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Somewhere, TX – Secret Free Read

[et_pb_section][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_image admin_label=”Image” src=”https://www.krystalshannan.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/erins-banner.png” show_in_lightbox=”off” url_new_window=”off” animation=”left” sticky=”off” align=”left” force_fullwidth=”off” always_center_on_mobile=”on” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid” /][et_pb_accordion admin_label=”Accordion” body_line_height=”2em” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid”][et_pb_accordion_item title=”Chapter One”]

January 2015

Erin leaned across the sales counter of her Aunt’s store. Books and Things was a shop that couldn’t really be filed under one particular category. The old witch had everything anyone could possibly want. A tearoom in the front and in the back… well… anything someone who knew about magick could ever want.

The front of the store with all the hippy crystals and herbs was just for show so the locals wouldn’t get suspicious. They sold everything from mood rings to special creams to enhance sexual pleasure. Aunt Siobhan claimed that every person in Somewhere had stepped foot in her shop at least once —even if it was just for the tea and cakes.

In addition to actually being a witch, Aunt Siobhan had the brass balls to open her shop next door to the Long Rock County Sheriff Office and across the street from the Long Rock County News Office. She even had lunch with the Sheriff’s front desk secretary, Edna Walters once a week.

If ever there wasn’t a place to practice witchcraft, it was right where Aunt Siobhan had hung her hat.

The little bell above the door tinkled as it swung open and one of the cutest guys in Somewhere strolled into the store. Of course he had Kara McClure on his arm. So that negated any attempt to flirt shamelessly with him. Luke VonBrandt was one of those guys that every girl dreamed of calling her boyfriend. He was sweet, intelligent, and drop-dead gorgeous. Erin was pretty sure just his presence in the room made her heart palpitate a little faster.

“Good morning,” she called out, leaning against the counter to hopefully mask her shaking knees.

Luke flashed her a hundred watt smile and Erin could’ve sworn the entire front room lit up. “Morning, Erin. Mom sent me over to pick up that special bath salt mix your Aunt makes. She said to make sure I got five bottles.”

“Five?” Erin asked. The relaxing lavender bath salts were wildly popular —probably because Aunt Siobhan infused them with a touch of magick to aid in the relaxation of the person in the bath.

“Office gifts,” he answered, explaining the need for multiple bottles.

Kara left his side and walked toward a shelf of trinkets. Erin watched her touch several of the crystals on the shelf and noticed that Kara had the same tattooed Celtic knot bands on her wrists that Luke did. She knew enough about magick to know it was a bonding spell. But why would Kara or Luke VonBrandt be practicing magick? Maybe they’d just seen the tattoos on others and liked them. It could be a coincidence … but in all honesty —true coincidences were rare.

“Erin?” Luke’s velvety soft bass voice drew her attention from Kara’s wrists.

“Of course,” she said quickly. “Let me go look in the back. I think there’s only two bottles on the front shelf right now.” Erin turned and disappeared through the two saloon doors behind her.

Erin took a left into the storage room in the back of the store and quickly found the box of extra bottles of bath salts. Her Aunt was in the back of the room mixing up something that smelled like a Texas Sunrise from down at Everyday Joe’s.

“Who came in?” Siobhan asked, looking up from her stone pestle.

“It’s Kara McClure and Luke VonBrandt. Did you know they are sporting suspicious-looking bonding tattoos on their wrists?” Erin asked, counting out five bottles of the bath salts.

Her aunt shook her head. “Doesn’t surprise me in the least. He’s been head over heels for that girl since junior high. It was only a matter of time.”

Erin paused at the door. “But the tattoos?”

“What about them?”

“Are they magick?”

Siobhan’s lips pressed together forming a tight line, and the muscles in her cheeks twinged.

“You’re still a witch in training and this is not the time, nor place to discuss such things.”

“So they are.” Erin flashed her Aunt a smirk and slipped out of the room.

“Leave it be, Erin,” her aunt’s voice called after her.

She pushed through the swinging saloon doors and looked up —straight into Luke VonBrandt’s dark brown eyes. His face had been pleasant when she left but now… not so much. Now he looked like a man who wanted to tear her limb from limb. What the hell? He couldn’t possibly have heard her talking to her aunt way in the back. She hadn’t been that loud.

“Is everything okay?” Erin set the bottles gingerly on the counter in front of him and reached beneath the counter for a paper bag.

He slapped down a hundred dollar bill and just continued to stare. His gaze was suffocating and Erin just wanted to melt between the floorboards and disappear from sight.

Kara had returned to Luke’s side, but neither of them spoke to her.

They just stared.

Luke’s emotions read furious and Kara’s face was creased with worry lines. Fear tugged at Erin’s heart and she found breathing more difficult with every passing moment.

“Everything is fine,” Luke answered, flashing her a wide smile. “As long as you follow your Aunt’s advice.”

Erin blinked in surprise. Oh. My. God. What had just happened? He couldn’t have heard what I said… but he did.

“I… Um, of course,” Erin said, the words sputtering out of her mouth like food in a blender without a lid. “Is this all you need today?”

Luke nodded.

She took the hundred dollar bill from the counter and handed him his change along with the paper sack loaded with the five bottles of bath salts. “Thank you f-for shopping at B-Books & Things.”

The little bell above the front door to the shop rang, and Erin breathed a sigh of relief when her mother appeared in the doorway.

“Thank you,” Kara said, taking the bag from her hand.

Luke turned away without a word and caught her mother’s gaze. “You have a problem brewing, Ms. Banfield.” His words were slow and his tone as serious as her Aunt’s had been just moments before.

Her mother flashed her emerald gaze to meet Erin’s and frowned before turning her attention back to Luke. “I’ll be sure it’s remedied. Please be sure to say hi to your mother for me. Kara it’s so good to see you. Is the lavender oil helping you sleep better?”

Erin watched as Kara’s face lightened and she smiled. “Yes, thank you Ms. Banfield. It’s helped very much.”

Holy crap. Who knew mentioning a couple of tattoos would turn into a mess of epic proportions.

Once Luke and Kara had left the store her mother strode toward the counter, her cowboy boots echoing painfully in Erin’s mind with each step.

“What did you say to him?” her mother hissed, keeping her voice low and under her breath. There were still customers in the dining area of the store enjoying tea and cakes.

“I didn’t say anything… to him,” Erin said, also keeping her voice to a whisper.

“The VonBrandts are a very powerful family and we very specific agreements with them to run this business in Somewhere. If we don’t respect their privacy, they will make us leave.”

“Leave Somewhere!?” Surely not. She’d been born here. Raised here. How could one family hold so much sway over her life?

“Shhhhh,” her mom said with a warning glare. “We’ll talk tonight at dinner. It’s time for you to know a little more about this town and the family that I owe everything to.”

Owe? What had her mother needed from the VonBrandts?

[/et_pb_accordion_item][et_pb_accordion_item title=”Chapter Two”]

February 2015

Her mother left the shop right after Luke and Kara. Erin frowned, pondering for a moment what their conversation later would uncover. No need to ask Aunt Siobhan. She wouldn’t give her a hint and never had. In fact, Erin had always been a little jealous of the close friendship her mother had with her sister. Made her wish for a sister. Or at least a cousin her age.

But no. It was just her.

She cleared a few dirty napkins from the tables in the tea room and put them in the trashcan by the wall. The shop only had six tables in the tiny dining room, but to Erin’s continued surprise they usually had a steady stream of visitors.

Aunt Siobhan’s teas were very popular. Of course a lot of that had to do with her special ingredients. Everyone raved about the tea at Books & Things. The teas were really good, but Erin’s favorite thing at the shop were the scones. She particularly loved her Aunt’s Jolly Peppermint Scones. A pick-me-up and a natural mood enhancer. Best thing for a day when she was dragging and couldn’t seem to crawl out of bed and get to class.

