Forever - Fateful_Book 3 - Cheri Schmidt - PDF Free Download (2024)

Table of Contents Forever - Book Three Chapter 1 - Moonlit Monsters Chapter 2 - The Things of Nightmares Chapter 3 - Internal Turmoil Chapter 4 - Return to The Fey Chapter 5 - Fairy-Dusted Retreat Chapter 6 - Side Effect Chapter 7 - Derry Glen Cove Chapter 8 - Worse Than Spiders? Chapter 9 - Leave by Choice, or Not Chapter 10 - Escape—Maybe Not Chapter 11 - Sir Roland Chapter 12 - Lies Chapter 13 - Werewolves, Vampires, and Witches Chapter 14 - Werewolves and Little Red Riding Hood Chapter 15 - Time’s Run Out Chapter 16 - The End Chapter 17 - Forever Epilogue - Four Years Later Upcoming works by Cheri Excerpt from Fair Maiden Thank You

Forever Book Three of the Fateful Series By Cheri Schmidt

Forever Book Three of the Fateful Series eBook Edition Copyright © 2012 by Cheri Schmidt Cover Art by Cheri Schmidt http://www.cherischmidt.net This book is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author. This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or if it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this

your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. Edition January 2012

Chapter 1 Moonlit Monsters I’ll do anything to wipe that pout off her face, Ethan thought to himself as he watched Danielle wash the paint out of her paintbrush while he leaned against the doorframe, his arms folded over his chest. Her shoulders lifted and then drooped with the troubled sigh she expelled. Moonlight filtered in through the skylight above her art studio and bathed her in silver. The lamp painted the rest of the room in gold. With her eyebrows drawn together, her thick lashes shadowing her cheeks with her downcast gaze, her soft hair caught up in a messy bun at the back of her head, and the earrings he’d given her dangling from her earlobes, she was prettier to him than the painting she’d just finished. And it was one of her better pieces. In shades of brown, cream, and pale blue, she’d captured another fairy in a soft wash of watercolors. When Danielle was finished cleaning up her work, he gathered her under his arm. A little pressure on her shoulder and he had her facing him. Catching her chin on the edge of his finger, he said, “I like the fairy trapped in a jar, but she doesn’t look very happy.” Those lashes swept up along with her chin when she looked at him. “Would you be happy if you were confined like that?” Ethan noted the guards in his peripheral, knowing Danielle

Ethan noted the guards in his peripheral, knowing Danielle was talking about herself with that query and not the displeased little sprite in her painting. “I see your point.” He brushed the hair from her forehead. “Let’s watch that picture we rented,” he offered, hoping to distract her from the guards posted at each door and window inside their home as he steered her toward the sofa. The pout deepened and those pretty brown eyes of hers darted to the guard near the window where the full moon was just visible beyond the sheer curtain and the man’s hulking shoulder. A twinge of jealously jabbed him in the gut even though he was fairly certain she was looking at the moon and not the handsome French bodyguard who’d said his name was Casanova ... Casanova, really? This situation had continued for so long, the guards were always rotating. As Beon, Richard, and Seth had assigned new men to guard them, it had gotten to the point that even he didn’t know all of them. And why did they all have to be so bloody good-looking? Of course he trusted Danielle, but it wouldn’t take much for one of these guys to take him out, and then collect her for his own. Forget them, Ethan mentally commanded and refocused on the lines of distress on Danielle’s face. He really needed to fix that. Drawing her down onto the seat next to him, he lowered his voice and muttered right next to her ear, “Forget we live in a fishbowl for an hour and a half and I’ll make popcorn.” Leaning out to make eye contact with her, he wagged his eyebrows and a shout of triumph echoed through his thoughts when she giggled at him. Her whole face lit up with the sound and he decided he’d

him. Her whole face lit up with the sound and he decided he’d not only do anything to wipe the pout off her face, he’d do even more to hear her laugh again, to hear her laugh more often. Things had gone back to normal after they’d returned to being mortal. Sort of ... mostly.... Secretly, though, he missed her need to feed from only him. The way she clung to him when she sank her little fangs into his flesh, the way she needed him, the way she still feared insects even being as dangerous as she was then. It was back to mortality for both of them, however, and he didn’t, no he couldn’t, regret that. He still planned to care for her despite that modern streak of independence she had. Danielle was an intriguing bundle of contradictions. He found her fascination with all things Jane Austen charming. It was part of what drew him to her because she reminded him of his Victorian past, even in a modern world. But the fact that she could sweep his feet right out from under him in one smooth move ... well, that brought a smirk to his mouth when he thought about it. That violent side of her also drew him. Of course, more than any of that was what he saw when he looked into her eyes. Their forgotten past together and the personality quirks she tried to hide from everyone else. “With extra butter?” Danielle asked, drawing him back to their previous topic of conversation. “Of course,” he replied as he stood, removed the movie from its case and slid it into the DVD player. When her gaze again shifted to one of the five guards in the room and the smile slipped, he hesitated to say, “I’ll return, with

a slice of chocolate cake, a cup of peach tea, and a bowl of buttery popcorn.” At the mention of chocolate and her favorite tea, the corners of her adorable mouth lifted again, but only slightly as she sank back into the soft couch that nearly enveloped her in lumps of bulging, taupe fabric and fluff. Of course Ethan knew Danielle was worried about werewolves, and probably remembering when they’d invaded their home in Colorado. Now the problem had followed them to their home in England. But as long as she didn’t bring it up, he certainly wasn’t about to. After entering the kitchen, he started the water first, then pulled out a silver platter, and a teacup and saucer—the one with the little roses around the edge, as well as one rosebud just below the lip on the inside. It was the one she fancied drinking from the most. He figured it was because she liked to watch the rosebud disappear and reappear as she drank. What a silly little quirk.... Ethan smiled. After arranging a bottle of honey and a small creamer filled with cream on the tray for her, he gathered a plate and fork for the cake. He took a bag of popcorn out of the cupboard, tore off the plastic and set it in the microwave. After programming and starting it, he turned to the cake dome. At that moment, loud crashing sounds came from the living room, followed by shouts from the guards and a scream from his wife. Bloody Hell! In two seconds he was back in the living room taking in the scene. Broken glass littered the floor from the front window. The

Broken glass littered the floor from the front window. The thin curtains had been shredded to bits, leaving only a few ghostlike strips of material hanging from the rod. It had been raining outside, so the room was now humid and smelled of wet grass and ... wet animal. Werewolves were again trying to claw their way in through one of the windows. With a lump in his throat, Ethan watched as their guards blocked the monsters’ attempted entrance with their bodies and threw powerful fists into their hideous and snarling faces. Just as in the past, the beasts never got any farther than this. Some of the tension left his shoulders. They were safe. Ethan’s gaze swung to Danielle. She was still sitting on the sofa, her knees drawn up to her chest and her arms curled around her bent legs. That pout that he’d wanted to remove earlier was back along with a deep scowl. She didn’t look particularly frightened that the monthly worry was actually happening, just extremely frustrated. That was probably because this had become a pattern and there wasn’t any surprise in the event any longer, and as before, the problem was being contained. Every month this had happened. Every month these damn werewolves tried to gain entrance into their home. Again Ethan took in the sight before him. Werewolves were not at all like dogs as many perceived or as Hollywood portrayed them. They stood upright, were physically larger than mortal men but the men behind the mask could be faintly seen beneath the flickering image of the beast over them. Long hairy arms with claw-tipped hands swung at the vampires blocking their way. Clearly they

hands swung at the vampires blocking their way. Clearly they were not mindless in this state either. They obviously had a purpose and were after Danielle. He wouldn’t stand for it any longer. Cursing again, he felt his hands curl into fists as he started toward the threat to his home, to his wife. A hand caught his arm. “You’re mortal, laddie,” Merrick growled in a low timber, his eyes lowered to protect Ethan from the magic there. “Take Danielle upstairs.” His pride stung at the reminder of his weakened state. But knowing he’d be physically forced to follow the command if he didn’t obey, his feet ate up the floor between where he stood and his wife. Her arms fell to the cushion as she tore her eyes from the scuffle and her gaze met with his. She wasn’t crying. She actually looked rather ticked off. He was angry too. This had to come to an end ... didn’t it? First she had vampires hunting her and now it seemed every other magical creature in existence was after her. The worst part of this was that they didn’t know why the others wanted her. Brown eyes followed his hand as he lifted it, reaching for her. Their fingers touched and then linked. Her hand was cold ... as usual. “Did you really think you could destroy me so easily?” drawled a familiar voice from the window. Ethan’s eyes snapped to the origin of the words with his heart sinking to his knees. Lucas ... barely recognizable with the image of the beast flickering over his features. With one foot up

on the edge of the windowsill, the blackguard tried to get past Casanova. Casanova pounded Lucas with his fists. With each strike, Lucas rocked back, but with a look of determination, the werewolf would simply lunge forward again. Casanova’s efforts were preventing the beast from gaining entrance, but Lucas hadn’t yet given up and moved away from the open window. Danielle gasped, drawing a return of his gaze. Her bored expression had fallen away and was replaced with shocked panic. The werewolf concern had just escalated from a monthly annoyance into a personal threat because Lucas had become one of them. Swallowing, Ethan worried what this might mean for her. He’d once told her she should fear Lucas. It would seem the warning remained valid. The distress encompassing her features now certainly expressed Lucas was still a thing of her nightmares. In truth, it was worse than she imagined.... The battle between him and Lucas ran deep and long. He’d never shared many of the details with her. Why further distress her? That first night when Lucas had stalked her and he’d saved her, he knew Lucas had seen the recognition that ignited between him and Danielle—had seen the way they somehow knew one another from a spirit life before this earthly one. It’s true that Ethan had recognized it before Danielle had, and maybe that was because he believed that everyone had existed in spirit before being born into this life. Not that he could recall it, certainly no one, or few, remembered their spiritual life before this one. He should have schooled his shocked expression better though, Ethan thought

schooled his shocked expression better though, Ethan thought with self-disparagement, because he was fairly certain that was what clued Lucas in to the connection, and therefore put her in more danger. He also knew Lucas would be relentless in pursuing her because of it. This was all his fault, from the very beginning. The way he’d handled Lucas was why she was in danger then and now. Blades of guilt snagged at his soul, and concern lodged itself in his throat. He and Lucas had been friends in school. In 1851. But Lucas had become a debaucher of innocent young ladies. A vicious one. Ethan really had no idea when Lucas’ soul became so very dark. On first impressions, Lucas had seemed quite charming and funny. Perhaps it was his cruel father who’d misdirected his path, but Ethan found it hard to explain the problem that way when their other friend, William, who’d also suffered at his father’s hand, was nothing but gentle and kind to everyone he met. As a friend, Lucas had been a part of their activities until Phoebe.... His stomach churned at the memory of seeing his sister’s friend beaten and broken in body and spirit. The poor girl had never truly recovered, and he couldn’t allow that to happen to Danielle. He and the other young men of his class had tried to stop Lucas. They’d beaten him in punishment for harming dear Phoebe. Lucas had learned nothing, however, even after a stay in the hospital recovering from many broken bones. Once he’d healed, the violent acts resumed. Yet he became elusive and they were never able to corner him again. When an unfortunate young woman was murdered, he’d fled the city and left a trail of

woman was murdered, he’d fled the city and left a trail of damaged females in his brutal wake. Of course they’d pursued him, still wishing to spare any ladies who might stumble into his path, but they never found him. And then they heard nothing of Lucas for years. They all suspected he’d fallen prey to any number of his dark pursuits: gambling, drinking, or shady business dealings. It wasn’t until about nine years later, after Ethan had been cursed, that the villain resurfaced. And that’s when he realized Lucas had also been turned into a vampire. Lucas had continued to kill, but he was simply better at hiding it as a cursed being than he had been as a mortal. Either way, Lucas was a monster to the very core. At that time, Ethan’s motivation to stop Lucas was renewed and he rallied The Order to help him. Again they were a hindrance to Lucas’ brutal killings, to his hunting, but Lucas always managed to stay just beyond their grasp and they were never able to put a stop to him permanently. “But Lilith...” Danielle began in a weak voice. His frown deepened as he followed her terrified gaze. A leer split Lucas’ face, revealing rows of sharp jagged teeth. But he said nothing else as more vampire guards came from behind, doubling their numbers, and were able to move the throng of monsters away from the opening and out of sight ... but certainly not out of mind. Ethan knew the guards had successfully contained the problem as the sounds of werewolves snarling grew farther away. “I suppose Lilith couldn’t stop him from choosing another

curse to mark him. She wasn’t the one who created this werewolf curse, and because of that, she was only able to prevent him from becoming a vampire.” Ethan tugged on Danielle’s hand, encouraging her to rise. He was feeling an urgent need to get her upstairs now, but was trying not to further alarm her by showing it. “Come, let’s retire early,” he suggested gently, even though he really wanted to snatch her up into his arms and run like the hosts of Hell were after him. Yes, the guards had dealt with the problem tonight, but what would Lucas’ next plot be? Gaining her footing, she wrapped her arms around his middle. “I thought we were done with him now that Lilith took the curse away from him and all of the vampires attacking us.” Her hug tightened. “What are we going to do now? What can he do to us as a werewolf?” Feeling his mouth tighten, Ethan tried to decide if he should answer her. He’d known all along Lucas would go back to his brutal ways even as a mortal man. Losing the powers of the vampire curse wouldn’t change that. Apparently he’d simply found a new curse to embrace. This was distressing news, because now he couldn’t kill the wretch as he’d planned when he realized Lucas was stuck being mortal. On an exhale he refocused the direction of his unlawful thoughts and attempted to distract his wife. “Never you worry over it, darling. The guards shall squash such wicked mayhem.” He paused to take in her expression with a knowing grin on his face. He knew she liked it when he talked like Mr. Darcy. Of course, he also knew he was

laying it on a little thicker than usual and was likely riding the line of being cheesy. Again. But how else was he supposed to redirect her thoughts from such hideous things as werewolves and Lucas? At the little smirk playing on the corner of her mouth he said, “Let’s just go to our room and watch that picture, hmm? Speaking of which...” He returned to the DVD player and collected the disc. Ethan puzzled over this new development as he led Danielle to the staircase and asked Merrick to finish the preparations in the kitchen. Suspecting the other werewolves wanted her to cure them, he wondered why they would want Lucas amongst them. Certainly they were cursed in a different way than he had been and were potentially darker beings because of it. But—truly it made no sense and he wondered if perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps the moon-cursed creatures wanted her for another reason altogether. Sparing one more look toward the gaping window, he collected Danielle to his side and moved up the staircase. Deep down he wanted to fight along with the vampires, but he also knew—with another jab at his pride—that he wasn’t capable of doing that any longer. During the day, perhaps ... without a full moon, probably ... certainly not while the curse fed their power. Danielle was his first priority and since he couldn’t destroy the things that frightened her—today—he’d do his best to keep her mind from them. They made their way up the curving staircase, his thoughts a

They made their way up the curving staircase, his thoughts a whirl of chaotic worries as his fingers trailed along the carved banister. Schooling his features, he hoped she couldn’t see into his mind. But it felt like every terrifying thought in his head was written on his face, especially to her. Danielle knew him well, too well, and this deal with Lucas concerned him. Lucas could hurt her emotionally as well as physically, which is what disturbed him the most. Ethan wondered, almost desperately, where he could take her during full moons to protect her from this. If only there was a place on this planet where the moon never rose, he’d take her there. That silly concept was ridiculous and Ethan knew it. He swallowed the scoffing chuckle that tried to come out. They’d reached the door and he nudged it open with the toe of his shoe, drawing her in behind him as he shut the door. He locked it, knowing full well it wouldn’t matter if the beasts managed to reach it. The tumbler rolled into place with a quiet click. Avoiding any eye contact with his wife, he made for his dresser to change into his pajama bottoms, yanking his shirt over his head as he went. With a flick of his wrist, the gray t-shirt landed in the laundry hamper and he reached for the fly of his jeans. One look tossed over his shoulder told him Danielle was also changing and not paying much attention to him. Good. Once she figured out how much this new development upset him, she’d start asking questions he wasn’t prepared to answer just yet. If his main goal was to keep her content, he couldn’t very well be explaining too much about Lucas. The sordid details of that story would upset her even more.

her even more. Ethan kicked off his shoes, and shoved the denim down his legs, his gaze shifting to the big window on the south side of their bedroom. Relief loosened the knot of worry inside his stomach. Through the thin drapes, he could see the backs of guards standing on the patio roof just outside the glass. Even after all of the past attacks, werewolves had yet to gain entrance to their bedroom, and with as many vampires as they had on the property, it wasn’t likely to happen tonight. While transformed into werewolves, Ethan knew they couldn’t likely be killed, but neither could the vampires protecting them.

Chapter 2 The Things of Nightmares “What do they eat?” Danielle asked, tucking her feet beneath her and setting her untouched plate of cake on the nightstand next to the bed. Merrick had finished what Ethan had started in the kitchen and brought everything up to their bedroom. But she couldn’t stomach even chocolate right now. Werewolves were creepy enough and now Lucas was one of them? If they were like wolves it might not be so bad, but these things were nightmarishly frightening with distorted human faces semicloaked beneath a wicked-looking mask of a beast. A shudder rolled up her spine and she looked at Ethan to see if he’d noticed. Apparently he hadn’t. He seemed really distracted, like he had the weight of dark and wicked things on his shoulders. A little sigh blew past her lips, because he probably did. Staring straight ahead like he was, she could see his profile perfectly. His golden eyebrows were drawn low over his straight nose. Wirerimmed glasses were perched there and Danielle’s mouth wanted to smile at how handsomely adorable he was with them on. She preferred him this way, slightly blind, and completely normal.... But her smile never made it to her lips because his mouth was pursed with deep thoughts—thoughts that were likely tormenting his peace of mind. His usually calm, blue-eyed gaze reflected the distress within. Again she wondered if he regretted being a weak

distress within. Again she wondered if he regretted being a weak and ordinary mortal, even though he’d been the one to first partake of the candy before prompting her to follow. He dragged a hand through his blond hair, which needed a trim and hung into his eyes, until he pushed it back. After a long pause, Ethan finally answered her question. “During a full moon? Flesh ... probably.” “You don’t know for sure?” she asked, trying not to let what he just said totally freak her out. His eyes shifted to hers. “No. Their kind is even more reclusive than fairies are.” Danielle turned away from the upsetting things she could see within his expression, and nudged the plate of cake out of the way as she reached for her tea. Maybe that would help settle her stomach, because it was churning at the idea of Lucas with a whole mouthful of pointy teeth instead of just a pair of fangs. He’d been scary enough as a vampire, and now he was something she knew very little about. A sip of creamy peach liquid filled her mouth and slid down her throat as she swallowed. “Then how can we fight them?” she asked. Danielle decided the tea was helping a little and took another sip, watching the little rosebud painted inside it disappear as she rocked the cup level again. “It doesn’t seem like they can do anything to vampires. We’ve fought them before, as you know, and none of us were affected adversely. I suppose it could be due to the fact that the curses were placed by different sorceresses.” “Hmm,” she murmured as she drank, again watching for the

“Hmm,” she murmured as she drank, again watching for the pink rosebud with green leaves inside her cup. “I love watching you do that.” Startled by the sudden change in topic she looked at Ethan, who was smiling. “Do what?” “Watch for the flower.” When she wrinkled her brow at him, confused, he added, “The one inside your teacup.” While rounding, her eyes swung back as the flower in question disappeared halfway below the liquid line. “You noticed I do that?” Had she even noticed she did that? He popped a few pieces of popcorn in his mouth and said around it, “I noticed that, and the fact that you’re not really paying any attention to the picture.” With eyes returning to the television, she figured it had been playing for a while and she had no idea what was going on. Ethan had brought the DVD up from downstairs and started it, but once her thoughts had snagged on the werewolves she hadn’t paid any attention to anything else. Was that what he’d been so focused on earlier? Somehow she doubted it because he seemed just as distracted as her. On a sigh she said, “I need to know more about them, more about what to expect from Lucas now.” Ethan adjusted his seated position so he was sitting up more. He looped one arm around his bent knee and with the other he reached for the remote and paused the movie. Next he removed the glasses and set them on his nightstand. His eyes had gotten worse since he’d turned back the second time, and he needed

them more often than he had before. “The guards will deal with them. And they’ll never be more than a once-a-month problem.” “But what can Lucas do to me now that he’s a werewolf?” She watched the muscles in his throat work when he swallowed and his gaze dropped nervously to the comforter. Suspecting he didn’t want to tell her, she wondered how bad it really was. “Ethan?” she prompted when he hesitated with his answer, longer this time. More than she wanted to see was visible when his gaze rose and locked with hers. His soul was just as tortured over this as hers. That protective side of him was blazing fiercely in his blue eyes and when he spoke, she knew he meant his words. “Lucas will never have the chance to do anything to you. I’ll make sure of it. “ “How can you make sure of that? We’re both mortal again...” With her words trailing off, a horrible idea struck her and it felt like a razor-sharp cord of worry had drawn her insides so tight that she couldn’t breathe properly. “Oh, no!” “‘Oh, no,’ what?” he asked, sort of sounding like he feared the answer because he likely already knew what it was. “What if Beon wants to turn us back again?” Ethan’s shoulders slumped like he’d already considered this. Still he didn’t answer as he discarded the half-eaten bowl of popcorn to his nightstand. Apparently he’d lost his appetite too, which was out of character for him and therefore intensified her worries. Waiting for his response she set the rest of her cooling tea on

Waiting for his response she set the rest of her cooling tea on her nightstand next to the cake. Ethan gathered her into his arms but still said nothing. “Ethan? Please answer me,” Danielle asked as his arm cinched around her body. She could feel the play of muscle dance across his naked chest with the big breath he took. In reaction, her palm settled against his arm. With her fingers curling around it, she dragged her hand downward in a caress, noticing his skin was hot and he smelled of male spice and butter. She nuzzled her nose into his shoulder, slid her legs beneath the blankets and slanted her bent legs over his thighs, getting as close to his smell and his warmth as possible because it was always comforting. When he again hesitated, another idea occurred to her, this one much more upsetting than the first. In a weak voice, she managed, “You’d let him do it this time, wouldn’t you?” Danielle chanced a look at his face, into his eyes where he couldn’t hide anything from her. At least he didn’t try to hide the concern, the possessiveness that made him bossy sometimes and his love for her. Even so, anger still swelled within her heart when she saw the answer written on his face. He would allow it! He might even be considering it right now as he held her. When she pulled free of his arms, he frowned and leaned back into his pillows, folded his arms over his nude chest, and angled a look of frustrated worry her way. With a shrug of his shoulders he replied, way too nonchalantly, “There’s no child yet, we still have one more candy

nonchalantly, “There’s no child yet, we still have one more candy left. You can have it. And you could defend yourself then. Danielle, you were really kick a—” “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe you!” Ethan’s frown deepened. “Look. Lucas wouldn’t be able to hurt you, Danielle. I wouldn’t need to worry—” “But I really hated being cursed, being a vampire! And feeding—” Her hands were quaking as she remembered it all: being so acutely aware of spiders, and snakes, and mice, and the fiendishly delicious stench of blood that was so constant. But even worse was the craving for it. Danielle tucked her fingers under her armpits to stop the trembling, or more accurately, to hide it. She felt Ethan brush the hair that had swung into her face away as she’d dropped her head. He enveloped her in his arms again, his hands sliding around her waist, his chest coming in contact with her back. “Look at me?” he gently requested. Lifting her face and looking over her shoulder, she tightened the grip she had on herself. Fixing flirtatious blue eyes on hers, he whispered, “As I recall, you liked feeding from me.” “I still think it’s wrong that you liked that. I remember how much it hurt!” She couldn’t seem to escape the memory of having so many vampires sink their fangs into her skin all at once. It was worse than having multiple needles jammed into her flesh ... it was actually more like nails. Fangs were not thin things. But having her skin punctured wasn’t the worst part of it. In her

book, there was nothing worse than having your life-force sucked out of you. She couldn’t do that to Ethan again, even if he did say he liked it in some twisted way. And then what would happen to her? Wouldn’t Lucas be just as dangerous to her if she were a weak, starving vampire? His chin dropped onto her shoulder and his breath tickled her ear. “I know it hurt when they bit you, but it didn’t hurt me and I’ll never think it’s wrong.” Jerking out of his embrace again, she swung around. “You miss it!” “A little,” he admitted huskily, stalking her now, adjusting her position so she was nestled beneath him. When she tried to get away, he forced her flat on her back and pinned her to the mattress, his hands clasping her wrists. The smile curving his lips was slightly triumphant and more than a little wicked. With his eyes locked with hers his face lowered. Expelling a soft chuckle he playfully nipped at her chin with his teeth. “I felt close to you when you fed off me. Like I was able to give you a part of myself I never could any other way.” Of course she could easily throw him onto the floor for this, but as usual, she couldn’t bring herself to hurt him, even if she was frustrated with him at the moment. “I really need you to stop talking about that.” She needed him to stop talking about it in such a romantic way. It just wasn’t right. As she continued to pout, a cloud of deep unease shifted into his gaze, darkening his blue eyes. Ethan hung his head in what looked like defeat to her. His blond hair tumbled down over his

looked like defeat to her. His blond hair tumbled down over his forehead in a handsome mess of tousled shades of gold, glintingyellow and light brown. After lifting his gaze again, his jaw tightened as he ground out, “I couldn’t bear it if he hurt you.” Danielle knew he was speaking of Lucas. She narrowed her eyes at him. “Didn’t you just say the guards would stop him?” “I did say that,” he replied sounding slightly awkward. “It’s just that, what if this gets worse? How am I to protect you then?” Her gaze narrowed even more. “So your plan is to turn back into vampires if things get worse?” A nervous laugh tumbled out of him. “It’s just a backup plan, nothing more.” “What are you not telling me?” She’d suspected he’d been hiding something with his guilt-ridden expression, and now, she knew it. He was keeping something from her. “Nothing. It’s nothing, really.” And with that he was on her, kissing her neck, drawing giggles out of her before he moved his mouth to her lips and expelled his breath into her. Inhaling it, she sank into the mattress, tension melting from her muscles like the butter she tasted on his tongue. No, it wasn’t the potent breath of a vampire but as always it swept her senses into a potiondrugged state of bliss. So bewitching—even though he was no longer cursed, again. The scoundrel had changed tactics and it was working. She couldn’t focus on much else besides the way his mouth moved over hers and the way his palms rode the length of her arms before tangling into her hair. With his fingers curling along her scalp he pulled gently, forcing her chin up,

curling along her scalp he pulled gently, forcing her chin up, further deepening the kiss. Muffled shouts and guttural growls made Danielle pause, and made Ethan lift his head, curse and shoot a surprised look at the closed door. In a swift move, Ethan had moved from her, captured her under the arms and was hauling her to ... where? If werewolves had breached their home and were coming up the stairs they had no escape. It sure sounded like they were as the nightmarish sounds drew closer. The door rattled as something slammed into it. The bang was followed by a grating noise, like claws raking the surface, shredding the wood. “What’s going on?” she asked while Ethan passed a frantic gaze over the room, probably looking for a weapon or escape. His blue eyes landed on his family heirloom, the sword hung as decoration above the painting of the ruins she’d done for him. Muttering, “I wish I knew,” along with a string of French words, which she figured were a volley of profanities, he made for the blade and lifted it from the decorative hooks it was nestled in. “Is it made of silver? Does that work on them?” “It’s steel,” he grumbled before adding with a deep frown, “I have no idea if it’ll damage them or not.” He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her close behind his back. The door exploded into millions of splinters. Diving for cover, Ethan’s hand connected with her back when he shoved her to the floor. As she landed roughly on her stomach and grunted in surprise and pain, she heard the sword clatter against

the polished wood flooring when he landed next to her, shielding his head from debris as well. Danielle felt bits of sharp wood drag at the exposed skin of her legs and arms. Shoving the hair out of her face and tossing a look over her shoulder, she saw three werewolves trying fiercely to get past Merrick, Cedric and Casanova. Before she had any time to recover from the shock of it all, Ethan had picked up the sword, and hauled her upright again as he made for the window. He shoved it open, but in the next second he slammed it shut. She saw why as they backed toward the bed again. Pieces of wood dug into her bare feet with each painful step. Spinning away, they both dove onto the bed as a werewolf flew at the glass and crashed through it. Worse than hearing a car crash, the sound of breaking glass was followed by vicious snarls and shouts. Driven by a crazy need to see what was going on, Danielle lowered the hands she’d tossed over her face and craned another look over her shoulder. Even obscured by the hair that had fallen over her face, she could see the beast had landed, its knees bending with the impact before straightening, its spine uncurling as it rose upright. It shook like a dog trying to dry itself. Danielle threw an arm over her face again. Shards of glass showered the room like droplets of rock-solid water, clinking against anything hard it hit. Danielle felt a few pieces hit her, but it seemed they didn’t hit hard enough to do more damage than a few minor abrasions. Silence fell when the werewolf stilled and she rolled to her back, instinctively moving to the other side of the bed. Ethan

scuttled along with her, but he kept the sword trained on the creature. Again sweeping the hair out of her eyes, Danielle wondered what this thing meant to do. It swung its hideous face toward her and Ethan. Its head co*cked sideways as it watched them with glowing, yellowish eyes. Baring its teeth in a devilish sort of smile, it stalked closer. Ethan held his sword higher, his hand steady, and his face pinched into a deep determined scowl. Danielle really hadn’t realized how big werewolves were until she saw this one close up. Way too close. The creature towered above them, stretching high into the peaked roof of their room. Because she could still partially see the man underneath, she knew it wasn’t Lucas. While the image of the beast looked holographic in a way, the man had also transformed into an enormous monster. It reached for her. Pure instinct pumped into her veins and she mentally prepared to defend herself, even knowing deep down, that any of her skills wouldn’t likely make any difference. Ethan tensed beside her. “Don’t. You can’t let it touch you.” Before she had a chance to respond verbally to Ethan or react physically to the monster advancing on them, Seth and Beon flew through the opening, further removing bits of glass that had clung to the frame. Together they captured the werewolf and dragged it snarling and spitting back out the window. The doorway had also been cleared of werewolves now, and Beon and Merrick reentered the bedroom along with a couple of guards she didn’t know the names of yet. They were always getting new faces in the ranks of vampires watching out

always getting new faces in the ranks of vampires watching out for them, and she doubted she’d ever get used to it. “Are you all right?” Beon asked, protecting them from his cursed gaze while shoving up his sleeves as he moved to clean up the larger pieces of the door littering the floor. Danielle nodded, as Ethan replied, “We’re okay.” He set his sword down on the pale blue coverlet. The mattress and bedding sagged beneath its weight. His shoulders sagged as well. With relief or defeat she couldn’t be sure. “It didn’t touch you? Or rather, more importantly, it didn’t scratch you?” Beon asked, the pile of wood in his arms growing. “No, but that was horribly close. How did they get past you?” Ethan asked with a sharp note of concern in his tone. “They had someone helping them; someone with magic. But whoever it was remained hidden, so we couldn’t see who it was.” Ethan’s frown turned into a glower. “Was anyone hurt?” “No, just stunned. They were able to magically bind some of our men so they couldn’t move. But it seems the spell, or whatever it was, has worn off.” As Danielle imagined what this meant for them and their continued lack of privacy, she couldn’t help but feel relieved when Beon left to discard the wood. Would he insist they turn now? She wouldn’t be surprised if he suggested it, or rather, demanded it. They’d been pretty much defenseless, like a pair of kittens left undefended against a gaggle of vicious and hungry wolverines. Beon may have left the room, but five vampire guards remained as they went to work at cleaning up the mess.

guards remained as they went to work at cleaning up the mess. Ethan brushed the debris from the blankets and looped an arm around her, carefully tucking her tousled hair behind her ear after he lifted her shoulder strap back into place. His eyes roved her body as though he’d only said they were “okay” earlier, but was checking her more thoroughly to be certain. Aside from some minor abrasions from the wood and glass, she was fine. He plucked a few bits of door from her hair and tossed them to the floor, but winced and looked at his fingers more closely. He’d managed to get a splinter. His frown further deepening, Ethan’s hand left her back to try and drag it out of his skin. “Because they’ve changed tactics,” said Merrick, drawing Danielle’s gaze away from Ethan, “we’ll need to change how we handle the full moon as well from now on.” He’d arrived with a broom and dustpan, his eyes downcast, just as all of the guards remained once the sun had set each night. Sweeping up the shards of door and window, he added, “I’m sorry they got this close. We’ll make certain they never get a chance like this again.” How can he promise that? Danielle mused. If the werewolves were helped by someone with powerful magic, she and Ethan might need to be locked away for safety. The only thing that could be secure enough, she decided, might be inside one of the cement rooms for turning vampires. Surely that would keep werewolves out if it kept vampires in, right? Wouldn’t that work against the spells? Was it a witch doing this, or worse, a more powerful sorceress? Perhaps then even a cement-

constructed room wouldn’t keep the monsters out. After taking in the state of their bed, Cedric muttered to the other guards as though she and Ethan weren’t there. “We need to change the bedding as well.” Returning a few moments later with a new comforter, he instructed them to move to the bathroom once a path was cleared of sharp hazards. Measuring Ethan’s expression, Danielle wondered how he was dealing with this, with being treated almost like a child now that he was mortal again. Of course, she knew he had been an active member of The Order, and probably still felt like one, but the guards hadn’t been treating him like that lately. Like her, he was just their charge ... someone to protect, someone to care for. Ethan’s brows were still drawn low over his eyes, the color darkened by the shadow of his lashes. He swallowed, leaning back against the vanity. Taking her hands into his, his thumbs glided over her knuckles in a simple caress. She watched his face, waiting again for a response that was slow in coming. Gazing just past his shoulder, she looked into the bedroom and could see Cedric strip the bed of the coverlet. Pieces of wood and glass clattered against the polished floors and made soft thumping sounds against the red and tan area rug bordering the bed. The vampire checked the blankets and, apparently deciding they were okay, he tossed the new white comforter over the mattress. Someone else she couldn’t see had started up the vacuum. Danielle swung her attention back to Ethan, where she

Danielle swung her attention back to Ethan, where she discovered he was watching her, his expression guarded, like his mind was filled with things he didn’t want to share with her. Taking in the lines bracketing his tired eyes, she understood why he’d been avoiding her gaze. “They’re going to turn us again, aren’t they.” It wasn’t a question.

Chapter 3 Internal Turmoil Ethan knew Danielle didn’t want to be turned. He even knew how much. In those sad puppy eyes staring up at him, he couldn’t escape the truth of it. He took a breath to reply, but paused when she pled, “Please, Ethan, I can’t do that again. It hasn’t even been that long since we turned back. A few months, maybe? I remember it all...” Her desperation-drenched words dropped to a weak whisper before trailing off completely. She shuddered with obvious repulsion. Ethan felt it shimmy through her body from head to toes. She didn’t have to spell it out for him to gather her meaning. This girly-girl of his may have a tough side, but she was all girl deep down, and no genuine girl that he knew of would be fond of drinking blood, of killing for it, or of being cursed. Certainly he knew of many women who’d chosen to be cursed, but most of the ones he was acquainted with hated that part of the curse. Nadia had, which was why she’d asked to be cured. And Sophia desperately missed eating real food, but for Beon’s sake, she’d remained cursed. Danielle hadn’t been a vampire for very long—a few weeks at the most, perhaps. She’d fight going back to that life, and was clearly desperate not to. So what was he going to do about this bloody rubbish wreaking havoc on what was supposed to be their quiet married life? He could tell, or

was supposed to be their quiet married life? He could tell, or rather, could sense that she’d wanted to defend them with her karate skills. If she’d been a vampire, it certainly would have worked for her, but as a mortal, he had to remind her to restrain herself. “You may go back to bed now,” called Cedric from the bedroom. The vacuum had been shut off; apparently their bedroom was safe for them to sleep in again. With teeth clenching at the constant interruptions, Ethan reached for the bathroom door and shut it, hoping the guards would catch the hint and leave. He pulled Danielle close and hugged her tight. Still she didn’t weep. He was grateful for that. When his darling Danielle shed tears he became desperate to soothe her, to make everything all right. She wasn’t an overly emotional woman in his opinion ... well, perhaps when she was with child she was a bit more so, but he’d loved her like that.... A constricting sensation seized his heart at the reminder of the baby they’d lost. Mentally shaking it off, he brutally forced that line of thinking aside. They’d get back to that one day, when it was safe to try again, but not yet. Drawing a measured breath in and then releasing it slowly, he considered their options. If they didn’t turn back into vampires, then what? How could he keep her alive and mortal in a magic world that wouldn’t leave them alone? With his thoughts returning to his earlier ideas, Ethan again wondered, how could one escape the moon? His thumb moved over the ridge of her cheekbone as he looked into her eyes. The bathroom was dark except for a shaft

looked into her eyes. The bathroom was dark except for a shaft of bright moonlight angling down through the skylight. It spilled over her hair in a way that reminded him of when they’d first met in that dark alleyway. When she’d whirled away from Lucas, the look on her face said it all. Her eyes were rounded with shock that her defensive moves had failed against Lucas. Next, her lips were parted with surprise at running into him. And then even more than either of those things, the overwhelming bewilderment that she’d somehow recognized him as she focused on his gaze. When his magic took effect, he had been reluctant to stop staring into her eyes but he had to. “Ethan,” Danielle whispered, “I can’t do that again.” Her fingers clutched at the waistband of his pajama pants because that was all she had to grab onto. They were cold against the skin of his hips, but even though the sensation was slightly shocking, he liked it and didn’t flinch away. Finally he said, “I’ll see what I can come up with.” “Really?” she asked her expression hopeful. “But what if Beon—?” With two fingers landing gently on her lips, he quieted her. His stomach quivered when he touched her full mouth ... in a good way. His stomach always quivered at her nearness and he didn’t think that would ever change. “I’ll handle Beon,” he said, letting his hand fall away, even though he’d rather maintain the contact that warmed his fingers with her breath. “But last time—” “I know.” He hugged her again, his hand lifting to her hair, to

the back of her head, where he pressed enough to get her to rest her cheek on his shoulder. She resisted for a brief moment before relaxing under his touch. The tempting idea of just him going back to vampirism was there. It was always there, always niggling at the back of his mind like a persistent insect. But for her he’d try to find another solution because, he reluctantly admitted, it hadn’t exactly saved her from harm last time.... “Trust me,” he murmured against her soft brown hair which smelled like the pumpkin pie conditioner she’d been using. “I’ve heard that before.” A gusty laugh escaped him. “Haven’t we had this conversation before?” Danielle rose up onto her toes, released his pants and slung her arms around his neck. “Probably,” she said in a tone that conveyed she knew she should trust him but, as usual, was struggling with patience in the matter. Watching her nibble at her bottom lip in a way that was an enticing mix of sexy and cute, he realized with a surge of panic that he didn’t want to lose her, not ever. He was in love with her and had been for so long it seemed he couldn’t remember a time not loving her. So what was he going to do to keep her safe? Certainly she had what he considered amazing defensive skills. But just as in the past, those skills were useless against cursed or magical beings. Reconsidering his earlier idea of remaining weak, he thought about the threats again mounting against her safety. Lucas was still out there, and Ethan knew him well enough to know he wouldn’t give up on trying to hurt her. As a vampire he

know he wouldn’t give up on trying to hurt her. As a vampire he could have taken on Lucas, could have joined in the fight, could have guarded her when the werewolf entered their bedroom. Desperately, he’d gone for the sword, knowing it wouldn’t be enough. What if he did turn back into a vampire, just for a while.... “Are you really okay with being mortal, especially now?” she asked as though she’d managed to read his mind. “Yes,” he said more slowly than he should have, probably because he was forcing sincerity into the one word even though he didn’t completely believe it. Feeling a little uncomfortable under her gaze, which always saw more than he wanted, his eyes darted from hers momentarily. But when his gaze returned, he could see everything she didn’t want him to see too. Danielle really didn’t want him to go back to that, probably just as badly as she didn’t want it for herself. Her head tipped to the side as she considered his expression. Gentle waves of brown hair swung down over her arm. One hand left his nape when she swept it through her tresses, dragging the strands out of her face. Her hand returned to his neck, her fingers found his hair, and suspicious eyes locked with his. “But don’t you miss it? The power, the immortality, the —“ “Do you miss it?” Ethan countered his eyebrow lifting. “No.” He noticed the lack of hesitation in that response as well as the sharp conviction in her tone. Ethan could admit that there were times like tonight that he missed the strength the curse gave him. But as he really

missed the strength the curse gave him. But as he really measured the consequences of that choice, he realized he didn’t miss it enough to sacrifice his renewed chance at parenthood, even with the threats looming over them. It’s why he consumed the curing candy Lilith had given them as fast as he did. The idea of holding an infant that he helped to create appealed to him more than anything. He’d been imagining what their child would look like and couldn’t seem to stop himself from fantasizing about it frequently. Would the child have his mouth? Would he or she have her thick dark lashes? Would the little plumpcheeked sprite be blessed with his blue eyes and her rich brown hair? Would his child have soft curls just like Danielle did? Impatience was rolling off Danielle in nearly tangible waves. He sighed with the knowledge that if he didn’t answer her earlier question, she’d just ask it again. “We discussed this before too. I didn’t like having to hunt for my dinner and take a life each night. The evilness of that curse still haunts my dreams because I lived it for so long.” “But you were so eager to go back to it.” “Only so I could keep you safe. So I could help keep our baby safe.” His guts clenched as those words passed his lips. Her eyes blinked rapidly and she looked away from him momentarily, her eyebrows were drawn low over her dark eyes and a little line had appeared between them. Why had he thoughtlessly brought up the baby? Ethan mused with a good dose of self-disparagement. From the pout now dragging the corners of her lips down, he knew she was likely on the verge of

tears now that he’d reminded her of their loss. Hoping to soothe her, Ethan added, “Please understand this, Danielle. I took the candy first only partly because I knew you’d follow my lead but, more importantly, I want to be a father a million times more than an immortal. If we’re just talking about immortality, then yes, I suppose it would be a tempting lifestyle. But it’s not. At all. For me it will always be a curse and not the gift the others see it as.” “Then what are we going to do?” she asked in a trembling voice, absently trailing a finger over his naked chest. Ethan shivered involuntarily and his breath hitched. They couldn’t live like this any longer, he decided. Their home had been breached. Their limited privacy would be further restricted. And no weapons could protect them against magic. Unless ... his breath hitched again ... unless they used magic to fight magic.... “What are you thinking about?” she asked, apparently measuring the look on his face correctly. This time he decided to tell her rather than tease her by testing her patience. “We need the aid of the fairies.” Her eyes rounding with unmasked excitement at seeing those little creatures again, she asked, “Could they help us?” Nodding, he said, “They have a great deal of natural magic.” “Like that juice they fed me?” “Exactly like that.” Ethan returned the smile beaming up at him, and then moved to kiss her. The eyes looking into his slid closed in anticipation. Exhaling, he let his breath touch her first and watched as she

Exhaling, he let his breath touch her first and watched as she drew it in like a luscious treat. As his mouth connected with hers, he marveled at how the curse had permanently changed that part of him. For some reason his breath held a sort of vampire-magic side effect, and it made their kisses perhaps more intimate and intense than even French kissing. Though he wasn’t about to restrict himself, so on another exhale he also brought his tongue into play. She murmured a happy sound and then reciprocated. That’s when Ethan decided he’d been wrong earlier. French kissing was still much more intimate and intense than sharing his breath alone because it was a wet and delicious blend of the two. And not only was his breath affecting her, her breath had changed as well. Of course, he’d always liked the taste of her when kissing, not in a twisted I-want-to-eat-her sort of way, but now she’d been touched with the same vampire magic as he had. It seemed to add a whole new level to their kisses. Ethan wasn’t sure when he’d done it, but almost suddenly he’d turned her around and had lifted her up onto the counter. Danielle wrapped her arms and legs around him. He absolutely loved it when she did that. His mouth left hers and moved along her jaw to her ear. From there Ethan wanted to drag his lips down the column of her neck, but she was extremely ticklish there. So instead, he dropped his mouth to the top edge of her shoulder and moved along until he reached the smooth curve at the top of her arm. With fingers fisting into the silky fabric of her nightgown he paused. In one swift move he could have it up and over ... then a thought occurred to him. Tonight they wouldn’t be

over ... then a thought occurred to him. Tonight they wouldn’t be sleeping alone, and there were likely guards in the next room which was definitely within vampire hearing range. Danielle would be mortified if he took this any further. Capturing her face between his palms he returned his mouth to hers. After a few more moments of thorough snogging, he wondered if perhaps he didn’t care what the men in the next room thought about him loving Danielle within hearing distance of them. But, again knowing she’d be upset when they did finally exit the master bath and she was greeted by vampire guards with knowing smirks on their faces, he resisted the urge to strip her. Releasing her, he dropped his forehead against hers and whispered, “Shall we go back to bed?” “I guess.” Danielle slanted a curious look toward the door. “Are we alone, do you think?” “That’s extremely unlikely.” Her shoulders slumped at that and she released a disappointed little sigh. Ethan helped her down and gathered her under his arm. He opened the door and they entered their bedroom. Passing his gaze over the room he took in the changes. Apparently, there was nothing to be done at this late hour about the broken window. But the drapes, which had been open earlier, were drawn closed. A cool breeze made it billow forward so that it brushed against the legs of the two guards stationed there for the night. Lovely, Ethan thought with thick sarcasm, they get to spend the night with Lewis and Casanova watching over them.

And he knew Danielle wouldn’t sleep much, worrying she might snore or something in front of strangers. A bright, almost blinding glow filtered in through his closed eyelids, drawing Ethan from sleep. It was a sudden change, as though someone had flipped on a light or swung a flashlight at his face. The click of a door sounded next and he forced his eyes open, blinking. Ah, the sun was up and the guards had left their posts unblocking the early morning light as it melted through the sheer curtains covering their window. A breeze still danced against the material. The world seemed so quiet and peaceful now. Stretching, he rolled and looked at Danielle. She was sound asleep, her chest rising and falling with each deep breath. She had one hand tucked beneath her cheek and the other hidden somewhere under the blankets. Apparently exhaustion had snatched her into slumber even though he knew she’d remained awake for quite some time after they’d tucked in last night. It had been obvious that she didn’t like the idea of sleeping with two men she didn’t know very well as an audience, because she’d tossed and turned and kept tucking the blankets up under her chin before she’d shift again. She looked a great deal more tired than she usually did after a full moon. Her lashes rested against purple shadows under each eye. She’d swept most of her hair off her face except for one curling lock of brown that shimmered in the dim light across her neck and collar bone. He reached for it and watched as it curved around his finger before he tossed it

over her shoulder. Her hand came up from under the blankets and she rubbed at her nose like it tickled. Danielle’s eyes blinked open after that. Ethan watched as it took a moment for her to focus and for her to recognize him. She smiled a sleepy smile at him. “How’d you sleep?” he asked in a gravelly voice, noting the fact that he sounded about as tired as she looked. “All right.” She rolled to her back, casting a look past his shoulder, probably checking to see if they were alone or not. They were. Just “all right” was better than he’d slept. His dreams had been plagued by the werewolf version of Lucas, along with fanged creatures trying to take her away from him. Danielle was screaming and kicking violently with precise skill that didn’t do her any good, and as a mortal man there’d been nothing he could do about it. His gut churned at the idea that he had to do something about this before the next full moon or he really could lose her to something he couldn’t control. Realizing that what began as a nightmare could twist into a horrible reality, Ethan was moved into action. “Let’s get up and get dressed,” he said. “We’re going to see the fairies today.” If they didn’t do this now, then Beon might demand they turn back into vampires, and if his main goal was to keep her happy then he had to find a new resolution to their concerns. Danielle didn’t need to be told twice when it came to seeing fairies, and he couldn’t stop the soft chuckle that left his throat as she sprang from the bed and ran to the bathroom.

she sprang from the bed and ran to the bathroom. They got dressed in hiking gear. He finished lacing up his boots before she’d zipped up her jeans. “I’ll go get our backpacks and make breakfast,” he said. “All right,” she replied as she perched on the edge of their bed and began tugging on her socks. Making his way to the basem*nt where they kept the backpacks, he somehow managed to avoid any of the guards he suspected were still lingering about. His goal was to get ready and go before the men started asking questions or insisted they go see Beon after what happened last night. Ethan also knew there could be some resistance about them going into the woods because the pixies had also become more of a nuisance. The creepy little things were stalking Danielle almost as fiercely as the werewolves, but with the use of salt, they were easier to repel, so Ethan felt like they could deal with that problem on their own. Snagging the backpacks off the hooks, he made his way back up the stairs and entered the kitchen to pack food for their hike and make a quick breakfast. Apparently it didn’t matter how quiet he’d been because as he dumped the packs on the marble countertop in the center of the kitchen, Merrick walked in. Leaning against the counter opposite from the island, Merrick folded his arms over his chest and passed his gaze first over the backpacks and then over Ethan’s attire. “Going camping?” “Just a hike,” Ethan said in a tight voice. The lame response hung between them for a moment and

The lame response hung between them for a moment and Ethan wasn’t surprised when the vampire soon cleared his throat and announced like it was an invitation to some Victorian soiree, “Beon wishes to see you.” Expelling a sigh that probably sounded more like a groan, he responded with, “I’m certain he does, but we’re going out first.” Only pretending to be unaware of Merrick who shifted his position and tunneled one hand through his mop of brown hair, Ethan decided to make tea, even though he’d planned to skip it for stealth originally. When he opened the cupboard and reached for Danielle’s favorite cup, he came up short. It wasn’t there.... “The glass broke it when it flew into your bedchamber, I’m afraid,” murmured Merrick. “We didn’t have the heart to tell her ... just yet.” Ethan reached for another pair of cups instead and set them on the countertop. “I’ll go onto eBay and see if I can find her another one.” It was an antique but it was made by a wellknown company, so there was a good chance he could replace it for her. Merrick made a grunting sound which Ethan figured was his way of approving the idea and then said nothing more. Besides the soft sloshing noise of water pouring into the teapot before Ethan set it down on the heat, the room was quiet, but filled with a tension that gained weight until it became almost tangible. Of course, he knew he hadn’t properly explained his plans for the day and it was only a matter of time before the Highland knight began to question him more thoroughly. Ethan

endeavored to busy himself with food preparation, hoping Merrick might let this one slide. Avoiding the gaze he could feel following him around the room, he began making sandwiches for the hike. He wrapped those in plastic and tucked two in each pack. Next he washed a couple of apples and gathered a bag of trail mix, but paused when Merrick finally asked, “Where?” Mentally scrambling to find a suitable answer, Ethan moved to the next task. He removed two crumpets from the package and popped them into the toaster. As he pushed the lever down, Merrick repeated the query. “Where is this hike?” Expelling a breath of resignation, Ethan decided to go with the truth. “The fairies. I have to take her to them so they can help us deal with this magic we’re now battling against.” When no response to his confession came right away, his gaze swiveled to Merrick. He felt his eyes widen slightly at the light of intrigue dancing in Merrick’s green eyes. “You’ll need aid then. Do you have a plan?” Slightly taken aback, Ethan stammered, “You’re not going to insist—?” Merrick cut him off with a sharp shake of his head and pitched his voice to a low conspiratorial whisper. “I want her to be happy too. I know how much she likes being mortal.” Relieved at Merrick’s cooperation, he said, “We need them, especially if we’re fighting against magic.” “I agree.” Merrick rubbed at the whiskers shadowing his broad jawbone. “I hope it’s not witches helping the moonbeasts.”

beasts.” The teakettle whistled. Ethan turned and took the handle. He set a teabag in one of the cups. While pouring hot water over the bag, he took in Merrick’s thoughtful expression. Ethan could easily picture Merrick as he once was centuries ago, as a Highland warrior. A kilt wouldn’t have looked feminine on the hulking man. In fact, he’d probably look more imposing with plaid material dancing from a brisk breeze over massive knees and muscular calves. Ethan could also imagine him slicing through his enemy with easy strokes of a claymore as an almost devilish smirk toyed with his grim mouth. As the aroma of spiced peaches rose to his nose, he asked, “You think it’s the witches?” Merrick shrugged and picked up the empty teacup. The fragile porcelain vanished inside his huge hands. Thick fingers moved it in a circle as he absently examined the flowery design. After gathering a bag of rooibos tea for himself and reaching for the cup, he asked, “Why witches?” Merrick returned the teacup with a scowl. “Wicked lot of hags, they are. I doubt they’d have any qualms about offering aid to the wretched monsters.” “They can’t all be bad, can they?” With another shrug, the Highland knight said, “Perhaps not. I just haven’t liked any I’ve met thus far.” In truth, while Ethan had met a couple of sorceresses, he hadn’t met any practicing witches yet. So he had no idea what to expect from them, except that they were known to favor the color black and used potions for most of their magic. The crumpets popped up. He set them on plates and

The crumpets popped up. He set them on plates and slathered the hot spongy bread with butter and strawberry preserves, wondering what was taking Danielle so long. As though just the thought of her was able to conjure up her image, she entered from the left doorway. Without saying anything, a cautious gaze flickered over the imposing man in the room. Gathering in the look of worry in her expression, Merrick whispered with a wide toothy grin, “I offer my aid in seeking out the wee fairies.” Her brown eyes rounded at that and it looked like she was about to say something when Cedric and Casanova entered from behind Merrick on the other side of the room. “Count me in too,” said Cedric. “And me, ma chérie,” added Casanova. His thick French accent made him sound like some romance novel hero, and the sweeping bow he performed along with, “At your service,” made him look like one too. Ethan choked down the objection he wanted to bellow, but based on the amused twist of Danielle’s mouth, she probably noticed the way his lip curled in irritation. Apparently forgetting his jealous distress, which he knew she was aware of, her eyes landed on the crumpets. Bending forward slightly, she drew in the delicious smell of the toasted bread, then lifted one of the plates. After biting into it, her tongue shot out to clean the preserves from her upper lip. Another surge of jealousy socked him in the stomach when he realized all of the men’s gazes were fixed on her full mouth.

“Thanks for breakfast,” she said, now pouring a generous measure of honey and cream into her tea before stirring it. She wore a snug-fitting pair of jeans, paired with a white baby t-shirt that showed off her curves. After tightening the plaid shirt tied around her waist, she gathered her teacup for a sip now that she’d doctored it up in a way that many Brits would frown upon. She’d French braided the front part of her hair into a long braid that ran along the side of her head and caught that up with the rest of her hair into a smooth ponytail that swung when she moved. That must have been what had taken her so long to come down. She’d stopped to do her hair and make-up. Ethan kept his amused chuckle inside as he bit into his own crumpet and washed it down with his unsweetened tea. Danielle was vain enough to worry about her appearance, but not so much so that she was a snob. He doubted she even knew that no matter what she wore she looked like some sort of 1940’s bombshell one might see painted on the side of a B-29 bomber. It was more than clear that she was oblivious to the way the other men looked at her. Does she know how gorgeous she is? Ethan wondered. No, he decided after watching her eat. She was just savoring the simple breakfast in a way that was sexy to watch. She couldn’t possibly be aware of it or she wouldn’t eat like that in front of these men. When he again caught the men staring a little too closely, it awakened something primal within him. Something that tempted him to grunt out “mine!” toss her over his shoulder and stalk from the kitchen.... Or better yet,

over his shoulder and stalk from the kitchen.... Or better yet, challenge them all to a duel. Of course, that wouldn’t fare well for him since he was mortal and they weren’t. With eyes trailing to the knife drawer, which was close at hand, Ethan’s thoughts turned from gentlemanly to murderous in a trice. After sighing, he tossed back the rest of his tea, ignoring the fact that it burned his throat. He really needed to get a handle on his jealousy. Danielle had finished eating and had slipped two fingers into one of the belt loops on his jeans so she could snuggle up to him and offer a bright smile that he knew belonged to him alone. “I’m ready to go,” she said. Her gaze never left his and she either knew about his internal turmoil or had no idea the other guards looked at her like they wanted what was his. The truth could be either or both, but when she looked at him like that he decided he didn’t bloody care they had an audience when he lifted a hand to cup her face and gave her a proper snogging right then.

