War. Been there.
Famine. Done that.
Pestilence. Ho hum.
Drought. Boring, boring.
Life’s the pits when you’re the best damn cosmic troublemaker
in the universe. You scratch and claw your way up the ladder, think you’re
top dog, and then what? You have to maintain quality, never relax because someone’s
always lookin’ to bring you down.
The best, that’s me. But after a couple of thousand years it starts
getting’ old. Know what I mean? One more flood and I’ll puke.
I can’t quit, though. Lifetime contract. I quit, zap, I’m gone.
Let’s be honest, I’ve sorta gotten used to existing.
But I’ve gotta think of something. Ten thousand more years of the
same old, same old and I’ll slit my throat. Figuratively speaking, of course.
Problem is, I’m too good. We’re talking talent here. The universe’s
numero uno pain in the butt. Can’t get better htan that.
So what’s the bit deal, you say? The big deal is…there’s
nothing left. Would you believe? Not one new sin.
OK, so I’ve done them all. But I’m not ready for the big Crockpot
Down Under yet. There’s gotta be one more. One more sin.
Look, I’m a creative kinda guy. There was that time in… Guess
you don’t wanna hear about that. But take my word, if anyone can think of
a dirty deed, it’s me.
So why not go small, you say? Why always mass chaos, devastating destruction?
Good question. This is tough to admit, but…I’ve got a weak stomach.
Big is easy. I go in, whip up a hurricane, then get out and watch from
far away. No blood. No gore. No Maalox.
Small is harder. I can’t see things from far away. Hey, I’m
a professional. I gotta stick around to make sure every detail’s perfect.
Close up is, well…not a pretty sight. Major Maalox moment.
So what in heaven’s name—Did I say that? Sorry. What the hell
can I do that hasn’t been done?
Got it! Am I inspired or what? I’ll whip up a disaster of the heart.
All emotional catastrophe, no upset tummy. Something small, intimate, with room
for growth. First, I’ll choose two of the lease compatible people on earth,
guaranteed to hate each other’s guts. Now it really gets good. I’ll
cleverly encourage them to fall in love; then when they’re panting for each
other, I’ll rip them apart forever. Brilliant.
Since I’m a sporting kinda guy, I’ll give myself a time limit.
There’s a cosmic sorta number. Let’s say three weeks. That’ll
give me until midnight on October 31 to wreck their lives. Halloween. I like it.
One’s gotta be a real babe, though. What can I say, I love women.
Hey, a guy’s gonna be a guy.
Final detail. I need a form. Something they’ll trust. Something that’ll
get me close so I can watch, manipulate.
Then I can relax, do my thing, and see what shakes out.
Ah, young love. Just call me the great cosmic Cupid.
Man-maker conventions were hell.
First, Four-Tow-N woke to find that her sleeping pad had drifted to the floor
during the night. Scientists could build a floating city on Mars, but they couldn’t
make a sleeping pad that would stay suspended three feet in the air. Of course,
scientists had screwed things up for centuries, so she shouldn’t be surprised.
Next, there was the far wall she’d stared at for the last five minutes. Strange. Had she gone to sleep in a museum? An antiquated picture of
the galaxy hung above a bureau. A wooden bureau. With the scarcity of
trees, no one had used wood for at least a hundred years. A fake? Maybe. People
had become masters of imitation. She could attest to that.
Finally, there was the small matter of something sharing her sleeping pad.
Something large. She could feel it move against her back, hear it breathe. Which
was hwy she’d stayed frozen for five minutes, staring at the stupid wall.
Added to everything else, she couldn’t feel her cross at her neck. Peering
over the edge of the sleeping pad as far as she could without moving, she spotted
the silver chain, with her Celtic cross still safely attached, lying on the floor.
Four-Two-N heaved a sigh of relief. Grandma Two-Z had given her the antique
piece, and she treasured it.
Now what? She could turn over, face what lay at her back and order
it off her sleeping pad. Problem. She had a vivid imagination. She needed imagination
in her line of work, but not for facing unidentified sleeping partners.
Maybe she’d wandered into the wrong rest-over room last night after the
party. Maybe a large carnitak had followed her in and curled up beside her. Maybe
she was a galaxy-size wimp and should just turn over.
