Free Short Reads
Periodically, I will, post some free short stories here. Stop by periodically to see what's new or follow my Eclectic Alchemy blog (link above)
Here are some of my current works in progress. These are WIPs, so they aren't set in stone. Let me know if something in particular interests you, and maybe I'll have to pull it out from the pile of ideas and get moving on it. These will be just snippets here and there, as the ideas start to develop.
Elsie crumpled the paper, but it wouldn't make it go away, couldn't change the outcome. A death certificate was such a final thing. It laid out the facts impersonally, in stark black and white. Looking at that piece of paper, a stranger couldn't feel the pain, see the agony of loss, know the despair that clung to those left behind. But she felt it.
Shouldn't she have been able to see it? Weren't there signs a person was supposed to pick up on when the closest person to them contemplated such a final act of desperation? How could she have missed it? What more could she have done? Again and again over the last weeks she'd berated herself for not seeing? Had she really been so wrapped up in her own daydreams of their life together that she had missed the reality of what was happening?
So many questions with no answers. Elsie rose from the chair and walked over to the large bay window. She gazed out past the lawn to the lonely blue and white peaks of the vast, endless ocean. No longer did it offer the comfort and solace it once had. The house surrounded her, stifled her. Building within her was the need to scream at the very top of her lungs, long and loud enough to fill this house with all the pain that was bottled inside her. The ripping and tearing agony of a wild beast roaring at the loss of its mate. How could he have done this?! She raged over and over, the hot mix of anger and sorrow pouring from her eyes, spilling down over her face.
Over and over the scenario would scream through her mind, not letting her rest. The nightmares, the bittersweet memories, the heat of his touch, the whisper of his kiss. The taste of his strength, the bitter echo of a fallen house of cards that lay at her feet.
In her mind over and over, she saw him rise from his chair and walk out the door. And in her mind he never looked back. He hadn't even left her a note.
"Damn you!" she whimpered. "You didn't even say goodbye, you didn't even say goodbye." She bowed her head, her shoulders hunched, eyes closed tightly against the ragged claws of pain and loneliness that left her bleeding and raw. She thought back to that last day, the day he walked away...
It had been a beautiful morning filled with bright orange and bronze, the sun shining with the golden warmth of autumn heat. Similar to any other day, but in the end, like no other. She was in the kitchen and had turned from wiping down the stove to smile at her husband as he entered the room. He grabbed his usual quick cup of coffee from the coffeemaker on the counter and sat at the table.
"Morning darling," she 'd said. "You got in late last night."
He'd looked tired. But it hadn't really been unusual. He often worked late if there was a large contract in negotiations and he and his team were racing to fine tune the details before signing.
He nodded. "Yeah, I'm still not sure if we can pull this one out." He shook his head as though frustrated. "There are way too many loopholes that we haven't had time to clean up." He took a sip of coffee, got up from the table and went to stand at the window staring out at the ocean. What had he been thinking then? Had he planned it at that moment?
She'd turned away to unload the dishwasher from the night before. She was running late and her mind was on cleaning the kitchen before leaving for work. She should have paid more attention. She should have looked, really looked at him before she'd left. "I'm sure you'll pull it out, like you usually do." He'd nodded and taken another sip of his coffee. She'd walked up behind him to give him a quick hug.
"I've got to run," she whispered as she leaned for a moment against his strong back. "I'll see you tonight." He didn't answer, and nodded his head. She'd been too much in a hurry, assuming he was just preoccupied with his project. She should have waited, should have stayed and talked. Maybe he wouldn't have done it, wouldn't have taken that walk. God, how she wished she'd waited, had really looked at him. He was her soulmate, how could she not have seen it? Felt it? Could she have changed it or would it have just delayed the inevitable?
It was a neverending cycle, reliving and questioning herself. It exhausted her, bruised her. The details of that morning etched forever in her memory.
But he was gone and she would never have the answers. It did no good to go over it again. It would drive her insane. That's why she was selling the house, moving away from the ocean, away from the memories. Away from the ghosts that filled the house that had been their home. They'd designed the house together, gone to the architect together. Each room had been lovingly created from their dreams, for their future, together. She couldn't face this house alone and empty, a piece of her missing.
She looked down at her hands, and slowly opened her clenched fist, which still held the crumpled piece of paper. There were angry red indentations in her palm from its sharp edges. She spread the crumpled page smooth again. The word "suicide" leapt at her again from the crinkled page, under "Cause of Death." God forgive her, she didn't know how she could ever forgive him for leaving her here without him. All of the things he was going to miss, they would miss.
Elsie turned from the window. She'd come here to say a final goodbye. To him and to a life built from a foundation of venetian glass. She carefully picked up her purse and keys from the counter and headed for the front door for the last time. She stopped at the door, her hand on the knob. "Oh, Andrew," she whispered, achingly, "what you'll be missing." Unconsciously she placed a hand over her stomach. "Andrew, I'm carrying our child." She'd planned to tell him that evening. She'd carefully planned a candlelight dinner, soft music, the works. But when shed arrived home, grocery bags and flowers in hand, the police were waiting. And her dreams had shattered. Andrew wasn't there to share her wonderful news. He could have been, but he wasn't. And he hadn't even left her a note explaining why.
And now it was over, and life would go on, not just for her but for their child. She would grieve, because that was a necessary part of healing, of becoming stronger for the child they had created together.
The glass house she'd lived in had fallen in pieces to the ground, at her feet, but she remained standing.
Elsie closed the front door firmly behind her, the echoing emptiness confirmation of its finality. She shuddered a deep sigh and turned. She did not look back as she walked away.
The year was 1066. A new king had just been crowned. He was William, Duke of Normandy. Edward the Confessor had remained childless. Upon his death in January, 1066, there are those who said that he called for Harald Godwinson, the son of the Earl of Wessex, and brother to the Queen of England--the most powerful man in England at that time.
It is also said that Edward offered William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, the crown before he spoke of Harald. The English nobles wanted Harald as king and, therefore, before anyone could blink, Harald was crowned king almost before Edward was decently buried.
But William was not to be thwarted. He prepared to take the crown. He received the blessing of the Pope, and carried the people's approval of his right to the throne; and with the promises of riches and titles, he had his men. And so William headed for England, read for battle.
It was October 14, 1066, which proved Harald's downfall. He was killed at the the Battle of Hastings and William was named "conqueror." On Christmas Day, 1066, William was crowned King of England.
It was then William proceeded to divide the land among the men loyal to him. One such noble knight was Sir Garth of Ranock.
Sir Garth now stood cooling his heels awaiting the King's pleasure. He could not understand why he had been summoned so hurriedly. The door opened and he was beckoned to enter. He strode into the room to where the King awaiting him.
