Authors: Lacy Danes
Tags: #Dragons;Vampires;Witches;Historical;Hot Brothers;Strong females
“The weather, I believe.” The left corner of Regina’s mouth turned down.
Cherish inclined her head. “Indeed. A storm. Quite impressive, but not what we hoped for.”
“What does that mean?” Astrid brushed her hands down her dress and spun, searching the floor. Where had the lightning gone?
“What you just showed us was that you have an affinity with the weather. If you practice, you could be a wonderful weather witch.”
“I did not know there was such a thing.” Fina leaned in from the other side of Astrid.
“Quite so. Weather witches come in several forms. Your calling appears to be with lightning, or possibly storms. When you get several different of your kind together in one place, you can have sunshine, rain, snow, ice, all in the span of a minute.” Cherish waved her hands in the air to mimic the sun, rain and snow.
“I do enjoy storms as they roll in. I simply thought that was about where we live, not that I was…well, a witch.” She slowly sank into the plush pink chair.
“You are not yet, but you could be.” Regina smiled and leaned forward. “If you are interested, we can give you the names of others like you.”
Astrid glanced around the table. They all watched her carefully. She did want to know more. She had always enjoyed the feeling a storm created. “Certainly.” She could practice magic like Ferrous did. She would help the family by using her skill and not simply killing the pigs and bringing in the dinner. Indeed, she wanted to know more.
“My sister is like you.” Regina grasped a quill, ink and paper. She scribbled across a piece of parchment. “I would give you her name, but she is up at our ancestral home on the Is-Midtergang. Our family has had otherworldly creatures as part of our heritage since before humans lived in houses.” She slid the parchment across the table to Astrid.
Astrid lifted the paper. Scrawled on the paper were three names.
Marcus Cobblerton—He is a storm-and-lightning master
Lady Jennifer Hovington—She has affinity with ice and snow
Lilly Uvercanots—She can control the wind
“I gave you Marcus’s name as he is the only one who has storm-and-lightning affinity in this land. There are others, but they seem to like to reside on the Continent. All of those named enjoy apprenticing, or sætte i lære, so they will not be surprised by you reaching out to them if you so choose to apprentice.”
“Thank you.” Astrid worried the inside of her cheek. She could learn how to be a true member of the family. That would be grand, but this was an enormous undertaking. What if she failed?
Celeste beamed at Astrid. “Are we now ready to find you that perfect dress for your night at the theater?”
“It is just a shame you don’t have a gentleman to take you.” Grandmum winked. “The theater is always entertaining. Powdered breasts, and men dressed to their finest. Indeed, I have a fine memory of a dalliance behind the curtains.”
“Grandmum.” Celeste glared at her.
“I think you should send a note to Marcus and see if he will escort you tomorrow.” Fina gave a full-toothed grin. “You have an affinity for the weather, and none of us had any idea. How wonderful would it be for you to find a match with a warlock who could teach you?”
“Sending a note to ask a gentleman to the theater is not something I would do.” She had always wanted to be asked to an event, and today she had been. But to a show of a different sort. Heat rose to her cheeks.
“Not to be rude, but you are not a lady and he is not a lord, so I see no harm in sending a simple note stating you wish to speak to him at the theater. If he attends, the evening will be capital.” Fina beamed. “Indeed. We shall send him a note.”
“And if the evening goes well, he can take you to the next performance in two days’ time.” Celeste grasped her forearm. “I think we shall need two dresses.”
“Let us commence.” Regina pushed back from the table. “What is your color preference?”
This was all too silly. Astrid sighed. “Yellow.” Like the sun that warmed her on a chilly day while she walked the beach in her plain brown skirt and cream shirt. She wished she walked the beach now. The wind in her face, smelling of salt and earth. The gulls crying overhead and the rocks crunching beneath her boots. One day away, and she already missed the Isle.
“Your dark hair and brown eyes will be a lovely contrast. Stunning,” Regina stated. “For the second, may I suggest a new-leaf green?”
The sun and spring. A new beginning. “Quite so. Thank you.”
Ilmir grumbled as he stepped up the walk to the house. Samgor’s Den bored him today. Not one of the otherworldly gentlemen wished to play games. A glide through the air reenergized him, but in the end, he needed blood. Lady Elizabeth was unavailable but said she would be able to call in two days’ time. So he indulged as other blood drinkers would—he attended Miss Olga’s.