Unfortunately, her imagination reminded her the rest-over was close to NASA,
and NASA frequently entertained unusual visitors. With her luck, a Saralian poison
pig had escaped and chosen her out of all humankind to cozy up to.
Her thoughts scuttled in every direction. What to do? She didn’t know
where she was, or what horror happily slept at her back. If she screamed, she’d
wake it. Scrap that idea.
That left… Holding her breath, she slowly turned over.
She would’ve preferred the pig. At least then she’d know she wasn’t
A human male. A man. Just like her Dark and Dangerous Dick model, only better.
She let her breath out on a puff of disbelief. A fake? She’d never seen
one this perfect. Even she couldn’t create something so lifelike.
Of course, he had to be a fake. Men had gone the way of the Dexovil rock burrower,
extinct for fifty years or more. Another scientific screwup.
Studying the man, she couldn’t squelch a small stab of professional jealousy.
A master creation.
What kind of a party had she gone to last night, if she didn’t remember him? One of her friends, probably Three-Six-H, must’ve put the
man next o her as a joke.
What a joke! Long, dari hair lay in a tangled mass across incredibly
broad shoulders that had a perfectly tanned skin tone. Hmm, the hair looked like
the real thing. Reaching out, she stroked it. Raw sillk. She allowed herself a
His face was molded perfection—knife-edge cheekbones, straight nose,
full lips, long lashes. His eyes? She longed to know their color.
She had to speak with his creator. Never had she been able to make a face look
so real, as though warm blood pulsed beneath the skin—soft, touchable. Wonderful! She almost hated the woman responsible for him.
But was he anatomically correct? A lot of cheap models weren’t very detailed.
Scooting down, she ducked under the cover. Warmth and essence of male surrounded
her. She frowned. How did his maker get that scent of desire and dark erotic nights?
It left her heart pounding, her mouth dry. She’d never experimented much
with aromas. Maybe she should.
Running her fingertips across his chest, she marveled at the textures—smooth
flesh over muscle, hair-roughened areas, and nipples that actually pebbled beneath
her touch. Amazing.
A shudder ran through the body. Must be a short somewhere.
When her fingeres touched his stomach, his muscles contracted and rippled.
She finally reached her destination. This was what separated true artistry
from assembly-line cheapies.
Utter brilliance. She couldn’t suppress a small coo of admiration. Large,
round, firm. Long, thick, hard… Hard? She didn’t remember
anything hard down here when she’d first ducked under the cover. Hmm. Must be a clever use of sensors.
Unable to resist, she ran her fingers lightly along his length, then clasped
him. Liquid heat flooded her, then settled heavily into a bubbling pool of want
in an area that had never experienced any kind of bubbling.
She choked back a surprised gasp and closed her eyes in shocked horror. Impossible! She’d created customized men for years and never once had a sexual reaction
to any of them. They were fakes—a mass of Toglor fibers and electrical impulses.
She prided herself on never forgetting that.
She teased her friends when they panted after her great-looking Hot and Horny
Hal or Stud Muffin Stuart models. Now who’d have the last laugh?
Three-Six-H would never let her forget this if she ever found out. Nervously,
Four-Two-N searched her memory. Had she seen any sign of a scan-glow? No. She relaxed slightly. Even if her friend had set this up, she wouldn’t defy
privacy rules by watching. No one would ever know.
She’d know. She had to admit it. Her sex drive was on automatic pilot
and begging for permission to land.
So close, so warm, so convenient. She closed her gingers more tightly around
him. Sex. She’d seen the disks, knew the basics of the ancient ritual. All
she’d have to do was…
Appropriate muscles spasmed at the thought of him filling her, touching every
dark, wet, yearning space. Reflexively, she kneaded him like a cat with eyes half-closed
in feline bliss, while she imagined a joining she’d never know. Warm flesh
sheathed in satin-smooth skin that slid slickly into—
With a discipline forged from her society’s expectations, she ruthlessly
clamped down on her useless fantasy. She might as well accept it. Men were gone,
so she’d never experience that particular pleasure. And she’d never
get so desperate that she’d lose herself in a fake. A make-believe man.