"Sire," he said as he bowed before the King. "You have need of my services, I understand."
William studied him for a long, hard moment before answering. "Yes. I have decided on a fitting reward for your loyal services to me."
Garth was long-schooled at hiding emotion. Although the King's summons took him by surprise, no look gave window to his thoughts. He had not expected a gift from the King. His family held much land and wealth in Normandy. As the eldest son, he would inherit all upon his father's death.
"I am bestowing on you the lands of Breeton Castle. It is not a large holding,but 'tis very important that someone loyal to me hold them. It is my wish--nay, my command, that you wed the Lady Reena of Breeton and hold those lands safe in the name of your King. It could mean the difference between a successful invasion by others, or their downfall. I, therefore, need someone I can trust. The people there were fervant followers of Harald Goodwinson. They will not let you rule them easily. It is imperative that you wed the girl in order to secure their loyalty."
Garth was totally dumbfounded. He had no thoughts of marriage. In fact, it was the farthest thing from his mind. He was speechless, but realized the King awaited a response.
He pulled himself together. "Sire, I don't know what to say. You are most generous. But is it really necessary for me to wed? I had not thought to do so for some time yet. Cannot the lands be kept safe by other means?"
"I have thought this through carefully. There is no other way. "Tis time for you to marry, Garth. You are of an age. I have conferred with your father and have received an answer that he would not be opposed to such a match." The King hesitated, but Garth could find nothing to say. "I have heard the girl is not uncomely. You could do much worse Garth of Ranock. Your father is not a young man and it is time you secured an heir."
Still Garth did not respond. He honestly could think of nothing to say. To cross his King and his father? He knew futility when it was presented. He saw a fleeting look of frustration cross the King's face. The King waved him away. "'Tis enough discussion. There is not much time. The lands must be secured--and soon. My decision has been made." William turned away. "You may leave me."
Garth finally awoke. He realized he had displeased the King. He bowed and finally dutifully responded. "Your Grace, by your leave. I thank you for your kind beneficence. You have been most generous." The King nodded, apparently satisfied. The audience was at an end.
As Garth left the King's presence, he thought about his 'gift.' He would need to begin preparation the next day for the trip to Breeton Castle. He had much to do. He was not at all pleased about have a bride thrown into the bargain. The lands he would secure easily enough.
As he entered his chamber, a rustling drew him back to the present. He chuckled softly. A low voice purred seductively. "Garth, what kept you away so long?"
He had almost forgotten her. Eleanna. One of the ladies in waiting to Matilda, lady wife to the King. A more comely and welcoming lass he had not seen in some time. She had a burnished red mane of hair, thick and luxurious, which fell around her shoulders in long waves, and soft curves that a man could sink himself into willingly. She had been married off as a young girl to a noble more than twice her age and was known to curry sexual favor beyond her marriage bed.
Garth now looked at her with an appreciation for her earthy beauty. She made an intoxicating picture, with her hair spilling about her soft milky white shoulders and breasts which were only slightly hidden by the blanket covering her. His cock sprang to attention.
"Come back to bed, Garth," she pouted prettily, as she patted the side of the bed with her long, shapely fingers. "It is getting cold and I need someone to warm me." She allowed the blankets to fall away, exposing her full, lush breasts to his hungry gaze. Yes, indeed, she was welcome respite from the harsh reality of war.
Garth smiled. Tomorrow he would deal with this new acquisition of lands and bride. Tonight, he would lose himself in the arms of this lovely, wanton woman in his bed.
* * *
At that same moment, Lady Agatha stood in the middle of her room at Castle Breeton. She could only stare at the crumpled letter in her hand with impotent fury. A messenger had arrived from the King only that morning. With trepidation she had opened the packet only after sending the messenger to the kitchens to be fed. She scanned the contents of the letter after returning to her private chambers. "Never!" she cried, crumpling the note and flinging it across the room. "Never will my daughter marry a Norman kinight."
She had fully expected that her daughter would marry one of the nobles who owned land adjoining their own. One who had been loyal to King Harald. She had certainly not expected that in such a short time after the coronation a command would be forthcoming so quickly. Breeton was only a small holding compared to many others.
Lady Agatha was tired of trying to manage the estate, though small as it was, since her husband's death. Because they had no son, upon Sir John's death the lands reverted to the crown and Reena and she were now wards of the Bastard King, pawns to be used at his whim. Mere chattel to be handed out wherever the King deemed appropriate.
Well, she would not give in so easily. She would think of a plan before the cursed wedding took place. But for now it was her duty to prepare Reena for the arrival of the hated Normans. "Martha," she called, "send Lady Reena to me at once."
As Reena entered her mother's chamber, she looked at Lady Agatha with concern. "Mother, what is it. Martha was most concerned when she came for me. Has something happened?"
Lady Agatha turned to greet her daughter, eyes glittering with anger. "Reena, I have news of some import to relay to you." She motioned to a chair as she sat. "Sit down, please. I have today received a message from the King. As you know, when your father died, his lands reverted to the crown as he had no son. 'Tis not fair, that you cannot inherit, but alas, 'tis the law. As such, you, and I as well, have become wards of the King. "Tis a woman's lot is the best I can say." Lady Agatha stopped.
"Yes, mother, I understand all this. You explained this to me after Father's death. What has transpired to distress you so?"
Lady Agatha took a deep breath before she continued. "You are so young Reena. "tis difficult for me to tell you. The King has given these lands," her hand swept about her, and then she paused. Taking a deep breath, she continued, "and your hand in marriage, to a Norman knight--Sir Garth of Ranock."
There was a surprised silence between them. Reena's gaze widened and she quickly stood up in excitement. "What? But, mother, are you saying that I am to be married?"
"Yes, that is what the King commands," answered her mother bitterly. "It is the King's opinion that the lands and you must be safeguarded. From what, I cannot imagine. We are small and certainly of no danger to him or the crown. He has chosen this Knight for that purpose. According to the King's message, Sir Garth should arrive here at the Castle within the next fortnight. At that time, we have been comanded to begin preparations for the marriage ceremony." Lady Agatha stopped and watched her daughter closely.
Reena wasn't sure what her mother wished her to say. Her father had died in support of King Harald and she knew her mother hated King William with a passion. That Reena was now to marry a Norman knight would not set kindly with her mother.
"It is all so sudden. What if I fail to please this Sir Garth, or in fact, what if he does not please me? What if we hate each other?" This marriage was completely unexpected. She knew she was of a marriagable age, but she thought it would be to someone she was acquainted with. There had been talk before her father died of a marriage contract with Allen, the son of Whitney of Arden, who held the lands bordering their own to the north. Allen was very nice and she felt she would make him a good wife. But after her father's death all talk had ceased.
