Authors: Christine Pope
his is a work of fiction
. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, organizations, or persons, whether living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Christine Pope
Published by Dark Valentine Press
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argot Emory slunk
out of the wedding reception and negotiated the rocky half-paved parking lot as best she could in her high-heeled sandals. All right, “slunk” probably wasn’t the best word for it. Anyone looking at her would have probably said she was walking normally enough, aside from the occasional bobble when she hit a rock. No, it was more that she wished she could have crawled away, slithered out of there like the lizards that clung to the walls of her garden, because after that serious lapse in judgment, she didn’t know if she could ever look any of the other McAllister witches in the face again.
What the hell were you thinking?
she asked herself, sliding in behind the wheel of her Subaru, glad that at least it was dark so no one could see how her cheeks were burning. The proper response when a warlock from the Wilcox clan asked you to dance was,
Thank you, but no.
That wasn’t what had happened, though. When Lucas Wilcox approached her and extended a hand, she’d taken it like some simple-minded teenager dazzled that the popular boy had asked her to dance. And afterward, instead of coldly thanking him and marching off, dignity intact, she’d stammered some inane excuse about having to talk to the other McAllister elders and then had bolted like a frightened rabbit.
She rolled down the windows, wanting the fresh night breeze to blow through the car and help settle her roiling thoughts. Thank the Goddess that at least now, in mid-September, the evenings were cooling off enough that it made sense to rely on outdoor air rather than the A/C. Her cheeks still felt far too heated, though.
It must have been the champagne. She’d thought she’d been careful, had only drunk two narrow flutes’ worth, but obviously that was too much for her to handle. Better to blame it on that than…well, on just about anything else.
All the way back to Jerome from the reception site in Sedona, Margot went over the scene in her mind, trying to decide if there really were a way she could have shot Lucas Wilcox down without making a scene. At the time she hadn’t wanted to appear rude, not at Angela’s wedding reception, not after everything the girl had gone through to get to her happy ending. Even after all that had happened, and so much had changed, Margot wasn’t quite ready to accept the apparent truce that now existed between the two witch clans, no matter what the events of the past few months might have done to prove otherwise. When he approached her, she’d told herself that enduring a dance with Lucas Wilcox was better than refusing him and possibly causing him to press the issue.
And maybe he wouldn’t have
, she told herself.
Maybe he would’ve just accepted your refusal and gone to ask someone else to dance.
Possibly, although even during their brief acquaintance, she’d learned he generally got his own way. Not rudely, not by forcing things, but somehow just…making them happen.
Which made sense, as that was his gift, after all. Lucky Lucas. The man for whom everything always magically went right. It was, as Angela had once remarked with a grin, a pretty damn good gift to have.
Except, of course, when it was working its magic on you. Then it didn’t look like such a great gift after all.
Margot turned off 89A, using the shortcut through old town Cottonwood and and into Clarkdale before getting back on the highway just as it curved around to head to Jerome, and up and over the mountain. By now it was getting late, almost eleven o’clock, although it appeared that she’d been one of the first to leave the reception.
Of course she had. Most of the clan members would stick around as long as the drink was flowing at the open bar…even Bryce, one of the other two elders. You’d think he’d know better. But the man had never met a whiskey on the rocks that he didn’t like. Allegra Moss, the third clan elder, wasn’t much of a drinker, but she also wouldn’t pass up the chance to talk shop, as it were, with some of the Wilcox witches. Allegra always did like to pick people’s brains.
The house felt empty, silent, when Margot entered and shut the front door behind her. No surprise there. Her mother had finally moved out a year earlier, declaring that she was tired of tripping over her daughter and wanted someplace where they wouldn’t be in each other’s laps. So she went down the hill to a “community for active seniors,” to a house right on the fourteenth green of the golf course there.
“You don’t play golf,” Margot had pointed out, whereupon her mother grinned and said,
“No, but I like the green grass, and it’s nice to have a house with a real right angle in it.”