She opened her eyes. Liar. She could with this fake.
Suddenly the body jerked. Oops. Had she broken him?
“God’s teeth, woman, I dinna know how much more I can stand. Cease
cooing like a mating dove and show yourself.”
She froze. Dinna? Cease? What a strange dialect. And his voice—harsh,
arrogant. This didn’t sound like any programmed response tone she’d
Possiblity sprouted and grew with the speed of a Pelmar choke-weed. It curled
inside her stomach, making her feel the way she did each time she started a new
creation. Putting out feelers, it touched her heart. Not satisfied with the mad
pounding it left behind, the possibility wound around her lungs and squeezed.
She gasped for breath. Her brain tried to fend off the invader, but to no avail.
Real? Could this be a real man?
No way. Nah… Maybe? She shot from beneath the cover, flinging
it aside as she emerged.
“Easy, lass. Dinna look so daft. Have ye ne’er seen a man before?”
His deep chuckle made light of the suggestion.
“No.” Green. He had eyes the color of jade, spectacular
with their frame of thick, sooty lashes. “Not a real one.”
His slashing white smile disappeared, but she’d already noticed one slightly
crooked tooth. Customers never asked for flawed men. OK, they did want
men with oversize—
“Nay, I’ll not believe ye were raised in a nunnery.” He smiled
again. “Not when I wake to find ye rooting beneath the cover like a wee
“Wee pig!” She never programmed anything but polite chichat and
a few orgasmic groans into her creations. But fine, she could fling a few insults
of her own. “I don’t know who you are, but I’ve made men better
than you.” A lie, of course.
“Made men better?” He narrowed his gaze, and she noticed a small
scar above one dark brow. “Aye, I can well believe yer touch would cure
a man of what ails him. Ye’ve talented hands, ones I’d life feel again.”
His gaze turned hot, aggressive.
Fakes were never aggressive. She felt a trickle of sweat slide between her
breasts, a reminder that she wore no clothes. Pulling the cover and her anger
around her, she tried to ignore her body’s embarrassing demands. Amazing
he didn’t notice them.
“I was not under the cover rooting around like a ‘wee
pig.’ I was…checking out the competition. I’ll tell you something,
too. I’ve made a lot bigger men.” OK, she’d admit they were
a tad too big—big enough to double as rocked nose cones. But that was what
her customers paid for.
“Ye make men?” The corner of his expressive mouth turned
up. “With yer hands? Like a man would fashion a sword?”
A sword? She frowned, trying to ignore the sexual implication of his words. Forget it. Everything about him shouted sex. “Customized models.
“Aye.” One dark brow rose to match his mouth. “And I’m
As he nodded, a strand of hair fell forward, and he raised his hand to push
it aside. Fascinated, she followed the motion. Male bodies were her business,
but this one interested her more than usual. He had broad hands with long, lean
fingers. Strong hands used to hard work, yet hands that would be gentle on a woman’s
body. Where had that thought come from? Only one thing should interest her—real
or ultimate imitation?
Mentally, she shook herself. He couldn’t be real. Men were extinct, victims
of a gene-directed virus gone amok.
He glanced away from her, then suddenly stiffened and drew in a harsh breath.
Sitting up, he stared at the room.
“What manner of demon’s lair is this?”
“Demon’s lair? Sure, the room’s a little old-fashioned. I
bet the rest-over keeps it as a novelty for travelers who want ot get the true
feel of living in the past. Cute idea. But ‘demon’s lair’ is
over-dramatizing a bit.”
“’Tis like naught I’ve seen before. How came I here?”
He fumbled beneath his pillow. “’Tis gone! I canna find my dirk. Who…?”
Uh-oh. He sounded upset. She never programmed her models for extreme
emotional responses. Well, maybe once. Six-Nine-R wanted her man to sing the commercial
for Healthy Hot and Spicy sausages—no fat or caloric content—while
His gaze returned to her—accusing, threatening. “Ye shouldna have
done this deed. D’ye think to keep me here, witch?”
“Witch? Like in bad hair and a broomstick? You have to be kidding,
“It doesna matter if ye’ve ne’er seen a real man before.
