A bit of a new story, and Chapter 2 for Monica

Ok, Chapter 10 of Enchant the Dawn is currently being picked on my me and my husband, because there is a plague of hackeyned prose that must be fixed before it is fit to be seen.  Don’t worry Shannon, it’s on it’s way!

I have been keeping up with my goals for Enchant the Dawn, but I’ve also been working on a new, very short story (10-13K) in the hopes of entering into competition to be one of the stories included in a hot selling anthology called “Ellora’s Cavemen”.  Wish me luck!  Here’s the first chapter of what I’m calling so far, “Visions of Sin”

Chapter One

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She had tried to hold in the sneeze, but after a long and drawn out battle, instinct would not be denied. Hoping the round of the rushing river would have covered the noise, Contessa Cassandra Giardiano di Lucana quelled the urge to hysterical laughter and held her breath as the horse paused, whinnying just a few feet away from her hiding place. 

Night was approaching and she’d lost most of her clothes when she’d run into the forest, a mad hopeless dash away from the man on horseback who come upon her so suddenly as she stool in the icy cold water of the mountain stream, washing herself for the first time in days.  She’d had a vision of a man on horseback staring at her in the water, though she’d seen no one when she looked around.  Her visions were never something to be ignored and so she’d run, not even bothering to pick up her clothes to cover the thin shift she was wearing.

And she’d been just in time, as she heard the clear snort of a horse in the distance as she’d run.  She’d been hiding for a half an hour now, but she’d sensed no great urgency or malice from the lone rider.  If the man was a French solder, sent to retrieve the prize Marshall Soult had bought and paid for from the unscrupulous Conte di Lucana, he didn’t seem to be terrible efficient about his job.  He was muttering in a language she’d never heard, not French or German, Slovak or Polish, and certainly no dialect of Italian she’d ever heard.  And he was looking in crevices in the rock face above the tree that were far too small to hold a woman full grown or even a child.  He either was being ridiculously thorough or he was clearly an imbecile.

Imbecile or not, more than a small part of her desperately wanted to see his face, to see if the glimpse she’d had of him in her vision matched with reality.  There had been a moment where she’d not wanted to run.  She’d wanted to stay and face him.  She’d wanted him to climb down off that magnificent chestnut horse and stride over to her taking her in his arms and enfolding her in the smell of man and horse.  After all the months she’d spent dreaming of him, she’d finally wanted to touch him and to have him worship her as he had in so many of her vivid visions.

The first time she’d dreamed of the dark man on the horse, she’d been in her bed with her husband of six months, Conte Giorgio di Lucana.  He’d finished his pleasures and he’d struck her hard enough during her protestations that she was still dazed from the blow.  He’d risen to put on his dressing gown and return to his rooms.  When he’d left, she’d given in to the loss of consciousness and instead of a vision of misery and strife she’d been gifted with the sweet taste of true passion.  Her lover’s lips had caressed the sides of her naked breasts with the most gentle of touches and her body shivered in pleased reaction.  Instead of the pain and revulsion she’d always experienced from the first loss of her innocence with her husband, she’d been filled with wanton joy.  Her hands had felt the hard muscles of his bare arms and her eyes drank in the beauty of his long dark hair falling over her own pale skin and the naked desire in his silver grey eyes.  Even the calluses of his rough hands felt sensuously delightful was he stroked the skin of her swollen belly heavy with child, then descended lower to pluck at her most secret of places, stroking the flower of her sex and bringing her the taste of exquisite pleasure.  For a brief time, she’d felt what it was to be loved.

When she had awoken in the morning, her lover and her child lost in the mists of dream, she’d cried longer and harder than she had since her mother had died and her stepfather had begun to shop around Ravenna for a patron rich enough to buy his stepdaughter the witch as a wife.  For, what nobleman would not want a wife who could foretell the future?  Was that not a better dowry than money could buy?

Cassandra Giordano had been just shy of seventeen when she’d been sold to the cruel Conte di Luca.  She grew older and wiser very quickly after that.  The Conte was short and lean as a whip, and every bit as capable of drawing blood.  She took a deep shuttering breath and tried to still her racing thoughts. 

The Conte was dead.  She felt the urge to spit as though on his grave.  The carriage he’d hired to take them over the Dolomites to Austria and Napoleon’s gathering army had overturned somewhere in the mountains and he’d ended up trapped under the broken carriage in the fall.  She’d been drugged into a stupor and had only God and the spirit of her dead mother to thank for the impulse to crawl away from the wreck and into the forest before anyone thought to check for survivors.

That had been four days ago.  Four days where the laudanum she’d been on for months had leached from her system.  She had perfected the art of keeping the vile stuff in the well of her cheek and spitting out as much as she could when she was not being watched but there were limits to the practice.  She had more visions when under the influence of extracts of opium and that was exactly why the Conte had kept her insensible since that fortuitous discovery.  She’d been forced to take the stuff when she’d “accidentally” broken her wrist and the physician insisted she needed to sleep.

Ever since, it had been hard to determine what was past, what was present and what was future.  One moment she was home with Mama, working on her embroidery and singing.  The next she was whimpering as di Lucana slapping her hard trying to get her to foretell the fate of his latest shipment of oriental carpets. Then she’d been caught up in horrifying visions of smoke and blood, loud death pounded at her temples as the noise of gunfire and the screams of the wounded, shouts in French and German and Russian and a dozen other languages ringing out in battle cries. Just when she thought she was sure to be shot next, she had been wrapped in the heat of passion with her mysterious dark man. She learned to feel the utmost ecstasy of having the hard length of cock plunge into her, forcing her to heights she hadn’t dreamed she could feel.  Her body was bent in two, her legs resting on either side of a powerful neck, his broad hands under her hips encouraging her to meet each thrust with hard passion.  When she broke, shuddering with release, she’d find herself not on the grass of a woodland glade, the night sky and her love above her, but alone and cold in a frosty bed covered with silk and brocade she had no desire for.

Just the memory of that vision caused her loins to swell with longing, her labia to glisten with the fluid of desire.  She darted her head out of the hollow tree where she’d been hiding to see if her pursuer was any closer.  Could he smell her? Hear the rapid shallow breaths she took that were more from desire now than fear?

He was not looking in her direction, but at the cliff face.  He had on a broad dark hat, very useful to shield one’s eyes from the sun but very unfashionable.  A dusty brown shirt of simple make, and trousers of similar sturdy quality.  She could not see his face, but the long dark hair was unmistakable, flowing halfway down his back from under the hat.  On his belt, there was a long, wicked looking knife.

In short, he looked like everything her Mama had ever warned her about zingari, the traveling gypsies.  She had no doubt he was a gypsy, with that hair, that dark skin, that certain casual relaxation in his seat on the horse that implied that nothing and no one would ever tie him down.  He had not been sent by her husband or the French, at least, she thought it increasingly unlikely.  What he was doing in the forest was another question entirely. 

The horse was magnificent.  A small but beautiful chestnut stallion that snorted tossed its head as though trying to tell his master something.  When the horse seemed to look in her direction, she drew farther back, but the man pointedly did not follow the insistent instructions of his mount.  He was more concerned with the other passenger on the back of his horse.

A goat.

That had to be the final thing that assured Cassandra that this was not a man sent to retrieve her from the wild.  What manner of man carried a live goat tied to his saddle?  One who made no complaints other than a sad sort of bleating.  Was that knife destined for the throat of the beast?  Was she interrupting some pagan ceremony, and if discovered, would she be the sacrifice instead of the poor nanny goat?

Her stomach churned, but her sensible side protested that the foul drugs still in her system where making her imagination run amok.  Besides, the man seemed intent on comforting the goat and kept speaking soothing words in that strange language to both animals.  And there was a tiny part of her that wouldn’t mind too much being sacrificed to this man.  Not by the knife certainly, but perhaps another method of sacrifice would do to appease his gods?  If only she were still a virgin and not tainted by the crass lust of her pathetic husband.  If it was possible to choose a man to initiate her into womanhood, the blend of contained power and gentleness that she could see in this zingari would be exactly what we would have wanted.

He halted the slow walk of the horse suddenly and with lithe grace, swung himself out of the saddle – well she thought it was a saddle, though it looked different than any proper saddle she had seen.  Frankly though, she wasn’t looking very hard at the saddle, or even the strange sight of a goat on horseback.  As the zingari worked efficiently to free the tough little goat from her binding, she was watching the play of muscles underneath the linen of his worn shirt.  When he bent to set to goat carefully on the forest floor, she noted the shaped of his firm buttocks and wondered what they would feel like in her hands as he rose above her and thrust within.

She blushed, unable to account for the wanton nature of her thoughts.  She should not be thinking sinful thoughts of a man she knew nothing about, she should be miserable and frightened, cold and alone.  Though it was summer, it was still the high Alps and she had on nothing but the thinnest of linen shifts.  When the man turned back to his horse for a moment, gently stroking his flanks and whispering to the beast, she saw something that horrified her – an edge of the dark green bombazine of her stained traveling dress.  The last thing she owned and it had been taken from her.  The reality of her situation hit her in the gut.  Cold and hungry, naked and hunted, she had nothing and no one in the entire world.

Misery welled in her chest, threatening to force unwanted tears from her eyes.  She had sworn to be happy, to be glad of escape if nothing else.  Death was better than what that monster had done to her and what he still wanted her to do, become a cog in the great war machine of Napoleon Bonaparte.  Anger replaced hopelessness as she thought of the long and lingering death the Comte should have had, given all of the wretchedness he had unleashed upon the world, in her and others.  Thank God she was apparently barren, and had not conceived a child from any of his abuses.

Then a disorienting flash, she was thrown forward again, to a possible future where she wore bright colors and had bare feet and carried a dark hair infant in a sling.  The child smiled up at her with solemn gray eyes as she sang him Mozart and Vivaldi she loved.  The wagon in which she road wobbled back and forth on the little used path upon which her family traveled.  A rider on horseback passed the wagon, he face unmistakable.  It had been imprinted on her soul for months.  Gray eyes delved into her soul and caressed her, warming her with happiness and love she’d never known possible.

She didn’t want to leave, but her visions were not something she’d have been able to control.  Suddenly she was high up on a rock face, trapped along with a tiny bleating kid.  A rockfall had left the ledge upon which they balanced isolated and inaccessible and it seemed doubtful that there was any rescue from their perch.  She grit her teeth in frustration, searching for a way to clamor down to the forest floor below, but there was nothing that would not end badly.

