Tall, Dark & Hungry
Chapter Eight

 Lynsay Sands

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Pausing in the middle of recounting a tale about Kate and herself when they were teenagers, Terri glanced to the side with a start as she heard a customer ask the waitress what time it was, and the waitress's answer.
"Did she just say it was four-twelve?" she asked, forgetting all about the tale she'd been telling.
"Did she? No, she couldn't have. You must have misheard. It can't be that late alread--it is!" Bastien exclaimed with surprise as he glanced at his watch. He lifted a stunned expression to hers, and they stared at each other for a moment then burst out laughing.
"I guess we lost track of time talking," Terri said with a grin.
"I guess we did," he agreed. "But, then, we tend to like to do that a lot. Talk, I mean. I like talking to you."
"I like talking to you, too," she admitted, then glanced away, looking for a distraction from the wealth of feeling welling up inside her. Maison's pa¬tio wasn't as busy as it had been, but there were still half a dozen tables with customers. "I wonder why they haven't closed yet. I thought bars closed around four A.M. over here."
"I'm not sure," Bastien began, then said, "Oh. They're open twenty-four hours."
When Terri glanced back at him in question, he gestured to the writing on the awning. She smiled wryly and nodded. "I didn't notice that."
"Neither did I."
They fell silent for a moment, and Terri realized that it had grown cooler in the passing hours since they'd arrived. There was a bit of a chill in the air-- not much, but enough that she felt it on her sleeveless arms.
"You're getting cold," Bastien noted when she un¬consciously rubbed her arms. "I suppose we should head home."
"Yes," she agreed, but felt sad that the night was drawing to an end. Terri wouldn't have minded had it gone on forever.
Bastien stood and drew out her chair for her as she rose, then slid his suit jacket off and held it open for her. "Here, put this on. It's pretty quiet on this street, and with it being so late we'll probably have to walk up a block or so to find a taxi. Will you be all right to walk a little way in those shoes?"
"Yes, of course," Terri assured him as she slid her arms into the offered jacket. She'd been sitting for hours, and she hadn't drunk much despite the length of time they'd been there. Neither of them had; they'd been too busy talking. She paused with the suit coat halfway up her arms. "Will you be all right? You don't need this?"
"No. I'm fine," he assured her, urging the jacket up the rest of the way.
"Mmm." Terri pulled the silk material closed and hugged it to herself with a smile of pleasure. "It's warm and lovely, and it smells of you."
"Does it?" he asked with a small smile. "Is that a good thing?"
"Mmmm." She raised one lapel, turned her head to bury her nose in the material, and inhaled deeply. "Yes, very good. I like your cologne," Terri admitted, as she breathed in the scent of him again with pleasure.
"You don't bother with subterfuge at all, do you?"
Terri lifted her head to peer at him. "Subterfuge?"
The waitress came up to the table before he could reply. The girl thanked them and wished them both a good night as she took the money Bastien left on the table. They responded in kind, then Bastien took Terri's arm to usher her to the opening in the gate surrounding the outdoor patio. He walked her out, keeping his hand at her elbow as they started up the street.
His courtesy was one of the things Terri liked best about Bastien. The way he opened doors for her, al¬ways allowing her to enter first. His concern for her comfort and well-being, making sure she wasn't cold, or warm, or that her feet were holding up all right. She even liked the way he asked what she wanted, then placed her order for her. There were few men who would even think to do something so rich with old-world courtesy, and many women who would have perhaps been offended; but it didn't offend Terri. It made her feel special and coddled. She felt cared for. Many of the courtesies he indulged in made her feel like that. She could get used to such treatment.
Troubled by the thought, Terri glanced up at the buildings that rose like mountains around them against the lightening sky. "It's lovely here."
"Yes, it is nice." Bastien sounded surprised as he followed her gaze around their surroundings. "I've been here countless times on business, and never re¬ally paid attention."
