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Authors: Kerrelyn Sparks

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BOOK: Wild About You
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She touched her shoulder. Was she marked for death?

A chill ran down her body, and she shuddered. Was she destined, like her grandmother, to be murdered? Was this why her mother had turned to alcohol? She’d been too afraid that her baby daughter was doomed?

No. Elsa shook her head. She would think about this rationally. People were murdered every day. Her grandmother was an unfortunate statistic. As terrible as that was, it had to be true, because the curse didn’t make any sense. Who would kill someone over a birthmark? They would have to be crazy.

Greta had asked earlier if Howard seemed wild and crazy.

Elsa sat up. No, she wasn’t going to believe it. The curse was nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy. You believed you would be murdered, so you confronted a guy with a weapon, and then he was forced to kill you in self-defense. That was probably what had happened to her grandmother. It was her belief in the curse that had killed her.

“I’m not going to believe it,” Elsa told herself. “No matter what they say, I won’t believe it.”

The curse was a sick game that played with your head. It had played with her mother, and she’d lost.

Elsa stood and paced across the room. The walls closed in, making the room seem smaller and smaller.

Stay locked up in your room,
Greta had said.

“No!” Elsa cried, anger welling up inside her. She would not cower in her room like a frightened animal. She would not succumb to fear. Fear had killed her mother.

“How could you do that?” Tears filled her eyes, and she tossed a pillow across the room. Her mother had died for no good reason. She’d abandoned a three-year-old child because she couldn’t handle her fear.

“How could you be so damned
?” she yelled, then froze with a sudden realization. She’d never admitted it to herself before, but she was angry at her mother. Furious.

Her heart pounded, and her hands trembled as she raked them through her hair.

“I’m not repeating your mistake,” she whispered. “I’m going to be strong. I’m going to go on with my life and my job, and nothing is going to stop me.”

She turned to look at herself in the mirror above the vanity. “There is no curse.”

Chapter Eight

oward was having trouble concentrating on his report at the Dragon Nest Academy. He’d risen early to familiarize himself with the grounds, stable, gymnasium, and huge mansion that housed the school and dormitories. He and Phil were the only security guards at the school now, and Howard had taken the day shift. Phil preferred staying up at night, since he was married to a vampire. Angus and Emma were already gone, having teleported to Mexico the night before to assist with the mission there.

Dougal had teleported Phil straight to the school, but Howard had asked to be teleported to the Draganesti house in White Plains, where he’d left his SUV. He’d packed up the rest of his belongings, including his stash of DVDs under the bed, and made arrangements for his furniture to be shipped to the school. Then he’d driven to the school, arriving later than expected. He’d been immediately instructed to go to the gatehouse.

And there he’d met Elsa.

Now he couldn’t think of anything else. Her image kept filling his mind, her wild mane of hair, her forest green eyes, her scent so sweet and fresh like a spring rain.

Get a grip. You’re acting like a silly young cub
. He had a job to do. He glanced around the office, then started a list of supplies he would need. A file cabinet. The main office had files on every student and teacher, but he wanted his own copies. He also needed a secure place to store rifles and handguns. Every student over the age of fifteen should be trained in firearms so they could be called into action in case the school ever came under attack.

Ian had been in charge of security before this, and he and Angus had always assumed the school was safe as long as it was secret. In Howard’s experience, the Vamps tended to be too lax in their security measures, probably because if things got too dicey, they could simply teleport away. But he was a firm believer in always being prepared for the worst-case scenario.

He made a note to check the kitchen and make sure they had a supply of water and food that would last six months if necessary. And dammit, they needed donuts. He wrote that down and underlined it three times. He’d had a rude surprise this morning when he’d discovered there were no bear claws in the kitchen.

How could a man work without donuts? He’d been forced to drive into Cranville at the crack of dawn to pick up four dozen. The donut shop had been across the street from the motel, and he’d spotted Elsa’s rental car parked in front of one of the motel’s sixteen rooms. Even from across the street, he could catch a hint of her scent, fresh as a forest in springtime.

It had been awfully tempting to knock on the door. He’d almost left a box of donuts on her doorstep, but a deer was close by, munching on the flowers in the pot beneath her window. The donuts might not survive.