The sad sounds the tiny goat was making pulled at her heart and she bent down to try and comfort the poor thing when without warning the kid threw itself off the high cliff into the empty air. 

“No!” she screamed, unable to face such an act of desperation when her own fate was so uncertain.  Unfortunately, her scream had not been confined to her vision.  She stumbled out of her hiding place and on to the grass, her voice still ringing through the peace of the forest, being echoed by the cries of startled birds taking wing.

She was exposed, her fate once again not her own to control. 

And now, Chapter 2 of Enchant the Dawn, for Monica!

Chapter Two


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The cold air filled his lungs with an odd sense of home.  What does that mean?  Do I even have a home?

His home had been the road, the forests and the foothills of the Alps.  His home had been constant motion and open air.  Stars and rain and snow.  The slow gait of a horse pulling a wagon.  Alienation, even among those he’d known all his life.

Daron West was a Magi.  For him, home was a person, not a place. 

Home was certainly not the forgotten, unkept forests of Central Park, New York City.

He’d been here a long time though.  Three years on the island of Manhattan had been the longest he’d ever stayed in such a small place.  But each city block, each neighborhood, each face were all a different country.  His undeniable instinct to wander, refined over thousands of years by his ancestors, had not yet pushed him to leave the island.  Even if he was, in a way, setting down roots.  Roots that did not involve his ashavi.

The New Year’s dawn would be coming soon and he pulled out his hair from the queue he usually kept sequestered under the collar of his shirt.  It fell almost to his waist now, even after having cut it so short when his mother had….when he’d left the Sinti.  Usually, it was easier to just hide the length of it, rather than deflect all the strange looks and “Howdy, Injun!” comments. 

But the people surrounding him on this sacred day didn’t blink an eye at his eccentricity.  The small tribe he’d never intended to gather could not care less whether he had long hair or wore an odd selection of clothes or had an indefinable accent when he spoke English.  They themselves were each eccentric in their own way. 

They surrounded him in a circle, with him at the easternmost point.  Grounding the west, Mary was older than the eldest widow of the Eftavagarja Sinti.  She’d come up to New York from South Carolina many years previously.  She’d known hardship, and what it had been to be treated as property. Her skin was wrinkled and the color of dark ash, her hair wild and white as snow.  But her eyes still carried spark in them, and she gave freely of that spark to any and all that would listen. 

At the south, Giuseppe was not quite as old as Mary and his wrinkles were merely an emphasis to his ever-present smile.  He embraced the world with a full-heart, and he still embraced the old ways of his people from the Apennines. 

Standing between the two eldest, June and her daughter Hester were both very quiet in the coming light of dawn, their pale blond hair glowing the same shade of gold.  Hester was likely half asleep, leaning against her mother and not quite understanding why they were out in the cold so early in the morning.  Hester’s coughing wasn’t so bad out here in the fresh morning, which would make her mother more like to take her ease and enjoy the coming of spring.  Years ago, June had fled from something evil and found refuge in the anonymity of the city, so that Hester would not be tainted by it.  She still would not talk of what she ran from.  None of their small band would make her do something she was not ready for.

Tommy guarded the north. Not yet twenty, he was a brash as they come.  He’d come over with Daron on a ship from Ireland, most likely to escape the Troubles.  Tommy was from the outer islands off Galway, but he’d gallivanted all over Ireland stirring up his own kind of trouble, mostly with willing lasses.  Still, he’d not forgotten the lessons his mother had taught him though.  Once he recognized something odd about his newfound Traveler friend, he’d started this little extended family of theirs. 

Between Tommy and Mary, Irene held her infant son Michael still asleep in his sling.  She was dressed far better than another of the others, kept warm by a stylishly long down-filled coat and a luxuriously-thick cashmere blanket wrapped around her and her son.  An air of aloofness still surrounded her, no matter that she was with friends. There was pain in her eyes, pain should allow no one else to see.  Little Michael was one balm to that pain and the sharing of this sunrise would be another.

Carlos and Ixchel stood just behind Daron, flanking his left and right, together in strength even if they were physically parted.  They had fled the madness of their homeland instead of being caught in the throws of bloody revolution.  Here, they found a little bit of home thousands of miles to the north as they stood with others assembled to greet the dawn of Spring. 

Daron didn’t know how he’d managed to find a new family so far from the one he’d left behind.  His father would have not been pleased that he’d become part of a group that was not Magi, not Roma, and not that of his ashavi.  His mother however, would have understood.  These people needed him.  He needed them. 

He held before him a bowl of water, icy cold but not quite frozen. He would greet the New Year, as it had been celebrated by his people for thousands of years. He held the bowl toward the light of the coming sun, and prepared for the ritual to watch the Dawn of Spring dance in liquid gold.  A deep sonorous tone that spread as a sensation rather than a sound flowed through the group at the sun broke through the edge of the sky.  Daron stared intently that the face of the water, as the first shimmering appeared.  Then, the sound of a twig breaking the silence brought his head up.  And there she was. 

He’d truly never believed his father.  They were the only Magi he’d ever encountered, even though he’d met dozens of groups of Romani and Sinti through their time in the mountains.  He’d never believed that you could feel a piece of yourself falling away to be caught by another.  That you would know yourself better in that instant than ever before.  And you would know your partner, your mate, your ashavi even more deeply than your knew yourself.

The embodied Dawn was before him.  She shone, rose and deep gold.  Encased in amber light, she was only a shadow against the sun.  He could not make her out clearly, other than her hair was short, wisps teasing her jaw.  He didn’t need to see her figure to know how his body would react to her.

Once his eyes met hers, every part of him reached out to meet her.  Despite the cold, he felt the rush of blood as his body made its demands known.  The hushed silence was broken with the thrumming of vibrant power.  The force that he had felt coiled with him for his entire life began to break free. That energy had found its complement, and it reached out with living tendrils to reach for its other half. 

Her eyes held the warm of the earth and the heat of a banked fire.  They were innocent and wise, shocked and knowing, aching and fulfilled all at the same time.  Most of all, they held a question for which he knew he himself was the answer.  He felt a wave of her own power extend from her like a river that had broken through a dam.  The force of it knocked him back a step, and though he was unaware of it, it did the same to the motley band assembled around him.  After only a moment, all of that energy seemed to flow backward into her, pulling part of his soul with it.  He kept staring into those deep brown eyes, unable and unwilling to look away.  She glowed for a moment, a look of fear and ecstasy upon her beautiful face.  Then she collapsed bonelessly upon the patchy snow.


He expelled a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding and shook himself.  He was inalterably different now.  Connected on the deepest level to this gadgi woman.  This perfectly normal American girl.

She had been a goddess moments before.  A part of him would always see her as such.  In the growing light of day she was a modern woman, like a thousand other you could pass on the streets of New York.  Light brown hair, brown fur coat, lovely bare legs beneath that coat.  She looked exhausted and fragile now, when a moment before she’d held the lifeblood of the universe in her thrall.  He was at her side, his arms around her before he was even aware that he had moved.  His ears once again regained their use, and he suddenly released that he and his woman were surrounded by all the others, the women clucking concern and the men shifting nervously from foot to foot, not sure how to be useful.

He had no idea what had happened, other than the forging of their connection.  It scared him more than he could say.  He’d fled so far away from what he knew because he thought he could escape his fate.  Instead he’d run right into it.  He knew if he left, he’d never again feel whole.  He knew now that up until today he’d never felt whole in his life.  But a part of him wanted to run again, to make sure than he, and especially she, would be spared the deeper pain of separation should they build a life together.

            But Mary and Giuseppe and Irene and even Tommy would not let him just escape so easily.  June was already patting the girl down, coming up with a clutch purse in a deep pocket of the coat.  Mary bent down with difficulty and was feeling for a pulse. 

“Girl’s fine.  Just fainted is all.”  Mary declared in her smoky voice.  Daron merely nodded in response.  She didn’t need have bothered to check.  Doran knew, without a doubt, that his ashavi was healthy.  Whether she was “fine” was a completely different matter.  Americans always simplified things to a ridiculous extent.  He was not sure either of them would ever be “fine” again.



Chapter Nine for Shannon, and One for Monica

Ok, finished Chapter Nine and have it under link. Now, I have to say this reaches my limit for UST. After this, the mits come off…I can’t have them “interrupted” any more without it sounding ridiculous!

Chapter Nine

Another Review

A new review has come out for Scandalous Profession from Coffee Time Romance!

I got 4 Cups, and I’m tickled pink!

I’m still hard at work on my current book, Enchant the Dawn. If anyone is interested in sneak peaks of that book, contact me by comment or email!

Happy Birthday Shannon, Enchant the Dawn Chapter 8

Happy birthday to a very good friend, the inspiration for this particular book.  For her birthday, I give you smut!  Not quite sex in it, at least according to a former president.

If you are still reading these chapters, but not commenting, that’s fine.  Just please send me some message soon, as I will be purging my “sneakpeaks’ list soon.

Chapter Eight

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It had been a good long while since she had stood in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art at ten o’clock on a Monday night.  Last time had been a couple of months after she’d arrived in New York, with not much money and not much hope.  She’d been kicked out of the Museum after closing time and had sat in front of the place wondering how she was going to make ends meet, or if she should just throw herself in the East River and be done with it.

The Met had been her introduction to the city.  It had whispered of all the wonders of the world, its cool marble halls and beautiful objects from across thousands of miles and thousands of years were more than impressive to a simple country girl.  People were calm in the museum and she’d learned to accustom herself dealing with hundreds of people at a time by practicing in the echoing grandeur. Practicing shutting down her senses until she could perceive only the faintest echoes of energy.  It wasn’t hard, given her state of mind.  The paintings and sculptures seemed friendlier than any human in the city, and she was so low that the sheer beauty of the place was the only thing keeping her afloat.

Once she’d found a job, found the magic of jazz and learned to embrace the frenetic energy of the city, she hadn’t come back as often as she should have.  Now, they’d changed it some, the front the building remodeled into fancy columns and arching windows.  It was beautiful, lit up at night with electric lights, the fountains running even in the cold of early April. 