There wasn’t much arguing with that point; buildings in Jerome had a tendency to sink and settle and shift in strange places, and the three-bedroom Victorian cottage where Margot had spent her entire life was no different. She couldn’t even protest that a retirement community was no place for a self-respecting witch, not when a baker’s dozen of McAllister witches and warlocks lived in the same development. In a way it made sense, as tiny Jerome couldn’t really sustain the growing McAllister population, and so there were clan members down the hill in Clarkdale and Cottonwood, and over in Page Springs and Cornville, all the way down to Camp Verde by the freeway.
Even knowing all that, though, Margot still wasn’t quite used to the stillness of the house now that her mother was gone. Worse, the cat who’d been their constant companion for the past seventeen years had passed on in early June, and though from time to time Margot had thought about replacing Felicity, she couldn’t quite bring herself to do it.
Mouth thinning, she kicked off the high-heeled sandals that had been abusing her feet for the past six hours, then padded into the kitchen. Right now the best idea seemed to be brewing a cup of strong tea. Maybe then she could wash away the last of the champagne afterglow spinning around in her brain…and with it, wash away the memory of Lucas Wilcox’s arm around her waist, the strength of the shoulder under her hand…how good he had smelled.
All right, maybe
cups of tea.
as it something I said
?” Lucas inquired of his cousin Connor, who had just gotten up from the table where he sat with Angela. Apparently he’d been heading over to inquire about the cake cutting, but he only made it a few feet before Lucas stopped him.
Connor’s mouth worked; Lucas could tell he was fighting back a grin. “I don’t know…what
you say to her?”
“Nothing much. In fact, I was so worried I’d end up offending her somehow that I didn’t say anything for the whole song.” He paused, his own mouth twisting. “Maybe that was the wrong approach. Maybe I should have said something about the weather or her dress or…well,
“Lucas, I have a feeling it isn’t anything you said, or didn’t say. Margot Emory’s not exactly what I would call the friendly type.” A lift of the shoulders, and Connor added, “If you wanted to make life difficult for yourself, you definitely chose the right person to chase after.”
With that parting shot, he moved off in the direction of the resort’s banquet manager, who was standing off to one side with a slightly glazed expression on his face. Probably trying to figure out how everything had gone so well, considering how quickly this entire affair had been put together. Lucas could have tried explaining that was his gift, that any enterprise he was involved with tended to go off without a hitch, but he had a feeling that would only make the manager’s head explode…figuratively speaking, of course. No, better for him to simply think it was planning, planning, planning, and only a little bit of luck.
Lucas picked up a flute of champagne from the tray of a passing waiter and stared off in the direction of the parking lot, the direction where Margot had gone. It wouldn’t be that hard to track her down; he knew she lived in Jerome, even if he didn’t know the exact house. But if he drove up there now, he could allow his luck to guide him, and the odds were better than even that he’d end up parking his Porsche right in front of her place.
No, that was a terrible idea. She was already skittish as hell, and having him chase her up to her house would only make her go out and try to convince the other two McAllister elders that it was time to renew the anti-Wilcox wards that Angela had worked so hard to get removed from the little town’s limits.
. Lucas shook his head and took a healthy swallow of champagne. Even though he knew it was a title of authority and not one that was necessarily reflective of a given person’s age, he found it difficult to apply that term to someone as lithe and lovely as Margot Emory. In fact, he’d gotten the impression that she was only a year or two younger than he, but she didn’t look like someone closer to forty than twenty. He wondered how she did it.
Magic? Maybe. He knew she’d certainly cast a spell on him.
He finished the glass of champagne and contemplated snagging another. It wasn’t as if he had to worry about driving, since he’d booked a room here at the resort. But he also didn’t want to get stupid drunk, not at Connor and Angela’s wedding reception. Half the McAllisters were giving him the side-eye already, and he knew he needed to behave himself.
So he grabbed a bottle of Perrier instead, then stood off on the sidelines as the happy couple headed to where the cake had been waiting in buttercream-frosted splendor this entire time, and went through the whole ritual of cutting the first piece and then feeding it to one another. Carefully, he noted — Angela had probably threatened Connor with some kind of whammy if he tried to smear cake all over her face. Then they went back to their seats, Angela moving a little slowly, as if her feet hurt. Poor kid. It was a long day for anyone, let alone a girl six months pregnant with twins.