Olga was a high-priced pleasure peddler. Her normal clientele came, drank and left, returning to drink again from the same or different warm vein. For the right price, she also would indulge the odder side of the otherworldly. He chuckled. Odd and otherworldly went hand in hand, and the Zir fell into that category. He bit, he killed. So he paid a high price for that, but his glow, his wit and his power were now returned. But there was a grime that clung to him whenever he attended there.
He would bathe and redress, then go down for drinks in the library. Hopefully someone would want to play cards or dice or pool.
Ilmir arrived in the library as the clock chimed nine, and went to the sideboard to pour a glass of brandy. Then he moved to his favorite green velvet upholstered chair. He sat his glass on the round inlaid table and opened the small drawer that was to his right, pulling out a deck of cards. Arching the cards between his hands, he shuffled. The whir of the cards as they intertwined relaxed him. He settled back into the deep chair and dealt himself out a hand of Patience. One card up, five cards down. Two cards up, four cards down, and so on.
Laughter echoed down the hall, and the chatter of women vibrated the walls. Madoc emerged in the doorway, followed by Jordon and then Ferrous. Ilmir stared back down at his game. Better to play with others than alone.
“Marcus, this is our brother Ilmir.” Ferrous’s voice came from beside Ilmir.
Ilmir tilted his head up at the strange red-haired man who stood in their library. He slowly stood.
The man was dressed in a long, easy-flowing deep blue silk shirt. Marcus walked forward, and in the candle glow, silver embroidery shimmered along his lapels. He wore black pantaloons and tall black riding boots that were polished to a slick sheen. About his waist was a black leather belt that held a small pouch and stick.
“A pleasure.” Marcus walked toward him and outstretched his hand.
“Do not be so certain.” Ilmir stared at him and did not offer his hand. “Who are you? And why are you in my house?”
“Ilmir.” Madoc’s tone rose. “Pardon our brother, he is not social.”
“Or polite,” Ferrous scolded.
“Do not fret. I will not pass in a fit of vapors. I know who Ilmir is. And I agree with his assessment that I should tread cautiously.” He placed his hand on Ilmir’s shoulder.
And that is treading lightly? Ilmir knocked Marcus’s hand from his shoulder. A cool darkness crept from that spot up Ilmir’s scalp.
“I am Marcus Cobblerton. I am a weather warlock. I am here to consider Miss Astrid for sætte i lære, or apprenticeship.”
“I know what sætte i lære means. Please do not patronize me. I am in no mood this evening.”
“Or any day.” Jordan poured four glasses of brandy from the sideboard and handed them out.
Astrid and Celeste walked into the library. “Grandmum and Fina send their excuses as they are tired from the day.”
“Anyone for cards?” Ilmir asked, staring directly at Astrid. She wore a crisply pressed white shirt tucked into a long gray wool skirt. Simple but neat. She did not need anything more. Her gaze met his, and warm satisfaction relaxed his shoulders and settled into his gut. She was here. They would talk, and cards could lead to other things.
Madoc walked to the sideboard and set his glass down. “I may not return. I want to check on Fina.” He walked out of the room.
Marcus pulled out the chair opposite Ilmir and sat. “I like cards, but can I pick the game?”
“Certainly.” Celeste pulled out a chair next to Ilmir, and Jordan sat between her and Marcus.
Why should she get to say indeed when he was the one asking others to play? Turning away from the table, Ilmir smashed his teeth down hard on the words that wanted to burst forth.
Ferrous continued to stand by the fire. “I will play, but I would like a glass of…” Astrid walked to the sideboard and stared at the bottles. “What is in each bottle?”
Ilmir pushed to his feet and headed to the sideboard. His heartbeat increased as he neared her. “Sweet? Or strong?”
She tipped her head up, and her huge brown eyes blinked. “Mmm… A bit of both.” Her teeth snagged her full lower lip.
Those chocolate-colored eyes liked to watch. He would show her that participating could also be fun. “Sin mixes both,” he whispered. “Have you thought about my proposal?”
She inclined her head, and a warm glow grazed her cheeks.
As she looked at the bottles on the sideboard, a lock of brown hair slithered over her ear. She would not give an answer here. He could wait.
“Have you had brandy?”
