In the Face of Death (Madelaine de Montalia #2)

Chapter 14

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It was more than he could bear, having her so close. With a sound that was not quite a groan, he reached out and pulled her tightly to him, his carnality igniting afresh as he embraced her. At last he took her firmly by the shoulders and held her back from him. "How can you endure parting?" There was pain in his voice and his body was taut.

"I can because I must," she answered, not resisting him.

"Those of my blood do more parting than anything else. Or at least it seems that way to me."

"And when you have gone, there will be others, won't there?" He meant this to hurt; his long fingers tightened on her shoulders.

"Yes. There will." She looked directly at him, unflinching in the face of his accusation. "As you will have your wife, and those women you seek out for… didn't you call it necessity and amusement?"

He released his hold on her and looked away. "You are right, Madelaine; I have no basis for complaint. I, after all, made the"conditions of our liaison: how ill-mannered of me to protest them now."

She took his hand. "Stop berating yourself," she said in discomfiture. "If you must know, I find your jealousy unrealistic but… flattering."

"I am not jealous." In spite of his forbidding demeanor, he could not stop a quick burst of rueful laughter. "Fine pair we are," he told her at last. "It would serve us both right if we lost the whole night in bickering."

"If that would make parting easier, then—" she offered, only to be cut off by his lips opening hers.

He seemed determined to press the limits of their passion, for he went at her body as if it were territory to be won. He lavished attention on her face and mouth, on the curve of her neck and the swell of her breasts, using every nuance of excitation he knew to evoke a desire in her as intense as his own, all the while reveling hi her tantalizing ministrations and ecstatic responses to the onslaught of his relentless fervor; it was an act of flagrant, erotic idolatry. "Now. Let me have. All of you," he whispered to her as he drew her onto his lap, guiding her legs around him, shuddering in anticipation as she sheathed him deep inside her. His kiss was as long and profound as his flesh was frenzied; while she nuzzled his throat, he clasped her as if to brand her body with his image until their spasms passed.

They were quiet together for some undefined time afterward, neither wanting to make the first move that would break them apart. Then he shifted, changing how he held her. "My foot's falling asleep," he apologized.

"Does it hurt?" Madelaine asked, moving off his lap entirely. In the predawn umber gloom her bedroom looked more like a sketch in charcoal than a real place; no birds yet announced the coming of the October sun, but Madelaine saw it heralded by more than the muting of darkness.

"No, it tingles," he said, wrapping his arm around her shoulder. As he pulled her close, he said, as he flipped his foot to restore circulation, "What a prosaic thing to happen."

"It might have been a leg cramp," said Madelaine as levelly as she could; she was still filled with the glory of their consummation.

"That would be a different matter, wouldn't it?" He chuckled once.

She turned her head and kissed the lobe of his ear. "Oh, entirely."

He ran his hand down her neck to her breast, cupping it and brushing her nipple with his thumb. "I hope you won't have bruises."

"No," she said. "I won't."

"Another of the things those of your blood don't do?" he asked deliberately lightly. "As you do not eat or weep?"

"Yes," she said quietly, and kissed the angle of his jaw where it met his neck.

"Is it difficult, not to eat or weep?" he asked, still holding on to her.

"Occasionally," she admitted, aware that she would have welcomed the release that weeping would bring her upon parting. She was about to move away from him when he tightened his arm, pulling her back close to him.

"Oh, God, Madelaine: I cannot give you up. I must, but I cannot." This was wrung from him, a cry of such utter despair that she was rendered still by its intensity.

"I know," she said, moved by his anguish; she sought to find some consolation to offer him but could think of nothing.

His eyes were frenzied as he pulled her around to face him. "I will not let this end. If I took you with me, if we left right now, we might be anywhere in the world in a month."

"If that is what you want, Tecumseh, then I will do it," she said, amazed at how deeply she meant what she said.

"It is, it is," he insisted. "It would be the joy of my life to have you at my side. Think of all the places we might go, and all the time we would have." He tried to smile, but succeeded only in stretching his lips over his teeth.