Sir Whitney had also died in the wars and things had been so unsettled that no further discussions had taken place. Now this. "What should I do, mother?" she asked.
Her mother gave her a stern look. "There is nothing either you or Sir Garth are able to do. It is the royal command of the King and you cannot disobey. If you were to turn away Sir Garth he would have the right to seize our lands, he could destroy the people here in his anger, and worse. And in the end, take you by force. You must accept this graciously and do as you are bid. It is for us to do the best we can with what we are given. You must keep your head child and you will be safe."
She leaned forward and caressed Reena's cheek. "Leave all to me and you will be well. Now go. Tomorrow we shall begin preparation for the arrival of this Norman knight."
Reena rose from the chair and bent over to kiss her mother on the cheek and left the room. Her thoughts were already elsewhere, trying to picture what Sir Garth would be like. In a way it was exciting, a new life would begin for her soon.
"Isn't it wonderful to feel the fresh air, Elena?"
"I would enjoy it now Reena, once your betrothed arrives, you will doubtless not get a chance again soon."
Lady Reena and her cousin were nout riding on one of the first beautiful days of Spring. The sky was a vivid royal blue, and the green of the woods held an earthy beauth which gave Reena much delight. Reena was just turned 17, though slight of build and ifne-boned, she had a strength of character which could be felt by even the most casual observer. Her hair was long and silky. It was a shade of blonde which caught the rays of the sun and threw them back again creating the illusion of a halo. Her eyes were large and gray, fringed with long, black lashes. She rode a blood-bay mare, that was as gentle of spirit as her mistress.
"Elena, I don't want to think about it right now. He is not expected for days yet. I shall enjoy the time I have yet."
"I would be very concerned if I were you Reena," drawled Elene. I know that I, for one, am very curious to see this Norman knight who has been given your birthright. I can only picture some burly barbarian in my mind. What think you, Reena?"
Reena was used to seeing that narrowed, speculative look in Reena's eyes. For some reason she seemed to enjoy scaring Reena and always had. Reena knew she thought her naive--telling her she knew nothing of the real world.
Elana was rather intrigued by the turn of recent events. She led such a boring life at the Castle and she was certainly curious about this new development.
Since the invasion of England and King Harald's death, the country had been extremely unsettled. Then there had been the letter which had arrived just four weeks earlier with the seal of the new King Willima--William the Conqueror as he was called. In the letter, the king had said he was giving Lady Reena and her lands to Sir Garth of Ranock as a fief for his loyal services to William. Breeton lands were at the farthest edge of England and he must have felt, therefore, that he needed his own man there. Though Breeton was of lesser value than many lands, it was still a strategic point to be well looked after by someone loyal to the new king.
Since Reena's father, Sir John, had been killed during the invasion, this ha dleft Reena a ward of the king and guardian of her lands. It was his right to give her hand in marriage to whomever he so chose.
Elene thought of all this now with much bitterness. For her cousin to have so much, and she, Elene, to have nothing!
Elene's father was the younger brother of Sir John. As such, it was for him to make his fortune. He did this by emigrating to the Middle East. There he made his fortune in trade. He met and fell in love with an Arab girl and married her, much to the chgrin of his family in England. Elene's mother, Fatima, died in childbirth. Something Elena swore would never happt oer as she did not plan to ruin her figure by having children. She would not allow any man to rule her.
Her father had died of an unknown fever when she was ten. It was then that she was shipped off to England to live at Breton Castle.
Elene was an opposite to Reena. She had hair as black as midnight, with eyes to match. Though exhibitng slight build, similar to Reela, there any similarity ended. Where Reena was the light, Enena was the darkness. A beautiful Aphrodite, she had an earthy sensuality that no man could resist--she made certain of it, and she planned to use it to full advantage when the time was right. She was certain her time woudl come. She laughed softly to herself.
"What makes you so happy?" Reena turned to ask her inquisitively.
"Oh, I was just thinking what a beautiful day it is," Elena replied innocently. It didn't pay to share one's plans with a naive child.
"Well," Reena sighed, "I think we had best head back to the castle. There will be much to do in the next few days before Sir Garth arrives."
"I am sick of hearing about Sir Garth. I only hope that with him he brings some excitement. Nothing interesting ever happens around here," she pouted. She fervantly hoped he had some strong, handsome knights accompanying him.
Reena had turned her horse around and now waited patiently for Elene to do the same.
Elena huffed. "Oh, all right," she said grudgingly, "let us head back."
"Everything will work out for the best," Reena said. "I know it will. Just wait and see. We must make the best of things. It is the only way. There are so many people to be looked after," she sighed. "If only he will be fair and honest, I will be content."
You little fool, thought Elene, to expect so much from a mere man.
* * *
"Damn, Garth, what have you gotten us into this time. We're following you to the end of th earth byt the looks of it." Evan was tired. He had been enjoying himself at William's court and had seen no reason to leave so hurriedly. After all the figthting, the men had needed a good break. "Where are we going?" He was very curious to know what Garth was about.
Even had been friends with Garth since their boyhood. Evan's father had served Garth's father as castallen. Garth's father, Sir Edwin, had seen to it that Evan had the same training as his own son. Sir Edwin had known Garth would someday need a person he could trust and he had chosen Evan.
Short and wiry with fire red hair, he was quick on his feet, and extremely agile. He tended to play the fool, keeping men off their guard until he could take their true worth. He thought of himself as a good judge of character. He oculd sum up a situation or problem at a glance and come up with the right solution. The only person who knew his true character was Garth.
"So Garth, tell me what brings you to this Godforsaken place?"
Garth let out a loud roar of a laugh. "Evan, you friend, I don't think you will believe it. You know, of course, we are on the king's business. What you don't know, is that I am to be married." Evan couldn't have been more surprised if Garth had said they were embaring on a trip to the moon.
"What? This cannot be. "Tis impossible. Sir Garth of Ranock to be wed? Why you will leave more broken heards than are to be believed. Do tell me who is the virtuous beauty, as surely she must be to have caught your eye."
Garth laughed half-heartedly. "I am sorry to disappoint you, but I have no knowledge of the lady's looks. It is the lands the king, and I, I might add, are interested in. Breeton Castle stands at a most advantageous position. They are key lands to hold safe should any invasion be attempted. As it is, Sir John D'Arce was killed during the invasion. Upon his death, his daughter, Lady Reena D'Arce became a ward of the king. In order to keep our true purpose quiet and, of course, to halt any uprising that might occur because of the transfer of power, I get the daughter, as well."
"Ah, Garth, it would suit me well, if this lady were to be a shrew, with a hook nose to boot. Oh, how I would laugh," he teased Garth. "Your bachelor days are numbered, my friend. I cannot wait to see you rlady. Poor Ariana, whatever will the poor lass do? Whad do you think Garth, should I console her ater her loss is discovered?" With that he galloped on ahead laughing heartily. His day had brightened. This would make good entertainment he was sure.
