I always found it amusing that sweet little old Nana Fee had so many knives around the house: ritual knives, small blades for taking cuttings from her garden, and, of course, kitchen knives. This also explained why no one broke into our house. Ever.
The warm water lapping over my skin had my mind drifting from image to image. The athame sliding through the air, pulling energy from one edge of the circle to the other like thick ropes of viscous blue taffy. The ropes thinned and curled, becoming ocean waves flowing past the shores near my village. I blew out a long breath, taking in the sweet scented air. I imagined the waves rolling and ebbing, creating a continuous glowing white line over my head. The line looped into circles, pulsing and growing in strength. I flexed my hands under the water, moving them like a conductor leading a symphony. I pulled that glowing line in my mind with a turn of my wrist, strumming it against my fingertips.
I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. My eyes popped open with a start. The small funnel stream of water that had formed on the surface of the bath, a tiny hurricane I’d created during this impromptu meditation exercise, collapsed on itself with a splash. I blinked rapidly.
That was new.
And suddenly, the spout exploded toward the ceiling, taking most of the bathwater with it as it grew. Panic had my ears buzzing as the footsteps grew closer and the water covering my body dropped to nothing. What if whoever it was saw this unnatural bathtub weather phenomenon? Worse, what if the the person saw me naked?
Another footfall sounded in the hallway. My head whipped toward the sound, and the water spout collapsed on itself, dumping buckets of water over my head and splashing all over the floor.
But I had more pressing problems than a flooded bathroom. I knew I’d locked the front door. The only person who had a copy of the key was Jed, in case of emergencies. But what if it wasn’t Jed? I eyed the heavy pewter candlestick I’d placed near the sink. As the steps came closer to my bedroom, I slid down the length of the tub and picked up the candlestick.
Moving quietly, I rose to my knees. I wondered if I could jump out of the tub and get to my robe before whoever it was got to my door. The noise stopped just outside my door. My arm froze over the edge of the tub, tensed for a swing.
Suddenly, Jed’s head appeared in my bathroom doorway.
“Well, this is a picture,” he said, grinning down at me. “You know, conventional wisdom says you should keep the water inside the tub.”
I chuckled, relief flooding my chest as I set the candlestick aside. “I was just making room for you.”
Jed grabbed some towels, got on his hands and knees, and mopped up the water I’d spilled. I groaned, and not just because his delicious jean-clad bum was in view. “That is the hottest thing I have ever seen. A man cleaning up after me.”
“You’re such a sexist.” Grinning wickedly, he slipped out of his boots and rolled up the legs of his jeans, sliding behind me, balancing his bum on the lip of the tub while he settled his feet on either side of me. He settled my temple against his thigh and carefully massaged my neck as I refilled the tub with warm water.
“So you’re the one who got the master bed and bath.” He sighed. “I’m jealous. I think my part of the house was the servants’ quarters. And just so you know, the tub in this room is twenty percent longer than the standard tub. Apparently, Mrs. Wainwright was a large woman.”
It would have hurt my feelings that he just called my great-grandmother fat, but he was doing an awfully nice job with the neck rub. It pricked at my conscience that I still hadn’t told Jed why I was in the Hollow. I mean, the man had seen me naked, but I wasn’t willing to tell him about my family’s unorthodox history? I ached to tell him about the recent development with Dick, but it would have involved an excessive amount of explaining, when all I wanted to do was sit quietly with someone who knew nothing about magic or centuries-old magical yard-sale finds. (And had abdominals you could use for laundry.)
With recently ended relationships, cultural differences, and as-yet-undisclosed vampire relatives, we were dealing with enough issues without adding magic into the mix.
“Rough day?” he asked.
“I learned a lot,” I said as he brushed the wet hair out of my face. Like the fact that I could create tiny storm systems with my mind. That was a life lesson if there ever was one. “Why don’t you take off those clothes and join me in this big old tub?”
“Because if you’re all wet and slippery and I’m all wet and slippery, one of us might get hurt when I do this.” He leaned down and kissed me softly on the lips. I rose to my knees, plucking at the buttons of his shirt with my wet fingers. I threw it onto the floor, and before I could get to his jeans, he pulled me against him. He was right, it was slippery. My skin slid against his, and he nearly dropped me as he dragged me out of the tub and wrapped a towel around me, although he didn’t give me time to dry off as we fumbled toward the bed.
I looped my ankle around his, pushing him back onto the bed so I could yank the jeans and boxers away. He chuckled. “Well, this is an exciting new side to you.”
Grinning wildly, I climbed up on the bed, hovering over him, and settled my hips over his. I tucked my feet under his calves and stretched down the length of his body.
“Soooo bendy,” he murmured, threading his hands through my hair and pressing his lips to mine.
“Nola, there’s something I’ve been wantin’ to tell you for a while now,” he murmured against my lips.
He gently pinched my lips shut with his fingertips. “Shh.”
I rolled my eyes as he smirked. His hips surged forward with a snap, and my whole body sang.
Never trust a werewolf when life is on the line.
—When, What, Witch, Were, and Why?