It’s still too damn cold for this skirt. She’d worn the little green dress because it was the same color as his eyes.  When she saw it in the back of her little wardrobe this evening it demanded to be worn, despite the chill in the air and the fact that it didn’t quite reach her knees. She pulled her coat tighter around her and looked around to see if there were any suspicious characters hanging about.  Or any coppers.  Wouldn’t want to be picked up for streetwalking at this hour, although this seemed to be a bizarre place to be plying the trade.  Damn him.  What kind of idiot does he take me for?

Tapping her toe, causing her shoes to make a clipping noise on the marble stairs, she waited in silence for Daron West to show his face, and watches the traffic flow by on 5th Avenue.  Blowing out a puff of air, she wondered if she should give up the ghost and head back toward home.

There was a clatter in the distance and the clip clop of horse hooves on the pavement.  Sophia barely noticed the sound, just knowing that it’s late for any teamsters to be making cart delivers at this hour in Uptown.  She looked at the pathways to the left and right, emptying on to the front portico of the museum.  But no sign of another living soul, except the museum guard who’s been giving her a nasty look from time to time from inside the front door. 

The horse she’d heard earlier passed the spring-dressed trees on the left, trotting into view with the slightest jangle of bells.  The horse was old but not bent and still a lovely white.  It’s not a cart horse at all, but one of the hansom cabs that trundle around and thru the park, carrying tourists and lovers through the Big Apple’s little bit of overgrown paradise.  She watched the older man driving come into view, his eyes finding hers in the dark, a smile on his comfortable face.  And the cab was not filled with a group of tourists, or a pair of lovers or drunken college kids.  There was a single passenger, Mr. Daron West.

The carriage stopped and Daron leapt out with a grace that seemed second nature.  Her heart jumped a bit at the sight and she remembered the last time she’d seen him, handing her into Ol’ Nellie like a real gentleman. Well, a gentleman except for the long dark hair streaming over his shoulders, reflecting glints of red from the rare patch of sunlight.  Hair she’d run her fingers through when he’d kissed her, kissed her so hard and so well as to chase the memory of other men clear out of her head.  She’d had no true dreams since then, only the vague disturbances that her powers gave her when there were so many people close by. 

Alan had dropped her off at her apartment and she’d fallen into a deep sleep, not quite believing that she’d actually managed to help someone with her gift, after so many years of wishing it could be so.  The next Saturday, she’d hiked up to June’s building to check on little Hester, half hoping she’d catch sight of Daron and half hoping she’d do something ditzy like go looking for him on purpose, just to finish what they’d been getting up to in the hallway.  She’d not seen him, only a happy, healthy Hester and June with a touch of happiness about her.  But she’d seen enough to know that what she’d done – what they’d done, had been no permanent solution.  The girl would have another attack, if she stayed here.  June had looked just a bit scared and bit resigned and a bit determined when she’d heard that.  Sophia reminded herself to give Alan another kick in the ass to get up and bring June some flowers or something, before he lost his chance entirely.

Daron wasn’t carrying any flowers.  Didn’t need to really, not when he arrived with a white horse decorated with silver bells.  She wasn’t looking at the carriage much though, there were more captivating things to drink in.  He still wore the same rough trousers, a simple white shirt, leather gloves and a long tan canvas coat that looked like it belonged on a cowboy.  She thought she saw the edges of an embroidered vest under the coat but frankly she was more interested in the play of muscles under the shirt than the mystery of interesting accessories.  She forgot walking toward him, only knowing that she had wanted to be closer and then she was.

His smile was honest, a rare thing, in the City or anywhere else.  Eyes still that blistering green that made her forget about the cold and just want to shed every bit of clothing separating her and him.  It was a pity he’d tamed that hair again, pulled it into submission at the base of his neck.  She wanted to grip it in her fists while his hips met hers while she felt his teeth nip at her neck and his hands coast up and down her sides. He’s close enough for her to feel his breath brush against the shell of her ear as he takes her hand in his and helps her into the carriage, his other gloved hand caressing the side of her waist, an echo of her vivid imagination. 

She wasn’t cold anymore.

* * * * *


      They’d talked more than a little.  About the City, and what they’d seen here and hadn’t seen here.  About Ohio, where she was from, and about the bit of not-quite-civilized Europe that he’s from.  She figured out right quick that he’s a gypsy of some kind, probably the kind her Momma warned her about.  Never did like to listen to Momma. Even talked about the war, something she’d never talked to anyone about.  She’d seen pain in those green eyes, old pain to rival her own.

Safer subjects were discussed, the talk spaced with comfortable silences. They sat close together, he tucked an arm around her and she shivered like some young thing fresh out if the gate and trying to run the tricky course of courtship.  She let her hands wander up from his knee over a hard thigh, until he looked distinctly uncomfortable and shifted a bit in his seat.  She chuckled and he looked her in that particular way again, like he couldn’t wait to consume her.

They talked about Carlos, the driver, who was very good at being inconspicuous and yet Sophia was sure as hell that he’d take every little detail home to Ixchel once they’d completed their tour of Central Park.  They talked about Alan and the Lowbridges, Irene and Michael, June and Hester, Mary and Tommy.  He brought out a box, and there were some little cakes that Mr. Giuseppe had baked for her for helping Hester, something with a heavenly bit of cream and the taste of illegal liquor and coffee all rolled into one.  She didn’t care if the things went straight to her hips, not when they tasted so damn good.  Especially when she leaned in and playfully licked some of that cream off his chin.  The man tasted too good to be legal. 

Sophia turned to face the scenery for a moment, not to certain about her ability not to jump the man right here in the damn carriage.  There weren’t enough alcohol in those little cakes to be excusing such behavior.  The carriage was almost all alone in the park, the occasional car trundling past on the pitted West Drive.  They’d passed the new playground in the south of the park and circled back around until they’d just passed The Lake and crossed 79th.  She didn’t even remember much of the trip, only the sweet sighs of the wind through the trees, the clomping of the horse’s hooves and the company.

She’d never done this.  When she was here and a wide eyed tourist, she didn’t have enough money.  When she was a hard-bitten resident, there was the call of the clubs, jazz and booze and men.  There wasn’t time to go exploring the little bit of nature trapped in the heart of the biggest city in the world. It was a pity she hadn’t tried.  As the trees swept by she glimpsed the great reservoir out in the dark, the moon shining like a pearl on its surface. 

The road got just a bit darker from now on – the trees were a bit denser, the lights a little dimmer on this side of town and the glow of downtown was at their backs. The silence eased from comfortable to a delicious tension. She let go of the lock she had on herself, the walls she’d rebuilt after what had happened in that apartment to heal little Hester.  She felt the edges of the world turn darker and the man with her turn brighter.  He was holding himself back.  She could see the struggle beneath his skin, the ebb and flow of power reaching out toward her, almost caressing her before retreating in restraint.

She leaned her head on his shoulder, feeling the thrum of his unique rhythm underneath her cheek.  He pulled her closer and his energy, his power, warmed her more than the most expensive fur coat money could buy.  She turned her face into his neck, inhaled his scent, rubbing her nose against the skin of his neck, brushing that skin ever so softly with her lips.  The arm wrapped around her shoulders pulled her tighter against him and his other arm skimmed under her coat, against the thin fabric of her dress, giving her goosebumps that were definitely not from the cold.  His face turned, his cheek brushing hers, the slight stubble chafing her skin and setting her nerves aflame.  Finally, just before she reached up to drag his face to her, he leans in, kissing her with sweet care. 

The kiss was more than just passion.  She’d known hot flaring passion, often laced with alcohol and the raw need to prove she wasn’t completely alone.  With Daron, their other kisses had been scorching, searing away the thought that any other man could scratch the itch she’d felt since the moment she’d seen him on the Great Hill.  The same Great Hill they were trotting past, lost in each other.  This kiss spoke not of bodies writhing toward a temporary completion, but something so rare she’d not thought to find it twice in a lifetime. 

It scared her.  More than the awesome power she’d felt flow through her when his hand held hers and they’d wrought what many would consider some kind of miracle, or else witchcraft – these tender kisses cracked open the thickest walls she’d built around her soul.  She wasn’t ready for it.

She bottled up her power, pushed it away until she couldn’t see anything but black behind her closed eyes.  She felt the warmth of his lips as he pressed kisses across her cheeks, over her eyelids and she struggled not to cry.  Her arms slid around him, pulling him closer, trying to awaken the frantic want that she’d felt within him.  But he wouldn’t obey her whims.

His hands didn’t wander to squeeze her breast or cup her mound through the thin fabric of her dress.  Those leather-covered hands drew small circles over the skin of her neck, the fabric over her waist, making the need simmer within her and grow in intensity.  She ground herself against him, throwing one leg over his hard thigh, not caring how shameless she must have looked.  She needed to drown in their need, not float in sentiment.  Love was not something she ever wanted to have to face again.

He knew something was wrong.  His kisses moved to her temple, his arms embraced her, holding her with comfort she didn’t want.  Holding all of her frustration inside of her, a wall against feeling she had no desire to face, she buried her face against him, praying he would ask no question.

He didn’t.  But he did strip off one glove and take her hand in his. She felt a slow warmth creep into her, as the angry tension seeped away.  She knew it was him, taking her anger and draining it away. By the time she wonder if she wanted him to do that, to take away the last of her defenses, she was crying.  Still wrapped around him, she cried tears she had suppressed far too long into the canvas of his coat, taking comfort from his warmth and still not sure whether she was resentful or grateful for his unsettling presence in her life.

Her tears dried and the silence stretched.  She shifted in his embrace, unwilling to completely give up contact but unsure what exactly she did want from him. 

“Do you,” he cleared his throat, his voice a bit rough, “do you like this ‘jazz’ music then?”

She pulled away a bit, looking at him and blinking, an eyebrow arched in spoken question.  The last thing she expected from him was inane small talk.  But she humored him.  It was comfortable.  She wasn’t ready to admit just how comfortable she felt with him, no matter what the topic.

Eventually, the moon was high in the sky, the hour past late and the carriage arrived back in front of the Met.  Daron put his gloves back on. Carlos tipped his cap to the couple and whistled his horse off to find his stable.  Sophia didn’t want to think what he was going to report back to Ixchel about what had happened behind him.  She didn’t want to think about what had happened and how she had acted – she wanted to go home and bury herself under her covers.

