Authors: Ginjer Buchanan
WARNER BOOKS EDITION
Copyright © 1999 by Warner Books, Inc.
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First eBook Edition: March, 1999
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DEATH AND THE IMMORTAL
Icy water filled Fitzcairn’s lungs. His body was carried by the current beneath the ice, banging from rock to rock. Once, as he rolled, he could see up through a clear patch. The sky was white, too, he thought for a while.
It was his last thought for a while.
When he choked back to life, he found that he was no longer in motion. He’d become wedged between two rocks, face up, his head pointed downstream.
He drowned, again.
The next time he revived, it was dark. He sputtered, coughed, and began to feel the first faint stirrings of worry. What was the possibility that Duncan could find him? None.
His last thought as he drowned again was that if worse came to worst, the ice would thaw next spring …
ALSO IN THE HIGHLANDER SERIES
EASURE OF A
Dedicated to the memory of Laird Douglas
Father, we miss you still …
Betsy Mitchell, my editor, for not laughing when I called and asked if I could pitch a Highlander novel.
John Douglas, my “other editor,” for transcribing a large part of the beginning of this book, and for his patience as I nattered on (and on) about Immortals.
Donna Lettow and Gillian Horvath, for the obvious—inspiration, information, and support. And for the not-so-obvious—proving to me that you’re never too old to make new friends.
Bill Panzer, for wanting to know what was going to happen next.
David Abramowitz and all of the writers who helped create the character of Hugh Fitzcairn.
And, of course, Roger Daltrey, for bringing Fitz gloriously to life. From him, I get the story. …
“This is the Law of the Yukon, that only the Strong shall thrive:
That surely the Weak shall perish, and only the Fit survive.”
The Law of the Yukon
by Robert Service
Amanda was wearing white. She fairly gleamed in the soft candlelight cast from the wall sconces on either side of the ornate vanity where she sat, obviously admiring herself in the oval mirror. A sight to give a man pause, even one who had known her for over two hundred fifty years. Duncan watched her for a minute, then gave voice to his question.
Amanda met his eyes in the mirror as he walked across the room to stand behind her. She was not surprised to see him, of course. None of their kind could ever take another unaware. She smiled, a mere quirk of her lips.
“Hmm,” she murmured. “Snow-white.”
Duncan knew better, but could not resist.
“Like a virg—”
Before another syllable could leave his lips, Amanda swiveled on her seat, her skirts spread about her, her dark eyes narrowed. One slender finger stabbed out, poking him not-at-all gently just above the waist of his trousers.
“For your information, Mr. MacLeod, a merchant had a run of bad luck at the tables last week, and I now own a warehouse full of the finest silks that San Francisco has ever seen. Silks of colors that you are not capable of imagining. I intend to have at least one dress made from every single color. And, while we are discussing clothing, you”—she paused, sliding the finger higher—“could very much use a new waistcoat. There’s one brocade I quite liked, dark brown and gold shot through with metallic thread, that would look splendid on your manly form. I could have my dressmaker take measurements. Or”—she smiled up at him through her lashes—“I could do it myself—later.”
Duncan caught her hand and raised her fingertips to his lips. “As always, I bow to your fashion sense.” He inclined his head and kissed the finger that had assaulted him.
Amanda laughed then and turned back to the mirror, to the rapt contemplation of her own image. It was Duncan’s opinion, formed over a very long time, that Amanda’s very favorite thing to look at was Amanda.
“Duncan dearest”—that was Amanda’s helpless-little-me voice—“could you be a sweet and bring me my necklace? It’s in the case on the bed.”
Duncan crossed to the ornate mahogany bed. Until very recently, another of their kind had slept there. This hotel suite had been home to the Immortal named Kit O’Brady. He’d lived here, close by the drinking and gambling establishment that he owned. It had been called the Double Eagle. Then, like the silk merchant, Kit O’Brady had had a run of bad luck when gambling with Amanda. He’d lost everything to her. The Double Eagle became the Queen of Spades, by decree of the new owner. And Kit O’Brady had been forced to move to rather less expensive quarters. Amanda had taken over his rooms with great glee.
Kit kept coming around to the Queen of Spades, playing small-stakes poker, losing regularly. He was convinced that his run of bad luck wouldn’t end until Amanda returned his lucky coin—the very one for which the saloon had been named. But he was not about to beg for it.
As Duncan found the flat gold velvet box, he smiled. The hotel room might have been Kit’s, but Duncan doubted that the bed had been covered in peach-satin sheets with a matching quilted coverlet edged in white lace when he had spent his nights in it.
He returned to Amanda’s throne of mirrors and placed the case on the vanity. Once more, then, he stood behind her, closer now, so that the rough material of his evening coat nearly touched the generous portion of her back that the dress revealed.
Amanda opened the jewel case and, almost reverently, took out the necklace within. She held it at her throat, signaling to Duncan that he should take the two ends and fasten the clasp. He did so, and they both stared for a moment at the glory that circled Amanda’s lovely neck.
The necklace was an intricate riot of gold filigree set with an almost impossible number of diamonds. None was large, but there were a lot of them, Amanda smiled at her reflection and donned the matching earrings, delicate traceries of gold set with even more diamonds, that dangled to her shoulders. She finished and arranged her hair over them, just so.
