Despite all the drama, MacTavish wasn’t waiting for them in the library. Riley barely noticed as she gasped the moment she stepped inside the room. It was like a Victorian dream come true; two stories tall with circular iron stairway that led to a second floor catwalk. A small dome rose in the very center of the ceiling, shedding soft light beneath it. Tables and padded chairs sat in discreet niches to allow for privacy. Reading lamps were dotted here and there, most with ornate stained glass shades. A fireplace sat at one end of the room, cozy flames warming the space. The room smelled of old paper and readily available knowledge. Just inhaling the scent seemed to ease some of the ache in her heart.
“Can I just move in here? This is like heaven.”
“I figured you’d see it that way,” Beck said. He waved her to one wall. “These are the ones you shouldn’t touch,” he said, indicating three shelves of books. Some were so old their bindings were cracked.
Now he had piqued her curiosity and Riley moved closer. “What keeps me from reading one of these when no one is looking?”
He gave her a hard stare.
“I’m just curious. Don’t worry, I’m not going to do it.”
“The books won’t allow you ta touch them,” MacTavish said, entering the room. He was smiling as he approached, dressed in comfortable slacks and a navy sweater. “Go ahead, try ta take one off the shelf.”
Riley hesitated. “Is it going to fry me or something?”
“No, though ya’d regret it, and never feel the need ta do it again.”
She shook her head. “I’ll pass.”
“No curiosity?” he teased.
“Sure, but sometimes curiosity costs too much,” she said. “Besides, if I figure out all the mysteries in the world, then what?”
That earned her a chuckle from the grand master.
He and Beck traded looks, an unspoken message passed.
“I’ll . . . catch up with you later,” Beck said, then left them alone.
The grand master found himself a chair near the fire.
“Feel free ta look around,” he said, gesturing.
Why not? MacTavish was a bit like Angus Stewart, so he’d get down to business when it suited him. Riley took herself went on a tour of the shelves. The books were in various languages, including Latin, Greek, Russian and German. Something for everyone.
“If yer lookin’ for family histories, the records are there,” the Scotsman said, pointing toward the opposite wall. “There’ll be somethin’ on the Blackthornes.”
She turned toward him, surprised. “Why? None of my people were grand masters, at least I don’t think so.”
“No, but they were instrumental in establishin’ the Demon Trappers in England. Ya’ve a rich history, lass.”
Riley sighed in frustration. “My dad never told me much. He really didn’t want me to be a trapper.”
“Not surprisin’. As ya well know, it’s a hard life,” the man replied.
“That’s the truth.” It’s cost me the guy I love.
With a little hunting, Riley found her family’s history, all five volumes’ worth. The final one was a looseleaf binder whose contents began in 1979 and ran through current day. She flipped it open, read a few lines and then jerked her head up. “I’m in here.”
“Of course ya are, lass,” MacTavish replied. “Master Kepler keeps the records up-ta-date. Once we have enough information, we have the manuscript properly typeset and bound. It’ll be a few years before that happens ta the one yer holdin’.” He gestured. “If anythin’ needs correctin’, let me know.”
“I will, thanks.” She still couldn’t quite wrap her head around the fact that someone cared enough to record the history of her family.
“I hear ya turned down Beck’s proposal,” MacTavish said, as if he had a right to talk about something that personal. “May I ask why?”
Riley frowned, growing irritated. “With all respect, I don’t think that’s your business, sir.”
“It is when it affects one of our people,” he replied, his voice taking on a sharper edge. “Denver is verra much in love with ya. I had thought the feelin’ was reciprocated. Now he tells me it’s not. That makes me curious as ta what has changed.”
Riley knew he wasn’t going to back down, so she gave in.
“I just . . . ” Once again she tried to get a handle on her turbulent emotions, which seemed to see-saw back and forth without warning.
“Lass?” he nudged.
She chose a chair near him and the fire, slumping down into it, still holding the binder. “Honest, I don’t know. I just . . . One minute I want to be with him forever and then next I don’t . . . .trust him.”
“It’s it only him ya don’t trust?”
“No. I have trouble trusting anyone. I feel like I should be running away, that someone is after me. It’s . . . weird.” She rubbed her temple, as if that could make things right.
“Headache?” MacTavish asked.
“Sort of. I have this hum in my brain all the time now. It’s hard to think.”
“When did it start?”
“Ah . . . a couple days ago. It’s just jet lag.”
MacTavish’s brow furrowed. “Aye, that’s probably it.”
She needed to change the subject. “How is Bess’s daughter? Is she still really sick?”
He nodded. “Kepler thinks she’s dyin’ because she’s been bespelled.”
“What? Why would someone do that to a kid?” Then it made sense. “Because it made her mom agree to kidnap me, to get me to that graveyard as demon bait.”
“That’s what we think.”
“Whoever did this is evil.”
“Aye.” He rose, watching her carefully. “I have only one more question for ya; if Beck had asked ya ta marry him at the graveyard, would ya have said aye?”
“Of course,” she replied, without thinking. Riley began twisting the ring on her right hand with her thumb. “I love him so very much.”
“But not now.”
“I don’t know,” she replied, more confused than ever.
“Who knows, perhaps he’ll ask ya again.”
“He won’t,” she said, feeling the certainty of those words and how bitter they tasted. “Den has his pride, and I’ve hurt him . . . badly.”
“Well, at least ya see that. I’ll leave ya ta it then. I hope ya find our house peaceful, Ms. Blackthorne.”
Grand Master MacTavish departed, quietly closing the door behind him. As if by magic, Riley’s eyes strayed to the section of forbidden books. Then she shook her head.
Not going there.