Still, standing in front of the museum with Daron, she couldn’t quite bring herself to go home yet.  He certainly wasn’t running off on her.  They’d reestablished the rapport they’d had in the beginning of their ride, talking about everything and nothing.  She didn’t really want that to end, but she wasn’t quite ready to invite the man back to her apartment either.  Her emotions were still too raw, and she wasn’t quite sure where hers ended and his began.

Standing in pregnant silence, her hand in his, she spoke before she knew exact what she was going to say, “Well, you asked to walk with me.  Where shall we walk?”

He cocked his head to the side and laughed deeply and she felt that familiar flash of desire light again in her center.  It had never really disappeared.  Regaining her sense of adventure, she slipped her feet out of her beautiful but uncomfortable shoes, shoved them into her trusty coat and broke into a run tugging her companion along behind her.

They broke out of the trees near the Reservoir, that vast lake in the middle of the city.  The moon peaked out between scattered clouds, glinting on the calm waters.  Sophia figured that if they were going to do something as dangerously reckless as walking in Central Park at midnight, at least on the path around the Reservoir it would be easy to see, or sense, any trouble coming.  She ignored the chill coming up through the pavement into her stockings and concentrated instead on the entertained bemusement of the face of her would-be lover.

Setting out along the pathway around the Reservoir, the two walked for a while in silence.  Only iron railing separated the pathway from the water. The lapping of tiny waves made a soothing sound, disturbed only when they were coming up on a bit of construction, where the old railing was being replaced with new and a gap was opened.  Ignoring the warning signs, Sophia stepped up to the edge of the lake, losing herself for just a minute that she was back in Ohio or Michigan with her family looking out at a bright summer moon and all she had to worry about was the preparations for the next cookout and how long she could stay out and avoid Momma’s scolding.  The lightest of touches against her warm and a breath of cold air and she was again in New York, older and wiser, both happy and sad for the brief journey.

Sighing with force, Sophia determined to forget all the weighty issues that bent her equilibrium and just enjoy the simple beauty of the moment.  A lovely moon, freezing feet and a handsome man who whispered sweet endearments.

“Hey you never did say what ashavi meant?  You calling me some dirty name in gypsy speak?” She said it lightheartedly, as a joke, but the look that crossed his face was anything but carefree.

“It is not ‘gypsy-speak’.  It…I do not know how to tell you all of this.  All the women I ever thought I might be paired with, they all understood.  But you…you know so little.”

She furrowed her brow, a flash of annoyance entering her voice, “I know plenty of what matters here, buster.  But if you think I’m too dim to…”

“No!  No, that is not what I meant.  I…English is not the best language for this, love.  I am not a gypsy, although I was raised among them.  I am something different.  I am a Magi.”

She crossed her arms in front of her, her stance made it clear she thought she was being taken for a ride.  “Uh-huh.  Are we going to go looking for the little baby Jesus now then?  I may not be as good a churchgoer as Momma but I did read my Bible a time or two when I was a kid.”

“No, no, not that kind.  That was a name used by…oh, just trust me that the Magi were a tribe of people to the north of the Holy Land, in Persia.  Part of that group had some talents and beliefs that others did not approve of and they were in danger of being killed off, every man woman and child.”

Sophia blinked but did not interrupt. Daron continued, his voice heavy, his speech punctured with pauses as he tried to reach for a word in a language that was far from his native one.  “The Magi left their home and all they knew, to preserve their power and to search out those in the world with similar talents.  It falls to each son to go out into the world and find a…partner, a companion, who he is destined for.  One woman who makes him whole.  That woman is his ashavi.”

His ending was abrupt and the silence was heavy.  “So…you think I’m your “companion”, huh?  What is this, some kind of backass marriage proposal or do you just think that your little speech will make it easier to get into my bloomers?” She worked herself into a sudden bursting rage.  All the anger that he’d drained from her in the carriage came flooding back with a vengeance, and there were no walls left to block it.  She seethed with it, power and frustration and confusion all hurdling together until she could barely see for the force of her wrath. 

How dare he!  How dare he come into my life, “and expect me to turn everything upside down.  I was just fine without this damn talent I’ve been cursed with.  Just fucking fine!”

She didn’t know when she’d crossed over from internal muttering to banshee screaming.  But her hands were on his chest and before she could wipe that gob smacked look off his face she was pushing him away from her, right into the damn Reservoir.

He disappeared beneath the surface with a great splash and then the silence hit her like a cold fist.  What the hell did I just do!  For one brief moment, confusion fled and she was absolutely certain she had just destroyed her best hope for happiness.

In the next, she got really worried.  He wasn’t coming back up.  He could swim, couldn’t he?  Who couldn’t swim?

Another nervous moment and she was shucking out of her coat, standing nervous and cold on the edge of the water before diving in.  The shock stole her breath.  She opened her eyes and the thick darkness of the water called to her for half a moment with its eerie peace.  There was not change here, no emotion and no pain.  Just cold and darkness.  She shook herself and broke for the surface, searching for light and breath.  She wondered for an instant if she’d waited too long and the cold was too great before the bright sparks of coppery energy that made up Daron West swept toward her, carrying her up and out of the water

He rolled them up on to the walkway, no mean feat as there had been no bank to climb, just the high hard edge from the ground into deep water.  She lay wrapped in her arms shivering with cold and the fear of what she could have lost. 

“You are mine, ashavi.  You can not deny it forever.” His words echoed to her through her disorientation.  She felt his anger, his pain at her rejection.  His desire for her. She felt other things she didn’t want to give name to, things she still wasn’t completely ready to deal with.  He was pushing too damn hard.

She clambered up from the ground, shivering with icy cold.  She wrapped herself in her coat and without a word, walked off into the night, away from the man she’d just risked death for.

* * * * *

The walk back was wet and cold and miserable.  However, though she cloaked herself in a mantle of indignation and discomfort she had to admit that the icy dampness of her clothes were not the only reason her nipples poked out tight enough to ache.  And she wasn’t really as cold as she should be.  Knowing that Daron was somewhere behind her, feeling his eyes on her and the energy flooding threw his body – it warmed her blood better than a bonfire. 

Damned stupid male.  Just had to follow me and make sure I got home safe.  Regardless that she had to walk only six blocks and he had to cover a third of Manhattan to get somewhere warm at this hour.  Even the subway was closed this hour.  It was likely she wouldn’t have to try and figure out her feelings about the old-fashioned gypsy freak, because he’d be frozen by morning.  Or at least well on the way to pneumonia.  She stopped at the intersection of 2nd and 86th and turned around, hands on her hips and sodden dress dripping onto the pavement.  The flickering gas street lamps threw just enough light on the empty streets that she could see him less than a block away hiding in the edge of a shadow.

She held up a finger and crooked it in his general direction, tapping her foot with sufficient irritation to know she meant business.  Soon enough, he shuffled out toward her, his shoes squishing audibly as he approached her.  She laughed lightly for it was hard to keep up a front of anger when he looked every bit the drowned rat she did.  His hair was a mess, dripping wet and tangled with leaves. It looked like those gloves he always wore were just this side of becoming icicles.

“This is ridiculous.  You’ll catch your death out here and I refuse to play Florence Nightingale.”  She grabbed his hand in her own and she swore he shuddered at the contact.  She herself couldn’t feel a thing but cold wet leather, but there was a certain jolt from feeling him so close as she practically dragged him behind her.  She didn’t want to admit, even to herself, that the closer he was, the less her head throbbed, the less the voices of the city pressed in on her mind, because she was focused utterly on him. When they got to her building, she practically had to push him down an alleyway to the back entrance she’d use whenever her night excursions went particularly late.  She was quite stunned to realize that this was the first time she’d ever snuck a man back to her place.  She’d never wanted the hassle of having to get the guy out of her bed, when it was so easy to just leave theirs.  Not that she had any intension of ending up in bed with the ass.  Yeah, you tell yourself that honey, if it makes you feel better.

“What…where….?” She could hear the shiver in his voice from the cold and something else she could sympathize with.  Still, she wasn’t sure if he was just too damn eager to get out of the cold or trying to fight the desire to fuck against the brick wall of the alley.

“You know damn well where we are.  This is my place.  I’ve got a radiator and hopefully at this hour, there’s some hot water for a shower.”  She pulled out the key she’d sweet talked out of the manager and opened the delivery entrance.  She looked both ways down the corridor and yanked him behind her toward the stairs to the basement.  It was past midnight and the coast was clear.  He followed her into her room and stood awkwardly, staring at her as she shrugged off the sorry remains of her fur coat and the shoes she’d re-donned to try and warm her icy feet.  If she’d been more patient she’d probably have spent some time studying the pained look in those glazed green eyes.  She supposed that it wasn’t every day a girl turned down his line about destiny and being mated for life and all that.  She’d written it off as some cheesy line, but her stomach suddenly swooped at the idea that he might have been dead serious.

How else to explain how her powers had invaded her mind again?  How she knew the feel of his essence whenever he was within a mile of her?  That she responded so instantly to him, despite being called an ice queen by more than one so-called lover.  She shook off the ridiculous idea.  She wanted him and he wanted her and a cold dip in the Central Park Reservoir seemed to ensure that he would indeed get lucky tonight.  She could always justify it to herself in the morning as a mercy fuck.

She turned around and bent at the waist, making damn sure he was given a fine view of her derriere through her clinging skirt.  She propped up her leg on a chair and began the arduous process of slowly – very slowly, rolling her wet stockings down her thighs and calves without making them run.  She thought she’d given a fine performance but turned her head only to find that he’d unexpected done the gentlemanly thing and turned around, missing the whole damn show.

He also was still dripping wet and leaving a puddle on the floor.  She rolled her eyes and sighed loudly. Then she started pulling her dress off over her head.

“Look buddy, I’m wet, I’m cold.  I’m going to take off all my clothes and take a nice warm shower.  I suggest if you are so concerned about my modesty that you stay facing that damned door for a while.  But in the meantime, you’d better get out of those wet clothes and put them in front of the radiator.  There’s a robe there in front of you on the door.”  She walked over to turn on the shower.  He was still facing the door as she stripped out of her wet bloomers and camisole.  It was oddly arousing that he wasn’t taking advantage of the situation.  And that she was naked and he was fully, if wetly, clothed.  “I promise I won’t look while I’m in the shower.  You can strip to your birthday suit and put on that robe while I’m behind the curtain.  I’m just dying to see how you look in red silk.”  It was a short robe too.  Yum.

