Bewitched – Darynda Jones

Again with the knocking. A persistent pounding forced me out of a fitful slumber. I tried to pry open my lids, but my bed was far too comfy. Or I was sleeping on air. I couldn’t seem to separate my lashes, as though they were superglued together. I swore the last time my BFF did that to me, she would rue the day. Clearly, Annette didn’t rue it enough. After an eternity of struggles, I finally managed to create a narrow slit in one eye. I looked around despite the lack of depth perception only to find I really was sleeping on air. Hovering, actually, about a foot off a beautiful ebony four-poster bed. A soft white gown floated around me along with a silky mass of long black hair. Thankfully, it was mine. Either Earth’s gravity had called it quits and moved to Mars or I’d met my maker via a watery grave. I drew in a breath, testing my surroundings. Definitely not in water.

Then it hit me. No wonder I couldn’t open my eyes. I was still asleep. Asleep or not, however, the knocking continued. Seemed even in my dream world, I’d have to answer the door if I wanted any peace. I gritted my teeth and fought with the other lid, rehearsing in my head the firm talking to I was going to give the transgressor. I might even throw in a stern glare for good measure. After managing to coax it open, I had to figure out how to get down. I was working through that conundrum when I noticed the vines. They cloaked the entire room, as black as velvet at night with roses to match.

Only a slight blush of crimson colored the base of each blossom, the edges so dark they looked burned. Best. Dream. Ever. Much better than the dreams I’d been having. The dark ones that slithered through me and left me coldly unsettled. I shuddered, glad to shove those puppies into the recycle bin so I could get back to enjoying the nice, floaty one. And . cue the knock again. For the love of the Sanderson Sisters.

I could either wait for my prince—and who knew how long that would take—or I could answer the dang door and get back to sleep. Still, if I was dreaming, wasn’t I already asleep? I must’ve been exhausted to crave sleep while asleep. This was like a fairy tale gone horridly wrong. I floated—like, literally—down to the bed, my landing pillow soft. As far as dreams went, this one rocked. When I swung my legs over the side and stood, the vines there parted for my bare feet. A good thing since they boasted thorns the size of my palm, as though Mother Nature had decorated the room with her own version of razor wire. The moment I flattened my feet onto the wood floor, a soft vibration hummed through me. I took a few seconds to gain my bearings, then stepped forward, trusting the dream not to shred my feet. Sure enough, the vines parted with every step I took.

I scanned the room again. The vines had crawled up the walls and over the ceiling, but I could still tell I was in my grandmother’s bedroom. The grandmother, who preferred to be called Gigi, I’d very recently inherited. The vibration must’ve been Percival, the house for all intents and purposes, that came with the grandmother who preferred to be called Gigi. Only now that I knew what she’d done, now that I knew her deep dark secret, I didn’t know if I could call her that anymore. I opened the bedroom door, amazed as the vines parted with the billowing grace of a fine mist, soundless and fluid. When I looked out onto the mezzanine, I realized they’d covered the entire house. Every floor. Every wall. Every stair.

I placed my hand on the banister and started down one set of those stairs. The matching set of stairs rose along the wall on the other side of the immense foyer. Together, they led up to the mezzanine lined with rooms and down to a marble-floored entryway. Again, the vines did its red sea thing as I slid my hand down the polished dark wood, each strand curling into itself and moving aside. One would think black on black—the black foliage covering the black walls of the mansion—would’ve made the house lifeless and bleak. One would be wrong. Natural light streamed in from the huge plate glass window in the parlor and the bay windows on either side of the front door, reflecting the deep touch of red on each rose. The effect was nothing short of magical. Then again, the house was named after the witch who haunted it, my grandfather, Percival Goode. It was a very magical place.

I made it to the door just as the interloper intruding into my lush dream knocked for the umpteenth time. As I turned the knob and pulled, the vines withdrew from the door. I cracked open the heavy wooden portal. Light spilled in. A man stood on the other side of the threshold aiming a broom at me. Surprise registered on his face to a comical degree as he watched the vines retreat to the border of the doorframe. Stumbling back, he held the broom like an assault rifle. “Mr. Shoemaker?” I remembered him, just barely, from when I’d arrived in the infamous town of Salem, Massachusetts, only a few days ago. My fair-haired neighbor lived down the street and was part of several beautification committees with more letters in their acronyms than should be legal.