Chapter 4 Return to The Fey The temperature changed as they got to where the trees grew closer together and the thick canopy of leaves smothered out a great deal of the sunlight. The fragrance of flowers saturated the air as Danielle picked her way around tree trunks and a carpet of English bluebells. She didn’t want to trample them, but there were so many it was hard to avoid crushing the bell-shaped flowers. When she started seeing large red mushrooms dotted with irregular white spots, she knew they were getting even closer. Lifting her gaze from the forest floor, she looked for the little tree houses that would mark the fairy’s dwelling. All she saw so far were numerous brown trunks with thick, peeling bark. This trek had been easier than the first time she’d come here. They’d been better about making sure they stopped to drink and eat snacks along the way. Plus she hadn’t overdone it with a fierce sparring match the day before. Danielle led the way, but she remained aware of the fact that Ethan stayed close at her back and the five guards flanked them on each side. Two more had joined the others in their quest, Richard and Harry, one of the new guys. She stopped when arms came around her waist. Looking down she recognized Ethan’s sleeves and tossed a wondering look over her shoulder at him. “We just ate,” she said, still able to taste the cheese and

at him. “We just ate,” she said, still able to taste the cheese and chutney sandwich, “and we’re almost there.” After kissing her on the cheek, his fingers trailed along her waist as he untied the shirt secured there. Next he gathered her wrist and began feeding her arm into the sleeve. “I’m not cold,” she informed him quietly as he proceeded to dress her. “What are you doing?” “Just making sure you don’t catch a chill.” But she’d just said.... Danielle turned and measured him in bewilderment for a moment. Then it dawned on her. He was still struggling with jealousy, and for some reason wanted her to be covered up. Was it because Richard was here and he was the only single guard there besides Casanova? Her eyes passed over the prince who was visible just past Ethan’s shoulder. Richard wasn’t even looking her way; he was intently searching the surrounding forest for any possible threats. Just like a bodyguard should be doing. Her eyes shifted to Casanova. Danielle knew Ethan didn’t like him much either. She understood his problem with Richard, but not Casanova. The guy seemed really nice and he wasn’t looking her way either. Deciding to appease him anyway, she reached down and tied the tails of the shirt together as he straightened the collar. “Thanks,” she said. This Victorian-possessive-protectiveness was cute on him, even if it was slightly annoying at times. A pleased smile captured his lips as he braced his hands on the trees at either side of her and leaned toward her for a kiss. She could see her reflection in his glasses as well as the flirtatious twinkle in his eyes. But instead of matching his mouth with hers,

twinkle in his eyes. But instead of matching his mouth with hers, he shoved her backward into the leaves and bluebells and landed on top of her. “What—?” was all she managed as the air whooshed out of her lungs before one of the guards shouted, “Pixies!” That’s when she realized Ethan hadn’t intentionally knocked her down; he’d fallen into her when Merrick shoved him down. Looking just as surprised as she was, Ethan shifted so he wasn’t squashing her with his weight, but maintained a protective position above her. He also looked for his glasses which had slid off as they fell and then bounced off her cheek before tumbling into the thick undergrowth. “Do you have salt?” Danielle asked as the little creatures entered her line of vision and their rotten-apple smell assaulted her nose. When he jammed his hand into his pocket and tossed what looked like white particles of granular snow at a swarm of sharptoothed and snapping pixies, she took that as a yes. Ethan lifted his arms and came back down on top of her, shielding her from another shower of salt, thrown by the guards this time. Danielle closed her eyes as it pelted her skin not covered by Ethan. When Ethan lowered his left hand to the ground to brace himself, and lifted his head to look over his shoulder, she could see the guards battling against what looked like hundreds of pixies. The men tossed salt and smacked away the creatures attacking them. Merrick, who was the closest to her and Ethan,

backhanded three at once as they tried to fly past him. The pixies went sailing like thin, snarling toys. A huge crowd of them got past Merrick though. While the vampires swatted and tossed salt at the pixies, Danielle got a better view of what was attacking them. In truth, she’d never actually seen them this close up before. With their skinny bodies, they looked something like stick bugs, but they had little faces sort of like fairies, except a wicked twist of their lips made what could be smiles evil-looking. Instead of having brown skin, however, they were actually a pretty shade of pale blue mixed with brown. That was the only appealing thing about pixies though. Miniature beasts closed in on them with claw-tipped hands raised, and needle-sharp teeth exposed. Their smell became overpowering enough to make her sneeze. When her eyes blinked open again, the pixies grabbed hold of Ethan’s backpack and pulled. Ethan let it slide free of his arms before he was dragged along with it. Danielle kicked out and managed to impact two of them, sending them flipping head over heels away from them. Ethan swung out with a fist too, but they’d gone for his clothes this time and hauled him right off her. “Ethan!” she screamed reaching for him. Danielle had no idea those things were so strong until then. He swore and fought to get them off his clothes as his feet actually left the ground. “Guards! Help us!” shouted Ethan. But the vampires had their own problems. The curse was weakened enough during the day that they were having trouble keeping their feet on the ground too.

feet on the ground too. Throwing sucker punches at the pixies, she tried to knock off as many as she could, but she was unsuccessful. They snagged tiny handfuls of her clothes as well, and she felt the fabric go tight as they began lifting her. Danielle seized hold of one on her left sleeve and nearly lost her lunch. It was like grabbing onto an enormous bug. Within her grasp it twisted, causing her stomach to do the same. Setting her teeth against the nausea, Danielle yanked. The thing held on like a stubborn tick. It moved to bite her and she jerked her hand away. Pixies might look fragile at first glance, but they were actually as durable as co*ckroaches. She hadn’t even rumpled its wings that vibrated as fast as a hummingbird’s. And she’d touched it? A shudder of repulsion worked its way through her body. As her back lost contact with the earth, she noticed in perplexed curiosity, that there were more colors than streaks of blue darting above her. It took her a moment to realize fairies were there, chasing off the pixies with blasts of fairy dust coming from itty-bitty wands. Dressed in flower petals and leaves, they zipped about on multi-colored wings. The pixies holding her let go and she grunted as her back slammed into the ground. The bluebells may have cushioned her fall slightly, but she still found a rock right between her shoulder blades. A little farther away, she heard Ethan’s “oof” when they dropped him too. She saw him rising to his feet, brushing dead leaves from his clothes. With the way he was favoring his right leg, she believed he’d been injured. Remembering his glasses, she rolled to her knees and looked

Remembering his glasses, she rolled to her knees and looked for them in the flowers where she thought they’d landed. Her fingers connected with something smooth and cold. For a second she worried it was a snake or something worse, but it was hard. Brushing the plants and fallen leaves aside she found his glasses next to the tree roots and picked them up, cleaning them off with her shirt. “Thanks,” he said taking them from her fingertips and putting them on. “Are you hurt?” she asked. “I fell from six or seven feet up I think and jammed my knee pretty hard when I landed, but I’m all right.” “I thought the pixies feared men. Why wouldn’t they leave us alone this time, especially with all of the salt that was thrown at them?” She watched as Ethan considered her question. His hand came up and he scratched behind his ear, like he didn’t exactly have an answer to her question. “We did notice they were more aggressive when we visited the hobbit homes, but not this bad. This time they were practically unstoppable.” Danielle shuddered and apparently the movement drew his attention. His gaze traveled her body just like it did when he was looking for injuries. “Did they hurt—?” Ethan began but he was interrupted by a fairy that flew right up to his nose and tapped her finger against the glass of his eyewear, making a faint clinking sound. “What is this?” Alora asked. She spun over to the side of his

head, wrapped two hands around the frame and tried to take them off his face. Ethan batted her away, obviously being careful not to actually hit her and grabbed hold of his glasses. “Now see here, I need those!” “What are they for?” the fairy asked. “My eyesight isn’t what it once was. These help bring the world into focus for me.” Swinging around to face him again, she plopped little fists on her hips, co*cked her head to the side and studied him for a moment. All the while her beautiful and sparkling wings of pale lavender flapped like a butterfly’s. “You’re blind because you’re mortal now?” Straightening his glasses, Ethan shoved his hands into his pockets and shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not completely blind. I just need assistance in the matter.” Several fairies had gathered around them, some male and some female. All of them watched her and Ethan with bald curiosity as though they’d never seen them before. But they’d been here more than once. It’s true, Ethan had never worn glasses on their past visits, and if they didn’t see many mortals then it was likely they hadn’t seen any type of eyewear before now either. Alora passed a gaze over the forest and then locked her blue eyes on Danielle. “I suppose the pixies were after you?” Opening her mouth to respond, she closed it when Ethan asked, “Do you have any idea why they would want her?”

asked, “Do you have any idea why they would want her?” In a gesture that looked kind of nervous, the fairy began nibbling at her fingernails while she considered her answer. “They might want to eat her.” The disturbing idea came in a highpitched but enchanting little voice that probably shouldn’t be saying things like that. It felt like her knees had vanished right out their sockets as she imagined those creepy little pixies gnawing at her flesh and how that would probably be a long and painful death. Ethan’s hand was suddenly grasping her arm and she realized he’d noticed her reaction. “We need your help,” he said. “Nothing will leave her alone and the werewolves have found someone with magic to help them.” Alora’s fair eyebrows rose toward her hairline. “They probably want to eat her too.” Then, even more disturbing, the fairy took a whiff of the air in her direction, like she thought maybe they should have her as a snack as well. Danielle took a step backward. Apparently Alora guessed at her fear and tittered out a peal of laughter. “We’re—what was it you called it, Ethan?” “Ah, vegetarians,” he offered, looking like he wanted to laugh too. “Yes, that’s it. You don’t need to worry about us eating you, my dear, we only consume fruits and nectar and other such things.” “That’s a relief,” she muttered feeling her cheeks heat with how this conversation had taken a strange, disturbing turn. “Thanks for saving us from the pixies.” Though she couldn’t help

“Thanks for saving us from the pixies.” Though she couldn’t help but think that was the strangest sentence she’d ever uttered in her life. As the fairies led them the rest of way to their dwelling, and their little tree houses began to dot the trees, Danielle asked Ethan in a whisper, “Do you think it’s true?” “What’s that?” She felt his fingers squeeze hers gently. “That stuff about the pixies wanting to eat me? Why?” Ethan threw his gaze skyward as his free hand made a pass through his hair. The sparkling light from the fairies played across the reflective surface of his glasses and she couldn’t see his eyes to measure what he was thinking. His gaze lowered to their path as they walked, leaves crunched beneath their feet, thin twigs snapped under their weight. Ethan took his time considering this before he said, “They could think that you consumed vampire blood when you bit me and now have that in your system.” “If they want vampire blood, then why didn’t they just take one of the guards?” “It’s unlikely they could ever break the skin of a vampire to eat one, even during the day.” Her hand landed on her stomach as the very idea made her nauseated. “I don’t get it.” “They might be thinking vampire blood will make them stronger and you’re simply the more ... accessible source.” “But you’ve cured even more vampires than I have. Why don’t they want you too?”

“I believe they still fancy women over men. So you’re not only the most accessible source, but the most desirable as well.” Danielle drew in a big breath and let it out. “I’ll never feel safe again.” “They’ll help us solve this problem.” He nodded toward the fairies. “They saved us from the pixies—” “But we can’t stay here forever, can we?” “I don’t think that will be necessary. We just need to trust them.” She sighed but didn’t respond to that. What choice did she have but to trust them? And, she thought, as she watched them flitter about ahead of them, she really liked fairies. Vowing to enjoy this reprieve from the outside world, she tightened her hand on Ethan’s and picked up the pace. But Ethan was limping and she turned to look at him. “How’s your knee?” “Stiff,” he said. “But they probably have something that’ll fix me up in no time.” “Right, like that fairy juice they fed me.” “Exactly like that. I’m actually looking forward to tasting it. I’ve never had the chance or the need to try it.” “It was yummy,” she recalled aloud. Feeling guilty she’d let him continue to carry his pack, she started taking it off his shoulders. “Are you hungry?” he asked, eyeing her with curiosity. “You shouldn’t have to carry this when you’re hurt.” Ethan’s hand tightened on the strap. “You don’t really think

I’m going to let you take my burden, do you?” “Stop being so Victorian and let me help!” Danielle applied a technique that used pressure points to make him let go. It wouldn’t hurt him ... much, unless he was foolish enough to fight her. Obviously he knew better than that and let go quickly. “Fine.” As he let go, he rolled his eyes at her even though a smile played at the corner of his mouth. She slung it on, wondering where her pack was. The guards had fought over the privilege earlier and she was actually grateful they had, even though she felt like she was completely capable of carrying her own backpack. If she’d been wearing it when Merrick knocked them down, she would have landed on it. Touching her chin to her shoulder, she peered at the guards following them. But just as soon as she turned, Richard stalked up with his eyebrows drawn down in a look of medieval disapproval. He snagged Ethan’s pack and drew it from her shoulders. Noticing that he had both hers and Ethan’s now, she opened her mouth to argue then closed it. It wouldn’t matter what she said, Richard was too chivalrous to let her carry anything, so why fight it? The trees opened up into the clearing where Ethan had first introduced her to the fairies, the place where he kissed her as the fairies undid her hair and enveloped them in a whirlwind of glittering enchantment. Just the idea of fairies beguiled her, and Danielle couldn’t help but feel a childlike joy at just being here. They hadn’t been able to visit as often as she would have liked —only two other times so far, and that just hadn’t been enough.

—only two other times so far, and that just hadn’t been enough. This time she wanted to forget about Lucas and pixies and just savor her time in this place steeped in magic. “I need to talk to the guards before speaking with the fairies,” Ethan said. “Okay.” Danielle let go of Ethan’s hand and began exploring on her own. The rough bark pressed into the palm of her hand as she touched an ancient-looking tree that was gnarled in many places. She looked up, her ponytail swinging against her back as she studied the many houses attached to it. Danielle’s head tipped to the side when she noticed something peculiar. One of the swollen knots had a golden glow spilling out of it. Bracing with both hands against the trunk, she rose to her toes to see it better. She gasped in wonder. Apparently the fairies had hollowed out some of those knots to make more fairy homes. How interesting, she thought. Danielle was able to get just high enough to see what looked like a miniature living room. Bits of a sheer silky material hung on either side of the round hole that apparently served as a window as well as a doorway. It shimmered in a way that made Danielle think it was made from woven threads of a spider’s web. Just beyond the curtain were twigs that had been arranged into a tiny rocking chair. Upon the chair sat a female fairy dressed in blue flower petals that had been stitched together in a way that created rows and rows of fragrant ruffles. Her transparent wings were spread wide to accommodate the chair. It was through them she could see that the brunette fairy held a baby in her

them she could see that the brunette fairy held a baby in her arms, as she rocked and sung a quiet song in a lilting fey language. Its tiny feet kicked and wriggled adorably. Suddenly feeling like a peeping Tom, Danielle dropped hastily to her heels before she was noticed. Whirling around, she made her way to the next tree where the fairy homes were higher up the trunk and again faced the clearing. A sense of embarrassment heated her cheeks for being so nosy. In response to that, Danielle changed the focus of her attention. The scene before her eyes was enough to distract her from the lingering thoughts of how she could have had a baby too.... Letting the landscape fill her soul with wonder, she exhaled. This was where the tiny beings danced, where they held their Summer Solstice soirees, where they celebrated their magical existence to throbbing fey music amongst the shelter of sparkling, fairy-dusted trees and poisonous, red-spotted mushrooms. Every night they partied like that and Danielle was looking forward to that the most. Leaning against the trunk, her gaze shifted to the guards as they fanned out and circled the area. All of them were dressed the same. They almost always wore black T-shirts that stretched over well-defined muscles, jeans that hung low on lean hips, well-worn boots with thick soles, and serious looks on their faces. It must be their vampire-guard uniforms or something. Danielle wondered how many of them had been here before. Taking in the look of wonder on Cedric’s face, she figured he hadn’t, but the other men remained on guard, like the fairies

could attack at any moment, or like the pixies could surround them again in an instant. Somehow she doubted either idea would be a problem. Fairies slapped at Cedric’s nose when he tried to inspect a tree house that sat low enough for him to peer into. Merrick frowned as he intently studied the shadowed forest beyond the clearing. The new guy, Harry, moved through feathery grasses painted with red-blooming poppies as he scouted the surrounding area with Merrick. Richard had both packs on one shoulder as he conversed with a glowing, lavender fairy who Danielle suspected was Alora, but she couldn’t tell for sure from this distance. Just then she realized, with rounding eyes, that Casanova was watching her with amusem*nt curling his mouth into a smile. Had he noticed her spying into the fairy house? She felt herself flush with embarrassment. Nervously she played with the loose strands of her ponytail. Ethan, who’d been talking to Alora with Richard, had collected both packs from the prince and was hobbling her way now. His shoulder brushed against hers as he settled next to her. “We’re meeting with Alora and some of the other elder fey in that cottage after dinner.” Danielle followed the line of Ethan’s sight to the small structure just visible in the shadow of an enormous willow tree. In awe, she leaned forward. “Was that here before?” “No.” Shifting to her left shoulder, she caught onto Ethan’s gaze. “They built it for us when they realized we were coming,” he

“They built it for us when they realized we were coming,” he said. “When was that?” she wondered aloud. “Just now, as we were coming through the woods. Things like two mortals accompanied by five vampires advancing on their home would be noticed. They probably began using magic to construct the cottage as soon as they knew about us, but sent an army out to save us when they sensed that too.” “Oh. So that’s how they knew we needed to be rescued from the pixies.” Ethan nodded at that as he bent his right knee and rubbed at it with his hand. “We should get some of that fairy juice for you.” A line formed between his golden eyebrows as he swung the leg out and then back in. “I really jammed it good.” She pushed away from the tree. “I’ll go get one of them now —” Taking hold of her elbow he said, “We should eat dinner soon. I’ll ask for it then.” “Are you sure?” “Yes.” His mouth lifted into a smirk. “I feel at peace here, and I wish to have a moment of quiet alone time. I don’t want to have the fairies fussing over me just yet.” So it wasn’t just a smirk flitting over his features but a flirtatious smirk. With a gentle tug applied on her arm, he pulled her against him. Releasing her elbow, his hand landed on her hip. His other hand came up to the side her face where he stroked her cheek.

hand came up to the side her face where he stroked her cheek. “And that cottage is their wedding gift to us.” Her head whipped around as she tried to see it better, but it was still obscured beneath swaying willow branches. “What? But they—” she began. Ethan chuckled. Capturing her chin, he nudged her gaze back to his. “Yes, they threw a party for us last time we visited, but they’ve been told about all that’s happened since...” He paused and let the heartbreaking reminder of their loss hang unsaid between them. She was grateful he’d left it unsaid, but she still felt the sting. “They wanted to do more for us.” “They feel sorry for us?” “They like us and feel bad that we’ve been through so much.” “Oh.” Danielle wasn’t exactly sure what more she should say about that. Her thoughts drifted unwillingly to the baby fairy she’d just seen and she couldn’t help but feel another wave of emptiness about the boy or girl they’d lost. Having seen those tiny baby toes wiggling in a way that made her want to play with them, she couldn’t force herself to stop thinking about it this time. She dropped her head against Ethan’s shoulder and lost control of her composure. Tears broke past just stinging the back of her eyes, to rolling down her face. Danielle sniffed, trying to slow the tears as her fingers clenched at his shirt. A sad hush enveloped them, and it was so quiet it seemed even the birds stopped singing as the world mourned with them. Ethan’s arms came around her. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have

said it like that.” “It’s not your fault,” she managed around a strained sob. “It’s not?” he asked, his tone whispering unbelief. “I was attempting to seduce you and now I’ve ruined it by making you cry.” “There were tiny fairy toes,” she offered in a lame attempt at explaining. A pause, and then he asked, “What?” Her blurry vision touched on his momentarily, but even as fuzzy as he was, she could see the perplexed expression on his face. Trying to be clearer, she added, “A fairy baby in one of the fairy knots.” When silence again came, she realized she wasn’t making much sense at all and tried a second time to clarify. “I mean, I looked into one of the fairy homes, it was a knot instead of a tree house, and there was a fairy holding a baby.” “Ah,” he said softly as understanding changed his expression. Ethan just held her for several quiet moments with his hand moving over her hair and her back. She’d soaked both his shirts and sniffed again when he finally murmured in a gentle voice, “Would you like to try again?” Pulling back in surprise, she looked into his face. Was he really suggesting they try to have another baby? “But we can’t.” “Why can’t we?” “Well, the werewolves for one.” “That’s why we’re here.” “And the pixies.”

“And the pixies.” “Another thing they can help us with.” “But who is helping the werewolves?” “It doesn’t matter. I doubt there are many who are more powerful than the fairies.” “But ... they’re so small.” “That doesn’t matter either,” he repeated. She blinked and refocused on Ethan’s face, somewhat. Her eyes still swam with unshed tears. But when he smiled and she saw many colored lights dance across the reflection of the glasses shielding his sapphire eyes, she turned around. A procession of fairies had filled the clearing. As they bent over the grass, they twirled their wands in the air. A shower of sparks fell and twisted like tendrils of glittering smoke, and by magic a table appeared. It was laden with plates, each one piled high with food. The fare looked like it was proportioned for humans, as did the table, but it was embellished and decorated more like it was fit only for fey. A three-tiered cake towered above everything else in the center. The frosting was white and it was embellished with sugar-coated apple blossoms that glittered in the waning sunlight. After wiping her cheeks dry, she took Ethan’s hand into hers and drew closer to the table as the fairies conjured mosscushioned chairs and three candelabra, each one holding six long candles. A lone fairy zigzagged up the table lighting each one with a strange green flame. Slightly awestruck and more than slightly relieved they’d distracted her from their grief, Danielle stepped around the ring

distracted her from their grief, Danielle stepped around the ring of mushrooms used for marking the fairy dance floor. On her past visits, the fairies had been extremely strict about making sure they never stepped within the ring. She didn’t know why but she suspected it had to do with the fact that the ring was probably enchanted in some way. The fairies had thrown them a party before. They’d danced into the late hours of the night around the mushrooms she was moving past at the moment. They’d usually brought their own food too, only eating the fresh berries that had been offered and nothing more. Except for when she’d fainted and they’d given her the magical berry juice to heal her. “Why the big feast?” she asked because this was different from their past visits. Ethan halted their momentum and she swung her gaze to his face. Her ponytail swatted her against the cheek with the action. When he didn’t speak right away, and because he looked just as awestruck as she felt, she asked, “What is it?” “We always brought food with us because their food is laden with magic.” “But we ate the berries.” “That’s because those had been picked fresh from a plant and not prepared by them.” She thought about that a moment. “But the juice that healed me had been prepared by them, hadn’t it?” “Yes, but you needed it then, and only then,” he said. “That juice in large and continued quantities could’ve done something

strange to you.” “Oh,” she said, now understanding. “So could it hurt us to eat so much, then?” As she asked this, Danielle eyed something that looked like strawberry tarts. Her mouth was practically watering with how delectable they looked. She swallowed. “I don’t think so,” he said slowly, before adding, “But there could be side effects.” “Like what? Could we sprout wings or something?” “I honestly don’t know.” “Why did they prepare it for us then?” “Did you not say you needed our help against magic?” The words came in a soft but fairy-like voice at her ear. Danielle whirled around and was surprised to find Alora apparently eavesdropping. The tiny sprite was hovering at eyelevel to her and smirking like she knew a secret she wasn’t going to share. “Yes, but won’t this food have an adverse affect on us?” asked Ethan. Alora tapped one finger against her little pink mouth for a moment. Her hip was co*cked to the side as her petalbeslippered feet dangled in the air. “I suppose there could be some side effects to consuming our feast but I don’t think you’ll regret it. It will not make you sick, if that’s what concerns you.” Danielle looked at the spread again and decided she wasn’t worried about it making her sick except for maybe eating too much of it. It just looked so good, and smelled so good, she decided, dragging in a deep breath of the aromas wafting from the long table.

“Please, sit down and join us,” urged Alora. Only a few more steps brought Danielle up to the end chair where Alora encouraged her to sit. Danielle slid it back and sat down. Her fingers sank into the spongy texture of the mosscovered arms and she noticed the organic piece of furniture was actually in bloom with little white flowers. Many of the fairies joined them by conjuring miniature tables along with six chairs each right on top of the table she sat at. Ethan sat to her left and the guards took up the remainder of chairs surrounding the table. “But, um...” she began, meaning to point out the obvious by saying the vampires don’t usually bother to eat food since it doesn’t taste good to them anymore. “This is one meal they’ll actually enjoy,” said Alora. Cedric tossed a surprised look Alora’s way. “Truly?” “This feast will be able to tantalize your broken taste buds in a way nothing else can.” At that, Cedric snatched up a little cake with a single pansy flower on the top and popped it into his mouth. While chewing, his eyes rounded and he quickly selected another item. The other guards did the same. They looked like a bunch of boys who’d been given permission to indulge in something they’d normally be forbidden. Manners were soon discarded by all except for Richard. Of course the prince would maintain his cool, but he was sampling food just like the rest of them. Reaching for one of the tarts she’d been eyeing earlier, Danielle studied it. It looked ordinary enough, but she couldn’t help but think of the candies Lilith had given them, and paused

help but think of the candies Lilith had given them, and paused with the morsel held in her fingertips. “Are you certain this won’t turn us into ... er ... something?” All of the fairies giggled at that. The sound was like several little bells tinkling along the table from where they sat. “I’ll confess, my dear, it could influence your dreams,” admitted Alora. “That’s all?” “Yes.” “But how will it help us against the pixies and werewolves?” Does it work like the fairies’ healing juice? she wondered as Ethan downed what they’d just brought to him. “This is only part of what will help you,” said Alora. When she realized Ethan was already reaching for a slice of the big cake she sank back into her chair and considered the tart she was still holding. With a shrug of her shoulders, she popped it into her mouth. She didn’t feel energy surge through her body like she had with the fairy juice. The flavors of crust and a burst of berry filled her mouth, and that was all. “Hmm,” Danielle murmured now reaching for a little bowl full of mixed fruit that had been drizzled with a pink sauce of some kind.

Chapter 5 Fairy-Dusted Retreat While Ethan and the others continued to eat, the fairies fluttered away from the table one by one, like butterflies alighting from hydrangea blooms. As their tables were vacated, the tiny furniture vanished as though they’d returned to whatever place the fairies had conjured them from. It wasn’t long after they’d left, that their music for the evening rose from miniature instruments. Ethan looked over at the ring and watched as the wee sprites began their dance with a procession of fairies that started high above the forest floor and spiraled down to the enchanted ring of mushrooms. Moonlight slanted into the scene from above. The music increased in volume and he could just pick out the ones with twig-like flutes pressed to their mouths. They produced a sound that was so organic one couldn’t resist its pull. Ethan frowned. They’d danced with the fairies before, but tonight the music sounded different to him somehow and he couldn’t fathom why. Mentally shrugging his shoulders at that, he returned his attention to his food. They’d dined at the table for probably an hour or more and he was growing quite full, even painfully so. This food had just been so incredibly irresistible. He took one more little cake even though he knew there would be a physical price to pay for his gluttony. This was the last one, he promised himself, as the delectable morsel dissolved against his tongue like

himself, as the delectable morsel dissolved against his tongue like a spoonful of honey. The cares that troubled his soul had lifted away as he’d entered this place earlier today. While he would never admit aloud how much he liked the fairies—because that would be a girly thing to confess—he could admit to himself that he loved it here and secretly wished they’d come back more often than they had. After this feast, he decided they would come back frequently from now on. It seemed there were no adverse side effects to consuming food tainted with fey magic. It’s true that he felt slightly ... what was the word? He wouldn’t say drunk exactly, because he didn’t feel out of control like that. He didn’t feel muddled either, but ... perhaps the word he was looking for was charmed. And healed, he thought, as his hand slid beneath the table and dropped to his knee. That felt even better than it had before he’d been dropped by the pixies and the juice had been the only thing where he could feel the magic work within his body. His gaze swung to Danielle who was licking her fingers clean of something purple and sticky-looking. Clearly she had completely forgotten her upset from earlier. The look of pleasure that curled her mouth into a contented smile told him that. He mentally thanked Alora and the other fairies for the small gift as he vowed to offer his gratitude in person later. She still wore her shirt instead of having it tied around her waist and he was grateful for that too. Ethan didn’t know how much longer he could restrain the streak of violent jealously within him when he’s caught Casanova noticing how snuggly her T-shirt hugged her

caught Casanova noticing how snuggly her T-shirt hugged her fully-bloomed body. Making a visual pass over the table, his eyes landed on the guards. It seemed they were finished eating as well. The two who irritated him the most, Casanova and Richard, were busy talking at the far end of the table. Night had fallen and the vampires were on guard with their magic, avoiding his gaze and keeping a physical distance. Leaning back in his chair, he again watched his wife. The persistent beat of the music pounded through his veins and he decided he really wanted to dance. With her. “Shall we?” he asked, although he frowned at how strange his voice sounded. He couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong with it either, so he shrugged it off and reached for her hand. She giggled and mingled her fingers with his. “I’d love to.” As they moved toward the dance area, fairies flitted about, as some danced alone and others twirled like couples in love. The colorful glow coming off the fairies looked quite a bit like laser lights as they streaked from one side of the clearing to the other. And the way the darkened trees glittered with fairy dust seemed just like a mirrored ball hung somewhere unseen within this wooded place. For some odd reason, he had to concentrate really hard to find his voice when he commented on the scene. “It’s like we’re at a dance club.” Danielle glanced around, and it seemed like she was having as much trouble finding words as he was. “Hmm, I hadn’t thought of it like that before.” She laughed and then murmured,

“I just love dancing with the fairies.” He loved it too, but again, that was something he couldn’t bring himself to own to verbally. Instead he grinned, and lifting her right arm, he twirled her in a circle. She staggered slightly but smiled when he led her into another spin before capturing her about the waist. Ethan kept Danielle well outside the ring of mushrooms where many fairies pranced on top of the red and white spotted fungi. First, he didn’t wish to step on any of them, and second, he recalled their strict warning about never wandering into the ring. The lilting measure slowed until it became a tender melody that moved the soul, and Danielle’s arms came up around his neck. He drew her close and smiled down at her as they began to sway to the music. Her pretty face tipped up and she returned the smile. She’d undone her hair. The braided sections of it had maintained a wave that caressed her left cheek and drew his fingers. As the silky strands slipped through his fingertips, he decided she looked like a beguiling wood-nymph with the naughty intention of stealing his heart. But she can’t steal something she already possesses, he thought with a laugh. The sight of her made his heart squeeze and he was easily entranced by her clear eyes that looked more like shards of steel-blue instead of brown in this subdued lighting that leached color from everything. His deep love for her rose up within him and he suddenly found it hard to breathe because he was reminded of all the things threatening to take her away. With his

reminded of all the things threatening to take her away. With his lungs seizing, Ethan wondered how much longer she could tolerate the danger his past had brought to her life. While leaving her would never be an option for him because that would not bring her safety, in the back of his mind he feared she might actually leave him. He was the one in danger of losing everything.... Ethan attempted to swallow whatever it was lodged in his throat. If she left him, the guards, who were much more loyal to her than him, would follow ... and then they’d move in on her. They weren’t weak and mortal like him. They didn’t need glasses like he did. He nudged them up the bridge of his nose because they’d slipped. His nostrils flared. He held his breath and ground his teeth. “Are you okay?” she asked, jerking him out of his internal panic with the soft-spoken query. Catching his eye, Danielle gave him that look of hers that told his soul she loved no one more than him, knew no one else like she knew him. It was that look that brought back such a strong sense of recognition between them that he couldn’t question how she felt about him. Somehow he knew they’d felt this way about one another for much longer than either had been alive. So why was he questioning her commitment now when he never had before? Ethan let himself breathe again. He noticed the fine tremble that had started in his fingers when he trailed the backs of them along the high bone of her cheek. But even with that knowledge in his head, he couldn’t stop himself from saying, “Please don’t ever leave me.” She blinked at that. “Have you lost your mind? I could never

She blinked at that. “Have you lost your mind? I could never leave you.” Mentally shaking his head, Ethan wondered what was wrong with his brain. His thoughts were clearly not rational at all. One moment he was laughing like a fool and the next he was on the edge of sheer anxiety. “Forgive me, it seems I—” Danielle’s mouth mashed against his so quickly he just stood there for a moment with his eyes wide. They flickered shut as the taste of her touched his tongue and he hugged her to his chest more tightly than he should. She squeaked and he loosened his grip, but only a little. His amazing wife kissed him until she brought comfort back into his mind. Bless her. Ethan was sure she had no idea how much he needed that kiss at that moment, but he was eternally grateful to her for it. With the change in rhythm of the music, his mood returned to his wish to dance. The tune sounded suspiciously like a samba. In the quiet depths of his thoughts, the roller coaster of emotions within him still seemed irrational, but he didn’t take the time to try and figure it out. He was surprised the fairies even knew such a tune, but he went with it anyway and led Danielle into the bouncy dance. Laughing and looking at him like perhaps he had lost his mind, she asked, “What is this?” “It sounds like a samba to me.” “No way!” With a wink, Ethan held her hand in his left and placed his right hand on her shoulder blade. “Do you know the ballroom

samba?” “Kind of.” They made a pass around the fairy ring and Ethan decided she knew how to shake it better than “kind of,” the little minx. He was practically drooling with the way she rolled her hips, the way her clothes stretched over her sexy curves, the way she smirked at him with desire in her eyes. Deciding he needed to kiss her again, Ethan drew her back against his chest. His thumb found the bottom edge of her jawbone as he carefully nudged her face toward his. Stepping backward, he administered the sort of snogging she deserved for moving like that. As the music lulled him into a magic-induced bliss, his focus became only that and Danielle. Then in one moment he was kissing and holding her, and in the next he was blinking up at a black span of space dotted with fuzzy but colorful lights. What? “Get out of the ring, Ethan,” someone said. Ethan blinked, unable to even register what that meant. A groan drew his eyes to his left where he found Danielle unconscious next to him. Worried, he rose up onto his elbow and bent over her. With arms and legs sticking out at strange angles it appeared as though she’d collapsed. Ethan wondered why he hadn’t caught her before he realized he’d passed out too. Only then did he grasp the alarming fact that instead of being outside of the fairy ring as they had been while they’d danced, they were now inside it, exactly where they’d been told repeatedly to never go. He curled his hand around Danielle’s hip

repeatedly to never go. He curled his hand around Danielle’s hip and shook her gently but urgently. “Danielle, wake up.” She groaned again and rocked her head back and forth before mumbling something he couldn’t understand. When he tried to get to his feet so he could carry her to safety, the world went black again. Why is everything so bright? Ethan wondered. The world was so saturated with sunshine that he couldn’t comprehend why he wasn’t squinting against it. Not only was everything kissed with a blinding halo of white, but not a single sound disturbed the silence in this place. He peered to his side and saw Danielle beside him, smiling. Ethan looked down and realized his hand was linked with hers. How did he get here? How did they get here? The corners of her pretty brown eyes crinkled as the smile widened and then they were running across a mistcovered field. They came up to a tree and their hands broke apart. Danielle looped one arm around the trunk and swung around it to face him. The white dress she wore fluttered in a breeze he couldn’t feel. With the way her lips parted, the way she bent forward, and the way her nose wrinkled, he knew she was laughing, but he didn’t hear it. The breeze blew her long brown hair forward. Her hand reached up as she brushed it out of her face. Silky strands slipped free of her fingers and feathered down against her shoulders. Smiling at him, her lips moved around words he still couldn’t hear. As though he had responded to her, however,

couldn’t hear. As though he had responded to her, however, he moved forward and kissed her mouth after first touching his lips to her eyelids and her nose. Lashes swung up as those brown and gold-flecked eyes captured his. Again her full mouth shaped words. Again he could not hear them. Like in a dream, the scene changed. And as before, the world glowed with a curtain of white, like a blinding solar flare caught on film. This time she sat nestled between his legs and he was startled to realize Danielle was crying, her body jerking against his with each heartbreaking sob. Why? With her chin on her shoulder, she peered back at him with sadness tightening her features. She was rattling off her displeasure at him in words he couldn’t hear, and too fast for him to read visually. It was as though he wasn’t really the one doing it, as he kissed her forehead and rubbed her arm, because what he really wanted to do was ask questions. It seemed like he was reliving this and not actually dreaming it.... Now how the bloody hell did I wind up on my back? Ethan pondered as he stared up at a pitched roof of roughhewn branches. The branches were so roughly hewn, in fact, that they still had green leaves attached and vines crawling the surface. A line of bewilderment formed between his eyebrows. His memory came back to him in sections, like assembling a complex

puzzle where the image wasn’t recognizable until enough of the pieces were in place. He remembered the misty place. He remembered the dancing. He remembered the strange irrational thoughts muddling his mind. He remembered the feast.... Ethan jerked upright. “They lied!” Danielle swung up next to him like his outburst had wrenched her from a deep slumber. She covered a yawn with her hand. “Who lied?” “Those horrible, cunning, winged and glittering little—” “The fairies?” Danielle asked, obviously appalled at his angry tone, as if to say, How could anyone be angry with fairies? “The food did affect us! They lied that it wouldn’t!” Seeming to understand him, she glanced around the room. Apparently this was the inside of the cottage. The room was constructed of living plant life just like the table and chairs had been. Even the bed covering was made of what looked and felt like white blossoms. It appeared as though they’d been plucked from whatever plant they normally grew on and had been stitched to fabric at the base of the bloom to create this bedcovering. The floral fragrance overloading his senses confirmed it as well. A large window was veiled by a lacy draping of white material. It was clear that it was still nighttime outside because it was dark beyond the sheer material. A flickering light danced against the walls from a pair of sconces on either sides of the room providing the only illumination. Ethan looked down. They still had their clothes on but their shoes had been removed. Lifting his gaze, he found them neatly arranged on

the floor between the door and the moss-covered sofa. “How did we get here?” she asked. “They must have carried us here when we passed out inside the fairy ring,” he said. Ethan wasn’t at all surprised when she gasped at that revelation. “We were inside it? Why don’t I remember that part?” “Only I came to, and only for a moment.” “Were we ... drunk on fey food?” Letting her question hover in the silence while he thought about it, Ethan drew his knee up and hugged his bent leg, dropping his chin down onto the blanket. Silky petals stroked his skin and another burst of the fragrance filled his nostrils. He thought about the emotional rollercoaster he’d experienced before they began dancing and decided that was probably the cause. “We must have been.” He scratched at an itch on his shoulder. “Though I think bewitched or enchanted might better describe what happened.” “Why would they lie? Alora said it might only affect our dreams.” Thinking back to the fairy’s exact words, Ethan realized the key phrases were “could influence your dreams” and “there could be some side effects” with heavy emphasis on could and some. The fairies had misled them but they hadn’t exactly lied. Hoping Danielle didn’t hear his oath because it was slightly more vile than his usual slip, he turned toward her and asked, “Did you have any strange dreams?”

have any strange dreams?” Her eyes rounded. “Like us—” “—in a bright place,” he finished for her, his eyebrow lifting. “Right!” Danielle bit her lip before adding, “And it was like the volume was muted.” “Exactly.” “Was it really a dream?” she asked, her eyebrows pinching together over dark eyes. “I’ve never had a dream like that before.” “And we had the same one?” Ethan shared the details of his with her and she nodded in agreement. “So the same, but from different perspectives, like we’d lived it—” she began. He interrupted her with another curse that rode his exhale as it left his lungs. They’d lived it. That’s why it wasn’t like any dream he’d ever had in his life. Ignoring his foul language she said, “A memory.” “Of our forgotten past,” he confirmed with his tone full of awe. His heart soured at the idea, especially after his panic about her leaving him. That part he remembered a little too clearly. “Was this place like Heaven, do you think?” she asked. “Perhaps.” He pondered it a moment. “I supposed we must have come from a place like Heaven, right?” “It would make sense, I guess.” Releasing his leg and stretching it out flat, Ethan gathered Danielle into his arms and drew her onto his lap. It was like he used to do when everything was new between them, and it felt

used to do when everything was new between them, and it felt right. His fingers curled around her nape. Looking at his thumb he decided it fit perfectly into that little notch right where her ear connected with her jaw. Her pearl earring rested on the knuckle of his forefinger. She belonged here like this with him, but the worries plaguing his mind poisoned any comfort it might have given his soul. A shuddering breath escaped his lungs and, lowering his head, his nose nestling into the crook of her shoulder. Having slept in this bed, she smelled like flowers instead of pumpkin, but he was only half aware of that. Ethan still didn’t know why she’d been crying in the dream. Had he done something to hurt her feelings? Were her tears his fault, just as the blame for the danger she was in now rested on his shoulders? Matching his face with hers, Ethan closed his eyes when she gave him a wondering look. His hands got lost in her hair and he began kissing her, touching his lips to each corner of her mouth before fully covering it. Even while caressing her like this he couldn’t escape his thoughts. Had she known she’d been crying? Did he dare ask? She might not have witnessed that part of the vision if she’d been the only one crying between the two of them. He had no idea what his reaction had been because he couldn’t remember any more than what he’d been allowed to see. Gathering courage around him like a cloak, he set his forehead against hers. “Why do you think you were crying?” Danielle pulled back in surprise and captured his gaze with hers. So, she hadn’t known that part. “What?”

“You were really upset.” Turning the thought into words was much more difficult than he’d anticipated. “And you couldn’t tell what I was saying?” she asked. Ethan noticed the new tremor in her speech. He shook his head while his stomach churned at another mystery regarding their past. “What was I doing?” he asked. “You looked worried ... that’s all,” she said. “Hm.” Fear clouded her expression, and he figured she probably wondered—as well worried—what it meant too. It’s true they’d come here for help from the fey, but Ethan didn’t know if this was really the kind of blessing he was hoping to get. It simply raised more questions than it answered. Sure, the fact that they knew each other had been confirmed, even so.... A knock sounded, erupting into the emotional quiet. It was a solid knock that shook the door on its scrolling, vine-like hinges, and he knew it had to be one of the vampires. Reluctantly, Ethan set Danielle aside, shoved the blanket free of his legs, and rose from the bed. As he moved toward the door, Danielle shifted to the sofa and began finger-combing her hair. Their gazes met for a charged second, and when he blinked, the moment was gone. However, it had been enough time for him to know without question that they were meant to be together. They’d already made that choice long ago. Deciding to set his silly paranoia about the lasting power of their relationship aside, Ethan took the round handle in the center of the door into his hand and twisted. Richard, Cedric, and Merrick

the door into his hand and twisted. Richard, Cedric, and Merrick were revealed as it swung open. “We could hear that you were awake,” said Cedric slowly, like he was confessing to setting his ear against the door so he could listen in on their private conversation, when in truth, he’d probably heard everything anyway due to his vampire hearing. “Are you all right?” asked Merrick with a hint of concern twitching at the corner of his mouth. Ethan couldn’t see his eyes because all of the men had their magical gazes fixed upon their boots. “We’re fine,” Ethan said, unable to hide the uncertainty in his voice. As all five guards entered, he moved aside and then sat next to Danielle, angling his arm across her shoulders. She pressed back into his side. When she did things like that, it was like a balm to his troubles, and he sent up a mental prayer that his worries were simply magic-induced nonsense. The guards stood there like they didn’t think they belonged. Except for Richard, who made one pass around the room with his narrowed gaze as though he were in charge of the world. And perhaps he was.... The prince swung his angry expression to Ethan and said, “We were concerned when you landed in the ring, and upon further investigation, it seems the fairies had planned it that way.” Ethan’s spine straightened at that revelation. “What does that mean?” Danielle asked. In a flash of color, Alora and several fairies entered through the door that the guards had left open. The purple sprite dashed up to him. He barley registered the flutter of her lilac dress

up to him. He barley registered the flutter of her lilac dress before she landed on his shoulder and whispered, “You still love us, don’t you?” Ethan shuddered involuntarily because it felt like someone had just blown into his ear. Leaning toward Danielle and trying to look at Alora, who was too close for him to focus on, he said, “You tricked us.” “If we had told you what we planned...” She tossed her gaze over at the guards. “Would they have allowed it?” Considering the look of violent anger twisting Richard’s features, Ethan responded with, “Probably not.” “Won’t entering that ring eventually turn them into fairies like you?” The question came from Richard and it was practically bellowed as the prince propped a pair of fists on his hips. A flicker of worry showed in his expression and then it was gone, masked by his usual glower and hooded gaze. It’s true the fairies had never explained why they shouldn’t go into the ring, but this concept was new to him. Ethan watched in a state of bemused surprise as the fairies tittered at the query as though it was the funniest jest they’d ever heard. Then Alora admitted, “In most cases that will happen.” Ethan felt his eyebrows shoot upward. Danielle gasped. Her warm breath puffed against his neck as she tried to look across his chest at Alora. “We prevented that by the spells cast upon the food,” Alora said from her perch upon his shoulder. “But we also caused it with the food.”

“What?” Richard growled in outrage. Ethan knew Richard saw himself as one of their main their protectors and he could see how something like this would frustrate the prince, because it would also hinder his control of the situation. “Well ... if they had not been fed the fey food, they would not have fallen into the ring.” The prince’s frown deepened. “You drugged us too, didn’t you?” Alora puffed up her chest in a show of defense. “With your quick vampire reflexes, you would have been able to catch them.” “Is that why we passed out?” Ethan asked aloud, but in his head he demanded, Is that why my thought process was so bloody messed up? “How will this help them against the pixies and the werewolves?” asked Casanova. “Ingesting our magic will repel the pixies, but only temporarily, because it will wear off,” a male fairy said. His little shirt and trousers were made of layers of green leaves stitched together in a diamond pattern. He also wore a hat upon his head. That was also made of leaves except for a small brown and black speckled feather jutting from it. The fairy made Ethan think of Robin Hood with the co*cky twist of his mouth that conveyed a level of ancient wisdom blended with a considerable dose of mischief. “So the food was to ward against pixies ... temporarily?” Danielle asked.

Danielle asked. “No.” “Then what?” she asked with a confused look on her face. “The food was to cause you to fall into the ring, but also to prevent you from turning fey when you entered it. And the fairy ring was to help you regain your lost memories.” Danielle drew in a sharp intake of air. At the sound, Alora took flight and flew to Danielle where she landed on her raised knee. “Did you dream?” Shock filled Danielle’s expression, and she nodded but said nothing. “Why?” Ethan demanded. Her flippant attitude was grating on his nerves and he wanted to reach out and flick the pretty little fey right off of Danielle’s knee, sending her sailing across the room, where she would likely bounce off of Casanova’s thigh before dropping to the floor like a swatted fly. “Did you not wish to remember?” the fairy asked in what looked suspiciously like false remorse. “I don’t see how this will help protect them against the threats!” ranted Richard in a tone that was sounding more dangerous by the minute. Alora’s tiny eyebrows angled down and she charged the vampire. Richard didn’t flinch, though maybe he should have, because his unperturbed reaction seemed to further anger the fairy. She shook a finger at him as she hovered in his face and shouted. “We can help them like no one else can! The food and the ring are only part of what we’ve done for them.” She motioned to a group of fairies that lingered by the door,

motioned to a group of fairies that lingered by the door, unnoticed until then. They moved forward, and Ethan watched in surprise and wonder as the small creatures presented Danielle with a necklace. Danielle’s eyes met with his briefly, before she lifted her hair off her neck and let the fairies fasten the dark-gold chain around her neck. Three stones or crystals, Ethan wasn’t quite sure, hung from the center loop. The largest stone was a pale shade of aqua. It was flanked by two smaller crystals on either side in the same color. They were all connected by more links of the antique-looking, gold metal. Richard groaned. “A bloody necklace? How will that help?” “This will cloak her from the werewolves and the pixies as long as she wears it.” “What about Ethan?” asked Merrick. The fairy returned to Danielle’s knees and sat down, curling her legs beneath her. She turned her small face his way and he was surprised to see the look of mischief in her expression. “We borrowed your ring.” Instinctively he looked for his wedding ring, but it was still there. He’d almost forgotten his Order ring when he noticed it was indeed missing. He’d worn it for so many years, he hadn’t noticed it was gone when he woke up. A pair of male fairies flew up and presented the ring to him. Rolling his hand over so it was palm up, he watched as the heavy metal dropped into his hand. Holding it between his fingers, he inspected it. It looked exactly the same except it was heavier, like it had gained mass.

“We’ve enchanted it so it will work as well as the necklace for hiding you.” He pushed the ring onto his finger while he tried to figure how magic made it weigh more. The puzzle was soon discarded. There were just too many things about the fairies that he’d never understand. “They won’t know where we are anymore?” Danielle asked in obvious disbelief. Alora rose to her feet and smoothed down the ruffles of her petal skirt. “You’ll need to move, of course.” “But—?” “They will not be able to find you if they don’t know where you are.” Danielle’s entire demeanor wilted at that, and Ethan knew how she felt. They loved their home here in England, and they probably couldn’t go back to Colorado either. So where were they to go then? “We suggest somewhere secluded,” said one fairy. “And somewhere across the water,” said another. “Why is that?” Ethan asked. Danielle had snuggled closer and he’d tucked her head beneath his chin. His hand went to her hair. He could almost smell her distress and confusion at this news. First they’d been drugged, then they’d dreamed of a past they couldn’t hear or fully understand—and now this. Now they were again uprooted from their home and from the comforting familiarity of sleeping in their own bed. “We know of a place,” said the first male fairy, completely

ignoring his question. “Why must we go across water?” Ethan asked again, with irritation rising in his chest like a bad case of indigestion. He pressed a fist between his pectoral muscles as he tried to soothe it. The fairies shared knowing looks and then Alora sighed. “We know of a place that magical creatures avoid.” “Why,” he repeated, because he wasn’t getting the kind of answers he wanted. “Will we be able to accompany them if beings like us avoid this place?” Ethan angled an annoyed glare at Cedric for interrupting, because he really wanted to know why this place was avoided. “Yes, although the curse will be weakened while you’re there.” Ethan opened his mouth to insist they answer him when Richard asked, “How much time do we have to pack them up?” “Until the next full moon.” “So a month,” said Casanova. The fairies nodded. “And how long will we need to live with you?” Ethan asked feeling like the situation was spinning out of control. “This is a temporary solution.” “We’re on top of it,” said Richard in a poorly masked attempt at regaining command. “But—” Again ignoring him, the fairies began to leave, as did the

Again ignoring him, the fairies began to leave, as did the vampires. It was as though they’d decided the best course to keep him and Danielle safe, and his opinion just didn’t matter. Frustration caused Ethan to lunge to his feet. “Please tell me why this is the safest place for us?” Alora paused about halfway between them and the door. She looked over her shoulder and peered at him through her fluttering lavender wings as she hovered in midair. “Derry Glen Cove is our place and it is heavily enchanted with fey magic.” “I still don’t see—?” In a flash, the fairy was in his face. He tried to focus on her but he couldn’t because he wasn’t wearing his glasses. “Do you wish to stay mortal and alive?” she asked in a deadly voice that didn’t fit the beauty of the fairy before him. Ethan swallowed. “Yes.” “Then you will live there, and you will stay away from the water’s edge, and well within the boundary of our grounds.” Lovely—just what they needed—another limitation to this new and now mandatory holiday from reality. This was supposed to be a simple weekend getaway. Ethan had to admit to himself, as he dragged a hand through his hair, this experience had disheartened him to fairies. For Danielle’s safety, he would make the same choice ... but.... “Why can’t we just stay here?” Danielle asked, unexpectedly. She’d also risen from the sofa. Ethan felt her fingers slip between his, and in return, he gave her fingers a squeeze. Apparently, while he was tired of dealing with fairy trickery, she was still charmed by them. Deep down he knew

trickery, she was still charmed by them. Deep down he knew she wouldn’t see living here for an extended period of time as a bad alternative to their home. Seeming to be flattered by Danielle’s question, Alora expelled a soft, regret-filled sigh and said, “I’m sorry, my sweet, but many of the magical beings know of this place. They do not know of Derry Glen Cove. Plus, you were followed; the werewolves know you’re here.” “Are they close by, then?” “No. They left and will probably wait until the next full moon to attack.” “And they won’t be able to follow us there?” Ethan asked. The kindness dropped from Alora’s face like a mask. He got the impression she didn’t like his tone and, he would admit, there had been a tone to the query, but he was getting sick of the vague answers and the lack of control he had in the situation. All of the guards, aside from Cedric, had already vacated the cottage like there was nothing more to discuss. “We will take you there, so that we can make certain no one discovers our path,” Alora said as she looked at him with anger visible in every line of her petite body, and he knew it was time to stop the questions. In the back of his mind, Ethan still wondered why they must stay away from the water, but he also knew better than to doubt the fairies, or argue with them. “Ethan, we’ll leave first thing in the morning.” Ah, so that’s why Cedric had lingered. Without waiting for a response from Ethan, Cedric continued, “Alora, we’ll take Danielle and Ethan

home to pack. Then where should we meet you?” Turning in unison, Alora and Cedric left as they discussed a way to get to Derry Glen Cove without the werewolves following them. For a moment, Ethan’s jaw tightened at the poke at his male pride. He felt rather like a child who couldn’t care for himself, but he also knew he had to let ideas like that go. As a mortal man, perhaps it was true; perhaps he couldn’t care for his wife as he wanted. His ego was brought down another notch. The door shut and once again, he and Danielle were alone. Dragging his eyes from the strange organic door, he gathered her into his arms. He used his thumb to nudge her face up so he could bring his mouth down onto hers. The place still reeked of flowers, but he didn’t mind too much. They were alone ... and, even more importantly, safe. He may not be pleased with how everything had turned out, but he believed without question that nothing could touch them while they lived with the fairies. Ethan wanted to tell her without words how he felt about her and hopefully make them both forget about the dangers stalking them. He also wished to make them both forget about fairies and vampires and pixies and werewolves. In fact, he’d rather not exchange any words with her for now. He guessed that she felt the same when their kiss became almost frantic, with her fingers grasping at his hair, and his arms tightening around her waist. As his mouth moved over hers, he drew his hands around to the knot in her shirt. After fumbling with it, he finally managed to loosen the knot and push the fabric off her shoulders. He let it drop to the floor when it fell free of

off her shoulders. He let it drop to the floor when it fell free of her wrists. Ethan gathered the hem of her t-shirt next, and forced his lips away from hers. Their gazes locked in silence as he drew the soft material up her torso, his fingers grazing the bare skin of her hips and ribs. She shivered when the top was discarded, leaving her in a white lace bra and jeans. Smiling, Danielle removed his t-shirt as well. Her eyes traveled the length of his chest before returning to his face. A shuddering exhale drifted past his lips, and he thought perhaps he could feel her gaze as well as the palm she’d flattened against his abs before dragging it upward. Ethan lifted her into his arms and carried her to the bed. Funny how the message expressed in a kiss, or in a look, or in an expression, spoke volumes to one’s soul. He genuinely believed she understood how much he wanted to try for another baby now. Forget the risks. Somehow he would keep her safe, even if it meant living with fairies for the rest of their days. Ethan wanted to become a parent with her, and he wanted to hold the child he’d fantasized about for so long. The dream vision rose up in his mind as he lowered her to the bed. He preferred the first part when she’d been laughing. There’d been happiness in her eyes that he’d seen before, but not often enough, as of late, to comfort him. His shadow fell over her as she lowered onto her back. Bracing one elbow beside her, he touched the pillow of her bottom lip with his forefinger and pressed down gently to part them. The action revealed her teeth and her pink tongue as it reached out to touch his skin. He moved the digit to make way for his mouth. Soot-colored lashes

moved the digit to make way for his mouth. Soot-colored lashes lowered. Their breath mingled. Ethan kissed every inch of his wife until he’d completely lost track of time and he’d proven, without the use of words, how much he cared for her. While snuggling as they drifted toward sleep, he decided to accept this trek to this unknown place, especially if it meant they could enjoy a quiet bliss alone. Perhaps they could even send the guards away too. A smile hitched up one side of his mouth as he imagined life without handsome vampires gawking at his wife.