Garth frowned as he watched his friend ride away. He had not wanted to make this alliance, but the king, and his father as well, had persuaded him it was the only solution.
He had been informed that the girl was young and marriagable. But nothing else. He could only pray thatshe was at least presentable. He scowled. He would not be made a laughing stock. Certainly not because of some slip of a girl. The lands were the important thing and he would remember that. Soon he would be at the castl and could gauge for himself the value of the match and the lands.
He looked up at the sky. It was already getting late and dusk was upon them. He should make camp, but he was tired and wante to reach the castle befor eanother day passed. So he spurred his horse on to a gallop.
* * *
"My Lady, My Lady, please come quickly, thre are guests below." Lady Agatha awoke to these words. She looked groggily about her as she rose and put on a robe.
"Who is here, Martha?" she whispered. She did not want to wake Reena or Elene who were asleep behind the curtains on the other side of the room.
"I don't know, my lady. They asked for you," she whispered in answer.
Lady Agatha pulled her robe closer and reached for a candle. She left the befroom and started to descend the stairs to the hall below. Haflway down, she stopped.
Below her in the Great Hall she could see a roomful of men dressed in armor. She caught her breath and the candle in her hand trembled. She tried to steady herself--she must not show her fear. These were uncertain times and she could not be certain who the men were, but she would not show fear.
Then she continued her cdescent into the Great Hall. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs. The men turned to look as she entered the room. They turned her way in unison. So, these are the Norman knights, Lady Agatha thought to herself. She stared at each one of them silently for a long moment.
One of the knights stepped forward and bowed. "My Lady," he said, "I am Sir Garth of Ranock. I regret this unseemly time of arrival, but I wished to press on and reach Breeton Castle and not hrequire my men to spend another night in tends on the road. I do apologize."
Attempt to school her expression, she studied him. So this was her daughter's betrothed. The usurper to her husband's lands. Soon to bed her only daughter. She was filled with disgust and hatred at the very thought of her daughter being bedded by the vermin. Murderers of her husband and of all that she had once known. To her, he had stolen everything and left her with nothing.
The hatred spewed forth from her eyes for just a moment before she was able to control it as she schooled her features in an effort to show no emotion. She would not let this man know her plans--not yet. She could bide her time.
Afater a moment, she spoke. "My lord, I welcome you to Breeton Castle. We had not expected your arroval for another two days, so we are unprepared. I will have the servants prepare a meal for you and your men--"
"No, no, Lady Agatha, do not bother. I and my men could wish for nothing more right now than a place to sleep."
"Of course, my lord, as you wish." Then she turned. "Martha, please have Ethan see to beds for Sir Garth and his men." As Martha hurried away, Lady Agatha turned back to face the imposing Norman knight. "I trust you and your men will be comfortable. You will find the servants will be in better form tomorrow." As Ethan entered the room carrying a large torch, she again truned her attention to the Sir Garth. "As all is prepared now, I will retire. Goodnight," she nodded her head to each of them, gave a small curtesy to Garth, turned, and left the room.
Garth and Evan watched her leave. "I wouldn't trust that one," muttered Evan.
"What did you say?" asked Garth.
Evan turned to Garth. He looke dhim square in the eyes. "Don't trust that one with your back turned. You may find a knife in it."
Garth knew by the look in his eyes that Evan was very serious. He took his warning to heart. Evan was not one to have foolish notions. The woman had made Garth feel uneasy. She was tall, with angular features, her hands more like claws. Her hair, which appeared to have been brown was streaked with gray and lacked a luster it should have had.
Her manner was not to be faulted. She was both courteous and gracious. But still she left him with a feeling of unease. There was something, something not quite right about the woman. He would be careful with her, watch her. It made him wonder what the daughter must be like. He did not look forward to meeting her if she was anything like her mother.
The servant, Ethan, had shown them where they would sleep. Garth removed is armor and clothing slowly. He had not wanted his squire to tend him tonight. They were all very tired. He had pushed his men to get her tonight and Garth had wanted to catch them unaware--just in case. As a consequence he was exhausted and fell onto the bed and closed his eyes.
Garth dreamed. He dreamed of a girl with bright laughing eyes and a soft, golden halo that encircled her head. She seemed to be beckoning him. He knew she was just a dream image--an illusion. Beauty such as hers only existed in the shadowy world of dreams--never real. She would always exist in his heart and mind. What he would find tomorrow would be, but his dream would always remain with him. He turned on his side and fell into a deep sleep.
He towered above her at the top of the wide gray wooden steps leading into the three-story Queen Anne-style house. The morning sun glittered brightly in the sky, but she felt a shudder pass through her as she observed him standing in shadow, his dark eyes penetrating through the exterior of the car, driving straight through her. Strong chiseled features. Unrelenting. An avenging angel carved from smooth, hard marble.
Intimidating, solid, and as solitary as one person can be in a thriving city the size of Albany. Pity the man, or woman, who tried to move him. She remembered the impression he made on her at that first meeting–his skin taut and golden–reminding her of an Egyptian sphinx. A fierce presence retaining all the secrets inside, letting no one enter, and letting nothing out, full of traps for the unwary and death for the foolhardy. She was certain he could be lethal if any hostile attempt at entrance to his inner sanctum was attempted.
She’d studied him intently at the meeting in his downtown law office, and now, as then, she determined it would take an Act of Congress to pull a smile from the man. She felt the heat of his gaze upon her, watching, and she shifted uncomfortably in the seat of her small midnight blue Subaru wagon.
He was an attorney–a public defender–and by looking at him now, she wouldn’t have wanted to be an adversary of his in any courtroom. Unyielding was her first thought, unreadable, her second. Untouchable, her last.
So, why did she care? He was nothing to her but her new landlord. Why should it possibly matter what went on behind those emotionless sapphire blue eyes?
Because you’ve got the hots for him. She tried to ignore that nasty little inner voice. I do not, she denied. Oh, yes you do. Sometimes it was only herself she needed to strangle.
So what if it had been over a year since she’d been with anyone. This wasn’t the time to be thinking about what he might be like in bed. Was it the challenge she found so intriguing?
A sentry guarding his palace, that’s what he looked like perched there above her, waiting to swoop down. Jesse Falcone belonged in another era. The only difference between now and then was that his armor wasn’t visible to the average modern-day person.
But she knew it was there all the same. She didn’t like the feelings he stirred inside of her. Yet, as much as she fought against them, another part of her was intrigued by him–almost mesmerized. The vision of him standing atop the steps already caused a hitch to her breathing.