The shower was really just a curtain around a bit of tiled wall and a drain built into the corner.  They hadn’t done much to make the apartment seem welcoming depending upon the neighborhood to sell the place.  She used to long for a bathtub but at least the shower usually had decent water pressure and down here in the basement she usually had hot water.  Although at this hour it was hit or miss.  Steam came out soon enough though and she sighed blissfully as warmth hit her chilled skin.

That sound of contentment seemed to shake him out of his stupor and she could hear him making loud slurping noises as he took off his shoes and peeled off those gloves.  She let the water cascade over her, running her hands through her hair and combing out the tangles.  She restrained herself from the urge to peak around the curtain and tried to be satisfied with simply imagining the glory that must be that man’s naked ass.  It was damned difficult to continue the process of washing when her mind kept wandering the eight feet from where she stood to where there was a very naked, very virile man standing next to her radiator. 

“Getting warmer?” she called over the sound of running water.

There was some rumble she thought must be assent. 

“Come closer honey.  I won’t peek, though I’m sure you look just ducky in silk!”  Frankly she rather hoped he was in nothing at all…but he was probably cold enough to have taken the robe or the quilt on her bed and bundled himself in it.  She supposed she should be angered at the thought of Grams’ quilt given such treatment but really, Grams’ would have probably been thrilled at the thought of such a specimen of manhood wrapped up in her handiwork.  She was a wicked old broad.  Sophia still missed her like crazy.

A rough voice cut threw her random musings, “Is that close enough?”

God, she never thought she’d get so eager for nookie just from the sound of a man’s voice.  His accent simply drove her mad.  She wanted that tongue in her mouth, in her cleft, or yelling curses in foreign languages as she sucked on his prick.

“So,” she flinched at the obvious quaver in her voice, “does that line about being companions and destiny and all that jazz usually get you into a girl’s bloomers?”

The curtain got pulled back slightly and the look in his eyes was sharp enough to sting.  She got a tantalizing view of bare chest before the slash of blue curtain covered the rest.  His eyes ran down her soapy body and without saying a word, he just pulled the curtain back into place. Well, almost back into place.

She knew she had him now.  She caressed the bar of soap with a washcloth, letting the scent of vanilla fill the air.  Then she ran that washcloth over her shoulders, her heavy breasts, past her rounded tummy.  Turning slightly, she bent just the right way to show off the curve of her ass and the shape of her legs.   It was the legs that seemed to do the trick, bringing him close enough that he wasn’t trying to hide his peeping anymore but just openly stared at her.  His hair was still a mess and his skin couldn’t make up its mind to be pink from excitement or blue from the lingering cold.  She ran the washcloth up her legs as slowly as she could, from her toes with their red lacquered nails to her ankles, over the nice calves she’d earned from dancing the night away.  By the time she reached the back of her knees, she could feel the raw energy pouring out of him toward her.  He edged closer and closer, his shoulder just nudging the curtain back to get him a better view. He wanted her and all she had to do was reel him in.

She dropped the washcloth and ran one hand up her thigh, straightening her back and placing the other hand demurely across her chest barely covering both nipples.  Looking straight at him she watched him watch her as she stroked a finger through wet curls and between her swollen lips, barely brushing her clit.  She was so aroused even that slightest touch made her shiver.  His eyes snapped up to hers and she bit her lip while giving him a grin.  Green fire couldn’t have burned any hotter than those eyes. 

He slammed into her, pushing her against the slippery tile wall as he kissed her hard.  The cold of his skin was a shock to her system but soon between steaming hot water and searing kisses they had both forgotten the meaning of cold.  The water surrounded them, bonded them.  She felt the same kind of shock she’d felt hitting the surface of the Reservoir, but this time instead of hurt and anger, desire was being poured into her, magnified until she was almost insane with the need to find fulfillment.  Her breasts were pressed against his hard chest as he moved from plundering her mouth to sinking his teeth into her neck.  She was sure he left a mark and that he had every intension of doing just that.  He was marking her, claiming her.  And she wasn’t entirely sure she didn’t want to be claimed.

She retaliated by driving her fingers into the knotted mass of his hair, tearing through it and shedding the wet leaves.  His head was wrenched back just enough to allow her to suck his earlobe into her mouth, causing his hips to thrust against hers and the hard length of him to ram into her stomach.  She parted her legs naturally, wrapping her ankle around his knee and arching her hips in a tight circle sure to give the message that any intrusion was more than welcome.  Instead, his hips drew back as his lips burned a trail from her collarbone to her breastbone and then across to the tip of her left breast.  Her fingers were still clenched in his scalp as he took her nipple between tongue and teeth sending a tail of sparks straight to her womb.  Wet locks of his hair spiraled across her breast like licks of black flame and she burned.

One of his hands plucked her nipple hard and the other gripped her hip tough enough to bruise.  She whimpered and arched her back, slamming her head against the wall and practically losing her footing on the slippery floor.  But she knew deep down that there was no way in hell he was going to let her fall. Releasing her nipple with a sharp tug of his teeth and a feral grin he knelt before her, water pummeling him as he pulled her knee over his shoulder and traced a slow soft line from the top of her cleft to hover just over her entrance.   She wanted his hands and his mouth on her and she grumbled her impatience while battling a sudden case of nerves.

It was true she’d had her share of sex, the drunken, bawdy kind that wrapped up a night of dancing and general gin joint debauchery, but she’d not had much experience with a man’s mouth on her.  Jimmy had been too eager and too nervous about doing the basic deed to even think of such a kinky thing.  The couple of fellas who’d licked at her thought they were so accomplished they never really thought to check if what they were doing resulted in anything but a bringing on a yawn.  Daron West was not the kind of man to not pay attention to her reactions.

He looked up at her and eyebrow raised in unspoken question.  Water ran down his nose and face to caress her folds.  His lips where close enough to be tickled by her curls and she felt more than heard his words, “May I?”

Hell, he was asking permission.  He had slammed her into the wall hard enough to make her shoulder blades ache when he wanted to kiss her, but he’d ask politely to suck on her clit.  She had no idea why this turned her on even more.  “Get on with it!” Her voice was so eager she almost squeaked.

She felt him smile.  His tongue came out to barely touch her aching nub and then skittered off to explore her wet folds.  She arched her hips to get him back where she wanted him but instead he suddenly pressed inside one slick finger.  She closed her eyes and pushed her fingers into his hair again as she curled against him, bending her knee and resting her weight on his shoulder as she gave herself over to him.

Trust made all the difference. For whatever cosmic reasoning she didn’t yet understand, Sophia Hunter trusted Daron West.  She let go of the shield she’d held against the outside world for so many years and in this moment, she wasn’t disappointed.  A second finger followed the first, long skilled fingers that caressed her insides with deft knowledge.  His tongue drew closer and closer circles toward her clit as those fingers thrust harder and harder within her.  She was tight – she hadn’t been with a man in a couple of years to tell the truth – and the slight pain of being opened again was utterly pleasurable.

Then he bumped her clit hard with his nose and pressed his tongue deep within, lapping up her flavor before it was diluted from the water swirling around them.  Her breath came hard and fast and his grip on her hip was like steel, otherwise it was certain she’d have slipped and split her head wide open.  She was too caught up in the actions of his tongue and fingers to bother with anything as insignificant as self-preservation.

She could swear she could feel him smiling, see behind her eyelids the raw sexual energy of him burn with living reds and oranges as he feasted on her.  Opening her eyes, she looked down to where he knelt worshipping her, he met her hard stare with eyes full of satisfaction.  Yes, he knew how good he was but it was more than just that.  He was giving her pleasure and that made him happy, happier than seeing to his own pleasure.  She knew it as clearly as she knew her own name.  And she was awed by it.

He sucked hard on her clit and pressed those two fingers tight against something within her and she flew.  Her eyes were forced wide open and her legs shivered controllably as the spasms racked her.  Her ears rang as he stroked her lightly, bringing her down before he surged up to kiss her, giving her a taste of her own flavor in a sensual kiss that nearly had her in tears.

His cock rocked against her folds, slipping against skin already wet from the water but made completely slippery from the addition of her own lubrication.  The slide of that beautiful prick against her nub was driving her crazy.  She tightened her legs around him, increasing the pressure and making him moan, giving him a taste of what it would be like to be inside her.  She was more than ready to feel all of him, to see his face when he came.  He was so close, she began to ache for him again as he continued the mutual torture.  But something was wrong – something so subtle it took a moment to percolate through her pleasure drugged brain.  He was holding back, trying to stop, trying not to give them both what they wanted.  She felt sorrow and abandonment followed by a surge of hot anger.  She raised up on tiptoe, ready to try to impale herself on him when there was a loud ominous creak.


The pipes moaned their symphony of protest and the water chugged to a stop.  And then the shower head let forth a torrent of icy cold water.  With a mutual screech, they scrambled out of the shower, falling over each other and on to the faded carpets strewn about on the floor, landing in a wet heap of tangling limbs.

Their eyes met, green to brown.  And then they laughed, his almost a deep roar and hers an almost hysterical belly laugh.  He enfolded her in his arms, in an embrace that was warm, not hot.  It melted her heart, not just stirred her blood.  It was a hug of fondness, of enjoyment, of affection.  She dared not think love. 

Sobered slightly, she pulled herself away and crawled toward a stack of towels on the dresser, throwing one to him and raising one to her own face.  As she dried her hair and face, she tried to suppress the sudden onslaught of unwelcome tears.  She had been through so many highs and lows this night she felt that her grip on sanity was tenuous at best. Then she felt the gentle touch of cloth against her back.  She looked back at him and his face held a gentle smile as he ran the towel over her shoulders and back, over her ass and down her legs.  Staring at him she had no idea of how to deal with being worshipped.  He dried her feet, doing a thorough job as he held each foot in his large hands and dried between each toe.  She couldn’t stop the tears falling as he came back up, drying her knees, her thighs, the curve of her stomach, her breasts and arms, all without a thought to his own comfort.

She couldn’t move, but simply watched as he walked to the door, still soaking wet, and brought back the red silk robe.  Her slipped it over her shoulders and tied the belt in a knot.  She stayed standing, silent and he looked at her with sad eyes and ran the towel over himself quickly, unable to hide the evidence that even after a douse in freezing water, he still wanted her.