Chapter 6 Side Effect When they’d returned home from the fairies, Beon, Seth and several more guards were there, as well as Max and Nadia. Due to the events putting Danielle and Ethan in greater danger, the rest of The Order feared the werewolves could try to use the now-mortal Max and Nadia as a way to get at Ethan and her. So now they had to go with them to Derry Glen Cove. Danielle could feel the pout forcing down the corners of her mouth. She really had tried to hide what she was feeling for Nadia’s sake, but it seemed she couldn’t help it. Nadia was watching her too closely and Danielle’s bottom lip slid between her teeth. She really wanted to explain everything, but they were waiting for Ethan to join them, and she didn’t want to do that without him. Nadia’s round, green eyes touched on all of the decorative accents they’d added since her last visit to their home. She and Ethan had done their best at pretending this was their space by decorating it, even though it sometimes felt more like Order Headquarters with numerous guards coming in and out at whim. They’d found the French grandfather clock that was painted in a pretty shade of bluish-green at a flea market. The new drapes with the pattern scrolling the fabric were from Harrods. The ornate and Victorian candlestick holders on the fireplace mantle flanked the painting she’d done. It was of the beautiful and lush

flanked the painting she’d done. It was of the beautiful and lush landscape visible from the front door. Danielle had picked up the colors of the drapes and the clock when she’d chosen the paints. A stale silence stifled the air in the people-filled room. Danielle sat on the sofa across from Beon, and nervously smoothed out the wrinkles in her skirt while they waited for Ethan. The sounds of china clinking against the serving tray could be heard from the kitchen as Ethan prepared tea and scones for those of them who were mortal. Max sat on the left side of the loveseat, his arms folded over his broad chest. Nadia sat next to him. She was leaning forward with her chin propped on the palm of her hand. One might think the pose was a bored one, but it wasn’t. Nadia was clearly worried about why she’d been summoned here. They were being snatched from the comfort of their own home too. While Danielle absolutely loved the fairies, even after the antics of their last visit, she’d never imagined they’d be stuck living with them for safety. Sinking into the comfortable chair she knew she was going to miss this, miss their home, even when it was usually overrun with vampire bodyguards. She could always shut a door, or crank up her music when she was painting. They rarely bothered her when she was sketching out a landscape or a fairy. She crossed her legs, deciding that she’d better pack a lot of art supplies so she could make good use of this time with the fairies and draw them a lot. At least they’d been allowed a few more nights at home before they were expected to move to this enchanted cove. Ethan finally stepped into the living room carrying a tray

Ethan finally stepped into the living room carrying a tray laden with tea service. The lid on the teapot stopped rattling with his steps when he settled it on the coffee table in front of her. As he sat next to her, she paused when she realized her favorite teacup wasn’t there. Obviously noticing her hesitation, Ethan whispered, “It broke.” Attempting to mask her disappointment, she gathered the teacup closest to her and one of the peach teabags. His tone said enough, and she knew exactly when it had broken without him explaining it. She wasn’t surprised the shattering glass had struck her teacup, even though she hadn’t noticed at the time. She removed the teabag from the package and dropped it inside the white teacup. Nadia was preparing her own tea and scone as Danielle reached for the teapot. “Where was it you said the fairies planned to take you?” Beon asked Ethan. She felt Ethan stiffen at the question and she measured his expression for the reason. Was he worried Beon would still try to turn them? “The fairies wish to keep that a secret.” It appeared as though Beon was grinding his teeth at that. “We’re going with them,” said Richard, “You need not worry about their safety.” The comment earned him a nod from both Seth and Beon. “Very well then—” Seth was interrupted by the ringing of his cell phone. Danielle watched as the vampire fished the device out of his pocket and

murmured a greeting. His dark gaze lifted to her and then danced away. As she wondered what that was all about, he turned to Beon and said something she couldn’t hear. Beon rubbed his neck like it pained him and also looked at Danielle before he sighed and said, “You have a visitor.” “What?” she asked, her eyes rounding. “Who?” Ethan asked, a note of worry rising in his voice. “Celeste.” “Why?” Ethan bit out. Worry had replaced the tone in his voice with angry suspicion. “She said she has information for us about Lucas.” “We’d best hear it then,” said Richard. Seth nodded and one of the guards went to the door. “Is she here now?” Danielle asked, feeling shock at the sudden intrusion of another villain from her past. “It was one of the guards outside who gave me a ring just now.” “Oh,” she said, trying to decide if she really wanted to see Celeste or not. She’d almost died the last time she’d seen the mean-spirited.... Danielle took a bite of her scone, hoping to enjoy it while it was warm, even though the mention of Celeste had spoiled the taste of it anyway. A tall black-haired vampire opened the front door and ushered a hat-wearing woman into the house. Was that Celeste? It couldn’t be. The woman who entered looked too skinny to be her. When the woman’s head lifted, Danielle gasped and nearly choked on her food. Celeste didn’t look very ... healthy.

choked on her food. Celeste didn’t look very ... healthy. “Frisk her,” ordered Richard. Hate-filled blue eyes clashed with Richard’s hazel ones, but Celeste still maintained a co*cky lift of her chin in defiance, even as she lifted her arms for the guard to pat her down. Having not found anything, the guard stepped back and nodded to Beon. Beon acknowledged the guard with a slight nod and then he watched Celeste in open curiosity as she moved forward. “I need your help,” she murmured in a meek-sounding voice. Was she faking it? Danielle wondered about that when Celeste said, “I’m very sick, and it’s terminal.” Sadness flickered within Beon’s gaze, but it was quickly replaced with anger when he shot to his feet. His arm swung out to halt Celeste’s advance. “Is it contagious?” Beon snapped, his eyes landing on Ethan’s glasses as horror overtook his expression. “Has the Black Death returned?” It took a moment for Danielle to understand Beon’s panic, and then it struck her. She remembered Ethan saying that both Celeste and Nadia had been turned because they were dying of the Black Death. Had that deadly illness returned when she’d returned to being mortal just as Ethan’s need for glasses returned to him? Her eyes met with Nadia’s shocked ones. Clearly Nadia was worried about the same thing as she studied Celeste’s condition with growing green eyes. Celeste groaned and rolled her eyes like they were all a bunch of morons. “My illness is not related to the Black Death. I’m not contagious. I have an extremely rare blood disease. I

I’m not contagious. I have an extremely rare blood disease. I can’t even remember what it’s called.” When Beon didn’t lower his arm, Celeste took another breath, her bony torso heaving in and then out with it. “Seems I didn’t know about the problem with my blood because it hadn’t manifested itself yet, but I do recall my aunt dying from something like what I have. They just didn’t know what it was back then.” Danielle shared a surprised gaze with Ethan. She noticed a small tremor in his hand when he adjusted his glasses. Beon finally lowered his arm. “What you have isn’t viral then?” “No.” “How do you know?” “I’ve been diagnosed.” Beon ran fingers through his hair. It was obvious Beon was trying to analyze what this meant by the look on his face. His eyes widened a fraction when he said, “Bloody hell! I hadn’t thought of this. So it seems viruses, or bacteria, die off when one is turned into a vampire, but... ” Beon’s dark eyes fixed on Ethan, his glasses in particular. “Things like vision and diseases that are subject to heredity, which is a problem within the body, return.” Celeste folded her arms over her slim torso and glared at Beon. “I need your help,” she demanded. “How bad is it?” Fingers lifted to the strands of blonde hair sticking out from under her hat. “Treatment is not working.”

“What is the treatment for what you have?” Ethan asked. After heaving another sigh, she said, “I’d rather not talk about it. The symptoms are bad enough.” A look of panic filled Nadia’s face. She looked from Max, to Beon, and Seth, probably hoping for more explanation. “It’s all right, darling. Don’t you see? Both of our problems had been viral,” said Max, obviously noticing her growing fear. “But what if—?” “What if we have something in our family history too?” Nadia nodded. Max shrugged his shoulders. “Then we just go back to being vampires, I guess.” “But I can’t do that!” complained Celeste in a snobbish tone Danielle thought she would have lost by now. Apparently not. “I need you to contact Lilith for me so that I don’t die!” Richard scowled at her tone. “I doubt Lilith will help you, so why should we?” Celeste was playing with her hair rather nervously at this point. Frail-looking fingers rose and latched onto her hat. Celeste drew it off, twisting the stiff fabric as though she meant to wring water from it. A round of surprised gasps filled the room. Danielle’s hand slapped over her mouth. Huge chunks of Celeste’s brittle tresses were missing, leaving large, bald spots of pale, shiny skin visible. Her blue eyes shifted to Danielle. Danielle’s inner voice screamed out a warning at the look of desperation there. Having been focused on the hair, or her lack of it, shock

Having been focused on the hair, or her lack of it, shock sucked the breath from her lungs when her eyes lowered and she noticed the barrel of the pistol pointed at her. Ah, she’d had that small weapon hidden in her hat, Danielle realized. Tricky, but typical of Celeste. As Danielle wondered why the guard hadn’t checked the hat, she glanced at him and could see that he was mortified by his mistake and was trying to sneak up on Celeste. Danielle halted his advance with a gentle shake of her head. It was daylight, so even if the vampires had wanted to zip over and disarm Celeste, they couldn’t, and if the guard startled Celeste, the gun could go off. Knowing she had to deal with this on her own, Danielle slowly stood from the sofa because even if these big strong guards didn’t think she was capable of it, Danielle knew moves just for this situation. “Relax, Celeste. We’ll help you,” Danielle said, lifting her hands, palms forward. “You’ll get me to a sorceress, or sorcerer, or whatever.... If you don’t, I’ll shoot Danielle right now!” screeched Celeste. Danielle pictured what she needed to do a split second before she did it. First she snapped Celeste’s wrist by pounding one fist on the inside of her wrist and the other on the back of her hand. The action had the desired effect as it forced Celeste’s hand sideways, taking Danielle out of the line of fire. At the same time she kicked Celeste in the stomach, which forced her to double over. Danielle wrenched the weapon free and tossed it to the floor as she twisted Celeste’s arm and swept her legs out from under her. Celeste landed flat on her back and began wheezing because the sharp contact with the hardwood flooring had knocked her breathless.

had knocked her breathless. She watched Casanova pick up the gun with an amused smirk on his face. Feeling the corner of her mouth twitch in response to Casanova’s visible mirth, she looked at Celeste as the blonde struggled to even get up onto her elbows. Danielle felt a pang of regret. She didn’t feel regret for defending herself, but she did feel sorry for Celeste. The guards helped Celeste to her feet, but they kept her arms pinned behind her back like she was a criminal, which in a way, she was. “I thought you had information about Lucas for us,” said Seth. Celeste’s eye widened with what appeared to be hope. “I do.” “What is it?” Seth demanded. “I’ll tell you if you help me.” “We can’t promise you anything, Celeste,” said Beon. “You got yourself in this situation when you joined with the others in an attempt to kill Danielle.” After licking her lips, which looked dry, Celeste swallowed but lifted her chin in defiance again. “He’s still after her.” It was more than clear that she was talking about Lucas. “What does he have planned?” Seth asked. His elevated anger was visible in the way his teeth clenched. Cold blue eyes passed over her and then Ethan. “If he couldn’t get you to kill her, then he plans to do it himself by any means possible.” “As a werewolf, then,” said Ethan.

A dry laugh came out of Celeste. “Is that what he is now?” She hadn’t known? “You said you had information about him for us,” said Seth, his hands fisting at his sides. Celeste shrugged her shoulders. “I lied. We don’t talk much anymore.” “I’ll help you, Celeste.” It was Merrick. Danielle was surprised he’d said that, but there was a dangerous twinkle in his eye that made her wonder what his true purpose was. Trying to wrench free of the guards holding her, Celeste asked, “You will?” “Sure.” He smiled, showing teeth. “Come back tonight and I’ll bite you.” The taunt earned him a glare from Celeste. Lilith had made sure the ones seeking to hurt Danielle wouldn’t be able to simply go back to being vampires and come after her again. The sorceress had made it so that if any of them sought to be bitten, they would simply die from the bite. Celeste could never return to being a vampire. “Get her out of here,” growled Richard. After tucking a bundle of paint brushes next to a stack of canvas in the suitcase, Danielle sat back onto her heels and tried to decide if there was anything else she needed. A sigh left her lungs, blowing her hair away from her face as she bent forward to reach the zipper pull. Danielle was a little sad about leaving her home again. They all said it would just be for a while, but

what if that “while” turned into years? What would become of this place? Would vampires be assigned to maintain it? Her gaze touched on everything she loved about her studio. The pitched roof, the skylight she could see the clouds through, and the many basket-lined shelves she kept all of her art supplies in. On another sigh, she figured there probably would be vampires here, dusting the corners and maintaining it for their return. Danielle couldn’t help but think that was kind of ridiculous. In a way, she liked how she and Ethan were treated like royalty for what they’d done, but it also seemed unnecessary. She didn’t feel that special.... “May I be of assistance, ma chérie?” Casanova drawled from the doorway. He didn’t give her a chance to respond when he strode forward and stood right in her space, which was common for him. She figured he must not have a natural sense of personal space like most people did. Because of this, Danielle knew Casanova wore Jake by Hollister for his cologne. She knew he had a freckle right below his bottom lip. She knew his face darkened with a shadow of whiskers by late afternoon every day. It wasn’t because she was looking for such things, of course, but because he normally stood so close she couldn’t help but notice. When he reached down for the handle of her suitcase, his dark gaze caught onto hers and she sank farther onto her heels to escape him. The Frenchman straightened, brushing back his mop of shiny man-ringlets. The guy had silky tresses that would be breathtaking on a woman, but for him,

tresses that would be breathtaking on a woman, but for him, there was nothing feminine about them. Lifting the suitcase upright, he settled it onto its wheels and pulled the handle out. “I’ll load this in with the others,” he said, but paused to add with a sultry drop in his tone, “The way you took down Celeste was brilliant, by the way.” She tried not to let the shuddery breath leave her lungs at the blatantly flirtatious smile he angled down at her, but it escaped anyway and she knew by the way his left eyebrow arched that he’d marked the sound. Danielle rose to her full height, which only brought her to about level with his angular jaw. Her eyes briefly traveled over his massively muscular shoulders. He was taller than Ethan, and very ... vampire. The man radiated a rawness that she believed could only come from the curse surrounding him—even though weakened during the daylight. It was as though he’d embraced what he was like Ethan never had. For Ethan it was something he’d always tried to escape, but for Casanova, it was more like a banner. Casanova’s smile twisted into a little smirk that showed a bit of his pearly white teeth. While tugging her sweater down onto her hips, the woody and citrus smell of him surrounded her senses, and she moved back. He simply removed the distance she’d created with one step of his longer stride. Swallowing a sense of unease, she wondered if maybe Ethan was right about Casanova’s intentions toward her.... Her thighs bumped against the chair behind her. He chuckled as though he hadn’t noticed how nervous he was making her and said, “You had your karate face on and that wicked witch didn’t

said, “You had your karate face on and that wicked witch didn’t know what hit her.” Distracted by his comment, she moved her arms back and propped her hands on the soft armrest of the chair. She hadn’t thought about her expression at the time and was kind of surprised he’d been watching closely enough to notice. The other guards had seemed more focused on Celeste and her gun. “It was sexy,” he continued, leaning closer. “You’ve got to teach me some of your moves like you did for Max.” His head tipped sideways, and those man-ringlets of his tumbled to the side in a silky-looking avalanche of black. “Why is it that we haven’t ever sparred, do you think?” At the twinkle of mirth dancing in his black-flecked, brown eyes, Danielle decided he had to be teasing her like Merrick and Max did. Merrick was married and she knew he adored his wife. Max was head over heels for Nadia. Many of the guards teased her, like big brothers might do, and she was probably making too much of this. Like Ethan did with his possessive nature. Perhaps he was simply trying to get her to use her karate on him to see what she could do. As she considered her next move, which would be to plant a foot into his gut and shove him to the floor, she moved backward so she was practically sitting on the armrest now. With the change in position, her eyes widened when she noticed Ethan standing behind Casanova with an angry scowl twisting his features, “Don’t you have somewhere to be, Casanova?” There was an obvious note of loathing in the way Ethan’s accent

strengthened when he grumbled Casanova. Oops. If Ethan had just arrived a moment later, he would have been able to watch her flatten Casanova to the floor. The Frenchman was strong, but she’d learned how to drop a vampire during the day if she wanted to, if she was lucky to catch them off guard. At night she’d never dream of trying it. However, during the day, she’d attempt it, but only if the vampire was off balance just like Casanova was at the moment. The knee-jarringly handsome smile dropped from the vampire’s face. His sable eyebrow arched, and only then did the man back up a step, straightening. When she looked at Ethan again, his gaze captured hers and held as he stalked closer. Ethan’s stride alone spoke of his displeasure about what he’d just witnessed, and she wondered if he would insist on a change in guard. As he brushed past Casanova, that quivery feeling that always took up residence inside her stomach returned. Ethan was the only one who made her feel this way. It was the sensation that rode the edge of passion, need, and fear of losing it all. In a distressing sort of way, it felt right, because she knew her heart willingly belonged to him. She studied the familiar, but hurt blue eyes that stared into hers. Danielle licked her lips and then sank her teeth into the bottom one. He didn’t say anything more and he didn’t need to for her to understand. Living with these vampires was as hard on him as it was her. For her it was about privacy. For him it was about his male confidence and his need to care for what he felt

about his male confidence and his need to care for what he felt was his responsibility. Protecting her was an old-fashioned notion, but she would never dream of taking it from him. It was just who he was, and one silly side of him she adored. Today he wore a pair of gray trousers and a striped buttondown shirt. The tailored clothing sort of clashed with his scruffy appearance. He still hadn’t had time to get his hair cut so the blond strands flipped out around his ears. He also hadn’t shaved since their return from the fairies. Ethan Deveroux looked more like a medieval knight than a Victorian gentleman at the moment. What happened to her Mr. Darcy? Had she thought Casanova looked dangerous? Ethan was pulling off the look just fine as a mortal. And Casanova vanished from the room, and from her mind, even though she knew he remained within the same room. Ethan moved into her space, even farther than the guard had, but Ethan belonged there. In fact, he was welcome even closer, because a hairsbreadth apart was not near enough. Danielle hardly noticed the guard when he muttered, “In fact I do, my lord. Au revoir.” The little wheels on the suitcase squeaked as he rolled it out. Closing the gap, she rose from the armrest and leaned forward onto her toes. “You’re in my space,” she said. Surprise widened his gaze a fraction. But it was soon replaced with amusem*nt, which was then replaced with a return of annoyance. “Like Casanova?” “He was only teasing,” she tried. Danielle tossed one arm around his neck and touched the frown on his mouth, hoping to

around his neck and touched the frown on his mouth, hoping to change it into a smile. The essence of Ethan surrounded her and drove the vampire guard from her memory. “Are you certain of that?” She paused a moment. “I think he was just trying to see what I could do.” “You mean defensively?” “Yeah.” Her husband’s eyes narrowed. “I’m not convinced. He had you cornered—” Danielle groaned. “Ethan, let it go. He’s harmless.” He laughed without humor. “You’re trying to tell me a testosterone-charged, French vampire is harmless?” “To me, yes. Totally harmless. You were wrong about Richard and I think you’re wrong about him too.” “You should have seen your face when I walked in. You looked terrified.” Two of her fingers tunneled through the back of his hair along his scalp. “He may have had me going for a minute, but then I realized he was just testing me. I was about to sweep him before you interrupted.” She suspected he was tempted to say, You really think you could have done that? Instead, a reluctant smile played with the corners of his lips. That was all the motivation she needed, and Danielle gathered a handful of his hair to pull him closer for a kiss. A long one that was meant to remind him how she felt about him, and how he made her forget the names of all the

guards. When she finally leaned away, she lowered to her heels and enjoyed the dazed look that had replaced the scowl. It wasn’t long before his gaze cleared, however, and the seriousness darkening his blue eyes reminded her of what happened to Celeste, and Max’s response to it. Then we just go back to being vampires, I guess. Is that what Ethan would do too? As though he could read her mind, she watched his focus dart to the side like he was trying to hide what he probably knew she’d already seen. She sighed. “You’d do the same as Max, wouldn’t you?” With his gaze returning to hers, she watched the muscles in his throat work as he swallowed before answering. “I couldn’t watch you go through anything like that.” “Those things are part of life, Ethan.” She felt his lungs expand around the breath he took before he exhaled. “I know that, and I guess if we had a chance to grow old first, then I’d accept it.” “Like you did with your family?” she asked, remembering when he’d said he never offered the “curse” to his family because they’d all enjoyed long healthy lives. “Exactly like that.” A look of sadness dragged away any hopes of the soft smile returning to his mouth anytime soon. “I do miss them,” he admitted. “I see why Beon brought his wife and daughter with him. He offered it to all of his family members who would accept it. He has a brother who lives in Ireland and a couple of cousins who live in York. There are others. He has

couple of cousins who live in York. There are others. He has many friends and relatives who’ve remained a part of his long life. In a way, I do regret denying them that, but...” When his words trailed off, she flattened the palms of her hands against his shoulders. Danielle could feel the tension hidden there. Digging her thumbs in, she tried to work it loose as he continued. “Of course my sister was very much like you. She would have absolutely hated being a vampire. Same goes for my mother. Father might have accepted it, but not without his wife. He would have chosen an afterlife with her over several lifetimes on Earth without her.” “So after what happened to Celeste you don’t want to turn back?” Ethan met her gaze with his and lifted his hand to touch her cheek. His warm thumb slid along her skin. “I’ll admit it was distressing to see her like that. But as I said before, I don’t want to take that course unless, for some reason, one of us might die young.” A silence settled around them. “I want to have a family with you, and we can never have that as vampires. To me, that’s more important than anything else.” “And we may have already accomplished that,” she said. After their visit with the fairies, and after dreams of their forgotten life together, they’d been trying to have another baby. They were keeping it between themselves though. Danielle still feared a repeat of last time, because just the thought of suffering that kind of loss again made her rather queasy and more than a little frantic. Perhaps she shouldn’t trust Casanova, and maybe it was a good thing they were going to the fairies. She did believe

was a good thing they were going to the fairies. She did believe that she would be safe then. Ethan smirked as the hand he had on her hip shifted so he could touch her stomach with his thumb. “It’s too soon to tell, but I plan on embracing mortality with you and continuing our ... efforts in that regard.” They were in a boat, in a tiny boat just big enough for eight people, floating in the freaking huge ocean! Danielle gulped and cast a gaze into the inky water rolling against the sides. There were probably enormous, man-eating sea creatures swimming below them. If vampires, and fairies, and werewolves were all real, then what else was? She’d seen the pictures of that colossal shark thing her brother James loved looking at on the internet. It could probably take this dinky, fairy-grown boat in one bite. Of course, the boat was as beautiful as everything else the fairies conjured, but something pretty didn’t exactly make her feel safe. She didn’t feel safe at all. Her fingers tightened around the handful of Ethan’s sleeve she held in her left hand. A quiet laugh from Ethan drew her eyes from the creepy depths of the water surrounding them. Apparently he’d noticed the way she was clinging to him. He glanced down at her fingers. Following the path of his gaze, she noticed how white her knuckles were, but she just couldn’t make herself loosen them. “I gather hydrophobia is one of the fears you never told me about?” “Fear of water?”

“Uh-huh.” “I don’t fear water,” she said. It was true. She didn’t mind swimming in a pool at all. A short moment of confusion held his expression and then his eyebrows kicked up. “Ah, the fear of deep water then.” Danielle couldn’t deny it. Her eyes left his all-too-knowing ones and continued to search the water for fins. It seemed like she could see one at the crest of every wave, and then it would disappear before she’d figured it out for sure. Every shadow became an evil sea monster within her overactive imagination. “And what might be lurking within it,” Ethan added, proving he’d seen enough to understand what her problem was. Ethan pried her fingers free of his shirt. He rose up just enough to swing one leg over the bench, and gathered her hips into his hands so he could reposition her between his legs and nestle her against his chest. Normally she would feel safe tucked within the cradle of his body like this. But Danielle latched onto his sleeves again as fast as she could, because even surrounded by his arms, she didn’t feel secure in this situation. A big wave had just rocked them, and if she didn’t hang onto something then she might get tossed overboard. Of course, what if Ethan was tossed out with her? Danielle let go of his clothes and caught onto the edge of the seat they were sitting on. Breathing out another laugh, which Danielle felt against her hair, Ethan pointed ahead. “Look, darling, we’re almost there.” A sigh shuddered out of her. He was using his Mr. Darcy voice again. While she loved that, it wasn’t soothing enough at

the moment. Squinting against the salty breeze hitting her face, she could just make out a small line of land on the horizon. In her opinion, that was still too far away. Why had the fairies only equipped this thing with sails and not a fast engine? She wondered about this as her eyes traveled the length of the mast growing up from the center of the boat. What looked like roots fanned out from the base of it as thought it really had grown there, and a fat vine twisted around it like a bulging vein. There was a chance the boat was living just like a plant. Even the sail looked like it was made out of some organic material, like an enormous flower petal, because it had veins lacing through the sheer material too. The entire boat listed to the side as though a big wave had just hit it, but she didn’t think there had been a wave. She then heard a splash that sounded like a large fish had just jumped in the water. The vampire guards with them went still. Cedric glanced at her and Ethan and then looked out over the water as the boat sailed toward the land. Merrick never took his gaze from the ocean surrounding them. Casanova, whom Ethan had tried to prevent from coming, had also looked at them before looking away. Apparently he knew Ethan didn’t trust him, but he was too close to Richard, who’d insisted on his being there. Danielle hadn’t decided how she felt about him yet, but what had happened with Dorin—the vampire who’d stabbed her and killed their baby—always lurked in the back of her mind. The boat lurched again, more this time, and what worried her most was the fact that the fairies guiding them changed their

most was the fact that the fairies guiding them changed their behavior too. Danielle knew she’d broken a fingernail because her grip on the bench had tightened as panic rose up in her throat like a wave of nausea. Seasickness was not her problem. Something was hitting the boat. Danielle gasped and Nadia squeaked when they were stuck a third time. This time the boat rocked to the left as though something was trying to tip them. Richard leaned over the edge and bellowed, “What the bloody hell is going on?” He looked rather surprised when the fairies forced him away from the water. “Cover your ears!” they yelled. When Richard tried to argue it, a fairy in a red petal dress began smacking him on the head. “You’re not immune to them, you fool. Cover your ears now!” At the fairy’s urgency, she slapped her palms over her ears and turned to look at Ethan. He’d obeyed as well. Fear forced Danielle to scan the water for whatever it was attacking them, even though she wasn’t sure if she really wanted to see what it was. She was imagining all kinds of horrible things. Drawing in a sharp intake of air, she noticed several long things twisting through the water. They were longer than dolphins, but didn’t appear to be as big as sharks. Many of the fairies had landed on the edge of the boat and were dashing back and forth like they were the only ones able to protect the mortals and vampires on board. Realization struck her. These creatures had to be magical beings too. Now she really hated the tiny boat they were in. How could the fairies put them in so much danger? Swallowing and leaning back into Ethan, she imagined what

Swallowing and leaning back into Ethan, she imagined what would happen if those things overturned them and they all plunged into that dark, monster-infested water. Suddenly the boat started to do exactly what she’d feared it would. Danielle’s eyes widened in horror, and they all cried out as it tipped until it was practically on its side and everyone began sliding from their seats. Completely forgetting about covering her ears, Danielle screamed and lunged to catch the edge of the boat as she fell. She missed, but her clothes went tight against her armpits when Richard caught her instead. He had a fistful of her top in one hand, as he clung to the edge of the boat with the other. They weren’t dangling yet; the boat wasn’t completely on its side, but it didn’t have much farther to go. Danielle noticed that Casanova had caught Ethan. Even though he still held onto the bench they’d been seated on, he was having trouble getting traction. His shoes kept slipping along the bottom of the boat. Cedric had caught Nadia, and Max had wedged his boots against the bottom of the bench to stop himself from falling into the water. Merrick had done the same. The ocean churned with the movements of the many creatures within it. Some of them began cresting the surface. “Cover your ears!” again commanded the fairies. Just then the boat righted, and they all landed roughly on the floor. Danielle didn’t know if the fairies had been responsible for that, or if the sea creatures had released them. Again the fairies shouted for them to cover their ears. She clapped her palms over her ears, wondering why they kept

saying that. What noise could these things make, and how would it affect them? Richard helped her get back onto the bench. Danielle turned so she could straddle the bench and hold on to it with her legs, fearing the boat could tip again at any moment, and if she had to cover her ears, then she couldn’t hold on with her hands. She could still hear her own scream when several wet hands rose from the seawater and latched onto the edge of the boat. The hands were followed by faces. When she saw the smiles greeting them, the fears binding her insides into knots slipped loose. “So beautiful,” she gasped, but when her hands almost dropped from her ears, Alora flew up to her and shook a finger at her. The seriousness on Alora’s face caused her to obey, but her eyes moved back to the enchanting creatures before her. What a relief, she thought, they must have chased off whatever it was that had been attacking them. Mermaids were so lovely. They were just like she’d always imagined and she wanted to be introduced to them as much as she had the fairies. Again she was tempted to uncover her ears, but then the fairies attacked the mermaids with a shower of fairy dust just like when they’d chased off the pixies. Danielle hadn’t noticed their webbed fingers until they swung out at the fairies, before finally slinking back into the water. No. She tried to get a better look, but the boat came to an abrupt halt and they were all thrown to the floor with the jolt of it. Danielle winced when her head cracked against the wooden seat in front of her, and her elbow connected with what she feared were Ethan’s ribs.

elbow connected with what she feared were Ethan’s ribs. Trying to get back to her feet, she heard Ethan grunt and looked to see him rubbing at his ribcage. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m fine,” he responded. “Are you all right?” “Yeah...” The word turned into a breathy gasp when she looked around. “How?” was all she could manage when she realized they’d landed on the soil that had seemed so far away just a moment ago. “They rushed us along when the mermaids appeared.” “Why?” She turned to Casanova, who’d spoken. “They’re wonderful.” Richard laughed. “Those things are not at all like the sweet, Disney mermaids you’re imagining.” “I thought they were pretty. Haven’t you guys seen them before?” She turned to Ethan. “You never said anything to me about mermaids.” One of his eyebrows rose as he helped her alight from the boat. Her feet sank into soft sand. “That’s because the fairies told me to steer clear of them, even when I was a vampire.” “I don’t understand why.” “She’s been watching that show...” Cedric began, snapping his fingers like he was trying to remember something. “That one with the three mermaids with Australian accents.” “Oh, yeah,” added Merrick, grinning. “The one with the moon and the pool that she made us all watch it with her while we guarded her in Colorado.” The Highlander groaned like it was a particularly painful experience for him to remember. “It’s called H2O.” Danielle said, unable to hide the

“It’s called H2O.” Danielle said, unable to hide the excitement in her voice. She bit her lip at the way Merrick rubbed his neck like he had an ache there. She’d made them watch girly shows that she’d pretty much outgrown just to torment them. She still thought it was kind of funny and put her fingers over her mouth to cover the giggles trying to come out. “They’re sirens, and nothing like the pretty wenches in that show, Danielle. That’s why the fairies told us to cover our ears, and apparently vampires can’t escape them either.” Richard said that, and his tone was quite serious. She gulped down the laughter because it was obvious to her that he was feeling slightly humbled, and probably rather angry at the moment. The medieval prince likely felt invincible most of the time, and now he knew something so pretty and delicate-looking could end him. Looking back out at the water as Ethan drew her farther inland, she remembered the stories she’d heard of men being lead to their deaths by sirens. Her shoulders sank involuntarily at the disappointment. Why couldn’t mermaids be like fairies? Drawing a deep breath and then releasing it slowly, she took in the landscape. Pale, untouched sand led up to gray rocks that were topped with sage crowns of long feathery grass. Tall trees rose into the sky beyond that. They swayed, and their leaves fluttered like the waves of the sea. It wasn’t a blue sky stretching out above them, but it wasn’t gray either. Lumps of white clouds drifted eastward. Crisp sea air filled her nose. The fishiness of it was gone as the plant life joined the scents surrounding her. The scene was beautiful, but there was nothing about it that made her

think this was a magical place. Ethan had explained they really hadn’t traveled that far. This wasn’t some mysterious island in the ocean. It was Ireland. The fairy’s secret cove wasn’t far from England. “What are those?” Nadia asked, and Danielle turned back to see where she was pointing. A flock of birds off in the distance caught her eye and she watched them as they neared. What she’d thought was one bird; she soon noticed were actually three, and then four, and then six, like they kept dividing as they neared. She realized then that they weren’t birds at all. “Just pixies,” said Alora, like it was not a problem. Nadia gasped. “But won’t they try to take us?” The fairy touched the necklace they’d given to Nadia that was very much like the one Danielle wore. “They won’t be able to see you, dear.” With rounded eyes they all watched as the swarm of pixies flew right at them. They ducked. Danielle expected to feel the little beings latch onto her clothes, but all she experienced was a gentle breeze from their many flapping wings. She heard the wicked little sounds they made as they communicated with each other, and she caught the strong whiff of rotten apples that always accompanied them, but the pixies swept past them as though they were not there at all. Her fingers curled around the three crystals as she rose upright. She was shocked, but grateful. “Wow. It worked.” “Hurry along,” commanded Alora, ignoring her astonished words. “You must get within our borders to be safe, and you

words. “You must get within our borders to be safe, and you must not leave them.” Danielle’s eyes dropped to the sand closing in around her shoes with each step. Darn, she’d hoped to walk this beach barefoot later to experience what it would feel like between her toes. It seemed the beach wasn’t part of the cove and they wouldn’t be allowed to come here again. They started up the hill and she wondered how far they had to walk before she would see what her new home was going to look like.

Chapter 7 Derry Glen Cove The borders of Derry Glen Cove weren’t far from the beach. They were informed that they’d entered fairy land the moment they moved past most of the rocks and their feet got tangled in the grasses growing there. “At least we can come here and watch the ocean,” said Danielle. Ethan suspected she’d added in her head, and watch for mermaids. He knew curiosity about something she’d been as fascinated with as fairies would still interest her, even after she’d been told how dangerous they were. He could see she didn’t completely believe the beings could harm her. She’d want to draw them, partly because she had already. Such creatures lived in her imagination. Recalling the painting of the dark-haired mermaid hanging in their master bath, he held her hand as she negotiated a particularly large rock. Not that she needed his aid, of course. He just couldn’t seem to help himself. It was his job as her man to care for her and to spoil her. He was grateful she didn’t constantly smack his hands away, and simply let him be old-fashioned. Ethan wasn’t sure he liked how she’d compared him to her grandfather, though. She’d said he held onto out-of-date notions just like her grandfather had. He wasn’t an old man, was he? Feeling a crease form between his eyebrows, Ethan realized that maybe he

crease form between his eyebrows, Ethan realized that maybe he was.... And soon he’d be hunched, grumpy, and gray. Swallowing, Ethan tried to snuff out the way his thoughts were making him feel. Why is it so hard to be mortal? he asked himself as he shoved up his glasses once more. In a way he felt like Harry Potter. But Harry was ultimately the hero of his story, and Ethan feared he was not the hero of his own, but the underdog. His eyes followed his wife as she gingerly made her way up a steep incline. She looked back at him and managed to smite the negative thoughts in his head with a sweet look of devotion. That soothing image sank into his soul as he grasped onto a thick root jutting from the sheared wall of soil to keep from slipping, mentally reminding himself that even if it was quite literally a mental struggle to remain weak, mortality with her was what he wanted. A family with her was what he wished for. A normal life with her was what he fantasized about. Casanova took her hand and helped her over the last rock which was clearly the hardest to negotiate. Ethan’s teeth clenched as his prior frustrations returned just as quickly as his wife had chased them away. With the grinding of his back molars, Ethan was struggling to get over the same rock when Casanova returned and took hold of his arm to help him too. Ethan barely resisted the urge to punch the grinning Frenchman in the face. Deep down he knew the guard was likely harmless. But Ethan just couldn’t find it within himself to like having all of these vampires around. Constantly. In the past he hadn’t minded, it was for her safety, but now every time one of them looked at his wife, it caused his

but now every time one of them looked at his wife, it caused his possessive nature to flare up. Even Max still drove him mad with that bloody winking of his. Once they’d cleared the top, Danielle looked over her shoulder at him again as she returned her hand to his, her gaze going just past his shoulder briefly before returning to his face and measuring what she saw there. Ethan looked away. Too late. “I really think Casanova means well,” she said, proving she’d seen straight to his frustrated heart. Forgetting what he really wanted to growl, he said instead, “You’re probably right.” Her brown eyes danced past him again. “Was it really mermaids that tried to overturn us, or was that something else?” she asked, her tone hopeful. Danielle was clearly still thinking about them, and he wasn’t surprised. “Yes,” Alora said before he had a chance. “Why?” she asked, with her gaze moving to the fairy that fluttered around in front of them along a path of grass through the trees. The fairies wouldn’t be the ones to wear it down since their feet never touched the ground, Ethan thought as the thin blades of green crushed beneath his boots. In a way, he felt as though he was trespassing, and causing mortal damage to a precious preserve. Why were the fairies even allowing them to come here? The male fairy dressed in green answered Danielle’s question. “They probably want possession of you too.”

He felt Danielle stiffen at that, but her eyes rolled when she again asked, “Why?” She probably knew she’d been asking that question a lot, and likely feared she sounded like a child. “They’re not cursed, so wanting a cure from you is likely not the reason...” The male fairy trailed off as he considered it, tapping a finger against his chin. His silvery blue wings worked as fast as a hummingbird’s as he flitted along ahead of them. He dropped his hand in what appeared to resignation, and shook his head. “I can’t imagine why.” “They could just wish to drown you all,” said Alora. “They take pride in that, especially ending vampires who mistakenly think they’re invincible.” An unnerved shudder worked its way up Ethan’s spine. According to the fey, even as a vampire, he couldn’t combat mermaids. This was yet another way he was incapable of protecting his wife. With this and other failures on his mind, Ethan peered back at the ocean and decided he had to keep her away from there, despite her curiosity. While the sea wasn’t visible from here, alarm once again prodded at his peace of mind. They had reached their destination, and he could still hear the water crashing against the rocks. Danielle would still be tempted to look. Moving farther into the trees, they were greeted with a moss-draped buffet laden with a colorful array of fruits and nuts. Richard tunneled fingers in his hair and sighed loudly with a look of bewildered agitation tightening his features. “Please tell me we don’t need to eat potion-tainted food again.”

don’t need to eat potion-tainted food again.” The fairies simply tittered at that, causing Richard’s scowl to deepen. “Well?” he demanded. Alora dashed up to him with hands on hips. “If you were more observant, you would see this is mostly fresh food that has not been prepared by us.” Richard’s left eyebrow kicked up as his hands landed on his hips too. “Mostly?” “You must consume some of our magic to dwell here and not turn into fey.” “As though we’d entered the ring?” asked Merrick with a startled look on his face. His eyes made a pass around the area like he was searching for a circle of mushrooms to mark the threat. The Highland warrior gulped before adding, “Could we sprout wee, glittering wings?” He held two fingers apart at about a fairy’s height. “Shrink?” “We must eat, as before?” asked Casanova. He said it like the very idea made his stomach squirm, but Ethan was fairly certain the vampires had enjoyed the chance to actually taste food when that was something that had been lost to them for quite some time. Slowly Ethan realized the Frenchman was probably more concerned with its effect on him than the taste of it. “Yes,” said that male fairy in green. “But you need not worry about being drugged ... again. It is for your well-being that you consume some magic-touched food while here.” “Perhaps we didn’t think this through,” murmured Merrick.

“Perhaps we didn’t think this through,” murmured Merrick. Ethan figured the huge vampire was terrified at the idea of turning into something as dainty as a fairy and he stifled the urge to laugh. “Everything you consume will be quite healthy for you. Trust us,” said Alora in a tone that spoke of her patience wearing thin. All of the guards began arguing at once and Ethan measured what he saw in Alora as she reacted to it. By the pinkening of her little cheeks, he could see she was growing quite wroth with the guards. The little fey was getting angry faster than when he’d argued with her. His head tipped to the side as he pondered why. He’d marked a hesitation before the word healthy, and he wondered if they were telling little white lies again. When nothing came to him, Ethan decided it didn’t matter. “We trust you,” said Ethan as he moved forward and selected a juicy-looking peach. Knowing Alora as he did, he knew from past experience that it wasn’t productive to argue with her. His teeth sank into the flesh of it and he savored the slightly tart and sweet flavor. Swallowing, he collected what looked like a pomegranate and tossed it toward Merrick, who caught it easily. With a scowl, the vampire considered all sides of the fruit before he sniffed at it. His curious eyes lifted to Ethan, who said, “We don’t have any choice but to trust them, and I mean to make the best of it. If it means an existence of bewitched confusion, then so be it!” It seemed his words and actions had stunned the guards into silence. After a moment’s hesitation, Danielle, Max, Nadia, and Cedric joined him.

“This tasted just as delicious as before,” Cedric said after he finished off a pear and tossed the core of it into the woods. “That hadn’t been dusted with some of your fairy, sparkly stuff, had it?” As he spoke, he’d inspected his finger as though he figured his hands would be covered with glitter. Safe, uneventful days passed by. Ethan felt secure in the idea that nothing could harm them here. The fairies had been right. The food hadn’t made him feel loopy and confused as before, so it seemed they were telling the truth about that too. Over the past several days, life here had been relaxing, but also slightly boring without the electronic advances they’d grown accustomed to. Ethan could remember his Victorian life, and then his Edwardian life, and so on, until things like television and computers had been invented. He’d liked the simplicity of the past, but he’d favored technological luxuries more so. Ethan nudged a low-hanging branch out of the way as he made his way to the waterfall they’d discovered on one of their many hikes. The hikes were nice. It was very beautiful here, but watching a movie and munching on microwaved popcorn had also been quite nice. Earlier in the day, Danielle had said she planned to be here after lunch. After taking a nap, he’d decided to join her. Drawing closer, he noticed Danielle standing with her back to him at the edge of a thicket of trees. She had her easel set up in front of her, a palette of wet paints in one hand and a paintbrush in the other. She was also dancing, her cute little backside was swaying

other. She was also dancing, her cute little backside was swaying with a rhythm he couldn’t hear. He wondered about that until he got close enough to see the black earbuds tucked into her ears. Ethan wondered how she’d managed to keep her iPod charged without a place to plug it in. The water rumbled as it rolled over the edge of the cliff and crashed into the pond below it. This was the second time she’d painted this scene. He could see that she’d chosen a different angle than before, but he also knew she was running out of new scenes to paint. The land they had to explore here was quite limited and the fairies insisted they never cross the boundary lines which were marked with a ring of tall brown mushrooms. They were prisoners in paradise, he would suppose.... A blade of sunlight cut through the canopy of leaves and made the mist coming off the water glow. This entire place was so saturated with fey magic that it practically hummed. His soul hummed when he looked at his wife. He watched as she dipped her brush into a dollop of black paint and twirled the brush with the bristles against the palette, effectively creating a point and removing any excess acrylic. She bent forward, and he knew she was adding her signature to the piece. Ethan was admiring the view, because she was still bouncing to whatever it was she was listening to. Movement from above distracted his thoughts from all the different ways he could kiss her, and his focus caught onto a spider dangling from a shimmering web. Neither large nor small in his book, its eight legs wriggled in all directions as it inched lower. Ethan’s head rocked to the side, and his eyebrows rose.

lower. Ethan’s head rocked to the side, and his eyebrows rose. It seemed like it had looked at him when its little pincers twisted his way before redirecting to Danielle, as though the main focus in its minuscule life was to land on her. Quickly Ethan grabbed the web just above it and tossed that and the spider away from Danielle. She would have shrieked in horror had that thing touched her. Spiders had been the first fear she’d confessed to him. Those had been followed by Lucas and snakes. Later he’d learned of her concerns about getting lost and her loathing for doctors. Danielle may have been fond of fairies, but she still feared creeping things of any kind, it wasn’t just spiders, Lucas, snakes, loss of direction, and doctors that distressed her peace of mind. While she would normally be wearing some sort of pretty skirt or dress, here she always wore long pants, long sleeves and tall boots. She was clearly trying to protect herself from anything that could quietly creep into her space. Finally closing the gap, Ethan wrapped his arms around Danielle’s waist. She jumped and swung an annoyed look at him as she yanked one of the ear buds out. “Sneaking up on me again, are you?” “Every chance I get,” he replied. It was his typical response, and she laughed, which was her typical reaction. Her eyes crinkled at the corners with the happy sound and he rewarded her with a tighter hug. Closing his eyes and burying his nose into her shoulder, he breathed in the scent surrounding his wife. That wasn’t typical at all. She smelled like a fairy, and he wondered if

his fragrance had become just as fruity and floral as hers had. Secretly he missed the aroma of pumpkin pie on her from her bath products. He missed that along with electronics and the home that he’d designed for them. Ethan lifted the iPod from Danielle’s pocket and asked, “How are you still able to use this?” “Cedric,” she said. Ah, that explained it. The geek was a crafty fellow, and wouldn’t likely survived exile amongst fairies without some sort of rigged power. “How is he doing it?” he asked, because now he was curious. “I think he’s got a solar power source for his laptop. At least that’s what it looked like to me. It was like a briefcase, but it opened up with solar panels on the inside.” Ethan considered that, his eyes lifting to the thick canopy of leaves blocking all but one shaft of sunlight. Besides here at the waterfall, all of the fey land was cloaked in shadow. “Where does he get enough light for that? It’s too dark here.” Danielle laughed before saying, “It’s not too dark on the rocks just above the beach.” Instantly concerned about what mischief his wife might have gotten into while he napped, he asked, “You’ve been there then?” Looking for mermaids? “Only to give him my iPod so he could charge it for me,” she said. At her nonchalant response, a silence saturated the crisp air around them, and he knew she understood his fears for her safety. Had mermaids surfaced, Cedric couldn’t have saved her

from them. As though she also knew his thoughts, she released a breath and added, “We were too far away for mermaids to be a problem. So relax. Plus, we stayed on fey land.” She leaned into his chest, and aimed a repentant look at him. “Totally safe, I promise.” “Hmm. Does he have internet too?” he asked, veering the topic away from danger. He would love to get some time on the internet just to escape the monotony of fairy camping. She nodded. “He said something about needing to remain in contact with the outside world ... just in case.” Right, just in case someone figured out where they were hiding. A reminder of the many things hunting her disturbed his thoughts for a moment before he shoved them away and refocused his attention on his wife. He propped his chin on her shoulder and peered at her creation. With a border of tall trees dotted with varying shades of green representing leaves and moss, the waterfall was painted in streaks of white and dark blue. Rocks meandered through the landscape, but even those were covered in a speckling of green. She’d captured the sunshine by touching gold paint to the edge of many leaves, tree trunks and stones. Ethan hadn’t noticed the fairies around them, flitting about the plant life, until he saw that she’d drawn them too. While green and white were the main colors, pink, purple, and blue added a pop of unexpected interest. She could sell this, like she had so many others, but he didn’t want her to. The funny thing was that even though she’d listed many of her pieces for sale, he knew every last one

listed many of her pieces for sale, he knew every last one remained in the possession of one or more of the vampire guards protecting them. Ethan knew the independent side of his wife wanted, and needed, to make her own money, but none of those who saw her work could let her truly part with it. Of course she knew many of the guards had done this, but Ethan suspected she didn’t know to what extent. Ethan spared a moment or two of distraction as he watched the little sprites attend to wild-growing flowers and then, ignoring them, he whispered near her earlobe, “Would you fancy a swim?” A shuddering breath left her lungs, probably because his breath had tickled her. “I don’t have my swimsuit.” “Do you need it?” He watched as her gaze followed a brunette fairy dressed in sweet pea petals. “We’re not exactly alone.” “That’s not exactly news to me,” he murmured, noting how husky his voice had gone. “Forget they’re here. Plus, they appear to be too busy with their fey business to pay much attention to us,” he said, gathering her hips between his palms and directing her toward the edge of the pond. She resisted and he recalled the new fear he’d just witnessed in her. The fear of deep water. “Look, darling,” he said, turning on Mr. Darcy, “It’s shallow. We will not encounter anything untoward in this place. I promise.” Ethan stripped down to his boxers and waded in so he could show her it was only about chest deep. It was not lost on him that the real Mr. Darcy might not do what he’d just done. It wouldn’t have been proper to shed his clothes in such an

wouldn’t have been proper to shed his clothes in such an outdoor location. Not that Ethan particularly cared any longer, he decided, as he rejected the thought crossing his mind. The result had been worth it. Danielle was half smiling at him, but her eyes kept wandering farther in where the pool was made deeper by erosion as water fell from the cliff above. Ethan twisted to consider it and then turned back to her, his hands skimming the cool surface of the water. He looked down. The pool was so incredibly clear he could see the bottom and was able to avoid treading on the broken stick laying there. “There’s nothing to worry about, love. Trust me. Join me.” Still smirking, she placed two fists on her hips. “There could be some magical urchin lurking in there that we should avoid.” His eyes caught onto a fairy zipping past several feet behind Danielle. “If there was anything to worry about, the fairies would have stopped me by now. Besides, this is their land. Nothing can harm us here.” She laughed softly. Her head tipped sideways causing her hair to cascade down in a waterfall of shimmering brown. “I guess you’re right.” As she spoke, her fingers moved to the buttons on her pants, and she nudged her shoes off. With a resigned sigh, she peeled the green pants off, and as each creamy inch of her skin was revealed, he found himself bewitched all over again. Ethan swallowed, taking the time to ogle her sweet body as she disrobed, knowing his smile had turned wolfish. He wasn’t going to hide it. It wasn’t long before

her hoodie and shirt joined the pile of clothing on a rock beside her, and Ethan was able to fully admire her pink, lacy knickers and bra. It wasn’t a widely known fact, but many men like the color pink, especially in the form of knickers on their women. It was just one of those things guys secretly fancied: lace curtains, rose embellishing china, girly colors.... They were the feminine touches that proved one had a woman of his own, to sweeten his world, because if he lived alone, he certainly wouldn’t decorate with lace and florals, or the color pink. Biting that kissable pink lip of hers, she gingerly made her way over the small stones before entering the water. Goosebumps sprang up all over her exposed skin as she did, and she gasped out, “This is cold!” Laughing at the tortured look on her face, Ethan captured her hand and yanked her against his body for warmth as she got used to it. “It’s not too bad really, how does it feel now?” “Warmer, I guess.” His gaze locked with hers and he studied the way the shards of lighter brown in her eyes caught the sunlight and bounced it back at him like slivers of bright gilding. “Kiss me,” he said with the huskiness returning to his voice, not that he could help it with the way he felt about her.... The next day, they went on a run for exercise. Max and Nadia had joined them, also wanting to remain physically fit. “I’m surprised to admit that I kind of like it here,” said Nadia

“I’m surprised to admit that I kind of like it here,” said Nadia as she ran between Max and Danielle. “Even though I do miss many things, like shopping for clothes, and shoes, and dining in restaurants, and attending the theater, and...” After negotiating his way over a small fallen tree, Ethan looked across his wife at Nadia. “I miss meat.” The food here had consisted of fruit, nuts and some breads, and it was getting about as old as blood had when he’d been a vampire. Max groaned in agreement and added, “A thick juicy steak would be nice right about now.” Ethan imagined slicing into a succulent filet mignon, but then his mind shifted to sushi, and other foods he’d fancied. “Or a spicy salmon roll, or a nice hot curry with chicken...” Max rubbed his stomach as he ran; sweat was soaking his beige t-shirt. “Or one of those American cheeseburgers with crispy bacon, and a side of greasy onion rings.” Ethan felt his stomach grumbled in agreement at that idea. “Or some of Sophia’s hors d’oeuvres!” added Nadia as she leapt over a clump of bluebells, her long layers of black hair flying in a breeze. “Oh, yeah! I loved those little cookies she would make, especially those lemony, buttery ones that melted in your mouth.” Danielle flipped her ponytail around when she looked back at Ethan. “How could I forget chocolate cake? Do you think we could get the fairies to make something like that? Or do you think they could gather the ingredients so you could?” Ethan blinked and laughed as his hand went out to steady himself against a tree when his foot landed on a loose rock.

himself against a tree when his foot landed on a loose rock. “Darling, you know that has eggs in it. These fey don’t eat anything with any animal product in it, nor would they serve that to us.” Her shoulders slumped but she kept running. “Right.” They were climbing a gentle hill, jogging their way around trees and other kinds of plant life. Perspiration ran in a trickle of moisture down his spine. His t-shirt was soaked just as much as Max’s was, but he liked it. Danielle had told him about this runner’s high when she’d encouraged him to run with her in conjunction with their sparring sessions. She’d been right. He quite liked the feeling that kept him going once he’d pushed passed his fatigue. His heart pumped at a faster rate, his lungs labored, and his muscles burned. Ethan knew he’d ache later, but it was all worth it to maintain his health as a mortal. In his soul, Ethan knew he’d fully embraced this weakened state. In some instances he did miss the strength the curse had given him, but the advantages he’d gained when becoming mortal were well worth the sacrifice and Ethan wondered why he forgot that at times. His gaze followed his wife’s very fine ... cargo pockets as she ran ahead of him, and a half smile overtook his mouth. But it slipped loose, because she was the reason he occasionally forgot his intentions. Actually, she was the “why” to all of his questions. Danielle was why he wanted to be mortal, why he wanted to be a father, and why he missed being a vampire. Danielle stopped in a small clearing, and turned to face them,

her chest heaving with her breathing. “I say we spar now.” Gasping out a chuckle, Ethan braced his hands on his legs as he bent forward to catch his breath. “Now? Really?” “Ooo! Yes! I want to learn some of your tricks, Danielle.” Nadia was bouncing with excitement and Ethan’s lips thinned at the sight. Where did this girl get her energy? Ethan noticed Max was gaping at her too. The knight shoved back his sweaty brown hair. “You can’t be serious.” “This is the perfect spot, I think,” Danielle said as she moved to the open center. Nadia followed her, then captured Danielle’s arm and leaned forward to whisper something into her ear. Ethan shared a look of suspicion with Max. “We might be in trouble,” he said. “I fear you are correct,” replied Max while giving his calves a good stretch. “We don’t have any sparring gear with us,” tried Ethan as he rolled his shoulders to ease the tension there. Her hands landed on her hips again and she gave him a withering look. “We haven’t used sparring gear in ages.” He shrugged his shoulders at that because he had no argument for it. Danielle dropped into what she called “guarding stance.” Nadia studied Danielle’s pose and then copied it by bending her knees slightly, and lifting her fists up to guard her face. On an exhale, Ethan lifted his fists and began circling the girls. Max followed his lead. Nadia watched them with nervousness in her rounded eyes that made him smile. Max

nervousness in her rounded eyes that made him smile. Max reached out and tickled Nadia. She jumped and tried to block him in a delayed attempt that failed. “Keep your guard up, Nadia,” cautioned Danielle. A low chuckle rumbled out of Max and he reached for his wife again as they continued to pace around the women. Again she jumped and tried to block him. But again, his wriggling fingers connected with her ticklish side. An involuntary giggle escaped Nadia. “Max! Stop that!” “Why?” growled the knight who could smirk and look dangerous at the same time. Nadia didn’t respond to the question, so his attention shifted to Danielle. “You, my lady, let’s see what you’ve got, shall we?” Instead of being frightened as Nadia appeared, Danielle tossed back her shoulders and lifted her chin, curling her fingers in an invitation to attack. A surge of protective anger rose up within Ethan, but curiosity won out as it motivated him to let go of his jealousy and again see what his wife was really capable of. Max was mortal now too, and Ethan suspected she could take him, despite his imposing size. Max swung a balled fist aimed for her shoulder. Danielle stepped back, effectively making him miss. She followed through with an upper cut to his jaw and then her other fist connected with his stomach, causing him to double over with a grunt. Ethan thought perhaps she was done with him, but clearly she wasn’t, because she jammed her knee into his ribs and pounded two fists on his back. The powerful knight was flattened onto his stomach

on his back. The powerful knight was flattened onto his stomach as he got a mouthful of forest-floor muck. Nadia burst into a fit of laughter with a dainty little snort, but she stopped breathing altogether when Max quickly regained his feet and stalked toward her, spitting dirt and leaves out of his mouth. He hadn’t even spared a look at Danielle who’d been the one to give him that mouthful of debris. Obviously he knew better. Ethan watched as Nadia’s eyes widened in startled terror when Max grabbed hold of her arms, but in the next instant, Max was flat on his back with a look of total confusion on his face. The small and delicately built Nadia had circled her arms to release Max’s grip, then hooked one foot behind his knee and jabbed an elbow into his chest. The action, which hadn’t taken long for her to execute, swept Max’s feet out from under him again and he’d landed on the ground in a flurry of dead leaves. When he seemed to have gathered his senses, he ground out, “Bloody hell, Nadia! That hurt!” Ethan threw back his head and laughed so hard his sides ached, and his eyes watered. With a joyous giggle, Nadia punched one fist into the air and then slung her arms around Danielle. “I did it! I did it!” Danielle smirked guiltily at him when their eyes met over Nadia’s shoulder. Apparently Danielle had already taught the lovely Nadia a few tricks, probably in secret. Ethan scratched his head, deciding that perhaps the naps should cease. He was missing out on too

much. The muscular knight looked quite surprised to have been flattened with ease by Nadia. Ethan could hardly believe she’d done it too, because Max was so large-boned and well-toned. It just didn’t seem physically possible. Max groaned and pushed up onto his elbows. A bunch of dead leaves stuck out from his messed-up hair at funny angles. “Go easy on me, ladies. My aching bones can only take so much.” Nadia reached a hand out for him. He eyed it like he didn’t think she was capable of helping him up, or didn’t trust her any longer. “Aren’t you proud of me?” she asked. A frown crinkled his brow as he accepted her aid. “I suppose I am impressed, but I feel like we were played. You, acting all innocent and scared...” When Nadia laughed again, Max scowled some more. “There should be a consequence for that.” Nadia gulped and withdrew her hand as she tried to move behind Danielle for protection. Max chuckled darkly, captured his wife before she got away, and tossed her over his shoulder. “Max! I’m sorry!” “You’re right, you will be sorry,” said Max. “What are you going to do to me?” asked Nadia as Max began making his way back to camp. “I think this one calls for some kind of medieval punishment.” Ethan looked down when Danielle’s hand slipped into his. His eyes lifted to meet with hers. “What does he mean by ‘medieval’?” she asked.