And he might appear too desperate. He’d practically begged her last night to see him again.

With a muttered curse, he loaded the donuts into the passenger seat of his SUV, then ate two dozen of them on the drive back to the school.

It was now ten thirty in the morning—time for a coffee break. He settled at the desk, a box of donuts nearby and a cup of coffee in his hand as he checked his e-mail on his laptop. A message from Harry.

Howard, the news is hitting today. See the link.

He clicked on the link, and it took him to the online version of
Northern Lights Sound Bites
. The headline—“Rhett Bleddyn Donates Millions to Unlikely Candidates.”

“Sweet.” Howard bit into a donut and read the article. Rhett had to be livid. By now, he’d probably checked the disaster area that had once been his bank accounts. He’d probably also discovered more than half of the money gone from his embezzling account in the Cayman Islands.

Howard chuckled and finished his donut.

The office door cracked open and a little face peered inside.

With a smile, he stood. “Tino.”

“Howard!” The little boy jumped inside, a wide grin on his face. “You’re back!”

He strode over to the boy and wrapped his arms around him. “You’re up early.”

“I couldn’t stay in bed, not when I knew you would be here in the office.”

He tousled the boy’s blond curls. “Want a donut?”

“Yes! I haven’t had one in weeks, not since you left.”

Howard feigned an appalled look. “That should be against the law.” He strode over to the console and glanced back to find Tino mimicking his long-legged stride.

With a grin, he grabbed a bottle of water and some napkins and set them on the desk. “I missed you, munchkin.”

“I missed you, too.” Tino climbed into the chair in front of the desk, but his chin barely reached above the surface.

“Hop down a second.” When Tino did, Howard stacked a few reams of paper on the chair, then deposited the boy on top of them. He grabbed a donut from the box on the desk, then placed it on a napkin.

Tino grinned. “Thanks!” He stuffed the donut in his mouth.

Howard sat behind his desk and closed his laptop. “So how have you been?”

“Bored.” Tino licked his fingers. “Can I have another one?”

“One more.” Howard placed another donut in front of the little boy, then helped himself to one.

“My mom was so excited last night.” Tino struggled with the top to his water bottle, so Howard unscrewed it for him. “She said you got to meet your dream girl.”


Tino nodded and drank some water. “She said it was magical.”


“It wasn’t?” Tino bit into his donut.

“How did your mother know about Elsa?”

“I told her.”

Howard sipped some coffee. “You told her about my secret tapes?”


“Do you know what secret means?”

“Yes.” Tino stuffed more donut into his mouth. “It means you don’t tell anybody.” His eyes widened. “Oh.”


Tino gulped down his donut. “Are you mad at me?”

Howard smiled. “Just remember that a man should always respect another man’s privacy.”

Tino nodded. “Okay.” He licked his fingers. “When are you going to teach me chess? You said you would.”

Howard finished his donut. There wasn’t much going on at the school in the morning. Most classes didn’t begin until late afternoon, and then they ran into the night to accommodate the teachers who were Undead or the children who could only attend class after their Undead parents teleported them to school.

“We could play a little now,” he suggested.

Tino grinned. “Great!”

Howard returned the donuts to the console and brought back the wooden box that contained his chess set. “First you need to learn how to set it up. You want to be white or black?”

“White. They’re the good guys, right?”

Howard smiled as he set the board down on the desk. “When you’re at war, the side you’re on is always the good guys.”

“Even if you’re wrong?”

“Afraid so. Even the bad guys can believe they’re the good guys.”

“Huh?” Tino shook his head in disbelief, then reached for a white chess piece. “Sofia would like this one. It has a horse.”

“That’s a knight.” Howard set up the black pieces on his end of the board. “The small ones are called pawns. They’re your front line. They’re . . . expendable.”

Tino wrinkled his nose. “You mean they’re not important?”

A vision of Carly’s dead body flashed through Howard’s mind. To Rhett, she’d only been a pawn. “They’re important. All the pieces are. You don’t want to lose any of them.”

“Oh.” Tino looked over the pieces, frowning. “But can you win without losing any of them?”

