"Do you have a copy of the sketch on you?" Fiona asked.
"Of course," he said. "I didn't want to show it tonight, because I didn't want anyone to go off half-cocked, but it will run in tomorrow's paper, and they'll show it on the local newscasts. No one at the club had ever seen the man before, so we're not putting it out that he's under suspicion, just that we're hoping he may have some information regarding Tina Lawrence. Thing is, if he's a married man, he'll probably be afraid to come forward, won't want to admit where he was. But, one way or another, someone out there must have seen him. And if we find him, with luck he will lead us somewhere."
He paused beneath a streetlight on St. Ann's and took out his phone, then brought up the picture.
Fiona stared at it for a long minute.
"Anything?" he asked her.
She shook her head. "No, I've never seen him before."
He slid the phone back in his jacket pocket as they started walking again. "Before the meeting, I went back to the club, and the girls who'd seen him all agreed that it's a good likeness of him."
"I hope it leads us in the right direction," Fiona said.
A moment later they had reached her house, which was surrounded by a ten-foot brick wall, with a wrought-iron gate that led to the front walk.
She hovered before opening it. "Do you want to come in? Can I get you anything? Although after that wine, we should probably get some sleep."
Mixed signals. Did she want him to come in? Or was she just being polite?
He shrugged. "It will probably be another hour or so before I wind down."
"Do you only sleep when it's light?" she asked him.
He laughed. "I long ago learned to sleep whenever I get the chance. And, yes, I wear sunglasses, and slather on the sunblock, but in general my 'life' is as normal as anyone else's."
She smiled. "I'm sorry, I wasn't implying anything, just pointing out that we all must be tired."
"Are you tired?"
She looked away from him. "I'm...keyed up, I guess." She grinned suddenly. "Want to watch a movie? Pay-per-view has everything--adventure, horror, thriller, you name it."
He laughed. "I can actually sit through a chick flick, you know."
She grinned again, pulled out her key and opened the gate. "Please, come in, then."
"Thank you, Miss MacDonald, I believe I will."
He had never been in the MacDonald house, though he had heard it was spectacular.
He'd heard right.
The front path took them through a small garden to the door, which led up one step to a tile entry. There was a small mudroom before the grand foyer, which offered two hallways, one to the left and one to the right. Straight ahead, a grand stairway led to the second floor.
Fiona walked down the hallway to the right.
"We've basically divided the house," she explained. "I'm in this wing, Shauna is in the center upstairs, and Caitlin has the left wing. There's a huge dining room-slash-ballroom at the back of the first floor, and the kitchen is back there, too, though we all have little kitchenettes of our own. There's a third floor, a little garret, above Shauna's rooms, so the division of space is about even. We live and work together, so we have to give one another a little privacy where we can."
"Nice," he murmured.
They had reached what was clearly Fiona's living room. He quickly saw that she liked antiques and eclectic art. There was a huge fireplace against the wall, all done in red brick, with a pink marble mantel. Books were everywhere, and pictures of her family and New Orleans adorned several of the tables and the mantel, along with small sculptures of cats, dogs and other animals, gargoyles, ornate wands and more. She was clearly fond of Rodrigue, judging by the many prints of his Blue Dog pictures.
"The TV's upstairs, sorry," she said, her words a little awkward. "Does that make you uncomfortable?"
"Does it make you uncomfortable?" he asked.
She hesitated. "I don't think so."
They were caught there together in the soft glow of the few night-lights she'd left burning when she went out, and everything was quiet around them, as if they were alone in the world.
He suddenly found himself speaking the truth. "Any man in creation would want to be with you anywhere," he said softly.
Soft color suffused to her cheeks, but she didn't blink, and she didn't turn away.
"Isn't it forbidden?" she asked.
"Only if we forbid it," he told her.
"But...before...what happened...the war when the races mixed..."
"We would never allow that to happen again," he said.
She continued to stare at him. He wanted to move closer, but he wouldn't allow himself to. He drew upon his every reserve of strength to keep his distance from her. He imagined holding her, really holding her, inhaling the scent of her hair, feeling the warmth of her, feeling her heart beating, the rise and fall of her breath, her skin, so silky, crushed against his...
He had to go or he would be screaming in frustration in a matter of seconds.
Then, to his astonishment, she moved toward him.
