Part 4 (1/2)

”And see and touch my protobody--the thing I really am?”

”Aw--”

”Scared?”

”Maybe I am.”

”That's silly.”

Mark swallowed and said stiffly, ”Just because there is a no-fight clause in your invitation tonight doesn't necessarily mean I have to follow it, you know. You don't need weapons. I could strangle your protobody easily.”

”You wouldn't,” she said confidently.

”You sure don't think much of me, do you?”

”I think just the same of you as you do of me,” she said simply.

With impulsive hunger, Mark threw his arms around her, holding her tightly against him, nuzzling her, smelling the perfume of her hair, incoherently mumbling into her ear. ”Jennette, Jennette,” he sang, ”I think more of you than anything. I love you. I know it's wrong, but I would never even shoot you, because sometimes it hurts you, and I wouldn't want you to feel even the slightest discomfort.” He stopped, took a deep breath, and added meekly, ”I'm sorry.”

”But Mark,” she whispered. ”Why is it really so wrong?”

”You know.”

”Suppose I told you that this body is my protobody right now?” she asked earnestly.

”But it isn't.”

”It is,” she said faintly.

Mark's breath hissed as he gasped. Jennette was blus.h.i.+ng all over her body, heightening the golden color of it. He let her go, and she slid off his lap onto the shadowed gra.s.s beside him. She bit her lip. ”I didn't really mean to tell you--yet.”

There was silence. Mark said quietly, ”That's all right, Jennette.”

”You aren't angry with me, are you?”

”No,” he said slowly. ”Not angry.”

”Mark--”

”Yes?”