“No.” He shoved Carly’s image from his mind. “You take your losses like a man and press on.”

“I don’t think I like this,” Tino mumbled, then picked up the king. “He’s the most important one, right?”

“Even the king is expendable.” Howard picked up his queen and ran his thumb over the top. “It’s all about protecting the queen.” The image of Elsa settled in his mind. Why had his touch caused her birthmark to burn? Why had it frightened her so much that she’d immediately called her aunt? “You’ll do anything to keep her safe. If you lose her, then all hope is lost.”

“You’re worried about your dream girl.”

Howard looked up, surprised. There were times when he wondered if Tino had inherited some of his mother’s psychic abilities. He could be incredibly perceptive for a five-year-old.

“You should go see her,” Tino suggested.

Howard finished setting up the board. “I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

He shrugged. “I don’t want to seem too pushy. Or desperate. I might scare her away.”

Tino laughed. “You’re not scary.”

Howard smiled. “She doesn’t know me like you do.”

Tino nodded and fiddled with his chess pieces. “Oh!” He sat up suddenly. “I forgot. I have homework. For math class. It’s due this afternoon.”

Did he really? Howard suspected the boy was making excuses to get out of playing a game that hadn’t lived up to his expectations. “Well, then you’d better get to it.” He lifted Tino off the chair.

“Bye, Howard!” Tino grinned at him, then skipped out of the office.

Howard returned to his desk to finish reading the news article on his laptop.

He called Harry. “Great job.”

“Thanks.” Harry sounded excited. “Everything’s going just as we planned. The mainstream news has latched on to the story.”

“Really? That’s good.”

“Yeah. Rhett’s in town today, and the reporters are all over him like vultures. He’s denying he made the campaign contributions, but the candidates are saying he did and they can prove it. He’s got a deer-in-the-headlights look, which is really funny on a wolf.” Harry laughed. “I’ll send you a photo.”

“Good.” Howard wished he could personally see Rhett having an anxiety attack, but it was better if he was far away. Out of sight, out of mind, hopefully.

“I’m running an article tomorrow on how he’s harassing those bankrupt towns,” Harry continued. “And I’ve got three more exposés after that. He’ll never be able to run for office once I’m through with him.”

“Great. But be careful, bro. Keep it anonymous.”

“Don’t worry. My editor agreed to leave off the byline.” Harry paused, then his tone turned serious. “I started investigating what happened to our dads.”

Howard blinked. “Why? It was a fire. A lightning storm.”

“That’s what we were told, but we were so young at the time, we never questioned it.” Harry sighed. “I checked the records, and there was no storm that night.”

Howard stiffened. If the fire had been man-made, then their fathers were murdered.

“I’ll see what I can find out,” Harry said. “Okay?”

Howard gritted his teeth. “Do it.”

re you sure?” Alastair hesitated on the front porch of the gatehouse.

“I’ll be fine here,” Elsa insisted. “There’s no point in both of us going.”

“All right, luv. I shall return with a sandwich forthwith. Or whatever sustenance I can find.” He headed to the rental car. “Cheerio.”

“Mustard, no mayo,” Elsa called out, then waved as he drove off toward Cranville.

He’d been wily enough last night to wheedle an extra key from Shanna, and they had spent the morning taking photos and documenting problems they found in each room. It was all part of their plan to show Shanna how excited and dedicated they were over the proposed renovation.

Elsa returned to her notepad in the old house’s kitchen. There would be a ton of work needed there. New plumbing, new appliances, new countertops, new floor. The old cabinets were solid wood and salvageable, but she doubted there were enough of them to suit a modern owner. This was her area of expertise—woodwork. And it was the sort of challenge she loved. She could fashion new cabinets that were an exact match to the old ones.

Last night, she’d told Howard it was all about family. And it was. She could feel it most strongly here in the kitchen. How many meals had been prepared in this room? How many families had gathered around this old wooden table? Quite a few, since the gatehouse had been built in 1892. She ran a hand over the scarred table. If it was up to her, she’d make sure this old house continued to be a home for another hundred years.

BOOK: Wild About You
4.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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