Terri nodded, unsurprised. Most people became blind to their environment, no matter how glorious, and never gave it a second thought. "What did you mean when you said I don't bother with subterfuge?"
Bastien was silent for a moment as they walked; then he said, "Many women wouldn't have admitted to liking my cologne, let alone shown such pleasure in it. They would have been too busy playing it cool and acting unaffected. But you don't seem to have a subtle bone in your body, and don't bother with such games."
"Games are for children," she murmured. She glanced at him in surprise when he burst out laugh¬ing. "What?"
"You don't seem to mind acting like a child any other time. I've never seen anyone act more childlike than you at the museum," he explained as she flushed. With a laugh, he added, "And shopping, and at the flea markets, and at the street fairs."
"Sorry," Terri apologized automatically.
"Don't be. It's one of the things I like best about you."
"Good. Because I'm not really sorry," she admitted with a grin.
Bastien chuckled and urged her to cross the street. "This is the Hilton," he explained as they walked along the building that took up most of that side. "There should be a row of taxis in front. There usu-ally are."
"Is it far back to the penthouse?" Terri asked. It hadn't seemed like a long taxi ride to get to the theater.
"About four blocks from here," Bastien guessed.
"Why waste money on a cab? We can walk."
She shook her head at his surprise, wondering if he usually dated decrepit biddies who couldn't walk any distance at all. "I think you've just insulted me," Terri said, pausing to face him as they reached the corner of the hotel. "I walked around all weekend with you, and spent at least four hours walking around the mu¬seum, and another three following you on your shop¬ping spree today. Do you really think I can't manage four blocks?"
"No. Of course not," he said, and his voice was soft with an admiration that almost embarrassed her. The way Bastien was looking at her made her positive that he was about to kiss her.
"Good," she said promptly to break the mood. "I need to sit down."
Whirling away, Terri walked under the carport, crossing the Hilton's driveway to the black marble base that surrounded the pillars fronting the street. She had meant to sit down and tighten the strap on her right shoe that seemed to have loosened throughout the night, but someone had either sprayed the marble to clean away the pollution and dirt, or splashed it unin¬tentionally while watering the plants at either end. The wide black marble end, which had appeared so handy for sitting on, was wet. The only section that was dry, was the narrow, almost balance-beam-sized strip of marble that ran to the next wider section around the next pillar. Deciding it would have to do, Terri perched carefully on the slippery, slender rounded surface to work on her shoe.
Bastien joined her after a moment, but he sat astride the narrow marble piece, so that he was facing her side. "You had me worried when you said you had to sit down."
"This strap came undone at some point," she ex¬plained. She finished doing it back up, then Terri straightened to smile at him. "I should be all right now."
"You're more than all right," he assured her, and just as he had done at the museum, Bastien caught her face in his hands and pulled her forward for a kiss.
After the briefest of hesitations, Terri went will¬ingly, her mouth softly parting under his, then widen-ing farther on a cry of surprise. She arched toward him, lost her seating, and started to slide forward off her marble perch.
"Whoa." Bastien broke the kiss to catch her before she landed on the sidewalk. They both laughed with embarrassment, and he helped her back up onto the rounded top of the strip of marble.
"I should have sat over there." She gestured toward the wider end. "But it was wet."
Bastien didn't even glance, he merely scooted for¬ward until one knee was at her back, and the other was against the front of her knees. It was an effort to help her keep her balance. Then he again lowered his head to kiss her. This time, when Terri arched toward him and started to slide forward, she hit the knee in front of her and took him with her.
They broke apart once more, laughing as they saved themselves; then Bastien caught her hand and stood. Terri thought that would be the end of the at¬tempted kisses, but instead of continuing on their walk, he tugged her back the way they'd come to the wider marble. He muttered something about the wa¬ter, used his shirtsleeve to wipe the worst of it away, then sat and pulled her down into his arms.