Ye have no right to conjure one for yerself. Ye and a score of virgin witches
canna force me to yer will.”
“Virgin witch?” She slid her gaze across his muscled arms and shoulders.
So wonderful. So flawed. Maybe if she bashed him over the head with her broomstick
it would correct his obviously faulty circuits.
“Yer familiar awaits, but ‘twill do ye no good.” He pointed
toward the bureau.
Shifting her gaze, she met the fixed amber stare of a large black cat, a cat
that hadn’t been there a few minutes ago. Her thoughts fragmented. She pressed
her suddenly clammy palms flat against the base of her throat, feeling the warmth,
the steady throw of her pulse, the realness. No, she hadn’t been tossed
into some sort of virtual world gone mad.
“Dinna try yer devil’s spells on me, witch.” He made some
strange signs as he slid to the edge of the pad. His eyes blazed with fierce anger
and behind the anger…fear.
He wasn’t kidding. This could get scary fast. “It’s your
lucky day. I’m all out of devil’s spells.” She’d kill
Three-Six-H if her friend had put this maniac beside her. Kill? She never
had violent thoughts. Breathe deeply. Stay calm.
He nodded. “Since ye canna use me, tell me where ye hid my weapons, then
Fascinated, she watched him swallow hard, lingered on the strong column of
his neck. She blinked. Weapons? Plural?
Crossing his arms, he leaned back, obviously waiting for her to fulfill his
He’d have a long wait.
Returning her attention to the cat, she fought to hold on to reality. A
dream? Could be. Like a dream, unrelated oddities seemed to float by with
no particular pattern.
She had to ground herself in things she recognized or else listen to the whispers
of her faceless fears. Four-Two-N gazed up at the galaxy painting. The planets
were comforting old friends. Hmm. She peered more closely. The cat was
seated right beneath one of Jupiter’s moons. “Ganymede. That cat is—“
“’Tis a strange name for a cat.” The man’s brows drew
together in a puzzled frown. “And what be yer name, witch?”
Her heart missed a beat. A fake would never be puzzled. The men she created
existed for only one purpose: sexual release. They didn’t need extraneous
His brows almost met. “Fortune?”
She sighed. “No, Four-Two-N.”
“’Tis settled. I’ll call ye Fortune.”
Stubborn. Why would anyone want a stubborn fake? Every word he uttered
drove her toward a conclusion she feared, didn’t believe—wanted to
Pushing himself erect again, he gazed around the room, then stared at her with
an intensity that made her pull the cover higher. Yanking it up to her chin, she
did a quick survey of the room. No clothes.
Panic whispered in her ear. Where was she? Who was he? What was he?
“If ye think to keep me here by spiriting awa’ my plaid, ye’ve
made a mistake.” Climbing from the sleeping pad, he towered above her in
all his naked glory.
A jagged scar ran from the top of his thigh to within several inches of humanity’s
salvation. Staring up at him, she admitted the unthinkable, the truth her instincts
had immediately recognized.
No fake could have so many imperfections and yet feel so…perfect.
He was real.
For the moment, it didn’t matter ho he was or where he’d come from.
His untainted sperm could bring males back to a dying human race. She blinked
away sudden tears.
Me first. Me first. She shoved aside the selfish thought. “Who
are you?” Her whispered question carried all the hushed awe due the most
important human on earth.
His dark scowl dismissed her question. “Leigh Campbell, as ye must well
know.” He turned and strode toward the door.
“Wait! Your clothes. Don’t’ go off half-cocked…”
His pointed gaze swept the room, then returned to her. “Do ye see my
plaid? I grow tired of this playacting, witch.”
Cautiously opening the door, he peered left and right, then slipped quietly
from the room.
Where did he think he was going? He couldn’t just… “Come
back! Millions of women need—“
“Shush, witch.” He appeared in the doorway again. “Yer blather
will lead our enemies to us.” With that cryptic whisper, he silently closed
the door on any further arguments she might muster.
Frantic, she leaped from the sleeping pad, then rushed to the bureau. She couldn’t
let him get away. The future of the human race depended on her.
Pulling open the drawers, she searched for something, anything she could wear.