It was winter break right now. Classes didn’t start for another week at least. She looked down at her watch. It was almost eleven. The morning had practically flown by.

The bell behind her rang.

Erin turned and waved. Tande Walker and Claire Milton waved back and smiled.

“Hi Erin,” Tande called out.

“Hi Tande. Hi Claire. What can I make you today?” She asked, hurrying back behind the prep counter for the tea room.

The two ladies walked up to the counter and turned their attention to the menu board posted on the back wall. Both were dressed in jeans. Tande wore a light blue sweater and black scarf that accented her gorgeous long strawberry blonde hair. Claire had a cute high-cut brown leather jacket on over a fire-engine red shirt. Her long straight icy blonde hair was something Erin had always been jealous of. The Banfield family were redheads. And not strawberry blonde with just a dash of red, she and her mom and aunt had hair the color of a dark merlot.

It was pretty. But wildly curly without spending hours with a straight iron. And nothing stayed in it. Erin had tried to color it, highlight it, anything. Nothing stuck. Her mom told her it just wasn’t meant-to-be and Erin was beginning to believe her.

“How are the wedding plans going, Claire,” Erin asked, smiling as the two friends perused the menu. The list wasn’t short and Tande had a habit of always looking for something new to try.

“Pretty much decided,” Claire answered with a smile. “Very small and private. Not a big affair and it will be down at United Methodist here in Somewhere.”

“Oh, that will be nice.”

“I’ve got a little bit of a headache, Erin. What do you recommend? You need to tell your Aunt to put what each tea helps underneath it.” She flashed Erin a wide grin.

“That would take the intimacy out of the shop,” Erin answered. “Best one for a headache would be the Peppermint Ginger.”

“What about you Claire?”

“Something with a hint of sweet. Do you like the Strawberry Tart?” she replied, pointing to end of the menu over Erin’s head.

“Aunt Siobhan just made that recipe last week. It’s delicious and just a hint of sugar.”

“I’ll try that then.”

With a nod, Erin rang up the orders on the register and Tande handed her the cash for both drinks. She poured two travel cups, one with white and one with black tea. Then took the peppermint ginger vial from the shelf above the counter and poured ten drops in Tande’s black. The oils and herbs and along with her Aunt’s magickal blessing would banish a headache in mere moments.

Replacing the vial on the shelf with it’s companions, she read along the labels until she found the strawberry tart. The fun whimsical flavor was her just one of her Aunt’s first tries at finding that special flavor for a Valentine’s Day tea. Erin added ten drops of the pink liquid into Claire’s white tea, closed the vial and then popped on the travel lids.

The heat from the teas warmed her hands as she set the finished products on the counter. “There you are, ladies. Strawberry Tart and a Peppermint Ginger. Good to see you today.”

“Thanks, Erin,” they both answered.

Erin waited until they’d left the shop before calling out for her Aunt. “Aunt Siobhan.”

“Yes?” Siobhan poked her head out of the back hallway.

“The bookstore on campus opened today. Do you mind if I leave for a while and go get my books for the semester?”

“That’s fine, sweetie. Your mom should be back from the post office shortly. I’ll be just fine here.”

“Thanks!” Erin grabbed her purse from beneath the counter, and then her coat and hat from the rack by the door. She hurried out of the shop, into the biting cold of January. Damn arctic blast.

Hopefully she could get her books early and not have to brave the lines when all the out-of-towners returned from their holiday travels.

Erin shivered as a particularly icy blast of wind caught her straight in the face. She passed a few people on the sidewalk before turning the corner to the little parking lot for the store. Her white Explorer was in the furthest spot. She climbed in and was whipping down Main in a few seconds. A quick turn on Logan and another on 287 took her past Long Rock Museum. Another half mile had her turning onto campus.

She parked in the huge lot off Fox across from campus security and the Student Union Building.

A few people were moving around on campus already. Several cars passed her on Fox Street as she hurried down the sidewalk and down the stairs into the basement of the Student Union Building, more affectionately known on campus as the SUB.

She reached for the door, but it swung open and she met the piercing gaze of one of the most eligible bachelors on campus. Riley Mason was on the football team and was one of the best running backs the college had seen in years. Or at least that’s what the campus gossip rag said.

“Hi,” his smooth-as-honey voice rolled over her skin like the softest of silks. “You work in town, right? That tea shop place.”

Erin swallowed. He recognized her? “Yes, Books & Things.” She said stepping through the doorway after he walked out, using one of his broad shoulders to prop the door open for her. She turned, walking backward a few steps, a smile spreading across her face like a damn idiot. It wasn’t like he would ever be interested in her. But just that fact that he recognized her was more than some girls could say.

“I’m Riley.”

“I know. I mean, I-I,” Erin sputtered. “I’m Erin. Erin Banfield.”

His face broke in to a wide grin and his white teeth flashed behind kissable lips.

Erin nipped at her bottom lip and tried not stare at Riley’s mouth.

“Well it’s nice to meet you, Erin. Erin Banfield.” He chuckled and let the door close. With a quick wave he turned and walked off.

Erin sighed and turned abruptly, taking a quick step forward without looking and found herself smack against a wide, hard, male chest. Strong hands steadied her shoulders as she backed up out of the poor guy’s personal space.

“Oh, God! I’m so sorry.”

“It’s fine. I don’t get a lot of pretty girls running into me. Usually just a lot of confused stares.”

Erin looked up into the deepest pair of brown eyes she’d ever seen. They were the color of chocolate and caramel swirled together. Long black lashes framed them perfectly. It was enough to make any girl jealous. On top of that he had shiny black hair that trailed halfway down his back.

His skin was a deep bronze, even in the middle of winter. Between that and the untraditional hair, she knew he had to be Native American. Strange though, she’d never noticed him around campus before.

“Are you new on campus this semester?”

He chuckled and shook his head. “Nope. This is my Junior year in animal science studies.”

“Oh.” Heat crept up her cheeks when she caught herself staring at the handsome guy. Not only was she openly gaping at him, but he’d been in town three years and she couldn’t remember seeing him even once. “Do you live on campus.”

“No, I’m working out on Saddles for Hope Ranch south of town. I live on the ranch during the summers and in the dorms during the semester.”

“So you’re not from Somewhere?”

“No, I’m from a little town two hours west of here. Rapid Springs. Pretty much just a stoplight.”

He smiled at her with those deep brown eyes.

She could get lost in those eyes. He might think girls were staring in confusion, but it’s more likely they were lost in a fantasy of how to get him to pull off his shirt and smother them with his sexy body. Oh, damn. I really need to get a grip.

“I’m Grey,” he said, extending his hand. “Grey Standing-Rock.”

Even his name was sexy. Where had this guy been hiding? Erin slipped hers into his warm palm and did her best not to shiver with excitement as his fingers closed around hers.

“Erin Banfield. My mom and sister run the little shop, Books & Things, next to the sheriff’s office.”

“It’s a pleasure to run into you, Erin. I’ll have to find an excuse to stop and get tea in town from now on.”

Heat crept up her neck and into her cheeks. He was all but saying outright that he wanted to see her again. The flutter of butterfly wings brushed her insides and a smile stretched across her face.

“You should. We make really good tea.”

We make really good tea? Really, is that the best you can do?

His eyes twinkled with amusement. “Will you be there later?”

Her heart stopped in her chest and she snapped her mouth closed to keep the squeak of surprise from escaping. “I-I… yes.”

“Good. I’ll see you around five then?”

The heated interest in his chocolate brown eyes made her stomach clench with excitement. She hadn’t been this worked up about the possibility of a date in a really long time. Her taste in men usually left her with a bad taste in her mouth after they left, but Grey seemed like he might be different.