The Five W’s of Safe Interactions with the Paranormal
Dr. Hackett took a week off to go trout fishing in Arkansas, leaving me with time to throw myself into searching Specialty Books. The solstice deadline was looming in three weeks. I tried to use the die to contact Nana Fee (without Andrea’s help), but all I managed to do was make contact with one of Jane’s former step-grandfathers. He just wanted to say hello and tell her that “Grandma Ruthie is still secured,” whatever that meant.
As I had officially scoured every inch of the shop space, including searching for the athame in the utensil drawer of the coffee bar, I called or e-mailed Mr. Wainwright’s contacts in the artifact market, anyone who might have supplied him with items for the shop, on the off chance that Mr. Wainwright had traded the athame for stock. Giving them a sob story about my grandmother accidentally selling a family heirloom to Mr. Wainwright, I asked if they would mind sending me a picture of any athames they’d bartered through the shop. If it was the item I was looking for, I offered to buy it back for fifty percent more than they’d paid for it.
A buyer in California told me to mind my own damn business and hung up on me. A buyer in Canada was only too happy to help, but the handle of his athame was blue enamel with a dark onyx stone. And the buyer in Spain . . .
“I know my Spanish is rusty, but I’m pretty sure cuadros desnudos means ‘naked pictures,’ ” Andrea said, handing me a printout as we sprawled around my living room, sorting through these e-mails. Jed, who had been spending more and more time in my half of the duplex, was perched on a ladder in the middle of the room, replacing the old globe light fixture with a ceiling fan. Because I still wasn’t ready for the whole witchcraft confession, we’d told him we were searching for some antiques to complete a collection for one of Jane’s customers.
“If you want to see what he has, he wants to see what you have. It’s your classic tit-for-athame scenario.”
“You are enjoying this far too much,” I told her.
“Yes, I am,” she said, nodding. Behind her, Jane gave me a wicked grin.
“I am not comfortable with this line of conversation,” Dick muttered, walking away. “If I see you with a camera, young lady, you’re grounded.”
Jed, who seemed wary of my protective vampire great-great-great-grandpa, raised his hand. “I’m with Mr. Cheney.”
“Yes, sir.” I sighed, tossing the e-mail in the trash.
“You don’t have to call him Mr. Cheney,” Andrea assured Jed as he made the last adjustment to the ceiling fan.
“Yes, I do,” Jed responded.
Dick nodded as Jed climbed down the ladder. “Yes, he does.”
I snorted, making a paper ball from the other e-mails and tossing them, too. Jane watched me closely as Jed climbed down the ladder.
“You’re taking this far too well,” Jane observed as Dick and Jed carried the old fixture and the ladder out of the room. “You’ve been really relaxed the past few days, despite the fact that you’ve struck out with those buyers.”
“Well, with the Earth plaque broken, it feels like the pressure is off a little bit,” I said, shrugging. “I’m going to keep looking, because it’s the right thing to do, but I don’t know if the binding will work, even if I do find all four.”
“No, that’s not it,” Jane said, her eyes narrowing. “You’ve had sex. With Jed.”
“Shh!” I hissed at her. “Dick will hear you. We haven’t actually told him that Jed and I are involved, for Jed’s sake. And we haven’t told Jed that I’m related to Dick, because explaining my whole twisted family backstory is not something I’m ready for.”
“So why is Jed all nervous and twitchy?” Jane asked, glancing out to the backyard shed, where the menfolk were putting away tools.
“Because Dick keeps glaring at him and muttering under his breath,” I told her. “And don’t poke around in my head; we’ve talked about that.”
“She doesn’t have to poke around in your head,” Andrea protested. “It’s written all over your face. You might as well get ‘recently banged’ tattooed on your forehead.”
“I don’t know if I can be friends with someone who sleeps with a ‘Jed,’ ” Jane pondered, pointing at her friend. “Andrea, you set them up on that drive to Georgia; I blame you for this. Nola was such a nice girl.”
“So Stephen is no more?” Andrea asked, slapping Jane’s accusing finger away from her face.
“Well, I didn’t murder him,” I said. “I just stopped taking his calls.”
“So what’s going to happen when you have to go back home?” Andrea asked. “Are you going to try to keep seeing him?”
“It’s not like we’ve made any big commitment to each other,” I said. “I like Jed. And he clearly likes me, or, at least, parts of me. He’s a very nice man. He’s sweet and funny and smart. And he doesn’t ask a lot of questions about the amount of time I spend with vampires in an occult bookshop.”
“And he looks good naked,” Jane added.
I sighed. “Sooo good. But there are so many things I can’t tell him. As much as I like him, how could I have a real relationship with someone I have to lie to and omit huge portions of my life? How could that ever work?”
And that was what had been missing in my relationship with Stephen, I realized. I couldn’t share my life with him, because there was so much he couldn’t accept. He never directly asked me to give it up, but the message had been subtly clear. If I wanted Stephen, I would have to give up the connection with my family. I felt like an idiot now for not having seen that. He wouldn’t have made demands. He wouldn’t have forced me. He just wouldn’t have been happy otherwise. He wasn’t a bad man, just a “normal” one. And normal was something I was never going to be, no matter how hard I tried.