***Part Eight***
Word Count: 3,688

"Claire, you're going to burn a hole in the carpet if you keep pacing like that."

Claire spared her mother a quick glance, really it was more of a glare before resuming her pacing. Adam would be there any minute and she was debating about running up to her room to hide. Or change clothes real quick and tell him she'd changed her mind. "I can't believe I let you talk me into this."

"I don't know what you're fretting about, Claire. It's a natural thing to do with your boyfriend."

"If he wasn't older than me I'd agree."

"Then why'd you ask him at all."

"You caught me at a weak moment. Remember our conversation? 'What girl doesn't want to go to prom?' you said."

"I didn't twist your arm."

"I believed you!"

"And he would have let you go with someone else your age?"

"No." That wouldn't have happened in this century. It was enough he didn't seem to understand why she had guys that were friends.

"Well then, I don't see where you had a choice."

"He has to think this is the most ridiculous thing he's been asked to do."

Sandra walked up to her and Claire stopped her pacing. Her mother placed her hands at Claire's shoulders and met her gaze.

"You look lovely, honey. And you're going to have a great time. I don't claim to know him well, but if he'd found out later you really wanted to go and you hadn't asked him to spare him a few hours of discomfort. Well, I think he might have been upset."

Claire rolled her eyes. Her mother was probably right, but obviously had no idea just how ridiculous and out of place Adam would probably feel tonight. It wasn't like he just had his own prom a few years ago or anything. He did fine around her friends, but she could usually tell when he'd had enough. He hadn't said one word when she'd told him how late the dance went, though.

"And he could have said no."

The thing was, she didn't think he'd say no to her about something like this. If she asked him to do something, he knew it meant she really wanted to do it with him.

The doorbell rang, signaling it was too late for her to reconsider. She hadn't even heard his car pull up out front as she usually did.

"You're sure I look all right?"

She'd spent weeks picking out her dress, going so far as asking Angela to send her something from New York to ensure no one else had a dress like hers. She'd heard many classmates talk about going to LA to pick out dresses so that wasn't an option. Angela had agreed under the condition that she be on the receiving end of pictures. That was a trade-off Claire was willing to do for an awesome prom dress.

"You look beautiful."

"Thank you," she said as Lyle went for the door.

"I'll get your boutonniere."

"Thanks, Mom," she said, taking a deep breath. She was beyond nervous. He'd never seen her dressed like this with her hair done and everything. She didn't usually look like a slob in front of him or anything, but this was formal stuff. Her first formal. And the look on Adam's face was worth a million pictures for Angela.

"Wow."

"Thanks."

"I tried to envision what you might wear or look like. As pleasing as my imagination was they did not come close to the real thing. You really did go all out."

"So, did you," she said. She'd never noticed Nathan look this nice in his tuxedo when she was in New York. And really, he was the only guy she'd ever seen in a tux before.

"I did not want to disappoint you."

He would cut off his arm rather than disappoint her. That sacrifice would be perhaps more noteworthy if he wouldn't grow a new one in its place. It was still overwhelming at times that she had someone so much in her corner. All of the time.

She'd convinced her mother to take pictures before Adam got there, promising to get one taken at school by the photographer there. That didn't stop her mother from taking a couple of them together, which Claire knew Adam avoided as much as he could. She supposed she'd have to think about that, too. Especially if she was going to look like this forever.

They were taking a walk outside when her cell phone rang. He didn't seem to be having too bad a time. She noticed he'd been somewhat relieved when she'd suggested going outside for a while, though. There were times she wasn't sure it was so much his being unfamiliar with people her age as his just being alone most of the time. Being around people didn't seem to be something he did a lot of normally.

"Don't you ever turn that thing off?"

"I thought I did!"

She almost didn't answer it, not recognizing the number. Except everyone knew she was at prom. So, she could only imagine someone really wanted to talk to her.

"Hello?"

'Claire?' the voice said, barely above a whisper.

"Dad?"

'Yes, I'm sorry for disturbing you. You need to get out of there. Now.'

"What?"

'I don't know how, but they've found us. They're going to come after you first. Adam and I have already discussed this happening sooner or later, so he should be prepared with a plan in place. Don't come home or call me. Only answer calls from this number.'

"Who's phone is this?"

'The Haitian's. I'm having him erase my memories, but he'll have the phone.'