He had to be the most virile man she’d ever met, not counting those saps back in Cooperstown her mother was always trying to set her up with. It was a rather frightening prospect to find a man who tapped into her inner soul, when all she was trying to do right now was simplify her life and get it back on a normal track.
One thing she didn’t need in her life right now was more complications. Jesse Falcone could certainly become a huge complication if she wasn’t careful.
She’d chosen this time of year to make her move because to her, springtime represented a season of rebirth and renewal. This was her chance at a new beginning, the first step that would lead her out of the nightmare, and her life had certainly become that.
A new job, a new place to live, and a new city was just what she needed to right her life again. She hoped. She tightened her grip on the steering wheel. It mirrored the firm grip she intended to maintain on her sanity. Her life had attempted to veer out of control and she’d almost let go and allowed herself to crash. Almost. But in the end, she hadn’t allowed the guilt win.
She’d teetered at the cliff edge as memory taunted her. A tingle raced along her spine as she felt Jesse Falcone’s studied scrutiny and it served to draw her away from the clinging cobwebs of poisonous memory.
Again, she glanced up at the old Victorian where her new apartment was situated. She felt the heat notch higher, starting at the pit of her stomach and working its way...down. And she wasn’t even within touching distance.
She wanted the past to disappear, forever. Maybe an interest in a new relationship was just what she needed to draw her away from the quicksand of the past. She found herself more interested in him than she had been in anyone–or anything–in a very long time. And that spark of interest might be just what she needed right now.
Her palms itched to caress those high, sharp cheekbones, to smooth away the perpetual frown, to follow the line of those muscular shoulders, and to have his large hands caress her body. The fire inside her grew hotter and she had to stop this line of thought before she totally embarrassed herself. After all, he hadn’t shown her any indication he might have the slightest interest in her. And Angela Coltrain didn’t tread where she wasn’t wanted.
It was only that ever since that first meeting, she’d been unable to get him out of her thoughts–like his image had been seared into her brain. An errant silky raven hair seemed to be forever falling out of place and she ached to smooth it back. Her hands unconsciously clenched and unclenched against her leg.
Stop it! Maybe this move to Albany had been a mistake. She didn’t need these feelings with everything else she was trying to contend with.
Finally, she turned away from the compelling demonic angel standing on the steps above her. Inhaling a deep, steadying breath before opening the door of the car, she stepped onto the hard pavement. It was time to brave the beast–but was she thinking of him, or the one lurking inside herself?
She’d needed to get away from her sleepy hometown in upstate New York, where the nightmares wouldn’t stop. The scrutiny every time she walked out of the house felt unbearable. Her life had to change, if she was going to achieve some sort of a life. The torment in her soul seemed never-ending.
Move forward, one step at a time, was the litany she repeated over and over, trying to convince herself that she could do that. She would move beyond what had occurred. As a child psychologist, it was the same thing she tried to get her young patients to do. Identify it, shake it off, move through the anger, past the betrayal, past the pain. Move on.
Looking up, she studied the apartment house. Jesse Falcone had told her that there were seven apartments in the main house, and a carriage house in back. He lived in the apartment over the carriage house. There were two apartments on each of the three floors, and a basement apartment with an outside entrance. Angela’s apartment was on the third floor, at the back of the building. She would be in apartment number five.
Angela had so loved working with the children; felt she was making a difference, filling a real need. She liked the ‘messy’ problems of dealing with emotions and consequences; with living, breathing people–the often unexpected results. She’d thrilled as she watched the layers separate to reveal the beautiful child that would slowly emerge.
* * *
Jesse knew he shouldn’t have taken Angela Coltrain on as a tenant. He should have listened to his instincts. That nudge of recognition he was determined to ignore was reaffirmed by her arrival this morning.
He had know when she first stepped into his office the previous week. He had know it and still he had let her sign the damn lease. Fuck, she was going to be trouble.
All his life he had been careful not to let emotion get the best of him, not to get caught up in the passion of living. He would be dead now if he had let feelings cloud his brain. Jesse Coltrain had survived life by desensitizing himself. Yes, he’d had relationships, but he had always remained aloof–detached, secure in the control he’d always maintained to survive. Then Angela Coltrain had walked through the door of his office.
He’d meant to tell her no. His innate survival instincts warned him to get her the hell out of there as fast as possible. But the minute he had looked into her eyes, a blue so ocean-deep he felt himself falling into them, he knew he was lost.
That initial encounter had been a shock. For the first time, unrecognized human warmth filled his world. For a moment, he had absorbed her personality and presence like a dry sponge left out on a rainy day.
Hungry eyes drank her in as she stood in the doorway, tall and slender–maybe a shy too slender–but shapely, with a waist he knew he could span with his hands perfectly, and hips that flared softly. Her hair sparked red-gold, the color of a New York autumn day, falling in soft waves to her shoulders, held away from her face by two small gold barrettes. When she entered his office it felt like all the pieces fit, in one fell swoop life made sense.
Then the cold dash of reality settled in, and he reminded himself that he didn’t have a life that would ever make sense. And he certainly couldn’t bring Angela Coltrain into the ugly darkness that surrounded him, was his destiny, no matter how much she fit perfectly into his secret yearnings.
Blood tainted his hands, his life, his very being. He would never allow it to taint another, certainly not such a vibrant, innocent beauty like Angela Coltrain. He’d tamped down the fire her presence ignited and he was determined to send her away.
Shifting uncomfortably, Jesse now watched her from his perch on the top step of the apartment building. He was going to have to get a handle on this fire in his gut when he was near her.
* * *
The first time Angela had walked into Jesse’s office a week earlier, some weird kind of recognition had slammed into her. This man was not like other safe young men approved by her parents who had escorted her to dinner dances at the golf club. Courteous to a fault, polite in the extreme, they had left her cold. A cold fish was what one of her polite dates had even dared to call her once. At the time she’d thought they might be right. But her first meeting with Jesse had changed all that, when a burgeoning fire had burned it’s way through her.
She now walked over to the steps, taking them slowly as she mounted. Unwilling to admit that it was engaging in conversation with the man hovering above that caused her hesitation.
Albany wasn’t that far from Cooperstown really, her parents should have been overjoyed she was moving into research, just as they had always wanted. She shied away from the word ‘retreat.’ It was simply following a different path in her chosen career. She’d almost succeeded in convincing herself it wasn’t simply being a coward. No, it was going to be an exciting adventure working at the college, taking her outside the stringent control of her parents. Yes, she was breaking free of the ties that had bound her all these years. This was exactly what she had needed to do for a very long time.
But her mother and father acted like she was leaving for the end of the world. Granted, they would no longer be able to monitor her comings and goings, but surely she was close enough for them to maintain contact with her if need be. A two-hour drive was not that far away.