In a second--no, less than a second--she had crossed the few feet that separated them. She was in his arms, against him, and instinct demanded that his arms tighten around her, that he bury his face against her sun-colored hair to inhale the sweet feminine scent of her. He didn't know if he was dreaming at first, if his imagination hadn't been taunting him so completely that he was hallucinating the wonder of the moment. But it was real.
She was real.
And more than his imagination could ever have predicted. She trembled slightly in his arms, and he felt her warmth, her vitality, the heartbeat that had so fascinated him. Her skin was as soft and smooth as silk, and even more tempting than he'd imagined. For seconds that felt like an eternity, he just held her. Then he drew away far enough to lift her chin, to look into her eyes and whisper to her, "Fiona...I don't...I'd never..."
"You'd never hurt me," she said softly.
"Never," he swore.
She smiled. "I believe you."
"But...I am what I am."
"I know what you are."
"Are you sure?"
She nodded, staring up at him with a beautiful honesty, heart and soul bared, something he'd never imagined he would receive from her. "Truthfully I didn't want to feel this way. I didn't even want to like you," she told him.
He had to laugh softly. "Sorry about that."
"I am the Keeper, after all," she whispered.
"What better way to keep me?" he teased.
"I dreamed about you," she told him.
"I hope I can live up to the dream."
Then he touched her lips gently with his own. Hers were soft and welcoming, parting beneath his tender touch. And then he was locked with her in the soft light, his tongue reveling in a wealth of sensation, heat that led to slow burning fire, something that wasn't just beautiful and angelic, but deeply passionate, as well. Stepping backward, her lips still locked with his, she drew him toward the staircase. Step by step they went up, never breaking the kiss. The stairs led to a large room where he glimpsed the promised TV, and on the back wall, a door. They made their way to that door.
He closed it behind him when they entered her bedroom. Gentle, pale light streamed in through the soft white curtains that covered the doors to the balcony without blocking the moonbeams or the artificial light from the street. As they broke apart at last, he saw a room that felt instantly welcoming. Her bed was large and covered with a homemade quilt, her shelves were filled with more bric-a-brac, and there was local art on the walls, a rocking chair by the fireplace...everything warm and individual, and uniquely the woman who had demanded his attention, and seduced his senses and his heart.
Fiona never hesitated. She kept backing up until they reached the bed, and there she studied his eyes, as if she could see into his soul. Perhaps she could. If so, she would know he was trembling inside.
His existence had gone on for more years than she could probably imagine, and he had known battle and peace, family, friends...and enemies. But he had seldom, if ever, felt so in awe, so touched, and all from a woman's eyes upon him. Eyes that promised honesty and an exploration of the heart, eyes that he could never, not even in the full span of his near-eternal lifetime, betray.
He kissed her again--hard and passionately--feeling as if he were drowning in nothing but a kiss. His lips traveled to her collarbone and, impatiently, he began to undo the tiny buttons of her blouse. At the same time, he felt her hands on him. Her fingers were like pure magic, moving down his spine, slipping beneath his waistband.
She shrugged impatiently, letting the blouse slip from her shoulders, then slipping her hands beneath his jacket. He stood up, shedding the jacket, along with his holster and gun. And then she was against him again. A dream. Silk in his arms. He pressed his lips to her breast, felt the intake of her breath, the press of her body against his. He eased her skirt down, found the tiny line of her string panties, let them fall. A second later he'd shed the rest of his clothes and was with her at last. Naked flesh to naked flesh. Feeling the play of muscle beneath her smooth skin, as she arched against him.
It hadn't been that long since he'd had sex.
But it felt like forever since he'd made love.
His desires seemed to burst instantly and almost savagely to the front the instant they came into contact, but he brutally willed them under control. Being with her in this moment, this seemingly impossible moment, was something to cherish and savor. And he did. He stroked her flesh in wonder. Kissed her with reverence and wanton need. He explored the length of her body with his touch, with his lips. She was not to be outdone. Her hands moved along his back, teasing his spine, his buttocks. Her lips found his chest, his abdomen, below. Soft groans escaped him, and he took the lead again, bearing her beneath him to the mattress, finding her breasts with the pressure of his mouth, the teasing touch of his tongue, then moving lower, down to her ankles, her knees, the luxurious length of her thighs...and between.