Terri sighed as his mouth moved toward hers. Bastien was holding her tightly against his chest, seemingly determined she not slide off anywhere. She hardly noticed. Her concentration was focused wholly upon his mouth and what it was doing. The moment his lips touched hers, she let her own open, then gasped as his tongue met hers. The kiss was just as startling to her as it had been in front of the mu¬seum. She didn't recall ever having felt quite so over¬whelmed, but then it had been ten years since she'd been properly kissed.
Not that she hadn't been kissed at all in that time.
There had been the rare occasion when the dreaded blind date, or setup by friends, had been impossible to avoid. But not one of those handful of men since lan's death had done anything more than nibble ea¬gerly at her lips, leaving her at best unmoved and at worst irritated and repulsed. If she were to be honest, however, Terri hadn't invited any of those kisses. She hadn't wanted them, hadn't been interested in those men. In Bastien, she was. She liked him; she enjoyed his company, and her body most definitely responded to his attention. Terri was plastered against him, her hands upon his chest, yet she found herself trying to get closer, pressing into him as her tongue moved tentatively forward to meet his.
The sudden squeal of tires and the angry honk of a car horn intruded and made her eyes blink open. Terri's head tilted to the side, and her gaze shot past Bastien's cheek to the street beyond. She couldn't see what had caused the noise, but what she could see made her stiffen and instinctively turn away from Bastien's kiss. He seemed undaunted, simply ran his mouth along her cheek until he found her ear. Terri almost moaned at this new caress, her eyes starting to droop closed again. It took a lot of effort to fight the urge.
"There is a whole row of taxi drivers here watch¬ing," she murmured, blushing as she glanced at the parked cars, their drivers out talking amongst each other while watching them.
"Let them," Bastien breathed into her ear. "The poor bastards are probably jealous."
"But..." Terri paused in her protest, her eyes closing on a shudder as Bastien chuckled, his breath blowing against her ear.
"Besides, the taxi drivers are nothing," he said. "On my side we have the Hilton doorman, the bell¬hop, the guys cleaning the lobby, the reception peo¬ple, a couple of guests, and at least one street person." Bastien punctuated each witness he listed with a kiss of her neck, then caught her head, turned her face back to his, and looked her in the eye. "This is New York. I'm sure they've seen couples snogging before."
He tried to kiss her again then, but Terri pulled back. "Snogging?" she said.
Bastien blinked, then smiled. "It's a British term. It means kissing, making out."
"Yes, I know! I live in the U.K., remember?" she said, but was more interested in the fact that she now had a clue to the accent she'd been trying and failing to place. "So, that's the hint of an accent I hear. You're British."
He hesitated, then shook his head. "No. I lived there for a while, though."
"When?" You said--"
Apparently unwilling to discuss it further, Bastien cut her off with a kiss. He didn't try any other per-suasion but his lips. Terri went still at first, and after a moment realized she was waiting for something--the usual groping. But it never came. Bastien's hands shifted from her upper arms to her back, but didn't roam. All of Bastien's attention and focus was on her mouth, his lips moving over hers with hunger and passion, his tongue sliding in to dance with hers. After a moment, his accent, the fact that they were out¬side, and their audience were all forgotten.
Giving another sigh, Terri allowed herself to be swept up on his passion once more and pressed her¬self against him, her hands creeping up to rest on Bastien's shoulders. There they curled in the material of his shirt, pulling in an unconscious effort to get closer still. Terri couldn't possibly get closer, though; she and Bastien were as close as two people could be without actually making love.
Time passed in a kaleidoscope of color and sensation for Bastien. All he knew or cared about was the woman in his arms and the lips beneath his own. Terri was soft and sweet in his embrace, pressing her body into his, clutching eagerly at his clothing. She was making passionate little mewling sounds deep in her throat, which both pleased and excited him. Bastien hadn't felt so alive in centuries. He hadn't felt so desperately hungry ever. But he was also very aware of the woman he held. Terri wasn't just any¬one. She might be his life mate.