Glancing up, she met the cat’s stare. He winked. No, she hadn’t
seen that. It must’ve been a trick of the lighting.
She slammed the drawer shut, then closed her eyes, breathing deeply. Don’t
panic. Her eyes opened wide, and she stopped breathing altogether as the
telltale squeak of the door announced Leith’s return.
She didn’t need to turn to verify his identity because she could feel
him; his gaze was as potent as a trail of fingertips down her spine. Sudden heat
and the urge to clench her thighs tightly made her swallow hard. How could his
mere entrance into the room do this to her, make her feel as though her body belonged
to someone else, someone filled with fierce, primitive hunger?
“Why…why did you come back?”
In the sudden stillness, she could hear his breathing—harsh, rapid with
an unnamed emotion.
“Where would I go? ‘Tis all like this room.”
She could almost feel his frustrated gesture.
“Ye’ve entranced me, witch, and only ye can release me.”
She breathed deeply, and wondered who had entranced whom.
“I brought ye clothes. Ye must cover yer body so ye dinna tempt…a
weaker man.” His voice was sandpaper rough, deeply thick with something
that spun her around to face him. For a moment, his stare burned with the green
flame of a Norian cantu pit, then was banked as he looked down at the clothes
“’Twas all I could find. The woman cleaning the hall foolishly
left the door open while she went elsewhere.”
“A thief. Wonderful. I’m stuck heaven-knows-where with a thief.” Where was the operative word.
“I do what I must to survive, witch.” His words held a warning.
Some footwear he’d wrapped in a towel and slung across one shoulder fell
from his grasp. He turned, closed the door, then bent to retrieve them.
Even as she rushed to the sleeping pad, yanked off the cover, then wrapped
it around herself, snatches of thought fought for attention. Before he’d
shut the door, she’d glimpsed the inside of the room across the hall, exactly
like theirs—archaic yet new-looking. That meant something, if she could
only focus. And the cat, where had it come from? Where had Leith come from?
Automatically, she scooped her chain from the floor and secured it around her
neck. Beloved and familiar, it felt like a talisman, protecting her from the craziness
Her logical, reasonable self screamed for her to think. Something strange and
potentially dangerous lurked, waiting to pounce. But the part of her that pulsed
with need, that cried tears of deprivation, wouldn’t let her concentrate.
Not with an unobstructed view of Leith Campbell’s strong buttocks—smooth,
hard, silently begging for her to run her hands over them. Following the path
of least resistance, she slid her gaze down the backs of his muscled thighs, lingered
hopefully as he spread his legs a little more to reach the fallen objects.
“yer gaze could draw blood, witch.” He straightened and turned
to face her.
“What?” Regretfully, she steered her attention away from his lower
His heavy-lidded glance raked her, leaving a trail of unexpected goose bumps.
“Ye could drain a man dry wi’ only yer stare. Verra strong, verra
tempting.” He scowled. “But ‘tis dangerous to lie wi’
a witch. If I dinna please ye, I might leave yer bed with my manhood a wee shriveled
berry. Release me from this enchantment so I may go.”
She huffed and puffed, ready to blow him away with her denial, even though
it would be a false one. What did he know about desire? Wherever he’d been,
she’d bet he hadn’t been without sex for twenty-eight years. “A
wee shriveled berry’s too good for you. How about an organ transplant? We
could take your berry and put it… Oh, never mind.”
He smiled coldly and she lost her train of thought.
“Cat and mistress have much in common. Ganymede enjoys a wee peek now
and then, too.” He nodded toward her feet.
Glancing down, she gasped. A black tail stuck out from beneath her trailing
cover. Mesmerized, she watched it twitch back and forth, back and forth.
With a horrified squeak, she yanked the cover up to expose the black cat. He
peered at her, then yawned.
Pulling the cover more tightly around her, she stepped away from the animal.
When she looked up, she saw that Leith had dumped everything on the sleeping pad.
He stared at the pile for a moment, then picked up one piece of clothing. “Men
How would she know? “Men wear nothing. They’re—“
His coldness vanished as his eyes lit with laughter, and he grinned. “And
do women wear nothing also?”