And then there was her older sister, Stephanie. Five years separated them and Stephanie thought that gave her the knowledge of the ages. All of them–her parents, her sister–high profile specialists, committed to their careers. Never get personally involved. That was their creed–and one that Angela had broken time and time again. This last time disasterously so.
Angela was the disappointment. Child psychology was not what they would have chosen for her. The profession was too messy, delving into people’s psyche. Body parts were much more their style. Angela grimaced. Never get involved. Read the charts, diagnose the problem, treat it, and move on to the next case.
Angela’s recent downfall had only proven their point. The mind was a messy thing, particularly in dealing with children. And sometimes even with the most careful consideration, good intentions didn’t always win out.
She stopped just below Jesse, and looked up, squinting at the bright morning sunlight. The glare hid the expression on his face in shadow. He unclasped his hands from behind his back and slowly reached out to engulf her left hand.
“Welcome, Ms. Coltrain. I’m glad you made it safely.” His large, warm hand gripped her smaller one firmly. It sent a warm electrical current up her arm and she attempted to mask her response.
Instead, she smiled, hoping it hid her nervousness. “Thank you. It was a pretty uneventful trip. The movers should be here shortly.” She felt the heat of his steady gaze sear her. Slowly he released her hand, his fingers lightly grazing the sensitive palm. She shivered beneath the heat of the sun.
His intent, unwavering stare made her uneasy. His mouth exhibited a polite smile that didn’t reach his eyes, and he nodded. He seemed to be studying her, attempting to dissect her, much like her parents did when contemplating surgery. The feeling made her again shiver in awareness, as though he separated her skin to reach deep inside her. But what did he hope to find?
What would it be like to see his face alight with real laughter she found herself wondering. The a more sensuous thought flared. What would it look like filled with passion for her? Heat flooded her face at the vision in her head. Hopefully, if he saw it, he would assume it was just the warmth of the morning sun.
“Let me know if you need anything. Unfortunately, the only parking is on the street. There are three available bays in the carriage house for the tenants’ use and they’re taken up by the people who have been here the longest. There’s storage space for you in the carriage house, and I’ll show that to you once you’re settled.”
She tried to get her thoughts out of the bedroom. “Th-thank you,” she stuttered, certain he knew what she was thinking. “I appreciate that. I guess I’ll just go up and make sure everything is ready in the apartment. I have a few personal things in the car I need to get.” Hastily, she turned away to hurry back down the steps.
“Do you need any help?” His deep voice followed her, sending vibrations through her body. God, no! If he came anywhere close to her, she would melt in a puddle at his feet. She needed some distance to gain some clarity.
Without turning around, she shook her head, unwilling to look at him again. It would be impossible to shutter the need she knew would be reflected in her eyes.
“No,” she called back, “but thank you.” She heard the breathy quality in her voice as she hurried toward her car. “It’s all small stuff.” She had to get away from him–away from the need to tear his clothes off and sample his heat.
As she reached her car and opened the door, she instinctively looked back up to the top of the steps. He was gone. Angela breathed a sigh of relief as she reached into her car to pull out the box with her few personal items. She had a feeling that man was going to cause her some very sleepless nights.
But maybe dreams of Jesse Falcone would drown the nightmares of Tad. And that wasn’t a bad thing.
Noelle leaned back against the seat of the 747. Soon they’d be landing in Krystal City and she’d be just a few hours from her final destination.
She couldn’t contain her excitement at the thought of returning home. It had been six months since she’d last spent time with her parents and besides that, she missed the bustling activity of Hollyton. Hollyton was a small suburb of the larger metropolis of Christmastown, where Uncle Kris resided.
Kris Kringle, also known as Santa Claus to the rest of the world, always needed extra help around the holidays once the letters started pouring in. Noelle made a habit of taking a month’s vacation–from Thanksgiving to New Year’s–to help the family out during their most frantic season of the year.
Working as a folklorist at one of the more well-known institutions in the country usually gave her the perfect excuse to study the holiday habits of her hometown and no one at the Institute ever questioned her time away each year. She’d always put it down to yule research.
Noelle’s father, Evan Kringle, Kris’s brother, was a respected toymaker. He’d chosen to reside in Hollyton rather than live at the family estate in Christmastown because he liked his independence and wanted to raise his children away from all the pomp which tended to follow in the wake of the infamous Claus traditions. He’d never been jealous of Kris’s lead role, preferring to stay behind the scenes and out of the limelight as much as possible.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise then that his daughter, Noelle, had developed the same independent nature and chosen to venture further afield, away from the day-to-day holiday atomsphere. Noelle was the first Claus descendant to attend college outside the province of the Claus/Kringle family and now resided away from Hollyton for the better part of the year. The compromise was that she return to the Claus Province to help with the rush during the holidays.
At that time, it was her task to work in the Main Office in Christmastown sorting letters and making lists for Uncle Kris’s final approval. The toy lists were then dispersed to the Christmas Elves for designation of assignments to the numerous top-notch toymakers throughout the province.
The often heartbreaking and more sensitive part was the preparation of the Special Wishes List. That went directly to Santa and Aunt Flora for consideration and distribution to the Christmas Angels and Faeries. They would do what they could, but there were just some wishes that weren’t possible to grant.
Noelle’s mother, Anya, was a Christmas Faerie, and there were some stories she told of her charges that brought tears to her eyes in the telling. There were days when she would come home, her lovely eyes filled with tears of sadness. But, of course, there were others when she’d be consumed with joy.
Noelle had often wished she could have taken on the job of Christmas Faerie a time or two, but didn’t think it was something she’d be good at for very long. She admired her mother’s strength and commitment–she was truly gifted.
But being part Christmas Faerie did give Noelle certain special gifts which were particularly enhanced at Christmastime. She had the ability to commune with nature and the wild animals. She was an earth child and the wind would speak to her. She could walk between worlds on occasion. Her powers were certainly not as strong as her mother’s, but she did have a few.
Noelle had inherited some of her father’s height, standing at five feet eight inches, but she also had her mother’s coloring and slender frame, with almond-shaped green eyes and flaming red hair. She didn’t inherit her wings, but her ears were just the slightest bit pointed.
In the outside world Noelle had taken to the habit of wearing her hair over her ears to forestall any questions or comments about their odd shape. If someone happened to notice, she explained it away as an accident of birth.
She was a half-breed–half faerie, half Clausian–of both worlds, yet neither. Everyone in Claus Province knew it and growing up with the stigma had been a trial on occasion.
It was that stigma that had sent her fleeing outside of the venue of the Claus family to find her own way, a place where she could be accepted for herself. Unfortunately, she was still looking.