He gathered her up in his arms again, picking her up and placing her on her grandmother’s quilt.  She had enough presence of mind to pull him down to her, enough so that he rested at her side, his naked body held back slightly from her own barely clothed one.  She reached for him, needing to understand.  He kissed her, sweet and hard but not deep and simply held her loosely.

“It’s not the time yet, ashavi.  Soon.  When we are ready.” His tone held both sadness and hope.

She nodded, her head buried against his shoulder as she continued to cry, tears of awe and release and the dregs of mourning.  She didn’t remember falling asleep but she knew in the morning it was the best sleep she’d had in a very long time.  The energies of the population of New York hadn’t intruded on the tiny scrap of peace she needed to find.  But the first thing she thought of that morning was not how well rested she felt.  It was that she missed him.  He’d gone sometime in the night and she wanted more than anything she’d ever wanted to see him again.  It still scared the hell out of her.

About Bloody Time- Chapter 7 Enchant the Dawn

Here, after much struggle and editing by my lovely husband, is the next chapter of Enchant the Dawn.  I’d love some feedback if any of you have the time, especially if any of the imagery is too confusing!  I’m also concerned that Daron’s voice is too omniscient, and not enough “man”.

Send me a comment if you are interested in previous chapters and I will point you to them.


Chapter Seven

* * * * *

            Hester, June’s little chavi, was coughing enough to break the heart of a far tougher man than Daron West.  It made a soul feel guilty for taking a deep breath with ease.  Daron could feel her panic from two floors down, and cursed himself for being so wrapped up in Miss Sophia Hunter and her strong thighs and elegant neck and indecipherable eyes.

            He started to run, trying to get to Hester and trying to chase away the last dregs of arousal from his system so he could focus on the task at hand.  He wasn’t terribly surprised to hear the clatter of shoes on the stairs behind him.  June knew what his haste meant, and Sophia was damned clever.  The worn but clean halls of his building had become as familiar as the back of his hand and he swerved around Mrs. Gianoli and her twins on the second floor as he dashed to the third.  There in 5C, the door was unlocked, and the door slammed open when he pushed at it.  Hester was sitting in her favorite green chair by the old smoky stove, huddled in the blankets that Mary and Irene and Ixchel had given to June over the years they’d all come to care for the little girl, so she was swathed in warm Merino wool and the bright embroidery of Mexico and the best of South Carolina quilt work.  Hester raised glazed blue eyes to his and Ixchel was muttering in kind but tense Spanish as she ran a warm cloth over Hester’s sweat-drenched brow.

He’d known Hester for almost half her life, ever since he’d found June standing on the roof of this building on his fifth day on the job.  June had been holding her wisp of a girl to her chest and singing an ancient Irish lullaby under a full harvest moon with a prayer for health and wellbeing through the rest of the year.  Daron had heard his father sing something similar, something his grandfather had sung as a child from Eire.

Once Daron had made his presence known, June had been terrified of him, of all men really. But Hester had started to cough and Daron had done what came naturally, he’d taken Hester’s tiny little fist in his hand and felt all the fear and panic bubble up out of the little sprite, and into himself, and down and out into the warm dark of the void.  The coughing had eased up a bit, and June had looked at him with tears of thanks in her eyes. 

“Madre de Dios, ya están aquí!” Ixchel greeted him with a stream of excited Spanish that he could barely make out, but in general he thought it was prayers to her name sake Goddess and a litany of saints and martyrs that he’d finally gotten back with help.  Hester was older than the first time he’d helped her, but only a bit bigger, her pale skin fine and thin, with huge pale green eyes and the same flaxen hair as her mother.  Blotches of purple sagged under her eyes, and her cheeks were a false bright red from the continued exertion of trying to catch her breath, of trying to force out all the air she could and wait for new air to return.  She was so very tired.

He crouched in front of Hester and took her hand as he had years ago and drained from her as much of the pain as he could.  He grit his teeth that he could do nothing to relieve her physical suffering, only calm her mind and quiet her soul to deal with the burdens life had given her at such a young age.  The coughing eased up a bit, the choked gasping lapsing into that ghostly wheezing that always came with one of her attacks. 

The world narrowed into shades of gray, as it always did when he was trying to help someone overcome pain and worry.  He felt it all, at least for the time it took for whatever magic he’d been gifted with to empty all the excess from him.  Sometimes he felt that he would break with it, and he marveled at how this little girl was so strong.  She was so like her mother, pale and beautiful and wise beyond her years.  And just as mistrustful. 

Still holding Hester’s hand, Daron felt a strange dichotomy of emotion within him as Sophia entered the little one room apartment.  Hester was scared, worried that this stranger would be poking and prodding her and only making things worse.  Daron felt all this, and at the same time, he felt the strange mix of his own relief and desire.  Desire for the woman, and relief that he might have found someone who could really help this little girl.

It was a bit of a shock when the first thing Sophia did wasn’t to sweep in and try to comfort Hester as he was, but to start arguing loudly with Ixchel.  With a lot of pointing and gesturing, Sophia looking increasing frustrated until she kicked at the little Franklin stove in the corner hard enough that she started hopping up and down from the pain in her foot.

“Well now, that’s wonderful.” Alan, the driver from the shop where Sophia worked, had perched on the window sill next to him.  Daron shook himself, unhappy with his constant state of distraction.  Between the thick fog of Hester’s pain and Sophia’s strange actions, he’d not even noticed Alan enter the room.  “Soph’s always wanted to invent her own dance steps.  Looks likes she’s finally succeeded!”

Daron blinked, but then the world shifted focus as the gray that coated him as he drained Hester of her ills turned to a bright shining yellow.  Hester laughed, just for a moment before the coughing struck again, but it was a rare and beautiful thing.  Daron let go of the shreds of the jealousy he’d held against the man for being so close, to knowing his ashavi for the years it had taken him to find Sophia.  Alan was comfortable and knowledgable about this new world, not like Daron who struggled to find his place in the madness of New York.

June knelt in front of her daughter, smiling the tired but brilliant smile she reserved for her daughter.  “How are you, dear one?  Any better?”

Hester nodded, her eyes bright.  “Better momma.  You’re back.  And Mr. Gypsy.”

Daron cringed a bit from the nickname Hester had always used for him, especially when Alan had broken into yet more laughter.  “Is that your name, buddy?  That makes a load a sense then, as Sophia always did go after them Valentino types.”  Alan turned to Hester then. “Mr. Gypsy here seems like the kind to ride in and save the princess from the evil wizard.”

Hester’s eyes opened wide, “There’s an evil wizard?  I didn’t think wizards were evil!  I like magic, ‘specially when…” Hester started to cough then, and June stroked her back lovingly, her eyes filled with resigned sadness.

Alan filled in the void, trying to bring light back into Hester’s eyes as well as June’s.  “Well, I suppose we could make Mr. Gypsy get himself rescued by the good witch from the clutches of the Evil Princess!”  Daron felt the happy sparkle of Hester giggle like a warm flame through him, and he let gently let go of her hand, having no interest in draining such an emotion from the little girl.  He watched as Hester laughed and June smiled.  He also took note than Alan’s eyes drifted from Hester to settle briefly on June, and a flash of longing appeared.  Not the crass kind of lust that Daron had defended June from more than once, but an honest kind of caring.  Daron could feel the profound effect that June was having on this Alan gadjo and he thought he’d better distance himself from the mess of it while Hester was doing better.

He rose turned back to Sophia, who’d never really left his thoughts at all.  He wondered what in the seven hells she was doing, caught up in a wild round of gesticulating with the immutable Ixchel.  Her beautiful brown hair was far from the sleek bob he’d seen her wearing this morning, and it flew in a cloud of hazy wisps around her head as she struggled to communicate.  Her teeth bit at her full lower lip, and there was a blush of color on her cheeks, either from their activities in the car, the run up several flights of stairs, or her current debate.  Daron had the desire to get her riled up with another fight.  If he could not yet have her passion in his bed, then he wanted to watch her fire burn anyway he could.

Alas, a resolution of sorts was reached, as Ixchel tipped her head sideways a bit, reminding Daron of the older women of the Sinti when they questioned the sanity of a rash youth.  With a raised eyebrow and a move to wrap her colorful shawl more tightly around her shoulders, Ixchel bent to turn down off the little stove.  Still shaking her head and muttering with a wry little smile on her sun darkened face, Ixchel handed the ever present kettle of warm water over to a now smiling Sophia.

That smile brought another kick of lust straight through him.  Beautiful white teeth, and that particular passionate glow to her skin and her eyes that echoed the light in her smile.  She turned to him, and he saw the smile alter a bit, and the blush return to her cheeks full force.  Her eyes flickered down to where a hint of his retuning arousal was all too evident, and he tried to force his mind back to the task at hand. 

Sophia swept past him, kneeling in front of Hester.  “Hello there, Miss Hester.  My name’s Sophia.  I’m a friend of your mother and Mr. West.”

Hester nodded, easy wide and face paling.  Daron could see the return of the quiet shy face Hester often turned to the world.  He stepped forward to reassure, but Sophia knew better.  “Ah now, I seem to remember meeting you once before in the Park.  I remember you had a fine looking tongue on you.  Do you think I could see that tongue again now that I can examine it in better light?”

June let out a puff of air that was almost a laugh, and Hester’s jaw dropped open in shock.  Sophia smiled that winning smile and Daron clamped his lips together to keep from chuckling.  Alan had no such compunction and snorted with glee.

“Now now, I can’t see your tongue in your mouth!  Stick it out now!  It’s a perfectly nice tongue, I’m sure.”

Hester blinked a second, visibly suppressing another round of coughing in order to obey.  Sophia tipped her head to both sides, inspecting thoroughly. “All’s well then.  It is a very nice tongue then.  I suspect that you shouldn’t be stickin’ it out in the cold anymore, it might get sick.”

“Yes ma’am!” Hester said quickly, though there was a ghost of a smile on her face.  But the urge to cough finally own out, and she was struck again with a fit.  Daron rushed to take Hester’s hand, and Sophia stroked one of her hands over the girl’s forehead, looking intently at the child, as though searching for something only she could see.  Daron certain then that Miss Sophia Hunter was far more than just a typical New York city flapper.  The urge to heal was strong within her, so strong it could not be denied no matter how much she tried.  He knew that it must be equal to his own.  That was the way of ashavi.