Wow! Talk about a meteor-shower smile. OK, forget the smile. Focus. “Extinct. Men no longer exist. They haven’t existed for more than
fifty years. Scientists thought they were so successful with their cloning until…”
She blinked. Of course they weren’t extinct. She was talking to one.
“So where did you come from? I—“
He heaved an exasperated sigh. “Cease yer babbling, witch. My head aches
with yer false tales.” Before she realized his intent, he strode to the
window and drew back the covering to peer outside.
“Ohmigod! Get back You’re naked. Everyone will see you.”
She prayed the window was high enough to cover the obvious.
Instead of returning to her, he stood staring out the window. Dozens of emotions
whirled in her head as she watched his sun-bathed silhouette. He reminded her
of a warrior from some distant past. Some distant past. Taking a deep
breath, she glanced around the room, thought of the room across the hall. Antiquated.
For an eternity of time, he continued staring at the outside world while she
waited behind him—afraid to as, afraid to know. Terror settled at the back
of her neck and squeezed. This felt like her first visit to Hanus when she was
seven years old. She’d hidden her face the entire trip, then screamed like
a warren cat when she’d seen the planet’s natives.
“Come here.” His command vibrated with an emotion she couldn’t
identify, feared to identify. He didn’t turn from the window.
No! She didn’t want ot face the reality that waited for her
beyond the window. If she ignored it, it might dissolve into the bright light
of morning then she could have a laugh with her friends over her dream.
“Fear is a shadow lie. Drag it into the light, and it isna so fearsome,”
he murmured, then turned to face her.
She swallowed hard. Easy for him to say.
His expression didn’t encourage her. In the dim light of the room, his
face appeared harsh, dangerous. She could imagine him a warrior, viewing the carnage
of battle, with the same expression—a mixture of horror, fear, and fierce
Slowly, she forced herself toward the window, step by torturous step. She sensed,
in the dark, hidden places of her mind where frightening truths huddled, that
each step took her toward… What? The unknown. Please, please let me
look out the window and see something familiar!
She reached the window and stared at the view below. She spoke no words; none
were needed. The street was alien, a scene from centuries ago, one she’d
seen only on history disks. But one detail riveted her attention. Men. Dozens
of men waking on both sides of the street. Men driving four-wheeled vehicles that
had disappeared form earth hundreds of years before.
And in the distance, a lake. She knew the lake—its shape, its color.
Clear Lake. But God help her, that was all she knew.
The heart of fear was a cold place—no one around to soothe her with promises
that this was all a misunderstanding, that everything would be fine in a little
while. She grasped the windowsill in an attempt to still her shaking hands.
The sudden warmth of Leith Campbell’s body against her back was such
a relief she wanted to cry. Not alone. She wasn’t alone in her
She allowed him to turn her into his embrace, and it seemed natural for her
to lay her head against his chest. The solid pounding of his heart calmed her.
“Release me, witch,” he murmured, then gently raised her head to
meet his kiss. She never considered rejecting him.
She closed her eyes. Amazing how weird thoughts hit you at the strangest times.
She was the first woman in fifty years to kiss a real man.
Then all thoughts fled, and she allowed her senses to drift free on a current
of discovery. His lips, soft yet firm against hers, moved in a way that demanded
a response. He traced her lips with his tongue, until she softly moaned and opened
her mouth to him. He explored her, and she tentatively returned the touch.
A world of sensation blossomed, the rhythmic caress of his hand on her back,
the male scent she’d never known—had always known—and the exciting
hardness pressed against her thigh.
She stood tottering on the edge of a new and startling universe when he released
her and stepped away. She fought against a feeling of abandonment.
“I dinna need to do this.” He stared at the ceiling and raked his
fingers through his hair. “Ye are no witch, so I dinna need to pleasure
ye to gain my freedom.”
She breathed deeply, trying to control her anger, her need, her…disappointment.
She’d kissed him only to take her mind off what she’d seen outside
the window. He’d more than succeeded as a diversion.
“Just to satisfy my curiosity about how the savage mind works, would
you tell me why you decided I wasn’t a witch?” Uh-oh. She
stepped back. She’d better watch her insults. A true savage could crack
her head like a Coro egg.