Committees that wanted Percy torn down. Or, at the very least, vastly renovated. “Ms. Ms. Dayne?” Mr. Shoemaker seemed shocked that I’d answered my own door. Had he been expecting a butler? ’Cause we didn’t have one of those. And though I hadn’t been in town long, I’d made it clear the last time he’d knocked on my door that I wasn’t going anywhere. “Call me Defiance.” He straightened his shoulders, repositioned the broom at his side like an infantryman standing at attention with his rifle, and thrust out an envelope.

I deflated. This again? For realzies? “Defiance.” He had to clear his throat like my name got stuck in it. “This is a petition for you to vacate the premises immediately.” On second thought . “Call me Ms. Dayne.” I took the envelope but didn’t bother opening it. I’d always had a sixth sense about people, and I didn’t feel hatred from Mr. Shoemaker.

I didn’t feel dislike from him either. I felt concern? And definitely fear. The vines were a lot to take in. But at the moment, I liked them. And I finally understood the broom. He’d been using it to get past the razor-tipped foliage so he could knock on the front door. Dreams were cray-cray. He pushed up his square-framed glasses with an index finger. “Please, Ms. Dayne, go back to Arizona.

” “How did you know I was from Arizona?” I’d only been here a few days, and it wasn’t like we’d had tea and biscuits. “What?” he asked, stumped. “I just . that’s not the point.” “It may not be the point, but it’s definitely a point.” “I don’t know what to tell you.” He glanced around, his gaze landing on my vintage mint green Volkswagen Beetle. My pride and joy. I looked at it like a loving parent. “Your license plate.

” A proud grin widened across Mr. Shoemaker’s boyish face. “Yes. That’s how. Arizona tags.” “Ah.” He pointed to the papers in my hands. “This is your final warning, Ms. Dayne. Leave, or else.

” “Okay then.” I saluted with the envelope. “Thanks for the heads up. No one wants else. It’s so vague and open-ended.” He jammed his free hand on his hip. “Ms. Dayne, I feel like you’re not taking this seriously. The state of this”—he looked around as though unable to come up with an acceptable euphemism—“crumbling monstrosity was bad enough a few months ago, but now?” He gestured to Percy. “Now?” “Well, look at it.

” I did. I leaned out and marveled at the black vines that had covered the entire house. It looked like a Victorian lover’s paradise, which would explain my fascination. “Wow.” “Wow, indeed. Something must be done.” “And that something is my eviction?” “Yes.” He raised his chin a visible notch. “I’m sorry, but if you aren’t going to do anything about this . this eyesore, then the town of Salem will be forced to tear it down.

” “Tear down Percy?” I glared at him. “Are you even human?” Giggling like a maniacal serial killer, I slammed the door before he could answer. Then glanced around at the subject of Mr. Shoemaker’s worst nightmare. “Don’t you dare listen to him, Percy. You are stunning.” He hummed beneath my feet again. Smiling, I turned to see three people standing behind me, all with mouths slightly open in shock. Or awe. I preferred awe.

“Hey, guys.” Annette, my spunky sidekick, blinked at me. Her mop of curly, chestnut hair had seen better days, including the large strand that covered one teardrop of her turquoise cat-eye glasses. Next to her stood the tall glass of water known around these parts as Houston Metcalf, the city’s chief of police, and the tasty love interest of my deceased grandmother. Not that she let her state of deadness interfere with their relationship. The fact that he was graying at the temples did nothing to detract from his sweltering good looks. But the pièce de résistance was the stunning specimen of drop-dead male beauty next to the chief. Standing just as tall, Roane was lean, muscular, and right off the cover of Men’s Health. His dark red hair, streaked with gold, brushed wide shoulders that tapered down to washboard abs. Not that I could see it now, but I had a fantastic memory when it came to all things Roane Wildes.

A close-cropped beard, only a shade lighter than his hair and tinted silvery gray, framed his perfectly formed face. And then there was, of course, the kilt. As always, he wore a dark leather kilt and work boots like they’d been created just for him. I’d never been more grateful that this dream chose not to deviate from reality. Normally, my dreams would’ve had him wearing something ridiculous like polka dot pajamas and bunny slippers. Not that he wouldn’t still be spectacular. Especially with all the ink. But I liked reality much, much better. I walked over to him and brushed my fingertips along his ribs, his thin T-shirt doing little to disguise the reflex of his stomach hardening under my touch. “Now this is my kind of dream.

” “Dream.” One corner of his seductively sculpted mouth rose. But I didn’t know if he was questioning or confirming. “Dream,” I verified, just in case. “Defiance,” Annette said. She covered her mouth with both hands and said from behind them, “Oh, my God. You’re . you’re here. You’re alive. You’re awake.