Half-breeds were an enigma in Claus Province, most married within their own caste–humans with humans, elves with elves, fairies with fairies. Having Claus blood made it even more difficult. The Claus ancestry was royal and contained a special magic different from the ordinary citizenry and making it doubly difficult for Noelle to find a mate who wanted her only for herself and not for the power marriage to her would bring them.
She loved hearing about the first meeting between her parents, and never tired of the telling. When her father met her mother it had been love at first sight and there was no going back. Truly, Noelle loved her parents and the province where she grew up...but she also wanted to belong somewhere...to have a place to call home.
Each year she told herself she wouldn’t go back for the holidays, and yet each year she couldn’t stay away. It was a part of her as surely as the need to breathe was a part of her, like the geese with their instinctive need to migrate during the winter months.
What would happen if she added her own name to the Special Wishes List? And what was her secret wish she’d never shared with anyone else? It stemmed from watching her parents, year after year, their devotion to each other. Love and respect, even after all these years, still shown in their eyes, their touch. It gave her hope that there was a special someone out there somewhere.
At times Noelle was envious of such closeness. She knew they loved her, but still there were times when even she felt like an outsider when they looked at each other with such intensity, as though there was no one else in the room. So what would she ask Santa for? A man to fill her lonely nights? That would go over well.
No, it was more than that. She wanted what her parents had, and that was far more than sexual. It was souls touching, a recognition that went beyond the physical. It wasn’t something she could put in writing–it was an intangible need–an ache inside her heart.
The seatbelt light flashed on and the announcement was made to prepare for landing. Soon she’d be home and there wouldn’t be time to worry about her loneliness. That would come later when she returned to the outside world. When she was alone at night and aching to be held, to be kissed and touched by someone special. A need to share moments, to talk, or simply to be silent and close.
She felt the shift of the plane as it descended and heard the rumble and grind as the wheels were lowered and locked into place.
As usual, she expected Kaspar, her uncle’s first assistant and head elf, would meet her and drive her to Hollyton which even then was some distance from the only city large enough to contain an airport. Claus Province was in a different realm from the outside world and it required a special mode of transportation and special care in getting there. Krystal City was considered a transition city.
If there were those who wanted a taste of the outside world, Krystal City was were one started; it helped familiarize them with what would be expected–how different it was. KCU, Krystal City University, was where Noelle had attended college and received her Master of Arts in English. It’s where she lost her virginity.
Kasha, a dashing elf prince had attended KCU for a short time during her sophomore year. A more sensual creature she couldn’t imagine. She’d met him for the first time at a harvest dance. He’d swept her off her feet and right into bed. A slow smile spread across her lips at the pleasant memory of the eight hours of sensual pleasure she experienced in his arms that first night. It had seemed to her at the time his cock was indefatigable, constantly hard and ready to pleasure her. And boy was he skilled. In one night he’d taught her more ways of loving than she ever could have imagined. Noelle had come away a different woman from that experience.
He’d left after one semester, his father’s illness requiring his presence at home. She’d been sad to see him go, but not heartbroken. She always would remember Kasha with fondness. One never forgot their first lover, especially a prince like Kasha. Even back then she’d known life had more in store for her. Unfortunately, she’d never found another lover with quite his skill and fortitude.
Her time in Krystal City and at KCU allowed her to assimilate to what would be expected of her in the outside world. She’d then moved on to attend Indiana University and obtained her Ph.D. in Folklore Studies and had gone on to have several papers published on the subject of folklore in American culture, and had contributed to several books on the yule season folktales and traditions.
In the outside world she was recognized as an authority in the area of yuletide folkloric legends. Dr. Noelle Kringle. It was a name some found amusing considering her area of expertise, but nevertheless they couldn’t dispute her knowledge in her chosen field.
In Hollyton she was known simply as Miss Noelle, one of the blood descendants of the noble Claus lineage.
There were no gasoline-powered vehicles in Claus Province–the preferred method of transportation was usually sleighs or by horseback or other more natural methods. It was old world and traditional at its very best. It also served to remind Noelle of the simplicities she took for granted in the outside world. The pace was slower in Claus Province and she enjoyed the change. This was her time to recharge.
* * *
“Glad to have you back, Miss Noelle,” Kaspar said as he loaded her bags into the back of the candy apple red SUV. He walked with her around the side of the vehicle and opened the door for her.
“It’s good to be back. You know, you don’t have to do that.” She wasn’t used to having people wait on her.
“Now, Miss Noelle, you know your uncle wouldn’t take kindly to it if I didn’t treat you properly.” After closing the door, he walked around to the other side and climbed in.
The reindeer were housed at a stable at the outskirts of Krystal City. The SUV was kept in the city for transportation inside the city and getting to the stable where the sleigh and reindeer were kept.
“How is everyone? Busy getting reading for the holiday?”
Kaspar nodded. “Oh yes, it’s very busy this year. There will be plenty for you to do. You won’t have a chance to get bored.”
Noelle laughed. “When do I ever have that happen when I’m home?”
“Quite true. Your parents miss you when you’re gone. They worry about you.”
“I know. But I have my own life, Kaspar. I have a job to do.”
“Yes, Miss. There’s work for you in Christmastown, too. You know if you asked, Kris would find the right job for you.”
“I know, but I need to find my own way.” She turned and looked at him. Kaspar had been head elf in Christmastown for as long as she could remember. He stood at four and a half feet, a wizened fellow with a full head of white hair, a long white beard and bushy white eyebrows. When he frowned, his eyebrows met at the middle. Behind his back, people called him Dapper Kaspar because his usual dress was a three-piece velvet suit and he always strutted with a solid oak cane at his side.
Today he was dressed more casually for traveling, wearing a red chamois shirt and black jeans, with a long Shearling coat. One needed a thick, warm coat for traveling by sleigh through the dimensions.
“Who did you bring this trip?”
“Comet Jr. and Maxie. Dancer has a torn ligament.”
“Oh my. Will he be okay by Christmas?”
Kaspar nodded. “He should be fine by then. He’s been laid up for a couple of weeks now. But we want to make sure, so Kris wants him to rest.”
Kaspar turned into the parking lot next to the stable and shut off the ignition. “Here we are. Are you ready?”
“More than. Have the reindeer rested long enough to make the return journey?” She always worried about them. The number of charmed reindeer who could fly were limited. A lot of lay people thought just because one was a reindeer they could fly, but that wasn’t how it worked. As in many cases, it was passed down from father to son and only certain blood lines contained the gene for flying. Uncle Kris had a book which outlined the whole lineage going all the way back to the first known flying reindeer.
Interestingly, word had it that the ruby-nosed flying reindeer occurred in rare instances. Rudy had been the last, and he’d been born some half century ago. Apparently, certain conditions must exist for one to be born. Unfortunately, no one really knew what those exact conditions entailed.