Maybe.

***

Erin stared at the glass door of Books and Things and then back at her watch. 4:48.

“Darling, staring at the clock won’t make this boy show up any faster.”

“Aunt Siobhan, please,” Erin drawled out.

Her aunt laughed and strolled down the tall shelf filled with bath salts, lotions, lip gloss, and various other jars and bottles of concoctions. She moved a few jars and re-stacked a couple canisters. It was the normal closing ritual.

Erin walked to pastry cabinet and moved the remaining scones and muffins to a paper bag.

The door swung open and Grey strolled in with the same adorable twinkle in his eye and heart-melting smile that had nearly made her knees go out only a few hours ago.

“Are those all for me?” He crossed to the counter and inhaled deeply. “Because they smell delicious. Why have I never been in here before?”

His gaze wandered around the store, stopping briefly on her aunt before returning.

Heat climbed Erin’s neck as it blossomed deep in her belly at the same time.

“You are welcome to have them.” Grey’s beautiful honey-brown eyes warmed and Erin felt a smile spread across her face.

“You just made a starving college guy’s weekend.” He pulled back the edge of the brown paper bag and peeked in  at the assortment of baked goods.

Starving? That was cute. A giggle slipped from her mouth. “You don’t exactly look like you’re starving.” In fact, his broad shoulders and corded biceps flexing beneath his tight thermal cream-colored shirt made him look more than perfectly healthy.

“I won’t be after enjoying these.”

His spicy male scent filled Erin’s lungs as Grey leaned down over the counter. She took a surprised step backward. The butterflies were back. And this time even stronger.

[/et_pb_accordion_item][et_pb_accordion_item title=”Chapter Three”]

March 2015

Grey held the door to the Allnighter Cafe open and took a deep breath of the cold winter air. Texas weather never ceased to amaze him. Only a few days ago it’d been nearly eighty degrees and now it felt like the bite of snow was hanging in the air again.

The little red headed chick Fate had intervened on his behalf with, walked passed him and flashed a bright smile. McAdams University wasn’t small, but still, he couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen her around town or on campus before. Her hair color alone warmed his blood, with its rich merlot tresses that shimmered around her bright round face, and damn she smelled as good as those pastries she’d agreed to let him take home.

He barely knew her, but he wanted nothing more than to run his fingers through her hair, pull her close, and taste those heart-shaped cherry red lips to see if she tasted as good as he imagined she would.

The last thing he needed to do was hurry into a relationship. He’d seen the way she stared at Riley just before he’d come up to the doorway of the Sub. But, it wasn’t Riley taking her to dinner. She’d accepted a date with him and with the flirty looks she kept throwing his way, he was pretty confidant she didn’t care that she was out with an agricultural student instead of a football player.

The shop where Erin worked, Books & Things, seemed really nice. It had the small town charm along with an atmosphere that crossed between tea room and a natural remedy store. He’d grown up in a home that was filled with dried herbs and essential oils. His mother would would love to see some of their homemade recipes to cure what ailed you. He’d have to remember to stop back in and pick up a few things before he went home to Rapid Springs next weekend for a visit.

Pulling the door closed behind him, he followed Erin through the bustling cafe. It really didn’t matter what time of day you showed up at this place. It was always busy and always filled with college students. Textbooks crowded the tables along with plates of amazing down home cooking. He couldn’t remember ever ordering anything here he hadn’t enjoyed. They always kept enough staff on hand too, so no one waited longer than necessary for good service.

A bright-eyed blonde met them a few steps inside the door. “Table or booth?” she asked, grabbed a couple of menus from the hostess stand.

“Booth, please,” Grey responded.

He sat after Erin slid into the closest side of the booth.

“Welcome to the Allnighter. Your server will be right with you. But, if there’s anything I can do,” the blonde said, drawing out the last sentence.

He didn’t have to look. The tone of her voice said it all. And nothing irritated him more than a girl who flirted with a guy who was obviously on a date.

“We’re fine,” he said, making a point of speaking to the hostess without looking away from Erin. “My date and I aren’t in a hurry.”

Erin’s face lit up even more. She was positively glowing. He met her green-eyed gaze and sucked in a breath. Flecks of iridescence danced in her irises, making her eyes look metallic. Ethereal. Entrancing.

“Grey?… Grey?” Erin’s voice finally broke through his daze.

He blinked and refocused on her again. “Sorry.” A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Your eyes…”

She shifted in her seat and a flash of concern darkened her face. “My eyes?” He tracked her gaze as she glanced out the window, then down at the table, around the dining room, and then slowly back at him again.

The bright green orbs that had sparkled just a moment ago with a brilliant metallic gleam, were still beautiful, but the iridescence was gone. Maybe it’d never been there. Maybe it’d just been in his head.

***

Erin swallowed the burning taste of bile in the back of her throat. How could I be so careless? She couldn’t believe her feelings for this guy had manifested so quickly that they would’ve reflected in her gaze already. It’d never happened before with any other guy she’d dated and even the stories her mom and aunt told spoke of the “glow of love” happening months if not a year after meeting a kindred soul. It was only supposed to happen with certain people that the magick chose. Love wasn’t enough, the stories said the glow only happened when you found the perfect man.

But there was no other reason for her eyes to have garnered any special attention. They were just forest green —most of the time. He shouldn’t be staring at her like he was. Like he was trying to figure out, trying to reason in his head with what he saw with his eyes.

Oh, shit. Mom and Siobhan are going to kill me. 

“So, Grey. Tell me what you do out on Saddles for Hope. I don’t know much about the ranch except that they do therapy work with disabled children and veterans.” She twirled a piece of her hair around her first finger and smiled, hoping desperately he would go along with the subject change. Of course there was also the problem of her eyes showing the glow again. Stupid witch genes. She could only pray that they wouldn’t do it again, especially since she wasn’t relaxed any longer. Maybe her anxiety alone would keep it from happening.

“The ranch is amazing. Anna Granger has such a vision for the place. I’m lucky to have gotten on at the start when she first bought the place two years ago. She’s built something really special already. I can’t wait to see what it will be like in a few more years. She’s already promised me a job as long as there are grants to pay for my salary.”

“Grants?” Erin asked, his excitement drawing her away from her worries.

“Yes, the whole ranch is a non-profit. If it weren’t for donations from local businesses and corporations all over the state of Texas.” He shook his head. “There wouldn’t be money for anything.”

“I had no idea. How does she get enough donations to run an entire ranch? That place looks huge. I’ve driven by on my way out of town.” Damn. He was staring at her eyes again. They were like brown lasers cutting into her soul. Crap. Crap. Crap. She looked down at the table, begging her magick to just take a hike. It hadn’t manifested ever before. Why now? Why with him?

“Miss Anna works really hard. We all do. We are always introducing new businesses to our therapy model and how it benefits the community and our veterans. Thankfully many are willing to donate, but there are only a few that support SFH with annual donations.”

His voice was thick with emotion. Erin could tell how passionate he was about the vision for the ranch.

It must be nice to be able to choose a passion and follow it the way he was doing. Her mom and aunt told her she could go to college for anything she wanted, but that she belonged in the family. It wasn’t safe to be anywhere else. Witches stayed together. At least that’s what she’d been told her whole life.

***

Grey considered Erin’s nervous facial expressions with concern. She’d become highly agitated after he’d mentioned her eyes, picking at her fingernails, licking her lips, avoiding eye contact with him. The topic change had seemed to be her way to ease away from the topic. Unfortunately for her, it meant he couldn’t stop staring at her.

He knew he’d seen it. It hadn’t been his imagination and when she’d steered their conversation away from her eyes, it was obvious that he really had witnessed them change. But why? Why would someone’s eyes change color?