” “I am.” I moved in for a quick hug and she stiffened. Even in my dreams she wasn’t a hugger. I gave her a quickie then pulled back and smiled up at the chief. “Hey, Chief.” When I gave him a quick hug as well, he leaned into it but didn’t reciprocate. Odd. He was a total hugger. “Daffodil.” He seemed just as surprised as Nette to see me.

Also odd. A warm smile softened his face. “Are you okay?” “Never better, Chief.” Turning to Roane, I grabbed a handful of his T-shirt and pulled him toward the stairs. “Come with me, mister.” Our hugging needed to be a little more . private. “Since I’m dreaming anyway, I may as well make it a wet one.” The surprise on the chief’s face was precious, the wicked grin on Roane’s priceless. “Deph.

” Annette shifted her weight like she was suddenly uncomfortable. “We should probably talk.” I turned to her. “Yeah, I don’t think so.” She wasn’t about to ruin what came next. “See this man right here?” I leaned in and bopped Roane softly on his perfectly shaped nose. His grin widened, and he shook his head. “This just happens to be the man of my dreams. And since I’m dreaming, there’s simply no better time to have sex with him.” I gave Roane a saucy once over.

“We might should hurry before I wake up. Talk about coitus interruptus.” He disguised a laugh as a cough behind a very large closed fist. I almost drooled. “I can’t even imagine what those hands are capable of.” He sobered and pulled his lower lip between teeth, eyes glistening with interest. “Defiance.” Annette stepped closer. “You don’t understand. You’re not dreaming.

” “No, you don’t understand. Things like this don’t happen in real life.” I demonstrated by putting my hand on the banister. The vines parted soundlessly, their movements graceful and hypnotic. “Therefore, this is a dream.” I practically melted against Roane. “Therefore again, you and I are going all the way. Twice.” I took his hand and led him up the stairs. Speaking over my shoulder, I elaborated, just in case he needed clarification.

“We’re getting it on.” “Defiance!” That time Annette seemed more appalled than hesitant. The chief only chuckled. “We’re taking a trip to pound town.” “Stop,” she begged. “We’re burying the bone.” “Oh, my God, Deph, please.” “We’re buttering the biscuit.” “I’m not kidding.” “We’re parking the Plymouth in the garage of love.

” I lifted his hand over my shoulder and led him up the thick wooden steps. “I haven’t had a cookie dipped in this cream in far too long.” Then I turned and speared him with my best come hither. “Can you tie a knot into a cherry stem with your tongue?” “Wait!” Annette ran up the stairs. “Look.” She pointed to the boots she wore and, more specifically, to the vines crushed underneath them. “They don’t move for anyone but you.” “Because it’s my dream, silly goose.” I looked up at the landing above me. Two gorgeous men stood there, insanely handsome despite the state of their unhinged jaws.

“See, even my dads are here. Now I know it’s a dream. They wouldn’t be caught dead in matching shirts.” The eldest of my adoptive fathers frowned. “What’s wrong with our shirts?” “Told you,” Papi said. I’d called him Papi since I was a kid. Even though, unlike the dad I called Dad, he didn’t have an ounce of Latino in him. What could I say? I was a confused child. “It’s a great color on me,” Dad said, his soft accent soothing and welcome. “And I put mine on first.

” My dads were always perfectly groomed, and today was no exception. Dad with his olive skin and thick gray hair and Papi, the Viking, the silver-streaked blond fox who still worked out every day and had the biceps to prove it. Their love had always been an inspiration to me. I wanted what they had more than anything, which probably explained my rush to marry my ex. Not the biggest mistake of my life, but damned close. I ran to them and threw my arms around both their necks at the same time. Like the others, they leaned into my hug but didn’t hug me back. “Cariña.” Dad turned and kissed my cheek almost cautiously. “ Dios mio, are you okay?” Leaning back to get a good look at them, I nodded.

“I am so much more than okay.” “How did you . when did you wake up?” Papi asked. “I haven’t. Have you seen the vines?” He frowned. “I don’t understand.” “Exactly. This all feels so real.” “Cariña.” Dad’s silver brows slid together.

“I think we should talk.” “Totally. But right now”—I gestured to Roane—“I’m going to tear this man’s clothes off. With my teeth. Then we’ll do breakfast. How’s that?” My younger and only slightly more fit Papi cast a withering glare in Roane’s direction. He held up his hands in surrender. “You know I wouldn’t.” “What?” I turned to him with a pout. “You won’t dip your cookie in my cream?” Roane pinched the bridge of his nose, but there was a distinct smile behind his hand.

