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Authors: Kerrelyn Sparks

Wild About You (9 page)

BOOK: Wild About You
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“Which show did you enjoy the most?” Alastair asked.

Was this a test to see if he actually watched? “I thought the house in Berlin was the biggest challenge, especially since the owner was so uncooperative.”

“He was an ass,” Alastair muttered.

Howard grinned. “I thought so, too. But the house in London is probably my favorite. Elsa did a fantastic job on the woodwork.”

She smiled shyly. “Thank you.”

“What does the show mean to you?” Howard asked, wondering if she loved all the attention of being an international celebrity.

“For me, it’s about our heritage.” Alastair arranged his silverware neatly on the Formica-topped table. “It’s important to preserve our history, to honor it. Otherwise, we have no idea who we are and where we’re going.”

Howard nodded. His grandfather would agree with this. He was always droning on and on about their history as berserkers. “And you, Elsa?”

She sipped some water as she considered. “For me it’s all about family. Creating a home where a family can make their own history, where year after year holidays are celebrated and birthday candles are blown out.”

Howard smiled. “Do you come from a big family?”

She shook her head. “No. I was an only child. I lost my mom when I was young, so my aunt and uncle raised me.”

“Then you place a high value on family because it’s always been scarce.”

She tilted her head, considering. “I never thought about it that way, but it’s true. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a family settled into one of the houses we renovate. If we can give them a good solid home, then it seems like we’re doing something really special.”

“You are.”

Her gaze met his, and instantly he felt the connection, the pull. Would he be able to touch her again without hurting her?

Alastair cleared his throat, and Howard wondered how long he and Elsa had stared at each other. The waitress brought their food, and they busied themselves eating.

“How did you learn to do woodwork?” Howard asked.

Elsa swallowed her bite of hamburger. “I learned from my uncle Peder. It was his hobby.” She sipped some more water. “He passed away about a year ago.”

“I’m sorry.”

She shrugged. “I miss him, but I’m forever grateful to him. He was a builder by profession and taught me so much. My aunt is an interior designer, so I grew up surrounded by sawdust, paint and carpet samples, and swatches of fabric.”

Alastair wiped his mouth with the paper napkin. “My family was into construction, too. It gets into your blood.”

Elsa nodded. “I became fascinated with the whole process of turning a few boards and brick into an actual home, a place where children could play and couples grow old together.”

Howard smiled. This was the Elsa he’d fallen for on television. She was genuine. Real. And he was going to pursue her in earnest. If he could touch her without hurting her.

After paying for dinner, he followed them outside.

“I’ll go get us some rooms.” Alastair headed across the street to the motel office.

“He’s leaving me alone with you?” Howard smiled at Elsa. “I must have passed inspection.”

She snorted. “Alastair considers me his little sister. A rather big little sister.”

“Not too big to me.”

She gave him a puzzled look.

He stepped closer. “Can I see you again?”

“I’m sure we’ll see each other often at the house.”

“That’s not what I meant.” He reached out to touch her arm, but she moved back. “Does your shoulder still hurt?”

“A little. I should go to my room and put some of that ointment on it. Thank you for dinner.” She stepped off the sidewalk to cross the road.

“Elsa.”

She glanced back.

“Aren’t you curious? Don’t you want to know what will happen?” He extended a hand toward her.

Frowning, she turned to face him. “Why would I ask for more pain?”

“Maybe it won’t hurt this time.”

“It hurt before. It’s too big a risk.”

“It’s too big a loss if we give up on our future.”

She scoffed. “What future?”

“You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. I really want to see you again.” He was tempted to tell her they were somehow connected, but he didn’t want to frighten her.

She groaned with frustration. “I’m not sure I can trust you.”

He turned his hand palm up. “Try me and see.”

After a moment of hesitation, she extended her hand and gently tapped his fingers with her own. Her gaze lifted to his. “It didn’t burn.”

With a grin, he took her hand in his. “Then I’ll see you tomorrow?”

She nodded, her cheeks blushing. “Good night, Howard.” She let go and dashed across the street.

Chapter Seven

E
lsa wiped a circle of steam off the bathroom mirror so she could get a better look at herself. After a hot shower, she felt more capable of dealing with her life.