"Dad."

'Not all of them, just of where you are, Adam, the contact arrangements we made, and things like that.'

"All right. I'm sorry."

'You don't have anything to apologize for. If anyone does, I do for not hiding us better. I love you. And remember, no phone calls until you see this number again.'

"I won't forget. I love you, too," she said. She disconnected, her thumb remaining on the key as she stared at the phone.

"What was that about?"

"My dad says they've found us. You're supposed to take me somewhere safe."

"All right. Let's go then."

Her lips curled up into a smile. "Don't sound so upset at the prospect of leaving prom early."

"Were you having that good of a time?"

She shrugged. "It was nice and I was hoping for another dance at least."

"Fair enough, but it's not worth risking your life for. I'll get you somewhere safe."

"You mean not your house?"

"That's not exactly safe. Anyone could have seen us together. Your spurned boyfriend could have followed us."

"He wouldn'tů"

"How did they find you then, Claire?"

"I don't believe he'd do that, Adam. I really don't. We haven't been best friends or anything, but he's been nicer to me lately."

"Maybe there's a reason for that."

"No," she said. Perhaps she was being na´ve, but she just didn't believe West would betray her like that. Because bringing The Company here would risk exposing him to them again.

"Very well, if you say so. We still need to go. It's a good thing I planned for this."

"You did?"

"Of course. I'm like that youth organization I'm always prepared."

"The Boy Scouts?"

"Yeah, them," he said as they changed paths and walked in the direction of his car. He opened his trunk for a minute. She saw the duffel bag she'd given him earlier with a change of clothes and other things she'd need for after prom. And a second one.

"I thought you were bringing that to your house."

"You just told me to hold onto it so your parents didn't see you leaving tonight with a bag."

"Why do you have a bag?"

"Because my plan wasn't to bring you back to my house tonight."

"Where?"

"A hotel room."

"Oh. Why?"

He shrugged. "It seemed like something to do to make your night memorable. And I don't have a hot tub at my house."

"And the hotel room did?"

"Yes."

"Hmm."

"We can't go there, Claire. If it was West, he knows my vehicle. That means they will, too."

"I know." She didn't have to be happy about it. That sounded totally fun!

"Some other time."

"Stupid Company."

"Yeah, I've said similar, though not quite as libelous, things about them in the past."

"Ha ha."

He opened her door, stopping to kiss her. "I'm sorry your night has been ruined. I realize this was important to you."

"Thank you. Especially because I know you don't understand why it was important to me."

"You're welcome. Now, let's go."

"Where are we?"

"Outside of Vegas."

"As in Las Vegas?"

"Yes."

"I expected it to be brighter."

"We're a little ways away yet."

"What is this place?"

"A place I have."

"Why?"

"I spend time here once in a while. Vegas is a fun place if you're of the mind to enjoy it without letting it be at your expense. It's like a dream come true for a man with very few hang-ups or vices. And no one seems to notice you looked the same ten years ago. The house is paid for. There's no phone service or cable, but it has electricity and the basics."

"Food?"

"I did stock it with some essentials after your father spoke to me about this being inevitable. But there's no fresh food, it's all canned, boxed or frozen."

"Oh."

"We can't go anywhere dressed like this," he said. She must have made a face or something for him to respond that way. "We'll stand out. We shouldn't go shopping this late either. We'll wait until morning."

"I can't believe my father sent me with you."

"Your father knows I'll protect you."

"You've talked?"

"Yes."

"I didn't know that."

"We've only talked a couple of times. He wanted to be sure that I would take care of you in the event that something happened to your parents. He knew who I was it turns out from the first time he saw me."

"How? Why didn't you tell me?"

"I guess he'd seen me at some point. And he asked me not to, because he didn't want to worry you in case things never came to this."

"He never said a word to me."

"I think he realizes what our situation is and wasn't going to interfere with whatever may happen between us."

"I think you give him too much credit. He's my father. I mean, he's shipping me off with you. It's not like I'm going to stay at Angela's or something."

"And I told you before when you asked me what he'd do if he found out how old I really was. He wants you happy, Claire. And someone like West isn't going to make you happy. Maybe the first time around. Eventually, however, you'd tire of all of the mortal people around you dying."

"We're mortal."

"You know what I mean."

"Yes."