The waitress chose just that moment to reappear at the their table side. He handed her a twenty dollar bill and turned back to Erin.

“Do you ride?” He couldn’t think of a good excuse to keep her out with him today past this lunch. But maybe she would relax a little with the horses. It worked for the Veterans and kids. It should work for typical people too.

She shook her head. “I’ve never ridden. I mean I remember getting on a pony at the fair before when I was a kid. But I’ve never ridden a horse.” Her pursed lips relaxed and she looked up at him again, a smile twitching the corners of her mouth like the tip of a cat’s tail.

“I have the day off from SFH today, but I know there are horses that always need to be exercised. Would you like to come out with me and take a ride?”

She contemplated the question for more than a few seconds, before nodding her head and allowing a smile to spread across her face.

Gorgeous. There was no better word. the richness of her red hair, creamy white skin, and stunning green eyes captured his attention in a way that no other girl had before. There was something different about her. Something that as his mother would say “called to his soul”.

“Great!”

“I have to change shoes though,” she said, sticking one foot out from under the table into the aisle. Her foot was hidden in a furry snowshoe type boot.

He chuckled. “Do you have real boots?”

“Yes,” she drawled out with a teasing quality in her voice that made his chest tighten. He wanted to lean forward and taste her smiling red lips. Taste them. Suck on them until she sank against his chest with contentment and looked up at him again with those adorable green eyes. Eyes he desperately want to see sparkle. If he could make them glow again…all the better.

***

Grey drove her home and she left him in the car while she ran inside to grab her boots and a heavier sweater. If they were going to be outside riding, she needed more than a little knit shirt and scarf.

Her boots were by the back door. She kicked off her soft boots and pulled on the black Ropers. A quick detour to her bedroom produced a heavy McA campus sweatshirt. She tugged it on over her shirt and headed back out to Grey.

He was standing next to her door with a smile on his face that made her feel like a winning lottery ticket. She couldn’t remember the last time a guy had looked at her like she was the best thing that had ever happened to him. There had to be a catch somewhere. Something wrong with him.

If it wasn’t him. It was going to be her fault this didn’t work out. Her and her witchy issues. No guy seemed to stick around a Banfield long. Her mom and aunt never even tried to date. Although, she was pretty sure her aunt hooked up with someone every now and again. She’d seen her sneaking out of the house late at night all gussied up.

“A penny for your thoughts?” Grey pulled open the door to his Dodge pickup.

“Just looking forward to seeing the ranch.” She smiled and climbed up into the passenger seat.

He closed the door behind her firmly and joined her in the cab a moment later. It only took a few minutes to get through old town and turn off onto Sweet Mountain Road south outside of town. The landscape alternated between towering forests of pine and cleared areas of grassy fields. The big bus depot flew by on her right and a few miles later she saw the white rail fences that surrounded Saddles for Hope Ranch. It was a beautiful piece of land.

She leaned closer to the window, admiring several horses loose in the field they were passing.

“Must be nice to feel like you are making a difference.” Erin glanced away from the window and caught Grey’s gaze before he focused back on the road. A minute later he was turning onto a gravel drive, running through small potholes, and bouncing the suspension of the truck like they were in a little kids’ jump house.

“It really is. I personally enjoy the kids program. Anna gives me more authority there. She’s trying to build up the Veteran program this year so she can qualify for more grants.”

“I thought you said she needed the grants to pay for the programs.”

He nodded, driving past two large whitewashed barns and parking next to a building that said Office on the door. “She does. But she has to continually prove a need to get her grants renewed. Then if the current ones run out, she has to start the process all over again to find new money.” He opened his door and hopped to the ground, closing it with a shove behind him.

Before Erin could open hers, he’d hurried to her side and opened the door for her, holding out his hand to help her down. Heat warmed her face as she blushed like a fifteen year old girl who’d just met her rock star idol. She couldn’t think of even one time a guy had ever opened the door to his car and helped her out.

Looking up after her feet landed squarely on the dirt driveway, she saw his eyes widen with surprise just for a second. Crap! What if her eyes were shimmering again? He’d freak and then she’d be stuck up shit creek with the overwhelming fear that he would tell someone —and that they would believe him enough to investigate.

Think about yucky things. Finals. Breaking a nail. Having the flu. Spirits of Mother Earth, please don’t let me ruin this.

[/et_pb_accordion_item][et_pb_accordion_item title=”Chapter Four”]

April 2015

Erin followed behind Grey as he took her through the barn introducing her to the various horses and ponies in the line up of stalls.

“Some of the others are out in the pasture right now, but we can check the therapy schedule here,” he said, pointing to a bright green clipboard hanging on the wall. Sweet Pea and Rosie should be back any minute from the children’s time finishing up. We’ll just wait for them and then give them a good jog. If you’re up to it.” He turned, flashing that panty-melting grin again and Erin thought she might actually pass out from blushing so hard.

“That sounds great,” she nodded, swallowing hard and leaning against the nearest stall door while she tried to will her heart to slow from it’s breakneck pace.

“You okay?”

“Oh, I’m fine.” She smiled and prayed to the spirits that her eyes were behaving themselves. At least there was nothing else manifesting physically to give her away. But if she wasn’t careful, her Aunt and mother would be after Grey to wipe his memories faster than a cat could climb out of a bathtub.

A few minutes later a young woman walked into the barn leading a dun mare and a grey mare.

“Hey, Grey. You’re off today. Did you forget?”

He laughed, the easy laugh of a man who didn’t have any secrets to hide from the girl he was taking out. “Nope, just thought I’d bring a friend out to show off your place. Maybe exercise those mares for you?”

Erin squirmed against the wall and turned to face the newcomer. She was tall, with muddy blonde hair, and a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose and cheeks. Her broad smile made Erin feel like they were friends already.

“Hi! I’m Anna Granger. Any friend of Grey’s is a friend of mine.”

“Erin Banfield. It’s nice to meet you. Grey has been telling me all about this place.” Erin took Anna’s outstretched hand and shook. The rancher’s grip was strong, but friendly and welcoming. Her hazel eyes sparkled with an infectious energy that set Erin’s nervous mind to rest.

If she could just stop being so afraid of what she was becoming, maybe the actual transformation wouldn’t be as bad as her mom and aunt had been warning her about. People weren’t Erin’s enemy right now.  Emotions were the enemy. Until she could keep those under wraps, she was a danger to herself and her family.

“Why don’t you grab Buttons and Flash from the stalls at the end of the hall. Those girls could use a good stretch,” Anna said, gesturing down the past the breezeway of the large barn.

“Sure,” Grey answered with a smile.

“Thanks for coming,” Anna said, turning back to Erin. “We can use the help whenever you have time. If you want to be a regular volunteer, just let me know. Grey can get your information down in the office so Trish can process it.”

“Thanks. I will definitely think about it. I didn’t know you had volunteers. Actually, I don’t know much about the ranch at all except for the flyers I saw in Dr. Metts waiting room.”

Anna’s smile widened. “That’s okay. I’m just thrilled to hear that the doctors in town have the flyers out where people can see them.”

A horn beeped from outside the barn and a male voice bellowed for Anna.

“My Autistic Unit of kiddos are here. Gotta run.” She was gone a second later, leaving Erin and Grey alone again.

“She’s busy isn’t she.”

“That’s an understatement. That woman never slows down.”

Erin looked up and met Grey’s gaze. He was staring at her again. The same way he had been at the diner. It made her skin tingle and her belly clench. She really liked being around him, but she had to get this overwhelming urge to plaster her lips against his under control. Or not.

She wet her lips with her tongue as a shiver crawled down her spine. Her heart pounded in her chest so hard, surely he could hear it.

His gaze dropped to her mouth and his hands moved upward, cupping her face.

“I want to kiss you.”