Sophia nodded her head, obviously coming to some sort of decision.  Daron wasn’t sure what he expected, but it wasn’t her next question.

“June, do you have any coffee?”

Even Alan looked at her like she was insane.  “Soph, honey?” He jerked his head toward the coughing girl, “I don’t think this is the time…”

“Shut your yap, Alan Lowbridge.  I think I know what I’m doing!  You might be the expert in moonshine brewing, but this here is my own particular brand of chemical know-how!” Determination written on her features, Daron watched as she jerked June to her feet and skirts billowing, marched toward the cupboards that held kitchen goods.

Quick as a wink, Sophia was holding up a chipped blue mug containing thick brew of coffee and sugar, strong enough to keep a man awake through the night.  Hester looked at it with trepidation, but Sophia would brook no resistance.  “I know the stuff tastes terrible like this love, but I’m thinking it might just help what’s ailing you.  Drink it fast, and we’ll try and get you something else to ease the bitterness.” Sophia’s face held nothing but kindness and concern.  Her brow holding the tiniest wrinkle, her nose flared with worry, her voice sweet and rich.  Daron knew she’d be like this with their own young ones someday, and the thought made him start.

He’d known his whole life that it was his destiny to journey far and wide to find his match, the one woman who would call to him and his powers with an irresistible pull.  He’d gone through all the Magi training that was required of him, at first to make his parents happy, and then to keep their memory alive in his heart.  Deep down, he’d always thought he’d spend his life alone, searching but never finding.  When he did find his woman, it was not all the natural falling into place that he had expected.  Sophia Hunter was a wild thing, and he was still not certain that he wouldn’t end his life as a broken bitter old man.  To find himself picturing children, his children with this gadje woman – that was something new and so strange it sent a shiver up his spine.  Whether it was a shiver of fear or longing, he was unsure.

While he was lost in thought, Hester had gulped down the mud-thick mess and went through another coughing fit in reaction to the taste.  Sophia had brought out a jar of some kind, as well as several packets of herbs.  Daron was surprised.  He’d expected magic like his own, but raw and untutored, not the knowledgeable herbal practitioner that she obviously was.  This was not a woman that he could tame and mold to be his mate.  She was most definitely her own person.

At Sophia’s urging Hester chewed on a leaf of something some one of the herb packets to clear the bitter taste from her mouth.  Meawhile, Daron watched with curiosity as June and Sophia worked to rub in the ointment from the jar, some kind of strong mint smelling concoction on the girl’s chest and back.  Sophia and Alan kept up a running commentary on the usefulness of strong smells to ward off evil Princesses, and soon both Hester and June were laughing. 

The kettle of water had been poured over the rest of the herbs, and the air was filled with the moist heat and the smell of herbs.  Alan wrinkled his nose, but June looked relieved.  Ixchel looked reluctantly impressed, especially as it was evident that Hester’s color was returning, and the eerie wheezing that had accompanied each exhale seemed to lessen with each passing minute.

Sophia turned to June, “I only wish I could do more.  The smoke from the stove, heck, the smoke from every ruttin’ stove in the whole damn city, that’s what’s given her such a hard time of it.  You can wrap her in a thousand blankets, but that’s not the least bit helpful.  She ain’t sick…not the kind of sick she can give to other folks.” Sophia sighed heavily, and Daron could feel her mixture of fatigue and longing when she continued, “What she needs is clean air, somewhere out in the open.  Someplace warm, without all the coal smoke.”

Her brown eyes were lost for a minute in the smell of fresh earth, the rustle of fallen leaves.  Daron knew that feeling, had felt the need for the countryside the entire time he’d lived on this overcrowded island.  He wanted to step out and explore the vastness of a new continent, the wide rivers and tall mountains and vast forests that he’d read about in books. But he’d always felt something holding him back in the first city in which he’d arrived.  Now he wondered if it was her.  Had she pulled him all the way across the ocean, when he’d lost all sense of home in the mountains he’s been born in?  Had she been the one for whom he took his Searching name, West?

It was June who pulled him out of his reverie.  June whose eyes never lost their haunted look.  June was crying.  He’d never ever known her to cry.

Sophia wrapped her arms around the younger woman, holding her close.  Daron wished he could help in his way, but June had always resisted his comforting touch, unable or unwilling to have a man touch her, even to remove her mantle of sorrow.  It was Alan who stepped forward, placing one hand on Sophia’s shoulder and one tentative hand on June’s.  For once, June didn’t flinch.

Sophia was muttering soft words into June’s hair, and Daron could see June relax some.  “Momma?” Hester whispered, scared more than a little by seeing her brave, strong mother succumb to long overdue tears.  “You goin’ to be ok?”

“Yes, missy,” June said, widening her eyes and sniffing a bit to keep any new tears at bay. “You and me are going to be just fine.”  June turned to Sophia, who’d backed away a bit as June had reclaimed her composure. “I don’t rightly know when I’d be able to leave the city.  There’s people…it would take time to do it proper.” Her eyes, puffy and red from crying, flickered toward Daron, and then nervously passed over Alan before returning to plead with a pensive Sophia.  “Mr. West…Daron…he’s got a Gift.  Like my momma used to talk about when I was a wee one.  I got a feeling that you have a like Gift, after what we saw up on the Hill that morning.  Can that…would you…”

Sophia shook her head, cutting June’s plea off.  “I would if I could, and you know it.  I saw that Mr. West can help.” Sophia turned her eyes to his, and Daron felt and saw her admiration, her yearning.  Both for him, and his ability to help. “But my talents don’t work like that.” She exhaled hard, as though this very fact had caused her more pain than she wanted to admit. “I can see the problem, where the hurt is, but I can’t do much to help it, other than these herbs and such.” She made a half-hearted gesture to the herbs floating in the bowl at Hester’s side, to which a quiet Ixchel was adding more warm water.  A fresh wave of scent hit Daron and he breathed easier with the smell of mint and licorice, mixed ever so slightly with something he was sure was purely Sophia.

She could heal far more than she thought she could. Power was there.  Her desire to heal just as strong as mine.  He grabbed her hand in his, seeking to convince her of her own powers.  She gasped, her eyes locking with his for a moment, before turning to Hester.  When Sophia looked at Hester and Daron held both of their hands in his, he drew in a sharp breath as the world turned upon itself.  His vision was magnified a hundredfold.  He glanced down at their clasped hands and blinked hard, as the bonds between them were like a thousand summer suns, the intensity brilliant enough to blind.  The world was a very different place seen through his ashavi’s eyes.  He could see, not just feel, the emotions roiling in hearts and minds.  Flecks of living light were contained in everyone.  For June, young and strong, despite her many trials, the energy flowed fast and free, the spark of life vibrant.  Alan was also teeming with energy, full to brimming with the potential of youth.  In contrast, Daron soaked in the golden peace of Ixchel, her innate calm ruffled by the anxiety of waiting for the play of events to unfold in a language that was not her own.  The density of particles swirled and flowed with her every breath, the only slight disturbance in the stream was the unorganized eddies surrounding her left knee, which Daron knew had pained her for years, from before she had even come to the United States with her husband Carlos.

Most surprising, he didn’t have to wade through the complex morass of conflicting emotion to see the connections between people.  He could see with jolting certainty the layers of shining bonds connecting him to Ixchel, to June, to Hester.  He could see the bonds leading away from him to people out in the world, his sister, Mary, Irene and Michael, Tommy, Carlos, Giuseppe…everyone who he had in the world, and in this town he’d made a home.  He could see the tentative swirls of gold reaching between Alan and June, despite June preoccupation with her daughter, with whom her bond was so thick, so strong and bright that he was surprised that it was not visible always, without peering through the special magic Sophia carried within her.

It was all confusing, like a blind man seeing color for the first time and unsure how to describe their meanings.  He brought his eyes to Sophia’s, and saw a glowing happiness there, an awe equal to his own. 

“It’s never been like this,” she whispered, her voice touched with reverence. 

Sophia was beautiful.  More than sweet softness of her skin, the swell of her breasts as she breathed, the elegance of long fingers entwined with his – her silvery white energy filled him with want.  For her body, her soul, her passions.  His own energy, a complement in coppery orange, reached out, filling the incandescent bond between them with desire and something more, something so overwhelming he felt that he would be lost in it.

And then there was pain.  Hester’s pain, flowing through him into Sophia and back again, to be thrust into the void with practiced ease. Nothing terrible, nothing extreme, but the contrast jerked him out of the silence of rapt contemplation and back to the problem at hand.  Daron had almost forgotten that he was still holding Hester’s hand as well.  He’d spent hours with her sometimes, when she was really bad off, when it was a fine line between her seeing the next day or not and a little bit of comfort and freedom from fear was all he could offer the little chavi.  He turned to look at her, pale and wan as ever, struggling despite all of Sophia’s medicines to release one breath and take in the next.

Sophia dropped his hand, and he flinched at the loss of contact. “What exactly did you do?” Sophia’s voice, strong again and curious.

“Do?” He was trying to regain his composure, ignoring the sense of disorientation he felt without her hand in his.

“With her…her panic? Her pain?  I saw it, felt it, and then…you pushed it away?”

“That’s my talent.  To take excess emotion and…”

“Can you do the opposite?  Give people emotions, feelings?” she cut him off, her eyes bright, her thoughts whirring so fast Daron swore he could hear them screech around curves like that car of Alan’s. 

“No.  It doesn’t work like that.” He knew his voice was harsh, defensive. 

She nodded, already knowing him too well.  “So you’ve tried then.”

He swore under his breath, in a language none knew but himself.  As a child, he’d tried, of course he’d tried.  To win desire by false means, to cause pain to an enemy.  He’d learned quickly that such actions brought nothing but the foul taste of shame.  As an adult, he’d tried to will the desire for life back into his broken mother, but there was no cure for utter hopelessness.  If he expected Sophia to be strong enough to weather pain and heartache…to raise his children to be true Magi, then he’d have to gift her with the truth.  “Not often, and not well.”

She gave him the slightest of smiles, filled with mischievous challenge.  “Willing to try again?”

Not waiting for an answer, she closed her eyes. She took at deep breath, deep enough that the outline of her breasts until her prim linen blouse was all too evident.  Daron furrowed his brow in confusion, unsure what she could mean.