With a smile he said, “Don’t worry about her. Max talks tough, but he adores Nadia too much to do anything that would hurt her.” “But he seemed really angry.” Another laugh escaped him at the memory of witnessing that, and they started back the same way Max had left. “You and Nadia just humbled a knight, a man who has never been brought to his knees by anything, except perhaps his feelings for Nadia. I know he’s never been thrown to the ground by a female half his weight before. Twice.” Danielle laughed again, “I’ll never forget the look on his face.” Laughing with her, he had to ask, “How come I got off so easy?” She aimed that pretty smile at him, the one that made his knees go weak every time. “This was for Nadia,” she said. “She wanted to show Max she wasn’t a delicate flower, or so she said.” “Ah.” Ethan wouldn’t deny that he was relieved to be getting off so easy this time. Especially since in the time that he’d turned mortal, Danielle had thrown him more times than he cared to count. Ethan leaned back in his chair and placed a hand on his stomach. He may have been full, but he wasn’t exactly satisfied. Seemed he couldn’t get his mind off of meat, and how the menu here was lacking it. The fairies were incredibly generous to invite

here was lacking it. The fairies were incredibly generous to invite them into this secret, and probably sacred, place meant for only fey. It was generous of them to feed them as well, even though it had its drawbacks. His eyes lifted to Danielle. She wasn’t looking at him. With her head against the back of her chair, she was staring off into the dark woods. Lifting her left hand, she began twisting a lock of hair around her finger. “Care to share what you’re thinking about?” he asked. Shifting in her seat, she turned to face him. Dark eyelashes lifted as her gaze connected with his. “I’m just wondering how long we need to live here.” “Are you growing bored of living with the fey?” Like I am, he added in his head. She looked around a moment, as though she feared she would hurt the fairies’ feelings if she admitted to that. “I just miss our home. I miss our life as it was,” she said in a whisper. The sun was setting and the fairies had built a fire for them, as they had each night. They hadn’t been allowed to dance with the fairies since last time, but the little sprites performed for them instead. With everything lit by the growing fire, and the lanterns hung from the trees surrounding them, they would be treated to fey music and dancing. For him, it was growing old, and he suspected it was for Danielle as well. She stretched, and lifted one hand to cover her mouth while she yawned. Her other hand slid along her thigh, where she curled her fingers around her knee. She dropped her head against the back of her chair again. Suddenly the relaxed and sleepy expression left her face, her

Suddenly the relaxed and sleepy expression left her face, her eyes widened, and she jerked her hand up and shook it as her body quaked with a disgusted shiver. “What is it?” he asked, sitting forward. “Something was crawling on my hand.” Another shiver rolled over her and she looked down at her legs, then she screamed, kicked out her foot and scrambled up onto her chair. “Spiders!” she yelped. Kicking out hadn’t exactly gotten very many of them off. Ethan swore and moved to brush them away before she saw how many were still crawling on her. Sweeping them off as fast as he could, he tried to figure out why so many were here all at once. It seemed odd and unnatural, but he was reminded of the spider that had tried to land on her while she was painting. Had that really been the spider’s intent? At this point Danielle had both hands over her mouth, the tips of her fingers were biting into her cheeks. She was either trying to hold in more screams, or dinner, he wasn’t sure which. But he suspected she was having trouble holding still for him while he tried to get them off her. Running his hands up and down her legs, Ethan knew he’d finally gotten them all. However, upon looking down into the grass, he saw a line of spiders all headed for Danielle. Ethan jumped to his feet, shouted, “Help me!” to the guards, and started stomping on the army of arachnids attacking his wife, and no one else. Nadia sat at the other end of the long table, and she had drawn her feet up onto her chair too while she simply stared

in soundless horror at the creatures still moving toward Danielle. Max joined him and the other men in their task of killing spiders, but there were so many of them. With another scream, Danielle quickly moved to the table when she noticed the spiders they’d missed had made it to the seat of her chair. Ethan feared she was in danger of setting herself on fire as she stood between lit candles on the table trying to avoid dishes containing fruit. Looking up to measure the expression on her face, he noticed hundreds of spiders lowering from webs which were dangling from the trees above. He spat out a curse in French. They were surrounded. “Alora!” he shouted as he signaled one of the guards to grab Danielle from off the table before she noticed the ones coming at her from the trees. He searched the ground, and snatched up a stick so he could knock the ones on webs down. Casanova looped arms around Danielle’s hips, and hauled her off. Ethan swept the stick in the air over the table, severing the glistening strands. Danielle shrieked in surprise when Casanova grabbed her, but abruptly went silent when she noticed what Ethan was doing. Her jaw dropped in horror as Casanova adjusted his hold and she was able to bury her face against his neck. She likely couldn’t stand to watch this. Ethan felt disturbed by the number, size, and intensity of the spiders stalking her too, even when he wasn’t usually bothered by the sight of such creatures. A swarm of fairies, and Alora swept toward them, dusting the spiders with their fairy dust. “They’ve found her,” Alora said

the spiders with their fairy dust. “They’ve found her,” Alora said after taking in the scene, and blasting probably hundreds of spiders at one time. “Who?” Ethan bit out in a curt voice as he watched the Frenchman cradle a terrified Danielle in his arms, and move her away from the horde of arachnids now crawling all over the table and her chair. The vampire left the area with his wife. Ethan let it go for now, she didn’t need to be around this. Alora’s gaze touched on the other fairies’ as the spiders began to retreat. It appeared to him as though they didn’t have an answer for him. Confirming that, Alora said, “It could be witches ... or pixies. They both have a connection with creatures like this.” “How could it be pixies with the necklace she’s wearing? I thought you said they wouldn’t be able to see her with it on.” “They can’t, which is why they may have sent spiders to seek her instead. Arachnids would be able to see past the spells we put on the necklace.” Ethan ran a hand through his hair. “But how would they know to send them here?” “They found you on your way to us before,” she replied. “They’re smart enough to remember that.” “So you think it’s the pixies then?” “I can’t say for certain. It could just as well be the witches. In fact, I think that is more likely.” Merrick cursed. “If those bloody hags know where we are, then so do the werewolves.” Cedric shook his head. “The Order members in London and

Cedric shook his head. “The Order members in London and Colorado have been tailing the werewolves we know of, and it seems as though they don’t know where we’ve gone. They have been looking for you, but they’ve never come toward Ireland.” “What would this have accomplished?” asked Richard. The fairies shook their heads as they hovered before them. Ethan tried to figure it out on his own, but nothing came to mind. It just didn’t make sense.

Chapter 8 Worse Than Spiders? Casanova lowered Danielle’s feet to the ground. He’d brought her to their bedroom while the others took care of the spiders. For that she was grateful. However, despite the fact that he’d said he didn’t see any more spiders, she couldn’t resist searching for more anyway. She released a shuddering exhale as she remembered seeing so many big ones creeping right toward her. “Are you all right?” asked the French guard who drove Ethan crazy. Danielle still believed his flirtation was innocent, but she could easily see why the way the guard invaded her space pushed Ethan’s possessive buttons. She nodded in response, but kind of felt like it was a lie. She didn’t like the fact that Lucas was still after her, and she did didn’t like the fact that he was a werewolf now. She also didn’t like the fact that they had to live on the run until they solved this problem. But none of that had been as horrible as having hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of spiders invade her space in a way that was a hundred times more disturbing than anything Casanova did. Another shudder worked its way over her body ... they’d been crawling all over her! Instinctively, she brushed off her sleeves even though there was nothing there to brush off. Stopping the nervous action, Casanova took her hand into his and made her turn in a circle as he apparently inspected her

his and made her turn in a circle as he apparently inspected her for any stray spiders. “All clear,” he said. “I promise.” Had she caught a twinkle of mocking amusem*nt in his eye just now? All she could manage in reply was, “Thank you,” in a tight voice as embarrassment surged up from her gut to lodge in her throat. Sure, she could take on a threatening male with a confident roll of her shoulders, but when faced by any little beast with eight legs, her self-confidence collapsed. Just like any girl’s, or most, anyway. It was mortifying really. Wanting to escape the sardonic glimmer in his eyes, she stepped backward, moving closer to her bedroom. It wasn’t a room exactly. It was more like a bed in the woods that was surrounded by four walls of vines. The weird magical part was the fact that the vines parted like a curtain of beads from the outside, but once on the inside, the leaves knitted together and looked like wallpapered walls. The strange leafy vines flattened and made a geometric leaf pattern as though painted and not consisting of real plants. Casanova reached out and brushed the hair out of her face. “Ah, pauvre petite amour. Are you sure you’re okay?” Danielle tried not to laugh at the words he’d cooed in French. The older vampires “my lord-ed” Ethan, and “my ladyed” her a lot, except for Casanova. With him it was always, ma chaton, or ma chérie, or petite amour. Or even, and this was the one that made Ethan spit violent curses, ma minette. Only because she’d asked did she know it meant my puss*cat. “The cad,” Ethan would growl when he heard that one uttered. Reaching back, she felt her fingers brush past the vines. “Yes,

Reaching back, she felt her fingers brush past the vines. “Yes, I’m fine,” she said. “Thanks for helping.” “I’ll wait with you until Ethan get’s here.” “That isn’t necessary...” The sun would be setting soon, and she really didn’t want to be tempted by his vampire scent when it did. Casanova was too close for that. “What if the spiders infiltrated your bedchamber?” he asked as she began to back through the curtain of leaves. She paused, her insides twisting at the idea. “Shall I investigate?” he offered with a lift of his sable eyebrows. Deciding to let him do that, she moved aside as she pondered that perhaps the French people were simply more openly affectionate than most from England and America. That would explain his tendency to stand too close and his habit of speaking so romantically. Ethan needed to chill, she thought, as the vampire brushed past her and began searching the room for spiders. Richard trusted him, and she made a mental promise to do the same. He was just like Richard, actually, very dedicated in protecting her from any possible harm. To do that, he had to be physically close, and he had to keep a constant eye on her, because the guards just didn’t know when or where the next threat would come from. Especially after this most recent attack of spiders. Casanova got down on his hands and knees as he checked beneath the bed. His knees sank into the moss carpeting as he lifted the bed skirt and bent down farther. She jumped when

Ethan asked from behind her, “What is the scoundrel doing in our bedroom?” Only then did she realize that it looked like she was admiring Casanova’s firm backside even though she wasn’t. Danielle snapped her eyes shut, because—against her will of course—her gaze had landed there as she thought about it. Dang it. Facing Ethan, and meeting his gaze, she answered with, “He’s checking for spiders,” taking in the expression of jealous anger holding his features captive. “Hm.” Danielle knew by his almost barbaric way of grunting out a short “hm” that he was as irritated as usual. A sigh left her lungs and she touched his arm in an effort to soothe him. Casanova would leave soon, he would have to as night set in and the curse came alive. “He’s harmless.” The words drew Ethan’s full attention, and he aimed a pair of raised eyebrows at her. Folding his arms across his chest, he released a sigh as well, and asked, “Did he flirt with you? Again?” “He’s French,” she whispered. Her eyes danced to Casanova as he neared them. Gulping, she realized Casanova had heard that. Ethan’s eyes shifted to Casanova and then back to her. “The fairies got rid of the spiders,” he said to the vampire without looking at him. “It isn’t necessary for you to look beneath our bed.” As he spoke, he moved into their room, his gaze touching on everything as though he didn’t fully believe what he’d just

on everything as though he didn’t fully believe what he’d just said. A rich and slightly accented guffaw rumbled out of Casanova. “Are you feeling threatened?” The Frenchman gave Ethan a friendly punch in the shoulder. “You needn’t fear me, because she’s right.” It appeared as though Ethan was trying to stand taller, even though he would always be a little shorter than Casanova. The way he always compared himself to the guards just wasn’t necessary. Casanova may have been taller, but he was also thinner. Not in a lanky sort of way, his frame was still packed with muscle, but Ethan was slightly broader in the shoulders and he’d maintain the tone he’d had as a vampire, which was a more difficult feat in her opinion. And Danielle sort of wished he could see that he wasn’t shorter than all of the guards. He was taller than Cedric, and about the same height as Richard. “She’s right about what, exactly?” Ethan asked. “That you’re French? That’s your excuse for overstepping your bounds?” Casanova grinned. “You don’t need to be worried about me, or any of the others. We’re not a threat to you because we’re not here to seduce your wife, even if she is trés bellé.” Ethan’s stance took on a threatening edge as he braced his feet shoulder width apart, his hands fisting at his sides, but he said nothing in response to that. Still grinning, it was clear Casanova had noticed the change but ignored it. Casanova’s dark eyes rose as he perused Ethan more closely. Lifting a finger and drawing a small circle in Ethan’s direction before dropping it, the French guard noted with

Ethan’s direction before dropping it, the French guard noted with a hint of amusem*nt, “Your eye is twitching. Have you been eating too much sugary fairy-food?” Ethan blinked. “I’m probably just sleep deprived.” “I supposed that’s a mortal weakness then. The twitching thing.” Gaping now, Ethan blinked again. “You probably have some rare disease that causes it. The twitching, I mean.” “Thanks, man.” There was nothing grateful in how Ethan said that as the two words practically oozed sarcasm. “We all die sometime, my friend,” Casanova said in a cheerful tone. “But not you,” Ethan ground out. “Well, of course not. I’m a vampire, and proud of it.” Ethan’s eyes narrowed on the guard. Casanova groaned and rolled his eyes. “Look, we want to be here to protect you, both of you. I do have other things I could be doing besides camp in the woods with fairies and mortals.” The vampire suddenly captured Ethan’s face between his palms and kissed the air beside each of Ethan’s cheeks. Ethan nearly fell on his backside when the guard released him. “It’s an innocent and simple French thing to do ... very much like the way I guard your dear wife. Being a Brit, and my national neighbor, you should know this. Or is your brain also addled by this unfortunate disease that is plaguing you with random bouts of twitching?”

“Shouldn’t you be leaving?” Ethan folded his arms as his weight rolled to his left foot. “The sun is setting, and I don’t want a cursed man around my wife.” Again, Casanova laughed. “It wouldn’t matter here.” Confusion clouded Ethan’s expression as his eyebrows lifted. “Why not?” This was the first time Danielle had ever heard Casanova sigh. “I regret to confess that the curse is weakened while we live here and eat that too-sweet diet the fairies feed us.” Ethan’s mouth twitched and Danielle wondered if he found that humorous. “You’ve lost your super powers?” he asked, sounding a little too hopeful. “We don’t need blood either.” “They probably didn’t want you ... consuming any of the wildlife while on their land,” commented Ethan with a hint of victory in his tone. “They said as much, yes.” “Do you miss it?” Danielle was prompted to ask even though she secretly wanted to ask if he still craved it. Casanova looked back through the opening in the leafcurtain wall. It certainly seemed like the sun had sunk beneath the horizon because it was so dark outside and lanterns had been lit along a path that disappeared into the trees. They usually came back here each evening after the fairies had danced for them and the fire had burned down to pale orange embers. Inside their room, two wall sconces always remained lit on either side of the bed because the magical bedroom had no windows. When the

bed because the magical bedroom had no windows. When the vampire turned back to them, he said, “I—,” he swallowed, “I don’t necessarily miss blood, but I am growing tired of the need to chew everything I consume. The fangs—” “I remember how it works,” Danielle said, not wanting to hear him describe how the fangs drew the blood along with the being’s life-force into you. And she hadn’t exactly liked how it felt when they came out and jabbed her in the lip. She barely resisted another shudder of repulsion. Thoroughly curious now, Danielle lifted her gaze to Casanova’s to test the magic there. Her eyes rounded. “I’m not affected at all.” “She means by your good looks, not the curse magic,” said Ethan dryly. “Thanks for clarifying,” responded the vampire, his tone equally dry. The silence after that became awkward and that’s when Casanova began backing out. “It’s been fun, mes petit*. I’ll run along now and eat fairy cakes against my will with the other vampires.” Danielle laughed at the image that had just popped into her mind when he said that. She saw all of the big burly men sitting around a fairy-made table dining on teacakes with their little pinkies sticking out. His sable eyebrow kicked up at her. “I’m serious. They really force us each night because they don’t want the curse revived.” “It’s not permanent, is it?” asked Ethan. “They said it wasn’t.” The words came out slow, and it was apparent that Casanova was remembering all of the times the

apparent that Casanova was remembering all of the times the fairies had twisted the truth. After watching Casanova disappear into the dark woods, Ethan brushed a hand over the leaf curtain. The action caused it to magically close so that they were alone in their bedroom without doors and windows. He turned to face her. “Were you bitten by any of the spiders?” Her eyes shot to his and she noticed the worry darkening the blue. “No. Why?” “The fairies think they were sent for you and could have been spelled so that their bite would affect you in a different way.” Danielle swallowed at the new sense of panic rising from her stomach. Had she been bitten? Her skin prickled with renewed awareness, but it didn’t feel like anything had gotten into her clothes. “I—I really don’t think they bit me.” At least she really hoped not. Looking down, she didn’t see how that was possible with boots that came up to her knees over a pair of jeans. Ethan had brushed them off before they got too far past her knees. An involuntary shudder rolled over her at the change in topic. “Let me check,” he said, reaching for the hem of her sweater. At his physician-like tone, she groaned. “Please tell me you’re not turning into Dr. Deveroux again.” “Just let me examine—” Her hands gripped onto his to stop him from taking off her clothes. Inside, she was suffering from an intense urge to rip her

own clothes off to check for spiders, she just really didn’t want Dr. Deveroux doing it. “Examine? Really? Don’t go there, Ethan, or I swear I’ll punch you in the face.” A nervous laugh escaped him, like he thought maybe she was joking, but he wasn’t quite sure if she was or not. Danielle wasn’t joking at all. “You may not have felt it,” he argued, and with that, he was reaching for her sweater again, a look of determination tightening the line of his mouth. It might have been instinct, or it might also have been pure irritation with Dr. Deveroux, as usual, but she blocked his hands and stepped back. If he’d tried to seduce her out of her clothes, that would have been one thing, but when he only meant to play doctor, that was quite another. And it was not cool with her, it never was, and he knew this. Ethan knew how much she hated doctors and how much she especially hated it when he acted like one ... checking her pulse, examining her.... So not going to happen! Ethan’s hands fell to his sides and he frowned at her. “Danielle, this is serious.” “Look, I’ll get dressed for bed, and I’ll check myself.” “But you won’t—” “Fine!” she said, tossing her sweater onto the flowery chair next to their bed. “You can check my back.” He allowed her to dress for bed on her own, the smart man that he was. Of course she knew he’d watched her closely as he also changed into his pajamas. She could feel his eyes on her as she turned down the bed linens, but paused when she felt Ethan

brush her hair from her back. His lips touched the skin between her shoulder blades. Turning, she lifted her lashes to peer at him. “What are you doing now?” All innocent, he grinned, and she was reminded of how she’d thought he looked like an angel when they’d first met. “Kissing you,” the angel said. When she gaped at his change in tactics, he continued. “Don’t you prefer that over Dr. Deveroux?” She definitely preferred Angel Ethan over that alter ego. “You’re finally catching on,” she commented. “I didn’t see any bites. I feel better now.” “I told you I was fine.” “There were so many spiders. It’s natural for me to worry.” “There were a lot,” she conceded, resisting another shiver. “Why, do you think...? Are we not safe here anymore?” Ethan sighed and his eyes danced away from hers. Oh, no. “What is it?” After a long pause, he returned his gaze to hers, his fingers nervously fiddling with the string on his pajama pants. “I think we are safe here for now, but the fairies fear it might not last. We might have to move again.” Danielle felt her heart sinking at his words. Where would they go? Would Lucas find them? Her fingers tangled in her hair for a moment. When she dropped her hands, she turned and climbed into bed. The fragrance of gardenias filled her nose as she did. Danielle twisted and watched Ethan join her. His blond hair swept down over his forehead before he settled against the

hair swept down over his forehead before he settled against the pillows, wrinkling his nose. “I will confess, the smell of flowers is beginning to wear on me,” he said, shoving his hair back out of his face before he removed his glasses and set them on the nightstand beside their bed. The metal frames clinked against the wood. “We might have to move again?” she asked, attempting to steer him back to that topic. It worked. He frowned as he pulled the bed linens up to his waist. “We’ll stay as long as we can. I promise.” “Even though everything reeks of flowers here?” she asked, teasing him. He laughed, his eyes crinkling up with the happy sound. “Yes, even though I smell like,” he sniffed at his arm, “a girl.” Just as they did every night since falling into the fairy ring, they dreamed of their forgotten life together. They always had the same dream at once, or memory, of the same point in time. And just as before, there were only sights and no sounds. Danielle was laying on her back staring up at a blue sky that was dotted with white clouds. She didn’t need to turn her head to the right to know Ethan was there beside her. Looking at him, her gaze traveled over the glow of light that saturated this place and caught his hair on fire with a halo of gold, again reminding her of how she’d first thought of him as an angel. A smile touched her mouth, because he was still her own personal Gabriel.... Danielle rolled and snuggled against his side, but she couldn’t feel it, nor had

snuggled against his side, but she couldn’t feel it, nor had she made the conscious decision to do that. As with all of these dreams, it was more like subconsciously acting in a silent memory. No speech, no sounds, and no physical sensation. Ethan was busy talking about something. At times he would lift his hands for emphasis. She studied his features, and his expression. What was he talking about? she wondered. For a moment, she stared at his mouth trying to read his lips, but they were moving too fast for her to distinguish any words. She closed her eyes for a moment and then reopened them.... After blinking away the sleepiness, her vision focused on a pair of blue eyes staring into hers. Noting where heat from Ethan’s body seeped into hers, Danielle realized she was curled around him, just as she had been in the dream. In a morningraspy voice she asked, “What should we eat to turn up the volume in those dreams?” The question earned her a smile and a chuckle. “That’s a great question. We should ask the fairies about that.” “I mean it’s nice to know we knew each other but, not being able to hear what you’re saying is driving me a little crazy.” With a yawn, Ethan stretched and groaned out an agreement. Danielle rolled back to her own side of the bed and regretted doing it as soon as she did. It was kind of chilly this morning. Feeling goose bumps spring up all over her body, she returned to

snuggling with her husband. His warm arm enveloped her. “What are we going to do today?” she asked. As his fingers lazily sifted through her hair, he murmured, “We could just stay here all day.” “In bed? All day?” “Sure, why not?” “I’d get bored,” she replied. “Ouch,” he responded. Ignoring that, she said, “I think I want to find a new place to paint. Somewhere high.” His body tensed and the arm he had around her tightened. Immediately she knew there was something he didn’t quite like about her idea. Angling her head up, she tried to read him, but he’d closed his eyes. His throat worked as he swallowed. “You mean to say, somewhere high where you can see the ocean and possibly catch a glimpse of mermaids?” Danielle bit into her lip and touched his face, trying to get him to look at her, the shadow of growth on his face prickled at the palm of her hand. “We’d be so far away they’d look like ants to us.” When he didn’t respond right away, she added, “We’d be totally safe.” The answer was slow in coming as his body tensed some more. “We can’t risk it. Not after what happened with the spiders.” Oh, lame-sauce, she wanted to say but didn’t. “Fine, we’ll run again and spar.” And I’ll flatten your overprotective butt to the ground, she thought.

to the ground, she thought. “No sparring, though,” he said, sounding slightly weary. “Why not?” “I still ache from the last time.” A grin tried to overtake her mouth and she bit her lip again. She had been pretty rough on him. Rewarding his whininess with a punch to the shoulder, for which he grunted, she said, “All right, we’ll run and not spar.” Trees blew past them as the four of them ran again. As usual, Max was sweating buckets, but he still managed to look like a medieval knight who’d just won a battle of swords against an army of equally muscular warriors. Nadia was having trouble keeping up with her husband. Her long black hair hung in wet strands that stuck to her cheeks and neck. She shoved some of them back and kept going even though she was panting for air. Ethan was doing his best to keep up with Max, but Danielle was a little worried because Ethan looked kind of pale, and she wondered if perhaps this meatless diet wasn’t exactly helping him. Maybe they needed to get out of here, after all. With her eyes touching on her husband and friends, guilt pricked at her contentment. They hadn’t seen any more spiders, but whoever it was who’d sent them could figure out something else ... like snakes. She stumbled on a lose rock and landed hard on her knee. Ethan grabbed one of her arms, and Max the other as they helped her up. “Are you okay?” asked Nadia, concern shining brightly in

“Are you okay?” asked Nadia, concern shining brightly in her vibrant green eyes. “What were you thinking about?” asked Ethan. “I’ve never seen you trip like that.” “Just stuff...” Really, did he expect her to repeat her worries in front of the others? When the lame answer made his eyes narrow, she added, “I’m fine. Totally fine.” She rubbed at her knee. It was only scraped a little bit beneath her sweatpants, and probably bruised. As the men released her, her gaze snagged on Ethan’s and she nearly groaned at what she saw there. Her fall had awakened the ever-annoying Dr. Deveroux. Hoping to chase him away, she turned and resumed her path up the hillside they’d been traveling, making sure she didn’t limp at all. “Let’s keep going.” They were totally lost, but she didn’t care, and she hoped if she pretended like pain wasn’t stabbing through her knee with each step, he’d let his concerns go. The sound of water crashing against the shore filled her ears just as they broke past the dulling barrier of leaves and undergrowth. Ethan’s hands landed on his knees as he bent forward to catch his breath. While her husband looked extremely tired, a cautious anger flickered to life in his gaze. When she realized they could see the sea from here, she understood why. Oops, she’d just traded Dr. Deveroux for Mr. Overprotective. Danielle watched as his gaze touched on the ocean before sliding back to her. “Is this where you’d wanted to paint?” Ethan asked, his tone heavy with suspicion. “No, of course not! I had no idea this was here. I swear!”

After straightening, his fingers curled around her arm. “Well, we’d best be leaving...” A strange, but beautiful sound filled the air. Danielle’s eyes shot to the water as she tried to figure out where it was coming from, but she saw nothing. Before she could ask Ethan about it, a heavy blackness engulfed her senses and rendered her unconscious. Danielle’s fingers curled around a handful of something gritty and loose like salt. “What?” Wondering where she was, she looked down and watched tan granules of sand sift through her fingers. “How the bloody hell did we wind up here on the beach?” bellowed Max. She noticed all four of them were there, all lying on the sand not far from the water’s edge. Ethan was struggling to get to his feet. “We need to get away from here,” he said, casting a look at the water like the tentacles of some sea creature were about to snag them into its deadly grip and drag them in. But just as he’d straightened slightly, his hand lifted to his head and he swayed as beautiful strains of bewitching singing began. Danielle watched in a sort of dazed horror as he moved toward the water in a trance-like state. She found herself doing the same, and Max, and Nadia. The ocean water soon swept over her toes just before sliding back out with the tide, soaking the bottoms of her pant legs. There, a few feet out in the water churned something very much like what she’d seen while on the

churned something very much like what she’d seen while on the fairy boat, but she couldn’t recall exactly what it was. It did seem like last time she’d been frightened of whatever it was. This time, she didn’t feel that way. Wading in until the water was up to their thighs, they paused as heads broke the surface of the water ahead of them, revealing some of the loveliest faces she’d ever seen. Their beautiful mouths were pursed as they sang and she realized vaguely that was where the music was coming from. Wet fingers closed around hers and she looked into eyes of the most brilliant seagreen, like a pair of precious stones set into a gorgeous and perfectly symmetrical face. With a little tug on her hand, Danielle found she was willingly bending closer. She gasped, but didn’t resist when another wet hand locked around the necklace the fairies had given her and yanked. Without comprehending what was going on, Danielle watched as the lovely being peered at the broken necklace in her hand, smirking with something like triumph showing in the way she held it above her head. Shimmering rivulets of water ran down her elegant arm. Sunlight bounced off scales of blue and silver that covered the creature’s torso showing above the waterline. Danielle blinked as the light hit her eyes. As though her head was below water, she could just barely hear the shouts of men disturbing the beautiful song filling her ears. Thankfully, the song didn’t stop, in fact, she was grateful about that because she didn’t want it to ever stop. Brutal hands seized her about the waist and she was hauled away from the magical beings against her will.... Again she lost

away from the magical beings against her will.... Again she lost consciousness, and then as she regained it, her fingers closed around something that didn’t make sense. It felt prickly and cold against her palm and it tangled around her fingers. Grass? It took everything she had to push up onto her elbows. There was a strange ache in her chest, but she had no idea why she would feel that way. After blinking to get her vision to clear, she looked around. The four of them had been lined up on a spot of ground within the trees, as though they’d been carried there. Max was stringing curse words together in a creative and angry rant, probably because he’d lost control, and she knew he really hated to lose control. Nadia was seated next to her, her arms curled around her knees, her chin resting against the wet material of her designer jog pants. She was soaked, as they all were. Ethan touched her arm and asked, “Are you all right?” “I’m fine.” I think. “You?” “Aside from being drenched in—” he paused to smell his wet clothing “—seawater, I’m okay. I suppose.” A few feet away stood all of their guards huddled in a circle as they enthusiastically discussed something that seemed important and urgent to them. “What happened this time?” demanded Max while sitting up. Four angry faces turned in their direction. Richard tunneled a hand in his hair and stalked toward them. “What happened?” he ground out. “That’s what we’d like to know! How did you all wind up wading into the water toward mermaids? They nearly managed to drown all of you!” The prince’s voice rose several

notches in volume as each word was released. His eyebrows were drawn low in wrath as he looked at each of them in turn, waiting for an answer. Danielle believed none of them had an answer for him, mainly because she had no idea how it had happened either. Biting her lip, she could taste the saltwater and knew it had to be true, but she couldn’t remember anything from the experience. But maybe that was why her chest ached, she thought, pressing a palm over her lungs. Had she sucked in water? Pointing at her neck, Casanova said, “Now all of your fairy protection is gone. They took the necklaces.” He swung a look at Ethan and Max. “And your spelled Order rings are gone too.” Ethan and Max stared at their ring-less fingers in confused surprise. Nadia’s eyes met with hers as they both touched their naked necks. “Let’s get them back to camp and see if the fairies can make them new ones,” suggested Cedric. “Does anyone need help walking?” offered Merrick with a scowl on his face. “How did you save us from mermaids if they were singing?” she asked, taking Merrick’s offered hand as he helped her gain her footing. “Wouldn’t you have been entranced too?” “Earplugs,” said Cedric. “Oh,” she said. The guards grilled them as they trekked back through the woods: What were you doing within hearing range of their songs? Did you not take the warnings seriously? Why didn’t you

have one of us with you? Now what are we going to do? Will the fairies kick us out this time? On and on the guards went until Danielle was tempted to just go back to the mermaids and surrender so she didn’t have to hear four men rant any longer. They finally got back to camp and changed into dry clothes. The sun was setting by then and Danielle was relieved to see the fire come to life. She moved toward it and sat down on the fairycrafted chair beside it. “We’ll make replacements for you as soon as we can,” announced Alora. “But it does take some time. They won’t be ready until tomorrow morning, so we’ll need to spell your chamber for the night.” The fairy smiled at her and then turned, her little wings a blur as she moved away. A sense of relief touched her soul at the idea of getting a new necklace to protect her, but it wasn’t quite enough to fully soothe the unease within her mind. Danielle had been worried about another encounter with spiders sent to seek her out, but even more than that, she worried about things worse than spiders coming after her. Terrifying images of Lucas still played in her mind as well, and that was compounded by the fact that Ethan was plagued by the idea of Lucas as a werewolf just as much as her. He hadn’t exactly confessed to that fact, but she could sense it when she looked into his eyes. The fairies had been extremely helpful in protecting them, but not all of their plans had been fail-proof. What if something else got through? She shuddered at the idea even as the heat from the flames licked at her skin, warming her. Knowing how close

flames licked at her skin, warming her. Knowing how close they’d come to death, without knowing how it had actually happened was overwhelming to her. She tried to swallow the fear clogging her airway, but it seemed to be lodged there, and she was finding it hard to breathe evenly. Drawing her legs up, she rested her cheek against her knees and stared at the row of lanterns lighting the path to their bedroom, the light shining from each one growing smaller and dimmer as they got farther away. Danielle heard Ethan’s approach before he reached down and enveloped her in his arms, lifted her from the chair, and settled her onto his lap. Her eyes locked with his as he cradled her face in his hand, studying her expression. Some of the tension slipped from her muscles at his nearness. The firelight danced across the lenses of his glasses, but she could still see his eyes which looked more gray than blue in the subdued lighting. She could see that his soul wasn’t at any more peace than hers at the moment. Danielle didn’t know why she felt so emotional about it, but she just couldn’t seem to help it. Her eyes stung from the stress of it all, and she tried to blame it on the fire. Rubbing at her eyes, she said, “Ugh, the smoke.” His teeth flashed at her with a knowing smile. “You little liar.” It had been a lie, and she felt guilty every time she stretched the truth. “Spill it,” he said, or rather, commanded, his arm tightening around her. Instinctively she tensed, and as he probably sensed that, his tone softened. “Please tell me. I just can’t bear to see you weep, darling. Tell me how to make it right.” She knew Ethan never liked it when she cried, and it wasn’t because he

Ethan never liked it when she cried, and it wasn’t because he couldn’t tolerate tears, it was because of this Victorian need of his to care for her. Her finger traced the contour of his bicep. Yes, she could fight most of her own battles without his aid, but she would never crush his male need to protect either. She liked his old-fashioned and overprotective side. Danielle took a breath and dropped her head against his chest. She could hear his heart thumping away beneath her ear. She could feel his chest expand and deflate with each breath. She could feel the heat from his body soaking through her clothes. He did smell of flowers, but that male muskiness of his still lingered. When his lips pressed gently against the top of her head, she felt cherished, but still not at peace over their situation. And she wasn’t sure if she could confess this to him because she also knew it played into his deepest fear.... That she might actually leave him because he wrongly blamed himself for the danger they were in. Like she could ever leave him ... the idiot.... A finger caught beneath her chin and nudged up. Blue-gray eyes captured hers and held. Deciding she may as well confess before he read her anyway, she whispered, “I just don’t know how much more of this I can take.” Of course she could read him too, and she saw that the deep fear of losing her remained as it poisoned his peace of mind. Ethan swallowed like something was caught in his throat. “What can I do to make it better?” Like he or any of them could do anything to stop the things chasing her. Like the fact that mermaids and pixies wanted her

was his fault. She did not see it that way. Trailing her fingers through his hair, she let the soft strands caress her skin. How could she get him to understand this? It seemed that when the fairies had drugged them, this internal fear had developed, or awakened, in his heart. “I’m tired of running, of being constantly hunted,” she paused, not missing the fact that he gulped as she spoke, “but there isn’t anything you or I can do about it.” A mixture of worry and determination filled his expression. “I’ll figure something out, I swear it.” Apparently kissing her was his first idea for accomplishing that, because his mouth claimed hers and never released her until she was lost in sensation and could only think about the way his lips moved over hers, the way he tasted as his curse-tainted breath filled her, the way he smelled, and the way his hands traveled her body as though he worshiped her.

Chapter 9 Maybe It’s Time to Leave Ethan felt sick to his stomach the day after the mermaid attack; because the tension surrounding their group had escalated with unknown fears ... and regret. How had he let that happen? They’d all come very close to drowning, and he couldn’t remember any of it. If the guards hadn’t found them when they had ... he shook his head, mentally berating himself about it as worry made his mouth go dry. The perils encircling him and Danielle were endangering all of them even more than in the past. They didn’t feel safe here any longer and all of them had pulled their weapons from their luggage. Of course the fairies were probably still capable of protecting them in most cases, it seemed, but that was the problem. It also seemed like there was a lot the fairies couldn’t protect them from, and they had to be prepared, even though much of what they possessed may or may not work against the things hunting them. The fairies hadn’t exactly been pleased about their wielding things of violence on their land, which was why they’d remained concealed in the luggage until now. But they hadn’t offered any sort of fey magic that would help either. Well, except for replacing the enchanted jewelry, but that hadn’t done much to protect them from mermaids, just pixies and werewolves. His eyes touched on the weaponry they carried as all eight of

His eyes touched on the weaponry they carried as all eight of them made their way to the waterfall. Richard’s weapon of choice was his sword. The long blade was secured in a scabbard that was strapped around his hips and bounced against his leg as he walked. Even in the leaf-filtered light, the jewel-encrusted pommel winked at him from shiny rubies. Merrick had tucked his thumb under the wide leather strap that secured his claymore to his back. Max was fiddling with the strips of leather wrapped around the handle of a long knife he kept strapped to his leg. Because of Max’s jacket, Ethan couldn’t see the handgun secured in a shoulder holster, but he knew it was there because he wore one very much like it. Cedric, Casanova and Nadia also carried guns in some sort of holster, and inside her small backpack, Danielle had her nunchakus. Once at the waterfall, Ethan lowered to his knees on the edge. Looking down, he loosened the strap on his holster so he could bend forward to cup water into his hands. He’d opted for simply washing his face over an exposed dip with the newly fortified guard schedule. None of them could be separated from the others. Granted, after yesterday’s blunder he wouldn’t argue it, but he was beginning to wonder if perhaps Danielle was right. They’d never be left alone to just live their life.... After splashing water on his face, he peered at himself in the reflection on the surface. The cool liquid ran down his cheeks and dripped from his chin, but it didn’t do much to make him feel refreshed because he looked like hell. With bruising beneath each eye, and the lines of stress bracketing his mouth, he looked as old as he was feeling at the moment. Living here was wearing

as old as he was feeling at the moment. Living here was wearing him down, and their safety nets were unraveling at an alarming rate. Bracing both hands on the edge of a rock, he wondered how he was supposed to keep his wife safe from things he had no powers to fight against. He suspected this gun would be useless against everything they’d faced so far. Mermaids, bewitched spiders, werewolves, pixies, witches ... what was next? Bloody zombies? “What did you say?” asked Danielle, alarm in her tone as her fingers froze mid-twist while she braided a thin section of tresses from the back of her hair. Only then did he realize he must have been muttering to himself and might have said zombies out loud. “Did you just say zombies?” she asked. Yes, unfortunately, he had. What an idiot he was. He knew full well that she would see something like zombies a hundred times more terrifying than spiders. Ethan sighed. “They don’t exist,” he said, hoping it wasn’t a lie. “Are you sure? Because it really sounded—” she began, her fingers slowly working the three sections together again. He wasn’t exactly sure, but he wasn’t about to own to that. “I was just grumbling to myself about a bit of nonsense, nothing to worry about.” Certainly he had never heard of anything like them in more than a hundred and seventy years, and because of that, he suspected he was right in the matter. They couldn’t possibly exist. He just didn’t know for certain. Making an effort to change the subject, Ethan leaned back on his heels and

looked at her while drying his hands on his pant legs. “What would you like to paint today?” he asked in the most optimistic tone he could find. Big brown eyes just stared at him as though she couldn’t believe he would suggest such a thing at a time like this. “I’m not really in the mood to paint,” she finally said as she wrapped two different finished braids up from her nape to crisscross over the top of her head like a headband. She secured them with bobby pins, leaving the rest of her hair to cascade down her back in natural waves. The way she primped each morning made a smile tug at his mouth. It was rather adorable that she had this feminine need to always look her best, even in times of peril. What a silly girl she was. Deciding he loved her silly, feminine side, and hoping to uplift her mood, even if he wasn’t his chipper self either, Ethan found a grin and aimed it at her. “I know you haven’t done the waterfall from this angle. I think you should.” After turning to face the water as it tumbled from the cliff’s edge, her shoulders slumped and he knew there was something there that just didn’t appeal to her artist’s eye. “I’ve done six paintings of this waterfall, Ethan. I just don’t want to do another.” “Six? Really?” “Yes,” she said, lifting her fingers to tick them off. “I did it from over there,” she pointed, “in watercolors. Then I did it from the other side in acrylic paint on canvas. Then—” “All right,” he said, interrupting. “You’re done with the

“All right,” he said, interrupting. “You’re done with the waterfall. What about the trees?” “Did it.” “And the fairies as they dance around the fire?” “Done.” “And the things the fairies make, the furnishings, the—?” An odd buzzing noise interrupted him this time and drew his gaze into the woods behind Danielle. His hands went out to push off from the rocks so he could stand up. As his spine straightened, his fingers brushed beneath his shirt to the hilt of the gun there. Something was coming, something that sounded like a swarm of bees. Ethan swore under his breath as this short moment of peace and quiet was shattered with something new. “What is it?” asked Danielle as she stood as well and slung the backpack around her shoulders. All she had to do was reach into the top and she would have her nunchakus. “What should we do?” Nadia asked in a panic, her pistol held in a trembling hand. “I’ll kill whatever it is,” growled Max with a weapon in each hand—a gun in one, a wicked-looking knife in the other. Violence radiated off of Max, but it softened just a little when the knight noticed Nadia’s wobbling gun. Maintaining his angry expression, a flicker of tenderness lit his eyes as he reached over and carefully steadied the shaking in his wife’s fingers. “Keep it steady, my sweet,” he murmured. Wide green eyes touched on Max’s as Nadia visibly forced herself to take a breath that calmed her enough to at least slow the trembling.

the trembling. Redirecting his focus to the danger at hand, the guards herded them together and surrounded them with their weaponry drawn as well. He noticed that Max likely felt the same sense of humiliation at being treated like he was weaker than the vampires guarding them. Unfortunately it was probably true. Within moments, hundreds of fairies exploded from around the trees and low-growing plants in a burst of color. “Run!” Ethan thought they shouted, but he wasn’t sure because of all of the buzzing sounds jumbled with the command shouted from a small voice. Slightly stunned, and more than a little baffled, Ethan gawked as the fey beings swung around and took up a protective barrier in front of them as though all of the men, vampire or not, were not capable of fighting whatever it was that pursued them. The idea was disheartening. His palm cupped Danielle’s face when he bent to kiss her swiftly. Their eyes met, and his shoulders slumped at the fear holding any possible smile she might have for him captive. “I love you,” he said because he just had to. Somehow his soul knew this battle would have a different outcome than all the others. “I love you too,” she replied, breathless at what he suspected was the same sinking feeling that had just seized him. The louder buzzing sound drew his eyes back to the trees. Ethan didn’t know exactly what he’d expected to see burst into the clearing after the fairies, but thousands of pixies hadn’t been it. The fairies had easily chased them off before, so how had they

turned into such a threat? Taking aim, he hoped to pick off a few pixies like a game of skeet practice, but the fairies had engaged them and he feared he might hit one of them by mistake. Reengaging the safety, he slid the gun back into its holster. He knew it would be useless, just as he’d feared. Again the fairies commanded that they run, and this time the command was unmistakable. As a battle began with showers of pixie and fairy dust colliding in the air like glittering sparks, Ethan decided perhaps that was the best thing to do. “Seriously?” asked Merrick as they all made a frantic path of escape through the trees and tangled grasses growing from the forest floor. “Pixies again? I’m beginning to feel like I’m in some demented Disney film. Vampires should not be dealing with dishonest fairies, sad*stic pixies, and vicious mermaids!” “Much less running from them,” added Cedric. If Ethan hadn’t felt so much concern that the fairies could no longer fend off the pixies for some unknown reason, he might have laughed at that. As it was, he grabbed Danielle’s hand into his and tried not to trip as they moved as fast as they could from the fray of battling magical creatures. The pixies were in pursuit. He only knew because the scent of rotten apples had assaulted his nose. He spared a backward glance and swallowed as his focus returned to the way in front of him. Zigzagging around the trees were hundreds of colorful streaks of movement. The dull, bluish ones he knew to be pixies. It was obvious that the fairies were still struggling to stop them, and it was quite clear the pixies were relentless this time. His

and it was quite clear the pixies were relentless this time. His breath sawed in and out of his lungs as they ran, and his legs began to burn. Mentally he vowed to run harder in their workouts to better condition himself for things like this—which were, unfortunately, becoming a common occurrence. “Should we head for the campsite?” he asked. Ethan didn’t know if that was the best place to go, but he couldn’t think of anywhere else they might be able to hide from these things. “The spelled bedchambers?” asked Casanova. Ethan responded with, “Can you think of a better place?” frowning at how he was starting to sound winded already. “No,” replied the French vampire as he ran alongside him at a slightly faster pace due to his longer stride. “I concur,” said the prince. “We must get within those magical barriers.” Nadia squealed and began swatting at pixies catching at her long black hair. One buzzed past Ethan’s ear and then he felt tugging at the fabric of his clothes. The pixies had caught up with them. Ethan tried to smack them away before they lifted him off the ground like they had last time. “Bloody hell!” bellowed Merrick. “I’ve been dusted!” Ethan looked and saw that the back of Merrick’s head and the side of his cheek were covered in a glittering substance. Ethan figured it was pixie dust, but the highland warrior kept running. As he also kept moving, Ethan wondered if the magical substance would affect Merrick later, and in a bad way. Ethan had sent many of the little blue beasts flying by smacking at them with the back of his hand, but they still

smacking at them with the back of his hand, but they still surrounded him in increasing numbers, and he was forced to stop running to fight them off. Drawing his sword, Richard hacked at pixies, slicing through several of them with one slash of the blade. This seemed to make them angrier and a good portion of their attack shifted and focused on the prince. The little blue beasts managed to wrench the weapon from his grip and then they latched onto his clothes. Fairies were unable to stop Richard from being the first to leave the ground. With the fairies outnumbered and the pixies using what seemed like a new kind of magic, Ethan realized they might lose this battle. Swinging around, Ethan let go of Danielle’s hand to try and fight the things off. He searched the ground for some kind of weapon besides the gun. Again, a stick seemed like the best choice and he bent to pick up the longest one he could see. Apparently Danielle had the same idea, but she’d found a longer and straighter stick. When she spun it above her head, he realized why she’d chosen it. She was using it like a bo staff, which was another weapon he’d seen her use. It worked better for her than it did for him. Ethan grunted with each swing, trying to put as much power as he could into it as he tried to repel the pixies, and he did manage to hit three to four at a time. But his girly little wife managed to send several more of the meanspirited beasts flying into trees, probably killing them. Unfortunately, too many of the wretched things were getting past his swinging stick and latching onto his clothes. His shirt dug

into his armpits as he was lifted up into the air. Danielle and Nadia were left to fight alone, he realized, when he noticed that the other men were being lifted like he was. He recognized Alora when she tried to free him. She sent a blast of her fairy dust at the ones attached to his sleeves. Only then did he see that the pixies had some sort of magical shield protecting them from the fairy’s magic because the dust just bounced off before it even touched the pixie. With his attention returning to his wife, he watched as she spun the stick like a weapon, sending pixies flying in all directions, but her gaze lifted and locked with his as he was pulled farther away from her. Worry filled her expression and she took a step toward him, but was forced to stop when a swarm of pixies circled her. “Ethan!” she called. “Keep fighting,” he called back, not sure if she could hear him or not. Feeling utterly helpless, he watched as a blast of pixie dust struck Danielle’s stick and snapped it in half. She discarded what was left and reached over her shoulder for the nunchakus. With one in each hand, she spun both at the same time so fast they were a blur of movement. After seeing the stick break like that, Ethan was worried about Merrick who’d taken a hit of the stuff in the head. Spotting him just a bit up the hill, the Highland warrior seemed okay, although he was wandering around a bit like he was addled or something. Ethan figured it depended on the spell they cast when they struck someone or something with

their dust. They must have hit Merrick with some sort of spell to make him useless to the fight. Glancing down, a wave of unease struck him in the chest. Normally he wasn’t afraid of heights, but he felt like he could fall at any moment and he had nothing to hold onto. If he did manage to get loose, he’d be seriously injured, so he quit struggling and hoped the fairies could help stop his fall if the pixies had it in their plans to drop him. Higher and higher they took him until he looked down at the tops of the trees. Trying to see their expressions when they stopped their upward momentum, a sense of foreboding made his heart pause and his lungs seize within his chest. They were going to drop him, they had to be.... “Oh, shi—oomph!” he grunted when he fell and hit the small branches at the top of a tree. They snapped under his weight. Desperate to stop his fall, Ethan reached out and tried to grab anything he could. One twig broke and dragged against his cheek, breaking the skin as it shoved off his glasses. Another twig, a bigger one, broke and jammed into his thigh. The one he’d grabbed onto also snapped and he had to try for something else. Feeling bark drag across his fingers and the palms of his hands, he knew he’d finally gotten a decent hold of the trunk. Once severed leaves stopped drifting past him, and he knew he wouldn’t slide any farther, he attempted to see what had happened to the others. Counting, he saw that Max and the vampires were stuck in the tops of trees just like he was. Except for Merrick, who was still wandering aimlessly below.

still wandering aimlessly below. Several feet down and to the north, he could just make out the movement of Danielle’s nunchakus. Squinting he thought he could see Nadia crouched down behind Danielle with arms thrown up over her face. Having lost his glasses in the fall, he couldn’t see very clearly, but it appeared as though his seemingly fragile wife was doing a brilliant job of protecting her friend. Bless her heart. He had to say he was quite impressed. Danielle was the most successful in the fight, besides Richard who’d sliced through many pixies with his sword before they’d gotten it away from him and lifted him into the tree. With a prayer in his heart for her victory, he continued to watch her when a sudden shot of pixie dust stuck Danielle’s fingers and the fast-moving nunchakus were knocked from her grip. Obviously thinking quickly, she turned, grabbed a handful of Nadia’s top and urged her to run with her. Ethan noticed when she looked back over her shoulder, probably trying to see where he was, but he also knew she’d never see him up in the tree like this. He tried to call out to her, but it wasn’t likely she’d be able to hear him this time either. The two women ran, pumping their arms, but it wasn’t enough. He knew the pixies had captured them when Nadia screamed for Max with a sense of fear and desperation soaking the name. Danielle shouted his name as well, but instead of desperation, he heard a mixture of fear and frustration in her cry. The pixies lifted them high above the trees as well. And just as he had done, Danielle and Nadia quit struggling when the pixies had them so high they would die from the fall. Unable to do anything

them so high they would die from the fall. Unable to do anything about it, Ethan watched as his wife and his friend drifted out of sight. Several fairies took chase and he hoped they could do something for the girls, but he was beginning to lose faith in that. Ethan drew air deep into his lungs, and then let it out slowly as he dropped his forehead against the tree. He suspected he’d cracked or bruised a rib because it hurt to take that breath, but he didn’t particularly care about that at the moment. Gone. His wife was gone ... kidnapped by a horde of horrible pixies. Damn them! His nails dug into the bark as all of his concerns resurfaced. Too many things hunted her.... “Ethan?” a small voice said. He lifted his head and peered into Alora’s slightly blurry face. “Could you stop them?” he asked. Did you save Danielle? Shaking her head, Alora bobbed in the air, her little wings fluttering a mile a minute. “They’re gone. I’m sorry.” Ethan meant to ask what had happened, and how the pixies had been able to repel their magic, but he felt his fingers slip and decided that getting down should be his top priority. “Can you help me down?” he managed to grunt out with his feet searching for new footing and his hands groping for a sturdier branch. Alora’s gaze followed the line of the trunk to the forest floor. “We can do many things with our magic, but we can’t make you fly, I’m afraid.” “Brilliant,” he said hoping she could hear the sarcasm there. “We can conjure flowers to break your fall if you happen to

slip,” Alora said cheerily as he began to slowly make his way down. “That’s something, I suppose,” he said, gripping a branch as he wedged his foot into the crook of the next. Slowly, and with a lot more scrapes and bruises, Ethan worked his way from branch to branch. A stab of pain shot across his torso with his movement. He had injured something, he just didn’t know what. The other men did the same, except they let loose a lot more swear words than he did. Vampires just weren’t accustomed to being in such precarious positions with their inherited talents, even during the day. But with the curse tamed by fairy magic as it was, the guards didn’t have their usual advantages to aid them. When he got to the last branch, he realized the drop would be a little too far for him to land safely. At least that’s how it seemed. Without his glasses he couldn’t say for certain. He looked around but couldn’t see where Alora had gone so she could do something to soften his fall. Deciding to try it alone, Ethan adjusted, slid to his stomach and then hung from his hands trying to shorten the distance. He still wound up flat on his back with a grunt. Gaining his footing and brushing himself off, he tried for a moment to find his glasses. When he didn’t find them, he gave up and moved stiffly to where the other men were. “How did you all wind up in the trees?” Merrick asked. Richard thumped the Highland warrior on the back. “I see you’re coming out of it.” “Coming out of what?” Merrick asked, his eyes narrowing

“Coming out of what?” Merrick asked, his eyes narrowing as his eyebrows lowered. “You’ve got something right about—” Casanova motioned to his own cheek near his ear. Merrick swiped two fingers down the side of his face and looked at them. His eyes widened momentarily and then his lip curled. “Oh, hell! I sparkle!” Looking mortified, Merrick snatched up a fistful of his t-shirt and tried to scrub the glittering substance off. He only succeeded in smearing it. “Why didn’t they do that to all of us? Wouldn’t it have made it easier on them if they had?” Ethan asked thinking about the pixies Richard had sliced in half. Alora looked at Merrick and then back at him with a glimmer of amusem*nt dancing in her eyes. “Did you wish to sparkle too?” she asked with a dainty little snicker. Ah, that’s why she’d found his comment funny. “No,” he said, slightly annoyed, “Why didn’t they make us all addled and useless like Merrick?” The Highlander scowled at his words. “Thanks, man.” “I didn’t mean it like that. I meant it would have been easier for them if they’d spelled us so we couldn’t fight them.” “They tried to do that, actually,” said the male fairy in green. Ethan had learned he was called Elrick and it seemed like he was one of their leaders. Elrick continued, “But we stopped them by shielding you from their magic. That’s why they dumped you in the trees instead.” Supposing that made sense, Ethan cast his gaze heavenward wishing to see Danielle and Nadia returned by some miracle. He

wishing to see Danielle and Nadia returned by some miracle. He saw nothing more than a bird or two traveling across the bits of open sky he could see past the treetops. “What are we going to do now?” His gaze returned to Elrick’s as he searched for an answer. “We sent some of our scouts to track them so we know where they’ve taken them, but once we enter their territory, we’ll be hindered even more than we were today.” “What happened, exactly?” Ethan asked, because he really wanted to know how the pixies had gotten away with this. The fairy sighed and ran a hand over the leaves embellishing his tunic. “When your rings and necklaces were lost, we’re certain they were able to see that you were here. And your replacements aren’t finished...” And because of that, they were left vulnerable and exposed. For a moment he thought about asking what the pixies had planned for them, but then he recalled that they’d already discussed the fact that the pixies might want to eat them. A sense of desperation seized his heart and his gaze swung to Max. “We’ll get them back,” vowed the knight before he could say anything. “Do you have a plan?” Ethan asked, hopeful that his friend could and would come up with something. Max looked at the guards and said, “We need the curse back for this.” “Unfortunately, we can’t help you with that,” answered Richard.