She swallowed and her whole body tensed, words didn’t come to mind, but she managed to nod her head as his heated brown eyes locked onto her like a predator who’d just caught it’s prey.

Willing prey, but she felt like prey none the less.

His lips descended to hers and she opened her mouth to his tongue’s caress. Between his fingers sliding through her hair at the base of her skull and his soft lips devouring hers, she didn’t know what was better. The taste of him in her mouth or the spicy male scent from his skin filling her lungs as she gasped for breaths in between his assaults.

He was a damn good kisser. Not that she had a lot to compare it with but her high school boyfriends had nothing on this man. The way he held her so gently but so firmly, made her feel safe in his arms. Like she belonged. His mouth demanded complete surrender, but rewarded her with a rush that made her legs feel like they were composed of jello salad.

This was a kiss she never wanted to end.

[/et_pb_accordion_item][et_pb_accordion_item title=”Chapter Five”]

May 2015

The kiss did eventually end, though it was certainly the very best she’d ever had. They’d exercised the two mares Anna pointed them toward for nearly an hour, before Grey drove Erin back to Book’n’Things.

He pulled to a stop next to the sidewalk, hopped out, and jogged around the front of the vehicle to open her door. She flashed him a wide grin and climbed out, taking hold of his outstretched hand.

“I really had a great time.”

“Me too,” he answered, closing the door and pulling her tightly to his chest. “When can I see you again?” His bass voice rumbled with the promise of more than just a kiss.

No beating around the bush. Good.

She couldn’t wait to see him again too —glowing magickal eyes be damned. Her mom and aunt better show her how to mask it pronto so she could spend every extra minute she had with Grey Standing-Rock.

His soft lips closed over her’s again. Pleasure rushed through her body and she sank into his grasp, removing any space that was still between them.

“Excuse me, Miss Banfield,” a velvety smooth bass voice called from behind them. “Sir.”

Erin jerked and turned toward the familiar voice. It was the deputy sheriff, Allan VonBrandt, one of Luke’s uncles.

“Sorry,” she said, her voice croaking half-way through the word.

“You can’t park there.”

“So sorry, officer. I was just dropping her off.” Grey gave her another quick squeeze and wet kiss on the cheek. “See you soon, okay?”

She nodded and waved as he hurried and climbed into his car and drove off.

The police car lingered a few moments longer. Erin didn’t give him a chance to be nosy and walked hastily to the shop’s door and slipped inside.

“Erin, is that you?” her mother called from the back of the store. “Lock the door behind you sweetie. I’m done for the night now that you’re back.”

“You didn’t have to wait for me,” Erin hollered over her shoulder, locking the large glass double doors to Books’n’Things. “Where Aunt Siobhan?”

“Over here.”

Erin shrieked and then laughed, not expecting her aunts voice to come from behind the counter.

“Where are you?”

Her aunt’s head popped up, red curls spilling down her shoulders. That was something all the Banfields had in common —lots of red hair.

“Just packing up the last bits of the baked goods for the shelter on the other side of town. How was your date?” she asked, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively.

“Yes,” her mother echoed, appearing from the back hallway. Her face was covered in flour and her long merlot-colored hair was wound into a tight bun beneath a hair net. “How was the date? He looked like a scrumptious bite when he came to pick you up.”

“Mom,” Erin drawled out, rolling her eyes. Her mom and Aunt never dated and when Erin did, they lived vicariously through any tidbits she was willing to share. Which usually was absolutely nothing.

“You two need to find your own dates to drool over. Not robbing the cradle by wanting to hear about mine.”

“Do you feel any different, hon? Tired?”

Erin scrunched her eyebrows and glared at her mother. Not only was she not going to dignify that question with an answer, she was horrified that it had been asked.

“I didn’t mean did you sleep with him. I just mean in general.”

“She doesn’t know what in tarnation you are talking about, Katherine. We haven’t even started her training yet,” Siobhan said, placing a large basket of leftover scones and muffins and bread on the counter.

“It wasn’t necessary,” Katherine shot back at her sister.

Erin sighed. “Are you two going tell me what’s going on? Are you talking about my magick? Because I’m pretty sure it came out today and waved a glow-in-the-dark flag in my date’s face.”

Her mom and aunt gasped at the same time. “What happened?” they asked in tandem.

Erin flexed her fingers and walked to the counter, her cowboy boots clomping eerily on the tile floor sending an ice cold chill down her spine. She set her purse down gently on the counter and faced her family head on. Whatever they were going to say couldn’t be worse than worrying all afternoon about her eyes glowing again in front of Grey.

Right?

“We were at the Allnighter. Just eating and talking and he said something about my eyes. And I realized that I was super attracted to him. Like more than any other guy I’ve ever dated. There’s just something about Grey. I can’t put my finger on it. Anyway, you guys know how you talked about the ‘glow of love’ showing up in a witch’s eyes when her feelings manifest.”

Her mother groaned. “Honey, that’s not quite how it works. But, yes.” Katherine Banfield exchanged a knowing look with her sister and Erin frowned. They were having one of those conversations via telepathy.

“The glow of love is very real, sweetie,” Siobhan said, reaching for Erin’s hand where it lay on the countertop. “It’s just that…it’s not just your feelings manifesting so to speak, that’s part of it, but more your magick recognizing a kindred spirit.”

“He’s a witch, too?”

Her mom shook her head. “No, baby. But he’s someone who will accept you magick and all. A human familiar. Someone you will be safe having a relationship with. And someone that won’t drain your magick to be around.”

“Drain my magick?”

Her aunt piped up again. “That’s why your mom and I are so picky about dating, well, mostly about being intimate.”

“Aunt Siobhan! I don’t need to hear this.” Erin jerked her hand away. “Seriously. I don’t want to know about your love lives.”

“We don’t have them. That’s the point, Erin,” her mother said, leaning back against the wall. “If we spend a lot of time romantically involved with a human that isn’t a kindred spirit, our magick wanes for several days. If we stay involved with that person for a long period of time, we would lose all our powers for months, even years at a time.”

“But my magick hasn’t manifested yet.” Erin rubbed her temples and squeezed her eyes shut for a few moments. “Why would it choose to show itself right then, to a guy I barely know?”

“Your magick has been due to appear anytime over the past year. We’ve just been waiting for a sign.”

“Well,” Erin said. “I think I have a magickal stamp across my forehead now that says ACTIVATED.”

Her aunt snorted out a laugh.

“Training begins tomorrow morning. In the meantime, bring Grey around as often as possible. We need to decide the best way to tell him about our family.”

Erin’s chest tightened. She’d just met him. They’d been on one date. What did her mom think was going to happen. That they fall in love and get married next week.

“Hold your horses, mom. We are not rushing this thing with Grey. I’m just dating. Not even dating. We went on one date. One!”

“But you don’t understand how special he is. To find a kindred spirit is rare and a wonderful thing. It just doesn’t happen very often.”

“Was dad?”

Her mother’s face darkened and her smile turned to a straight thin line. “Your father was like us. A witch. But he made some choices that…”

“That what, mom? That’s all you ever say. Dad made choices. What the hell kind of answer is that. What choices did he make?”

Her mom shook her head and hurried from the room, leaving Siobhan and Erin alone.

“Bad ones, sweetie,” her aunt said softly. “Ones that cost him his life and almost yours and Katherine’s. Even twenty years later, it’s really hard for your mom to think about him. Eventually she will tell you everything. But for now, just know that she owes the VonBrandt’s her life and yours. They saved you and brought you both to Somewhere to be with me.”

Erin took a deep breath. There was a lot more history at play in her family than she’d ever realized before. History that she deserved to know. Reasons why they never left Somewhere. Reasons why she hadn’t been allowed to apply to colleges outside of the local town university.

It was time to learn the truth.

Soon.