The flying herd in Christmastown was well cared for and well guarded. There’d been an attempt last year to steal several of the younglings, so security measures had been doubled since that time.
“We flew in yesterday so they’d have plenty of down time before we make the trip back. Don’t worry about them. They’re probably frisky and raring to get into the sky by now.”
After loading her suitcases into the back of the small two-person sleigh, and harnessing the two reindeer, he walked toward her carrying a long Shearling coat.
“For you, Miss Noelle.” She shrugged out of her short brown leather jacket and allowed him to help her into the warm full-length coat.
“These coats are always so warm and cuddly,” she said as she hugged the coat close, and pulled the hood up.
He helped her climb into the sleigh and pulled several red blankets up over her lap. “All set?”
“Just fine, Kaspar, all nice and snug.”
He walked around and got into the silver sleigh and picked up the reins. Noelle looked up at the sky, a light scattering of snow fell all around them.
“Up Comet, up Maxie...away!” yelled Kaspar, the silver bells on the harness singing as the reindeer pranced forward, moved into a run, and carried them into the sky. It was always such a heady feeling with that first lift off. What a beautiful night it was, the sky crisp and clear, stars twinkling, the moon full, and a sprinkling of new snow. There was nothing else like it in the world. It was pure heaven.
* * *
“Dad!” Noelle yelled as she flung open the door to the toy shop, the bell announcing her arrival, and she stepped inside.
Evan Kringle appeared at the entrance to the back room. Racing across the room, she was gathered up into a strong bear hug. “Noelle. I’m so glad you’re home. How was the trip?”
“It was a good trip. No problems.” She stepped back to look at him. Her father was a very tall, solid man, with gray beard and hair and a ruddy complexion. He was actually much younger than Uncle Kris and they shared many of the same physical traits, but in Claus Province time moved at a much slower pace and age was not always what it seemed. She was never really sure exactly how old either one of them were–no one knew.
Kris was a name passed down through the generations, the expected name of the eldest male child in each generation and the one to hold the title and responsibility of Santa Claus. It was a heavy burden to carry. There was so much magic and mystery attached to the Claus ancestry, no one ever knew the full story. If one asked in any part of the world, there was always a different telling, a different interpretation.
It was also the thing that fascinated Noelle and she never grew tired of studying the stories passed down through the generations.
Evan turned and pulled a green wool parka down from a hook on the other side of the door frame. “She’s at home, waiting for us. She’s fixed a wonderful dinner in honor of your homecoming.”
Noelle laughed, then linked an arm through her father’s. “She has this idea that I never eat. But I do know how to cook.”
Her father put on his coat and steered her toward the door. “Her problem is that she thinks you don’t eat enough. Come on, she’s waiting. She doesn’t get to coddle you much, she enjoys doing it when you come home. Let her.”
Outside the shop, he locked the door. Turning back, he again linked her arm through his and patted her hand. “It’s going to be a busy season. Kris will be glad to have your help.” They walked arm-in-arm along the snowy sidewalk of the Dickensian-like main street. Their home was only a couple of blocks away from the shop, up a hill on a small side street–29 Mistletoe Terrace.
The house was a three-story gingerbread style with white icicle trim all around. When her parents had first married, her father had it built especially for Anya–it had been her dream–her fantasy. If something she desired was in his power to give her and would bring her pleasure, Evan would have walked through fire to obtain it.
Noelle had been born in a bedroom on the third floor. She supposed it would always be home to her in some sense. But truly it was her parents’ dream, not her own.
“Here we are,” her father said as he allowed her to precede him up the wooden steps to the front door.
Bells jingled as she opened it and stepped inside. The scents of her childhood surrounded her. She could tell her mother was preparing her favorite dinner. The aroma of roast beef, sweet potatoes, and fresh corn assailed her and her stomach growled in response. Knowing her mother, there would most likely be warm apple crisp with vanilla ice cream for desert. Her mother was absolutely the best cook in the world.
“Anya,” her father called out as he hung up his coat on a brass hook near the front door. “Noelle is here. Come out, please.” He helped Noelle out of her own bomber jacket and hung it next to his.
Anya appeared in the doorway, the beautiful smile Noelle remembered so well, lighting up her face, her green eyes glowing. “Noelle.” Noelle soaked up the vision her mother made poised at the entrance to the kitchen.
Anya floated just a touch about the floor, her iridescent wings fluttering madly in excitement. A white bib apron covered the majority of her forest green silk dress. Noelle had to chuckle as she glanced down and saw that her mother was barefoot, as usual. She would always retain that bit of her wild fae nature. Her mother was always remarking on how much she hated the confinement of shoes, especially in her own house.
She held a long wooden spoon in one slender hand, and there was a touch of flour on the tip of her nose. Noelle had never seen a more beautiful sight. Even with touches of white threaded through her long copper locks, she was still one of the loveliest women Noelle had ever encountered. She raced across the room to hug her.
Her mother dropped the spoon and wrapped her arms around Noelle. “Ah, lovling, I’m so glad you’re here. My world is right again.”
Lovling. It was a pet name only her mother used. It brought back treasured memories of her childhood. Why was it when she was away from home her tendency was to remember only the bad parts? The taunts of half-breed by the other children, the feeling of not belonging. Yet when she came home and saw her parents, their love seemed to wrap around her, warm her, and hold her close, reminding her of all the wonder of growing up in a home filled with the warmth of love.
“Come and sit at the table, dinner is just about ready.” With that, she turned and whisked back into the kitchen.
Once everything was laid out on the dining room table and they were all seated, the questions would begin. Those she didn’t like, because she had no ready answers. No changes in her lifestyle or circumstance, no man to fill the void.
Was she too picky? Was that her problem? She studied her parents as she always tended to do when she was at home. How much in love they still seemed to be after so many years together. Would she ever find that kind of relationship?
She’d dated, even taken a lover or two over the years, but none she felt she could share her inner soul with. None she felt attuned to, nor any that seemed to want a deeper relationship with her. Certainly none she could share her secrets with, or who would appreciate and understand her ancestry. If she did one day marry, it would need to be someone who could understand her heavy family commitments–ones she couldn’t turn away from.
Releasing a long sigh, she spread her white napkin across her lap. Watching her parents always reminded her what she was looking for in a relationship. She was beginning to think the man of her dreams just didn’t exist–that she was destined to remain alone.
But there was always that small part of her that insisted that somewhere out there was her right match. A man who would make her tingle with awareness, hold her with strength, love her with compassion. She just needed to find him. Because she had a feeling if she waited for him to find her, it wasn’t going to happen and she’d die an old maid for sure.
Her body tingled with need and unfulfilled passion. Kasha had shown her she had a very sensual side. The right mate was out there. Somewhere in that vast world there was a man who needed her as much as she needed him.
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