Melinda’s face was thunderous, but John conceded. “It’s a wise decision.”
Several hours later, after outlining a basic but fairly historic interclan treaty, the Kerrigans were left somewhat mollified with my offer of Flame and Air, while I kept Sea and Earth. Of course, they also had to take my mother with them, so they may have considered the whole experience a wash. We agreed to hold a full meeting at home to iron out the details. But for now, we’d split the elements, and by dawn the next morning, the Kerrigans’ magic would be restored. That would be the true test of whether they took this peace seriously or not.
I figured I should probably leave town as soon as possible.
Jed stroked his hand down the length of my hair and gave me a blithe grin. “So how was your day?”
“Typical.” I sighed. “My dead mother conked me over the head with an Egyptian idol. I made fire with my mind, confronted some upsetting lingering parental issues. And I negotiated a peace treaty in a centuries-old witch war.”
“Somebody’s getting milk and cookies when we get home,” Andrea said sweetly, patting my head.
I smiled nastily. “Thanks, Granny.”
The patting turned into a light slap.
“So how did you know how to find me?” I asked.
“Well, earlier tonight, we did find your ex-boyfriend locked in my office, next to some damaged equipment and a smashed, extremely rare geode,” Dick said, lifting his eyebrow. “All we had to do was shake him a couple of times, and he sang like the proverbial canary. He gave up your mom, the meeting location, everything.”
“Prick,” I muttered.
“Oh, don’t worry, Gabriel messed with his memory,” Jane chirped. “Stephen won’t remember anything from your time together, other than that you were the best thing that ever happened to him, but he let you get away through his own sheer stupidity.”
“Aw, Gabriel, I didn’t know you cared,” I said, nudging his elbow.
If vampires could blush, Gabriel’s face would have been rosy pink. He cleared his throat. “From now on, every time Stephen hears the word ‘tea,’ he will soil himself.”
I marveled. “I’m glad you’re on my side.”
Gabriel mussed my hair while Jed jostled my shoulder. “Always.”
Just remember, there is no adventure without risk, no magic without payment, and no such thing as a boring journey with the right partner.
—A Witch’s Handbook of Kisses and Curses
Packing away my Half-Moon Hollow life into little boxes was more difficult than I ever imagined. I couldn’t pack up Jane or Dick or Andrea. I couldn’t pack up the clinic or the shop. I couldn’t pack up what was left of my furniture, books, and clothes . . . well, I could, but they took up a lot of space, and the shipping prices would kill me.
“Are you sure about this, honey?” Dick asked as he helped me tape over the last of my luggage. Gramps was not adjusting well to the looming separation. “You could stay. I talked to your uncle Seamus earlier. He said everything’s running as smooth as silk over there. They can survive a few more months without you.”
“My uncle Seamus would never use the expression ‘smooth as silk,’ and it’s more likely that he told you to tell me to get my bony arse back where I belong.”
“He did say that,” Dick admitted. “And then I told him to watch his mouth in front of his elders.”
I snorted. It was an interesting time for the McGavocks. Distant vampire relatives, my mother coming back from the dead, unexpected declarations of peace. My family had not been pleased when I explained the new treaty with the Kerrigans. I believe Uncle Seamus’s exact words were, “Have you lost your feckin’ mind, girl?” It would take time for them to adjust to the idea that we no longer had mortal enemies. But so far, the Kerrigans had held true to their word. They had their powers back, and they hadn’t attempted to harm anyone in Kilcairy. Most of their efforts seemed to involve nurturing rose specimens into prize-winning blooms for village fêtes. I took this as a good sign.
I hadn’t heard back from Jed. After our ordeal in the woods, we were so happy to escape unscathed that we hadn’t made any plans or promises—and that hurt more than it should. He healed overnight and by the next morning was halfway to Tennessee. He needed to talk to his family about why he’d basically run away for months and about my theories regarding their shifting. I’d been putting off leaving for days, hoping that he might come back so we could talk. But I had to get back home.
I would have a bit of a mess on my hands when I returned to Kilcairy. The McGavocks were going to have to learn new ways to live, to get over old prejudices. And I was going to have to stop messing about and actually study the Craft in earnest. I would need the help of my family to do so. And I was going to be taking some serious guff from each and every one of them for changing my tune. There would be groveling. A lot of groveling.
“I need to get back to the McGavocks,” I told Dick. “There are things that need to be said, explained.”
“I only just found you.” Dick groaned, wrapping his arms around my shoulders. “And I just convinced you that I’m not a creepy stalker.”
“You’re not losing me,” I promised. “I’m just going where I’m needed right now. I’ll be back to visit. You can’t get rid of me that easily. And the plane routes work both ways, you know. You’ll see me before you know it. You could come to visit over Christmas.”
“We’re going to have to do that,” he agreed. “Andrea and I never did take a proper honeymoon. We just need to make sure we fly separately from Jane and Gabriel, though. They travel like something out of a Mad Max movie.”
Dick did another one of his loving face squishings. “You’re the last and best of our line, you know that? Gilbert was something, but you? You’re more than I ever could have hoped for. I love you, very much. And I don’t take the words lightly.”