[/et_pb_accordion_item][et_pb_accordion_item title=”Chapter Six”]

June 2015

Erin handed a hot tea to Edna, the sheriff’s secretary from next door, something strong and mellowing. They’d been dosing her for years, ever since Allan VonBrandt took up residence as a Deputy for the town. Even so, the old woman was one of the main gossip rags around. Without her aunt’s special brew, the woman would be ten times worse and much more perceptive to her surroundings.

“Have a great morning, Ms. Walters.”

“Thank you, darling,” Edna said, flashing her a smile. “Did I see you out with that Native American boy yesterday? He’s a looker.”

Heat rushed to Erin’s cheeks and she bit back a response about the old bat keeping her nose out of her personal business. But she didn’t.

“His name is Grey, Ms. Walters. And yes, we did go out.”

“You know he’s from out of town, right? We did a background check on him when he got his job out at Anna Granger’s place.”

Good gods, did the woman have no boundaries?

“Edna, I appreciate you looking out for my daughter,” Katherine said, appearing from the back room of the business. Her mother walked around the counter and brushed Edna’s shoulder gently. “My sister and I like Grey very much. We’re not concerned about Erin seeing him in the least.”

The secretary nodded. “I’m just doing my part. You know us girls have to watch out for each other. Especially with out-of-towners. You never know what kind of hornets nest you might stumble into. At least with locals, we know where they came from and who their parents are.” Edna winked. “Or we can find out for you.”

Erin pressed her lips together, holding in a smirk. The old bat really didn’t care in the least about oversharing people’s private information. It was amazing that she’d kept her job at the Sheriff’s office for so long. Though it was mostly because Randall always wanted to hear the dish about everyone.

Now there was a sleezeball of a man, if there ever was.

“So when do I get to see the spell books?” Erin asked, turning to her mother after Edna left the shop. No other customers had wandered in yet for their morning tea and cake. She arranged the muffins and scones Siobhan had cooked up this morning under the glass domes along the counters. There was rarely a day when they didn’t sell out of the pastries. Even with other bakeries in town, Books’N’Things had a reputation for always having something special that no one could get anywhere else.

The bell rang above the door, and her mom shushed her before disappearing into the back room again.

Joe Walker strolled through the door and flashed a 100 watt smile. “Hi Erin. Is your aunt here? She said she had the liquors ready.”

“Oh, yes,” Erin answered. “I’ve got them here under the counter.” She pulled out six sealed bottles of a yellow liquor that gave Joe’s Texas Sunrise drinks a special kick. Her aunt called it happiness in a bottle.

“I tried to make it without a shot of…whatever that is and it’s just not the same. I wish she would tell me what’s in it. I don’t suppose you know?” He drawled, leaning his hip against the counter.

Erin shook her head. “Family recipe.”

“Well, whatever it is. People always come back for more. It’s still one of my most popular mixed drinks and it’s been on the menu for at least six months. Tell her I need her to come up with something special for DJ and Brent’s rehearsal dinner.”

“Of course.”

She slipped the bottles into a large brown paper bag and he handed her a small wad of twenties.

“Tell your aunt she’s a genius.”

Erin laughed. “I will pass along the message.”

Customers filtered in throughout the day. Some stopped for tea and others for the lotions and other concoctions her mother and aunt made. Once school let out there was another small rush, usually moms grabbing a pick-me-up on their way home with their kids. The favorite tea for them was usually her aunt’s concoction called Energizing Bliss —a mix of citrus flavors in a white tea with quite a nice dollop of what Siobhan Banfield called ‘happy juice’. It was one of the best sellers in the soccer mom crowd.

Erin locked the door behind the last customer of the night and met her aunt and mother outside the back of the shop. The June air was sticky with humidity. Yet another rainstorm was on it’s way to soak the water-logged landscape yet again.

“What’s the plan for dinner?” Erin asked, claiming into the back of their black chevy malibu.

“We thought, pizza and a side of magick books might be in order,” her mother answered, a mischievous grin curving the corners of her mouth.

“Finally. I’ve got to learn how to control my glow-in-the-dark eyeballs. I’m pretty sure it happened again while I was out with Grey last week. He didn’t say anything, but he just kept looking at me with this strange smile.” She buckled her seat belt. “Arrrgh! Please tell me it can be controlled.”

“Not quite the way you want it to be,” Siobhan answered. “But we can eventually make it so that Gray is the only one who can see it.”

Erin’s heart flip-flopped. That could only mean one thing. She had to tell Grey she was a witch. She sucked in a deep breath of air and frowned. “That sounds complicated.”

“Well,” her mother said. “You do have to make a choice. You’ve been dating him now for a few months. How do you feel about making it more of a long term commitment?”

Her eyes widened. “You did not just say that.”

“The only way to control the glow of love is to tether it to the one who causes it. But to do that. We need to do a spell with you and Grey…together.” Her mom looked up into the rearview mirror.

“So he’s going to know that we are all witches. Great. That seems like the best idea ever.” Erin narrowed her gaze at her mother’s reflection, only regretting her biting sarcasm for a few seconds.

“I know it seems like we are going against what we’ve taught you. But honestly, Erin, this opportunity doesn’t come along very often. He’s a kindred spirit. A man you could have a life with. Eventually have kids with and you wouldn’t lose your powers.”

“I’m nineteen.”

“I’m forty-seven and I never met a single kindred spirit, Erin,” Siobhan said, her voice slow and steady, just like her driving. At this rate it would take them a half an hour to reach their house in the residential neighborhood west of town center. “You can look at it as a gift or curse. But either way, you do have a choice to make, because you can’t keep going around with your eyes glowing like you’re possessed. People will start to notice. You’re lucky they haven’t already.”

“What if it scares him away?” It was Erin’s greatest fear. Commitment on her part wasn’t the issue. She’d found this great guy, but telling him everything, exposing her family to him terrified her.

What if he betrayed her?

***

They finally reached the house and Erin followed her mother and aunt into the house quietly. The sun was setting over the tree line, casting a rainbow of yellows, oranges, and pinks that made Erin crave sherbet.

She kicked the door closed and hurried through the cluttered living room to the phone hanging on the wall. Katherine and Siobhan Banfield were probably the only people on the street that still had a land line phone, but Erin had to admit that it never disappeared into a purse or got lost in the couch cushions. She twirled the ancient cord around her finger and shoved the receiver between her ear and her shoulder as she dialed the number on the advertisement tacked to the wall above the phone base.

“Y’all want the usual?” she hollered into the living room.

Both women answered with a resounding ‘yes’. She ordered their extra large with Canadian bacon and regular bacon before hanging up and joining them in the living room strewn with large musty-smelling books she’d never seen before.

“When did y’all have time to get all this out of the secret vault I apparently know nothing about?” She plopped onto the red corduroy couch, kicked off her flats, and tucked her legs under her body.

“I came home at lunch and pulled it out. The vault is in the floor of your mother’s closet. But we’ll get to that later,” her aunt answered, flashing her a mischievous smile.

“Let’s start with the grimoire,” her mother said, pulling a huge leather-bound book closer and flipping it open nearly to the halfway point.

Erin swallowed. Her chest tightened and her heart beat against her ribs, threatening to break through. On the page her mother had opened the book to was a picture of a woman’s face with glowing green eyes.

“Good grief! How has he not turned me in to a mental facility?” She gasped for a breath and searched her mother’s face.

“He won’t. He feels the connection and knows there’s more to it than him hallucinating something. Like we said,” her mother assured her, “there’s more to this than you know. A kindred spirit is something that almost never happens Erin. You can’t dismiss this.”

Hours later Erin leaned backward in the couch and sighed. The overwhelming reality of what she’d been born into was finally settling, and it was digging a pit in her stomach as deep as the Mariana Trench. How was she ever going to learn all of this?

