Authors: Kimberly Frost
I looked up when I heard the knob turn. He was leaving. A wave of guilt swamped me. He’d been working like a dog, and he’d still found time to do something really sweet for me. Of course, Zach being back in town might have been part of the reason Bryn had gone so far out of his way. Bryn could teach even Nick Saban, who won back-to-back college football championships, a thing or two about strategy.
“Hang on,” I said.
“Yes?” he asked, turning back.
“Oh please,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Don’t look so innocent. You know I’m not going to let you leave without giving you something sweet for this.”
“Something sweet,” he echoed. “That sounds promising. What specifically?”
“I’m about to put a cake in the oven,” I offered.
“That’s a good place to start,” he said, and I had no doubt where he wanted things to end. I knew I should push him back out the door, but his beautiful smile reminded me of all the reasons I’m crazy about him.
“We’re not going to get carried away. If anything, you’re in trouble with me.”
“Am I?” he asked.
“I’ve warned you a bunch of times to stop doing things to make me fall more in love with you, but you just don’t listen.”
He smiled. “Yeah, me treating you well, it’s a problem.”
“It is,” I said, waving a hand impatiently. “You know that I made a promise not to make a decision about my love life until . . .” I trailed off with another vague wave of my hand.
He smiled and held out his arms in an “I surrender” gesture. “All right. Have a glass of champagne with me so I don’t have to celebrate alone. Then feed me a slice of cake and send me packing.”
“Really? You’ll behave? You won’t try to flirt your way into my bedroom?”
He shook his head. “Champagne, cake, home.”
“Okay, then. See how when we negotiate, we’re both happy?”
“Sure,” he said with another innocent expression that I didn’t trust. Bryn’s a lot of things, but innocent’s not one of them.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “As long as you agree that the only sugar I’ll be serving up tonight is cocoa pecan cream cake, we’ll get along fine.”
“I’d never try to force you into anything, Tamara. You know that,” he said sincerely. “Glasses?” he asked, taking the champagne bottle back from me.
The tension eased from my shoulders. I’d be good for the night at least. Then I really did have to sort things out. It wasn’t fair to any of us for me to keep the relationships in limbo. But it was going to be awful to choose, like trying to decide between hot apple pie à la mode and dark chocolate decadence. Each was perfect in its own way. Too bad men weren’t really desserts. Then each one could have a turn.
I thunked myself in the head.
No matter how good they taste, men aren’t desserts. Get over it, Lady Godiva Chocolates, before you turn into a tart yourself.
I WAS HALF asleep when a soft yowl and an odd tinkling sound outside my window woke me. I rubbed my eyes and turned my head. Bryn lay next to me in all his gorgeous perfection.
“Good grief,” I muttered. One glass of champagne, one slice of cake, one funny courtroom story, and here we were. We hadn’t actually made love, but we’d come pretty close.
I sighed. “You don’t play fair, Lyons,” I whispered. “And I don’t think you ever plan to.”
The second yowl made me sit up. Was Mercutio trying to get my attention? Hadn’t I left the kitchen window open? Merc knew how to get in that way. I climbed from bed and opened the bedroom window.
I cocked my head at the tinkling sound. It was a little like wind chimes, but none of my neighbors had chimes that sounded quite like that. It was a little too “nails on the chalkboard” to be pleasant. Maybe that was why Merc yowled. He didn’t like the noise.
Bryn murmured in his sleep but didn’t really stir. I was glad. He definitely needed some rest.
I jerked around to face the chair in the far corner of the room. It was inhabited by the green-eyed ghost of my great-great-grandmother’s twin sister, Edie. Though I’d grown up with Edie and once upon a time we’d been really close, we weren’t on bosom terms at the moment owing to the fact that she’d said some pretty harsh things to me when I got involved with Bryn. I understood her point of view. It was her sister Lenore’s premonitions that prompted the creation of the list of nine forbidden families.
“Hey,” I said to Edie while glancing over my shoulder to be sure that Bryn was covered. The dollhouse-print quilt my granny Justine had made for me hit him midchest. It was odd for a naked man to be sleeping under that spread. While Zach and I were married, that quilt had hung like a tapestry on the guest room wall.
The irritating tinkling started again. “What in the Sam Houston is that?” I complained.