After thumbing through the binder’s contents, she read about her father, how he’d come from a long line of English trappers and how he’d been recruited by Master Angus Stewart. Some of that she knew, other parts provided revelations. There were a few notes about Riley’s mom and then details about her dad’s most notable demon captures. One, in particular, proved difficult to read; the night her father had tangled with an Archfiend and lost his soul. That revelation had been slotted in on an extra page, because at the time no one had known he’d made a deal with Hell.
“All for me.” Such deep love was almost more than she could bear.
The longer she read about her dad and the Blackthornes, the words seemed to calm the buzz in her mind. Unfortunately, they did nothing for the void in her heart. Only Beck could fill that.
As time passed, the silence of the library did bring that peace the masters spoke of. Reluctantly, Riley re-shelved the binder and then returned to the fire, the room chillier than she would have liked.
“Why did everything go wrong?” she muttered. Now that she thought it through, her attitude toward Beck had changed when she’d arrived at the hotel. Before that, she was fine, but once she was in that room, she’d gone from relief that he’d been at her side, to wanting him gone.
The why proved elusive. A current heart check told her she still loved him, despite his recent behavior, and that her distrust of him was minimal. Did it have something to do with the manor house? Their wards?
If Bess’s daughter had been bespelled, why not her? No, that didn’t track. Like she’d told Kepler, she hadn’t been near a necromancer since the graveyard.
Feeling frustrated, Riley’s attention wandered to the forbidden books and she eyed them much like a kid in a candy shop. It was tempting as the titles promised hidden knowledge in necromancy, demonology and arcane magic. Maybe the answer is in one of those book, and if she found it . . .
“No.” She just couldn’t go there, not after all the grand masters had done for her and Beck.
She headed toward a computer tucked in a corner on a small oak table. When she jiggled the mouse, the monitor lit up and promptly asked for a password. She frowned, then remembered she’d seen it on a sticky note on Beck’s desk. Fortunately it was memorable enough that she typed it in.
It took some time to compose the email to Mort, mostly because it was full of heartbreak. If she hadn’t known him so well, she wouldn’t be exposing herself like this. Once she’d covered the horrific details, she moved into the questions.
What are the ways a summoner can put a spell on a person? Can the spell be done long distance? If so, how would they keep it going? Is it possible someone has cast a spell on me to make me so paranoid?
I swear, I would never have turned down Beck’s proposal if I’d been home in Atlanta.
PLEASE HELP ME!
She hit Send. “Come on, Mort. Tell me what’s really going on. Tell me I’m not going crazy.”
Riley logged out and leaned back in the chair, her arms crossed over her chest. A lengthy yawn told her give it up and go have a nap. Maybe by the time she awoke Mort would have replied with something that helped her make sense of her screwed up life.
A fresh bottle of Holy Water sat in front of her door, courtesy of Brennan. Once inside, she set the bottle on the floor and booted up her computer. When she went to check her email, just in case Mort had already replied, the password didn’t work.
Muttering under her breath, she tapped on the door that led to Beck’s room and that got her a gruff “Yeah?”
Riley creaked the door open and peered inside. Beck was at his desk, books open all around him, but he appeared distracted.
“The password’s not working. Is there a new one now?”
He nodded and fished around in the top drawer for a piece of paper. “It changes every day at three in the afternoon, for security.”
Their fingers touched when he handed over the paper and she found herself peering down into pair of exhausted brown eyes.
“Are we okay?” she asked.
A half-hearted shrug was his reply as a slight frown creased his forehead. “Not sure. How are you doin’?”
When she hesitated, he rose, stepping closer. “Don’t lie. Just tell me how you feel. Happy? Sad? What?”
“I’m empty inside, like I’ve lost something important.” You.
Beck cocked his head. “Same here. What’s goin’ on between us doesn’t feel right. I mean . . . it’s not like us.”
“Like me, you mean. I’m the one who suddenly went bizarre.”
Beck nodded, then opened up his arms. Without hesitation, she walked into them, surrendering to the embrace, wondering how she could ever live without this guy.
“That’s better,” he murmured near her ear. “You’ve been too distant the last couple of days.”
She laid her head on his chest. “I wrote Mort and asked him to help us. I need to know what’s happening with me. I want things the way they used to be.” The way they should be.
“Same here,” he said.
He raised her head and then gently kissed her. Warmth spread through her body.
“I should let you study,” she murmured after the second kiss.
“Yeah,” he replied, bending in for another.
Finally, she broke away, unsure of going any further than just kissing. Too much was in flux right now.
“Oh, we got a supper thing going on tonight. You’ll need to dress up. It’s kinda fancy,” he said.
“Okay.” There really wasn’t much else she could say.
“So you know, it’s not just us tonight.” Beck looked away, as if he was about to tell her something she wouldn’t like. “Summoner Fayne will be here — she’s one of the midlevel necros, from what I hear. Monsignor Lang and Archdruid Scrimshaw will be here too.”
“After what happened to me, they invited a summoner to dinner? Are they crazy?” she demanded.
“It’s a MacTavish thing,” Beck replied. “He likes to keep an eye on folks. Figures the best way to do that is to talk to them every now and then. Who knows, maybe we’ll learn something by havin’ one of their kind here for chow.”
Riley drew back. “Well, that whole idea just sucks. Do I really have to be there?”
She swore under her breath. “Then do me a favor — keep the necro away from me. I don’t want to lose it front of everyone.”
Beck grinned. “Now that’s the Riley I remember. Dinner’s at seven.”
“Good. I need a nap.” Maybe that way she’d be less inclined to commit necro-cide over dessert.
(c) 2013 Jana Oliver
All Rights Reserved.