“Why not?” Max asked. “Because of this fairy food we’ve been eating ... we can’t turn you,” said Casanova. “Not even at night?” “Not even then,” Richard said. Apparent frustration fisted Max’s hands. “We’ll leave this place and when it wears off—” “It’s hard to say when that will happen,” said Elrick. The knight’s eyes narrowed on the fairy. “What do you mean?” Elrick shrugged his shoulders as he hovered at eye-level to Max. “It could take a day or two, or it could take weeks. We’ve never had the need to do this before, so we don’t know how long it will take for the fairy food to leave their systems.” Max swore and threw a fist into a nearby tree, then swore again when he hurt himself with the action. If the pixies had them, they didn’t have a couple of days. They had to get to them now. Shaking his hand, Max paced back and forth, then stopped abruptly and turned to Elrick, snapping his fingers. “Ah! Teach us a few spells, tell us where they live and we’ll get our women back on our own.” When Elrick’s jaw dropped a fraction before the fairy reschooled his expression, Ethan knew what the fairy would say before he did. “We can’t do that.” “Why ... not?” Max asked, his knuckles going white, and Ethan realized Max had edited out his curse. They couldn’t afford to offend the fairies if they needed their help. Max was

afford to offend the fairies if they needed their help. Max was smart enough to know this. “Please, we need your help. You said they might want to eat them,” Ethan said, urgency tangling his insides into a mess of panic. What if he’d already gotten her pregnant again? Mentally, he berated himself for foolishly thinking they were safe with the fairies, and could try for a somewhat normal life. “Will you take us to where they have them?” asked Max moving up to stand by Ethan’s side. Alora nodded. “We’ll take you, but we’ll be at a disadvantage on their land.” “You’ll have to do this on your own,” added Elrick. Ethan swallowed. They’d all just been dumped in the trees by pixies, so how were they going to rescue them as mortals with no magic to aid them? Max snapped his fingers again, his mind obviously working out different ways to get their wives back. “Cedric, call Order Headquarters and get some vampires to meet us there. We’ll do this at night when the curse is the strongest.” Ethan agreed with his friend. Thus far they had only dealt with pixies during the day, but cursed beings at night might just be the leverage they needed. A wicked smile touched his mouth as he imagined vampires feeding on pixies. Yes, he wished he could be one of them, but there wasn’t time for them to complete the change and get to their wives quickly. For now being a witness would have to do.

Chapter 10 What Could Be Worse Than Pixies? Danielle tried to swallow the panic sucking all of the moisture from her mouth, and licked her lips. It didn’t help. A shuddering breath left her as she pinched her eyes shut. She just couldn’t keep looking at the wide and deep ocean below them as the pixies took her and Nadia to wherever it was they were taking them. Her fingers dug into her sleeves with white-knuckled grips. She really wanted to cling to something so she didn’t feel like she was about to fall at any second, but there was nothing but herself she could hold onto. Her eyes tightened, as did her fingers. At least she was wearing the hoodie. It was sturdier than her shirt, and she wasn’t terrified the fabric of her clothes would give out. The pungent and cloying scent of rotten apples tainted each breath she took, and the sounds of pixies chattering to each other in their creepy language that sounded like insects clicking and chirping grated on her already frayed nerves. Desperately she wanted to struggle and get away from these things, but she held still because the water below contained things that terrified her even more. Wondering how Nadia was dealing with all of this, she cracked one eye open and peered sideways at her friend, making sure she didn’t look down again. The horrible little things held Nadia practically face down because they’d latched onto the back of her clothes, and ran the length of her pants. In a way,

the back of her clothes, and ran the length of her pants. In a way, it was probably more comfortable than how she was being held by only her top, with her legs dangling. The seams were digging painfully into her sides and armpits. But Nadia had her hands over her face. Danielle figured it was so she wouldn’t have to stare at the blue surface below them either. “Nadia, are you okay?” she croaked out. Her friend nodded but didn’t uncover her face. Long strands of shiny black hair fell down around her face and rippled in the breeze like a silken flag. On a muffled sigh, Nadia said, “I’m all right. You?” “I’m not okay, to be honest.” Those words earned a look from Nadia from between a pair of parted fingers. “Are you hurt?” “It’s not that, it’s—” Suddenly their elevation dropped. Both of them screamed, and instinctively, Danielle’s hands went out to catch herself, then swung back in to her hoodie because that’s all she had available. The only comfort she had was that she could tell the pixies still held fistfuls of her clothes. Looking over her shoulder she could see land finally. While she was relieved by that, she also feared what the pixies’ intentions for them were. Danielle gulped as her imagination ran away with her. Graphic images of their sharp little teeth rose up in her mind. She shared a fear-infused look with Nadia, but neither of them said anything more. Nadia’s normally red lips were bleached of color, as was her face, and Danielle worried her friend might be feeling motion sickness. Releasing one sleeve, Danielle touched her own stomach as it complained. This wasn’t

Danielle touched her own stomach as it complained. This wasn’t helping her much either and she was glad she hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, or else she might have lost it over the ocean. Suspecting they were in England, because this trip seemed as long as the boat ride with the fairies, Danielle jumped when tree branches brushed against her as the pixies dropped again. A stab of pain shot through her arm when one of them caught the sleeve of her hoodie and tore through the soft material. They were going down fast, and it seemed the pixies didn’t care much about their safety when more branches struck her, knocking air from her lungs as they battered her body. She felt confused when her vision was suddenly filled with thin white strands of intersecting thread. Before she could figure out what it was, her feet hit something solid and she fell backward, her back slamming against the hard ground. “Oomph!” Nadia made a similar grunting sound when she landed flat on her stomach and her chin smacked against the dirt. Trying to gather her wits, Danielle stared up at the canopy of trees as the strands of thread grew and practically knitted themselves closed. A scream clawed its way out when she realized what it was. Spider webs, woven by what looked like hundreds of spiders were closing in around them. The pixies were more connected with the things than she’d realized, because the spiders were building a cage for the pixies to keep them in. Scuttling backward on her hands and feet, Danielle moved to

the center to get as far away as possible from them as she could. Her back came up against Nadia’s. “The pixies sent the spiders?” Nadia gasped, voicing the most logical assumption. “I guess so.” With her fingers curling around Nadia’s for any comfort she could grasp, she looked over her shoulder at her friend. Dirty scrapes ran along Nadia’s chin, a bit of blood oozed from each one. “Are you okay?” Danielle asked. Nadia licked her pale and cracked lips, lifted a palm to the injury on her chin and pressed. When she pulled it way dots of crimson mingled with bits of debris. “Just a bit scraped up and bruised, but I think I’m all right.” Twisting, Nadia touched Danielle’s torn sleeve. “What about you?” “Definitely bruised too.” Looking into Nadia’s eyes, Danielle noticed streaks of blue in the reflection and she knew the pixies were flying around their cage. Swallowing, she watched as they flew, pulling all kinds of hideous faces. “What do you think they want with us?” Nadia asked. “The fairies seemed to think they wanted to eat me under the assumption that I have vampire blood in my system because I’d bitten one.” A quiet that was so still it intensified her nervousness settled around them at the gruesome idea. “I’m sorry I got you into this,” Danielle said, feeling guilt slam into her. “I’ll bet you wish you’d stayed a vampire.”

wish you’d stayed a vampire.” After sighing and re-linking their fingers, Nadia admitted, “There are times when things like being able to eat food aren’t quite worth the trouble.” “I’m sorry, Nadia, you should really stay away from me.” “Don’t be an idiot!” snapped Nadia. “I don’t blame you for any of this. We’ve always known pixies like to snatch females. They would have taken me given the chance. It’s not just because of you.” “But they’ve been hunting me—” “I chose this, Danielle, just like Ethan and Max did.” Nadia fell silent after that for several beats, but Danielle was still surprised when she felt Nadia’s shoulders bumping against hers with her weeping. “We have to trust that they’ll find us. I know Max will be devastated if his child is lost. And Ethan, I can’t imagine what he’s going through right now fearing he’s lost his second.” Everything inside her froze at that. “You’re pregnant?” “Just like you.” Nadia sniffed. “But—” Honestly, Danielle was stunned by this news ... however, as she thought about it, she knew what she hadn’t yet known. “How could you tell?” she asked. Did everyone know what she didn’t? Did the guards know? “You’ve been a little more emotional lately. Like me. Like right now.” Danielle felt Nadia swipe at the tears on her face. With her nostrils flaring, Danielle felt the sting of tears in her eyes too. It was true, and this explained it. This explained her cravings for chocolate, her emotional overreaction at the fire last

cravings for chocolate, her emotional overreaction at the fire last night, and.... “But Ethan doesn’t know.” “I’ll bet he suspects.” “You’re right. They must be flipping out right now.” Another silence held them as they watched the pixies dance around their cage, mocking them in their horrible language. It certainly sounded like taunts to her, even though she couldn’t understand them. With her gaze traveling over the design of their cage, she decided that despite hating spiders, it was beautiful. Danielle didn’t know spiders were capable of weaving their webs into such ornate and artistic designs. The strands intersected and curled like the wires of a fancy birdcage. “They’ll turn back,” Nadia said with a hint of sadness in her voice, and Danielle knew she was right. There was no way they would be able to resist the temptation of once again being powerful vampires with the goal of destroying these pixies for taking their wives. They’d commit to that change tonight. Her lashes lifted as she considered where the sun was at. It sat low in the west and would be nightfall very soon. It took all night for the turning process to complete, so it wasn’t likely they’d be able to get to them tonight. Again, she took in their surroundings and wondered if pixies were nocturnal or daytime creatures. Would tomorrow be too late? The pixies began to make a noise that sounded like singing and Danielle worried it might be some kind of ritual they performed before they killed them. But it wasn’t long before the

pixies left them alone. Leaning forward she peered past the gaps in the webbing and tried to see where they’d gone. She couldn’t see anything. Relieved by the moment of peace, she started to think of ways they might be able to escape. They had to try something in case the men couldn’t get to them in time. “These are just webs, right?” Danielle forced herself to ask the question as she watched spiders creep around the surface of the woven cage. “I think so,” replied Nadia. “Do you think we could break past it?” Moving onto her hands and knees, Nadia said, “It’s worth a try.” Danielle watched as Nadia reached forward and tried to push her hand through. The web resisted her touch, the whole thing wobbling with it. The spiders started moving to where she touched the web and Nadia tried to yank her hand back, but apparently the web was sticky and she couldn’t do it. Becoming frantic in her movements, Nadia jerked and yanked trying to get free. Desperate to help, Danielle pulled off her belt and tried to get her friend free by sawing at the webs with the buckle part. It worked, but Nadia was left with sticky webs all over her hand, of which she tried to rub off onto the dirt as they both scooted back. The spiders simply filled in the hole left behind. Looking down at her belt buckle, Danielle muttered with a sense of frustration. “If only we had a knife with us.” Hours passed until they both fell asleep huddled together for warmth against the cool dirt, both of them suffering from

warmth against the cool dirt, both of them suffering from emotional exhaustion and hunger. Danielle’s dream started out like all of the others. She found herself with Ethan in that whitewashed world from their pre-earth life together. Not only did she now understand the recognition they’d shared when they first met, but she also understood that her spirit had existed before she was born into this life. Desperately she’d wanted to cling to dream-Ethan, to be with him again, because, even though the dream felt real, she also knew she wasn’t with him in reality at the moment. The coldness from the ground was seeping into her dream. While these dreams had been enlightening at first, now it was simply frustrating to be with him in a way she knew wasn’t real anymore, was just the ghost of a memory. But as the dream progressed, she began to hear a soft mumbling, like the volume on the television was being turned up. It wasn’t long before she could hear what Ethan was saying, and her responses to it. “It isn’t fair. Why does it have to be this way?” she heard herself ask. Danielle didn’t know why she was asking that question. Luminescent blue eyes looked down into hers. Every shard of color was brilliantly visible in his irises—the blue as bright as the sky, the blue as dark as deep waters, the gray, the green, his love for her. A sweep of sandy hair hung over his forehead, each strand catching the light and bouncing it back at her like strands of spun gold. “I’ve been told we’ll be brought together anyway,” he said with hope in his tone,

be brought together anyway,” he said with hope in his tone, and hope in his expression. “But how? I just don’t see how it’s possible for us to be together in life if we’re born so far apart.” By her own words, and without a memory of speaking them, realization of what they were talking about struck her. They knew they’d be born in different eras? The time that she’d been crying made perfect sense now. “Trust me,” he said. It was one thing he’d said to her many times since they’d met. Apparently that wasn’t new either. Her eyes flew open when the dream faded to black. Immediately she knew where she was. Trapped by the pixies. Despite that distressing knowledge, she lay there for a moment listening to her heart thud within her chest, and her almost erratic breathing become more regular. Pale moonlight filtered down from above, lighting the world in shades of bluish-gray as she wondered if he’d shared this dream with her. If he had all of the others, then of course he’d shared this one, she reasoned. He must have done something to turn up the volume like they’d discussed. Whatever it was, she mentally thanked him for it, because, in a way, she now felt closer to him than ever before. It was still very quiet here, and it seemed the pixies had not returned. Turning her face, her chin bumped against the top of Nadia’s head. Apparently her friend was using her shoulder for a pillow. Carefully sliding out from under Nadia, Danielle

supported her head until she was resting on the ground beside her. While Nadia appeared to be sleeping peacefully, her eyes danced back and forth behind her eyelids, and Danielle believed her dreams were tormented with distressing things. A small rustling sound drew her attention to movement outside the cage of webs. Leaves on the forest floor were being moved by something, but she couldn’t see what. Without touching the walls, she moved closer trying to see. Whatever it was, it was very dark in color and any hopes that it could be fairies coming to free them slipped away, because fairies glowed. As the things neared, she realized several small ... creatures, the size of insects, crept through the leaves and grass toward her. Breath lodged in her throat when she saw long, thin legs carrying round bodies above the ground. Spiders. More of them than they’d seen on the fairies’ land crept her way. Rocking back onto her heels, her hand swung out and landed on Nadia’s arm. With fingers clasping onto Nadia’s sleeve, she gave Nadia a firm shake. “Nadia, wake up. We have a problem.” “Mmm, what is it?” Nadia asked, rubbing at her eyes. “Spiders, look! Tons of them!” Surging up to a seated position, Nadia looked out where she was pointing. She gasped. “What are we going to do?” “I don’t know,” Danielle replied slowly. In shocked horror, they watched as spiders crawled up the walls to the top of the cage where they killed the spiders that had created it and then began eating away at the webs. What? Within moments, the cage was gone and the spiders divided, creating a

path for them. “Are they helping to set us free?” Nadia asked, the stunned note of her words unmistakable. “I—I don’t get it.” When the spiders stayed out of the way, Danielle decided it was worth a try and, after taking Nadia’s hand into hers, they moved cautiously forward. Her eyes darted to every dark shadow with the fear of something springing out at them. If only she still had her nunchakus she’d feel a bit safer. As it was, the dark shapes surrounding them could be anything, or anyone. Her imagination brought them to life and she was motivated to move faster. They broke into a run. Sparing a look backward, she wondered where the pixies were and how long it would take for them to realize they’d escaped. Apparently not long. When they got perhaps fifty feet, that buzzing sound they’d first heard near the waterfall came from behind them. In a swarm formation, the pixies took pursuit and were gaining fast. They’d simply be captured again, because there was no way they could outrun those things. Trying anyway, they increased their speed. Suddenly an explosion of light hit them. Surprised as she was, Danielle dug her heels in and came to an abrupt halt. The sudden stop made her lose her balance and she fell backward. Nadia fell with her. Scrambling up to her elbows, she froze when a new sound drew her attention. Footfalls. Watching in curious wonder, or horror, she hadn’t decided which one fit the situation yet, she watched six figures materialize from a glowing mist drifting along the forest floor. The mist hadn’t been there before, and it

the forest floor. The mist hadn’t been there before, and it appeared as though these people had been the ones to create the light and the mist. Peering down at them like they thought it was funny they’d fallen stood six beautiful women, all of them clad in snug-fitting black leather and spandex. Witches. Danielle’s breath hitched, because witches were the most beautiful women she’d ever seen in her life. The beauty of vampires and mermaids couldn’t surpass, or even compare to their flawless skin, their full red lips and their perfectly symmetrical features. Had she really thought the mermaids were pretty? In comparison to witches, they were rather plain. The witches’ attentions shifted from her and Nadia to the pixies. Frowning, each one of them jammed their hands into a leather pouch hung from their hips and withdrew a handful of something that slipped out from the cup of their palms like salt. In an arcing motion they tossed whatever it was at the pixies. Closing her eyes, she dropped her chin so it wouldn’t get in her eyes when it struck the pixies just above her. Immediately the pixies hissed and screeched in pain and she thought that perhaps this was more than just ordinary salt. Salt had repelled them before, but it hadn’t ever made them shriek out as though it burned them. When she stopped feeling the shower of salt hitting her, she looked up and watched as the pixies fled. Trying to decide if she should be grateful or not, Danielle’s gaze swung back to the witches, and she noticed something else. They wore bows and arrows strapped to their backs. She hadn’t expected that at all. Ethan had only told her they liked to dress in

expected that at all. Ethan had only told her they liked to dress in black, and that she should avoid them. That appeared to be true. But at first sight, witches seemed too pretty to be dangerous. The fact that they were armed proved that that probably wasn’t true. “They sent the spiders to find you, not the pixies,” said Nadia. Danielle felt Nadia tense when she noticed the spiders going to their masters like loyal dogs. She decided perhaps it wasn’t time to be grateful yet. They’d been wrong, and apparently both pixies and witches had used spiders to hunt and capture her. Shoving to her feet, Danielle stared into a pair of brilliant blue eyes. “Let Nadia go. All you want is me.” “Danielle!” complained Nadia. Turning to her friend she gritted out, “Run!” “I can’t leave you—” Nadia tried to whisper so the witches wouldn’t hear. “It’s true, she can’t leave you,” said one of the witches, proving they’d heard her anyway. Swinging her eyes to the witch who’d spoken, she gaped at the gorgeous brunette. “What do you mean?” “She’ll be coming too. We want both of you,” the brunette said, tucking her thumb into the edge of her belt in a casual manner. “Why?” Danielle asked, anger surging up from the depths of her soul. “What do you want with us?” “The pixies meant to keep you imprisoned until you too

turned into pixies. We can’t have them turning you into pixies, can we, ladies?” The others laughed, their lovely smiles brighter than sunshine. Grinding her teeth on the frustration within her, she said, “I didn’t ask what they had planned for us. I asked what you did.” A wicked smirk twisted the brunette’s pretty mouth, but she didn’t answer the question as she motioned for the other witches to come forward. Hips swinging with each lithe step, they encircled Danielle and Nadia as they linked hands and began chanting words in a language she couldn’t understand. The words sounded gothic and old to her, and she couldn’t pinpoint the origin or accent. Just as Danielle thought about trying her karate on them, blinding light forced her to shield her eyes. When she blinked them open again, still seeing blotches in her vision as though she’d looked directly at the sun, she realized they stood in a different place than the woods they’d just been in. Somehow the witches had transported them away from the pixies and their forest to a garden behind a historical-looking mansion. Again, she didn’t think this was an improvement to their situation. Reaching forward, she latched onto one of the witch’s wrists in an attempt to sweep her. Nadia followed her lead, just as Danielle had trained her, but they were both struck with a blast of air when the witches shouted, “Ököl a szél!” She and Nadia were thrown about ten feet, landing hard on their backs and skidding along the well-manicured lawn. The witches didn’t give her a chance to catch her breath

The witches didn’t give her a chance to catch her breath before they were lifted from the ground and backed up against a great tree that stood in the middle of the grounds. Her head touched the bark of the tree as she looked upward. This tree was thick-trunked and tangled with ancient-looking knots. Embellished with twinkling lights, it glowed like a tree decorated for Christmas. Silver stars, which danced in a breeze and glimmered as though they had a layer of glitter glued to the surface, hung from many of the larger branches. If she hadn’t believed the witch’s intentions were ugly in nature, she might have thought this place was beautiful. Returning her attention to their captors, she watched as the witches giggled and sang with the voices of angels as they bound them to the tree with ropes. The one with flowing blonde hair chanted a series of words as she conjured a fire before joining her sisters in the song and dance around the tree. This was most likely a ritual of some kind, and this was bad.... Their dance made her think of eastern European dances she’d seen performed at folk festivals. It would have looked more appropriate had they been wearing full skirts with embroidered aprons and white peasant blouses, instead of all black leather and spandex. After skipping around and around the tree until she felt dizzy from watching them, Danielle closed her eyes, her head resting against the bumpy bark behind her. The witches stopped chanting, and the sudden silence startled her. Her eyelids sprang open. Danielle’s gaze fixed on the medieval-like cups the women held. Each one was made of silver and studded with bright rubies

held. Each one was made of silver and studded with bright rubies and emeralds. They were probably something passed down by generation after generation of witches from medieval times, and they were probably used to hold some sort of potion or poison they meant to feed her and Nadia. “Any ideas, Danielle?” asked Nadia from her right. Catching Nadia’s green eyes with hers she yanked at the very tight ropes and shook her head. “Wish I had something, but I don’t.” Cool fingers latched onto her chin and forced her eyes way from Nadia’s. A breathtakingly beautiful redhead flashed white teeth at her in a smile that promised a painful death if she did not comply. “You poor thing, you must be so very thirsty,” whispered the witch as she pressed the rim of the cup to her lips. The metal wasn’t as cold to the touch as the witch’s fingers were and she realized the drink was heated. As the scent of butterscotch and cream filled her nose, her stomach grumbled for a taste and her mouth watered. “I’d rather not, thanks though.” She tried for politeness, but the hint of sarcasm could still be heard. It smelled so good she knew she’d likely fail in resisting. “Drink, darling.” The witch’s head tipped to the side, her pretty blue eyes twinkling with menace. A cascade of red hair dripped down past her shoulder. “Or I’ll force you to.” “What will it do to me?” she asked, doubting she’d really get an answer. “It won’t kill you, or cause pain...” the witch’s words trailed

off as though there was more that she was unwilling to share. The cup was pressed more firmly to her bottom lip, to the point it pinched her skin against her teeth and she was forced to part them. With the delicious smell becoming overwhelming, and the knowledge that she couldn’t move disheartening, she opened her mouth and let the warm liquid slide over her tongue. Slowly and almost lovingly the wicked witch gently fed sips to her until she downed every last drop. With her head lulling against the tree, her tongue swept out and gathered up a bit of what tasted like cream before it got away. It wasn’t long before her vision blurred and her eyelids began to weigh a ton each. It was even less time before unconsciousness swept over her and she slipped into a dreamless slumber.

Chapter 11 Sir Roland Leaving immediately, the fairies led them to an unpopulated forest in France where a team of vampires met up with them. The sun was setting and the curse would soon awaken in the Order members who’d come to join their search. Half of his mouth lifted in a wicked smile. He was going to enjoy watching the evil little things die. Ethan was fed up with beings threatening his wife. It ended tonight, he decided, determination making him pick up the pace in his stride. “They came this way,” said Alora, “I can sense the lingering light from their auras.” “I can smell them,” said Alaric, the German vampire who’d joined their ranks more than a century ago, his magical gaze downcast. “Don’t you know where they live?” asked Casanova who was clearly irritated with how long it was taking them to find the pixies. “Our kind don’t get along well, so no, we’ve never cared to discover where they dwell,” replied Alora. “And,” she added, smirking a little, “they fear vampires at night.” Good, thought Ethan. A branch snapped beneath Ethan’s boot as he worked his way through the thick undergrowth. “Watch your step, my lord, we don’t want to alert them to

“Watch your step, my lord, we don’t want to alert them to our presence,” said Prince Richard. Ethan grimaced when another twig broke under his foot, sending out a loud cracking noise that seemed to ricochet off the trees. “It doesn’t matter,” said Elrick, “They already know we’re here.” Ethan wanted to ask how he knew this, but decided it didn’t matter. Ethan, Max, and the four guards who’d been slowed by fey food kept moving at their mortal pace as the vampires zipped ahead of them in a blur of blues and grays. Stars filled the night sky as the sunlight diminished. A cool breeze danced around them, seeping through his shirt. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his jacket. “Why don’t they attack, then?” asked Max, his fingers balling into fists like he relished the idea, even though it hadn’t gone well for them last time. Ethan knew Max acted tough, but inside, it was obvious this was tearing his friend apart. The knight maintained a level of noble vigilance intensified by a dose of aggression that practically surged around him like a living thing, but Ethan knew his friend was worried about Nadia, and that gave his purpose a reckless edge, making the knight even more volatile and dangerous. Max had also told him that he knew his wife was pregnant already. It’s no wonder then, that Max’s outward cool was unraveling. Ethan was feeling rather frayed at the edges as well, because even though he didn’t know it for a fact, he believed Danielle was probably expecting a child by now too. The idea cinched

was probably expecting a child by now too. The idea cinched around his lungs and made it hard for him to breathe. Their second child at risk, he thought, shaking his head. How could he have let this happen again? It didn’t seem to matter that they kept themselves surrounded by vampire guards at all times, they remained in danger as new threats arose. Sulking like children who’d lost their favorite toy—the gift of vampirism—the four guards who had accompanied them to the fairies followed along. A small group of fairies had joined their ranks, along with five fresh vampires from Order Headquarters —Beon, Seth, Alaric, Lydia, and Carlo. For what seemed like miles, they hiked the sloping terrain until the moon began to slide from its peak. Through all of this time, Ethan imagined what could be happening to the women and his muscles pushed past the burn to a second wind. They had to find them, and it had to be tonight. Sulking a bit like the vampires were doing, Ethan had pondered asking the fairies to dust them, like they had when he and Danielle needed to get back to his vehicle before the sun set when he’d first taken her to meet them. But with unhindered vampires there to aid them, he didn’t think they’d agree to that, so he’d held his tongue. For now. And that was only because he also knew there were drawbacks to relying on magic that wasn’t a part of him. The magic in their dust was a temporary thing, and he wanted to save that for a time when they really needed it. With the other vampires there, this wasn’t that time. Flashes of the dreams they’d continued to have since their

time with the fairies played in his mind. Most of them appeared to be of happy times, of laughing, and of quiet talks in the white world they’d forgotten, except for the ones where she’d clearly been upset about something. Reaching into his jacket pocket, his fingers curled around the small fruits the fairies had given him. He’d asked if there was anything he could eat to make it so they could hear each other in their dreams, and they’d brought him four small fruits. Even from his past explorations and world travels, he’d never seen anything like them. Suspecting they were impossibly rare, he’d eaten two of them paying close attention to the flavor, because he believed he would never taste a fruit like them ever again. They looked like flat cherries with a dark purple skin. One side had a long, thin, and pliable stem; the other had a little tuft of green leaves. Both of which, he’d plucked free of the fruit before eating it. They’d tasted just like blackberry jam, as though they’d been sweetened with sugar. There was a bean-shaped pit in the center, which he’d discarded. Of course after that, he’d wondered if he should have kept them so he could try growing more. His thumb moved over the smooth surface of the fruits in his pocket as he decided he would keep these pits after Danielle had eaten the fruit. Since she’d been taken, he hadn’t slept, so he didn’t know if this would work or not, but he was willing to try anything if only he could understand why she’d been crying in some of the memories. For a moment, he was startled by a sudden movement ahead

For a moment, he was startled by a sudden movement ahead of him. Figuring the blurred being had to be one of the vampires, Ethan watched as the shape neared. Returned from scouting ahead, Alaric stopped abruptly in front of him and Max. Ethan’s insides paused to hear the news. “We found where they were being held.” “Were?” Max asked, and Ethan was fairly certain he could hear the man’s teeth grinding. “Come,” Alaric said without responding to the question. Running, they followed the vampire who slowed his pace so they could keep up. He turned to face them before stopping near an area where the dirt was trodden down. Ethan shown his flashlight on the ground and shoved his glasses back into place. He’d never found the pair that fell when he was in the tree, so he was wearing his spare. Crouching down, his fingertips touched on a footprint he recognized as Danielle’s. “They were here, but they’re gone now,” said Beon. Upon standing, Ethan swung the light out, inspecting the surrounding area. When he found another footprint, he stepped forward. He and Max trained their flashlights downward as they followed the trail. It led about forty feet away before the prints got mixed up with several others. Max swore. “Who else was here?” “They definitely smell mortal,” said Seth. “How the hell did other mortals get here before us?” asked Max. “Witches,” said Alora.

“Witches,” said Alora. Ethan died a small death in his soul at that. If the witches had them, then so would the werewolves, or so he thought. None of them really knew if witches were working with the werewolves, but they suspected as much when the werewolves were able to immobilize their guards during the last full moon. His fingers tunneled through his hair as his panic turned into desperate prayers inside his head. If Lucas had their wives, all could be lost.... Almost as though in a trance, Ethan made his way back to where the women had been held. He knew Max followed, but he couldn’t face his friend at the moment. From the very beginning, this was his fault for the way he’d dealt with Lucas so many years ago. And not only could he lose Danielle because of his mistakes, Max could lose Nadia as well. Ethan could sense Beon’s stress over the whole thing too, because Nadia was his daughter. As he approached, his gaze landed on the female guard inspecting the ground where the women had been. Ethan knew her name was Lydia and she was one of the few female vampires to be an active member of The Order. That was probably because most of the women helping The Order were much older, and therefore more old-fashioned. Lydia wasn’t that way. With her background in MI6, the British Secret Service, she was the perfect vampire to have here and helping them find the women. She stood, staring at her fingers, which she rubbed together and then smelled. The action prompted him to ask,

“What is it?” as the bottom of his stomach dropped out wondering what else was wrong. “Blood,” she said, not meeting his gaze to protect him from her magic. “Whose is it?” Max asked, moving past Ethan, likely to get a better look. The vampire’s gaze skittered to Max as he approached, then touched on Beon’s as he too entered the area. When she looked away quickly, the action made it clear whose blood it was. Nadia’s. “No,” said Max. “Bloody hell,” said Beon. “Is it only hers?” Ethan asked, worry surging through his veins like a poison. Lydia nodded. Max stumbled to a halt, and Ethan could only imagine what was going through his friend’s mind. “How bad is it?” asked Max as he collapsed to his knees and looked at the ground, probably expecting the see the soil soaked in red. “Not bad.” Lydia said. “There’s barely a drop here. Well, it wasn’t really a drop. It seems more like she’d scraped herself, touched the wound with her hand, and then set her hand down. That’s how it got in the dirt.” Max’s shoulders sank with apparent relief I don’t know how much more of this I can take. With Danielle’s words echoing through his thoughts, Ethan wondered right along with her. How much more of this could he take? With fingers curling around his left arm, he also pondered how all of

fingers curling around his left arm, he also pondered how all of this stress was affecting his blood pressure. Not only did he need glasses, but if things kept going like this, he might need to start a prescription to regulate that as well. Lydia left as she inspected the path they’d taken before the witches took them. After a few moments, she returned and started a low conversation with Alaric, Carlo, Beon, and Seth. Even so, he could hear them. “They must have teleported them away from here,” said Lydia. At that, Alaric rubbed his neck. It was one of those things the man did when he was thinking. “Do we know where the witches live?” Seth shook his head. “I only know of a few covens in Europe, and there’s no way of knowing which one has them.” “That should help us narrow it down though, shouldn’t it?” asked Beon. “Let’s start here in France, and then fan out,” suggested Lydia. The others grumbled out agreements, then Beon turned to them, keeping his eyes downcast. “When we know who has them, we’ll liberate your women and bring them back to you. We expect you to go wait for us at Order Headquarters.” And with that instruction, they disappeared into the night like fastmoving wraiths, leaving Ethan, Max, the fairies, and the other guards behind. Of course he’d wanted to go with them, but they could cover more ground in a shorter amount of time than him, or Max, or any of the handicapped guards could.

or Max, or any of the handicapped guards could. Again feeling weak and incapable of protecting his own wife, Ethan swallowed some more of his pride and redirected his attention to Alora. It seemed as though she was conducting her own investigation because she was walking around where the edge of the cage, or whatever it was, had been. “How did the witches get them away from the pixies?” Ethan asked the fairy. Before answering, she took flight, her little wings beating the air as they lifted her to eyelevel with him. “The pixies had them trapped here within a spider’s web cage. They only do that when they mean to turn someone into a pixie.” Feeling taken aback, Ethan asked, “But they hadn’t yet, because we see their footprints, right?” Please tell me my wife isn’t a pixie. “It takes time to do it,” she responded. “They didn’t have enough time to turn them.” A small sense of relief slid into place, but it wasn’t enough to untie his insides. “So what do you think happened?” Alora’s concerned gaze touched on the path the girls had taken before turning back. “It looks like the witches sent spiders to free them, and then took them when they tried to escape.” “Can you help us fight the witches?” he asked, hoping there was something they could do. The fact that witches had them was quite distressing, because it seemed like they knew how to stop vampires, and vampires were all they had out searching for them. Of course in the back of his thoughts was the haunting idea that Lucas could already have them. Would she really want to

remain married to him after this? Frowning, the fairy shook her head. “Since they use magic born of the Earth, we can’t repel them well at all. It is the same for the pixies. The witches probably used some kind of poisoned substance on them and they’re likely still recovering from it, which may be why we haven’t seen any pixies here yet.” Ethan had known witches used potions, herbs, and incantations to work their magic because as mortals, the power did not run through their veins. Of course, he knew better than to think that made them any less dangerous. They began making their way back to Headquarters. He didn’t want to wait it out like this, feeling helpless and useless, but he didn’t see that he had any other choice. “As soon as we return, I’m going back to being a vampire,” vowed Max. Feeling the same, Ethan nodded in agreement. He wanted to be a father, but even more than that, he simply wanted to have a life with Danielle. And if these bloody creatures would not leave them alone, then he was done with being mortal. It was true that things might not stop hunting her, and he’d have to wait to turn her until after the baby was born, but neither of them would be as fragile and as susceptible to injury as they were now. Ethan obviously knew Danielle would hate this idea, but if the only way to keep her safe for eternity was to turn her, then so be it.... Recalling his memories of her feeding from him because she was unwilling to kill an animal, he decided he would willingly continue with that.

As they neared the city so they could gain transportation back to London, Ethan’s phone rang. “Hello?” he said, unable to recognize the number on the caller ID. “Ethan, the team failed,” said a female voice. His forward momentum stopped abruptly—as did his breathing, and quite possibly the beating of his heart. “Lydia?” “Yes.” “What do you mean?” he asked with his brow furrowing. “We found the French coven, and they didn’t have Danielle and Nadia, but they were so angry about the intrusion of vampires they did something that put all of them into some kind of spell-induced comas. I had hung back, and was able to slip away before they saw me.” Lydia sighed. “Luckily they abandoned the men and I was able to drag all of them away from the witches.” She paused for a beat or two and then continued. “I think they’re coming out of it.” “What is it?” asked Max, worry etching lines into his face, and desperation filling his brown eyes with fear of things he couldn’t control. Lifting a hand to hold Max off while Lydia finished, Ethan listened as Lydia explained that she believed the girls were taken farther east. Remembering to breathe, Ethan put his phone back in his pocket with trembling fingers. As he explained, he watched the color drain from his friend’s face. “We can’t go back to Headquarters then.” “No,” Ethan agreed. “But I don’t know what to do.” East wasn’t much to go on. How far east? Or was it east within

wasn’t much to go on. How far east? Or was it east within France, or to some country that was farther east from here? “We may know someone who can help you,” said Alora, with Elrick nodding behind her. “Who?” “His name is Sir Roland, and he’s a sorcerer in this area.” Ethan had heard of him, though he’d never met the man. Rumor had it he was very eccentric and rather odd. They gained transportation and traveled to a lake where the fairies said the sorcerer lived. Max, who was driving, steered the vehicle down a gravel road, nearing a cottage-sized building. The glow of the headlights lit up the surrounding trees and water as they drove. It did seem as though most sorcerers and sorceresses were sort of hermits, with small but comfortable dwellings, and this fellow appeared to be no different. As their SUV stopped in front of the cabin, Ethan decided this old chap had things set up quite well for himself. A crisp mountain breeze ruffled his hair and Ethan drew a deep breath of pine as he stepped out of the vehicle. The moon was bright enough for him to see the lake encircled by tall, white-capped mountains, which reflected in the glass-like surface of the water. Many would find this place a perfect location for a quiet holiday, and Sir Roland lived here. They made their way up to the front door. Max turned to the fairy seated on Ethan’s shoulder. “Are you certain we can trust him?” From his peripheral, Ethan could see her nod in response.

From his peripheral, Ethan could see her nod in response. “You’re both mortal, and you have a fairy with you.” Alora had advised that they didn’t bring their guards even though the curse was subdued within them, because Sir Roland hated vampires so much, that Alora feared what he might do. He may have been old, but he was still extremely powerful. It was the reason why they had to be cautious, but also the reason they thought he could help them. After rapping gently against the door, Ethan stepped back and they waited. And waited. As the time with no response lengthened, Ethan worried the man either wasn’t at home, or he was choosing not to answer for reasons they didn’t know. “Greetings, my young friends.” The words were spoken in French, but he’d understood them. Ethan spun on his heel, as did Max, to see a very short old man standing on the step behind them. His age-curved spine caused him to stoop forward, like the basket of fish he carried might topple him over at any moment. Dressed like a professor, the man wore a pair of brown wool slacks, with a tan waistcoat and a houndstooth jacket. There were purple stains on the lapel as though he’d dribbled jam from his morning toast on it. The only odd thing about his attire was that it didn’t appear to be fishing garb, but he carried a basket of freshly-caught fish. And apparently he fished at night, another oddity. The man peered at them from over his spectacles with an expression of open curiosity crinkling around his bluegray eyes. “Hello, Sir. My name is Ethan Deveroux. It is a pleasure to

make your acquaintance.” Ethan said as formally and respectfully as he could, adding a slight bow. He sensed this man was older than he’d first thought, and would expect to be treated as such. Max bowed as well and offered an equally elegant greeting, “I am Sir Maximilian. Alora has said nothing but kind words about you.” It was an exaggeration, but Alora had told them they needed to turn on their old-fashioned charm to win Sir Roland over. Ethan had brought out Mr. Darcy and Max was laying on his knightly chivalry just as thick. Sir Roland’s gaze locked onto Alora, and with a gaptoothed grin, he offered a finger for her to perch upon while he carefully balanced the basket in his other hand. Alora accepted and landed gracefully on the man’s knobby knuckle as she fluffed the skirt of her blue petal-dress. “I have not seen a fairy in many years,” he said. “How delightful it is to see you again, Alora.” “Thank you, Sir Roland. I’ve missed you so very much. How have you been?” There was a hesitation before the old man said, “I am well enough, thank you. What is it I can do for you this lovely day, or rather evening?” “We’re in need of your aid,” answered Alora. At that, Sir Roland’s bushy, white eyebrows lifted before he considered them with a tip of his head. As the corner of his mouth twitched slightly, the old man nodded, and nudged Max with the basket. Max was quick to catch on, taking the man’s

with the basket. Max was quick to catch on, taking the man’s burden as Roland shuffled forward and opened the door after unlocking it with a tarnished skeleton key. As they entered the humble dwelling and Sir Roland flipped on a light, Ethan wondered how much of what they were seeing was real, and how much of it was hidden by glamour. Did Sir Roland really look so feeble? A sweep of Roland’s arm indicated they should take a seat. After obeying the silent command, Max sat the basket of fish upon the trunk in front of them that served as a coffee table. Sir Roland stared at the fish in apparent contemplation for a moment before saying, “Would you care for some fish stew? I was about to have a bowl for dinner.” At their hesitation, Roland added, “It’s on the stove simmering. I caught this for a midnight snack,” he added, motioning to the basket on the trunk. Ethan’s “A spot of soup would be lovely,” came simultaneously with Max’s “Yes, thank you.” But Ethan was confused by the man’s eating habits. Checking his watch, he noticed it was nearing midnight as they spoke. Alora, who was now seated upon the man’s finger, simply gaped in horror. This earned her a soft chuckle, and an apology. “Forgive me, ma petite, for you I have a fresh bowl of cherries.” Upon standing, Sir Roland sat Alora on the trunk, snatched up the reeking basket of dead fish, and lumbered to what Ethan supposed was the kitchen. After a few moments, the clattering noises coming from the kitchen stopped and Sir Roland returned with four bowls, a loaf

kitchen stopped and Sir Roland returned with four bowls, a loaf of rustic bread, and tea service. While eating, Ethan and Max watched Alora struggle with the task of daintily consuming a fruit the size of her head as she explained what they needed. When she finished with their tale, Roland scratched at his bald head. “Before I can help you, I need to know which coven we are dealing with.” “We don’t know which coven has them,” said Max. Ethan could hear by the curtness in his friend’s words that Max was growing impatient, and Ethan understood how he was feeling. The longer it took for them to find their wives, the more danger they were probably in. They didn’t have time to have a quaint chat, and eat soup with this man. “Sir, perhaps you don’t understand our urgency...” began Ethan. With a lift of his hand, Sir Roland made it quite clear he did understand. “Give me a moment while I read the dregs of your tea, would you?” A frown crinkled Ethan’s brow at that. As of yet, they hadn’t see this man perform any magic, and Ethan feared the old chap might have lost his talent, or his wits, or maybe both. From his experience, sorcerers did not read dregs. That was a practice used by witches and perhaps psychics. “Sir, I don’t see—” With an abrupt tsk-tsk, Roland again silenced his words. “Foolish boy, how else do you expect me to find the witches who have your women if I do not use their form of magic? Hmm?”

Struck speechless by the obvious logic in that, Ethan sank back into the cushions of the sofa and waited impatiently as Roland bent over his and Max’s cups, muttering to himself in a language that sounded like Old French to Ethan. There were some words he understood, but many he didn’t. Finally the man lifted his head and announced, “’Tis the witches in Hungary who have your women, I fear.” Propping his elbows onto his knees, Ethan bent forward, struggling for calm, and asked with a sinking feeling, “Why do you fear that?” “As one of the oldest covens in existence, they’re quite dangerous, I’m afraid.” “But you’re a sorcerer.” Those blue-gray eyes of his widened slightly at his words. “That I am, but it doesn’t change the fact that these witches are deadly creatures.” “You’re sure the werewolves don’t have them yet?” “Of that I am very certain.” A sense of relief and hope surrounded his heart. “Then you’ll come with us and help—?” Again Roland lifted his hand, his palm forward, cutting off Ethan’s words, and just that quickly the relief evaporated. “I cannot come with you. I do not hide behind a glamour as many of my kind do,” Roland admitted, his fingers fiddling with a string where a button should have been on his jacket. “I am not as spry as I once was.” Ethan began to think they’d been wasting their time. If this

Ethan began to think they’d been wasting their time. If this man was aging in a way sorcerers do not age, then there was something seriously wrong with him, and he might not be capable of helping them. They didn’t have time for this. “I fear we may have wasted your time.” Ethan said, forcing a politeness he wasn’t feeling. Sir Roland spoke again as though Ethan had said nothing at all. “However, I will do this much for you ... I will enchant you so that if these witches try to cast a spell upon you, it will repel the magic and bounce off, doing you no harm.” The old man continued to tug at the string as he spoke. “But what about Danielle and Nadia? What if they try to use them as hostages?” asked Max, thinking of that angle as any trained knight would. “If you are holding onto them, then they will be protected as you are. But, if they try to use their spelled arrows against you, then my magic won’t help.” Knobby fingers gave another nervous tug at the string, harder this time. “Why?” “Some witches are archers, and those who are have perfected the art. Their arrows can pierce any enchantment.” “But you don’t know if these witches are?” “The dregs don’t tell me that.” Taking a breath and releasing it slowly, Ethan shared a look of concern with Max who asked, “Can’t you do something that will protect us from that too?” “There are incantations that would work against ordinary weapons. However, not against the potion on the tips of their

weapons. However, not against the potion on the tips of their arrows.” The string came off around Roland’s finger. With a slightly startled look on his face, the man let the thread drop to the tattered rug below his feet. “Why not?” Ethan asked as Roland inspected the spot on his jacket. A frown formed between his eyebrows as though he’d only just now realized the button was missing. “They use a dark magic that is older than even I am,” Roland said, not meeting his gaze. “What about vampires? Can we take them to help us?” Ethan asked without thinking. The question had already left his lips when he remembered Alora mentioning how much this sorcerer disliked them, but it was too late for him to call the words back. Hatred flashed in the old man’s eyes at the mention of vampires, and Ethan felt bad about that. “Bring them if you like, but the poisoned arrows will destroy them too. Permanently.” Recalling how the French witches had easily put the guards into magic-induced comas, he believed Sir Roland was probably right. They had no choice but to attempt this rescue alone, and as mortal men. Ethan felt disheartened by the outcome of this meeting. Sorcerers were supposed to be more powerful than witches. Of course, Sir Roland had offered to enchant them for protection, but Ethan wasn’t convinced this frail version of a sorcerer was capable of accomplishing the task. Unfortunately, they didn’t have time to seek out another sorcerer. Frustration twisted inside

Ethan and wrung out the last of his patience. Not bothering to mask the anger in his expression, he opened his mouth, but snapped it shut when Alora interrupted. “Thank you, Sir Roland,” said Alora as she gave Ethan a warning look. “We are deeply grateful to you for your time and generosity.” Roland’s face lit up when he met Alora’s beaming smile with his gaze. In a loving manner, he touched a gentle finger to Alora’s tiny hand and sighed, the air wheezing out of him. “There is a reason why sorcerers and sorceresses do not live together. While we are immortal, we can be quite dangerous to one another’s health in our wrath. I am the unfortunate victim of such a curse. I am aging and will not live forever. I do all of my own cooking and cleaning to save my magical strength. Mostly, I live as a mortal because even though I have lived for centuries, I am no longer immortal. Certainly, the magic in my brittle bones keeps me warm at night, and it is available to me when needed, but otherwise I conserve what I have.” A strong sense of pity rose up to replace the annoyance Ethan was feeling as he took in the sad loneliness in the sorcerer’s eyes. The poor old gent. What must life be like for him? He must feel so very secluded and forgotten. A hint of the man Sir Roland used to be flickered to life in his humble expression. The change made his eyes look more blue than gray. Roland stood, forced his spine a little straighter, cleared his throat and conjured a map. He unrolled it and hesitated when his eyes landed on the mess of dishes littering the trunk. “Allow me,” Ethan said, jerking to his feet as he worked

to clear the surface. Max helped and they carried it all off to the kitchen. When they returned, Roland had the map spread out over the top of the trunk and he was studying it with fingers curled around his chin. They again sat down and his eyes found Alora who was hovering at Roland’s shoulder, but she soon ignored him. Max and Ethan watched while the fairy and sorcerer discussed different locations, and he was surprised to be the witness to a bit of flirting. Once they’d settled on a city in Hungary called Tatabanya, Sir Roland had walked his fingers across the map to circle Alora as though dancing with her. She giggled, took flight and planted a kiss on his bulbous nose. Sir Roland chuckled in response, cupping his palm into a place for Alora to sit. She sat down and curled her feet beneath her. “You must come and visit again, my sweet fey friend.” “I promise I will,” said Alora. “And you’ll bring your friends with you?” Sir Roland asked, grinning as though he was sixteen instead of nine hundred and sixteen, and blushing. “Of course,” she said batting her eyelashes at the old man. “And you’ll dance for me?” “Uh,” began Max, “I hate to interrupt you two lovebirds, but we really should be going.” “Oh! Yes, the enchantment!” Sir Roland blushed some more. “I nearly forgot.” The old sorcerer stood and shuffled around the trunk to

The old sorcerer stood and shuffled around the trunk to stand in front of Ethan and Max. He touched his hand to each of their heads and murmured a series of words, again in Old French. Releasing them, he brushed off his hands and said, “You’re all set, my lads. Go and conquer the wicked witches.” His smile slipped slightly. “Just mind their cunning nature, and watch out for poisoned arrows, and...” Roland snapped his fingers, “Oh, what was it?” Preparing to leave, Max and Ethan stood as they waited for him to finish with his warnings. The time stretched out until Roland finally said, “Seems I can’t recall what the third thing was. Never mind that. Carry on! Carry on!” As they made their way back to the SUV Max muttered, “Do you feel enchanted?” A sardonic laugh left him. “No. You?” “Nope.” “Do you think this is going to work?” “I haven’t got the foggiest...” Ethan turned to the fairy. “Alora?” “What?” she asked, the picture of innocence. “Is this really going to help us? Sir Roland seemed kind of —” loony, he finished in his head. A pair of little fists landed on Alora’s hips. “I think he is charming.” Her eyes narrowed. “And I know his enchantment will help.” Ethan shrugged his shoulders at that, deciding at this point it didn’t really matter, and he would just make sure that he and

didn’t really matter, and he would just make sure that he and Max were well armed when they faced these damn witches.

Chapter 12 Lies Someone was moaning. Danielle’s eyes cracked open and she tried to rub at the crick in her neck, but she couldn’t get her hand up from where it was pinned at her side. Her eyebrows drew together in confusion. Waiting for her vision to focus, she took in the smells around her. Smoke, grass and something else that smelled a bit like cinnamon filled the air. Blinking, Danielle wondered why her vision wasn’t clearing up when the moaning came again. She turned her head to see a blurry face framed with dark hair. Whoever it was, they were looking at her too. “Danielle?” Her memory came flooding back and she gasped. “Nadia.” The name came out very slurred and she wondered if she was under the influence of some kind of drug, because that would explain why everything was blurred and throbbing strangely with each beat of her heart. “What’s going on?” “I don’t know. I can’t see,” complained her friend in a similarly slurred voice. After closing her eyes, because the crazy lights dancing across her vision were giving her a headache, she drew a measured breath and released it. She could at least tell the world was still cloaked in darkness, except for lights that shown at

was still cloaked in darkness, except for lights that shown at them from a few different directions. Danielle believed the brightest one to the right was the fire that she could smell. And there had been one higher above which she believed to be the moon. Of course Danielle didn’t know how long they’d been unconscious, so it could be the same night, or a few nights later. She had no way of knowing which. “Was that you moaning before?” Danielle asked because she was curious. “No, it was you,” replied Nadia. “Are you sure?” she asked, unable to recall if she had been or not. “Well, no. One of the moans could have been me,” admitted Nadia. “I feel like I’ve been run over.” Danielle laughed weakly. “Me too.” Moments passed where she listened to herself breathe, and felt her ribs press against the ropes binding her with each inhale. She wiggled the fingers of her left hand. Because she was being held so snugly in place, they were falling asleep and tingling. She hated that feeling. Turning her attention outward, she again listened to her surroundings. Except for the sound of crickets and the wind brushing through the leaves of the tree she was tied to, it seemed as though she and Nadia were alone. Nadia broke the silence with, “What do you think they’re going to do to us?” All of the possible answers crept through her thoughts like nightmares. Would they turn them over to the werewolves? To Lucas? Or did they plan to kill them? “I wish I knew,” she

Lucas? Or did they plan to kill them? “I wish I knew,” she whispered back. The headache was still there, but she opened her eyes anyway. She stared at a spot in front of her, waiting for the edges to sharpen so she could see exactly what it was. Slowly. Very slowly, whatever it was started to take shape. Perfect right angles and peaks came together into the shape of a building. It was obviously a house, or a mansion to be more exact. Danielle was certain she was staring at the back of it, but it still had the decorative architecture she thought the front would normally have. It seemed like it was an old structure because the corners were adorned with stone gargoyles, their wings stretched wide like they could swoop down at her at any moment, and their teeth were bared with the promise of a terrible death if they did grasp her with their talons. There was an octagon-shaped sunroom coming off the side. It was lined with windows which looked black in the moonlight. A stone fireplace was on the other side of the house. A curl of smoke twisted up from the stack, and Danielle couldn’t help but imagine how nice the fire inside must be. So, this is where witches lived? “Huh,” she said, but didn’t notice she’d spoken out loud until Nadia responded. “‘Huh,’ what?” “It’s a house.” “Yeah, I noticed.” “Are they there? The witches, I mean.” “I believe they are. I saw a light over—” Nadia interrupted herself with some grunting and the rustling of fabric. Apparently

she was trying to point and couldn’t move. Nadia made a sound of frustration before going still and continuing, “—it was on the right side of the house on the second story.” “Huh,” she said again as her eyes swung up to the windows above the sunroom. They were all dark now. The house was so dark, she couldn’t escape being startled when a light appeared on the first floor, and the French doors leading to the patio opened. Breath caught in her throat when six women came out, two of them holding curved knives that caught the moonlight and tossed it against the surrounding trees and shrubs with their movement. Were there only six of them living in that huge house? Even as she wondered about that, most of her attention stayed on the weapons, but there was so much light, her gaze was drawn to the moon for a brief moment. Danielle’s eyes widened at the full moon shining down on them lighting the scene almost as though it were day. Subconsciously the pace of her breathing increased and she swallowed. There was a huge chance these witches meant to give them to the werewolves if they had them here on a full moon. Or was that when witches did their magic too? Seeming to ignore them, the witches encircled the fire. Again, Danielle wasn’t certain if this was the same fire they’d started when they’d arrived, or a new one. Had they been here for a night or a week? Wishing she’d paid more attention to the moon while at the fairies’, she again watched the witches. They’d linked hands. The blades were now secured in sheaths on two of the witches’ belts. Swaying back and forth, the witches hummed

the witches’ belts. Swaying back and forth, the witches hummed a melody she’d never heard before, like a group of Girl Scouts singing camp songs around a fire. Whatever it was they were doing, they seemed really happy about it. Danielle was not happy about this at all. She could sense the danger they were in so strongly she could taste the bitterness of it on her tongue. Instinct and that voice inside her head screamed out a warning. If she couldn’t think of some way to escape, they would die tonight. Her arms were bound too securely at her sides, but she could bend her wrists and feel along the bottom rope. Finding a knot, she blindly dug her nails in trying to get it loose. “They’re coming,” whispered Nadia. One of her nails broke, but Danielle kept working at it when she looked up. It loosened a little, the give she felt enforcing her determination. “Feel for knots,” she said. “How? I can’t move my arms.” “Bend your wrists and feel,” Danielle instructed. “Oh! I found one,” said Nadia with quiet enthusiasm. They kept working until the witches got close enough she feared they would see what they were doing, and she stopped. A quick glance in Nadia’s direction told her Nadia had as well. “Hello, my darlings,” said the pretty brunette witch. It really bugged her that she didn’t know any of their names, so she asked, feigning a nonchalance she didn’t feel. “Who are you?” The brunette laughed, and the sound was so beautiful Danielle hated her for it. But just as suddenly, the mirth dropped

Danielle hated her for it. But just as suddenly, the mirth dropped from her face and she held Danielle’s gaze with hers as she withdrew the knife. Feeling her eyes widen, they followed the length of the curved blade that was polished to a perfect shine and looked extremely sharp. Danielle gulped. “I’ll explain,” cooed the redhead. “Because I love seeing the fear in their eyes when I do.” The words, “their eyes” lingered in her thoughts as she considered the meaning. Apparently this was something these witches did a lot of. Kidnapping women, and threatening them with knives on the full moon, with a nice fire to warm them, and all done right in the backyard. Perfect, she thought sarcastically. Hearing the shuddering breath that escaped Nadia, Danielle turned to look at her friend. Cold steel connected with the edge of her jaw and she was forced to look at the witch again. “I need your full attention, Danielle.” Apparently the witches knew who they were too. “Are you giving us to the werewolves?” The question earned her some more of that pretty laughing. The blade pressed harder and she sucked in a breath of air fearing she was about to have her throat cut. “Not yet, darling Red.” At the blonde’s words, the knife finally left her skin and the air that she’d been holding whooshed out. Her heart was pounding so hard she was sure everyone could hear it. Again she swallowed. It was not lost on her that the blonde had not said the redhead’s name. Why didn’t the witches want them to know their names?