His eyes opened and skated across the glass front of the Hilton. There were three people working the check-in desk. Only one was busy with a customer; Bastien could have a room in minutes if they went in. He actually considered it briefly, then let the idea slip away. Terri wasn't the type to go for that sort of thing. He knew it instinctively. The time he had al¬ready spent with her and his own knowledge of women gained from four-hundred-plus years of life told him that. If he tried, he'd scare her off so fast that he'd be wondering how the girl in his arms had turned into a dust trail.
These thoughts crossed Bastien's mind several times as he kissed Terri. And each time he came to the same result. No. It was a bad move to rush things. But eventually it got to the point where he soon had to stop or he would try to take her in and rent a room.
He kissed her gently one last time, then again, then broke off altogether to tuck her head under his chin and just hold her. For a moment Bastien smoothed his hands soothingly over her back, allowing his body the time it needed to regain control of itself. At last he said, "We should go home."
"Home," Terri echoed, and there was a sadness in her voice that made his arms tighten around her. It told him that she didn't want this to end, either. His gaze slid to the revolving doors of the Hilton, but danced away from temptation just as quickly.
"Yes." She sighed, running her fingers lightly back and forth over a small patch of his chest in an action he suspected she didn't know was rather distracting. "We should head back. It's almost daylight."
His gaze shifted to the lightening sky, then to his watch, and Bastien grimaced. It was five-thirty in the morning! It would be full daylight soon. They'd been sitting here making out like teenagers for over an hour.
"Come." Urging her backward, he caught her hand and stood, pulling her with him. "Do you still want to walk home, or should I hire a taxi?" He slipped a steadying arm around Terri as she swayed against him.
He saw her glance toward the row of watching taxi drivers. A blush immediately crept into her cheeks. "Er... walking would be better."
He nodded in understanding, and they began to walk, Bastien smiling slightly at the way she now had her head tucked down in embarrassment, not looking to either side. He found it charming, her discomfort at being seen kissing. After more than four hundred years on this earth, Bastien didn't much care what people thought, and until now would have guessed the same of Terri. She seemed to care so little about looking foolish, but apparently that level of comfort didn't stretch to snogging in public. He was again glad that he hadn't tried to lure her into the hotel, she probably would have been mortified at the thought of all those cabbies knowing exactly where they were going and what they would be doing.
"Something smells good." she said.
They had reached the end of the hotel carport and were standing on the corner, waiting to cross the street. Bastien glanced down to see that Terri had fi¬nally lifted her face and was sniffing the air. She turned her head, trying to find the source of the pleasing scent.
"Across the street," he said, spotting the coffee cart.
"Oh." Terri sighed the word. "Are you hungry?"
Bastien's mouth tipped at the question. Hungry? He was ravenous. But not for breakfast buns. He ran his hand up and down Terri's arm, then squeezed her into his side. When the light changed, he shifted to take her hand and lead her across the street. "Come on, I'll buy you something to tide you over until we get home."
Terri woke up after only four hours of sleep, feeling great. She felt rested, hungry, happy...Happy.
She considered the word as she brushed her teeth, then got into the shower. Terri had always thought of herself as a happy person. And she had been. But that was before coming to New York. Since meeting and spending time with Bastien, she'd discovered that the happiness prior to this had been a feeling more along the lines of contentment. Terri enjoyed her job, her cottage, and her friends, but she had been just sort of coasting along in life--bobbing on the waters, so to speak. Now she was cresting the waves, diving in and splashing about. For the first time in her life, Terri was really and truly enjoying herself. She felt young, strong, and vital. She felt alive. And scared.
Having something you cared about was great, ex¬cept it meant you had something that could be taken away.
Stepping out of the shower, she wrapped her long hair in a small hand towel, and used a larger bath towel to quickly dry herself off. Wrapping it around her body sarong-style, she moved to the vanity. There Terri tugged the towel off her head, picked up a brush, and set to work on her hair. At first she didn't really see her reflection, or really even think; she was just working on automatic, carrying out the morning ritual of making herself presentable to the world. But after a moment, she started to notice her reflection and her hand slowed in drawing the brush through her wet brown hair, then stopped altogether.
