Cat leaned into the frame of a large window behind the massive desk in David’s study. The sun’s rays, almost blindingly bright and sparkling with dust motes, poured through the clean panes and passed right through her, imbuing her with warmth.
The house around her was quiet. All the immortals slept. Many of their human Seconds slept as well, having worked until noon or thereabouts, running errands and conducting whatever business they did during the day for the immortals they served and protected.
Even David slept, exhausted by the long hours he had kept of late, aiding immortals in North Carolina and surrounding states whenever emergencies arose, then spending the moments in between poring over medical textbooks in search of any information that would help him and Seth carry Ami safely through her difficult pregnancy.
Outside, Roland’s cat, Nietzsche—as cantankerous as his owner—crept toward a squirrel.
The squirrel continued to nibble on an acorn, watching the cat from the corner of its eye.
A pleasant male voice spoke, startling her. “There you are.”
Her head snapping around, Cat stared at the tall figure in the doorway.
Yuri graced her with a charming smile as he entered and closed the door behind him.
“Why aren’t you asleep?” she asked, telling her treacherous heart to stop slamming against her ribs. She had never understood why she had continued to feel that particular organ after she had breathed her last breath. She never felt hunger. Never felt thirst. But her heart seemed to thump away in her breast. One of many mysteries for which she had no explanation.
“I was looking for you,” he said, tucking his hands in his pockets as he strolled toward her. He wore the usual garb of an immortal. Black pants. Black T-shirt stretched taut over the thick muscles of his chest, shoulders, and arms. Heavy black boots.
From what she understood, immortals and their Seconds dressed thusly so blood stains would be less apparent to any looky-loos who saw them after a hunt.
She frowned. Was that the right phrase? Looky-loos? It sounded odd.
Regardless, the clothing suited Yuri, accenting his dark hair and chestnut eyes.
She straightened as he approached the desk.
“I’ve only caught the briefest glimpses of you these last few nights,” he commented.
Because she had been careful to avoid him since their talk. As soon as he had entered a room, Cat had left it. She had even resisted the temptation to follow him on his hunts.
He arched a dark brow. “Are you avoiding me?”
For a moment, Cat considered denying it. But she had told him she valued honesty. So she nodded.
“Why?” He cocked his head to one side. “Did I offend you in some way?”
Shaking her head, she glanced down. “I fear it is I who offended you.” She forced herself to meet his gaze. “I owe you an apology.”
His expression remained impassive. “For what?”
“Now that I know you can see me, that you’ve always been able to see me, I realize . . .” Mortified, she looked away and began to pleat her skirts with anxious fingers. “You said you value your privacy, and I denied you that on many an occasion, visiting your chamber and following you on hunts. I—”
She shook her head and met his gaze. “I don’t want to be like that first spirit you mentioned, the one you spoke to. I don’t want to irritate you or make you uncomfortable. I—”
“You don’t,” he interrupted with a kind smile. “You didn’t.” He sighed as he circled the desk. “I feared this might be the reason for your absence.” Stopping a few feet away, he leaned against the wall on the opposite side of the window, careful to avoid the sun’s rays. “I confess I enjoyed your presence each time you joined me in my room or on a hunt.” His smile widened. “The former more than the latter. The latter proved dangerously distracting on more than one occasion.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“I’m not,” he said and glanced out the window.
Cat followed his gaze.
Without warning, Nietzsche raced toward the squirrel.
The squirrel dropped its acorn and shot up the nearest tree, not stopping until it reached the highest limbs, well out of the crazy cat’s reach. Spinning around, it barked a peculiar little bark at the disgruntled feline, its tail flicking wildly.
“It’s been so long, Cat,” Yuri murmured, his profile drawing her gaze. “It’s been so very long since I’ve spent time with a woman around whom I can relax and be myself.” He cast her a smile, both wry and sad at the same time. “Five hundred years or so, if you can believe it.”
“Even when I was mortal, I had to hide my strange ability to see spirits. If I didn’t, I was believed to be quite mad.” He shrugged. “Once I became immortal, I had a great deal more to hide.”
Surely there had been women over the centuries. Even Bastien had not remained celibate since his transformation.
“This life is not conducive to forming lasting relationships with women,” he went on, almost as though she had spoken the thought aloud. “Human/immortal relationships never end well. Most end bitterly when the human ages and the immortal does not. The human always seems incapable of believing that the immortal who loves her will continue to do so as she grows wrinkled and stooped with age. That disbelief sows distrust. The elderly human convinces herself the immortal must be seeing a younger woman on the side and launches accusations each night as he leaves to hunt. The immortal always grows bitter himself that the woman he loves has so little faith in him.”
He grew quiet, his handsome face pensive.
“Does it never work?” she asked.
“Very rarely. When it does, it always ends in tragedy when the human inevitably dies. Until Roland met Sarah, the same held true for immortal/gifted one relationships. Sarah is the first gifted one in history who actually asked to be transformed so she could spend eternity with an immortal. In the past, gifted ones always refused, which spawned even more bitterness.”