His eyes flickered back to Hester, her small frame held still, her breath awkward.  She watched the two adults in front of her with rapt attention.  Daron squeezed Hester hand in reassurance, and the small sweet smile he received cleared his mind from the turmoil he felt from the woman he had yet to understand. That unfathomable woman, his fated ashavi, slipped her hand into his once more and the world came once again into focus as points of living light.

Hester’s face shone with those lights, but paler that the vibrant health of her mother had.  Even Daron, with this new sense unanalyzed and untested, could see the chaotic gaps, the ugly throbbing of the light within her lungs as air was trapped inside.  Sophia’s voice whispered in his ear, but he almost felt as if she sang within his very mind.  A song of seduction, of power he was not sure he should have. “Look at me, Daron West.”

His face turned to her, unable to disobey if he had wished to.  She was glorious, and the beauty that hid beneath the exterior she showed to the world was revealed to his greedy eyes. 

Her eyes were golden here, rich pools of dark gold that would satisfy any man’s search for wealth.  “Watch me breathe.” She sighed, her breath warm against his face, as though she was next to him – no, underneath him and moaning her passion into his ear.  But she was still kneeling beside him, one hand in his, the other on Hester’s knee. He shook himself and obeyed her directive, watching the rise and fall of her chest and trying to focus on the specks of lights moving within her, rather than the magnificent shape of her breasts and the pinpoints of radiance that were surely her nipples.  She was as affected by their connection as he was, at least he could take some solace in that.  He resisted the urge to look down toward her sex, to see the bright fire that would be burning there for him.  Instead, conscious of Hester and June and the others waiting patiently for this odd play to reach its climax, he studied the flow of energy in and out of Sophia’s lungs. He watched the beauty of her breath, easy and graceful, effortless.

Sophia’s eyes were still closed as his eyes returned to study her face, to see the concentration radiating from her features as a tangible thing. Her lips moved, sparkling with silver as her words took form, “Can you see the pattern?”

He could.  “Yes.”

“Take it.” And he felt her push.  Through their entwined hands, she tried to give him herself, the very fabric of her makeup.  Panic rose within him for a moment, that he would lose it, that she would be left vacant somehow because he was not up to the task.  Then he pushed aside such thought, unworthy of his ancestry, his destiny.  He took the precious drops, slippery silver within his own copper fiber, and instead of sending this precious gift out into the Void, as he had down countless times before he guided the delicate lattice through himself and into Hester, ignoring the flinch from the girl as she took a deep breath, grasping her hand tightly even as he felt Sophia’s grip grow weak.

Working faster than the mind could think, he pushed the pattern over the tiny abused lungs of the child, and watched as Hester’s body recalled itself, remembered what it should be.  He watched as the flow of life returned to peaceful patterns, as the faded glow he’d first seen in Hester absorbed the brilliant silver of Sophia’s gift.  Hester released the breath she’d been holding, and air rushed out, free and easy, for the first time in days. 

Hester bounced out of her chair and into her mother’s arms, both of them crying in happiness.  June held Hester tight, her face filled with traces of awe and gratitude.  Daron saw none of it, though he felt the wave of happiness.  His eyes were only for the woman who had collapsed against his shoulder, utterly drained.

His arms wrapped around her and he tried to will his own strength into her, but whatever power that they had wielded together only worked when they were both conscious to wield it.   His stomach dropped until he felt a puff of air against his cheek, and knew that she still lived.

“Is she all right?” June’s voice was worried, despite the joy she felt. 

Alan bent next to him, and touched fingers to Sophia’s neck, and the back of his hand to her forehead.  “She’s cold, but her heart seems fine.  That…” Alan swallowed nervously, “whatever that was, it must have taken a lot out of her.”  Daron looked up at the younger man and saw shock mixed with concern.  Magic was a hard thing for many to accept, in a land governed by logic.

“She needs rest.  She’ll be all right.”  His hoarse voice sounded much more sure of that idea than he felt.  She has to be.

Alan stood up, “I’ll get the car, we can take her to her apartment and I can…”

Daron glared at the man.  “I’ll stay with her.”

“Yes, well.” Alan smoothed down a non-existent wrinkle in his coat.  “I’ll just go get the car then.” He turned to June, who was kissing Hester’s hair and rocking back and forth as her little girl fell into a deep, restful sleep for the first time in days.  “I’m glad I could help, Miss June.  If there’s anything you need…”

June smiled at him and for once looked like the beautiful young woman she was.  “Thank you, Mr. Lowbridge.  Thank you so much.”

Alan backed out the door, staring at June with starstruck eyes and a gaping mouth that would quite shut until he banged into the doorway hard.  “I’ll, I’ll just go get the car.”

He disappeared, and Daron pulled Sophia completely into his arms cradling her against his chest with his arms under her knees.  A hand appeared swiping a damp cloth over her brow, and Daron looked up to see Ixchel smiling at him, her eyes misty.  “I is so happy, Señor West.  You found her.”

“Ella me encontró, Doña Ixchel.  She found me.”

Ixchel continued her ministrations to the sound of June humming a lullaby to Hester.  Daron held Sophia tightly and breathed a sigh of relief when her eyes flickered open for a moment.

Ashavi?  Bella?  Are you all right?”

She flinched for a moment, her eyes slamming shut against the weak light in the room.  He knew she was in pain.  He tried to take it from her but she resisted, pushing back against him ever so slightly.  He suddenly realized that he too was incredibly tired.  She knew, even in her weakened state, that to take her pain would cause him to collapse like she herself had done.  He swallowed the lump in his throat, unsure that he wanted to be so protected, even by someone who could see inside him as no one else ever had.

He struggled to his feet, still holding Sophia firmly in his arms.  He nodded goodbye to June who looked at him with gratitude and Ixchel who raised an eyebrow in concern over his shaky stance.  He moved toward the door, which Ixchel held open for him, still giving him a look that declared him to be too full of machismo for his own good. 

As he emerged into the empty hall, Sophia stirred again, her eyes warm and brown and looking at him with an intensity that made him uncharacteristically nervous.  He took a few steps down the hall, until he felt Sophia wriggling in his arms.

 “You don’t have to carry me, I’m just tired is all.”  He wasn’t sure she could walk, despite her protestations.  And he was certain he didn’t want to put her down – he was enjoying her wriggling far too much.  Her curves felt far too good, and it had been a long long time since he had had a woman, much less one he knew the fates had destined for him.  Part of him wanted to march down the stairs, down the street and carry her out of this city and this life, until she had no choice to make a new one with him.

She gave an indignant huff, and as they reached the end of the hall at the top of the staircase, he bent, setting her feet on the floor and letting her slide down his body as he rose.  The feel of her breasts pressed against his chest, the shape of her hips under his fingers, the hitch in her breath as she felt how close they were.   He gripped her elbows when she swayed slightly toward him, so she wouldn’t fall, and he wouldn’t have to give up touching her.  His hands stayed right there, rubbing the linen in soft circles, enjoying watching her breathing grow uneven and a flush of color return to her cheeks. 

“May I escort you down the stairs, ashavi?” He spoke low, not trusting his voice above a whisper.

She licked her lips, as though daring him to kiss her.  He leaned closer pulling her gently toward him by her elbows until his lips barely brushed hers. Her hands wrapped around his ribs and splayed across his back.  He shivered with the contact.

Her voice was lower and her breath warm against his lips.  “What does that mean?  Ashavi?”

He couldn’t stand to answer.  He’d chase her off, make her flee before she understood.  Instead, he kissed her, opened his mouth and stroked the softness of her lips with the tip of his tongue, tasting her.  She opened her mouth and he slammed into her, trying to satisfy his need for now with this gift of her kiss.  She battled him with skill, stroking her tongue against his with sinuous teasing.  He trapped her lower lip with a gentle bite, easing the sting with his tongue.

In moments, he had her pressed against the wall next to the stairwell, his hands gripped the curves of her buttocks, her hands buried in his hair.  The connection they had shared all too briefly inside that little apartment flared into brilliance again, and with each press of her hips against his, each moan and whimper, each daring caress, all the energy they had sacrificed was rebuilt and restored.  Soon Daron felt he would explode with it, with his need for her, with the knowledge that her desire was as great as his own, with the hundred thousand sparks of energy bursting under his skin and longing to merge with hers.

He pulled back, unwilling to take her in a drab hallway against a wall.  Her eyes snapped open, and fire flared for a moment until reason chased away her anger.  Than she laughed, a sound that sent lust shooting through him, making him throb and curse the lack of privacy in a city.  He thrust her back against the wall, gripping her thigh and wrapping a leg around his as he ground against her, showing her how very much he wanted her.  She pulled his head to hers, kissing him until he lost all thought except that she was his.  It was only the shriek of Mrs. Mulrooney in 5A that pulled him away.

This time, the laughter was in her eyes.  Sophia put a hand up to her hair and brushed at her skirt while Mrs. Mulrooney fixed them both with a no nonsense glare that made Daron feel like a naughty youngster getting caught under one of the wagons.  The old matron swept past them and made her way down the stairs, leaving Daron and Sophia alone again after turning around several times to check that they weren’t going to engage in more shenanigans. 

Once Mrs. Mulrooney was only the clatter of boots on stairs and not a pair of accusing eyes, Sophia let loose the laughter she’d held contained.  Not the cynical, regretful laughter of before, but the full-throated appreciation of the ridiculous.  More than lust, this brought forth his need to make her truly happy, so that his life would ring with her laughter.  To make her understand she belonged with him.  The power they felt together was something that shouldn’t be denied.  It was rejecting the gift of the heavens.

“Walk with me?” His voice was stronger now, convinced of this course.  He’d court her properly, make her see.

She cocked an eyebrow at him.  “Walk where exactly?  And right now I’m sorely in need of a nap.”

He snorted in irritation.  What was the damn gadje word for it, some kind of fruit…,”A date.  Can we meet for a date?”

She smiled.  “Sure, sugar.  Be happy to.  Just tell me the time and place, and I’ll check my calendar.”

He ground his teeth in frustration, trying to think.  He was interrupted by a loud honking, and remembered Alan waiting with the car to take her home.  He’d thought to go with her, but knew it would end in trouble, he doubted either of them could control themselves. He took her arm gently to lead her down the stairs to the waiting car, and contemplated where to take Sophia Hunter on a “date”.  As they emerged into the sunlight, inspiration struck him, and he muttered a soft prayer of thanks.