She gathered her long, damp hair into a towel turban on top of her head, then peered at her shoulder in the mirror. It was an odd birthmark—an ugly splotch on her upper arm with four clawlike marks extending over the curve of her shoulder, as if some sort of wild beast had grasped her and refused to let go. It had returned to its usual dull maroon color, but earlier, when she’d examined it in the restroom at the diner, it had glowed a brighter red.

The mark had always embarrassed her, especially in her teenage years, making her reluctant to wear tank tops or swimsuits, but it had never caused her physical pain before. Not until she’d touched Howard.

What was so special about him? She snorted. What wasn’t special about him? He was big and gorgeous. He seemed intelligent, polite, and genuinely concerned about her.

From her handbag, she retrieved the tube of ointment he’d given her. He’d said she was beautiful. And not too big. He’d looked at her with desire simmering in his gorgeous blue eyes. With a sigh, she smeared some ointment over the birthmark. She’d finally met a man like Howard, and she was supposed to avoid him?

Why? Because of some vague curse Greta and Ula talked about? Why would she let that nonsense stop her from seeing him? He’d touched her again, and it hadn’t hurt. The first time must have been a fluke.

She slipped on her favorite green pajamas, brushed out her hair, then collapsed on the bed. As exhausted as she was, sleep should come easily.

Thirty minutes later, she sat up and turned on the bedside lamp. Too many questions were bouncing around in her mind. The whole interview with Shanna Draganesti had seemed odd. Why did Shanna and her husband insist on having a rep? Most people relished the idea of appearing on television. And why could she never visit the site during the day? Most people with day jobs could arrange to have an hour or so free. Where did they work? Where did they live? What was the deal with the secret school down the road?

Where did Howard live? And why did his first touch make her birthmark burn?

She didn’t know how to answer her questions about Shanna or Howard, but she could at least get some answers about her birthmark. She called Aunt Greta in Minneapolis.

“Ellie!” Greta answered the phone on the first ring. “Are you all right? You haven’t been attacked, have you?”

“What?” Elsa gave her phone an incredulous look. “What are you talking about?”

“Where are you?”

“In my hotel room. Cranville, New York.”

“Make sure the door and windows are locked. Don’t let anyone in. Do you have any weapons?”

“What? Aunt Greta, what’s going on?”

“I just got off the phone with Aunt Ula. I’m sorry to say this, but the situation is much more dire than I had realized.”

Elsa groaned. Her great-aunt Ula was wacky. The old woman lived on an island in Sweden and claimed she could talk to seals. “Look. You shouldn’t take anything Ula says seriously.”

“We have to,” Greta insisted. “You’re in grave danger. You must stay away from the man who activated the curse. Ula is taking the first flight out of Stockholm—”

“She’s leaving her island?” Elsa had never heard of Ula stepping foot off her beloved island.

“Yes. She’s flying to New York, and then Albany. I’m packing up to leave now. I’ll meet her in Albany, and then we’ll come see you.”

Elsa winced. “You have to stop her. You don’t need to come here. The whole thing was a mistake. I touched the guy again, and it didn’t burn at all.”

Greta gasped. “You touched him again?”

“We shook hands after dinner.”

“You had dinner with him when I told you to avoid him?” Greta let out a long groan. “Why didn’t you listen to me?”

“I told you before. I don’t believe in this nonsense.”

“Well, it believes in you!” Greta muttered a curse. “I’m leaving as soon as I finish packing. I’m going to drive so I can bring Peder’s hunting rifle and shotgun—”

“What?

“Thank God I kept them after he passed away. We’re going to need them. You’re in grave danger.”

Elsa jumped to her feet and paced across the small hotel room. Uncle Peder had been an avid hunter, but Greta and Ula were a couple of hopeless amateurs. “The entire state of New York will be in danger if you’re roaming around with weapons. Not to mention the fact that you could be breaking some laws.”

“I’ll keep them unloaded and in their case in the trunk. Don’t worry about us. You’re the one in danger.”

“I’m fine! You’re overreacting. The second touch didn’t hurt at all.”

“It’s the first one that counts. I know you don’t believe in the curse, but it’s real.”