“Melanie’s bluebells. They warn a witch that fae are nearby.”
I frowned. “I’m half fae. They don’t make that noise around me,” I said, hoping she was wrong about what the ringing meant. I’d had a battle with some really hideous Unseelie fae, and I wasn’t keen to bump into any more of them on a dark night. Or a sunny day for that matter.
“You have some fae blood, but you’re sixteenth-generation McKenna witch and were raised in a house of witches. The spell on the plants wouldn’t raise an alarm over you.”
“Aunt Mel bespelled the plants? She shouldn’t have. They won’t like it.”
“It’s an Earth witch’s garden. Everything in it is under our dominion.”
“Not the trees,” I said. “Try to make the old ash so much as bend a branch, and you’ll see how much dominion witches have over a garden.”
Her beautifully sculpted brows rose. “So it’s true, then. You’re toying with becoming a wild one? You won’t survive in the Never. You’re very sweet, but you’re not submissive. You can’t imagine the things they’d do to a Halfling with a rebellious streak.”
I drew my brows together. “What are you talking about? I’d never go live with the faeries. So far all they’ve ever done is tangle my hair and stab me.” I grimaced. “No thanks. I’m only saying nature’s got to be respected. Those trees are hundreds of years old. A witch who hasn’t even hit forty ought not to mess with them. It’d be like me telling Bryn’s seventy-something-year-old butler, Mr. Jenson, to shine my shoes. I’d sooner eat the shoe polish than disrespect him.”
“Is that so?” Edie asked, narrowing her almond-shaped eyes. They were heavily lined with kohl, making her look like a Park Avenue Cleopatra. “After all, Jenson does work for Lyons, who’s much younger than his elderly butler. It’s a fact of life that those with the power are destined to make use of it. If you’re not playing lady of the manor at the candylegger’s mansion, what role are you playing? The lord of the manor’s peasant-girl mistress?”
“I’m not playing anything,” I snapped, but an icy breeze blew in and made my teeth chatter, which took some of the authority out of my voice.
“Go away,” I said flatly. “You shouldn’t be in here. You know how he feels about ghosts.”
One time, Bryn had even blocked Edie from reaching me. I’d been furious when I’d found out, but Bryn had reason to distrust ghosts, and Edie actually wasn’t wholly trustworthy. She’d kept so many secrets from me.
Edie sighed. “Has it really come to this? After all the times I watched over you and played with you when you were a child? You’d really ban me from your life for the likes of him?” She floated from the chair and rested on the bed next to Bryn. “I admit he’s quite beautiful. But those black Irish good looks come with a black Irish heart. He can’t be trusted.”
“I say he can.”
Most of the time.
I twisted the ring that had to stay on my finger. To save Bryn’s life I’d made a special vow that tied us together. The day after, I’d woken with a ring on my right middle finger that was linked to one on his left. Removing the ring made my finger burn and ache, the pain spreading with every minute that passed. But constantly wearing it made me uneasy. Bryn claimed the oath I’d made had activated the rings and the best he could do was make them invisible to people. I worried Zach might see through the spell, the way I could when I concentrated. I wondered if Bryn was telling the truth when he said he couldn’t loosen the binding spell on the rings so we could get them off without the pain.
“What do you know of Lyons’s nature?” Edie demanded. “You’re a prize he’s trying to win. He’ll suck the power from you the way wraiths suck the marrow from witches’ bones. If he’s charming now it’s because it suits his purposes. I bet he’s always
.” She said it like it was a dirty word. “I’ll bet he gives you lots of presents. That’s how they get you. The pretty boys are the most dangerous. Take it from someone who knows.”
She wasn’t wrong about Bryn being able to siphon power from me, but she was wrong about him only wanting me for that. When he’d been forced to tell the truth, he’d confessed he was in love with me.
She trailed a finger over Bryn’s collarbone.
He jerked his shoulder forward and back like he was trying to dislodge an insect that had landed on him.
“Don’t touch him,” I said.
She glanced at him and then at me. “You haven’t even bothered to put on a robe. You slip toward the wild without even realizing it.”
I clucked my tongue. “As if you haven’t seen me like this a million times. A locked bathroom door never stopped you from floating right into the shower to tell me something. I’d have a head full of shampoo and soap in my eyes and you’d be reminding me to pick up lavender potpourri or whatever else you wanted from the store.”