She took a swig of her soda and set the can on the coffee table next to the dilapidated and yellowed grimoire. There were recipes for healing, love, health…most she recognized as variations of the potions she’d seen her mother and aunt mixing up into the various different mediums they sold in Books’N’Things. Then there were elemental spells. Those were the ones that really took the cake.

“I’ve never seen either of you use physical magick? Only the recipes. Can you really do all this stuff?”

Her mother nodded and waved her hand over the candle sitting on the coffee table. A flame flickered into being and Erin’s heart did a little flip-flop in her chest. Her mother waved again and the flame disappeared.

“Fire is the easiest to summon. It’s pure energy and doesn’t require harnessing an actual element, like water, air, or earth and manipulating it.”

Erin stared at the small stream of smoke twisting it’s way into the air from the smoldering wick of the freshly extinguished candle. “How do I do it?”

Her aunt smiled and patted her leg. “Hover your hand over the candle and envision the wick being lit.”

“That’s it?” Erin scooted from her cushion and knelt beside the coffee table, raising her hand over the candle.

“That’s it,” her mother answered. “We were born with an innate ability to harness elements and ancient knowledge of magick. The Banfield bloodline stretches back centuries.”

“I got nothing.” Erin pulled her hand away and studied the unlit wick.

Her aunt grabbed her wrist and placed her hand over the candle again. “Close your eyes and see the fire.”

She tried again. Closing her eyes, she tried to picture the candle burning again like it had for her mother only a moment ago. “I don’t feel anything,” she answered, opening her eyes and dropping her hand away.

Air rushed from her lungs as they tightened around her racing heart. The wick was lit again. It was burning. No matches. No nothing. She hadn’t felt a single thing flow through her. Not the slightest tingle.

“How?”

“Good job,” her mother said, letting her shoulders slump forward, relief showing in the loosening muscles of her neck and shoulders. “My first attempt at lighting a candle took me about twenty minutes and a lot more frustration.”

“But I didn’t feel anything.” Erin shook her head and scooted away from the candle toward the couch.

“You’re not supposed to. You are connected to all the elements. It’s in your blood. A gift.”

“So it’s not a spell?”

“Not for something as small as a candle,” her aunt replied. “Now if you were trying to light up a whole room of candles, you might need to focus by speaking the fire call.”

“The fire call?” Erin’s eyebrows raised and her gaze dropped to the open grimoire on the coffee table.

“We’ll learn that later,” her mother said, “For now, we need you to learn to control the physical aspects of your magick so they don’t show in front of the wrong people.”

“Did either of you ever have that problem?”

They both nodded.

Her mother spoke first. “There’s always a scary transition period, Erin. Magick is volatile and should be treated with the utmost respect. Another reason we do exactly as the VonBrandt’s ask. We are protected here in Somewhere.”

“You’ve said that before. But, from what Mom? What is so terrible that we bend at the slightest word from them?”

Her aunt sighed and laid a soft hand on her shoulder. “There are others in the world that would seek us out and hunt us to extinction. Or enslave us and use us to their own gain. The VonBrandts, while stern on the outside, are honorable and have created this safe haven not only for us but for their entire extended family. It would be a huge breach of trust for us to do anything to draw undo attention to the town.”

“Are the VonBrandt’s witches too?”

Siobhan and Katherine both shook their heads. “They are something very different from us, Erin,” her mother said. “They are called…”

“What?” Erin asked, her blood pumping like she’d been running. The suspense had been eating at her since that very first day when she’d asked about their tattoos. This was it. This was the moment she would finally learn their secret.

“They are werewolves, sweetheart.”

Air rushed from her lungs, leaving her empty and gasping to comprehend what her mother had just admitted. Werewolves? Those didn’t exist. They weren’t real…But then again, many would argue that witches weren’t real either.

[/et_pb_accordion_item][et_pb_accordion_item title=”Chapter Seven”]

July 2015

“Who knew one little town could have so much drama?” Erin reclined against Grey’s chest, nestling into that perfect spot between his arm and his ribcage. His arm tightened around her shoulder, pulling her even closer. They’d found a quiet place out in the front pasture of Saddles for Hope Ranch. Several of the horses munched on grass on a few feet away from where they’d spread out a horse blanket.

“I’m just glad the ranch is safe,” he said.

She stared up at the puffy clouds in the blue sky. A couple of crazy fans the day before DJ and Brent Kane’s wedding had started a fire on the hay bale wall, scorching a half dozen bales. If it hadn’t been for the quick action of a couple of men there after hours, the whole place could’ve gone up in flames.

“Very true.” She watched a particularly large cloud float across the sky above them. The Texas summer had finally hit and it was over a hundred degrees in the sun every day. And most likely would stay there until mid September. It was when most people ran indoors and huddled around the air conditioning vents, but Erin loved the summer.

She loved the heat and the sweat and the open invitation to wear practically nothing without a single person judging her for the short shorts and cropped tops.

Grey’s palm splayed across her bare stomach. He flexed his fingers drawing them up over and over, tickling her abdomen.

“Stop!” She giggled, twisting in his grasp so that she faced him. “You know that tickles horribly.”

He flashed a bright grin and nodded. “It’s too easy.”

She threw a leg over his stomach and sat up, positioning herself so that she rubbed exactly where it would drive him the most crazy.

“Hey.” He pursed his lips into a pout, but his eyes still sparkled with mischief. “You know I like this kind of teasing. You might end up thrown over my shoulder and hauled back to my dorm room for a tutoring session.”

“Unless you’re offering to tutor me in how to play strip poker, I’m just not interested,” she giggled, lying forward until her breasts pressed firmly against his hard chest.

His eyes widened and his erection prodded her belly through his jeans.

She leaned down, capturing his lips with hers, enjoying the taste of mint on his breath and the hint of sweat on his skin. He taste all male. And all hers.

He lifted his hands and wrapped them around her, rolling them until she was beneath his weight. His mouth crushed her lips and he kissed as though he wouldn’t see her for months. Their tongues danced and she gasped for breath when he finally pulled away. A cheshire smile spread across her face and she stared up into his soft honey-brown irises.

“How did I get so lucky?” she asked.

“You?” He grinned, tracing her cheek with his fingertips. “How did I?”

She laid her head on his shoulder and snuggled deeper, the stress of what she was about to ask gripped her heart, squeezing the joy right out of her.

“Grey?”

“Hmmm,” he responded, nuzzling her hair and wrapping his arms around her back.

“Can we talk about my eyes?”

Tension snapped through his body as if she’d flipped a switch. His arms tightened around her for a split second and she could’ve sworn he held his breath for a few moments before it disappeared as quickly as it had come.

“I didn’t imagine it, did I?” he asked softly.

She shook her head ever so slightly against his shoulder. “No.”

“Are you ill?”

“Oh, no,” she exclaimed, sitting up. She looked down at his face —beautiful, sculpted, long aquiline lines, and the kindest eyes she’d ever seen. “I’m fine. I’m just different that your average girl.”

He smiled, parting his lips and flashing those brilliantly white teeth. “I already know that. Why do you think I see you everyday and keep you all to myself? You’re mine, Erin Banfield. And I hope you feel the same way.”

Tears welled in her eyes. Would he feel the same way in a moment? Once she spilled the beans about being a witch. This fairytale relationship might go up in a puff of smoke.

“Hey, baby. Don’t cry. Whatever it is. It’s fine. I promise.” He sat up and embraced her, kissing the top of her head.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and took a deep breath. “It’s magick.”

“No, it’s me caring about you,” he rumbled, his voice vibrating from his chest into her body.

“No,” she pulled back and cupped his face in her hands. She met his intense gaze and felt it happen this time. It was a prickle of energy or…something, but her eyes glowed again and this time she knew. “I’m magickal.”