Elsa gritted her teeth. The stupid imaginary curse was real enough to have caused her pain over and over again. Her mother had been so afraid of it, she’d accidentally killed herself. Her great-aunt Ula was so afraid of it that she’d packed Elsa up at the age of seven and shipped her to the States to live with Aunt Greta in Minneapolis. Elsa had lost her home, her country, her mother—all because of the curse.

Hot tears stung her eyes. “I’m sick and tired of this stupid curse! It only has power over you because you believe in it!”

“Of course I believe in it!” Greta cried. “I lost my mother because of it. And my only sister, your mother.”

Elsa’s vision blurred as more tears gathered. It was fear that had killed her mother, nothing but stupid fear. But what had happened to her grandmother, Greta’s mother? This was the first time she’d heard anything bad about her.

“No.” She didn’t want to get sucked into this make-believe fantasy world. “There’s no curse.”

Greta heaved a long sigh. “I know it’s hard to believe. That’s why we’re coming to see you. So we can explain it to you in person. And then we can watch over you and keep you safe. You . . . you’re like a daughter to us.”

A tear tumbled down Elsa’s cheek. She shouldn’t have yelled at her aunt for her crazy beliefs. Greta and Ula were the only family she had. “You know I love you both. I’m just so frustrated. I don’t know what’s going on, and I need some answers.”

There was a pause, then Greta continued, “We never told you very much because we didn’t want to burden you. Or frighten you. It was already hard enough on you, having to adjust to a new country and new language. Especially with those vicious children being so cruel to you.”

Elsa rolled her eyes.
Gee, thanks for reminding me.
She’d been a full foot taller than the other kids in elementary school and too shy and uncomfortable with English to defend herself. That was when she’d acquired her first disparaging nickname—Ellie the Elephant. Her schoolmates came up with a new one in junior high they were especially proud of—Elsie the Cow. She wondered if those same people now enjoyed her new name, Amazon Ellie.

“We thought if we moved you to the States, you would be safe,” Greta continued. “The curse would be broken, and you would never have to know.”

“Know what?”

Greta sighed. “All right, I’ll try to explain a little. You know how I have a birthmark on my shoulder that looks like a bird? And Ula has one shaped like a fish?”

Elsa rubbed her eyes. “Yes.”

“Your grandmother had the mark of an animal paw on her shoulder. The three different marks have always been passed down the women in our family.”

“Lucky us,” Elsa muttered. So she had inherited her ugly birthmark from a grandmother she’d never known.

“As long as each birthmark has a living host, the other women in the family are left unmarked. Your mother was the youngest, so she didn’t have a birthmark. And she was so happy when she was pregnant with you, knowing that you would be free from the marks and never burdened with the curse.”

Elsa swallowed hard. “But I do have a mark.”

“Yes. Unfortunately, your grandmother died before you were born, and the animal paw mark passed on to you. Your mother . . . well, she didn’t handle it well. Our mother’s death, and then your birth with the same mark on your shoulder . . .”

“So she started drinking.” And accidentally drove her car off a bridge in the middle of the night. Elsa closed her eyes briefly. She’d only been three years old at the time, so she didn’t remember much. “Didn’t I have a father?”

“I—I’m sure you did, but your mother never told us who he was. Someone she met in college, I guess.”

Elsa sighed. At the age of twenty-seven, she’d already lived longer than her mother had. “So why are you and Ula freaking out now?”

There was another pause. “I’m afraid some bad things have happened to the women in our family with the animal paw birthmark. We can’t seem to stop it.”

“What sort of bad things?”

“We’re not going to let it happen to you,” Greta insisted. “We’ll protect you.”

“From what?” Elsa asked. “What happened to my grandmother?”

“She was murdered.”

Elsa stiffened with a gasp.

“But don’t worry! We’ll come as soon as we can. I should go now so I can finish packing.”

The room swirled around Elsa, and she sat on the bed.

“Are you there? Elsa?”

“Yes.”

“Stay locked up in your room as much as possible. We’ll be there soon. Love you.” Greta hung up.

Elsa collapsed onto her back and stared at the ceiling. Her grandmother had been murdered? Was that the bad thing that happened to the women with the animal paw birthmark?

BOOK: Wild About You
8.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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