Annette ran up to the landing, crunching the poor vines on her way. She started to put a hand on my arm but stopped herself. “Deph, think about it. You live in a magic house haunted by your dead grandparents.” A sickly kind of horror threatened to blossom in my chest. I tamped it down. No way. “You don’t get it. I was floating on air when I woke up. Floating.

On air. My hair was swirling around me like a leviathan. And then there’s the vine thing. They move when I move.” I held out my hand and willed a vine into my palm. One rose off the banister and curled around my fingers as soft as silk. “See?” Although I was starting to doubt the dream theory despite all the evidence supporting it. “Magic,” she said as though she was sorry she had to. But even she was impressed. I could tell.

Her gaze held as much fascination as understanding. “Watch.” She lifted a hand to my arm. A vine rose up and curled around it, tucking its tip underneath her hand. She jerked back and held her hand open for me to see. A line of blood plumped along her palm. I grabbed her hand. “What happened?” “He’s protecting you. He’s been protecting you this whole time.” A quick glance at my dads told me she was right.

They waited, giving me a moment to let it sink in. The horror I’d tamped down ricocheted with a vengeance. It exploded in my chest and caught fire to my skin. I dared a quick glance at Roane. Heat burst through me, and I could practically see the blush sliding up my neck and over my cheeks. I worried it would be permanent. “He wouldn’t let us near you while you were . resting.” The fact that she spoke softly, as though I was a child, didn’t help. “Resting? I was floating for fuck’s sake.

” “You were in some kind of suspended state,” Papi said. “Like a stasis.” “For how long?” Wary to hear the answer, I asked anyway. “We can talk about that later,” Annette said. “The important thing right now is—” “How long?” I pushed. She pursed her lips, glancing at the others as if she didn’t quite know what to do, then said softly, “Almost six months.” What the ever-loving fuck? My fingers tightened around the banister, and vines curled around them as if they were comforting me. If not for the support of the railing, my knees would surely have buckled. “After you brought your grandmother out of the veil, you passed out,” Annette added. “For six months?” I looked at her through blurred vision.

I’d come to the witch game late in life. At forty-four, I’d learned about powers I never knew I had. I’d learned I was a source, a charmling, one of only three in the entire world, and that others wanted to kill me to steal the immense power I had lying just beneath the surface. When we’d finally coaxed the dormant powers forward, they’d almost killed me. And ever since, whenever I did a spell that required a lot of energy, I passed out. It’d happened more than once in those first few days, but I’d only been out a couple of hours at most. Then I’d accidentally pulled my deceased grandmother out of the veil and back onto this plane. That took a lot more energy than I was ready to expel. But holy hell, six months? How could anyone sleep for six months? Especially without medical supervision? I had terrific bladder control, but damn. “Ruthie said it must’ve been too much on your system.

” The chief’s voice carried up the stairs. “You needed time to recuperate.” Dad reached out to me then pulled back. I took his hand, and the vines that had been holding mine retreated to allow room for his. “It was too much on your body, cariña.” He squeezed my fingers lightly. “Your grandmother didn’t even know a witch could pull someone out of the veil. That it was even possible.” Speaking of grandmothers, where was Ruthie? Before I could ask, Papi said, “You are remarkable.” “You are,” Annette agreed, looking around.

“Percy, may I?” The vines retreated instantly, and then Annette did something that would’ve proven this a dream if it weren’t—she rushed forward and hugged me. Still in shock, I hugged her back. “You’ve embraced the darkness?” “Darkness?” A few inches shorter than my five-five, she pulled back and looked up. “Hugging.” She laughed through a soft sob and hugged me again. My dads joined her, and we stood in each other’s embrace for a solid minute. Partly because it felt wonderful and nourishing and reassuring, and partly because I was too humiliated to ever face Roane Wildes again. Mostly because I was too humiliated to ever face Roane Wildes again. “Let’s get you dressed,” Annette said after we disentangled ourselves. It was only then that I realized the gauze gown I wore was a tad see-through.

Great. My face caught fire as I looked back at Roane, who’s expression was full of sympathy. Humiliation stung the backs of my eyes. “The answer is yes.” His voice, smooth and deep, sent a ripple of heat straight to my core. “Yes?” He graced me with a lopsided grin. “The cherry stem.” And my mortification was complete. “I’ll demonstrate whenever you’re ready.” To the warning glares he received from my dads in response, he added, “On an actual cherry stem.

Naturally.”

.

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