Letting her hands drop, Terri silently stared, really looking at herself for perhaps the first in a very long time. For years, she had only ever glanced in the mir¬ror to be sure that her hair was neat, or her nose didn't need powdering, not really seeing herself as a whole. Now she took in her reflection with new eyes, seeing what she thought Bastien must see: large green eyes, long mahogany hair, soft full lips, a slightly tipped-up nose. Individually, there was noth¬ing really remarkable about her--or so Terri had al¬ways thought. But somehow, this morning, it all came together into a whole that was really quite lovely. Her skin glowed, her eyes twinkled, her mouth tipped up at the corners in a secret smile. This was a woman who was desired.
Terri might not have paid a lot of attention to her appearance, but she did know that she had never looked better in her life. And she looked like this now because of Bastien. Because he made her feel special, wanted, desirable. And he hadn't even tried to sleep with her.
She grinned at her reflection. The man had taken her to the museum, shopping, a play, and dinner. He'd spent all night laughing and talking with her, "snogged" her senseless for well over an hour, bought her a coffee and a sticky bun, walked back to the penthouse holding her hand, walked her to the door of her room, kissed her passionately once more, then had wished her sweet dreams in a husky passion-filled voice, and finally... left to go to his own room. It was the best date she'd had in her life. He'd made her feel special--not with just his courtesy, care, and con¬cern, but by the simple fact of not trying to get her into bed. To Terri, it proved that Bastien wasn't just on the make. He really liked her. And she really liked him. It was wonderful and sweet and the best time she'd had in her life--and it was going to hurt so very much when it was over. The pain would be un¬bearable. Perhaps worse even than when Ian died, she feared. Because Terri was coming to realize that what she and Ian had experienced was puppy love. They'd been two children gamboling about until tragedy had struck in the form of Hodgkin's disease. Then every¬thing had turned terribly serious, and she had found herself becoming almost a mother to him, caring for him in an almost maternal way and nursing him to the end.
What she was beginning to feel for Bastien was neither puppy love nor maternal in nature. He wasn't simply a friend with whom to gambol through life. He was becoming necessary to her. He made her feel complete, sated, just by his presence.
Terri wasn't a stupid woman, and she knew it was too soon to feel such things, but she felt them just the same. Perhaps her feelings were magnified because of the time limit of her stay here, but it didn't really matter. The fact was, she thought of Bastien con¬stantly and wanted to be with him all the time. He was the first thing she thought of upon opening her eyes in the morning, and the last thing she thought of before drifting off to sleep. And she liked that. She liked this abounding joy she felt. Terri liked the way her heart sped up when Bastien walked into the room, or looked at her, or smiled at her, or compli¬mented her, or kissed her.
Yes, she was happier than she had ever been in her life, and more scared than she had ever been. Terri really didn't want to get hurt, and yet she re¬ally, really didn't want to lose this--whatever it was--either.
Since common sense told her it couldn't be love this quickly, Terri decided to go with logic. That would be safe. This wasn't love. She just liked Bastien. A lot. And as long as she just kept liking him--and didn't love him--perhaps she could survive with her heart still intact when it ended.
"You can handle this," Terri told her reflection quietly. "Just don't go falling completely in love with the guy. Just keep liking him."
Feeling a little bit better and a little less scared now that she had something of a plan, Terri returned to brushing her hair. She would enjoy the time until the wedding. She'd go out with Bastien when he invited her, share talk, laughter, and kisses with him. But she wouldn't fall in love. Then, when she had to go home to England, Terri wouldn't be totally crushed; she would just be terribly sad and resigned that it--like all things--had to end.
"Good morning, Sunshine. You're looking pretty chipper for someone who only straggled in four hours ago."
Terri wrinkled her nose and smiled at Vincent's greeting as she entered the living room. "How do you know what time we got in?"