“And from the time you were fourteen, you always yelled at me to get out until you were dressed. But not today.”
My heart pinched with fear. She was right. I’d felt myself becoming more fae and establishing a connection to things outside myself. I longed for . . . well, I really couldn’t say what I longed for. I only knew that a feeling nagged me. A sense that something was missing and I must find it.
I glanced at Bryn, biting my lip. He mistrusted faeries. I’d been full fae once under the influence of a spell, and the only thing Bryn cared about was turning me back. If I became too fae, he wouldn’t love me. That thought made my heart ache, and my mind skipped through memories from the past few weeks. Baking strawberry rhubarb pies while Mr. Jenson recounted Bryn’s boyhood adventures in Ireland. Trying a spell that left me covered in maple syrup. When a breeze blew papers against me that stuck, Bryn joked, “the Tammy Jo version of being tarred and feathered,” which dissolved me into giggles. Most of all, I thought of lying with Bryn under the skylight in his bedroom. The
movie was coming out, and I’d said I wanted to read the book. He got it from his library and read me his favorite passage, his voice low and mesmerizing. I’d made him keep going, and we hadn’t fallen asleep until halfway through. The next morning, I stayed in bed to finish it. Over dinner, we talked all about it. Daisy being fair-weathered made me mad, but Bryn defended her, and we argued about the people in the book like they were real. Finally, I got so irritated I threw a buttered roll at him. He’d shot me a look, wiping butter off his cheek, and said, “If you’re going to resort to throwing biscuits, I’m going to ban food from our book clubs.” I burst out laughing and he’d grinned. I never enjoyed a book that much in my life.
Standing in my room now, I stared at him. Bryn wasn’t just a man. He was a whole new world.
Edie’s knowing gaze followed mine, and her tone was bone dry when she spoke. “The one consolation I’d have if you became feral fae would be watching the candylegger’s reaction.” She smirked. “He certainly didn’t think much of your personality when you were full fae.”
“Well, who would have? It’s kind of vague, but from what I can remember I went a little bit crazy.” Normally, I smiled at Edie’s use of the term
. It was an expression from her time—the 1920s—and wasn’t a compliment, but I’d always thought it was cute. Today though, I couldn’t enjoy her slang. Or anything about her visit.
“The cowboy’s back in town. The least you could do is go and see him.”
“I’ve tried to talk to Zach. He’s not returning my calls,” I said, exasperated.
“Why would he? He heard you’re living with Lyons.”
“I am not living there! I stayed there a couple of weeks while this house was under repairs.”
“And you don’t still spend every night at his place? Cooking in his state-of-the-art kitchen? Having dinner and drinks and
“No, I don’t!”
“It’s like you’ve forgotten all about the promise you made. I guarantee Zach hasn’t forgotten. And if you’re not careful, you’ll lose him for good.”
“Likewise,” I said. “And if it’s anyone’s fault that I’m drawn to Bryn, it’s yours.”
“Mine?” she spat.
“Who did I idolize as a little girl? Who had a dry sense of humor and told stories like they were movies playing on the big screen? Who had black hair and bright eyes and treated me to my best adventures? Is it really a surprise I like spending time with Bryn? He’s practically a male version of you. Only sweeter.”
Her phantom brows rose for a moment and then she appraised him with a calculating look. “So he’s a good replacement, is he? Because I’m difficult to get along with now?”
“I’m not trying to replace you. I’m saying you should get to know him. You could be friends because you’ve got a lot in common.”
“Trust a Lyons? Never. And so you know, the difference between your boy toy and me is that I may make a few cutting remarks, but I never set out to destroy anyone.”
“Neither has he.”
“Hasn’t he? The town’s ghosts have been wailing long into the night. There’s a spell creeping through Duvall, sucking energy from us. I’m sure the locket protects me from the worst of it, but what of the others? They lived here. They died here. This is their home. Will you let him drive them to shadow, till there’s no one left?”
I shivered and cast a look at Bryn. He didn’t want ghosts near us, but he’d know it wasn’t right to drive people from their homes, even if they were dead. “I can’t believe he had anything to do with it, but I’ll talk to him. If he’s cast a mean spell, I’ll get him to undo it.”