When a waiter came up to offer Lucas a slice of the cake, he declined. He’d never had much of a sweet tooth. Anyway, he didn’t want cake. He wanted Margot Emory.
It surprised him, the force of that desire. He’d never been the type to obsess over a woman. If she was interested, great, but if not, someone else was always bound to come along instead. Some irony, that the luck which made every other facet of his existence so easy clearly didn’t work when it came to his love life. Sex life? Well, that was a different story. Sex was easy. But when he’d seen Margot for the first time last spring, at Connor’s gallery opening — well, Lucas finally understood what people meant when they made comments about being hit by Cupid’s arrow. He’d been struck, that was for damn sure.
More irony, that the woman he couldn’t get out of his mind was probably the last one he should be interested in. She definitely didn’t do anything to hide her dislike for the Wilcox clan and all it stood for, even though Connor and Angela were doing their damnedest to get people to understand that the clan was very different now that Connor was its leader, and not his brother Damon.
Well, it was certainly true that Damon hadn’t done much to improve relations between the clans — the opposite, really. And while Lucas still mourned the loss of Connor’s older brother, Lucas’ own cousin and friend — the tragic waste of all that potential — he couldn’t argue with that death. It had been necessary, and something Damon had brought on himself. Still, it hurt. Lucas had a lot of friends, but Damon had been one of the closest, despite their differences. And Damon…he’d been someone with many acquaintances, but only one or two he called “friend.”
But Lucas didn’t want to think about that now. Not here, at what should be a joyous occasion. He tried to tell himself that at least Margot had danced with him, hadn’t thrown her drink in his face or said something particularly cutting or tried to hurl a fireball at him. Well, to be fair, he wasn’t even sure she was capable of such a spell. He’d gathered from a few things Connor and Angela had said that Margot’s talents lay in spells of illusion, not anything openly aggressive.
All right, so she’d danced with him. And then promptly bolted from the scene, as if she couldn’t handle the realization that she’d allowed a Wilcox to manhandle her in front of all these people, many of them her own clan members. Her precipitous departure wasn’t precisely a slap in the face, but it sure felt like it.
Lucas let out a sigh, then went in search of a waiter. It felt like time for that next glass of champagne after all.
aybe it was
because she’d tossed and turned for what seemed like half the night, but Margot overslept the next morning and then spent far too long taking a hot shower, as if by doing so she could wash away the last traces of Lucas Wilcox’s touch. After she finished drying her hair, she belatedly recalled that she’d said she would check on the house for Angela, as Tobias and Rachel were still at the resort, remaining available to the staff there while the newlyweds departed for a tour of some of the wine-growing areas down in the south of the state. “A fact-finding mission,” Angela had called it, no doubt referring to Connor’s joint venture with a friend of theirs to open a new vineyard over in Page Springs.
Margot was sure the house was just fine, but Angela had been worried in all the hubbub that she hadn’t locked up everything properly. Very well; Margot thought she’d hike up there after she had her usual tea and toast for breakfast, and rattle all the locks so she could say she’d done her duty. No one in the McAllister clan would disturb the place, and it was far enough off the beaten track that Margot somehow doubted a tourist would wander up there…especially with the illusions she’d set in place to prevent such a thing from happening…but it was a fine morning, and maybe the walk would help to clear her head a little.
The air did seem cooler today, a brisk breeze blowing from the northeast and pulling at a few stray tendrils of hair around her face. She let that wind guide her up the hill, a gentle pressure at her back, as if it were helping to propel her up the steep incline.
At the house, the front door was firmly locked, as she’d suspected. The back door that opened on the small garden and the path that led to the garage was not, however, and she shook her head at Angela’s carelessness, even as she laid her hand on the doorknob and murmured the small charm that would make the tumblers turn and the door lock itself. Or maybe the unlocked door had been Connor’s fault; Margot supposed a bride had a right to be a bit scatterbrained on her wedding day, but Connor should have been paying better attention.