Chasing the Shadows (Page 30)

“Same to you. Though merry doesn't seem the right word to use right now.”

“Perhaps. But I very much doubt if Mary would want this day wasted to sorrow.”

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“I guess not.” She sighed and shifted, exposing one bare shoulder and the swell of a breast. “We don't even have a Christmas tree. And I left your present at home.” That she said home, rather than his home, had hope surging. Maybe the fight to keep her by his side was going to be easier than he'd first feared.

He raised an eyebrow. “Who said we don't have a Christmas tree?” She stared at him, her smile growing. “We do?”

He nodded. “Went out early this morning and found one.”

“Where? It's Christmas morning. Everyone would have sold out by now.” They were. But it was amazing what you could find when you had the money and the determination. “I couldn't let our first Christmas go by without a tree, could I?” She touched a hand to his face, caressing his cheek with her thumb. “You really are an amazing man sometimes.”

“And you, my love, are an amazing woman.” He leaned forward and kissed her again, long and lingering. She sighed when he pulled away. “You keep doing that—stopping, I mean. I guess it means we have some serious stuff to talk about before we get down to the fun stuff.”

“That we do.” He hesitated, not sure what to say first.

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She solved the dilemma for him by placing a hand to his lips. “Let me.” She ran her hand down his arm and wrapped her fingers around his. “I'm sorry for walking out on you the way I did. And I'm sorry for being so unreasonable with my demands. While I still truly believe we could work as a team on at least some of your missions, I can't expect these things to happen overnight. As you once reminded me, you've been on this Earth for over three centuries. Changing set ways takes time.” She was right. And yet it had taken so very little time to get used to having her in his life. He squeezed her fingers gently. “And I'm sorry for not taking your fears seriously. While I still believe much of my work is far too dangerous for you to be involved in, I agree with Jake in that there must be common ground between both our needs.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Does that mean you are actually thinking about me helping you on some of your missions?”

He'd not only thought about it, but had spent hours discussing the pros and cons with an old witch. “You walking out on me gave me a glimpse of the future. I don't want that future, Nikki.” Emotion surged through the link—love and regret intermingling—stirring his senses, warming his heart.

“My mom once told me only a fool runs from gold. She was right. What we have is too good to let go so easily.” She hesitated, then added softly, “I guess I was just scared one day you'd walk out that door and never come home, and I'd be left to wonder for the rest of my life what happened. At least if I was with you, I'd know.”

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Then they shared the same sort of fear, though for different reasons. Still, the base was the same—love.

“I've been talking to Seline while you slept.”

And she'd delighted in reminding him that she'd warned long ago this would all happen. That there could only be one end result if he really wanted happiness—and an end to the utter loneliness and despair that had begun to descend on him before Nikki came into his life. The old witch was right—as usual.

“So what did Seline say?”

Though her voice was carefully neutral, the tension running through the link increased. She still wasn't certain about his relationship with Seline, though it wasn't so much distrust as curiosity. He'd have to introduce them—if only because the old witch wouldn't stop harassing him until he did. He had a feeling the two of them would get on like a house afire, even if they were as different as night and day.

“First she chided me for being a stubborn fool. Then she agreed that there were some cases definitely too dangerous to risk taking you along.”

“And?”

He had to restrain a smile at the edge in her voice. “And she said that you and Jake were one hell of a team, and I'd be a fool not to make use of you both on at least some of the cases.” She laughed, the sound warm and sexy. It touched her eyes with heat and sent a surge of desire through his body. “You really must introduce me to this Seline of yours. She's sounding more and more like my kind of woman.”

“Yeah, and it's got me worried. I don't need two of you nagging me senseless.”

“You deserve it sometimes.”

“Maybe.” He raised her hand and kissed her palm, then pressed her hand against his heart. “The way you and Jake dealt with Farmer proved you could take care of yourselves. But Farmer is far from the worst I deal with, and there will be times I cannot allow you to be with me. No matter what you threaten.”

She nodded. “I know. I was just so angry that you wouldn't listen to me, wouldn't even consider…” She shrugged. “I'm not a fool, despite the fact I may have been acting like one the last couple of days. And I have no doubt there are things I'm better off not knowing about.” That was a certainty. Some of the things he did she had no need to know. Sometimes the only way to catch a monster was to act like one.

“Seline wants you and Jake to become official Circle members. That'll mean undergoing some training, both in combat fighting and, for you at least, at a psychic level. And she'll probably want you to undergo some testing, so we have a better idea of where, exactly, these talents of yours might be leading.” She blinked. “Wow. When you agree to something, you go in full tilt.”

“If you're going to join me on missions, I'm going to make damn sure you and Jake are primed to defend yourselves. I don't want to lose either of you.”

“Have you talked to Jake about this?”

“Yesterday. He thought it was a damn good idea.” He hesitated. “I don't think he wants to reopen the agency, anyway. Nor do I think he wants to return to Lyndhurst or his home there.” Too many memories. And no ghosts.