He brushed the back of his hand over one of the earrings.
“Don’t tell me. A diamond merchant had a run of bad luck at the tables.”
“A gift,” Amanda replied, sweetly, “from an admirer.”
Possibly, Duncan thought. And possibly not. He had been spending the nights in his own bed, alone, the last little while. Amanda might think that a rival—real or imagined—would renew his ardor.
She rose gracefully, arranged her skirts around her, extended her arms out to her sides, and turned slowly in front of him.
The dress was magnificent, and so was the woman wearing it.
“Aye!” He had to admit it. “There is indeed much about you to admire.”
He offered her his arm. Time only for a light supper, then Amanda had to be at work, charming the wealthy patrons of her opulent saloon.
Duncan was caught now, by the glitter of gold, of diamonds, and of snow-white brocade. Tonight the odds were with Amanda. He thought he might well visit this room, and Kit O’Brady’s ornate bed, once again.
Hours passed, pleasantly enough. Duncan was not much of a gambler, so although the Queen of Spades was busy as usual, he contented himself with drinking Amanda’s fine brandy and smoking one or two of the very expensive cigars she kept for preferred customers. He paid, of course. They had had a huge row over that. Amanda had so wanted to be indulgent, but Duncan’s “no” had been delivered with some force, and she had demurred. So now he ran a tab, and settled it scrupulously on a regular basis.
At the moment, he was standing directly outside the saloon, finishing one of those very cigars. The night was chill and damp, as it often was in this city by the Bay. Duncan stared intently into the darkness. You couldn’t see the ocean, but Duncan knew it was there. And tonight he almost thought he could smell it, maybe even hear it. He was a Scotsman, a Highlander to the bone. He would never love the sea as did some he had met in his wanderings. But he knew that a swift ship with the right winds could take a man to places beyond the reach of horse or camel or donkey, or any beast that walked on land.
He sighed without realizing it, threw his cold cigar into the gutter, and returned to watch the mortals hover around the icy flame that was Amanda this evening. Duncan suspected that one particular gentleman, who sported a ruby stickpin that looked like glass but wasn’t—judging from the attention he had been receiving from Amanda for the past two hours—was also about to have a run of bad luck.
As he settled at the bar, propping himself with one elbow, he idly wondered how often and how much Amanda cheated at cards. She swore, for instance, that the poker game with Kit had been straight. Duncan wasn’t convinced. He was in the midst of a case-by-case consideration, when the feeling came over him.
He glanced first at Amanda. She paused for a second and laid her cards on the table. Her hand went reflexively to her throat as she sought Duncan with her eyes.
Another Immortal was near, perhaps even already in the room.
Kit? He’d not been around for a week or so. Or perhaps Alec Hill? Duncan had been trying for months to get his friend to leave his house, to leave off his futile efforts to conjure the spirit of his dead wife. Alec was unkempt, weak from lack of food, and near-incoherent from lack of sleep. Yet Duncan would not give up on him, had been to see him as recently as yesterday. Had he gotten through to Alec at last, and convinced him to live his life once more among the living?
But his moment of hope faded as a young man, a stranger, appeared in the arched entryway to the Queen of Spades. He had been, Duncan guessed, anywhere from twenty to twenty-five when he died the first death. Dark-haired, blue-eyed, a handsome open face, with a nose just a tad too big, too—what was the word?—aquiline, like the profiles on Roman coins. On the short side, but strongly built. He looked like he would handle his sword with some force. His straight hair was fashionably cut and his clothes were well-made, but seemed somehow ill fitting.
No, Duncan thought, as he looked more closely. It wasn’t the cut of the clothes. However old the stranger was as an Immortal—and Duncan had long ago learned for himself the truth of what Connor had told him, that there was no way to tell—this young man was simply not used to large, brilliantly lit rooms, redolent with the various scents of expensive men and women.
Duncan nodded imperceptibly at Amanda and started toward the stranger. If he was here to give a Challenge—well, it would be a shame for the lady to have to soil her snow-white gown.
Danny O’Donal stopped just inside the entrance of the Queen of Spades. His teacher had said that they would meet here. A saloon he had said, called the Queen of Spades. And this must be that place, for wasn’t that the name on the fancy sign outside? Danny had been in saloons before, of course. But here there were no spittoons, nor sawdust on the floor. Instead, there were white roses everywhere, in vases of the finest glass. And a bar of dark wood polished so that you could see yourself near as well in it as in the mirror behind. The walls were red, velvet he thought, and he’d never seen the like of the golden lamps hanging above, like upside-down trees they were, with candles blazing at the end of every branch. And who was the beautiful lady in the painting above the polished bar? Not naked, like some such paintings Danny had seen, but wearing a dress as dark as her hair and eyes, cut just low enough that the soft place between her pearly white breasts could be glimpsed. Danny was transfixed, assaulted by the sights and sounds and smells of this saloon, this Queen of Spades. Indeed, he near forgot to attend to that feeling his teacher had told him meant that another one of their kind was around. But the feeling was strong, and he reluctantly turned his gaze from the painting and connected it to a tall, handsome man who had just left the bar and was heading toward him. For a second, he felt a flutter of fear. But his teacher had said that the Immortals who would be at this saloon were friends, and could be trusted. So Danny stood his ground as the man approached.