With something suspiciously like a smile touching his lips, he nodded and his
hair settled like a cloud across his gleaming shoulders. “I saw this when
I kissed ye.” He reached between her breasts and lifted the Celtic cross
from where it lay partially hidden by the cover. “A witch wouldna wear this.”
“Oh, so you thought you could kiss me, and I’d melt away like the
Wicked Witch of the West?” Even furious with him, she couldn’t control
the hopeful pebbling of her nipples. It seemed she didn’t control any part
of her world right now.
“Wicked Witch of the West?” Frowning, he clasped the cross in his
palm and rubbed his thumb across the intricate silver design, then gently laid
it back between her breasts. She absorbed the heat from his palm, a brand seared
into her memory.
“Forget it.” He’d treated her like a booster rocket—use
it; then lose it.
Amusement flickered in his glance. “’Twas only a wee kiss.”
“A wee kiss? It felt like all systems were go to me.”
He studied her with narrow-eyed intensity. “Is it that I kissed ye or
stopped kissing ye that has ye bleating like a sheep?”
He held her gaze, too intimate, too disturbing. “I wanted to believe
ye a witch rather than…” He gestured toward the window. And for an
unguarded moment she glimpsed fear in his green eyes, a fear that touched the
woman in her more than a hundred fierce denials ever could. She forced down the
urge to lay a comforting hand against his cheek, pushed away the picture of him
turning his head until his lips touched her palm and—
She didn’t want to soften toward him. Tearing her gaze from his, she
walked to the door and opened it. A woman pushing some strange machine hurried
past in the hall. Four-Two-N cleared her throat of the rock that seemed lodged
there and called to the woman. “Excuse me, can you tell me the date?”
The woman stared at her blankly. “What the heck you doin’ in there,
sugar? Room three thirty-three’s supposed to be empty.” Then as the
woman’s gaze swept over the cover she wore and continued on to where Leith
stood behind Fortune, her expression cleared. “Never mind; I get the picture.
He must be one hell of a man if you’d take a chance on being caught makin’
love when you oughta be working. Better be out in fifteen minutes, though. Big
convention comin’ in at noon, and this room’s gonna be occupied.”
“The date?” Fortune reminded her weakly.
The woman laughed. “He must be damn good if he made you forget the date.”
She winked at Leith over Fortune’s shoulder. “Gorgeous, you ever get
tired of your lady, look me up. When I’m finished with you, you won’t
even remember your name.”
She glanced back at Fortune. “Today’s October tenth, and I’ve
got this whole floor to do, so I better get movin’. Remember, out in fifteen
minutes.” She started to turn away.
“The year?” Fortune prodded.
The woman looked at her strangely before answering. “Two thousand.”
Fortune slammed the door shut and leaned against it. Stay calm. Don’t
hyperventilate. “It can’t e 2000! When I went to sleep last night
it was 2300. There’s no such thing as time travel. Oh, scientists have played
with the idea, but…” She must be the victim of some gigantic hoax.
But what about Leith Campbell? What about the world outside their window?
She glanced at Leith to see his reaction.
His curse was low, graphic, and—she suspected—physically impossible.
He closed his eyes for a long moment, and she watched his expression change. When
he finally opened his eyes and stared at her, she wanted to turn and run from
him, from his battle face. She had no doubt this was his battle face—all
shadowed planes and hard, gleaming eyes.
“Dinna waste yer time denying what’s plain go see.” He walked
back to the sleeping pad, then glanced at the black cat, who returned his stare
with unblinking amber eyes. “Where is this place?”
“I saw Clear Lake in the distance. So if this were really the year 2000,
which it isn’t, then we’d be near the city of Houston in the state
“He looked at her. Confusion clouded his gaze, and that frightened her
as much as what she’d seen from the window.
“Texas was part of the United States of America,” she clarified
in an uncertain whisper. Please let him recognize the name. She didn’t
want to be trapped in this room with a madman, and she’d have to believe
him a madman or else accept at truth that logically could be no truth at all.
He didn’t answer, but merely shook his head, then picked up a garment
from the sleeping pad. “Men do wear these in the year 2000?”
“Jeans. I remember now. One of my history disks. They were called jeans. Men and women wore them in…” No! She struggled against her
rising panic. “I don’t believe it. The whole world has gone crazy.