She nodded. “Lyndhurst is pretty much a lost cause for us. After losing two clients in the manner we did, our name is basically mud.” She paused. “But where is he going to live if not in Lyndhurst? Especially if he's going to become a member of the Circle?”

“Our headquarters is in Washington. We've apartments there he could use, or if he'd prefer to stay near you, I have a house in Cody in dire need of some attention. He could fix it up when we're not working.”

And Cody was little more than half an hour's drive from where they lived.

“Have you given him those options?”

“Not yet. He's not really ready to make such decisions yet, despite his determination to get on with life.” She nodded and raised her other hand, cupping his cheek. “Thank you.”

“You may want to retract that thank you once you see what you've gotten yourself into.”

“You're letting me in, Michael. Letting me see your whole world. That's what I'm thanking you for. I don't care about the danger.”

She never did, and that was half the problem. But maybe Seline could drum some caution into her. He kissed her fingers. “We've only been living together for four months. At this rate, you'll have nothing left to discover about me two years down the road, let alone a century.”

“I have a feeling there will always be something to discover about you.” Amusement sparked in her eyes and flowed through the link, surrounding him in warmth. “You have three hundred years of living I know nothing about. At the rate I pull information out of you, it'll take me another three centuries to uncover it.”

“Maybe.” Probably. “In the meantime, why don't you drag your bones out of that bed and come see the Christmas tree?”

“Why don't you drag your bones into this bed and ravish me lustily?”

“Ravish you lustily? What on earth are you reading these days?” Her grin sent his pulse rate sky high. “Something that's given me lots of ideas.” She patted the sheets.

“Hop in, and we'll try some out.”

He was tempted. Very tempted. But there was still something left to do. He flipped the blankets away, exposing her to the cool morning air. Her yelp was full of amused indignation.

“Not before you see the tree and unwrap your present.”

“There's a present? Why didn't you say so in the first place?” She sat up, planted a fierce kiss on his mouth, then grabbed her robe and bounced out of bed. He followed her from the room, feeling a little like a scrap of paper drawn into the wake of a cyclone and loving every minute of it.

Her soft gasp made him smile. She'd stopped in the middle the room, her face tilted upwards as she viewed the massive and ornately decorated Christmas tree. He stopped behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, drawing her close.

“Merry Christmas.” He kissed her ear, her neck, but resisted the temptation to do any more. Not yet. Not until she'd unwrapped her presents—the one under the tree, and the one in his pocket. The one he'd carried all the way home from Ireland.

“It looks like one of those department store trees.”

“It is.”

She tilted her head and met his gaze. “How on earth did you manage to get something like this on Christmas morning?”

He smiled. “I can be a very persuasive fellow when I want to be.” Her smile was saucy, stirring his already aching body.

“Yeah, I know. But that doesn't answer my question.”

“No, but right now, it doesn't really matter.” He dropped a kiss on her nose then moved around her and over to the tree. He picked up the long, brightly wrapped box and handed it to her. “Open your present.” Her expression was that of a kid in a candy store. She plopped cross-legged onto the floor and began unwrapping the gift. He sat down in front of her, amusement stirring as she tossed aside the paper and ribbons he'd spent so much time over and hurriedly opened the box. Her gasp was soft. “It's beautiful.” She lifted the delicate ivory silk nightgown from the box and held it up.

“Well, you were always complaining you didn't have any decent nightwear. I took it as a hint.” She grinned. “It was. Thank you.” She leaned forward and kissed him briefly, then said against his lips,

“How about I put it on and we see how long it takes you to get it off me again?” He touched a hand to her face, caressing her cheek with his thumb. “I have something else to give you.”

She raised an eyebrow and said archly, “Yeah, that's exactly what I was talking about.” Heat surged between them. He battled the urge to take her right there and then and said patiently, “I mean another present.”

“Two presents? Why didn't you say so?” She sat back, amusement and love evident in her expression.

“Well, come on, stop teasing and give.”

He reached into his pocket and wrapped his fingers around the small velvet box. “It comes with a question you must answer.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Christmas is a time of giving and receiving presents. I can't ever remember it being a time of twenty questions.”

“Not twenty questions, just one.” He withdrew the velvet box from his pocket and offered it to her. She went still, her gaze darting from the box to his face and back again. She reached out, taking it from his palm then carefully opening it. The band inside was simple, plain. His family had been poor farmers, and had the simple tradition of taking the stone from their homeland to fashion it into rings for those that they loved. His grandfather had done it for his grandmother, his father for his mother. And he, who had outlived them all by many centuries, had finally fashioned a ring of his own for the woman he loved. Disbelief, excitement and love surged through the link, burning his senses, encasing his heart. He didn't really need to ask the question, because he had it right there in that rush of emotion. In the tears and affirmation that glittered in her beautiful eyes when her gaze rose to his again. But he asked it anyway.

“Nikki, will you marry me?”

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