He faced her once more. “I suspect you were born in another era, so I hope this will not offend your sensibilities, but . . . casual, meaningless sex has held no appeal for me for the past . . . oh . . . four hundred years, give or take a decade. After a century or so it just grew . . . tiresome and interested me about as much as eating the same meal for dinner every night for hundreds of years would. Periodically one feels the need to sate the hunger, of course, but it’s just the scratching of an itch. There’s no real satisfaction in it. And certainly no affection.”
She fought back a blush. No man had ever spoken so plainly to her.
“I miss the company of women,” he said with something akin to apology in his voice. “And while I was a bit wary of you the first few times you joined me in my room, I soon found I enjoyed your presence there. Enjoyed the companionship you provided. Enjoyed watching your expression change as you listened to audiobooks with me when Stanislav didn’t join us.”
Revelation struck. “You started listening to them for me, didn’t you?” she asked.
“Yes,” he admitted. “I couldn’t help but notice the looks of longing you cast the books on my shelves.” He glanced at the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves around them. “Or these.”
What a thoughtful gift he had given her. Cat had always been a bit of a bluestocking when she had lived, burying her nose in a book whenever she could. “Thank you.”
He inclined his head. “I even enjoyed watching television with you.” He smiled. “As though we were an old married couple.”
That enigmatic heartbeat of hers quickened.
“You brought me a peace I haven’t experienced in many long years, Cat. I’ve missed that these past few days.”
She swallowed. “I didn’t want to be like that other spirit. I didn’t want to make a nuisance of myself.”
He huffed a laugh. “If you knew how much I’ve missed your company since we spoke, you’d understand just how impossible that is.”
Hope and disbelief battled within her. Could she be so lucky?
He straightened away from the window frame and took a step toward her.
Cat reached out instinctively to push him away from the sunlight. “Careful,” she admonished. Warmth suffused her hands when they touched his chest and started to pass through him. She jerked them back. “Oh. I’m sorry. I—”
He raised a hand to stop her apology, then held it out to her, palm-up, as he had that night in his room.
Cat stared down at the large, masculine hand as sunlight bathed it.
“I’m old enough that I can sustain some exposure without suffering.”
“Oh.” Cat glanced up at him, then tentatively placed her own hand atop his, careful to ensure hers wouldn’t pass through it.
That wonderful warmth filled her where they pretended to touch.
Smiling, Yuri leaned down and mimicked kissing the back of her hand.
More warmth suffused her where his lips contacted her intangible skin.
He straightened. “Dmitry downloaded a new audiobook for me today at my request.”
Cat smiled. One of the many things she had learned about Yuri in the time she had been haunting him was that he was not at all comfortable with the electronic devices and advanced technology of this time.
“He teased me mercilessly about it,” he continued with a wry smile.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I asked him to download something called a paranormal romance.”
Paranormal romance. The term sounded familiar. “I think Tracy likes those.”
He nodded. “According to Marcus, female readers love them. Some men do, too. Though some—like Dmitry—mock them for it.”
“Romance is considered a woman’s genre by many. Love and happily ever after and that sort of thing. I think most men equate romance novels with chick flicks.”
“Men don’t like love and happily ever after?”
He shrugged. “I don’t have a problem with it, but don’t know that I’ll enjoy listening to it for twelve or thirteen hours. Marcus claims paranormal romances also have a lot of action and violence in them, though, so I thought it may be something we could both enjoy.”
“That was thoughtful of you,” she said, pleased by the overture.
“My reading, or—in this case—listening preferences can be a bit dull and dry,” he said apologetically.
“No, not at all,” Cat protested.
He arched a brow.
She bit her lip. “It’s just . . . some crime stories . . .” She tried to think of a diplomatic phrase that wouldn’t offend.
“Bore the petticoats off you?” he supplied, his brown eyes twinkling with amusement.
She laughed. “Yes. I’ve watch too many of those police shows on television with the Seconds. The stories all seem to blend together now.”
“Well, let’s see if this paranormal romance will spark your interest, shall we?”
“Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” she asked, hoping he would say no. It had been hard to stay away from him this past week. She had missed his company.
“Yes, but let us at least listen to the first chapter or two and get a taste of it. I’ll turn in after that.”
She grinned. “I’d like that.”
He circled the desk and headed for the door.
Cat followed, as excited as a girl being courted for the first time. As he reached for the door handle, she passed through the wall beside the door. In the hallway, she turned and found him holding the door open for her.
“Forgive me,” she apologized. “Habit.”
He shook his head. “I claim the same. Opening doors for women is second nature.” He stepped out into the hallway with her. “This will be fun, I think,” he said with a smile. “Never a dull moment.”
Cat agreed wholeheartedly and accompanied him down to his room.