"How long do we stay here?"

"Until your father tells us otherwise. I assume he gave you some sort of way to communicate with him."

"No, told me to wait for a phone call."

"Then we wait."

"And if he doesn't call?"

He closed the garage door behind them, grabbing the bags and a few other things from the trunk. He set them by the door she assumed led to the house and walked to a workbench.

"Help me with this, won't you?"

"Sure," she said as he started unfolding a tarp, handing her a side of it. "You didn't answer my question."

More silence.

"Okay. Why are we covering the car?"

"It stands out. The house is under no name The Company knows, but I won't take chances. They have operatives everywhere. Someone might spot the car in town. We'll use this one instead," he said.

She glanced at the other car. It looked really old and huge.

"Wow, that's huge."

He chuckled. "Oh, sweetheart, if only it wasn't my car you were talking about."

She blushed. "Well, I've never seen anyone but you, so I wouldn't know."

The car covered, he closed the distance between them and slid a hand to the nape of her neck. He drew her to him and kissed her. "Lucky for me, your knowledge base will not be expanded upon."

"Aren't you the confident one?"

"Yes."

"Is that your way of telling me there are bigger?"

"Am I not enough for you, Claire?"

"You know you are."

"It's still nice to hear."

"Men. I don't worry about my breasts being big enough for you."

"Some women, on the other hand, do and there are plastic surgeons around the world rich because of it. Your breasts are quite perfect the way they are."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. There is a slight difference, though, in that the size of them does not correlate to pleasure."

"Really?"

"Well, not directly. And it seems men have different tastes in that area, I've never heard a woman claim to prefer a man be small."

"So, I could have none at all and you'd be fine with that?"

He gave a soft laugh and kissed her again, deeper this time. Deep enough that she had to catch her breath because she hadn't been expecting it. She grabbed onto the lapels of his jacket and slid it off of him. She still wasn't real good at being assertive with him, usually following his lead more than anything. She just wasn't always sure what to do. Right now, though, she wanted his jacket off and so she went with that.

His hand moved to her breast. She wondered if him touching her would get to the point that it wasn't exciting. She hoped not, because she liked the feelings he gave her, the excitement of it all.

"I think, yes, I would be fine with that," he said softly once he'd broken the kiss. "I do have to wonder why all of the sudden do you feel the need to wear a dress whose skirt goes on forever."

"It's prom!"

"And?"

"You're supposed to wear formals."

"And they don't make formals with shorter skirts."

"You always complain my skirts are too short."

"Yes, because you wear them to school and places without me along."

"Well, I couldn't very well ask Angela to buy me a dress with a short skirt."

"True enough." He led her to the door then, grabbing the bags. "Let's go inside and resume somewhere more comfortable. Grab the light switch, will you?"

"Sure," she said, doing just that after grabbing his tuxedo jacket from on top of the trunk.

"This isn't quite how I imagined you spending your first full night with me."

"And a hotel room was?"

"I didn't presume we'd stay all night."

"Then why do it?"

She followed through the house. It was dark so she had no idea what it looked like from the outside, other than they seemed to be in a more secluded area. That wasn't surprising. She supposed he valued his privacy and liked knowing he could come one place without worrying that someone would recognize he looked the same time and time again.

The inside was nice. It was pretty basic and she wondered when the last time he spent anytime here was. They weren't that far from Costa Verde so whatever arrangements or supplies he'd taken care of could have been done in a day.

"I don't know, trying to please you." He flipped a light switch. "And all right, perhaps trying to seduce you in a memorable way."

"You don't think you're memorable otherwise?"

"When you accumulate so very many memories, Claire, they all start to blend together. Apparently, this tradition was an important one to you, to your friends, some right of passage I don't claim to understand. I was trying to ensure it stood out for a long time."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome." He set their things down and turned on a lamp near the bed. "Have you ever slept in the woods?"

"No."

"Well, you'll either sleep very well or awful."

"Why?"

"Either the peace and quiet will be a welcome reprieve from the incessant noise you're subjected to every day. On the other hand, it could drive you nuts that you hear and see nothing but starlight for miles. Tomorrow we'll go for a walk and I'll show you where you're safe going."

"Going?"

"There are parts of the property that are visible from the road. It was unavoidable despite the fact I've owned it long before the area became popular. You should stay away from those. They're marked, but you need to know what to look for."