“Right,” murmured the redhead. Turning back to Danielle she said, “You’re here for our benefit, not those filthy beasts.” With a toss of her head, the witch sent long strands of red shiny tresses gliding over her shoulder. “Now, as I was saying…. You may find it interesting to know that we’ve lived here for centuries.” On a gasp, Nadia said, “But you’re mortal?” A grin that flashed pearly white teeth turned on Nadia. “How observant of you. The truth is, we witches can live forever thanks to three family heirlooms. Our ancestor, Helga, wrote most of the enchantments contained in our book. Our favorite spell, and the one we will use on you tonight, is her most powerful incantation.” Red scraped the edge of the blade she held along the ropes binding them as she took a breath. “Wishing to be more beautiful than the lovely Gemma, she captured her, bound her, and while chanting the words of the spell, she killed her with the same dagger I now hold. When she did this, she discovered that not only was she able to draw Gemma’s beauty into herself, but the remaining years of her life as well. As she continued performing this ritual on other village beauties, she was able to extend the length of her life and magnify her beauty so that she was the fairest in the land. Our spell book, paired with these daggers, holds a power most covens don’t have.” The witch hadn’t said where Helga was now, and Danielle figured she’d probably never know. Her gaze snagged on the knife held by the brunette and a horrible realization formed in her mind. The fairies had been wrong, the pixies hadn’t wanted to

mind. The fairies had been wrong, the pixies hadn’t wanted to eat them for the vampire blood they thought was inside them, but, she now knew, with her stomach sinking down to her toes, the witches did want to consume some part them. It may not have been their flesh, but their essence and life-force instead. Red caressed Danielle’s face with cold fingers. “You, having been a vampire before, and having cured the first vampire of the curse, could give us immortality and the curse-like beauty of vampires—” “I’m not a vampire anymore and I don’t think—” “We’ll take the risk. If we’re wrong,” Red’s hungry eyes touched onto hers, “we’ll still gain a nice dose of beauty and an extension to the years of our lives.” Of course, Danielle hadn’t expected the witches to put their knives away as they turned to their friends. “Shall we begin?” An owl hooted and the brunette’s eyes wandered to the moon just before darting around nervously as the witches linked hands. Danielle’s eyes narrowed. Was she afraid of the werewolves? Were they all afraid of them? While the creatures terrified her too, a seed of hope sprouted in her heart. If the werewolves managed to interrupt this party, she might be able to get this knot loose and they could escape while the magical beings fought over their possession of her and Nadia. An exquisite melody rose from their mouths and a murderous smile parted Red’s blood-red lips. Even that horrible expression was pretty on her. Why did they think they needed more beauty when they were already the most gorgeous women she’d ever seen? Bloody hell, she thought, going for one of Ethan’s favorite

seen? Bloody hell, she thought, going for one of Ethan’s favorite curses. How many woman had they murdered over the years? The idea was so distressing she wanted to weep for so many lost souls, but instead turned the terrible thoughts into a mentally expressed prayer for help. Please don’t let me die like this. Please don’t let my friend die like this.... The witches’ long hair trailed behind them like rich-colored bands of silk, the firelight caressing the edges, making it shine. Her gaze touched on each one of their faces. Each one had closed her eyes as she sang and pranced gracefully around her and Nadia, their fringe of thick lashes shadowing their rosy cheeks. Distracted as they were, Danielle began working on the knot again. After shifting her eyes in Nadia’s direction, she was able to see that Nadia was doing the same. Her biggest concern now was that even if they did manage to get loose, the witches would probably use their magic on them again and they wouldn’t likely get away. She drew a breath and squinted at the wooded area on the edge of the garden. Movement caught her eye, and she watched in curious surprise as another witch approached. Apparently there were more than six witches. Beautiful and wearing black like the others, Danielle wondered why this one wasn’t singing and chanting with her sisters. The witch called out as she neared. In response, the ones encircling them came to a halt and wheeled around, their hands dropping to their sides as their fingers curled into claw-like fists. “What is it, Je—er—Blondie,” asked the redhead.

The witch whispered the answer into Red’s ear. As she listened, Red’s eyes flew wide. “Did you curse them?” “I tried, but they’ve been enchanted by a sorcerer.” The redhead swore and stomped her foot like a little girl throwing a tantrum. “How are we going to get rid of them?” After casting them hate-filled looks, the witches moved to the fire, outside of hearing range, and huddled together. “Who do you think is coming?” Nadia asked. “It has to be either our men or werewolves,” she responded, with hope blossoming inside her chest. Either one offered a distraction they really needed right now. Frantically she yanked at the knot. “Have you had any success with the knot?” “It’s a little bit looser, but I can barely reach it, it’s so far to my right.” “Keep working at it.” Danielle locked her eyes on the shadows within the trees again. The moon was bright but it didn’t reach into the depths of darkness surrounding them, and that frustrated her. The witches didn’t talk for long before they returned. Crap! Cunning blue eyes swung to hers. Grinning like the Devil’s bride, the witch withdrew her knife again, the metal scraping against the scabbard as it went. “Ladies, get the others,” the witch commanded. Red smirked at Danielle while she waited for her friends to return as she twirled a strand of hair around her finger. It didn’t take them long. The five witches returned, but they were followed by several others who had bows and arrows strapped

to their backs. Fanning out, the armed witches hid in the trees and thick shrubbery with their bows in hand and arrows strung. It seemed as though they only needed six for their rituals, but many more than that lived here. “Your men are coming for you,” said Red. When gratitude and excitement sprang to life within her, the witch crushed it with a threat and a promise. “You are going to find some way of getting them to leave you behind, or we’ll kill them. They’ll never see it coming.” “How many are with them?” “The morons must be incredibly pompous to think they can accomplish anything here alone,” commented Blondie in response to her question. She didn’t believe it. Ethan and Max would bring an army with them to get their wives back. There had to be vampires hiding on the edges ready to help. But as she thought about vampires, another thought occurred to her. “How long have we been here?” she asked, desperate to know if they’d had a chance to turn, because if that were the case, they would come alone. “Ah, poor dear.” The brunette laughed, and her tone was mocking. “She thinks they’re vampires again, and impervious to our arrows.” “Sorry, it’s the exact same night that we took you from the pixies,” said Red, obliterating her last hope. Danielle blinked. “You’re lying.” She had to be. “Care to test it?”

“Care to test it?” No, she didn’t. Her thoughts took another path. “Why not just kill them now?” She didn’t ask to give them any ideas, but because she feared they were lying and would kill them all anyway. It wouldn’t likely matter if she and Nadia were able to send them away.... Red sighed. “If we kill them, the others will find out and then just send more men out to avenge them.” It was true, Danielle didn’t know all of the Order members that well, but she did know they’d seek revenge. Her eyes widened on an idea. “Then you’d better let Nadia go, because Beon will hunt you down if you kill his daughter.” Apparently that gave them pause. Red paled slightly and her jaw slackened. But then the brunette began shaking her head, the action sent strands of moonlit hair dancing over her leatherencased shoulders. “They won’t believe Danielle abandoned Ethan if Nadia doesn’t stay with her.” “Yes, they will,” Danielle argued, desperate. “No. The men have to believe you love it here so much that you choose to stay to escape the dangers surrounding you.” Ethan’s fear of her leaving him came to the forefront of her thoughts. He would probably buy that. She gasped in surprise when Red lifted her knife high above her head and swung downward toward her. Every muscle tensed and she looked away thinking the witch was going to kill her now. The ropes fell away and she stared down at the pile at her feet in confusion. “Dance with us around the fire.” When she hesitated at the peculiar invitation, Red added with

When she hesitated at the peculiar invitation, Red added with an evil smirk, “The fools are walking in here thinking they’re safe. We can sense the enchantment surrounding them. It will block our curses and any weapon of man except for our arrows, and that’s the part they don’t know. What they’re attempting is reckless and desperate, and if you don’t convince them to leave, then they will die. But if you do accomplish this, then we swear on our mother’s graves that we will let your men go.” A vow like that did seem believable, but these witches were capable of murder. Danielle’s bottom lip slid between her teeth. She had no way of knowing if this witch was telling the truth or not, and she couldn’t risk their lives to find out. Red grabbed her by the arm and tugged her free of the ropes. She stumbled, but regained her footing. The brunette pulled Nadia in the same direction. Her eyes caught onto Nadia’s with concern as they were led forcefully toward the fire, its flames flickering cheerfully. The welcome heat invited her to draw closer, but inside she felt cold. Instinctively she had the urge to attempt a physical defense. As she reached for Red’s arm, the witch’s blue eyes landed on hers. “Go ahead, try it.” Swallowing, she dropped her hand, backing down. Danielle had to be careful. She decided to remain on alert for any opening she could find that wouldn’t put their lives at risk, and openly fighting would. “They’re here,” muttered Blondie as the circle of witches linked hands, including her and Nadia. “Dance, or they’ll die.”

“And make it convincing,” added the brunette. When she tried to look back at the woods to see Ethan, her hand was jerked forward. “Eyes on the fire, Danielle.” Singing out a beautiful melody, the witches began dancing with the rhythmic tune. The bewitching sound filled the night air and brought goose bumps to every inch of her skin. Danielle and Nadia were forced to join them. Her eyes stung with emotion and she closed them, her chin dropping as she moved to the music filling her ears. Moments passed as she began her third loop around the fire, and she hoped Max and Ethan would leave, or come up with a different plan from what it seemed they had. Her eyes sprang open when she heard Ethan’s, “What the hell?” Somehow she knew he’d recognized her dancing, and he would naturally wonder why she was. Over the witches singing she could hear his approach, his boots scuffing over the lawn. “Danielle, what are you doing?” The witches stopped singing and they dropped her hands, their movement also coming to an abrupt halt. She knew they were allowing her to face him. Taking a calming breath that did nothing to calm her, she turned to face Ethan. At the sight of her husband, her soul whimpered. Bunching her fingers into fists, she barely resisted the urge to hug him. He looked a little tattered around the edges, like he’d had a rough time of it trying to find her, and she wanted to ask so many questions. Mentally shaking herself, she kept her thoughts on what she needed to do to keep him safe.

him safe. He tightened his scraped-up fingers around the rifle he had trained on the women standing behind her. Of course Danielle noticed he still wore the same clothes he’d been wearing when she and Nadia were taken by the pixies. To her it proved that it was the same night. It also proved that he was still mortal. She adored him for actually finding her so fast because she didn’t even know where she was at the moment. By the witches’ accents she knew it was somewhere foreign, but that was all she knew. Danielle felt her shoulders slump, her hero had found her, but it was too late. Her heart broke like it had been pierced by one of the witches’ poisoned arrows. It felt like they’d been separated for centuries instead of hours. More than anything, Danielle wanted to latch onto him and never let go, but she was afraid of what might happen to him if she tried that. Observing the scene, her eyes touched on Max, who stood just to Ethan’s left, his rifle also aimed at witches, and their surroundings—the woods. It certainly seemed like he and Max were alone. Ethan co*cked the rifle. “What are you doing here? With them...” he repeated with a betrayed note of confusion ringing in each word. Seeing the violent set of his mouth, she realized if she was going to make this convincing, she had to protect them. With caution, she schooled her features into the calmest expression she could find and slowly reached for the end of his gun. She pressed down. “Don’t hurt them.” Her voice cracked, and she winced internally.

winced internally. “What?” he asked, anger at the witches thinning his lips, the fire reflecting off his glasses. She swallowed, but she couldn’t seem to find any moisture in her mouth. “Back away, Ethan.” His eyebrows hitched up right before his eyes narrowed. “Please,” she added, stepping toward him. A moment of fear made her check with the witches behind her to make sure she wasn’t provoking them. Red beamed a bright smile at her and nodded, making a cheerful “go-ahead” motion with her hands. Danielle turned back to her husband. Obviously surprised by the friendly gesture from the witch, Ethan blinked, but his feet carried him back a few steps. Danielle could hear Nadia behind her, and she could see that Max was also moving backward. Ethan’s keen gaze scrutinized the witches before he finally lowered the rifle and a sigh of relief slipped free of her lungs. She could hear that the witches had resumed their singing, and she looked back because she couldn’t understand why. The only thing that made sense was that they resumed their dance as part of their act, part of their distraction to keep the men from seeing the arrows aimed at them. It was working. Inside, her heart withered at what she was about to say to him. Unable to hold his gaze because it was killing her, she looked into the forest. Danielle’s eyes found one of the archers, her pale complexion glowing in the moonlight, her deadly arrow drawn and trained on Ethan’s back. That witch wasn’t the only

one, there were nine more in the same pose, their attention divided between Max and Ethan. Letting the coldness inside make her go numb, she again looked at Ethan but she couldn’t get any words out, because being this close to him awakened every cell of her body—every fiber of her being reached for him, craved his touch, and wanted him surrounding her with his warmth. In his presence, she couldn’t go numb even if she tried. The pain of it was so debilitating she lifted a hand to her chest. A tear she couldn’t stop leaked out and slid down her face. How was she going to do this? How could she lie to the love of her life, and the father of her child...? Danielle fought to keep her knees from giving out. He slung the rifle over his shoulder from its strap and his arms came around her as though he understood how close she was to collapsing; his thumb swept away the moisture on her cheek. “Don’t be sad, we’re here to save you.” Silhouettes of the dancing witches moved over the glass of his lenses. “If you aren’t their prisoners, will they let you leave?” Danielle had no idea what to say because the answer was no. She tried feebly to push away. He didn’t allow it, and he frowned at the attempt. They stood in tense silence staring into each other’s eyes. His fingers curled around her hand. “Come with us.” “No.” Again, she tried to push away from him, and again he stopped her. “We’re staying here,” she added, watching his expression closely to see how he was going to take that. Stunned, his jaw tensed. Waiting for what he was going to

Stunned, his jaw tensed. Waiting for what he was going to say next, she checked past his shoulder to make sure his embrace wouldn’t draw arrows. Apparently they feared hitting her, and they wanted her essence more than they wanted him dead at the moment. As her brain tried to figure out some way of using that knowledge and shielding him so he could escape, his fingers touched her chin when he drew even closer. Too close. She pushed back another time, but he didn’t allow her to create more distance between them. “I’m serious. You and Max have to go.” Like her request was a silly one, Ethan chuckled softly. But it was a nervous sound. Obviously he could already sense something was very wrong. “I can’t leave you.” He wasn’t listening, and she knew she had to cut deeper with her words for him to understand. “I can’t take this anymore,” she tried, knowing the topic was a sore spot for him. His hopeful expression fell, a muscle jumped along his jawbone. His arms tightened around her. “What do you mean?” It seemed like the words scraped her insides as she forced them out. “I need our child to be safe.” His smile was enough to haunt her soul for the rest of her life. “So it’s true?” Nodding, she went on, “I can’t bring a child into this life of running and danger, Ethan. They’ve promised to keep us and our babies safe from everything. I’m leaving you.” Air whooshed out of his lungs like she’d punched him in the gut. That anger that she’d seen directed at Lucas many times blazed in his narrowed gaze. “They’ve threatened you.” His gaze

blazed in his narrowed gaze. “They’ve threatened you.” His gaze again checked the enemy. Still they danced, seeming to ignore them. The illusion probably made him confused, but also gave him a false sense of security. “No.” Yes. For a moment she considered telling him the truth, that his life was in danger and that he needed to leave for that reason. He could come back later, better prepared, but when she opened her mouth to tell him this, her gaze caught onto a flash of red. The red-headed witch stood behind him, close enough to hear what Danielle was saying, but far enough that he hadn’t noticed her. Danielle also noticed that the archers had simply found another angle to strike so they didn’t hit her while he held her in his arms. There was no possible way she could wrap herself around Ethan and protect him from every angle. Letting the reckless thoughts slip away, she looked down to gather her senses. Knowing she’d almost made a fatal mistake, she returned her gaze to his and managed to say, “Does it look like they’ve threatened us? We were dancing and having fun.” Danielle nearly choked on that lie. Red smiled. Ethan’s tactics changed, just as she should have known they would. Bending down, he nudged up on her chin and fed his breath into her. Unable and unwilling to resist, she parted her lips, letting his essence fill her lungs. So delicious and so perfect ... and if this was the last time she’d ever see him, then she needed this. Ethan carefully kissed every inch of her face. His hand traveled the length of her spine, as he awakened hope in

her heart. They were supposed to be together, they belonged together. Vivid memories of their life together filled her thoughts —images of him dressed as a Victorian hero taking her to a ball flashed in her mind. The shared dreams of their forgotten past replayed before her eyes ... their wedding ... their time with the fairies.... Danielle latched onto his clothes and pulled him against her. The skilled and gentle fingers of his hand left her back and curled around her nape, pressing in and massaging her in the exact way she loved. He was the only one that made her soul content, gave her mind peace, and soothed her when the world turned against them. It was a mistake for her to think he wouldn’t be able to affect her and enchant her. It was so easy for him to make her forget everything else in the world, making him the center of it. Just as his mouth connected with hers, but before she’d lowered her lashes, movement in her peripheral snapped her out of it and she remembered the danger he was in. Using all of her strength, along with every ounce of her will, she shoved him back. “Don’t!” Danielle shoved again and he stumbled back a couple of steps before regaining his balance. The command had come out so sharp, she’d surprised herself. But he couldn’t know it was panic for him, and not anger at him, that drew the tone from her. “Please, Ethan, I’m begging you to let me go.” Bewildered and extremely annoyed blue eyes settled onto hers. “I love you and our baby more than anything. I can’t let you do this. If you keep arguing with me, you know I’ll just pick you up and force you to come with me. We’ll discuss this later

—” Danielle’s eyes widened in panic because she knew he would, and then what would the witches do? “Don’t make me throw you,” she threatened back. His eyes narrowed a split second before he discarded the cumbersome rifle and launched forward. To her utter surprise, Ethan was able to avoid her defense and lock his arms around her waist. Once she was on his shoulder, he announced, “You’ve thrown me enough times, darling, for me to avoid it if I want to by now.” Dang it! She’d taught him too well! Terrified she’d see arrows land in his back, she kicked and scanned the threats surrounding them. The archers advanced and the brutal eagerness to commit murder in their eyes made her blood run cold. “No! No!” she screamed at the witches while hitting Ethan, pounding as hard as she could on his back. She had to make him let go. Ethan wouldn’t let go. The last thing Danielle expected was for Max to walk up to them and belt out an order, “Ethan! Let her go!” “Have you lost your mind?” he asked, not obeying. Being stronger, the knight pulled her from Ethan’s shoulder and set her aside. “They’re right. Living with us is too dangerous. We have to let them go.” What? Gaping in surprise, she looked at Nadia. How had her friend done a better job of convincing them to leave than she had?

had? The battle between the men drew her gaze. Max captured Ethan by the arms and gave him a shake. “We’re leaving. Now,” growled the knight. An aggressive anger twisted Ethan’s features. “I’m not leaving her!” Ethan shoved Max off and started back toward her. Max caught him again and stopped his forward momentum. Desperation overtook his tone when Ethan looked at her, the shoving match between the men growing violent, and he shouted, “Danielle! I’ll keep you safe. Don’t give up on us. I’m begging you.” “Stop this, Ethan. We’re leaving,” said Max, winning the shoving match because he was able to force more distance between them. “There’s no bloody way in he—” Ethan’s words were cut short when Max punched him in the face and the force of it knocked him out. Spinning, he slammed into the grass and went still. “Is he hurt?” she asked, stepping forward. Nadia caught at her arms. “This is what we wanted, right?” her tone soothing, “Let them go.” “But he could be hurt—” The knight hauled Ethan to his shoulder and started to leave without looking back. “I’m sure he’s fine.” He didn’t look fine. His limp arms dangled down Max’s back. His broken glasses lay in the grass. Danielle felt the quiver in her bottom lip.

Danielle felt the quiver in her bottom lip. Reality sank in. They were going to die tonight and she would never see Ethan again. Tears streamed down her face as she watched the men go, and a sob tore past her lips. The emotions surging through her were so intense, she finally collapsed. Nadia’s arms came around her. The witches were also there, lifting her. “Bring them inside,” said one of them. Held up by Nadia and one of the witches, she wasn’t really surprised she was dumped roughly on the hard stone flooring in what looked like a cozy family room. Nadia was pushed down next to her. When the witches bent toward them with ropes, Danielle instinctively resisted, but was punished with a sharp smack across her face. Momentarily stunned, Danielle watched in a shocked daze as their wrists and ankles were bound. Of course she was glad Ethan would be okay, but now she was going to die without him knowing the truth, and guilt twisted her insides into knots tighter than the ones binding her. “What if they come back?” asked one of the witches. Danielle didn’t care enough to lift her head and look to see who the speaker was. “Maybe we should lock them in the dungeon until the next full moon,” suggested another. “We can’t risk that,” was the reply. Ignoring the witches, she turned to Nadia, and asked, “How?” How had she convinced Max, who was a hundred times more stubborn than Ethan, to leave? “We have a word,” whispered her friend, like that explained

everything. After speaking, Nadia’s green eyes darted around as though she feared she’d been overheard, but Danielle couldn’t see the point of that when she couldn’t even comprehend what Nadia had meant anyway. Danielle frowned. “What?” “A word.” Her friend wagged her sable eyebrows at her. Just as she was starting to think Nadia was a bit mental, it hit her. With eyes widening, she muttered softly, “Oh.” A code word that told him they were in danger, and Max the knight, would be sharp enough to change their plans. Danielle rolled her eyes. Why didn’t she and Ethan have a code word? That would have made that intense exchange so much easier. Nadia squeaked and she gasped in surprise when they were suddenly seized by the arms and dragged back outside. Air was forced out of her lungs when her back connected with a solid surface. Looking around, she decided this might be the altar where the witches sacrificed victims like her and Nadia, and performed their demented beauty ritual. When the witches began another chanting dance encircling them, the two knives being waved above their heads, she felt like their words were sapping her strength and that drove her actions with desperation. Frantic to escape before they finished their chant, she tried to pull her hand loose of the ropes. A thin layer of skin scraped off against the rope as Danielle managed to get one hand free. Before she was able to do anything more, the sound of a howling wolf rent the air. The witches froze, their eyes going wide with terror.

wide with terror.

Chapter 13 Werewolves, Vampires, and Witches Silhouetted against the orange flames of a fire, Ethan took in the feminine forms making up the circle of witches dancing around it. If he hadn’t looked away, he might have been entranced by their liquid and seductive movement. His eyes scanned the area as he sought any signs of Danielle or Nadia. A large and dark structure stood to the left. Between that and the building was a dark shape he believed to be shrubs. Near the back of the property was a very large and very old tree. The tree was obviously special to these witches because it was decorated with lights and glittering stars. When his gaze landed on ropes at the base of the tree, he raised an eyebrow at Max. “What do you think?” Nestling the butt of the rifle he held against his shoulder as he looked through the sights, Max scowled at the dancers around the fire. “I think I’m going to murder a witch.” The rifle Ethan held was heavy, and it felt unnatural in his hands, but he knew how to use it, and was more than willing to take out a witch to get his wife back. With his senses on high alert, they approached the dancing witches, and he wondered where the women could be when his eyes snagged on the movement of one of the witches. He recognized the way those hips swayed back and forth and his next words lodged in his esophagus. “What the hell?”

his next words lodged in his esophagus. “What the hell?” Danielle’s resistance and her words were a complete surprise. How could she give up? Panic welled inside him. No ... No.... I can’t let this happen. “Ethan.” He tried to shake his head free of the devastating emotions gathering in the back of his throat, choking him. Their baby! She can’t really think she can take their baby away from him, can she? Sure she could, and it made perfect sense. Why would she want to risk another child’s life? Why would she want to be with him at all? It didn’t matter that they’d chosen each other before; his past mistakes had changed all of that. “Ethan.” His eyes flew open. He blinked as his hand lifted and he rubbed at his aching jaw, the growth from several days rasping against his fingers. Someone was bending down over him. Ethan blinked again, but he couldn’t quite focus on who it was. Patting at his pockets, he tried to find his glasses. “I broke them. I’m sorry.” Max. A flood of anger made him shove his friend aside and surge to his feet. He dropped against a tree for support because he wasn’t quite steady on his legs yet. “You hit me! Why?” Ethan flinched when Max grabbed his shoulders and gave him a shake, making his back bounce off the trunk. Another shove at Max made him feel a little better, and his fingers curled into a fist and he tried to punch Max for payback. The knight

into a fist and he tried to punch Max for payback. The knight caught his hand, easily stopping him. “Snap out of it you moron. She still wants you.” Danielle. The way she’d rejected him came back so vividly he felt his eyes begin to sting. His right hand clawed at his shirt over his heart as it broke in two. “She left me.” Ethan closed his eyes and dropped his head against the tree. “She said she didn’t want to put our next child in danger, so she’s leaving me, and staying with those wicked— But maybe she’s right. What if they can protect her better than we can?” They knew how to kill vampires. Besides sorcerers, he knew of nothing else that could accomplish that. Max made a scoffing sound, drawing Ethan’s returned gaze. “Stop being a thickheaded idiot, would you? Or I’ll be sorely tempted to deck you again.” “I beg your pardon?” Ethan asked, confusion soaking his brain so much he couldn’t rationalize properly. “You’re so damn lovesick you can’t even see straight, and you were completely useless in that situation.” A frown tugged his eyebrows together. “What the hell are you talking about? I had her! They could be safe right now if you hadn’t—!” Using what Danielle had taught him, he caught Max in the ribs with a swift undercut. The knight expelled a gratifying grunt and stumbled back a step or two, but he was quick to react and returned with fists ready. Ethan managed to block Max’s jab, but he missed the left hook that landed against his jaw, right where he’d been hit

before. Pain exploded in his face. Clamping his teeth together to soothe it, Ethan retaliated with a cross and a kick. But Max ended the confrontation with another hook that sent him sprawling in the dead pine needles and dirt on the forest floor. Ethan rolled to his back, breathing heavily. Max reached a hand out to help him up. Ethan stared at it feeling his lip curl. The knight hadn’t even broken into a sweat. How was it this guy sweated buckets when running, but had the endurance of a gladiator in a fight? Releasing a breath and with a roll of his eyes, Ethan accepted Max’s offered assistance. “We both would have been dead,” Max explained, letting go of Ethan’s hand once he’d gained his feet. “And as dead men, we wouldn’t be much help to them.” “I still don’t understand what happened. The witches kept dancing. They were ignoring us...” Max laughed, but there was no humor in the sound. “They weren’t ignoring us at all.” When Ethan just stared at him in confusion, brushing himself off, Max finally elaborated, “The girls were forced to send us away. It’s obvious you didn’t notice the archers hiding in the woods ready to kill us if they didn’t accomplish that.” Sir Roland’s two warnings came to mind. Mind their cunning nature, and watch out for poisoned arrows. Of course he still wondered what the third warning would have been, had the old man remembered it, but Ethan supposed that didn’t matter any longer. This explained the warnings and Danielle’s actions. It was quite cunning of them to use her love

Danielle’s actions. It was quite cunning of them to use her love for him to make her do what they wanted. He’d known how affected she was when he’d let her taste his breath. The way she’d melted into him, the way she’d clutched at his clothes, and the welcoming little sounds she’d made when he went to kiss her all proved that. And he knew by the passion shining in her eyes she would have followed him anywhere—until she remembered the danger he was in, and she’d pushed him away. Ethan could only imagine how many witches stood behind him, for her to see, to keep her in line. As everything slid into place, Ethan mentally berated himself for being so stupid. “That explains it.” “Of course it does.” “Was it the archers that tipped you off?” Ethan asked with frustration in himself for not noticing. “No. I taught Nadia to use a code word in case she needed my help but couldn’t explain. I saw the archers as we left.” “Brilliant. Why didn’t I think of that?” “You’re just not amazing, like I am,” commented the knight dryly. “My head isn’t swelled with exceeding pride either,” Ethan added in a mocking tone. “A certain amount of pride comes naturally with such brilliance.” Deciding that perhaps it was best to change the subject, Ethan asked, “What do you think the witches want with them?” “It can’t be good, whatever it is.” Max’s throat worked when he swallowed. “We should get back there.” Ethan nodded in agreement, urgency still driving him. “Which

Ethan nodded in agreement, urgency still driving him. “Which way is it?” Max pointed. Ethan marked the direction as north based on the position of the moon in the sky. They started running. As they went, the knight began checking his weapons, pulling the gun out of its holster, removing the clip and popping it back in. Ethan had already checked his gear earlier, and besides, without his glasses, he really had to focus to keep from smacking into a tree as they ran. “How long has it been?” he asked, as worry for Danielle’s and Nadia’s safety returned. “Not long.” “What’s the plan?” “The only thing I can think of is stealth right now.” The knight tested the sight on his rifle. “Maybe I can pick them off from a distance.” With regret, Ethan took mental inventory of what he had left since he’d dropped the rifle to grab Danielle. He carried a handgun that was best suited for close range, and a knife strapped to his thigh, again, a weapon best suited for close range. His mind went over the scene when they’d first arrived. When his brain called up the ropes he’d seen around the base of the tree, he said, “They knew we were coming. I think they’d had them tied to the tree.” “I agree, and then they made the girls dance with them to throw us off guard.” Ethan hated himself for falling for that, but Danielle really had

done a great job of playing up her fear for the baby’s safety to mask her concern for him. At the idea of a child, his heart soared, and he recalled his hasty wish to be a vampire again. Would that really solve all of his problems? Now that he thought about it again, he wasn’t so sure. Rubbing at his bruised knuckles, Ethan considered his friend as they moved ahead. “I’m sorry.” “Don’t worry about it.” Max angled a look his way. “I get it.” Ethan suspected he did since Nadia was involved in this too. “I’m sorry about Nadia.” Max waved away the apology. “We’ll rescue them. We just need to reassess our tactics.” Making a sound of frustration, Max’s gaze swung to the moon. It was getting low in the sky, but there were probably a few more hours before morning came, and Ethan didn’t understand Max’s annoyance with the moon until he said, “You noticed it’s a full moon tonight, didn’t you?” Ethan swore. No, he’d been so worried about Danielle he hadn’t noticed. As if on cue, a wolf howled. An intense sense of fear enveloped him. In Ethan’s past, fear hadn’t been one of those emotions he’d had to deal with much. But since meeting Danielle, he feared many things. As mortal men, they really didn’t need to encounter these things, in the woods, without any kind of protection. His palm landed on the butt of his gun. Just as with the pixies, he doubted it would do him any good in this situation. Desperate, Ethan shoved a hand

him any good in this situation. Desperate, Ethan shoved a hand into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He dialed. Max raised an eyebrow at him, probably wondering who he was calling. Ethan didn’t take the time to explain. When they picked up, he said, “This is Deveroux. We—” “The Deveroux?” the man on the other end of the line asked, interrupting. “The cured vampire, Deveroux? The—” “Yes, that Deveroux.” “Truly, it is an honor to speak with you. What brings you to Hungary?” “I don’t have time to explain, but we need Order members here now.” “Where is here?” asked the man. His tone had shifted from friendly to professional. After he explained where they were and the vampires had promised to come, Ethan disconnected. “The Hungarian vamps?” asked Max. “Yeah.” “I wanted to call them before we got here actually, but after Sir Roland’s warning about the arrows killing them too, I didn’t want to put anyone else at risk.” Ethan shook his head. “Me either.” He did feel guilt for bringing others into this, but he didn’t see how they could survive without reinforcements. Another keening howl sliced through the quiet, sending chills along his nerve endings. “Do you think they really could have found them as fast as we did?” Or was this simply another group of werewolves out on a full moon?

of werewolves out on a full moon? Max turned regret-filled eyes on him. “This is Lucas we’re talking about, right?” “Bloody hell.” Lucas was resourceful enough to have found them, especially since they didn’t have the fairy necklaces to hide them any longer. He had to find some way of killing that blackguard, and he wished he’d asked Sir Roland if he knew anything. It was believed that the beasts had actually turned on and killed the sorcerer or sorceress who had created them. Because of that, there was a chance they couldn’t be destroyed, but Ethan was willing to ask anyway. Suddenly a man appeared in front of them, and they were forced to skid to a halt. Ethan barely bit back a surprised shout. The man smiled, white teeth shining out from a shadowed face with downcast eyes. “You called?” he asked in a thick Hungarian accent. One of the vampires. A second later, several more joined him. “I’m Max, and this is Ethan. Thanks for coming so quickly,” responded Max, because for some reason Ethan had fallen mute. The vampire lifted a hand to his face and peered at them through a gap he’d created between two of his fingers. Apparently he wanted to get a good look at the famous Ethan Deveroux without knocking him senseless with the curse magic in his eyes. “I’m Kristof,” said the vampire, “but I’m sure we don’t have time for pleasantries. What do you need?” Ethan cleared his throat and explained the situation,

mentioning the danger to the vampires because of the witches’ arrows. If he’d been flattered by their reaction to his name, his ego was taken down a notch when he saw how incredibly eager they were to face death-by-poison-arrow to save the even more infamous Danielle Darcey. Kristof hung back with him and Max to protect them if they encountered any of the werewolves, and the rest of them sped off toward the witches’ house. It really hadn’t taken them long, but when he and Max finally arrived, the vampires were creeping toward some hedges Ethan had overlooked earlier, thinking they were just part of the landscaping. The men were advancing with a level of caution that told him they knew witches were there and were probably wary of the arrows that could turn their immortality into a swift mortal death. It was also obvious they hadn’t been discovered yet, like he and Max had. Of course the vampires had advantages that he and Max didn’t. The area seemed deserted and it was as quiet as a tomb. That concerned him. His vision wasn’t good without his glasses, so he squinted trying to bring things into focus. The flames, though lower, still jumped from the wood, sending sparks into the air. The big shape he knew to be the house was dark. Ethan could see the tree because it was still lit up, but he couldn’t tell if the ropes were still on the ground at the base of it. As his eyes traveled over the lawn, they caught onto something reflecting moonlight and he realized it was probably his glasses. Ethan wanted to go get them to at least hold the lenses up to his eyes,

but going out into the open for a pair of spectacles with werewolves about wasn’t exactly wise, so he discarded the idea. The smell of smoke was as strong as before, but there was something else. Drawing another breath, panic welled up in his throat. He recognized it as the smell he’d noticed when the werewolves had broken into their home. They were here then, but why were they being so quiet? Their howls had completely ceased. “Where do you think—?” Kristof shook his head sharply, making a slicing motion over his throat. Ethan snapped his mouth shut at the command, and that’s when he heard it. Voices—female ones. So where were they then? Suddenly the hushed speech turned into screams and a number of women came out from behind the shrubs the vampires were closing in on. Were Danielle and Nadia with them? They were too far away and it was too dark for him to pick out anyone he recognized. All hell broke loose after that. The vampire held them back when whoops and growls obliterated the quiet. Ethan didn’t need his glasses to know the werewolves were attacking. “What’s happening?” Ethan asked, because he couldn’t make it out with the explosion of movement by the shrubbery and the house. “The witches have armed themselves and they’re fighting the werewolves.” “Do you see Danielle or Nadia?” asked Max. “I do not.” “Well, they’ve got to be somewhere around here!” Ethan

“Well, they’ve got to be somewhere around here!” Ethan ground out, angry and frustrated with the horrible events over the last twenty-four hours. “The rest of my men are working their way into the shrubbery.” Ethan didn’t have patience for this commentary. He needed to see what was going on, so he asked angrily, “Could you get my glasses?” It took Kristof a moment to respond, and when Ethan thought he might not be willing to retrieve them, something cold pressed into the palm of his hand. His fingers closed around the remains of his spectacles. Misshapen because the rims were bent, Ethan lifted them to his face and asked Max, “Did they get like this when you hit me?” It felt like he’d been struck in the jaw, not his nose. “Ah ... no.” Ethan peered through the glass, which was cracked but still intact, and blinked at the battle trying to see if he could find his wife. “That happened when I picked you up. I didn’t see them, and—” Ethan waved his hand, not needing to hear anymore. It was obvious Max had stepped on them. They watched, trying to understand what was happening as the witches screeched out cries of terror, and the werewolves snarled and howled. “I can’t stand on the sidelines like this any longer,” complained Max before he took off across the lawn, lifting his

complained Max before he took off across the lawn, lifting his rifle to his shoulder. He didn’t get far before the vampire stopped him, dragging him back. “Fine,” Max grumbled, yanking his arms free of the Kristof’s hold. “You called us here for help. I can’t let anything happen to you.” Ethan ground his teeth together because he wanted to do the same thing, but also knew he wouldn’t get any farther than Max had, especially when Kristof spread his arms out in front of them like he could read Ethan’s mind. “There!” shouted the vampire suddenly. “What? Where?” Ethan asked, pressing as forward as he could against the vampire’s arm that was extended in front of his chest. “I see two women running into the woods.” Just before they disappeared into the trees, Ethan caught a glimpse of them. His lungs froze up when he also noticed several werewolves in pursuit. He wasn’t sure if he could take much comfort in the vampires who’d followed as well, because there were just too many werewolves. Ethan sank against one of the trees they stood between. He was sure Lucas was there tonight, sure he was hunting Danielle specifically, and poor Nadia would become a devastatingly unfortunate casualty. The tips of his fingers bit into the palms of his hands as they fisted at his sides. He wanted to scream in frustration or hit something, but that

wouldn’t help this situation. Ethan felt so utterly useless, and his thoughts naturally returned to the idea of becoming a vampire again. He could remember what it was like to run so incredibly fast, the powerful curse magic coursing through his veins, the ease at which he did physical things, the lack of physical pain.... But if Lucas got to them tonight, being powerful wouldn’t change anything. It was too late to reconsider any of his past choices, and it might just be too late to save his wife and his friend. Emotion made his already despicable vision blur even further. A hand landed gently on his shoulder. Lifting his eyes, they met with the vampire’s sympathetic expression. Ethan frowned in bewilderment when his legs turned to cooked noodles and his back began sliding down the bark. The vampire blinked, spat out a curse and jerked his head to the side while catching Ethan under the armpits. “Sorry. I forgot about that.” It was the first time Ethan had been influenced as a mortal by the curse magic, and he decided he didn’t like it much as he latched onto the trunk behind him, trying to regain the strength in his legs. How long had he done this to Danielle? And how could she have liked it so much? “Are you all right?” Kristof asked. Remembering how the curse magic was supposed to work, he realized the effect hadn’t gotten to the point of him wanting to die yet. “I’m fine,” he managed. The small lie didn’t take away the fact that inside he was collapsing. “Can we follow them?” He had to know the outcome, and couldn’t sit here waiting for a call.

had to know the outcome, and couldn’t sit here waiting for a call. “Can you run?” Kristof asked with a note of concern in his voice. To prove he could, Ethan shoved away from the tree and took off in the direction he’d see the women go. For what felt like miles, they ran. Or maybe it felt that way to Ethan because he had to hold his glasses up to his face so he could see. His arm was beginning to cramp, his jaw was throbbing and his legs burned. Trying to forget about how he felt, Ethan listened for any sound that would tell him they were getting closer. It distressed him that he couldn’t hear the howling anymore, but he kept going. Like a ghost materializing before his eyes, another man suddenly showed up in front of them. Ethan was forced to stop so abruptly, he fell backward and crashed into Max. They toppled over like a pair of dominoes. Pushing up from off the ground, and from off of Max, he wanted to shout, “Stop doing that!” Instead he asked, “Did you catch them?” Not looking him in the eye, the vampire shook his head. “The werewolves got to them before we did.” Had they been killed? His legs went weak again but it wasn’t because he could see the vampire’s eyes. “Explain!” “I believe they didn’t want to infect them with their curse, so they tossed blankets over them and hauled them off like that.” “How did they get away from you?” “There were too many of them for us to fight all at once. A couple of them snatched the girls while we battled with the others, and fled. We searched, but we couldn’t find them.”

others, and fled. We searched, but we couldn’t find them.” “You couldn’t scent them?” “We tried that.” The vampire shook his head. “They did something to mask it.” Max swore. “What were the witches doing behind the shrubs?” Ethan asked because he had to understand what had happened while they’d stood hidden in the trees. “They were going to kill them.” Max swore again. “How do you know?” Ethan felt breathless. “That coven has lived here for longer than many of us have even been vampires.” Ethan gaped at that because he knew witches were mortal. The vampire continued, “It is said, that they have some kind of ritual that makes them live longer and look as beautiful as they do.” “And you believe that is what they were trying to do?” “Yes.” A pause and then, “If the werewolves hadn’t come, we might have been too late to save them.” “What?” Ethan asked, his insides churning so much he felt nauseated. “The witches heard the werewolves coming and stopped their chant because of it. If not for that, they would have still been in the process of the spell and nearing the completion.” Pressing a fist to his mouth, Ethan tried to keep the fish soup down. The vampire went on. “When the werewolves did finally

attack, the girls managed to escape in the confusion.” “Were any of your men harmed by the witches’ arrows?” Ethan managed to ask, knowing he’d feel horrible if any of the vampires were killed trying to help them. The vampire’s mouth twisted with an evil smile, revealing fangs. “No. We managed to get the bows away from a couple of the pretty creatures...” The unspoken death of those witches hung between them.

Chapter 14 Werewolves and Little Red Riding Hood “Make sure you don’t scratch them,” she thought a werewolf said in the raspy voice of a beast. Danielle didn’t want that either and she’d decided it was best not to struggle for that reason. It felt like she was being hauled around like a sack of potatoes on her captor’s shoulder. Bound within a huge blanket or something, she couldn’t see at all, and what she could hear was muffled through the material. The moist warmth of her breath puffed back into her face with each exhale, and she was getting lightheaded because of it. Bent at the waist like she was, the blood was rushing to her head and that wasn’t helping her feel any less sick. If this creepy beast wasn’t careful, he’d soon have the contents of her stomach all over him. Danielle pinched her lips together—too bad her stomach was empty.... It was correct for her to have assumed they’d get a chance to escape if the werewolves showed up. When the witches had heard the howls, they’d run for their bows and arrows. And since she’d already pulled one hand free, she was able to unbind her legs and Nadia. They’d run into the woods and toward the street, praying to find someone who could hide them. Of course she hadn’t forgotten about the werewolves’ heightened sense of smell, and wasn’t surprised when they’d caught up to them so fast.

fast. She could still hear Nadia’s screams of terror ringing in her ears when the werewolves had surrounded them. Her friend must have felt so incredibly vulnerable and fragile as a mortal woman being encircled by such hideous things. A cross between enormous men and monsters, they were the things of nightmares and she felt horribly guilty about Nadia being caught up in this mess with her. It was her they were after, not Nadia. Why hadn’t they just left Nadia behind like she’d begged them to? Thinking she’d seen a few vampires fighting some of the werewolves before something had been thrown over her head, Danielle believed Nadia would have been rescued. Whoever had her didn’t sound like Lucas, but she knew she’d soon face him again. A sense of foreboding uncurled inside her stomach like a snake. Nadia hadn’t been the only one of them screaming. As all of their hopes for freedom had crumbled around them, Danielle mentally grasped onto one glimmer of light. In the back of her mind, she believed someone would still try to rescue them. Because of the way Max had been forced to knock Ethan out, she didn’t think he’d give up on finding her despite the look on his face telling her he’d believed her lies. Ethan Deveroux was too stubborn and too possessive for that. If she ever saw him again, she would hug him for that blessed character flaw. Danielle wasn’t sure if she’d fallen asleep or passed out from lack of air, but when her back landed against something soft and springy she was jolted awake. The blanket was roughly pulled

springy she was jolted awake. The blanket was roughly pulled out from around her and she blinked up at the man standing above her. Instinctively, she cringed away from the stranger. It must have taken them the rest of night to get to wherever they were, because sunlight was filtering in through the crack in the dark-green curtains behind him. She was also aware of the fact that Nadia was next to her, but she didn’t trust this guy enough to take her eyes off him just yet. “I would assume you’re both hungry,” the guy said. Startled by the friendly offer, she didn’t respond right away. Her gaze traveled over the blond man and the other three men with him. The guy who’d spoken to her was dressed in jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. The others were dressed similarly, like they were campers. His fairly handsome, but rugged face split into a smile, showing a pair of dimples in his cheeks. Danielle’s eyes rounded in surprise. He seemed friendly and harmless even though she believed these were probably the werewolves, just during the day without their curse surrounding them. He held out a bag of jerky for her. “I’m sorry, but this is all I’ve got at the moment. Jack is busy cooking up some eggs, bacon and boxty for you.” As she wondered what the heck boxty was, her eyes landed on the bag of jerky and her stomach asked for it with a loud growl. Her fingers grazed along her stomach, her cheeks heating. “Go on now,” he said, still grinning. “I can hear how bad you want it.” When her gaze still shifted from him to the bag and back to

the other guys, he frowned, reached inside and pulled out a piece which he held out to her instead of the bag. “What do you want with us?” she asked, ignoring the food. His arm dropped to his side. The guy blinked in bewilderment like he was surprised she was scared of him. “We’re not going to hurt you.” A groan drew her attention to Nadia on the bed beside her. Danielle only hesitated for a moment before she looked at her friend. Besides her hair being a mess and her clothes rumpled, it seemed as though she was all right, but Danielle reached over to check for any tears in her clothes anyway. She hoped her friend hadn’t been scratched by one of the werewolves by mistake.... Nadia’s black lashes fluttered up and once she focused on the men she sprang upright and scrambled backwards until she bumped into the headboard and couldn’t go any farther. “Are you okay?” she asked Nadia. Nadia blinked and nodded a mute reply. Drawing a breath, she released it slowly. She could smell the food he’d just described being cooked, and her stomach responded with another gurgle. “What do you want with us?” she repeated because he hadn’t answered her the first time. “We just want you to cure us.” Danielle felt her jaw drop. “But I thought Lucas—” His face lit up again. “Lucas said you could cure us like you did that vampire. Should we go get him for you?” “No,” she snapped perhaps a little too hastily. The guy’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not his friend?”

The guy’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not his friend?” Shaking her head, she tried to decide if maybe they could trust these guys to turn on Lucas, especially if his lies were the reasons they’d kidnapped them. Danielle still believed Lucas meant her a great deal of harm, but the other werewolves seemed kind of nice. “You can cure us, can’t you?” asked the guy. Had she noticed a hint of annoyance in his voice that hadn’t been there before? “You don’t want to be werewolves?” she asked without answering his question because she really didn’t have an answer for him. Just as there were vampires who’d wanted to stay cursed, weren’t there some werewolves who wanted that too? Hesitating for a moment, he just stared at her and she worried he’d noticed her hedge. “Why would anyone in their right mind want to be a werewolf?” he asked. “We’re prisoners every full moon, and—” “And,” chimed in the guy with black hair, “my family is starting to ask why I disappear once a month.” Yet, Danielle would bet on the fact that Lucas wanted to be a werewolf, and that’s what led her to her next question. “But don’t you have super powers because of it? And a chance to become alpha, or something?” The black-haired guy belted out a laugh which was punctuated by a derisive snort. “We’re cursed men. There’s no such thing as alpha here. That’s a dog and wolf thing. We’re neither of those.” The blond guy co*cked his head to the side, folded his arms

The blond guy co*cked his head to the side, folded his arms and narrowed his eyes further. “You didn’t answer my question earlier.” So, he had noticed. Trying honesty, she said, “I don’t know how I could. Is there some prophecy about how it’s done?” Not only did his eyes stay narrowed to angry slits, his eyebrows lowered, and a muscle jumped in his jaw. That’s when Danielle started to think that maybe these guys weren’t so nice after all. “What exactly are you talking about?” he growled. “Well, with the vampires, there was a prophecy that said, ‘The one who gives himself to humanity will find the cure to the curse.’ So, Ethan asked me to bite him when he was under the influence of the curse and weak from thirst.” Confusion clouded the guy’s expression. By now, anger was practically radiating off of him, and she worried that maybe she’d been too honest. “Who’s Ethan?” he snapped. Apparently Lucas hadn’t told them everything. “Um, he’s the vampire I cured.” His arms dropped from their folded position in frustration and he turned to the other men. “What do you make of this?” Danielle’s gaze met with Nadia’s for a brief moment before she started assessing their situation. They were in some sort of cabin made out of logs. It was rustic and not really decorated, so she figured only men stayed here. Straight ahead was a window. To her left was an open doorway that led to an area with a sofa and a fireplace. Beyond that, she suspected there was a kitchen and that’s where Jack was, making breakfast. Her next thoughts

were how she could get out of here, and what she could use as a weapon. “We don’t know of any such prophecy. I say we have her bite us and see what happens.” “Does it need to be done while we’re cursed?” “Couldn’t that turn her? I don’t think she could cure us if she’s one of us too.” Again the blond guy folded his arms, his boot tapping against the wood floor as he thought about it with an obvious air of impatience. She wasn’t prepared for it when he spun on his heel and looked directly at her. He’d caught her staring at a heavylooking lamp as she considered its usefulness at clobbering him over the head while he had his back to her. “You’re thinking about escaping,” he pointed out with a lift of his eyebrows. She didn’t bother to answer that. “Tie them up while we figure out what to do with them,” he ground out. “I’m going to ask Lucas about this.” Then he left the room. She did not want to be bound with Lucas nearby and made the split second decision to fight them. Her biggest concern was that she didn’t know if these guys would be stronger than normal men without their curse or not, but she had to try. Casting a look at Nadia, she gave the signal of what she planned. The muscles in Nadia’s body tightened in anticipation even though she looked scared about what they were going to attempt. The other blond guy reached for a pile of ropes on the

The other blond guy reached for a pile of ropes on the dresser behind them. Dark blue eyes swung her way while he stretched out the length of it and stalked forward. When the black-haired guy reached for her wrists, Danielle grabbed onto his instead, yanked him forward, knocking him off balance, and kicked him in the kidneys. Hard. He doubled over with a grunt of pain, but recovered way faster than he should have. Apparently as werewolves they were more resilient than mortal men. Danielle gulped. Nadia had jumped to her feet and grabbed the lamp on her side of the room. She stood with her feet shoulder-width apart, the lamp turned upside down and ready, but she stared at Danielle in fear after having witnessed what she just had. “Collin, are you all right?” asked the second blond guy. “Yeah, I am,” replied Collin. “How do you want to handle this?” Collin considered Danielle before smiling with renewed determination. “I’m going to tie her up.” Not if she had anything to say about it. She jumped off the bed and lifted her fists. Collin laughed like he was pleased with the idea of a fight. Rolling his shoulders back, he came at her again. “Bring the rope, Darwin.” He must have been too confident because she managed to punch him in the face three times without him doing much at all to avoid it. Each strike made his head snap backward before he simply shook it off. He kept coming, and Danielle realized that maybe he wasn’t too confident after all. With sable eyebrows

maybe he wasn’t too confident after all. With sable eyebrows drawn low in anger, Collin reached out with surprising speed and caught her in a headlock. Dang it! Danielle couldn’t escape his grip while Darwin wrapped rope around her wrists and ankles. Once she was securely bound, he lifted her up and tossed her back on the bed. Nadia hadn’t fared any better than she had. The third guy had easily snatched the lamp from her hands and held her down while Darwin tied her up too. When they were left alone, she couldn’t decide if she regretted picking a fight or not. She’d risked having them both beaten in retaliation. Luckily that hadn’t happened and again, she wondered if these guy were good or straddling the fence in that regard. They could have also punished them by letting them continue to go without food, but they hadn’t done that either. The werewolves had still fed them breakfast even after their defiance. Of course, they no longer trusted them and had secured them to the bed to release their hands so they could eat, without the use of utensils. Starved as they were, they’d eaten the hot meal with their fingers, and Danielle had discovered that boxty were just Irish potato pancakes. She liked them. And for some reason, with this pregnancy, she wasn’t as sick to her stomach. The bacon, which was more like a ham to her, hadn’t made her nauseous and she’d eaten all of it except for the fat on the edges. As soon as they’d finished eating, they’d been re-bound and

left alone. Danielle tried to get loose like she had with the witches, but the werewolves, being men probably, were better at tying knots. The scrape on her hand from the first time hurt like crazy when she’d attempted to pull her hand free of the ropes. She gave up on the endeavor and dropped her head back against the pillows. “You can’t get out of it again, can you?” “Nope.” “I hate this,” said Nadia. Danielle sighed. “I’m sorry.” “Would you stop apologizing?” “But—” “It’s not your fault!” She didn’t believe that, but she kept quiet anyway. It wasn’t worth the energy to argue with her friend. Time ticked on, and with nothing to look at besides the rows of boards making up the ceiling, she fell asleep knowing there were a total of twenty five boards slanting down from each side of it. Unconsciousness slid over her, and she was vaguely aware of the annoying fact that her hands were going numb and her feet were tingling. Danielle snuggled closer into the cradle of his chest because, it seemed, she could never get close enough to Ethan. Her head was nestled against his chest as she watched in almost hypnotized wonder as his fingers traced caressing circles into the palm of her hand that drove

sensation from there, along her arm, and to the middle of her spine. Unable to stop her reaction, she laughed as a shudder worked its way through her body. Then it was his turn to laugh, at her. At the reaction he was able to draw out of her so easily. His chest bumped against her shoulder with his mirth. Struggling against subconscious reminders of reality, Danielle rooted her senses into this forgotten memory, unwilling to recognize the fact that she wasn’t really here. With him. Careful fingers left her hand, gathered her chin between them, and lifted her face. His mouth covered hers and her eyes slid shut. Instead of watching what he was doing, she simply felt. She felt the warmth of his breath fill her as his lips parted and pressed more firmly against hers. She felt the smile that came to his mouth still connected to hers. And she felt his fingers glide around her ribcage before tracing the length of her spine as though he were carefully counting each one. When her thought process fogged further with passion, he pulled away and requested, “Have faith in me, Danielle. Have faith in us.” Danielle had been so lost in this memory that she was a little surprised when she realized they’d apparently been having another conversation. The first part of it, she’d missed and couldn’t recall even as she tried to. “But how can you know we’ll be able to come back

“But how can you know we’ll be able to come back together in life, especially if we’re born in different eras?” she heard herself say, again not remembering it until hearing it. “Because we’re meant to be,” he answered with a rich conviction in his voice that she was used to hearing from him. His lips touched her temple. The puff of his breath tickled her skin. “I know that what we have isn’t temporary. Alive or dead, in body or spirit. This is forever.” How can he know that? “Forever is a long time, Ethan. What if you get tired of me? What if I get tired of you?” Ethan laughed softly and smacked her hip in a punishment that didn’t cause pain. “Forever. I promise eternal commitment.” A vow. His chin dropped against the top of her head. His finger twisted a lock of her hair around it. “And I promise to keep it interesting so you don’t get tired of me.” As if to prove it, or to seal the deal, he was kissing her again. His arms cinching around her body in a firm hug that showed her instead of told her that he meant what he said. And how could she question that? Ethan knew every secret wish of her heart, every private fantasy, and every treasured dream of her soul. They may not truly remember this time together, but he’d somehow recognized those personal things about her when they’d met, just as she instantly recognized those things about him also. The dream shifted from her bright past with Ethan to

The dream shifted from her bright past with Ethan to Lucas, and darkness. Every shadow morphed into him as a vampire and as a werewolf, shifting back and forth between the two. Ethan’s warnings also replayed through her mind. “You should fear him, Danielle.” “Never be alone at night.” “You’re not safe here.” “He’s after you because of me, because of conflicts in our past.” Danielle knew that whatever Lucas had done, it had to have been really bad, because Ethan wouldn’t talk to her about it. Every time she brought it up, he skirted around it and changed the subject. She’d caught a glimpse of his panic when Lucas had revealed his new curse and his continued intentions to do her harm. What was Lucas capable of? Too soon, she’d find out.... An awareness of her aching body, numb fingers, and tingling toes drew her from the dreams holding her unconsciousness captive. Danielle shuddered as if to shake the images of Lucas out of her mind and redirected her thoughts, clinging to Ethan’s words just as she had done to him in her memory. Frowning though, she puzzled over how those memories had been so sensation-rich. How could she feel him if they were nothing more than spirits? She had no way of explaining that, except that perhaps spirits could feel other spirits. Danielle opened her eyes and covered her yawn with bound hands. She took a moment to frown at the color of her fingers because the circulation was seriously hindered.