"That might not be the advantage you assume it would be," said Madelaine, a sadness coming over her that surprised her more than it surprised him. "You would grow old and I would not. You might not mind this year, or next year, but in time it would vex you. To say nothing as to what your children would think."

He stared at her. "My children?"

"Well, you would not leave them behind, would you?" she asked reasonably, and knowing what his answer would be.

"No," he admitted after a moment. "I could not do that."

Madelaine kept on. "They would see what you would see: they would grow older and I would not."

He did his best to deny what she told him. "If I could have you all to myself, then I would be happy, no matter what became of us. Or what my children might suspect."

"And how long would you be content?" Madelaine bent to kiss the fingers of his hand on her shoulder. "Even with your children along?"

"I would be thankful to the end of my days," he said with profound conviction.

"Do you think so?" Her voice was soft and poignant. "You tell me this is how you feel, but it is not. You would not like to face age as the living do, while I would hardly change at all."

"I wish you wouldn't say it that way," he protested.

"How would you like me to say it?" she challenged. "You would grow old, and I would appear not to. Vampires age very, very slowly. I have hardly changed in the last century. How would you—"

"I would accept it," he insisted, his fingers digging into her flesh, driven by the force of his emotions. "I might not like it, but I would be willing to accept it."

"Would you? What of the lovers I would have?" She made her question blunt deliberately.

"You wouldn't need them. You would have me," he told her firmly.

"For a time, perhaps," she responded, continuing with great care, "but I would need to find others, or you would soon be exhausted and come to my life." This was not quite the truth, but it was near enough that she knew she had to make him aware of what was likely to happen.

"Then we would carry on in vampire fashion," he said, his emphatic tone shoring up any doubts that might trouble him.

"But vampires cannot be lovers of vampires," she said, and felt him go still.

"And why not, pray?" His tone was harsh, sarcastic, as if he expected some self-serving answer.

"Because vampires must have life. It is the one thing we do not have to give, and the one thing we need above all others," she said quietly. "Once you come to my life, you and I will not be able to—"

"It's not true!" he exclaimed, pushing her away.

"But it is," she said.

"So I must share you or lose you," he said thoughtfully.

"Yes," she said.

"And I take it there is no alternative to this?" He reached out for her hand. "Can we not devise some means to allow us to remain together without having to become estranged?"

"We can never be estranged," Madelaine said.

"Because you have tasted my blood," he said, a wistful note creeping into his statement.

"Yes, Tecumseh; because of that."

He had a sharp retort in mind, a single, pithy remark that would show his skepticism was flourishing; the words never came. Instead, he turned, took her face in his hands and scrutinized her features, memorizing them, before he kissed her with the sudden, harsh misery of parting. As he rose abruptly from the bed, he said, "Stay there. Please, Madelaine. Don't come to the door. I won't have the courage to go if you do."

"All right," she said, watching him dress, her violet eyes filled with anguish. Only when he was ready to leave did she say to him, "You are part of me, Tecumseh. You will always be part of me."

He paused in the door but would not look around. "And you of me." He waited for her to say good-bye; when she did not, he strode out of the room and down the stairs.

San Francisco, 8 October,

Tomorrow I will be gone from this place. It is a harder parting than I would have thought possible, for I am torn between my certainty that I must go and my reluctance to leave Tecumseh. I find his hold upon me quite astonishing, for I have been resigned from the first—or so I thought—to going before his wife returns. 1 had not thought I would find leaving so arduous, or the wrench of separation as painful as it is proving to be… The two buckboard wagons are ready, one carrying my books and papers and personal things, one carrying four crates of my native earth. I have bought two horses to ride, and mules to pull the wagons, and 1 have paid off those I have hired. There only remains the closing of my account at Lucas and Turner; I have decided to do it as I am departing tomorrow, my last stop in this city before we turn to the south-southeast. It may be that Tecumseh will not handle the matter himself, but will deputize one of his assistants to tend to the matter…

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