and his grip on her. "I'm sure whatever Cory did for Aidan, the fact that he did it and not you wasn't meant as a slight against you. It was probably something she wanted done quietly, without a lot of unforeseen complications that could've been avoided, and let's face it, Amanda – from what I know of you, 'quietly' hasn't been your life lately."
"I can do quietly," Amanda insisted, pouting, but her body relaxed under Nick's light grip, telling him that he'd been on target.
He smiled. "So said the woman who managed to make an entrance just a few minutes ago," he noted dryly. He leaned forward, intending to kiss her forehead, but she chose to lift her chin up in a proud gesture, and somehow, the kiss landed on her mouth instead. For a moment, neither did anything. Then, Amanda leaned into the kiss, deepening it. Unable to stop himself from indulging in the desire that had underlined their relationship from the moment they'd met, Nick began to kiss her in return until she moaned.
Startled by the sound, Nick jerked back. Now it was his turn to stare at her in shock. Her eyes widened, reflecting her incomprehension of his abrupt movement, and she looked at him quizzically. "Nick?" she asked softly.
He stepped away from her. "I think you'd better go," he told her.
"I– " she began, then looked at him carefully. He didn't seem too happy, and something within her acknowledged that he wasn't ready. She had to admit, she wasn't too certain continuing to kiss him was all that a good idea. The protest she'd wanted to voice died unspoken. She forced a smile to her lips and nodded. A little too brightly, she bid him good-bye, barely remembering that she needed to step away from the door to open it. With less than her usual grace, she left him standing, half-aroused, more than a little confused, and a lot frustrated.
She was almost to the curb when she heard his voice.
"Amanda!" he shouted.
She stopped and turned to face him. "Yes, darling?"
"Whatever you plan on doing to Cory, don't get me involved."
"Wouldn't dream of it," she declared lightly, and sighed mentally. If wishes were diamonds... No matter. He wouldn't be much help anyway. She'd survived without Nick for a long time, she reminded herself, and ignored the ache in her heart.
Second Rate Thief by Raine Wynd
Panzer/Davis owns the Highlander characters. Aidan Logan of the many names is the creation of Rhiannon Shaw, and is referenced here with permission, along with events mentioned in Rhiannon's Line War series, available at her Eyrie.