"All right."

"How did you keep the electricity and stuff current if you were not here for thirty years?"

"I have someone to take care of things for me because I do tend to wander."

"Are there other places?"

"Yes. Would you like to see them?"

"One day."

"That's better than no I guess. Are you going to be all right in here?"

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"Well, we've never actually spent a night together."

"I've slept with you."

"Not like this."

"Don't you want to?"

"That's not what or why I'm asking. I'm giving you an out."

"Well, I don't want an out."

"If you change your mindů"

"All right."

"Do you know how to shoot a gun?"

"I'm from Texas."

"That doesn't really answer my question."

"I can shoot a gun, yes."

"Well?"

"That's a matter of opinion. I guess I'd say no, I haven't done it often enough to be good."

"We'll change that."

"Do you think I'll need to use one?"

"I'd rather you know and find out you don't need the lessons than the other way around."

"True."

"Because if they get to you that means I'm down, one way or another, and it's you or them."

"I get it."

She sat on the bed and opened her purse. "I wish I knew where he was. What he was doing."

"He'll be fine, Claire. He'll take your mother and brother and get them somewhere safe."

"Are you sure?"

"Quite. Your father struck me as not just a competent man but one who succeeds at what he's set his mind to if he's determined enough. And the safety of his family is something he's determined enough about."

"You two have that in common I guess."

"Yes."

"I just don't like the idea of you two talking behind my back."

"It wasn't behind your back. It was two men sharing information, nothing more. You just happened to be the common denominator."

"It's like he's going to know, though."

"Know what?"

"That we," she shrugged, pulling out the cell phone to see if she'd received any calls. She hadn't. "You know."

"And you don't think he suspected before now?"

"Well, no, not until tonight when you told me you two were making with the communicating. That means he knows you're like forever old. So, yeah, I guess he probably suspects, though he's never asked me or said anything. He'd think it was too soon."

"I think he'd think that even if we were married and had been for years. And you know I hadn't plannedů"

"I know you didn't."

"On that note."

"What note?"

"Our sex life."

Her lips quivered into a smile. "Yes."

"Do I get the pleasure of undressing you now?"

"Maybe."

"I've been wondering how long it would take for hours now."

"Yeah, I hadn't realized Angela was so stylish."

"Why did she get you a dress?"

"I couldn't find anything around here I liked."

"Why not?"

She shrugged and he sat next to her then.

"Why not, Claire?"

"Something that wouldn't make me look stupid or outclassed by you."

He chuckled.

"We're going to have to go out tomorrow, you know?"

"Why?"

"Because I only brought one change of clothes."

"Oh, yes, I had assumed essentials would need to be come by. However, please don't feel you need to wear clothes on my account."

"Very funny."

"I don't think I was kidding. I would enjoy seeing you in one of my shirts."

"It'd be fun to wear this shirt," she said, running her hand along the front of his formal shirt.

"Then by all means," he said, reaching to undo the bowtie. "Get it off me."

"In a hurry?"

"I wouldn't want to deprive you of your fun."

"That's very nice of you."

"And the idea of you in this shirt and nothing else holds great appeal. Maybe the bowtie, but right at your neck"

"It seems most anything appeals to you."

"You're an appealing person."

"Thank you," she said, taking the bowtie from him as he worked the buttons on his shirt. "You are, too. Most of the time."

"That's better than none of the time."

She draped the bowtie around her neck. "I don't know how to do this."

"I do and I will. First things first."

"What?"

"Getting you out of that dress."

"You were planning on helping me?"

"Helping you? I plan on doing it myself. And in that regard, your grandmother did me a favor."

"How so?"

"Well, removing it means I get to enjoy every inch of you."

"Why?"

"It's a nice dress, I'd hate for it to catch on anything."

"Is that so?"

"Yes, great care should be used."

"And that care would involve?"

He stood from the bed and knelt on the floor in front of her. He slid her shoes off, rubbing each foot in turn briefly. He reached under the dress, pushing the silky fabric up just enough so she was able to see her ankles.

"I was thinking of something like this," he said softly before kissing them.

"That will takeů"

"Hours," he finished, cutting her off as he pushed the dress a little higher again.

When he kissed her again. Well, she wasn't really one to complain about hours being spent like this.

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