His lips pressed together, tightening into a line and his eyes widened. “Magick isn’t real, Erin.” He shook his head, but she didn’t let go. “I mean there’s superstitions and traditions and even my people believe in otherworldly intervention, but actual magick doesn’t exist. It’s just—” His gaze flicked from hers to the ground and then to her again “You’re being serious aren’t you. You really think your eyes mean you’re magickal. Like what?”

Erin closed her eyes for a moment and then looked up at the horizon full of puffy white clouds. “Pick an animal.”

“What?” he asked, staring intently now.

“An animal. Pick an animal.”

His eyebrows scrunched together in confusion. “A wolf.”

She smiled. Of course it would be a wolf. Pointing to the sky, she directed his gaze to one mound of clouds in particular. “See that big blob of cloud?”

He nodded.

“Watch it. Don’t take your eyes off of it.”

She waved her hand in the air, across the view of that particular cloud and smiled when it changed shake and slowly began changing to resemble a wolf on it’s haunches howling.

“Holy shit.” Energy rippled between them and Erin was sure he was going to shove her from his lap and run across the field away from her.

But, he just stared at the cloud.

“You did that, but…how?”

Erin waved her hand across the sky again and watched his eyes widen again in amazement. She knew without looking —the cloud had changed back to its regular puffy nothingness.

“I’m a witch, Grey.” Her voice was barely over a whisper. She gazed into his dark brown eyes and waited, hopeful and fearful at the same time. This was the moment of truth. This was the point in time that would change her life forever. Her chest tightened and she held her breath.

“Magick is real? Like snap your fingers and things happen? Like the cloud? Can you do other things?”

She wanted to smile, but he hadn’t yet and she refused to let her heart hope too hard. “Yes, I’m just now learning. When I met you my magick started to awaken.”

“Why me?”

“My aunt and mother say you are a kindred spirit.”

“What does that mean exactly?” He slid his hands up her back and rolled her to the side so that they lay on the blanket facing each other.

“There’s a choice that has to be made or …” It hurt to even consider the option. But it hung in the air like a heavy fog. If he chose not to do the spell. She wouldn’t be able to continue seeing him. This wonderful man would have to become a distant memory. Allowing her magick to show in public wasn’t a choice she could made.

“Whatever you need, Erin. Anything I can do. You know I will.”

A tear ran from the corner of her eye.

“Hey,” he said, cupping her face with his hands and pulling her close. He wiped away the tear and kissed her cheek. “Just tell me what’s eating at you. It can’t be that bad.”

“I can’t continue to see you unless you agree to participate in a spell that will bind my magick to you so that no one else can see it. Right now I’m in danger every time we are in public. If someone saw my eyes glow it would cause all kinds of problems for my family. Apparently we are in hiding from something or someone. So either I avoid you forever or…”

“I commit to you forever?” he asked.

She nodded, her head she cradled in his hands. His touch made her happy and sad at the same time. “I know this is too much to ask. You have your whole life ahead of you and I’m just some girl you met in college. And now I’m a freak of nature who’s asking you…”

Pulling away, she sat up and turned away from him.

“Erin,” he said, his hands skimming over her shoulders and closing around her upper arms as he moved to sit behind her. “We’ve been together over six months. I can’t imagine ever choosing to be with anyone else. I’ve never felt for another what I feel when I’m with you.”

“But I don’t want you to feel like you were forced into staying with me. I can’t do that to you. Eventually you’d hate me and—”

He leapt from behind her and crouched in front of her, his brown eyes meeting her gaze with the same adoration she’d seen before she told him the truth. Could he really not care?

“I want to be with you Erin Banfield. For as long as you will have me and I can prove it to you. Wait here.” He rose and jogged off toward where his vehicle was parked on the edge of the field by the gate.

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He and Erin stood in her living room the next evening with her mother and aunt. The curtains were drawn. It was nearly midnight. Candles were lit around the room, casting soft shadows along the walls. The scent of smoldering lavender hung in the air, drifting up from several small metal pots on the floor. All the furniture had been moved to the edge of the large living room and the floor rug had been rolled up and removed as well.

In the center of the room a three-pointed celtic knot was outlined in some type of white powder and a lit candle was placed at the tip of each point.

“It’s a variance on the Triquetra. The binding of mind, body, and spirit,” Katherine said, motioning him to come toward her. “Sit here.” She pointed to one side of the symbol. “Erin, you sit on the other side.”

They took their places on either side of the outline.

“Hold hands across the design.”

Grey held out his hands and took Erin’s, lacing their fingers together so their hands were palm to palm. A jolt of electricity tingled through his hands and Erin smiled at him reassuringly.

Her aunt and mother moved to stand a few feet away from them, each holding a large flickering green candle. “Read the spell from the grimoire together slowly. Do not let go of each other’s hands. You must read it three times. Once for each bond.”

A large leather-bound book lay on the floor in the center of the Triquetra. The pages were yellowed and the words looked like they were all handwritten. He frowned and looked up at Erin. “That’s not english.”

She shook her head. “You can do this. The words will come to you after it starts.”

He took a deep breath and nodded. “What does it mean?”

“Connection of souls through mind, body, and spirit. Connection of souls forever. Join so that no other may witness.”

“So I’ll still be able to see your eyes glow?” Grey asked.

“You’ll be the only one besides another magicborn.”

He caught her gaze and smiled. “This is amazing, Erin, but I still want to get married to you the old fashioned way as well.”

Erin laughed and her eyes brightened with that glow he’d grown to look forward to seeing.

“I good with that too.”

“Good.”

“Are y’all going to do this today? Or should I go look for another bushel of lavender and herbs to burn?”

He chuckled and nodded his head. “Ready,” he said, looking down at the book again. The words blurred together and he prayed that Erin was right about them coming to him, because right now it looked like someone had just thrown letters in random order on the page.

“Ceangal na anamacha trí chomhlacht, aigne, agus biotáille. Ceangal na anamacha go deo. Páirt a ghlacadh ionas gur féidir aon eile finné.”

About halfway through the second time through, the words fell from his lips like he’d grown up hearing them. They repeated the spell twice more and he grimaced as a shot of pain burned against his palms. He jerked at first, but Erin held tight. It had to be part of the spell, but it hurt like he’d put his hand against a hot pan. Then as quickly as it came, it left. No pain. No discomfort. Just the soft kiss of her palm against his.

“It is done,” Katherine Banfield said, blowing out the candle she held in her hands.

Her sister repeated the same words and actions before they both left the room.

Erin smiled and loosened her fingers.

He did the same and let her go, turning his palms over. A bright green Triquetra had appeared smack in the middle of his palm.

“It will fade in a few minutes,” Erin said, showing her palms. “It’s an invisible brand. That’s why it stung. Sorry, we forgot to warn you about that.”

Grey shook his head. A burn didn’t matter. He had what he wanted. He had her forever. Not only had she agreed to marry him, she bound her soul to his with magick. Magick that up until recently he didn’t even know existed in the world.

“It’s nothing, Erin. The only thing that matters is that I have you. Mind. Body. And soul.”

The smile that lit her face made her eyes glow brighter than he’d ever seen before. He wanted to see that happiness in her every day. But right now he just wanted to kiss her.

“I love you, Grey.”

“And I love you,” he answered, pushing the book out of the way and drawing her into his lap.

He sought her lips and sighed. This was what life was about. Finding someone to love who loved you in return. Someone that trusted you enough to give you every part of themselves. Not a day would go by that he wouldn’t give Erin everything he had.

“You could move to the bedroom at least,” a female voice called from the hallway.

Erin broke into giggles and he couldn’t help laughing as well. She jumped up from his lap and held out her hand. “Coming?”

“Absolutely.”

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