“You’re awake,” whispered the voice of her nightmares. Jolting upright, Danielle automatically tried to defend herself when she recognized Lucas’ dark eyes looking into hers. But she couldn’t get free of the ropes wrapped tightly around her ankles and wrists. Instead she scrambled backward bumping against Nadia who was still asleep. “What do you want?” she snapped, tempering her volume slightly so she wouldn’t wake Nadia. Her friend didn’t need this. Lucas laughed. “The cure, obviously.” She felt her eyes narrow. “You don’t want to be cured.” While sliding a hand through his black hair, his mouth twitched and Danielle suspected she was right. He had to have lied to the other werewolves, and she couldn’t figure out the reasons why he would do that, except that maybe he knew he couldn’t get past her guards without their help. Lucas wore jeans and a dark gray t-shirt with the scary image of a skull printed on the front. From what she’d seen so far, the other werewolves didn’t dress like him, and she suspected that even though Lucas was socializing with werewolves now, he was still keeping himself separated and not really connecting. The others clearly wanted the cure from her, but Lucas just as clearly wanted something else. Was it still revenge on Ethan he sought? If that was the case, hurting her now would do it. Ethan would be devastated by the loss, especially since another baby was involved. Swallowing a mouthful of fear without success, she remembered the worry in Ethan’s expression, the

success, she remembered the worry in Ethan’s expression, the concern he tried to hide. Ethan couldn’t hide much from her, just as she couldn’t hide things from him, and so she knew Lucas posed an even greater threat to her than the other werewolves did. That knowledge wasn’t helping her to stay calm at the moment. An evil amusem*nt filled Lucas’ expression as he sat down on the edge of the bed, drawing closer, his fingers gently touching hers. Everything inside her recoiled, and she yanked her hands away from his touch. “Back off,” she bit out. “Or what?” he asked, leering at her, moving closer still. She couldn’t go any farther back without knocking Nadia off the bed. Another glance in her direction told her Nadia was still out cold and she hoped it stayed that way. “I said back off,” she repeated. Or I’ll hit you with my elbow. At least they’d bound her arms out in front of her, and there were certain things she could still do, damage she could still inflict. A cruel hand captured her face, the tips of Lucas’ fingers bit into her skin. His breath puffed against her face. “Ethan didn’t really think he could keep you hidden forever, did he?” “What happened between you and him that has made you so bitter?” “This isn’t about the past anymore.” Danielle swallowed, her eyes rounded. Lucas continued. “This is payback for taking the vampire curse from me,” he whispered, obviously because he didn’t want

curse from me,” he whispered, obviously because he didn’t want the other werewolves to know his plan. And why would he? Ethan had been right. Unlike the other werewolves, Lucas wanted to be cursed. Clearly he’d been quite fond of being a vampire with all of its monstrous advantages. Danielle believed his becoming a werewolf was an act of desperation and only his second choice, because it seemed that vampires had more powers than werewolves did. Lilith, the sorceress who’d created the vampire curse, had chosen to reward her and Ethan for being the first to solve her riddle and discover the cure. Of course, she’d been annoyed with vampires like Beon who’d wanted to stay cursed to maintain immortality, but since he’d also been willing to let it be a choice, Lilith had forgiven him. When Lucas and the other opposing vampires had tried to kill her and Ethan, Lilith had completely removed the curse they’d enjoyed so much, making them instantly mortal again. And if Lucas, or any of those opposing the cure, sought to become a vampire again, they would simply die instead of being turned. “You did that to yourself when you attacked us,” she pointed out. “If it wasn’t for you—” “Lilith made that decision, not me.” “It doesn’t matter. You’ll pay, and so will Ethan.” Danielle didn’t need any more motivation than that to strike. Her arms swung up and her left elbow connected with his nose. Layered strands of black hair flipped up and back as his head did the same. Lucas spat out a swear word as his hand

shot to his nose. Before he’d covered it, she’d seen the trickle of blood oozing from his nostril. Anger flashed in his expression a split second before he wound back and swung a fist at her face. With quick reflexes she blocked it, but he swiftly redirected. Remembering the baby, she drew her knees up afraid he’d hit her in the stomach. His fist connected with her ribs and she groaned in pain. As a werewolf, he didn’t have the strength of a vampire, but he was easily stronger than any mortal man, and she worried that he may have cracked a rib as the wind was sapped from her lungs. His fist flew toward her for another hit. This one found the side of her head and stars exploded in her vision before she passed out. When she woke up this time, her head was pounding out a beat that matched the thumping of her heart. “You’re awake.” She’d heard that question before, but this time she knew it was Nadia, and relief lifted the tension that was settled on her chest like a heavy brick. Danielle looked at Nadia. Her eyebrows lifted when she took in the fact that Nadia was kneeling beside the bed with a huge smile on her face. The excitement-filled expression reached into Nadia’s vibrant green eyes and reminded Danielle of happier times. Giving her hand a tug, Danielle winced as the tight strands nipped at her raw skin and the bruised muscles along her ribcage surged with pain. She also felt a throbbing on the side of her head where Lucas had hit her hard enough to knock her out.

head where Lucas had hit her hard enough to knock her out. These were not those happy times. “I found something,” Nadia said, a tone of pride unhidden in her voice. Realizing Nadia didn’t know about the visit from Lucas, she rolled to her elbow, pushing up to a more seated position, but it was a little difficult to do with her hands bound and pain rolling over her torso. Even though it hurt, she was fairly sure nothing was broken. Danielle didn’t think she’d be able to move at all if that were the case. “What is it?” she asked, trying to keep her mind on Nadia and not how she was feeling at the moment. “Something sharp,” Nadia said, beaming. That drew an interested smile to her face and renewed hope to her soul. “You mean something to cut the ropes?” Even with excitement surging through her veins, a sense of caution tamed it. Her gaze touched on the door. She wondered where their captors were, and even more than that, she wondered when Lucas would show himself again. She hadn’t forgotten his threats, and getting away from here would be a great way to avoid him. “Here.” Her friend then bent forward and rubbed her wrists against something under the bed. “There are sharp edges on the metal frame.” Danielle scooted off the mattress to do the same. “Brilliant,” she praised in a hushed voice. Together they sawed at the ropes until they’d loosened them enough to work them off. The scratchy material still rasped over her scrape, but she clenched her teeth together and bore the pain

her scrape, but she clenched her teeth together and bore the pain regardless. They untied their ankles and stood, kicking the ropes free. Danielle stretched, testing her injury. Nope, not cracked, she decided. Good. “Window or door?” Nadia mimed, pointing at each. Creeping toward the door, Danielle pressed her ear to the wood and listened. She heard nothing, but her gaze moved to the window anyway. That would be the quickest way out. She stepped to the window and parted the curtains just enough to peer out, but when she saw plaid fabric she dropped the curtain like it had burned her. They had two men posted there to guard them. Nadia made a tiny sound of distress that drew her eyes. “What now?” her friend lipped without making any noise. With eyes returning to the door, she reached for the handle, but paused when Nadia’s fingers latched onto her sleeve. “What if there are men there too?” Then we use karate, was her first thought, but then she remembered the lamps. The idiots had left those in the room even though Nadia had already tried using one as a weapon. Without speaking, she pointed at them. An excited smile lifted Nadia’s cheeks and crinkled around her eyes. Once armed, Danielle again reached for the handle, but as before, she hesitated. What if it was locked? If she tried to open it, they would know they’d gotten free of their bonds when they heard it jiggle. “What’s wrong?” Nadia asked barely audibly. “Maybe we need a distraction.”

Nadia co*cked her head to the side, considering it. “What if I say I need the loo?” “That’s not a bad idea, except we were bound.” With slumped shoulders, Nadia returned the lamp to one of the nightstands and laid down on the bed. “Then tie me up again, and you can clobber them over the head when they come in.” Considering that, Danielle snatched up the ropes from off the floor. It was a good plan, and it was all they had. “I’ll make them look tight but you’ll be able to slip them off easily and we’ll both run for it.” “After you dispatch the guards,” Nadia lipped with a level of confidence Danielle wasn’t sure she deserved. “Right,” she said wondering if she’d really be able to do that with her bruises. But they had to try something before Lucas decided to come back. Thinking of all of the things that could go wrong with this, Danielle decided she needed to say more to Nadia, and they had a volume-less conversation by reading each other’s lips. “This could get violent. I don’t want you to get hurt,” Danielle began. “You taught me well—” “Not well enough, these guys are stronger than mortal men.” “How can you know that?” Danielle thought of how hard Lucas had hit her, but Nadia was obviously thinking about the exchange between the men before that. “I just know.” “Are you suggesting we don’t try to escape then?” “No, of course not. I just need you to promise me you’ll run

if you get the chance.” A soft mocking chuckle came from Nadia. “I can’t leave you behind.” “You have to. You could get the others to help and lead them back here. Please promise me that if you get the chance to run, you will.” Nadia sighed, her chest lifting and falling with the quiet action. “Very well. I see your point.” “Thank you,” she lipped to her friend. As Danielle collected one of the lamps and made her way back to the door, a floorboard creaked and she froze with rounding eyes. When nothing happened after a few minutes of tense quiet, she lifted the lamp up above her head and stood where she would be hidden behind the door when it opened. Trembling in her fingers showed the uncertainty hidden inside. Forcing courage into her spine, she steadied her hands and gave a nod to Nadia. Watching the muscles work in Nadia’s throat when she swallowed, Danielle waited, every inch of her filling with adrenaline. She nearly jumped out of her skin when Nadia belted out, “Excuse me, guards? I need a moment in the ladies’ room?” When the door almost immediately opened, Danielle knew there had been a guard posted there as well as the window. She lifted the lamp higher waiting to see his head move into view, knowing he wouldn’t likely be alone and she’d need to plan her next move now if she successfully took out the first. During her time with vampire guards, she’d learned that if she could get

time with vampire guards, she’d learned that if she could get them off balance, she could take them down during the day even though they were still immensely stronger than her when the curse was at its weakest. Danielle hoped that same tactic worked with the werewolves. It was the second blond guy who entered and she brought the lamp down onto his head. The glass part of the lamp shattered and the blond guy crumpled. She discarded the nowuseless remains of her weapon. “Hey!” shouted the black-haired guy who entered next, his brown eyes swinging her way. Because he was forced to bend forward to see around the door, he was already off-balance and she acted fast. Danielle kicked him in the face. His head snapped back, but instead of crumpling, he just stood there with a dazed look on his face. She kicked him three more times, the toe of her shoe connecting with his jaw each time and finally, he collapsed on top of the other guy. Nadia had stayed put, still pretending to be bound, which made Danielle believe there were probably more guys coming. She noticed a flicker of warning in Nadia’s expression before she caught the movement of the next guy’s entrance. Apparently he’d seen what she’d done to his friends, because the first blond guy shot a hand out and captured her wrist. Using that to her advantage, she tugged and swung a roundhouse kick to his head. Her foot connected and it sent his face smashing into the edge of the door with a resounding and sickening crack. He bounced off and almost fell on top of the other men out cold on the floor, but stepped wide, avoiding the obstacle. He came at her again.

stepped wide, avoiding the obstacle. He came at her again. Three more joined the struggle and when she noticed the unconscious guys waking up, she lifted her fists even though she felt cornered and sorely outnumbered. Luckily, the door wasn’t open all the way, so Danielle threw it wider so it slammed against the wall and shot out into the adjoining room through the gap she’d just created. A violent wrestling match ensued and Danielle knew she was going to lose even though she’d been successful in causing quite a bit of damage to their house by throwing guys into tables, knocking down and breaking another lamp and a full mug of something that smelled like coffee. As she ran for the front door, one of them tackled her to the hardwood floor. Danielle threw her arms out to break her fall, but the impact knocked the air from her lungs. Before she’d had a chance to recover, another guy grasped onto the back of her shirt, rolled her over and straddled her hips, pinning her arms on either side of her head. It wasn’t long before a total of six men held her down, and she couldn’t budge. Danielle wasn’t surprised she’d failed, but she’d also noticed, in all of this, that none of the guys has struck her like Lucas had, and she thought perhaps these werewolves didn’t want to hurt her, just as they’d first promised. “Stop!” an unfamiliar female shouted. Like quarreling brothers caught by their mother, the men snapped to attention and quickly released her. Instinctively, Danielle wanted to keep fighting. She scrambled to her feet,

lifted her fists and backed up a few steps. The guys actually let her, and she looked through the open doorway behind the woman with longing in her heart. Could she run for it? “If you want her to cure you, you can’t harm her.” “We weren’t trying to hurt her, Red. She was trying to escape,” replied the black-haired guy. Danielle couldn’t remember if his name was Collin or Darwin and she really didn’t care to find out. A twinge of panic shot through her stomach at the name of Red, and that’s when she really looked at the woman in the doorway. Dressed all in black, Danielle thought she was probably another witch. But while the red-headed woman was very pretty, she was not drop-dead gorgeous like the other witches had been. Danielle’s thoughts also called up how this witch didn’t seem to go by her name either. That was weird. Not that it mattered. All Danielle could think about was getting out of there, so she started inching her way around the sofa toward the doorway, hoping she could dash out behind the witch. Red looked at her, and clicked her tongue in a chastising sound. “Can’t you see how much these men need your help?” “There isn’t anything I can do for them,” she tried, still moving as some of the earlier tension slipped free of her shoulders. She didn’t feel threatened at the moment and meant to use that to her advantage. “I’ve been working on a spell to release them from their curse, and I believe you can help.” So this was the witch who’d helped the werewolves get past

So this was the witch who’d helped the werewolves get past her vampire guards. Some of the tension came back. While there was something about this witch that didn’t frighten her, she couldn’t trust her. Big hands curled around her upper arms, stopping her escape and she realized the werewolves weren’t going to let her go any farther. The first blond guy flashed his dimples at her and said, “Sorry about earlier, but we need your help.” Was he bipolar or something? First he’d been nice, then he’d been bossy, and now he was back to Mr. Nice. “I don’t see how I can help you.” Danielle’s eyes danced over to the bedroom she and Nadia had been held captive in as she wondered where her friend was. Movement outside caught her attention and she recognized Nadia’s green top disappearing into the trees. Danielle couldn’t stop herself from exhaling in relief. “Catch her!” shouted Collin, or was it Darwin? Danielle’s breath caught in her throat as she worried about Nadia completing her escape. The witch lifted her arm to block the doorway. “Let her go. We only need Danielle.” Danielle watched in stunned confusion as the witch came forward and pried the men’s hands from her arms. “Come, we’ll have some tea and discuss this.” Mutely, Danielle let Red link her arm around hers and lead her to the kitchen like two ladies agreeing to have a quaint luncheon. Scrambling like devoted sons, the werewolves began preparing the hot water and collecting mugs from the cupboards.

preparing the hot water and collecting mugs from the cupboards. As they waited, Danielle studied the witch. She did seem to have a gentle nature about her, compared to the brutality of the more beautiful witches. “What’s your name?” Danielle asked trying to figure out the mystery behind the anonymity the witches seemed to favor. “Only my sisters know my given name,” she said. “Why?” A soft smile graced Red’s pink mouth. The witch had a natural beauty about her. She wore no make-up and no mascara, but she didn’t need them. Her lashes, though a spicy shade of brown, were the perfect dark frame to sage-green eyes. A slim finger traced over the scarred wood of the table, it was tipped with polish-free pink nails, perfectly filed down to a short length. “I understand why the Ambrus witches took you, as I’m sure you do.” Danielle nodded, remembering their magnificent but stolen beauty and how they had gained it. “Our families have a violent past. Our grandmother knew Helga and killed her.” Before Danielle had a chance to ask why, the witch went on. “Helga flaunted what she was and everyone knew her name. Since that time, witches keep their names a secret within their covens.” “I don’t understand.” “My ancestor discovered that if it is known, then other covens can destroy them.”

“Your ancestor killed Helga because of her beauty?” “No, that didn’t matter to Great Grandmother Bakos. Helga was a wicked murderer.” “Did you just tell me your great grandmother’s name?” Red laughed. “Only her surname, but she has long since passed away of old age. Bless her soul.” The teapot whistled and the blond werewolf with dimples brought that and a few packets of bagged tea to the table. As Red had spoken, Danielle had remained aware of them all leaning back against the cabinets with their arms folded. She sensed that while this witch seemed to trust her, they didn’t. They were right in that assumption. Danielle hadn’t stopped looking for an escape. She already knew there was a door out the back behind her, a window over the sink and any number of potential weapons in the drawers. “I don’t think I can help these men escape their curse,” she began, hoping to maybe talk her way out of this situation. “With a drop of your blood, I think you can.” A chill crept over her skin with the mention of blood. At her reaction, Red sighed. “It will be no worse than pricking your finger. I promise.” A man stepped into the doorway, drawing her gaze as his body blocked the light coming from an open window. The chill surrounding her turned to bitter ice. Lucas. “We’ll begin the ritual tonight, when the moon is at its peak,” said Red in a cheerful tone like she was discussing party plans over tea. Danielle couldn’t take her eyes off of Lucas as his evil gaze

Danielle couldn’t take her eyes off of Lucas as his evil gaze held onto hers, promising pain and the shedding of a lot more blood than a single drop.

Chapter 15 Time’s Run Out “Do you hear that?” “Yeah,” said Max. “It sounds like another frightened doe running toward us.” They’d moved well away from the witches, and the werewolves were no threat when sunlight filtered down through the canopy of trees. Even so, that didn’t mean they weren’t all on edge. Ethan blinked as a ray of morning sunshine caused bright circles of light to obscure his vision, and it heightened his level of frustration. When he couldn’t see, he felt like he couldn’t function, and wished he had a pair of sunglasses as well as a pair of unbroken spectacles. On the verge of exhaustion, they’d called in all the help they could get and had camped out in the woods until they’d arrived. The Hungarian vampires had brought tents and supplies for them to use. Ethan hadn’t wanted to stop searching, but the vampires had insisted he and Max rest while they continued the search through the remainder of the night. Horrible images of what might be happening to Danielle and Nadia tortured his peace of mind now that the werewolves had them. Besides dozing off from fatigue for a brief time, he hadn’t been able to relax or sleep well enough to feel refreshed at all. Especially because the dream he’d had left him needing her desperately, despite not being able to hear anything said between

desperately, despite not being able to hear anything said between them. He’d seen the look on Danielle’s face as he drew small circles against her sensitive palm, keeping the touch light and flirty, trying not to overwhelm her. Ethan perceived that he had anyway, though. She’d watched him through a fringe of lashes, her lips parted in a way he doubted she knew was sultry. He could just make out a bit of her pink tongue inside her mouth and the edge of her teeth. Her lips looked full, moist and completely kissable. Ethan’s mouth had watered at the sight. Funny how he’d recreated this innocent caress soon after they’d met without knowing he’d done it before, and it was even funnier that she’d reacted in much the same love-drunk way. Sucking in a breath of air, Ethan reluctantly left the memory and refocused on reality. Several fairies and their original team of vampire guards had come to help find the girls. Ethan had been in the process of taking down the tent when he’d heard footsteps crunching leaves and snapping twigs without any care for stealth. It had to be another animal, as Max had said. In this area, they’d seen a great deal of wildlife and a deer dashing through their campsite wasn’t uncommon. Ethan couldn’t have been more shocked when a woman’s whimper let them all know this wasn’t another deer approaching. He thought it sounded like Nadia but he wasn’t sure. Had the women escaped? Had the Hungarian vampires found them? Ethan dropped what he was doing and they all ran to help whoever it was. Nearing the sounds of rustling plants and thudding footfalls, Ethan’s gaze caught onto movement up ahead, as he held his

Ethan’s gaze caught onto movement up ahead, as he held his broken spectacles to his face. Nadia stumbled toward them, panting, her face streaked with tears and dirt. He may have felt extremely tired, but Nadia was obviously well beyond that. When she saw them, she squeaked in fear before recognition made her stop. Her hand reached for a tree for support and missed. She collapsed against Max as he caught her, her chest heaving, her tangled strands of black hair sweeping down over her face. She didn’t seem to care enough to brush it aside as she frantically clutched at the sleeves of Max’s jacket, her body jerking with sobs. “Are you hurt?” was the first question out of Max’s mouth. Nadia responded by shaking her head and muttering something Ethan couldn’t understand against Max’s chest. But obviously Max had understood her because tension slipped from his shoulders with relief. As the heart-wrenching sounds of her crying continued, it made Ethan’s blood turn to sluggish ice in his veins. Ethan searched their surroundings, listening for any signs of Danielle following, but aside from Nadia’s weeping, all was quiet. “Are you alone?” Ethan heard Max ask next. “Yes,” she replied, and Ethan tried to cope with the intense disappointment crushing his soul at the news. “But I know where they are. We need to leave now!” “You’re in no shape to go anywhere, Nadia,” said Max, signaling Casanova to come take his wife. The Frenchman lifted her into his arms. Even if she had

wanted to protest, she obviously didn’t have the strength to fight it physically. What had the werewolves done to her? How far had she come? “But I’m the only who knows where she is! She sent me!” Nadia managed to say while cradled in the vampire’s arms. “What do you mean she sent you?” Ethan asked, afraid to hear the answer but needing to anyway. “She told me to run for help if I had the chance.” “How did you get away?” How did you have the chance to run, and Danielle didn’t? “Danielle...” It seemed as though the words died off in her throat when she cast a sad gaze his way. “Nadia, please.” She licked at her cracked and dry lips. “Is she hurt?” Ethan demanded, because Nadia was hesitating so long panic was rising like bile in his throat. Finally Nadia shook her head. “I don’t think so. They want her to cure them.” Ethan sensed Nadia wasn’t telling him everything, but there wasn’t time to press the matter. They had to find Danielle now, or he’d probably never get her back. Alora dashed up to Ethan’s ear, her small face filled with excitement. “We can track where Nadia has been by the light of her aura, like we did when the pixies first took them.” “Good,” responded Max because he was close enough to hear the fairy too and this meant they didn’t need Nadia to direct them.

them. This was also good information because the fairies believed the werewolves did have a witch helping them. They should have been able to find them by now, but they hadn’t. Someone was using magic to hide them. But now that Nadia had gotten away, they had a better chance of finding Danielle. “Casanova,” began Max. “Please take her back to camp, and make sure she’s fed and gets some water.” With several glowing fairies as their guides, they started off in the direction Nadia had come from. Time was running out, and if they didn’t find Danielle soon, Lucas would destroy her as he had his sister’s friend, Phoebe. Even if the werewolves wouldn’t harm her because they wanted a cure, Lucas would, because there was no way in hell Lucas wanted the same thing. The thought motivated Ethan to run faster despite his fatigued state. Every single muscle in his body protested the action, and he knew he’d pay for pushing himself like this, but what choice did he have? The fairies didn’t have the berries with them to make the healing juice they’d given him before. But... “Can you dust us?” Ethan asked, deciding now was the time to request that magic. Alora smiled and twirled around him, the vampires who were weakened by the daylight, and Max with a shower of her fairy magic. Merrick murmured, “Please tell me this won’t make me shimmer again.” Many of the fairies snickered and dusted him regardless. The Highland knight frowned as he watched the glittering

The Highland knight frowned as he watched the glittering substance drift down to him like freshly falling snow. It sank into his skin. His eyebrow kicked up just as his eyes widened in surprise. “What?” “It absorbs,” Ethan said. “What a relief!” “Don’t forget it’s temporary,” cautioned Alora. Ethan hadn’t forgotten that. He took off, and was instantly overwhelmed with the rush of adrenaline surging into his muscles. It also made him instantly miss being a vampire, but he forced himself to set the idea aside. Tracking a trail he couldn’t see, the fairies stopped suddenly and encircled him and Max in a protective circle. “What’s wrong?” he asked, not wanting to stop and waste the magic increasing their pace to that of vampires at night. “A witch is approaching.” “A witch? Just one?” “Yes.” What could this mean? Was this witch as dangerous as the others had been? Ethan, Max and the vampires drew their weapons when they heard her nearing. A petite woman with flowing red hair soon appeared. She was dressed in black leggings and a tunic-length sweater. A pair of shiny black boots came up to her knees. Strolling through the woods as though she was simply out to collect berries, she smiled when she saw them and picked up her pace to a happy little skip that sent waves of red ringlets bouncing.

Bewildered by her friendliness, Ethan watched as she approached and stopped in front of him. “What a lovely entourage you have.” “Excuse me?” “Hello, fairies,” she waved her fingers at them. “Why are you here?” growled Prince Richard. The witch frowned at his rude question. She sighed and then answered, “I’m here to help you find Danielle.” “How can you help us with that?” “Well, since I’m the one who helped the werewolves almost take her from your home in the first place, I can help you get her back.” Ethan lunged forward wanting to strangle her; Max caught his arms and held him back. “Easy,” said the knight. “Why would you help us then?” Ethan snarled. “The werewolves insisted we try the ritual to cure them right away, but it didn’t work.” The redhead twisted the hem of her sweater between her fingers. One hand lifted as she tucked her hair behind her ear. “They really should have trusted me. It needed to be done at night with the moon’s magic shining down on us.” When Ethan tried to pull free of Max again, the knight let him loose this time. Apparently he was getting as angry as Ethan was at this news. If it had not been for this petite witch, they wouldn’t have had to leave their home in the first place. The vampires were easily keeping the werewolves away, until this despicable little witch took out some of the vampires with her magic. He

little witch took out some of the vampires with her magic. He really wanted to get his hands around her slim little neck, but decided that maybe they still needed her. For that reason alone, she would live. For now. Stalking forward, the men surrounded the small woman. A sense of caution did remind Ethan that even though she didn’t appear to be armed, she could still be dangerous. “Was she injured during this ritual of yours?” “She only had to spare one drop of blood.” When a round of angry murmurs rippled through the men, she quickly added, “She’s fine. I assure you.” Ethan let himself breathe, but he wasn’t at all soothed by her words. “However, I fear they no longer have a need for her, and she’s such a charming girl, I decided to come to you.” Richard and several of the other vampires growled, Max swore, and Ethan stopped breathing again. “Why couldn’t you help her? Why didn’t you bring her here?” Ethan ground out. The redhead linked her hands behind her back, obviously unconcerned for her safety, despite the growing wrath rolling off of the men encircling her. Her head dropped to the side as she studied each one of them. “I tried, but we’d made a deal, the werewolves and me, and I always keep my promises.” Ethan didn’t care what the deal was; all he knew was that they needed to get moving again. Now. Directing the fairies by waving his hand, he strode around her and continued on the path they’d been on before she’d arrived. It took all of his self-control to keep from retaliating in some way. The faster he gained his

to keep from retaliating in some way. The faster he gained his distance from the red-headed witch, the better. Even ignoring her as he was, he knew the witch still followed and was able to somehow keep up with their magic-intensified pace. “You’re going the wrong way,” she said after about twenty paces. Ethan stopped. He turned. “Explain.” “She’s that way,” said the witch, pointing. “But Nadia came from that way.” He jabbed a finger in the other direction. “The poor girl wandered around a bit.” Folding his arms, Max said with anger etching lines around his mouth, “That might have been true, and if it was, you could have done something to help her.” “I left long after she had, and honestly, I didn’t really know where you were either. I just got lucky enough to notice her coming your way.” “We don’t have time for this,” snapped the prince. “Do you trust her?” Cedric asked Ethan in a low whisper. “No.” But he couldn’t completely discount her either. “Maybe we should split up.” “Let’s do it,” said Max. They had seventeen men from the Hungarian vamps, seven Order members, and cellular communication between them. Half continued following the fairies, and the other half followed the witch. Ethan still ignored the redhead as he worked his way over mossy, fallen trees and pine needle-covered stones. He could

feel the fairy dust wearing off, but now they didn’t have the fairies with them to renew it. Another curse slipped past his lips as his feet smacked harder against the ground in his anger. Renewed tension snapped into his shoulder blades when the witch said, “I thought you should know that they’re selling her.” “What?” Ethan swung a narrowed look over his shoulder, but kept moving. The witch kept following, even though she probably should have been leading at this point. Her sage-green eyes touched on his fisted hands before swinging up to meet his gaze. “You’ll need funds to get her back. Pounds actually.” “What?” Ethan practically screamed in outrage. “At an auction,” she tacked on before he said more. Redirecting his focus on the path in front of him, Ethan clenched his teeth together as he struggled to regulate his breathing, his nostrils flaring. “Do you mean to say as a slave?” “Well,” started the witch matter-of-factly, “there are other magical beings very interested in the one who discovered the cure. And the werewolves are in need of money.” Ethan spat out three vile curses in a row. Without his direction, Cedric called the others to inform them of this new concern. Ethan increased his pace to a sprint just as the other men did the same. They couldn’t afford to slow down now. It was extremely unfortunate the sun was up because they couldn’t send vampires zipping ahead to find Danielle faster, and had to rely on this fairy magic that was evaporating fast, forcing them to now use their own steam.

Chapter 16 The End Danielle sucked at her pricked finger, but every cell in her body was on high alert. The werewolves were not happy the spell to cure them hadn’t worked. After arguing with the men over something she couldn’t hear, the witch, who was probably wise beyond her years for doing so, had just left so fast the door was still partly open. Could she make it out just as quickly? They’d let the witch leave, and somehow Danielle doubted they would let her do the same. But what reason did they have to keep her here? Her gaze landed on Lucas, who was still staring at her. The look in his dark eyes made her skin crawl.... It’s true that the werewolves didn’t seem as bad as him, but Danielle still hadn’t figured them out well enough to read what they might do next. Deciding it was now or never, she ran for the door. The good-looking blond guy with dimples was the first who noticed her move and beat her to it, snapping it shut. He wasn’t showing any dimples. Danielle swallowed, her fingers going to the buckle of her belt. It was the only weapon within easy reach at the moment. She’d already considered the fire poker, and the wooden chair in the corner. Besides those two things, there wasn’t much available because she’d already broken the only lamp in the room. Unbuckling the belt, she noticed the way Dimple Boy raised

Unbuckling the belt, she noticed the way Dimple Boy raised his eyebrow. Clearly he’d misinterpreted what she was doing. That was, until she drew the leather from her belt loops and started spinning it like a nunchaku. “I think I’ll be leaving now, if you don’t mind,” she said. She had felt sorry for the poor guys, and had cooperated during the spell the witch tried. But it didn’t work, and when the witch split, the tension was so heavy it was almost tangible. Plus, Danielle couldn’t get the look on Lucas’ face out of her head. Whatever he had planned, she didn’t want to know. As she thought about him, she was fully aware of the fact that he approached. “Open the door, please,” she tried, feeling the breeze she was creating as each pass of the belt blew her hair back. “Maybe we should let her go,” said Collin, or was it Darwin. She still didn’t know, and she still didn’t really care. “We can’t let her go,” said Lucas. “We just need another witch, a more capable witch.” The flicker of hope that rose to life in the other werewolves’ eyes didn’t give her much hope that she could talk her way out of this. Dimple Boy confirmed that when he said, “Lucas is right. We can’t give up on this yet.” “I can’t help you.” Angry blue eyes turned on her. “We can’t know that for sure. We liked Red Riding Hood, but she may not have had the skills we need.” Danielle felt her mouth twitch at the interesting nickname for the red-headed witch. Partly because there really was a hood on

the red-headed witch. Partly because there really was a hood on that sweater she’d been wearing. All of the men were closing in on her now. There were more of them than the five she’d first met. She hadn’t exactly counted, but it seemed like there were about twenty men packed into the great room of this cabin. And she didn’t really feel very confident in her weapon. It would be easy for any of them to simply grab the strap of her belt and besides a minor bruise from the buckle, he wouldn’t likely be injured much. Lucas was the first to go for it. Reacting, Danielle stepped back to avoid his hand and swung the belt at his face when he missed. The metal connected with his cheek, scraping the skin. It wasn’t a serious wound, but it would sting, the welting of his flesh being the worst part. “Damn it!” he howled, his hand covering the injury. Next he did what she’d worried he’d do. He grabbed the leather and yanked it out of her hands, throwing it aside. Immediately her fists went up. “Look,” she began, “how about I promise to come back when you find a new witch?” The suggestion was a long shot, but she decided to try it anyway. The men laughed. Her shoulders slumped a little. Someone grabbed her arm from behind. She twisted, and tried to hit him. He caught her fist. Lucas grabbed her next. She elbowed him in the ribs. Danielle really didn’t know why she’d tried to fight, because it was easy for so many to subdue her, retie her wrists and ankles, and dump her back in the bedroom. Just as before, they hadn’t retaliated, but she suspected Lucas

would find a way to get back at her for hitting his cheek as well as for taking the vampire curse from him. As soon as she was alone again, Danielle searched the room for a way out. They’d removed the remaining lamp. They’d also removed the mattress frame. She’d managed to untie her legs even with her hands bound, but she couldn’t reach the knot on the ones around her wrists. Staring at the way her fingers were losing color because the binding was cinched too tight, a regretfilled sigh left her lungs. She couldn’t think of any way to escape because getting her legs loose didn’t seem like much help. As the cabin grew quiet, she figured the men were leaving. She stared at the door. Danielle knew Lucas would come back as soon as he could get away with it. She hoped and prayed it wouldn’t happen until Nadia found Ethan and brought them to find her. If Nadia could find them. She tried to shake off the fear churning inside her belly. She couldn’t allow herself to think like that. They will find me, they will find me, she chanted in her head, trying to keep from emotionally melting down. Dropping her head back against the pillows, she let the tears fall as worries chipped away at her confidence. Would Nadia be able to lead them back here? Would they get here before Lucas returned? Would— A tiny sound drew her attention to the doorknob as it twisted. No. Please, not yet. Danielle used the edge of her sleeves to rub her cheeks dry of tears, but she couldn’t release the breath she held as Lucas

of tears, but she couldn’t release the breath she held as Lucas entered, grinning, triumphant. When she became lightheaded, she expelled the air held in her lungs as her brain scrambled for any escape she could dream up. At least she’d freed her legs. With his dark eyes, he studied her before his expression twisted with mocking amusem*nt and he pointed out, “You’ve been crying.” She bit her lip to keep it from quivering as a suffocating fear sank into her stomach like a dose of poison. Werewolves had been disturbing on a full moon, but having met the men behind the monsters, she wasn’t as scared of them as she’d been before. Lucas had frightened her from the very beginning. First as a vampire and now as a werewolf, he was a completely different breed of terror, because he was driven by revenge. She knew he and Ethan had been friends once, and that something had gone terribly wrong. What that was, she didn’t exactly know, because Ethan had never explained more than the fact that Lucas had become a murderer. Danielle knew Ethan had kept the details of the story to himself because he was trying to protect her, and she suspected that the information wouldn’t help in this situation anyway. “I think it’s time for your punishment,” he said. “Won’t the others be angry if you take away their chance for a cure?” she tried, feeling completely desperate. Lucas shrugged his shoulders, shutting the door, moving forward. “I never said anything about killing you.” “Just beating me up then.” Danielle immediately thought of her baby. Another tear tracked down her left cheek as she

her baby. Another tear tracked down her left cheek as she imagined losing a second child. When Lucas simply smirked at her question instead of answering it, she worried that he might do more than just beat her, and the fear coursing within her veins intensified. Trying to keep him talking so she could think of a way out of this, she asked, “Is your plan to punish me or Ethan?” Lucas laughed. “We’ll start with you, but what I do to you will have the brilliant side benefit of punishing him as well.” His long fingers touched the welt on his face. His eyebrows angled down as the line of his mouth tightened. “In the beginning it was just him I wanted to destroy, but since then, you’ve earned my wrath as well.” She swallowed, watching him sit down on the edge of the bed. The mattress sank under his weight. Danielle braced her feet against the quilt trying not to slide his way. It seemed he hadn’t noticed that she’d unbound her feet, and she wanted to keep it that way. She’d already thought of running for the door, but she also knew he was closer to it than she was and she’d never be able to get past him fast enough. “Did Ethan ever tell you about our past?” Danielle just stared at him, unwilling to answer. A wicked smile lifted half of his mouth. “No. I know him well enough to know he wouldn’t share that with you.” The smile shifted, revealing teeth. “I’ll enlighten you, shall I? Ethan and I had a ... disagreement, and he crossed a line...” he began. As Lucas told her the details of the story Ethan had spared

her, she understood why he’d remained unwilling to share it. She understood why he’d told her to fear Lucas and to never be alone at night. She understood why he’d spared her this horrible tale from his past. She loved him for that, for sparing her, for protecting her. More tears that Lucas ignored soaked her face as he described in brutal detail what he'd done to Phoebe, how he'd enjoyed it, and how he planned to do the same thing to her. Narrowing her focus on Lucas for his next move, Danielle drew a shuddering breath before slowly releasing it. She really wanted to cover her ears, but couldn’t with the way her hands were bound. Danielle’s eyes flew wide when Lucas suddenly captured her ankle and dragged her feet to the edge of the bed. He wasn’t fast enough to stop the kick that landed in his gut, but he managed to avoid the next one aimed for his jaw. Lunging forward, he pinned her down and his hands gripped her throat. She coughed, trying to get breath into the pinched airway. The back of his hand snapped against the side of her face as she continued to struggle. A ringing started in her ears but she managed to wedge her leg up between their bodies. Planting the flat of her foot against his abdomen, she shoved. With a look of surprise on his face, Lucas went flying back and smacked against the table behind him. The edge of it connected with his ribs and he crumpled. Danielle knew he wasn’t out, but he was stunned. She sprang from the bed, wrenched the door open and ran out of the room. The great room was empty at the moment. Danielle could hear that Lucas

room was empty at the moment. Danielle could hear that Lucas was still coming, so she ran for the only good weapon she knew of, the fire poker. Vaulting over the sofa, she was relieved to find they didn’t have a coffee table but she nearly tripped on a rug stretched out over the floor between the sofa and the fireplace. Danielle was only vaguely aware of the fact that it was a real bearskin rug. She didn’t get to the poker before Lucas got to her. Just as she picked it up, he knocked it out of her hands. The long metal object clattered to the floor. Lucas threw fists at her. Danielle kicked at him since her hands were tied together. Some of his punches missed, but some of them didn’t. Danielle had about the same amount of success in landing kicks. His lip was bleeding. She could feel the bruise developing around her eye. Remembering the ways of escape and potential weapons she’d seen in the kitchen, Danielle ducked to avoid his left hook and ran that way. Lucas remained right behind her. Once she got into the kitchen, she went straight for the door. Lucas’ arms caught her about the waist and he threw her against the table; it slid, which was good because it lessened the impact she felt when her hip collided with it. She was able to recover her balance enough to yank out a drawer. With her hands still bound, Danielle pulled out a spoon. Lucas looked at the wooden mixing utensil and laughed. She threw it at this head. It smacked against his forehead and he narrowed his eyes at her, bearing his teeth. Danielle went for something else. This time she found a long but thin knife. Yes! Stalking toward her, he paused when he saw the blade in her

Stalking toward her, he paused when he saw the blade in her hands. Danielle lunged forward and tried to slash him with it. Even though she hated Lucas, she cringed at the idea of cutting him, of feeling the blade slice through skin and muscle. She had never attacked anyone with a knife before and it seemed she didn’t have the stomach for it. The form of karate training she’d studied was for defense in almost every situation, not killing; stun and run was the most common goal. The distress in her head weakened her grip and Lucas knocked it out of her hand, forcing her to back up. The knife smacked against the hardwood floor and skittered away. Spotting a frying pan on the stovetop, Danielle snatched it up. But from the same drawer she’d abandoned, Lucas revealed a much longer knife than the one she’d just had. Trying to decide if she should give up or keep fighting, she jumped in surprise when the back door opened. “What the hell is going on in here, Lucas?” Taking the interruption as a perfect distraction, Danielle threw the pan at the window, shattering the glass. She started to climb up onto the counter to escape since both doorways were now blocked by men. Hands captured her hips and she was thrown to the floor, her head clipping the leg of one of the chairs. She grunted in pain, and rolled over with her fingers going to the developing goose egg on her head. That’s when she spotted the knife she’d had before. Danielle grasped the handle with her bound hands and rolled again. She didn’t really know what she planned to do next, except that she wanted to get out of there,

and it was hard to do much of anything with her hands tied together. Pushing up with one elbow, she worked to gain her footing again. One of the men shouted, “Lucas! No!” right before Lucas landed on top of her, again tackling her to the floor. She was utterly surprised, however, when the knife he held slipped from his fingers, slid against the sleeve of her hoodie and fell to the floor. Luckily the angle hadn’t been right for the seemingly dull point to puncture her. Directing bewildered eyes onto his, Danielle was even more surprised to see life fade from his eyes right before he collapsed on top of her. When warm liquid ran over her fingers, she scrambled out from under Lucas, staring at her bloody hands in horror. The knife she’d been holding had obviously plunged into his chest. Of course Danielle had seen blood before and it had never made her feel as woozy as it did right then. It might have something to do with her pregnancy, she thought as her gaze touched on Lucas’ motionless form. Had she actually killed him? It seemed like all of the air left the room and she wheezed in and out, trying to draw a decent breath as black closed in around her. As though muffled under a pile of blankets, she heard one of the men say, “It must have stuck his heart.” “You’re mine,” Ethan whispered into her ear as they danced to a slow and romantic melody, the world of white blurring as they twirled. His warm breath wrenched a giggle from her lips and

conjured goose bumps over her skin. “A little possessive of you, isn’t it?” Danielle asked, touching her gaze to his. “Only slightly,” he admitted, with a becoming blend of love and devotion shining back at her from a pair of bewitching blue eyes. “But you know you like it.” If she confessed as to how much she liked it, his head would swell to the size of a planetoid. “Maybe,” she said, giving him that much. He reacted like she’d said yes instead of maybe as he converted the dancing embrace into a snug hug, his face nestling against the space joining her neck to her shoulder. “Does that mean you’re mine too?” she asked, running her fingers through his soft hair, secretly keeping his head close because she liked how his mouth felt pressed against her skin. “Or does this possession only go one way?” A murmur of regret left her when her question drew his face away so he could match his eyes with hers. “Forever, remember?” “How could I forget when you express that promise on a daily basis?” His eyes crinkled up with a smile that made her hungry to kiss him. “Just making sure you know how I feel.” “How could I miss it?” she asked, dangling her feet because they weren’t touching the ground at the moment. “You barely let me leave your arms. What are you going to do when we are separated?” The joy in his eyes dulled and the smile fled his mouth. “I

The joy in his eyes dulled and the smile fled his mouth. “I don’t know how I’ll cope when that happens. All I know is that we’ll find each other again. Somehow, I swear it.” Danielle woke up in that bedroom again. No! No! No! No! No! She kicked her legs in anger. She and Ethan had been separated by time, and while his words from the memory had proved true, and they had found each other again in life, now they were separated by distance. Frustration sapped the dismal strength she had left in her muscles, and crushed any resolve she might have clung to. She was so hungry she was nauseated. Her body ached in all of the places Lucas had hit her. Her poor wrists were so raw she was surprised she wasn’t bleeding. At the thought of blood, the image of a motionless Lucas returned to her mind. Lifting her hands, her bound hands, she noticed with a huge sense of relief that someone had cleaned the blood off, or she might have fainted again. The sound of men arguing drew her gaze to the closed door. Danielle pushed up onto her elbows trying to hear better. “What should we do with her now?” one of them asked. Even though the words were barely audible, she’d understood them clearly enough. “The other coven of witches said they can’t do anything for us. They say that Lucas lied, that we need a sorcerer because we were created by a sorcerer and that we don’t need her.” “Should we let her go then?” “No, but we do need to get rid of her.” Danielle dropped back onto the mattress. It bounced a little.

Danielle dropped back onto the mattress. It bounced a little. Great, she mused with sarcasm. What now? Besides making the ropes too tight, the werewolves hadn’t really harmed her physically, but would that change now that they didn’t need her?

Chapter 17 Forever The team following the fairies had found the werewolves’ dwelling. They’d discovered where Danielle and Nadia had been held, as well as a body buried beneath a pile of rocks nearby. Further investigation had revealed the deceased as Lucas. He’d been stabbed in the heart. Ethan was incredibly relieved to know Lucas was finally dead, but was worried about what had happened to Danielle before that. Was she all right? The witch led Ethan and the others to the location of the auction. They could hear the auctioneer belting out prices as they neared. Little Red signaled for them to follow her. She was leading them to a circle of witches congregating on the outskirts of the clearing the auction was being held in. While Ethan was startled about coming face-to-face with some of the cutest redheads he’d ever seen, his attention was riveted to the auction already in session. He didn’t know who was being auctioned off at the moment, and he feared it was Danielle. Propping his barely useful glasses on the bridge of his nose, Ethan craned his neck and tried to see who the poor soul was. Standing in the midst of many towering men stood a short woman. Her hair was so fair it shimmered brightly, even in the shadow of several pine trees. Ethan knew she couldn’t possibly be human. Nevertheless, he felt bad for her just as he felt relief that she wasn’t Danielle. “She’s a mermaid,” a slight redhead said.

“She’s a mermaid,” a slight redhead said. Ethan looked back toward the auction, noting the fact that the woman stood on two legs. “They all have legs like that when they’re dry,” said an even shorter and thinner redhead. “What if—” Ethan had meant to ask what would happen if she started singing when the witches covered their ears suddenly. Just as he felt the hypnotic tug of her magic, he did the same, narrowly escaping being overcome like that again. He watched as the mermaid strolled away from her captors with an enchanting half smile, revealing a dimple in one cheek. Nearing a fallen tree, she gathered her green gown into her hands and skipped lightly over it. Tossing a triumphant giggle over her shoulder, the mermaid twirled away from the auction, sweeping satin-like ribbons of hair away from her face. Knowing what this innocent-looking creature was really capable of, Ethan couldn’t see how she’d been captured in the first place, especially when she escaped easily enough. After several moments of simply looking at one another, waiting, the witches dropped their hands. Ethan and the guards did also. “How—? I mean, they didn’t know what she was?” Ethan asked. “Did you?” asked Little Red. “Well, no.” “The ones who captured her probably did know,” explained another redhead. “But they likely sold her to those who didn’t. Of course she played along, knowing she could escape anytime

Of course she played along, knowing she could escape anytime she liked, and the ones who originally took her wouldn’t care about that because they’d already made a profit.” Having shaken loose of the bewitching mermaid’s song, the crowd began another auction. Again, Ethan checked to make sure it wasn’t his wife, but he couldn’t see well enough, so he stepped away from the witches, seeking a better angle. A witch grabbed at his sleeve and pulled. “Careful, they might see you.” “But—” “It’s not Danielle.” From the look on her heart-shaped face, Ethan could see she knew that to be the case. But his mind had snagged on her previous comment. “Why can’t I be seen if you said I needed funds? I thought that was why we’re here. I’m going in to buy her back, am I not?” “I didn’t mean that you would be doing it. You’ll be recognized and you’ll lose her again.” “Why would they care who I am if I have the money they want?” He did have cash with him, a large sum of it. Of course he never thought he would use it for this. Ethan had brought some with him when they’d first left to live with the fairies, then he’d collected more after he and Max had visited with Sir Roland when they picked up additional weapons. Avoiding credit cards, because cash couldn’t be traced, he’d originally brought it because he didn’t really know how long they would be with the fairies and if they’d been forced to leave, where they’d

end up next. Ethan had the full intentions of taking her to a very nice hotel after all of this was over. But never imagining it would be used to pay a ransom to get her back, Ethan feared he still might not have enough. “They know who you are, just as they know who she is. Would you like them to turn this into a double auction of the ones who discovered the cure?” Ethan had no response for that as he felt his lips thin. “Why can’t we just blast our way in, and rescue her that way?” asked Prince Richard. Anticipation spiced Richard’s words as he lovingly fingered the trigger on his weapon—like it was a cherished object. The Black Prince was always up for a bit of violence, and he’d retired his sword in favor of a shiny automatic. Ethan was with the prince in this regard. While he was doing his best to portray a cool exterior, his thoughts were eagerly turning to aggression. If he didn’t have enough money, then violence was the better option. Little Red just stared up at Richard and blinked. “You do see the flaw in that logic, don’t you?” “I really don’t,” responded Richard, frowning with a bit of a sneer curling his lip. The witch cast her gaze around the prince at the clearing. “That area is enchanted. Your guns won’t work there.” “Bloody hell,” snarled Richard in plain disappointment. Ethan kept his disheartened words inside. “Did you know about these auctions?” Richard asked Seth. “No.”

“No.” “How can you take part in this cruel and illegal practice?” Merrick asked Little Red. The petite woman shrugged her shoulders. “Not all of these victims are as innocent as you perceive them to be. Plus, we’re helping you rescue someone, aren’t we?” Ethan really wanted to point out that they’d helped the werewolves capture his innocent wife, but decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. All he cared about was getting Danielle back, and debating the dishonest nature of selling any living soul wouldn’t likely help him achieve that goal. Seth scratched his scalp. “I just can’t believe I didn’t know about this ... market of sorts.” “There are lots of things we don’t tell the all-powerful and self-righteous vampires,” said the witch, lifting her chin in a show of proud defiance. “Like the fact that witches come in an adorable redhead variety?” Everyone knew Cedric was teasing Merrick with that softly murmured comment. “I thought you said all witches were hags.” “The ones I’ve met were hags.” “Perhaps it was a glamour to mask their exotic and magnificent beauty.” “Witches never use glamour.” “The ones I met were gargantuan in size with hairy warts and —” “I highly doubt they could hide that behind a glamour, even if they did use them.”

they did use them.” “Stop this ridiculous banter,” ordered Little Red. “They’re bringing her out.” Ethan felt every inch of his body snap to attention as he brought his ruined glasses to his eyes. He hadn’t found her just yet, but swallowed when Seth pointed out, “They have her well bound.” “She must have been fighting. Bless her,” commented Merrick with a hint of pride in his voice. Ethan swore in three different languages. Danielle would have fought, would have defended herself and Nadia. Certainly he was proud of her too, but the thought of them punishing his pregnant wife for it, for the studied impulse within her, made his heart twist inside his chest. He struggled to pull enough oxygen into his lungs as he shifted around the guards to see. When he managed to spot her, Ethan gasped, his soul screaming out in outrage. Yes, she’d been beaten. Her eye had been blackened, her jaw bruised. With slumped shoulders, she swayed on unsteady feet that were bound just as her wrists were. The large, blond male had to keep a fistful of her hoodie in his grasp or she would likely crumple beneath her own weight. Pure, unsaturated rage poured into his veins and coursed though his system. The intense emotion drove his foot forward. “Now,” ordered the witch. Just as Ethan wondered what she meant by that, hands grasped his arms and a palm covered his mouth. His eyes rounded in surprise. A sense of betrayal brought more curses to

his lips that were easily muffled by Merrick’s wide hand. “Who’s going in?” asked Seth. It was obvious to Ethan that while he hadn’t had a plan, the others had. His eyes narrowed. “The warlocks,” said one of the witches. “Can we trust them?” asked Richard. He’s asking this now? Ethan thought as he tried to get free of Merrick and Cedric who held him captive between them. “Stop struggling, my friend,” warned Merrick, “or I’ll be the one to lay you low next.” Another wave of betrayal washed over him. So, Max had told them about the scuffle.... Ethan closed his eyes, dragging breath in and out of his nose as he reconsidered the situation and forced himself to calm down. Though he felt deceived, he also understood. He wasn’t a complete idiot. Apparently they knew him better than he’d thought, and apparently they knew him better than he even knew himself. Concern for his wife had completely overridden logic. That and his possessive need to protect her had nearly sent him charging out there, without thinking and without a plan. Even consumed with near-crippling emotion, Ethan knew how much he needed help right now. Mentally grasping onto the trust he had for his friends, he released the tension in his muscles. Noticing that, Merrick and Cedric loosened their hold, even though they didn’t let him go just yet. Little Red caught his eye. “I must prepare you,” she began, her tone soft and apologetic. “They’ll be rough with her.” Movement just beyond the small witch drew his attention. The

Movement just beyond the small witch drew his attention. The warlocks were collecting the money from his pack. Both men were much larger than the female witches and could do a great deal of damage to Danielle if they were rough with her. “Why?” he asked beneath Merrick’s palm as the tension surged back and every muscle in his body snapped tight again. He wasn’t sure Danielle could take much more and not lose the baby, if she hadn’t already. Just the thought that it might already be too late tore at his soul. His gaze landed on her weakened form and the worries whirling in his mind burned the back of his eyes. Ethan blinked, but couldn’t stop the sob that escaped his chest. “I fear I should have clarified,” said the witch, correctly interpreting his distress, and seeming to feel sorry about it. “They’ll make it look like they’re hurting her, but they won’t. Not really. They have to make it convincing that they don’t care about her safety but want her because of the cure.” Ethan shook his head trying to get Merrick to let him talk. With caution and a warning in his keen eyes, the Highland knight finally lowered his hand. Ethan turned to Richard as the one he trusted the most. “What if these warlocks do want her, and they —?” “They don’t,” answered Little Red. The red-headed warlocks were already moving in and raising their hands to bid on Danielle. He couldn’t hear how high the price had gone but it seemed it was shooting up fast, along with his blood pressure. “How can you know?” Ethan’s eyes again sliced to his wife, fear for her safety fogging his brain. What if he didn’t have

fear for her safety fogging his brain. What if he didn’t have enough money? What if these harmless-looking witches turned out to be more treacherous than they’d expected? So many things could go wrong with this. “They’re part of our coven.” Certainly the red hair should have told him that, but it didn’t soothe his concerns. A scoffing sound slipped past his lips. Like he trusted any of them, Ethan thought with sarcasm. They were bloody witches! They were to blame for this situation, for the danger Danielle was now in. For hurting her. How could he be expected to trust more strangers with the care of his wife? Ethan’s frown deepened as her head lolled to the side and he realized she wasn’t even standing on her own at the moment. The werewolf holding her had noticed and was smacking at her cheek trying to rouse her. Ethan’s blood boiled and he tried again to get free. When that didn’t work, his eyes shot to Richard. “Help me.” Having Richard march in there with guns blazing seemed like a much more preferable way of dealing with this. The prince was a dangerous and skilled warrior.... Richard’s hand landed on his shoulder. “Ethan, if they try to swindle us, I’m prepared to mow them down as soon as they leave the enchanted clearing.” The prince patted his weapon. “What if that doesn’t work on them?” Ethan ground out. Richard opened his mouth to respond, but snapped it shut when one of the witches whispered, “Shsh. They’re nearing the end.” Ethan leaned sideways because Richard was blocking his

view and he watched in muted horror as the auctioneer bellowed, “Going, going, gone for six hundred thousand pounds!” Ethan’s knees gave out. That was a lot more than he’d had with him because even the finest hotel didn’t cost that much. “No!” Merrick’s hand clapped back over his mouth as he and Cedric supported his weight. Ethan forced starch back into his legs and struggled again while he watched for the winner to claim his battered wife. To his utter surprise, it was the warlocks who claimed her. When he directed a shocked gaze onto a grinning Little Red, she said, “A simple duplicating spell was all it took to have more cash than you’d brought. Do you see why you should trust us now?” No, he really didn’t, he mused as his eyes returned to Danielle. The red-headed male wearing the black t-shirt instead of black leather did something that looked like he’d struck her in the face before slinging her over his shoulder. Danielle moaned as she dangled limply down his muscular back. What was wrong with her? He had to get to her, had to check out her injuries. “Come,” said Little Red. Fearing Danielle was in dire need of medical attention, Ethan fought, but Cedric and Merrick took him the other direction despite his struggles. Even though it was daylight, it was extremely clear that the fey magic was weakening and their vampire strength was returning. The witches led them several paces away from the auction.