“’Tis! Use reason, woman. I dinna want to believe it either, but
I canna deny what I’ve seen wi’ my own eyes.”
He moved close to her and she stepped back away from his heat, his power.
Feeling as though her throat had permanently closed, she could only nod.
While she watched him struggle into the jeans, her pounding heart slowed, and
she grew calmer. This was ridiculous. There had to be a reasonable explanation.
She lived in an advanced civilization. She should laugh at the idea of being whisked
back in time. More likely she’d eaten some bad tagan dip last night that
had caused this strange dream.
Leith continued to struggle with the jeans. Aside from the fact that they were
too tight, he didn’t seem to understand how to fasten them.
Now calm and convinced that this whole thing was a nightmare, she could afford
to be charitable. “Need some help?” Her offer was out before she thought
of the consequences.
“I need no woman’s help.” He continued to fumble.
Patience. He’s only a barlo seed in some bad tagan dip. Gritting
her teeth, she reached for him. “This is a zipper, an old-fashioned fastener.”
She expected him to push her hand away, but surprisingly, he stood still.
The moment her hand touched his flesh, she knew she’d made a mistake.
Her fingers shook as she pulled the metal teeth together. Each time her knuckles
grazed his stomach, her lower regions clenched in gleeful anticipation. He didn’t
make it any easier when he sucked in his breath without warning.
“Enough, lass. Between yer shaking hands and these cursed metal teeth,
I’m danger of losing my future bairns.” He put his fingers over hers.
Yanking the zipper up, he then chose a piece of clothing from the bed and handed
it to her. “Put this on.”
“No.” This was a dream, a dream, a—
“After ye dress yerself, we can leave this room.”
“No.” What if it wasn’t a dream? “I want to stay here.”
She could almost see bits and pieces of his patience breaking away from him
like the heat plates during a primitive rocket’s reentry into earth’s
“I willna hide in this room. Hiding solves nothing, and it leaves the
foul taste of the coward in my mouth. ‘Twas a lesson hard learned, but I
learned it well.”
“Fine. Leave. I’ll stay here.” What was she saying? She couldn’t
let him walk away. He was womankind’s salvation, a living sperm bank. She wouldn’t lose him.
His last bit of patience shot into hyperspace. “Ye will come
She flinched away from his thunderous pronouncement. “Why?” She
hoped he didn’t hear the quaver in her voice.
Roiling emotion darkened his gaze, pushed her backward with its power. “Ye
dinna need to know why. Ye need only know that I willna abandon a helpless
woman. I willna leave ye.”
She opened her mouth to tell him what he could do with his “helpless
woman” label, then closed it. What did it matter what he said? “I’m
sure this is a dream.”
He turned beseeching eyes to the ceiling. “Deliver me from a stubborn
woman.” Lowering his gaze, he reached out and cupped her chin with his large
hand. “What were ye doing last night?”
She blinked at his unexpected question. “I…I was discussing marketing
trends with Three-Six-H. Muscular men are out. Potbellies are in. The comfort
factor,” she explained in response to his blank expression.
“God’s teeth, woman. Ye would confuse Saint Peter himself.”
She steeled herself to resist the rasp of his callused thumb rubbing back and
forth against the side of her jaw.
“Before waking her, I fell asleep wi’ Mary McDougal warm beside
me and…” He shook his head. “’Tis no matter. ‘Twas
a long time ago.”
“No! I don’t believe you. This is a dream, nothing but a dream.
I swear, tagan dip will never touch my lips again.” She jerked her head
from his hand, then stumbled back—from the truth in his eyes, from the reality
of his touch. A touch that seared her as no dream touch should.
She didn’t want ot know, had purposely not asked him, because knowing
might make it true. Look at the ostrich, she thought. It stuck its head in the
sand to avoid unpleasantness, and it had survived just fine when all those perky
birds who poked their inquisitive beaks into everyone’s business were extinct.
No, nothing could force her to ask.
She asked. “How long ago?” The quaver in her voice embarrassed
“Three hundred years.” He raked his fingers through his hair. His
The black cat watched with slit-eyed interest, then began to purr.