"I heard you two talking in the hall. It was so late, I worried something had happened to delay you. I opened the door to ask if everything was all right, but you were a bit preoccupied." He waggled his eye¬brows meaningfully. "I gathered everything was all right when I saw the two of you lip-locked outside your door. I didn't want to intrude, so I just closed the door and went back to bed."
Terri felt heat flush her cheeks. She hadn't realized anyone had seen them.
"So. Out all night, huh?" Chris said with a grin. "What were you doing?"
Terri was saved from having to answer that ques¬tion by the elevator buzzer. Someone wanted to come up to the penthouse.
"Are you expecting anyone?" Vincent asked, rais¬ing an eyebrow.
"Yes, actually. The florists." Terri moved to the panel on the wall, grateful that she'd paid attention when Bastien had worked it. She hit the button to bring up the monitor image of the elevator's passen¬gers, then nodded as she spotted men bearing floral arrangements. Not bothering to ask the obvious question of who they might be, Terri simply hit the button to release the elevator, then glanced at Bastien's cousin. "Will you greet them, Vincent? Just have them put the flowers in here. I want to make some coffee."
"Flowers?" Chris asked. Terri thought he sounded a bit odd, but then many men weren't big on flowers, she supposed.
"Yes. They're the possible floral arrangements for Kate and Lucern's wedding," she explained as she headed for the kitchen. "Bastien is going to take photos and e-mail them to Kate, so she can decide which ones she likes best."
Leaving the men to deal with the flowers and where to put them, Terri hurried into the kitchen to make coffee. It was a new coffeepot, however, with that new smell; and she knew that it needed a couple of pots of just plain water run through it.
She surveyed the kitchen for what she should, or could, have for breakfast while the first pot ran. She could have anything she wanted, Terri didn't think there was a single type of food that hadn't been pur¬chased. What she should have was another story. She considered toast, but that sounded boring. Cereal wasn't very exciting, either. And the Pop Tarts and toaster strudels were too sweet for breakfast.
Sighing, Terri paced the kitchen briefly, then set¬tled on an omelet. She'd make an omelet big enough for all of them to eat--though it seemed to her that she and Chris would probably eat most of it. Bastien often just picked at his food, and Vincent never ate at all. She should really ask about his digestive ailment. Surely there was something she could cook that he could eat.
Shrugging, Terri started to remove items from the fridge: onions, cheese, bacon, green peppers. Maybe she'd throw some potato in, too. This was going to be a yummy omelet. And she'd make toast as well. For some reason, she was starved this morning.
Bastien sniffed the air as he walked down the hall to¬ward the living room. He'd slept late, but then they'd been out late last night. He smiled to himself at the memory of his date with Terri. It had been perfect, absolutely and completely perfect. The play, the din¬ner, the talking at Maison--the night had passed like minutes for him, and that hour of shared kisses in front of the Hilton had felt like mere seconds. Terri was a beauty, a joy to spend time with, and so inter¬esting and amusing that he always felt comfortable in her company. She was perfect to be his life mate.
According to his mother, only someone whose mind he could not read would make a good life mate; a husband and wife should never be able to intrude on each other's thoughts. Those should be shared willingly, Marguerite said, not poached like chickens from a henhouse. Bastien couldn't read Terri's thoughts. But she did share them freely.
A pleased sigh slid from his lips, and Bastien grinned to himself. Her openness and honesty were what he liked best about Terri. Her passion for life, not to mention the passion she'd revealed in his arms, was priceless. He'd lived long enough to know that such open caring and passion were a rare find nowa¬days. Most people allowed fear to deaden their feel¬ings and responses. Terri wasn't one of them. She was full of life, she was beautifully and vitally... dead?
He stopped short in the living room entrance and gaped at the sight of Terri lying silent and still on the floor. Her body was splayed like a rag doll tossed to the ground, her luscious chestnut hair a pool around her head.
Two telltale red dots marked her lovely, slender throat.