"Ye let me hold you." He stepped closer. "And ye hold on to me."
She smiled nervously. "Or we could always take the stairs."
He wrapped his arms around her. "It will only take a moment."
She looked sad as she looped an arm around his neck.
Blackness enveloped them for a mere second, then they were standing on the ground in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Emma released him. "Thank you, Angus."
They strolled silently down the gravel path in the small park. Angus frowned. The atmosphere of friendship they'd shared during the picnic had melted away. The air between them seemed strained and sad. As if something was missing. As if friendship wasn't enough. He glanced at her, wondering if she felt it, too.
A noise came from behind some bushes. Angus halted. Emma stopped beside him with a questioning look. She'd probably not heard it yet. He raised a finger to his lips and eased forward. She stayed beside him.
More noises emanated from the bush. A grunting noise. A female gasp. A French Malcontent, possibly, attacking an innocent woman. Angus leaned over to retrieve a knife from under his sock. He motioned to Emma to stay behind him.
With an annoyed look, she shook her head.
Stubborn woman. But he admired her bravery. She set down the picnic basket and retrieved the wine bottle. Holding it upside down in her fist, she went to the left. He headed around the right side of the bushes.
He jumped out. "Release her and back away!"
Angus winced. They'd interrupted a couple making love. Emma was standing at their feet, rather his feet, since the woman's feet were wrapped around the man's bare rump. Angus was by their heads, his dagger pointed at the man.
With a gasp, the man scrambled off the woman. He grabbed his discarded pants to cover up his crotch. He yelled something in French about a voleur, then yanked his wallet from his pants and tossed it at Angus's feet.
Angus ignored the wallet, for he'd noticed something awful. The woman had pantyhose wrapped around her reddened neck. "I should gullet you! Ye're strangling this puir woman."
The man motioned to the woman on the ground, who was busily covering herself up with the man's shirt. They both babbled in French so fast, Angus had trouble understanding.
But the evidence was clear. "Ye're strangling her!" Angus stepped toward the man, his knife aimed at the man's face.
"Don't hurt us, please," the woman gasped in accented English as she unwound the hose from her neck.
"Hurt you?" Angus gave her a baffled look. "I'm trying to save yer life. This bastard was choking you."
"I asked him to!" The woman glared at Angus, then at Emma.
"We should go." Emma motioned for Angus to follow her.
"Angus!" Emma grabbed his arm and pulled. "Come on."
"But - " He glanced back at the French couple, who were still hurling curses at them. "Is it safe to leave her?"
"Yes." Emma retrieved the basket and hurried down the gravel path, tugging him along with her. "He isn't going to kill her. At least, I hope he won't."
"But he was choking her."
"She asked him to." Emma let go of his arm and fiddled with the basket. "They do it for... an erotic thrill. The choking causes heightened responses during sex. She'll have a bigger orgasm, I suppose. Not that I would know, but that's what I've read about it."
He halted. "She asked him to hurt her?"
Angus was stunned. He stared at Emma in disbelief, then strode down the path.
Emma followed him. "Are you all right?"
He shook his head and quickened his stride.
"The woman will be all right. It really was consensual."
With a growl, Angus tossed his knife. It embedded with a thunk into a tree. "I doona understand." He marched toward the tree. "I have lived too long. I no longer understand this world."
"I know it's a bit weird, but people do strange things - "
"Nay!" He ripped the knife from the tree. "A man should never harm a woman. Not even if she begs him to. There is no honor in hurting a woman!"
"I canna believe it." He leaned over and stuffed his knife into the sheath around his calf. "If a man loves a woman, how can he bear to harm her?" He jerked his jeans down over the sheath, then straightened. "How could he do that to her?"
Emma shrugged. "She asked him to."
"Why? What kind of man would pleasure his woman by hurting her?" Angus paced across the path. "'Tis a man's duty, nay, his privilege, to give his woman all the pleasure she can bear. She should be panting and writhing with pleasure."
Emma remained silent, staring at him. Did she not believe him?
He walked toward her. "A real man would take all night if need be to make sure his woman was fully sated. She should be screaming that she canna endure any more."
"It should be a man's greatest pleasure to see his woman shuddering in the throes of passion."
She took a deep breath and shifted her weight from one foot to another.
He paced back and forth. "Only when she is begging for him, should a man see to his own needs. And he should never, ever harm her." He stopped in front of her. "Am I totally wrong in this?"
His eyes narrowed as he studied her face. "Och, lass, ye shouldna look at me like that."
"I'm not looking." She turned away. Her cheeks flushed with pulsing blood. Her heart was racing, he could hear it.
"I think we'd better get back home." She looked at him, her eyes glimmering with desire.
"Ye'll have to face the facts, Emma. This is a date." He touched her cheek.
The picnic basket she was holding tumbled to the ground. With a low growl, he pulled her into his arms and lowered his mouth to hers.
He wrenched every ounce of pleasure from the kiss. He tasted Emma's lips, skimmed them with his tongue, and nibbled them till every curve and texture were embedded in his memory for all time. He held her tightly so he'd know exactly where her breasts pressed against him. He smoothed his hands down her back to learn the exact curve of her spine, the delicious way it sloped inward and then flared out again at her hips.
He nibbled down her neck. Her pulse throbbed just beneath her tender skin, filling his senses with the fragrance of blood and desire. Her breath puffed against his cheek in tiny, feminine gasps. Her sweet body melted against him. The scents, the sounds, and the sensations clouded his brain till he could no longer think, only feel joy, passion, and a hunger that demanded more and more.