“I know. I love you, too.” I hugged him. “Grampy.”
“Not budging on the nickname, huh?” he asked without moving away.
I shook my head. “Nope.”
I would miss them all so much, my little vampire family. I had not had any more dream vacations with my grandfather, but I expected any night to wake up in Machu Picchu or on top of the Tower of London. And I was looking forward to it.
But life would be very different for me when I got home. In Half-Moon Hollow, I’d gotten used to being myself instead of what was expected, to saying what I felt rather than what was best for the feelings of all involved. I wasn’t eager to take on the mantle of leadership when it had been so lovely just to be a link in a chain of trust and love. I would miss Jane’s sarcastic intelligence and Andrea’s unexpected and inappropriate humor. I would miss Zeb and Jolene’s sunny enthusiasm and Gabriel’s bemusement with us all. I would miss my ancestor, Dick Cheney, and the unquestionable, unshaking love he’d given me, even when I didn’t want it.
I was also sorry to leave Dr. Hackett. But I’d found him an eager volunteer in Jane’s father, who was more than willing to spend a few hours out of the house every day. Mr. Jameson didn’t have my hand at healing, but he was organized and knew how to help people without making them feel beholden. And that was a skill set all its own. He would be taking over my shifts starting next week.
The real problem was Jed “I Am Incapable of Returning My Voice-Mail Messages” Trudeau. I didn’t want to leave him. We’d only just figured each other out, or the closest we would ever get to it. I’d been well on the way to genuine feelings for the man even before he saved my life and my family and my magic by throwing himself on a sword. Well, a knife, but it still bloody counted.
I loved Jed. I didn’t like that he’d deceived me, but I’d come to understand it. I’d done worse—to my own mother—in defense of my family. After a few days apart, I forgot about the lies and the hurt, only remembering that he’d defended me in the end, and that he made me laugh, and that he could turn into a giant armadillo creature. That was fairly rare in terms of boyfriend qualities.
I loved him, and if he didn’t come back within the next few hours, it would be ages before I’d be able to tell him.
“You know, the phone doesn’t work just by staring at it,” Andrea told me. I blushed and ducked my head. I hadn’t even realized I’d taken it out to check for missed calls . . . again. “You have to actually dial for the call to go through.”
“No one likes a smart-ass.” I hugged her tight before adding, “Granny.”
“I’m going to smack you as soon as you let go,” she told me, patting my head.
Andrea shook her head. “The courts won’t blame me.”
A knock at my door prevented any step-descendant battery that might have occurred without intervention. I opened it to find Jed standing there, a massive bunch of hydrangeas in his hand. I grinned, but before I could speak or fling myself at him, Dick thundered down the stairs glaring at him.
On his way out, Dick passed by, pointing at his eyes, then pointing at Jed as he mouthed the words, “I’m always watching you,” followed by an epithet I couldn’t quite make out. I figured that was for the best.
I rocked back on my heels. “So welcome to being threatened by vampire relatives . . . super-awkward.” Jed chuckled. “And by the way . . .” I threw myself forward into his arms. He made an uhf sound and wound his arms around me. I wrapped my legs around his waist, much in the same way I’d crawled up his body the day we met. He fell back against the door as I pressed my mouth to his.
“Hi there, Judith.” He laughed as I ran kisses up his throat, right up to the point when I bit his ear. “Ow! Crazy woman!”
“Eh, you bloody well love me,” I told him.
He thought about it for a long moment. “Yep. I do.”
I gave him a sunny smile. “Good.”
He watched me expectantly, and when I didn’t follow up, he jostled me. “Oh, come on. Don’t play it all cool and collected.” I laughed until he threatened, “I’ll start calling you Judith again.”
“I love you, too. Very much. You idiot.”
“Be still, my beatin’ heart.” He sighed, his gaze dropping to my boxes and suitcase. “So you’re really leavin’, huh?”
“I’m sorry. I stuck around here as long as I could. But I have to go. I’ll be able to come in a few . . . months, maybe? I will miss you. A shocking number of people in Kilcairy insist on wearing shirts full-time. Disheartening, really.”
“It’s my fault. It took me a while to explain everything to my family. Fair warning: when you walk into the middle of the family barbecue and announce, ‘Oh, the curse thing was just a witch’s practical joke,’ the reactions are gonna be strong.”
“Are they OK?” I asked.
“Well, the news that they could shift into anything they want, anytime they want, has led to some . . . security issues. All of my uncles are turning themselves into werewolves and giant turtles and frost giants. In broad daylight. Sometimes in the Little Debbie aisle at the Piggly Wiggly. They’re like little kids. My dad is spending a lot of time trying to keep them in line so they don’t blow our cover. Normally, that’s the sort of thing I would help him with, but I told him I had urgent business to get to up here. He said I’ve earned a little time off.”
I arched an eyebrow, a smile playing on my lips. “And what do you plan on doing with that time?”
“Well, I was thinking, and I’m just throwing this out there, that you’ve learned pretty much all you can, and should, about our culture. But I know absolutely nothing about Ireland other than Lucky Charms and Saint Patrick’s Day. And I don’t think that thing about leprechauns is for real.”