“No, but I have smelled it.” She scrunched up her face and shook her head. Her slim finger fiddled with the edge of the silk runner that covered part of the sideboard top.
He inhaled deeply, hoping to catch the sweet scent of strong arousal that had filled his nostrils last night. “You smell like vanilla.” He smelled nothing.
She rolled her eyes. “Does this type of conversation entice the ladies you pursue?”
“You certainly are feisty tonight.” He grasped the cognac, a glass, and poured two fingers full. “My style of intercourse is quite effective.” He set the glass down in front of her. “It affects you…too.” He turned and walked back to the table.
Astrid sat between Ilmir and Marcus.
Five piles of cards lay in the center of the table. “What are we playing?” Ilmir grasped the pile closest to him, and the others did the same.
“Turra.” Marcus picked up his cards and fanned them out. “I thought of Euchre, but we have an uneven number of players. Celeste, you are first.”
The game went on. Card after card hit the table, and Ilmir clenched his teeth. His tension rose and his temples ached. He tried not to watch Astrid, but each move she made, fiddling with the cards in her hand, taking a sip of cognac, revealing a swallow that went down her creamy neck, drew his eye to the flutter of her heartbeat.
He inhaled, and the scent of fresh wet grass lingered. Her smell, and not the same one he captured last night. That bloody scent still lingered where it had no business staying. She would not take him up on his proposal. He knew that. It was truly for the better anyhow.
He rubbed the large jade ring on his right index finger with his thumb. He would retire after this one hand and damn the entire day. Tomorrow he would not come back to the house until everyone was abed. Ah, better. He would sleep at Samgor’s.
The last card was played and the points tallied. Celeste had won this hand. Time for his escape. “I—”
Marcus pushed back his chair and stood. “I need to leave soon, and I wish to test Astrid once before I do.”
The dandy now interrupted him. Ilmir had had enough.
“Certainly.” Celeste sat back in her chair, and Jordan pulled her close to him.
Ilmir stood. “I have an early day, and I shall retire.”
Astrid turned to him. Her brown-velvet eyes pleaded with him to stay.
“What?” He grew tired of this. He would make her ask in front of them.
With every part of him, he wanted to go, but those words stopped him still. He nodded. What was all the fuss about anyhow?
She was Astrid. The little girl he pulled from behind crates down on Tanners’ Row. Even then she had huge brown eyes and a tangle of brown hair. She had giggled at his pale completion and called him a mouse. The right side of his mouth quirked up. Me? A mouse? How absurd.
Ilmir stood by the door. Ferrous stood next to him and leaned in. “I am uncertain about Marcus,” he whispered.
Ilmir stared at his brother. Ferrous was never wrong. “Why?”
“There was a coolness to him when he first arrived. I have not been able to shake that, though he is pleasant enough.” Ferrous leaned his shoulder against the edge of the fireplace.
Ilmir recalled his unease when Marcus had touched his shoulder. “Where did he come from?”
“His name was given to the ladies when Astrid went to Branigan’s to be tested.”
“Branigan’s is a dress shop. Did they test her for her knowledge of the days’ fashion?” All this annoyance made Ilmir’s head hurt. He rubbed his temples.
“It is also like Samgor’s, but for the ladies.”
Ilmir frowned, then scratched his chin. “Why didn’t I know that?”
“Because you are concerned about yourself, mostly.” Ferrous smiled his easy smile.
“True.” Still, Ilmir considered himself well versed in the otherworldly side of the city.
“I thought of putting a protective spell on Astrid, but if Marcus is as powerful as he seems, he would feel the restriction. If he is sincere, this could be capital for her.”
Ilmir did not want to care about what this entailed. He rubbed his thumb against his jade ring and then tugged down on the edges of his coat. “What is he to test her for?”
“She has ability with weather.”
Brilliant. A questionable cold warlock and weather. All he would have to do was disappear into air and they could all play storms together. Ilmir’s body heated, and he gritted his teeth. He wanted to play storms with Astrid, alone, and if she could control the weather, turning into air could be capital fun.
He wished Hudson had come to town instead of staying on the Isle this time. Hudson had a darkness about him that could sense other black madness.
Ilmir’s scalp prickled, and he eased the tension in his shoulders by tipping his head to the side. He should be able to do more than stand here and watch. Ferrous could cast a spell to protect Astrid. All Ilmir could do was turn into air, and blow.