With a groan, he returned to her mouth and demanded entrance. She opened without hesitation, and that moment of surrender sent a surge of heat to his groin. He'd been struggling with arousal since she'd first straddled his lap that evening. And now, with her soft and compliant in his arms, and her tongue touching his own, he began to ache with need.
He planted his hands over her sweetly rounded arse and ground her hard against his erection. She broke the kiss with a gasp. The look of alarm in her eyes should have warned him, but he was too hazy with lust to take heed.
"I want to make love to ye, Emma."
"No." She pushed against his shoulders. Make love? With the Undead? Although she had to admit there was nothing dead about the erection pressing against her. And there was nothing truly objectionable about Angus. God help her, if he were human, she'd have stripped him naked by now. But dammit, he wasn't. He was a vampire.
"I'm no' yer enemy." His eyes still glowed red. "Do ye no' trust me now?"
"I do, I think." She rubbed her brow. "But we're just barely friends. It's a big jump to being... lovers."
"We got carried away, that's all. It - it was just a kiss."
He frowned. "One hell of a kiss. Shall I give ye a reminder?"
"No." She whirled around and picked up the basket. "Like you said, dawn is approaching. And we need to take this food back, and the dress I'm wearing, and get back to New York." She was talking too fast, anything to keep from thinking about what she'd done.
She took a deep breath and faced him. The glow in his eyes had faded to a dull pink. Thank God. "Are you ready to go?"
"I want to know how ye're feeling."
She forced a laugh. "Well, that's not very manly, is it? What man wants to talk about feelings?"
"I know ye have feelings. Ye loved yer parents greatly, and ye feel passionate about yer work."
"Please." She lifted a hand. "I don't know what to feel. Or think. I can't even believe I did that. I shouldn't have."
He regarded her sadly. "Lass, we've been headed down this road from the beginning."
"No, we're too different. We can't possibly... "
"I've always done what I felt in my heart was right, yet I have my share of regrets." His mouth tilted in a crooked smile. "You would not be one of them."
Her heart ached in her chest. Oh God, he was everything she'd ever wanted in a man. Except for the part about being undead. Or immortal. How could she possibly get around that?
"Have I at least convinced ye to give up slaying? Do ye believe that I care for yer safety?"
"I - I have to think about it." She raised a hand when he started to object. "I know you care. And I'll be more careful. I'll be more discerning now that I know some of you are noble and kind."
He nodded. "That is, at least, some progress. And ye should know that I will always seek to protect you. I will always be here for you."
Her eyes burned with unwanted tears. She hadn't heard words like that in years. Not since the last of her family had died. "I have to be honest with you. If I discover the bastards who murdered my parents, I will go after them."
"And I'll be there beside you." He extended a hand. "Deal?"
He pulled her into his arms and kissed her brow. "Let's go."
She grabbed on to him as everything went black.
Bugger. He was falling for her fast. During his four hundred and ninety-three years as a vampire, his kisses had rarely been for pleasure. There had always been a dinner to gain or something to prove. Kissing Emma had not been spurred by lust for blood or prestige. It was Emma herself who had pulled him in.
And what a kiss. You would think a man his age would have hundreds such moments to recall. But instead of becoming commonplace, such moments had become more rare.
When he dropped Emma off at Austin's apartment, she insisted he leave her be. He still worried that she nursed regrets. Hell, he had some doubts himself. Not about his feelings. He knew he cared deeply for Emma. He just didn't know if it was fair to woo her when he was undead. How could such a relationship work?
After making her promise not to go out hunting alone, he teleported to Roman's townhouse. The alarm went off the second he materialized in the foyer.
Connor rushed in from the parlor, his claymore drawn, while at the same time, Ian dashed in from the kitchen.
"Och, 'tis you." Ian turned and headed back into the kitchen. "Ye should learn to call first."
Angus watched Connor sheathing his sword. "Why are ye here? Ye should be guarding Roman and Shanna."
Connor gave him an exasperated look. "They're here. Ye dinna show up for Mass, so we all came here to see you."
"So we heard." Connor's mouth twitched. "Jean-Luc called about an hour ago with an interesting story."
"Bugger." Angus frowned. Now the teasing would begin. "I have some work to do upstairs."
"Angus, I can hear you," Roman shouted from the parlor. "Come on in."
Connor chuckled as Angus trudged toward the open double doors of the parlor. Three maroon couches surrounded three sides of a square coffee table. The fourth side was taken up with a huge wide-screen television that was turned off.
"Here's Angus," Connor announced as he entered the parlor. He strolled to the couch on the right where Gregori sat.
"What?" Gregori stared at Angus, dumbfounded. "What happened to his skirt?"
Connor cuffed Gregori on the head before sitting down.
"Ouch. See what I put up with, Father?" Gregori muttered to the elderly man on the middle couch.
"I shall pray for you," the priest answered, smiling. He stood and greeted Angus.
"Father Andrew." Angus bowed his head to the priest he recognized from Roman's wedding. "How are you?"
"My life has become much more interesting since the night I took Roman's confession."
Angus nodded, then noticed Shanna struggling to get up from the couch on the left. She was huge. As he watched Roman assist his pregnant wife to her feet, a memory flashed from long ago. Joy and pride on the birth of his three children. Worry and guilt over the labor his wife had endured. And then pain and betrayal when he'd tried to return to them after the Battle of Flodden Field. He'd felt sure his wife would understand his new undead status.