“I need to get to her!” Ethan demanded. And why couldn’t he see the warlocks any longer? Ethan looked everywhere, but he couldn’t see where they’d taken his wife. It seemed as though they’d vanished, along with the prince, because Ethan couldn’t find him either. “In time,” came the calm reply from Little Red. Ethan tossed curses and insults her way. He was unable to take any relief whatsoever from the witch’s gentle tone. Ignoring his bad language and smirking slightly, the pretty witches encircled him and the men keeping him under control. Several pairs of green eyes studied him in amusem*nt. Linking their hands, they chanted a spell. As the rhyming melody rose from their lips, Ethan blinked and suddenly found himself in a completely different place. Blinking, Ethan lifted a hand to shield his eyes from the blinding sunlight angling into his eyes, as he tried to figure out where he was. The guards released him and gave him a little shove forward. “What?” he asked in bewilderment as he staggered a step or two before catching himself. His eyes landed on a black door embellished with silver metalwork. “You’ll find Danielle inside the cottage, Ethan. Don’t keep her waiting.” Wondering if his legs would hold him, Ethan lunged forward and wrenched it open. Stumbling inside, he waited impatiently for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting.

his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. The first thing he noticed in the one-room cottage was a big shape, backlit by the window, bending down over a bed. Sunlight caught at the edges of the man’s red hair and Ethan knew he had to be one of the warlocks. If that was the case, then Danielle was there too. Ethan rushed forward. Once his shins bumped against the edge of the bed, he squinted down at his wife as he sank to the quilt next to her. He could still see her without glasses, just not as clearly as he’d like, and certainly not clearly enough to thoroughly inspect the damage done to her person. Ethan searched for his glasses, his hands slapping at his pockets frantically. Finding them in his left jacket pocket, he began lifting them to his face when they were snatched from his fingertips. “Allow me,” said the red-headed male who’d just been leaning over his wife. Ethan tried to steal them back. “They work well enough, thank you.” Couldn’t this warlock see how urgent this was? Ignoring him, the warlock responded with a cheerful, “It’ll only take a moment. It’s the least I can do.” The least you can do after punching my wife? Ethan wanted to ask, his teeth snapping down on the words to contain them. Ethan watched in seething silence as the warlock knelt down upon the hearth of a stone-surrounded fireplace and muttered a series of words in some ancient language. A “bloody hell” escaped his lips when the warlock actually threw his spectacles right into the flames. Giving up on his glasses, Ethan’s gaze

right into the flames. Giving up on his glasses, Ethan’s gaze traveled the black and blue marks mottling Danielle’s skin, and it concerned him that she was still unconscious. “Did you do this to her when you struck her?” That got the warlock’s attention. The man’s green-eyed gaze touched on Danielle before swinging his way. “I understand you’re upset, but I didn’t hit her.” “But it looked like—” Again, ignoring him, the warlock reached for the fire poker and began digging around in the ashes piled beneath the charred logs. “Of course it looked like that, but all I did was blow a bit of sleeping powder into her face.” With his eyebrows angling down, Ethan studied his wife again. Her slow and steady breathing made it look like she was simply napping. His thumb found her pulse where he discovered that it was strong and normal as well. “But she could barely stand...” “We started the enchantment during the auction.” “What?” Confusion drew his gaze to the warlock. “The powder, along with the words, is what does it. She’s fine, I give you my word on that. We just didn’t want to harm her if she continued to fight, which we suspected she would, so we thought it best for her and us if we sedated her for a time. I hear she’s quite skilled.” “She is.” The backs of his knuckles grazed the purpling skin on her cheekbone. It wasn’t swollen, just discolored. Ethan felt some of the panic slipping, the knots of intense concern

loosening. “Here we are. Good as new,” said the warlock, capturing Ethan’s wrist so he could turn his palm upward. He pressed a warm object into Ethan’s hand. Ethan’s jaw dropped. His eyes widened. The spectacles were in fact restored. “Thank you.” The warlock left, muttering something about refreshments on the table. The door squeaked shut behind him. Propping the frames where they belonged, Ethan bent forward, feeling grateful to see clearly. His fingers next touched the purple mark along her jawbone. She gasped and captured his fingers against her skin. Every muscle in her body tensed, and he suspected she might be disoriented enough to think she needed to defend herself. Ethan watched her warily, wondering if he was about to catch a karate chop against his nose that would snap his newly-repaired spectacles in half. “It’s me.” “Ethan?” He felt her relax. “I’m here, darling. I daresay you gave me quite a fright.” Danielle giggled with a dainty and adorable little snort. She opened her big brown eyes, angling that smile that belonged to him and only him his way. His heart twisted inside his chest, but it wasn’t a painful twisting this time. “Mr. Darcy?” she asked, obviously teasing him for laying it on so thick when it really wasn’t eighteen sixty-four any longer. Her arms shot up and around his neck. She hugged him so tight he took comfort in the fact that she wasn’t weak from injury, but she did make a pain-filled noise that concerned him.

injury, but she did make a pain-filled noise that concerned him. Trying not to let on to the fact the he was feeling more like Dr. Deveroux than her beloved Mr. Darcy, Ethan slid his fingers beneath her clothes and touched her ribs, searching for any fractures while pretending to caress her. Ethan found nothing irregular and became distracted with how amazing it felt to have her back into his arms. Her fingers curled around a handful of his hair. As her nails grazed his scalp like a rousing massage, it sent ripples of recognition down the back of his neck, along his spine, where it spread awareness and need into his gut. His mouth was on hers so fast she squeaked in surprise before melting into him like she always did. The taste of her touched his tongue as he pushed it past her lips. Ethan swallowed the happy sound she made, and he kept going until they both needed air and he was forced to reluctantly release her. Carefully snuggling Danielle into the cradle of his chest, Ethan pressed his face against her hair and drew a deep breath into his lungs, taking in her scent. Danielle didn’t smell like flowers or pumpkin pie, but like wood, bacon and smoke, like the men who’d held her captive. His soul snarled in anger. “Please tell me the other guy looks worse,” he said, hoping she’d done a great deal of damage to the cursed beasts. Her body cringed in what he perceived was repulsion. Against his shoulder she responded with, “Does dead count?” Lucas. A sense of horror drew him backward so he could look into her face. Catching the edge of her jaw into the V of his hand, his thumb found the little notch beneath her chin so he

hand, his thumb found the little notch beneath her chin so he could angle his eyes into hers. “You killed him?” “Not really on purpose.” Fear flickered in the depths of her dark eyes. “He really is dead, right?” Ethan nodded. “They found his body.” “Who did?” “The other vampires did when they checked the werewolves’ home while we traveled to the auction.” “How did you find me?” Ethan swallowed. He licked his lips, the terror he’d felt then surging back. “Nadia found us first.” “Is she okay?” “She’s fine.” The pads of his fingers brushed hair from her face, but his eyes were locked on the discoloration painted along her cheekbone and around her eye. His teeth clenched. His nostrils flared. “A small witch found us next. Her coven of red-headed witches brought us to the auction.” His forehead dropped against hers, and Ethan found he just couldn’t stop touching her. She was really here in his arms. It felt like it had been forever. “The witch who tried to help cure the werewolves?” “Apparently she had regrets.” Ethan hadn’t trusted the petite redhead at first, but now he was grateful to her. Danielle drew back, locking her eyes with his, and so much was exchanged with just that look. Their love for each other, the recognition they shared from a life neither of them remembered, even their shared hope for a normal future. At that idea, he had

to ask, “The baby?” “Is fine.” Her eyebrows lowered. “I think.” Ethan swallowed. He really needed to get her to a hospital, but he also knew she’d resist that and he didn’t want to cause her more distress after all she’d been through. “Did they hurt you?” Ethan asked, imagining his pregnant wife performing karate against full-grown men, full-grown cursed men. The idea made his knees weaken even though he’d secretly wanted her to cause a lot of trouble for them. But if it meant they’d injure her in return. There could be injuries he couldn’t see, and that terrified him. “Besides tying me up too tight, no, they didn’t ... and I gave them plenty of reasons to retaliate.” Ethan reached back and drew her arm forward so he could see the red slashes of rope-burned skin encircling her wrist. “You shouldn’t have pushed them.” He touched the wounded skin with a kiss. “I had no choice,” she snapped, while sounding breathless, as though she’d liked what he’d just done, but she was annoyed with his comment. “Did Lucas hurt you?” Ethan knew the question might upset her further, and while he didn’t want that, he had to know. In his mind, he was picturing Phoebe’s broken state, and just the thought of Lucas breaking Danielle in the same way opened a fissure in his heart. “He told me what he’d done, and said he planned to do the same to me.”

same to me.” Danielle valiantly tried to hide the fear in her eyes, but he’d seen it anyway. Ethan felt his mouth tighten, his fingers curl into fists. “That bloody miscreant! I’m sorry I never told you.” “No,” she said. Her fingers touched his chest. His hand came up and kept the caress pressed to his heart as little shocks of pleasure rode his fury, soothing it. “Don’t be. I’m glad you didn’t tell me. And, thank you.” “For what?” He didn’t deserve her gratitude when this might not have ever happened if he’d handled Lucas differently, killed him before he’d become a vampire. “For not telling me. You knew me well enough to know I wouldn’t want to know. And for being so incredibly possessive and overprotective you wouldn’t believe me, or let me leave you when the witches made us lie.” A low sound of amusem*nt rumbled in his chest at the odd comment. “You’re thanking me for that?” he asked in utter disbelief. Her expression turned serious. “It gave me hope.” Ethan didn’t know what to say to that, so he again steered the conversation to things still worrying him. “You fought with Lucas, then.” She hadn’t explained how she’d been bruised up, and he needed to know if he was going to correctly determine her medical needs without letting her see Dr. Deveroux. “He’s the one who did this to you.” Carefully holding her chin between his fingers, he turned her face, letting his gaze travel over the damage on both sides even though it made him want to dig up the already dead Lucas and murder him again.

the already dead Lucas and murder him again. “He attacked. I defended myself.” That still wasn’t enough information, so he more narrowly focused his query. “Where did he hit you, Danielle? I need to know.” She sighed, and he understood that she’d recognized his intent, but she didn’t say anything about it. Touching each location, her cheekbone, jaw, ribs, hip and left thigh, she said, “I feel fine, I promise.” When he just blinked at her, a muscle along his jaw jumping as his lips thinned, she added, “You’re worried about internal damage, aren’t you?” The fact that she knew him so well never surprised him. “I— I know what he’s capable of.” A tension-drenched quiet saturated the room. Ethan knew she absolutely hated doctors, but he had to get her the medical attention she needed. He couldn’t risk losing another baby. Raising an eyebrow, he offered a concession. “An x-ray and an ultrasound, and then I’ll drop it.” Danielle deflated, but surprised him when she said, “Okay.” Ethan blinked. “What?” “I don’t want to lose this baby either.” “How sure are you that you’re pregnant?” “Pretty sure.” “Can we get you to a hospital now?” he asked. “Right now?” Hearing the nervousness in her question, Ethan exhaled. She was still terrified of doctors and hospitals, but he could also see

that she was trying very hard to be brave for him. “Very well. But not much later.” Her eyes widened with sudden excitement. “Are there vampires outside?” “Uh, yes.” He thought of Cedric, Richard, and Merrick, but couldn’t figure out why she wanted them. “Do you remember when Sophia listened to our baby last time? And how she’d been able to hear the baby’s heartbeat even during the day?” Ethan gasped. “Right! Even when the curse was weak, and you weren’t far along.” Lunging to his feet, Ethan ran for the door and wrenched it open. His eyes landed on Merrick first. “You! Come here!” “What is it?” Merrick asked, clearly worried by Ethan’s actions as he moved forward. Ethan grabbed a handful of the vampire’s shirt and tugged him toward his wife. “Is something wrong?” Merrick asked, following without resistance. Pointing at Danielle’s stomach, Ethan snapped, “Listen!” “Huh?” “To the baby, you dimwit!” Danielle leaned up and reached for the Highland knight’s hand. When Merrick’s gaze touched hers, the annoyance at Ethan’s overzealous behavior softened in his expression. “Oh.” Still letting her hold his hand, he dropped to his knees. “The wee baerin?”

As Richard and Cedric joined them, Ethan realized they’d guarded Danielle so closely when she’d been pregnant the first time that they had probably grown attached to the idea of the baby, and felt the same sense of loss when she’d been stabbed by Dorin. “Can we all listen?” asked Richard, proving his theory. The three men took turns listening to her belly and each one confirmed that the he or she had a perfectly healthy heartbeat. Sitting down on the bed quickly, Ethan managed to hide the fact he was about to collapse in relief. As the vampires again left them alone, Ethan caught a hint of what he perceived as jealousy for his mortal life that he’d never witnessed before. There were definite advantages to being mortal, and perhaps deep down the big bad vampires recognized it. Setting that aside, Ethan took Danielle back into his arms as gratitude filled him, and he silently thanked God for taking care of her, for taking care of their baby, for blessing him with this precious thing that could only come to mortal men. Her breath brushed against his neck when she asked, “Do your dreams have volume now too?” He jerked backward to catch her gaze with his. “You can hear what we’re saying?” “You can’t?” He shook his head, a little jealous and definitely confused. The fact that he’d eaten the cherries first must have added volume to her dreams and not his. The fairies had said something about them both needing to consume them. He shoved a hand into his pocket, hoping the fruits hadn’t been squashed. Relief

into his pocket, hoping the fruits hadn’t been squashed. Relief swamped him when he found they were only bruised a bit, but still whole. “The fairies gave me these. I ate mine, so I suppose this is what added volume to your dreams.” With eyes widening at the way she snatched them up, plucked the plump purple fruit free of the stems and leaves, and devoured them, he asked, “I take it they didn’t feed you well?” “Only breakfast,” she answered around a mouthful of fruit. Feeling his teeth clench in anger, he scanned the room for something else to sustain her. “Oh,” she groaned in pleasure, “these are so good. Are there more?” Her fingers were instantly searching his pocket. “I’m sorry, love, that’s all they gave me.” Her shoulders slumped as her tongue slid along her bottom lip, seeking any residual juice. He had to fix this, but first, he had to know. “Tell me why? Why were you crying in the dreams?” She swallowed and blinked. “We knew that we’d be born into this life more than a century apart.” An enormous sigh of relief left his lungs, puffing against her face, moving the hair hanging across her forehead. Her distress hadn’t been his fault. “Why hadn’t I thought of that?” It was so simple, actually. Because that was what had happened—they’d been born into different eras and feared they’d never make it back to one another. Redirecting his thoughts to Danielle’s hunger, Ethan’s eyes landed on a tray lying on a small table in the center of the room, and he realized the warlock had mentioned it before he’d left them alone. Ethan had been so concerned for Danielle, he really

them alone. Ethan had been so concerned for Danielle, he really hadn’t taken the time to study his surroundings, or listen to the man’s words. As he moved to collect the offering of tea and biscuits for Danielle, he let his gaze pass over the small room. From the dried bunches of herbs and flowers hung from the rafters, and the glass bottles filled with odd-looking things, Ethan gathered that this was a witches’ dwelling—a basic one, without electricity or convenience. From an iron rack near the fire hung a variety of different pots and pans. Clearly the fire was the only available stove. It was hard to believe they chose to live so simply in such a modern world. The other witches hadn’t lived like this at all in that enormous mansion they had. Listening to Danielle crunch at the biscuits, he prepared a cup of tea for her. It wasn’t her favorite peach, but a simple chamomile. Even so, he knew she was probably hungry enough to not complain about it. Stirring in about four lumps of sugar because he knew she liked it sweet, he watched her. His heart swelled with how great it was to finally have her back, and safe, but his smile wilted when he remembered that even though they had escaped, they hadn’t exactly stopped all of the things hunting her. Pixies would still want to turn her into one of them. Some witches would still want to take something from her, and mermaids could still have some dark purpose he didn’t know about yet. Ethan suspected he never would know, unless they managed to get their wet fingers on her again. What were they going to do now? Seeing that the sugar was sufficiently dissolved, Ethan

handed her the teacup. Watching her lift the edge of the teacup to her mouth, Ethan realized with a start, that Danielle was watching him even more closely than he’d been watching her. Her eyes touched on the tears in his clothing and the cut on his cheek. “Did the pixies hurt you?” “The wretched little things dumped us in the trees.” It was her turn to gasp. “It’s all right, we got down without injury.” “They’re still going to hunt me, aren’t they?” Danielle shuddered. “I hate pixies.” Before he could answer, the door opened and Little Red entered. Her rounded hips swayed as she moved forward. She fiddled nervously with a strand of her long red locks like she had something important to say, but feared his reaction to whatever it might be. “We might be able to help you with that.” She’d been right; he didn’t want to hear that. There was no bloody way he was moving here for safety. “Thanks, but the fairies couldn’t—” “You’ll be able to stay in your own home this time. We’ll join our magic with the fairies’ and Lilith’s. We do know Lilith, in case you were wondering. No one will be able to take her again.” “How can you promise that?” Her light-green eyes rounded with excitement as she began searching the bottled ingredients as though looking for something she needed for the potion she was referring to. “Can’t you

she needed for the potion she was referring to. “Can’t you imagine how impenetrable the magic of three would be?” Not looking at him, she lifted one jar and peered at the contents. “This is just the thing to help.” Holding the clear-glass bottle out for him to see the slimy-looking, blue contents, she announced with a wicked smirk curving her pouty pink mouth. “Pixie guts.” At that moment she looked more like a witch to him than before. Danielle gagged, the sound drawing his gaze. She spied the pixie gore with two hands covering her mouth. Ethan shifted his position to block her view. “Little Red, please. My wife—” Shoving the offending bottle behind her back, she muttered, “Sorry.” Checking on Danielle again, Ethan was relieved she’d held onto her small meal of tea and biscuits, but she’d lost a bit of color. “Shall we step outside and discuss this further?” he offered because Little Red had sparked his curiosity with her offer. He’d give almost anything to return even an ounce of normalcy to their future. That day, they gathered the magical beings together while Little Red produced a potion that smelled a lot like spoiled apples and asked them to drink it after Lilith, the witches, and the fairies had combined their magical ingredients. Ethan was the first to test it, and it tasted like fishy apples spiced heavily with ginger and cumin, as well as sweetened with honey to make it taste better. He supposed it had worked well enough since Danielle was able to get it down without tossing up the contents

Danielle was able to get it down without tossing up the contents of her stomach. Little Red had been right. They’d been able to return to their home in England and, not only that, they’d been able to resume their movie and fine-dining outings as well, without bodyguards lurking beside each doorway or following them everywhere they went. For Ethan, that was easily the best part. How the spell had worked, Ethan didn’t have a clue, but he didn’t bloody well care either. All he cared about was for them to be free to live a quiet and peaceful life. Correction ... that was almost his only care ... well, not really. The pregnancy was definitely the best part, if he was to be honest. Ethan’s heart swelled with a full dose of pride, a satisfying measure of contentment, and an eagerness he couldn’t contain with the swelling of Danielle’s stomach as their child grew. He’d spent literally hours of time holding her while he felt for movement, his hand roving over her while seeking each jump. Every time his little one pushed out against the palm of his hand, his smile grew until he wondered if the expression was now a permanent part of his features. Ethan held his ear gently against Danielle’s stomach as he tried to listen, but he couldn’t hear anything, so instead, he talked to his child, telling her of stories about his life and about how he adored her mother. Danielle’s fingers made their usual path of furrows through his hair as he talked in a low crooning tone. “We’ve heard this one. Do you have anything more exciting, like with ninjas and pirates?” she asked, clearly teasing him. “How about the one about the guy who reluctantly becomes

a vampire, only to discover it was the best thing that ever happened to him?” A frown overtook her previously joyous expression. “That’s the best thing? Do you still want that?” Ethan swore, his head came up. “I didn’t mean it like that at all.” “But do you still want that?” “Absolutely not! I meant that becoming a vampire brought him to the love of his existence.” He kissed her nose right before tapping it gently with his finger. “And that was the best thing that ever happened to him, but it never would have happened had he not first become a cursed man. We know that from our dreams.” Danielle licked her lips and leaned forward to collect her teacup, her eyebrows drawn low in thought. She took a sip, watching for that little rosebud painted inside the rim. He’d found a replacement for her and was probably as pleased about it as she was, because he adored watching her do that. After swallowing, she asked, “You don’t miss the super powers you’d had, and the way your intense magic knocked me senseless?” It was never wise to challenge an overly-possessive male, and that was how Ethan took her query. A query she’d come back to more times than he cared to recall. How could he drive this point home? When an idea came to him, he confiscated the teacup, set it safely upon its saucer, captured her face between his palms, and began snogging her with an intensity that wrung a gasp from her. After a few consuming moments of that, he pulled back and perused how her gaze had narrowed to an almost

back and perused how her gaze had narrowed to an almost drunken state. Ethan didn’t stop there. Releasing her just long enough to shift their positions, Ethan pulled her onto his lap, holding her gaze captive with his. Letting her see through to his soul, Ethan studied the different flecks of brown and gold making up the iris, and the way her dark lashes made it appear as though she wore eyeliner even though he knew her face was naked today. He let his thumbs brush over her cheekbones as a pretty blush rose to the upper ridge. Next, his thumbs glided over the plump pillows of her lips before taking them against his again. He caressed her shoulders, her body and he allowed his breath to enter her lungs with each sweep of his mouth over hers. His hand traveled from her shoulder, to her ribs and along her hip where he continued on to her bare feet. Once there, he gently pressed his thumb into the arches of her feet, massaging her as he’d done in the beginning of their courtship, and many times since. Ethan made certain he administered to each one equally. Any and all tension left in her muscles melted beneath his fingers. A triumphant smile lifted the corners of his mouth. He may not have the magic of a curse within him anymore, but Ethan believed he’d managed well enough at bewitching her. Feeding another breath into her lungs, he heard the sound she always made when she’d been overcome by his touch. It was something he heard a lot of and he knew he’d probably accomplished his goal. His mortal life was just too good, and Ethan no longer wanted to be a vampire. Without the magic that curse had given him, he could still easily enchant his wife as a man, instead of a vampire. Without an ounce of shame for the

man, instead of a vampire. Without an ounce of shame for the pride it brought to him, Ethan finally pulled back enough to measure his success. A fringe of dark, thick lashes lifted lazily to reveal a pair of mesmerized brown eyes that were darkened with passion. “What was it you were saying about knocking you senseless?” he asked with his eyebrow lifting. Danielle blinked. Her eyebrows dipped down in bewilderment. “Huh?” “I do not need the magic of vampirism to–” She blinked a few more times, coming out of it. “To manipulate me?” she asked, a smirk tugging at her lips. That saucy comment earned her a scowl. “I bed your pardon?” This time her eyebrows lifted. “You bed my pardon?” “I had meant to say that ‘I beg your pardon,’ but if you’d like me to bed you, I’d be more than willing.” “Smooth hedge,” she said, his joke drawing half of her mouth upward. “You’re getting a little too good at manipulating me.” Ethan came back with, “Like you’re innocent.” Laughing, Danielle slung her arm around his neck, lifted his fingers into her other hand and placed them back over her stomach. Dropping his chin against her brown hair, Ethan resumed what he’d been doing beforehand as the color of her hair reminded him of things like chocolate, and that he needed to make another cake for dessert.

Epilogue Four Years Later Ethan touched his finger to the tiny, but chubby palm of his son’s hand. Five perfect little digits curled around his finger so tightly they held even as he wiggled his finger back and forth. His breath snagged in his throat as an intense sense of wonder seized his soul. He couldn’t stop himself from pressing a volley of gentle kisses to each of his plump cheeks, as well as his tiny nose, his dimpled chin, and the curl of fine hair upon his forehead. Each time Ethan’s mouth brushed the buttery soft skin of his twomonth-old infant, those small feet bumped against his chest with a happy kick. Something else seized his heart and squeezed. Vaguely, Ethan recognized the emotion as joy. It wasn’t just contentment, but an intense blending of that and pure happiness. When Danielle had first placed this baby into his arms, he’d let the tears of happiness fall. Again those tears burned in his eyes as he locked his gaze with his wife’s. She smiled, her eyes glittering as she too was moved. Sitting sideways upon the sofa beside him, she leaned her shoulder into the back cushion and touched Brendon’s wriggling toes. Ethan returned her smile with a wobbly one. A drop of moisture welled just before it made a wet path down his face. Danielle captured the tear on the edge of her finger, sniffing back her emotional reaction to his and then gave him a kiss. “That’s

her emotional reaction to his and then gave him a kiss. “That’s payment for letting me see how you feel.” It was true, and he couldn’t easily blame this show of emotion on having a bit of dust in his eye. He’d tried that in the past—it never worked with Danielle who could see right through him without difficulty. Ethan normally tried to hide the less-manly emotions fighting to escape him out of habit. His cheeks heated, but he ignored that and again redirected his gaze upon his precious son. Taking in the small round face of the boy, Ethan was so incredibly happy with this miracle that he couldn’t help how he felt, nor could he mask it. “Parenthood becomes you,” she said, a tear-soaked quiver in her voice. “You find this human weakness appealing, do you?” Ethan flicked away his next tear a tad aggressively. “What about when I have wrinkles crinkling up the corners of my eyes, and gray hair streaking through the blond you seem to fancy? Will you still think of me as your dashing Mr. Darcy then?” Danielle sniffed again. “Even more so, you dork.” The modern insult, spoken in a loving tone, kicked his eyebrow up. She went on. “You’ll just look distinguished, and there’s something sexy about that.” Opening his mouth to respond, Ethan paused when he heard a query spoken in a beautifully youthful high voice, “Papa?” His blurry-eyed gaze swung to his three-year-old daughter’s innocent face. Faith. Ethan pushed his glasses up his nose and tired to focus through his tears. Smooth curls of brown hair framed her face and bounced as she impatiently waited for his

framed her face and bounced as she impatiently waited for his response. A small hand landed on his knee as a pair of big blue eyes peered up at him with open curiosity. Instinctively, his fingers went to hers. Protective, fatherly.... He felt the corners of his mouth lift as the clarity of his vision worsened. Ethan knew how she felt. Even after sixty days, the newness of having Brendon around hadn’t worn off, just as it hadn’t when she’d been born. Faith was the first miracle they’d been blessed with. Brendon was the second, and neither one was more special than the other in his eyes. “Yes, princess.” When he called her that, amusem*nt twinkled in her eyes like the tiara she wore for playing dress-up, and that dimple in her left cheek flashed at him. Thick black lashes swept down when she blinked and then looked first at Brendon, then back at him, an innocent kind of suspicion snatching the twinkle away. “May I hold him?” It was pure reflex when Ethan snuggled Brendon’s small body closer to his chest for a moment. Her sharp little eyes noticed the action, and narrowed. When Faith’s bottom lip popped out into an adorable pout that she’d inherited from her mother, he sighed, resigned to her wishes because he couldn’t deny her anything in the world. Certainly, little Faith was spoiled with an abundance of sugary treats, girly toys, and frilly, ruffled fashions to wear. He had no one to blame for that but himself. Certainly, Danielle shared some of the blame, but a great deal of it rested on his shoulders alone. Ethan was the one who baked for her, who set the table for teatime with her dolls, who

frequently purchased the abundance of fancy dresses to fill her wardrobe. Between him and her mother, she wanted for nothing. “Of course you may, darling.” Helping Faith climb onto the sofa next to him, Ethan propped a pillow up next to her side so that when she held the baby, she would have aid supporting his head. Next he settled Brendon into her outstretched arms and watched as she drew laughter out of him with the silly little faces she pulled. Faith released fullbellied giggles in response. It didn’t take long for Danielle to retake her place in his arms, the heat of his son replaced by that of his wife’s. “You’re not forgetting about me, are you?” Danielle’s mouth twitched into a pout very similar to the one he’d just seen his daughter showcase, and she thought he manipulated her. Hah! He now had two females steering him to their wishes, and he loved every moment of it. Faith had definitely inherited the talent from her mother, along with his wife’s impatience, and her love for sweets and pretty things. “If it weren’t for you, I never would have become a parent in the first place.” His eyes landed on the young brother and sister. “I’m eternally grateful to you for that gift. And, I’m sad to say it, but they’ll grow up and leave us eventually. But you and I are stuck together. For that, I am immensely pleased.” “Stuck together?” she asked, her eyebrow notching up a bit. “Indeed. Forever.” “No escape, huh?” “Nope.” Curling one arm around her hips to bring her closer,

“Nope.” Curling one arm around her hips to bring her closer, Ethan balanced her chin on the edge of his finger and watched her eyes lower in preparation for his kiss. A brush of his mouth, his lips parted, he touched her with the heat of his tongue. Danielle’s fingers clutched at his clothes like it was the first time he’d ever kissed her. “You don’t wish to escape, do you, darling?” he whispered against the corner of her mouth before pulling back. Ethan’s eyes touched on the children who still giggled beside him—a parental instinct to check on them. The delightful sounds sweetening the spirit of bliss dwelling within their home caused his heart to squeeze inside his chest. He adjusted the pillow to help Faith support her little brother a tad better. She noticed the caring action and shot a look of child-like trust his way that reached inside and touched his soul in a way nothing else could. His heart gave another squeeze. When his gaze returned to Danielle, she wasn’t paying any attention to him, but their adorable children as well. “I suppose I’ll accept this forever thing.” “I was hoping you’d say that.” Unable to stop himself, Ethan kissed her again and administered a dose of his vampire-tainted breath into her lungs. Watching her drugged reaction, he was glad he was mortal now, but was also glad he’d maintained that one wicked trait. The doorbell rang. Faith squealed in delight at the intrusive noise that obliterated the peaceful quiet of their home. “It’s Max, and Nadie, and little Max!” Ethan found it interesting that she’d call Max Jr. “little” when he was more than a head taller than she was, even though he was

he was more than a head taller than she was, even though he was the same age. Brendon stared at his big sister like he wasn’t sure if he wanted to laugh or cry at her loud and eager reaction to the bell. Danielle lifted him from Faith’s arms so she could dash toward the front door.... And they lived happily forever after.

Coming up next from author Cheri Schmidt Note from Cheri: The Fateful Trilogy is simply Ethan and Danielle’s story, but many of your favorite side characters will get a chance to tell their own. In the Fateful Series: Sophia’s Cookbook for Mortals Maximilian: A novella on how Max met Nadia. Becoming Cursed: A novella on how Beon became a vampire and then courted Sophia. The Black Prince: A novella on your favorite surly prince. In the Fair Maiden Series: Fair Maiden The Trapping Club The Mistaken Reformer

Thank you for reading all of the books in the Fateful Trilogy. I’m deeply grateful for your support and for letting me share these stories with you. May I also invite you to read one of my other books entitled Fair Maiden. Description: It's the Victorian era in England, but Tessa is from the medieval past. She awakens within a castle she has never seen before. Knowledge of her name also evades her. However, even worse than not knowing who or where she is, she cannot recall how she died or why she is dressed as a bride. Along with Christian, the earl of the castle she haunts, Tessa tries to discover who she is and break the spell holding her in a prison of death. They never imagined the curse keeping them apart is the only thing protecting her, until it's too late. Excerpt: Chapter 1 Fair Maiden Drawing a breath, she frowned. It seemed she did not feel the air entering her lungs. She rubbed her eyes, opened them and then stretched, arching upward. S ll, she felt nothing. No bunching of

arching upward. S ll, she felt nothing. No bunching of muscles, no fric on of her fists upon her eyelids. The frown deepened. How odd, she thought. Looking up at the beau ful, though unfamiliar, canopy bed she rested in, she sighed for it was exquisite. The posts were carved with ornate depic ons of faeries frolicking. Green vines, green living vines with purple blooms grew up the dark wooden posts. How were they thriving without soil to grow in? Enchanted perhaps? Hanging from the beams above the bed was sheer fabric that had been wrapped and gathered so it billowed to the floor in flowing puddles of white linen. But what stunned her the most, were the living bu erflies flu ering about the blossoms, and fireflies that twinkled as they danced around the grand bed. She felt as though she was nestled in a magical forest se ng fit for a faerie princess, except this setting was inside. Where am I? she wondered. Pu ng out her hand, she meant to gather the silken sheets and pull them aside to get out of the bed. But—she could not touch them. She looked down, feeling quite perplexed, and her eyes widened when she no ced there was no lump where her body should be. Horrified now, she scrambled from the bed to stand at the foot of it, only to realize with another cry that her feet were not upon the floor, but floating inches from it. “I-I’m dead?” she whispered, the shock of it snatching her voice.

her voice. Peering down at her transparent self, she exhaled and managed, “Wait…Who am I?” She lifted one hand in front of her face and looked through it. Ques ons filled her mind. How did she die? Would she not recall such a thing? And why had she not moved on? Why had she not seen the light and gone to the a erlife? Or is this Heaven? This chamber was as lovely as she’d always hoped Heaven would be. “No, it cannot be,” she said quickly. Would not her ancestors be here to welcome her? And she’d thought that celes al place was not a bedchamber. She worried for a moment that she could be in Hell instead, but then shoved that thought aside as well. This chamber was far too nice for it to be that terrible place. She must be one of those poor souls trapped between the two, but why, and how? Sunlight painted the room from the only window in the chamber. She stepped toward it, but then watched in awe as she glided forward. Her momentum halted just in front of it and she peered out wondering if the view would help her recall where she was. She discovered she was in a grand castle cres ng the top of a hill. A thick forest darkened the land in the distance. Much of the scene consisted of green grasses lined with hedges that needed a trim, and roses appearing to have gone wild. Yellow and green ribbons of farmland radiated from houses sprinkled along the bo om right side of the hill. But even a er studying the landscape, it did not help her recall this place. Ivy had climbed its way up to this bedchamber within a

tall turret. She could see four more towers from this perspec ve. Whilst this grand palace was a lovely stone structure, she s ll could not recollect ever living here, or traveling here. And it was too quiet. Far too quiet. There was some noise, just not the right noises. Birds chirped in the trees and she could hear the ski ering and buzzing of insects. A breeze whistled around the structure, but there was no sound of human life. No creak of the floors as people moved about the enormous castle, no gardener tending to the landscaping, no farm animals. Drawing her a en on from the view, she moved back to the bed. On it was a piece of parchment she had not no ced before. Three words were wri en in a scrolling script upon it. You are loved. Was this message for her? She hoped it was. Squeezing her eyes shut, she fought back tears. Dead. She opened her eyes and refocused on the paper. Dead, but loved. Those three words soothed her trembling soul. A little. Her gaze slid to the door. She glided to it and reached for the handle, then withdrew her hand. “Well, I cannot open it that way,” she mu ered as she no ced she could see the knob through her fingers. She studied the door for a moment. A carved diamond pa ern embellished the surface of the wood. The door was further adorned with long, ornate hinges and a decora ve handle. A er staring at the detail for several moments, she

thought, Perhaps I can do it with my mind. Concentra ng on opening the door, she gasped when the handle jiggled. She a empted again, again it moved, but the door would not open. Again, and again, and again she tried, then exhaled in frustration when she remained unsuccessful. Once more she pondered it, pou ng. Then, “Oh, how could I be so foolish?” she groaned aloud, just then realizing that ghosts, such as she appeared to be, can walk through doors. She gathered her skirts and stretched one toe through the wood, as if tes ng the temperature of water. Her foot passed through as though the solid-looking substance was no more substan al than air. She withdrew her foot and then stretched it forth again, further this me. Nothing bad happened to her person. She felt no pain or resistance whatsoever. A er another moment’s hesita on, she decided to follow with the rest of herself, only imagining at the last moment getting stuck inside the door. Forever. When she emerged on the other side, she nearly collapsed with relief. Here she found a wide hallway lined with more closed doors. She floated through each one finding many furnished bedchambers, but none occupied. However, when she came to the master chamber, she no ced that a man did live here, or had lived here. The wardrobe, which he had apparently not shut ghtly enough, had swung open le ng light from the window illuminate the contents. To her, the clothing inside appeared to be masculine in nature, though

the tunics and braise were fashioned differently than she was accustomed to seeing…or what she thought she was accustomed to seeing. Strange how things such as this were almost within her reach, yet the past memories about herself felt so u erly vague. No, she thought, ’ s much more than that. ’Tis more like missing and lost within a dense fog. She took a deep calming breath, though she did note the act of breathing appeared to be more habit than necessary. With one more sigh, she con nued to explore the castle. She found that servants had also lived here as recently as the man. She then wondered how long she’d been here. How long had she been sleeping in that bed? And where was everyone? A er covering almost every inch of the deserted dwelling, she decided to head back toward her bedchamber, or at least she thought it was hers. She froze when she got a good view at the door from the outside. It looked like a wooden gate to a secret garden in which the plant life was sneaking its way through the cracks between the frame and door. Ivy and moss, and other blooming vegeta on were fanning their way out from the edges. And it looked quite different from every other door in the demesne. Even the hinges were unique and the handle was placed and fashioned differently. It appeared older. Centuries older. Li ing her hand, she reached for the handle. It irritated her that she could not physically touch it. With determina on swelling in her chest, she dropped her hand, squared her shoulders and focused on the mechanism with

squared her shoulders and focused on the mechanism with her thoughts. It turned halfway. She tried again. This me as the handle twisted, she heard a small click and the door cracked open. Smiling now, she refocused her efforts and watched with joy as the door swung all the way back. Those ancient-looking hinges groaned in protest. This room was the one she wanted to inves gate more thoroughly, she pondered, as she glided into the odd spellbound chamber. Perched above a narrow table on the le wall, which she had not no ced before, was an oval looking glass. She traveled to it, and gasped. She could see her reflection! And she recognized the face, though she did not…. Leaning closer, she studied her phantom self. The golden dress she wore was quite pre y, and complimented her pallid complexion and pale pink lips. The square neckline was ghtened with laces at the bust. The intricately embroidered fabric shimmered with her movement, and the blue and green colors of the embellishment picked up the flecks of color in her green eyes. Li le pink-colored roses in the s tched design added more color. The skirt had many layers and a train in the back. This dress was formal, a gown. Her blonde hair hung in natural waves around her shoulders. It dri ed down past her hips. And it was dri ing, moving actually, as if a breeze swept her body. Silk ribbons in many colors had been ed in her hair. She also no ced a lacey white veil. A bridal veil.

A bridal veil. “I was a bride?” A crease formed between her brows. “Did I die on the wedding night, or before?” She li ed her le hand, but found no wedding band there. “Before then. I am not yet wed.” “…but how did I die?” she asked herself again. Without a emp ng to touch the glass, she li ed a hand, palm forward, to the reflection gazing back at her. “Was I murdered?” Her hand began to shake as emotion gripped her, and a glistening tear trickled down her cheek. “Did the groom do it? Was it violent? Painful? Is that why I do not remember, because it was so horrific that I forced myself to forget?” Shuddering, she felt as though someone was watching her. She spun away from the mirror to see if another person had entered the chamber, but saw no one. It did trouble her that she’d le the door wide open. A er focusing on closing it, she startled herself when she managed to slam it shut. With a resigned sigh, she slid to the bed. Feeling distressed, she wanted to reread the comfor ng words written upon the missive. You are loved. “Who le that here? And why?” She pouted and drew her bo om lip between her teeth. “And why did they not address it properly? A simple ‘to’ and ‘from’ would have been helpful.” Using her thoughts, she tried to pick it up. The parchment rippled and then began floa ng from the bed, but just as it did, the edges started to crumble away. She

but just as it did, the edges started to crumble away. She dropped it before it was lost completely. It is old, she realized, and has clearly been here for a very long time. As I probably have, too…. Collapsing onto the bed, tears con nued to roll down her face as she reached her translucent hands out and a empted to stroke—what she imagined to be—the petalsoft fabric with her fingertips. And sobbed when she felt nothing. “Why?” she asked the butterflies, who did not answer. “Why have I not gone to Heaven, or even Hell?” Anger suddenly joined defeat, loneliness, and frustra on. “And why is no one here for me to haunt? Oh, no,” she worried, “perhaps this is Hell.” Days passed. She counted by the rise and fall of the sun. Today she was strolling, no, floating along a path that trailed past shrubs and a tall stone fence that appeared to be the edge of the property. Curious about what was on the other side of the wall; she slid toward it and stopped suddenly. She had not meant to stop, and realized as she bumped against something she could not see that she’d actually found a barrier. An invisible barrier. Running her hands along the solid nothingness, she tried to find an opening or an end to it, but it seemed there was none. Her gaze caught onto the movement of a blue and tan swallow that flew from the hedge and over the wall. “Am I a prisoner?” She watched in irrita on as the plump li le bird happily returned and le again, as if

plump li le bird happily returned and le again, as if taunting her. She could not leave this place! The realiza on baffled her deeply. With a sense of panic seizing her, she spun back toward the castle, forge ng about what might be on the other side of the wall. Then as she neared the kitchen garden, her eyes widened in surprise. There, bent over the herbs, was a female maid. She’d bunched up her apron to create a makeshi basket to hold the clippings of thyme and rosemary. “Hello!” she called, waving her arm as she sped toward the blonde girl in the black and white dress. There was no reac on from the maid. Of course there was no reaction! She spoke anyway, knowing a pout controlled her mouth. “Hello, I am…well…I’m so very pleased to see you,” she said, desperate to speak to anyone. S ll, she received no reply or any physical response to her speech at all. The young maid simply hummed a sweet tune as she worked—obviously oblivious to the spirit next to her. Keeping the frown firmly fixed upon her expression, she went inside to see who else had returned. Dri ing through the door to the kitchen, she paused, and then watched as servants bustled about has ly preparing a meal. A meal for one. A plump woman was spooning stew into a bowl, whilst an old, slender man held out a tray for it. Another maid set a hunk of bread next to the bowl, along with a porcelain cup

a hunk of bread next to the bowl, along with a porcelain cup and another li le bowl with white, sparkling cubes in it. Then the older man shuffled through the doorway with the loaded silver platter. The realiza on se led in. They had only just arrived and were rushing to feed their master. H i m . The lone man who occupied the great bedchamber! She had to see what he looked like, even if he could not see her. Perhaps I can haunt him, she thought with a pixyish smirk forming about her lips that swept the pout away.

Chapter 2 The Earl of Krestly Castle Chris an Henry Sparks dropped himself, with a gusty breath, into the head chair at his lonely and long dining room table. He’d been here, at his newly acquired estate, for only a few days when he’d been summoned back to the city. His insufficient numbers of servants were forced to accompany him and abandon their du es as well. They hadn’t even had me to fully restock the shelves with food or the grounds with livestock at this older, medieval castle. Though there’d been many upgrades, it had stood empty for a few years un l being handed down to him from his father’s many holdings. Even so, while this castle was empty, but for himself and a handful of servants, he preferred this country estate over the city. Regardless of the fact that he was more accustomed to urban life. In fact, he despised London. It wasn’t so much the geography that irritated him, but the people living there. The snobs. The ones u erly concerned with fashion, and gossip about who was wedding who, and when the next soirée would be, and if they were invited…. For now he was the earl, but, as the righ ul heir, he would someday replace his father as marquess. Because of that, Father expected him to return to London for study in his future responsibili es. Even though it irked him to revisit, he went and did not speak of his internal

displeasure. He would not show ingra tude by complaining about it. At least not out loud. Underneath the pride of ownership, however, he was simmering. Curse his father! How could the man give him this enormous charge only to withhold the funds needed to run it? Chris an laughed humorlessly. This was likely another one of his sire’s challenges. Let’s see how Chris an manages that huge estate without his allowance. Oh, the laugh he must have had. His father had supported him financially up un l now, and he knew he was due to gain an increased amount when he turned six and twenty. He certainly hadn’t expected to be cut off when his father gave him Krestly. Chris an did not want to look the fool in front of his sire or peers, but he feared he would not be able to maintain the place and hire the needed servants. And because of that, he worried this castle would fall into disrepair and dwindle under his care if he did not receive the money soon. He knew there was some condi on to ascertaining it, but he didn’t yet know what that was. He hoped that his father would send his solicitor quickly to clear up the ma er. Un l then, there was nothing he could do about it, but try and manage with what he did have. Footsteps echoed through the people-sparse room to his ears, announcing the arrival of his dinner. Which he knew would also be sparse since they’d only just returned. But he didn’t mind. “Thank you, Jackson. That will be all for now,” Chris an said as the gray-haired, ashen-faced man se led

the tray onto the table with a trembling grip that caused the china to rattle. “You’re very welcome, Lord Krestly, it is my pleasure to serve you.” Chris an couldn’t help but smile and chuckle. Just the sight of the man brightened his sullen mood, but, it was the formal address that made him chuckle. Jackson had served him since he’d been an infant. The man felt like an uncle to him and was dear to his heart. Therefore, he did not expect such proper conduct from the loyal manservant, but Jackson had persisted in calling him “lord” instead of “li le lad” once he’d been given this castle. “You know there is no need for such formalities.” “But I insist, my lord.” “Jackson,” he said, his tone a gentle reprimand. Jackson waved it away, offered a quick bow, and then shuffled slowly toward the exit. “I insist. Now be a good boy, and eat your supper.” “Yes, sir,” he said, and laughed when that got the reac on he was hoping for: A cringe and another sharp wave of the elderly butler’s hand. “You’re the best, old man. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” “You’d survive.” No, I wouldn’t, Chris an thought to himself as he listened to the doors close behind Jackson. Well, at least not as comfortably. And he’d be lonelier than he already was. He knew he needed to fill this cold dwelling with the

warmth that only a wife and children could provide. His lips cracked a smile at the images that fond thought conjured. The cacophony of a cha ering wife with rambunc ous youth clutching her skirts would brighten these hollow walls nicely. But the smile slipped, he couldn’t even consider looking for a bride un l his finances were se led, and he wondered how long his father meant to torment him. It could take days or months or...who knew? He certainly didn’t. His finger hooked around the handle of his teacup, and he sipped at his tea. Chamomile, he thought, and then he noted, as the bland liquid warmed his taste buds with temperature and not flavor, that they’d rushed the process a bit. Again, he didn’t mind. Tasteless tea was the least of his worries. He dropped two lumps of sugar into it. While the cubes dissolved, he reached for the stale bread brought in from the city no doubt, since Cook truly had not had me to bake it from scratch. Smiling, he broke off a hunk and dunked it into the fragrant hot soup. The ton would frown on him for that, but here, in his home, he could do whatever he liked, even if it wasn’t en rely civilized behavior. There was no one here to see it. Spooning up the last bit of potato from the broth, Chris an caught sight of movement near the door. He lunged to his feet. A lovely young woman in an exquisite gown was moving across the room to the chair opposite him. Her glide appeared u erly graceful, so much so, that it was unnatural. She then sat down and studied him with the most intense green eyes he’d ever seen. His spoon dropped

most intense green eyes he’d ever seen. His spoon dropped from his fingers and cla ered to the bowl. The impact sent droplets of soup popping into the air. He gaped, and she gaped, both of their eyes rounded. It seemed she didn’t expect him to be surprised that a woman he didn’t know sat in his home, at his table. Unannounced. He lowered back into his chair. “Excuse me,” –he cleared his throat when his voice croaked— “might I ask who you are?” She turned to look behind herself, her eyes s ll wide. Then, when she apparently saw no one else around but her, she twisted back toward him, and set one hand on her chest, then said in a voice that sounded like a melodic breeze, “Me?” “Yes. Are you a guest whom no one told me about?” “I, uh…y-you can see me?” At that his brows tugged together. Because now that she mentioned it, she did look slightly transparent. He could see the tapestry-covered chair through her bodice. Chris an stood abruptly, his chair pped backward with the sudden movement and rocked to the floor with a loud bang. She’s not solid! Jackson opened the door and popped his head inside; clearly he’d heard the commo on. “My lord, is everything all right?” Chris an held a shaky hand out, poin ng in her direction. “Do-do you see?” he sputtered. The butler followed the line of his straightened finger and frowned. The ghost looked at the old man as though

and frowned. The ghost looked at the old man as though she prayed he’d be able to see her too. “See what, my lord?” Her face fell. “Is there a rodent? I’ll fetch Nathan to take care—” “No, the woman seated right there!” Jackson looked again and squinted. “Sorry, no one is there. Son, you must be tired. I suggest you retire early.” He opened his mouth to argue, then closed it realizing he was the only one who could see her, and mu ered, “Yes, thank you for supper. It was divine and really hit the spot. Please tell Margaret for me, would you?” “I tasted the tea; surely you’re exaggera ng when you say it was divine.” Exhaling and reluctant to remove his gaze from the lady, who smiled bashfully, yet pleasantly, Chris an addressed the old man. “I’m grateful for the meal; now please deliver my thanks….” He fell silent for a moment as her honeyed tresses were s rred to life from an unseen source. The colored ribbons adorning her curls also dri ed with an otherworldly effect. The fabric of her dress moved along with her hair as though a gentle breeze had set upon it. However, he felt no dra that could be causing it, and the windows were ghtly shut. Her image shimmered and she was bobbing, as if she were only a emp ng to create the illusion of actually sitting. A ghost. He swallowed and waved a hand in her direction again. “You’re certain you see—?” “Nothing, Chris an. I’m sorry. It must be fa gue wearing on you. I’ll bring you some warmed milk to help—”

wearing on you. I’ll bring you some warmed milk to help—” “No, thank you. I’m too old for that,” he snapped, and then cringed because he hadn’t meant to be so short with the age-frail butler. A er passing one more nervous gaze in her direc on, Jackson nodded slowly, his mouth almost gaping, and then he left. Chris an scrubbed a hand over his face and wondered what he should do next. He knew troubled thoughts had been taxing him when he’d first sat down to dinner, but he couldn’t recall much else besides his name at the moment. She spoke again. “Can you truly see me? I’ve wanted so badly to talk to someone—anyone.” “Yes, I can see you. How long have you been here?” He couldn’t believe he was actually star ng a conversa on with an apparition, pretty though she may be. “I know not. I awoke and have been wandering this empty demesne for days now.” Nervously, though he tried to hide how nervously, he stepped toward her, took hold of a chair in the middle that was closer to her end of the table, and sat down. She may’ve been dead, but she was a breathtaking sight to behold. The candlelight picked out the strands of brightgold in her hair, and he wanted to touch it, but knew that may not be acceptable. He didn’t want to frighten her, then chuckled internally at how silly it was that he didn’t want to frighten her. “You’re the earl?” she asked, and her words brought him back from his thoughts.

him back from his thoughts. “Yes, my name is Chris an.” He knew it wasn’t exactly proper to introduce himself in such a casual way, but the last thing he needed was someone else calling him my lord. “And your name?” Somehow, she actually paled at that seemingly simple question. “I, well, I do not know it.” “You cannot remember?” This baffled him. The ghost shook her head. “And do you remember how—I mean, do you recall who —er—” Chris an wasn’t sure how to broach the touchy subject of her death. He halted his ques ons and raked his fingers through his hair. “Do you mean to inquire about how I died?” she asked with a tremor in her voice. “I suppose, but I didn’t wish to be unkind.” “I have been wondering the same thing myself.” That quiver in her voice was also reflected in her bottom lip. “You mean to tell me that you don’t know your name, and you don’t know how you…?” “Or where I am. I have never been to this castle before, at least not that I recall.” “You’re in England, the northern part. And to me you sound English. Your speech is not touched with any hint of an Irish or French lilt.” “Oh.” Her face screwed up with a cute frown as she appeared to be considering that. “I-I wish I could remember more.” “What can you remember?”

“What can you remember?” “I have ideas in my head about inconsequen al things, like clothing.” “How do you mean?” She turned away, as though embarrassed suddenly. “Well, I did see your clothing in your wardrobe,” she mu ered so ly, chancing a glance in his direc on, “and it was unusual.” He perceived his smile encouraged her to con nue. “I have a vague memory of men wearing different styles.” “Such as?” “Well, men’s…um….” “Shirts?” he offered, because she was mo oning to her bodice. “Yes, shirts were laced. They were not held closed with a row of li le, round….” She frowned, apparently not able to find the word she wanted. He dropped his chin to consider his shirt. “Oh, you mean buttons?” “Is that what they’re called? I do not recollect that, yet I think we had them. But it seems they were used more for embellishment than function.” Around a smile, Chris an asked, “What else is unfamiliar to you?” She glanced toward his soup bowl. “Where is your trencher?” “My what?” His grin faltered. “Do you not keep your food in a trencher?” A trencher? That—those haven’t been used since.... In

A trencher? That—those haven’t been used since.... In truth he wasn’t exactly certain when that change had come about. Clearly this spirit came from a me not his own. “We use dishes now and forks and spoons,” he said, mentally trying to pinpoint her origin. “What of your dagger?” she asked, giving him another clue. “We use knives too, but we no longer eat with our fingers.” “Oh.” Her gaze shi ed to the doors. “And why do you take repast in this small chamber and not in the great hall? And where is your garrison of knights?” “Times are much more peaceful, they’re not needed. And dwellings are no longer built with a great hall.” “But this castle has one.” “It does, but only because it was constructed many years ago.” She looked shocked, then shi ed her green eyes to his teacup. “Is that ale you’re drinking, or is it wine in that ny cup?” “It’s tea.” Things had changed considerably since…. Of course people s ll drank ale and wine, but from her words, he suspected she was from a me quite far back in English past. Then he considered her dress, which appeared medieval to him. It was almost eighteen seventy currently. “It sounds like you’re from the late thirteen hundreds or perhaps the early fourteen hundreds. It’s nearly five hundred years later.” She gasped, and her big green eyes got even bigger. “I

have not been—I suppose I was sleeping.” “I’ve never heard of anything like this before. Generally, I think, well, I’m not an expert on the preternatural, but I thought ghosts only lingered if they’d been murdered. Were you murdered, then, not a natural death?” He regre ed the blunt ques on as soon as the words le his mouth, especially when sparkling tears welled up in those emerald eyes and spilled down her pale cheeks. That undid him, and he felt like an u er dimwit. “What a kingly dolt I am! I apologize. I should not have asked that.” “I have wondered about that, too,” she said so so ly he could barely hear her. “You don’t remember in nightmares, or relive…? I thought—” “No. My memory in this is quite missing,” she said taking a shaky breath, and he could see she was struggling to rein in her emo ons. Obviously, this could be a touchy subject for anyone, in truth. “Is there anything I can do to help?” She met his gaze. “Just talking to you is a delight. Truly, it has been horribly dull here all by myself. I do hope we can carry on?” He could thoroughly relate to that. “Of course.” And this would be an interesting change of pace. “Thank you.” The look of joy on her sweet face made his heart thump harder. There was something about her that s rred tender and deeply buried emo ons within his chest. An urgency to aid

and comfort her had risen. This poor, dear girl! Yet these emo ons were intense enough they also made Chris an feel slightly vexed with the idea that perhaps he should not feel such a potent want. This can’t be good, he thought. He shouldn’t be feeling this way about a ghost he could never have. Shoving those thoughts aside, he searched his mind for something to talk about, but was suddenly at a loss for words. “I have just gained Krestly Castle. I’m the earl,” he began lamely. “I gathered that.” Of course she had! He was behaving like a silly schoolboy! “Right. Well, I like to hunt, and ride horses, and fence.” She looked at him as if to say, What man doesn’t? And, obviously, if he’d considered what men did in her me, he might not have made the ridiculous comment. Chris an couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable when he kept shoving his boot into his mouth like this. Near desperate to make it lighter with humor and sarcasm, he asked, “Do you plan to haunt me?” He held his breath un l she giggled, the airy sound went right through him, touching his very soul, and then a sheepish smile li ed her cheeks. “I thought about it,” she said shyly. He laughed out loud. “Being haunted by a lovely lady like you would be quite enjoyable.” “Really?” She seemed surprised by his jovial jes ng.

“What if I’m scary?” “Can you be terrifying?” he asked, almost taun ng her. He couldn’t imagine this charming girl being anything disturbing. “I could try.” But he could see from her innocent expression that she couldn’t think of anything frightening to do right away, un l she focused on the candelabra and shi ed it toward him. He jumped and nearly knocked over this chair, too. “Whoa! All right, I must confess, that was a li le alarming.” “Really?” She seemed so proud of herself he had to smile. “Yes, ‘twas definitely quite a trick! What else can you move? Can you lift things?” She stared at his teacup. He watched in amazement as it rose from the table, dri ed toward him and then plopped a little too roughly onto the table. Tea sloshed over the lip. She gasped. “I-I did not mean to drop it. I’m sorry. I fear I am inexperienced.” Chuckling, he waved her words way. “Nonsense. That was fascinating and delightfully entertaining. Do it again.” This me she focused on the chair next to him. His eyes widened as it slid back from the table, rose about two feet, and then lowered back to the floor. “What a wonderful skill you have. Although, it could be dangerous, if say, you had a knife.” A squeak of alarm burst past her pink lips.

Scrambling to soothe her, he said, “Of course you wouldn’t. I can see you do not have anything that dark within your nature—” He cut off his words abruptly because he’d meant to address her by name, but then recalled that he didn’t know it, and she couldn’t tell it to him. Then a thought occurred to him. “The library!” “Pardon me?” “The library!” He reached for her hand that appeared to be res ng on the table and they both shuddered when his fingers passed through hers. He felt an odd ngling sensa on, though no substance. And it was warm, not cold like he thought appari ons should feel. “Forgive me—it seems I—” She stared at their hands seeming as shocked as he. Chris an withdrew his hand. “Please, follow me and I’ll show you.” He shoved away from the table, rose from his seat, strode to the door, and opened it for her. He then watched in awe as she dri ed toward him and out into the hallway, where she immediately turned to face him and said, “You did not have to open the door for me. I could have gone through it. Just as our fingers....” She shuddered. “I suppose you’re right, but as a proper gentleman, I’m afraid I must open doors for you.” “If you wish.” “I insist.” Chris an couldn’t stop himself from spying back at her as she followed him toward the library. He realized he should have been horrified and alarmed that he had a ghost

should have been horrified and alarmed that he had a ghost in his home, and that he could see her, and converse with her. But he wasn’t. Peace and gentleness radiated from this shimmering spirit. He considered himself thoroughly bewitched. She made his worries about money seem inconsequen al. His father would give it to him eventually. And this lady served as a fine distraction.

A special message from me to you... This story has played through my thoughts for many years, and a sense of undeserving awe fills my soul, and gratitude overcomes my heart that you chose my book to read. That may sound a little over the top, and I suppose it is, but a writer is not successful if not for their readers. From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU for taking a chance on me, and for allowing me to share this story with you! It’s my deepest wish that I’ve been able to entertain you, or enchant you, or distract you from any distress that might be in your life, or touch your heart, or uplift your soul with my book...even in one small way. I’m perfectly aware of the fact that I’m nothing special. I’m just someone with an over-active imagination. Because of this, I’m not sure how to adequately express how much your uplifting blog posts, kind comments, and encouraging emails mean to me. Each one touches me and brings a smile to my face that lingers for days. I cherish each one of you for your generosity towards me. If it was not for your kindness, I couldn’t keep sharing the stories that are such a part of me. I’m sharing a bit of myself with you and that’s a terrifying thing sometimes. Again, I say THANK YOU!

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