Cole swung his feet over the side of the bed as the old clock sang its sixth chime. He dragged his hand down his face. Wretched dream.
How many times would he have to relive it? Mianna’s shrouded body. His father’s panicked call. Dressen’s black eyes. And why the scent of licorice? He was fortunate the clock woke him before the nightmare revealed his father’s fate—though he knew the outcome.
His breath puffed from his lips. He was more tired than if he’d stayed awake.
A pulse crossed his mind, and he scowled as he looked at his watch. Vincent’s bright image appeared as a perfect hologram over the luminescent face.
Cole grumbled. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”
“I’m looking at my watch. What do you think? It’s six o’clock. Get up. Elaina will be joining us today.”
“You work fast.”
“Dressen’s party is tomorrow. It’d mean the world to her to attend. I want to introduce her as my fiancé and most of the noblemen will expect her to be at the manor regardless of us being Founders.” He motioned behind him. “I arranged for the officiator to meet with her family there. He’ll explain things and convince them to have her stay. I ordered a car to wait for them.”
Cole allowed a low grunt to rumble in his throat.
“We’re taking the master bedroom on the third floor. Chill a bottle of Ambrosia and set it on the table with glasses, and have roses delivered and petals sprinkled on the bed.”
“Okay, okay. Just hold on.” Cole sat up and smoothed back his hair. “I have work to do. James can do that.” His mumbled words fell limp in the air.
Vincent’s hologram nodded. “Do I need to talk to James myself?”
“No, I got it!” With a huff, Cole waved his hand and closed the connection.
~ * ~
The scent of fresh coffee and quick bread met Cole as he shuffled down the hall to the kitchen. The aroma of pleasant wishes filled the room that was easily home to every convenience available, despite their rare use. Silver appliances dotted the walls above the glistening marble counters. A large baker’s island stood center stage beneath a rack of hanging cookware. Morning sunrays streamed through the picture window that filled the east wall of the breakfast nook, its intense brilliance reflecting off everything.
He squinted at the brightness and glowered. Waving his hand, a dark opalescent sheen covered the glass.
James glanced up at the newly pearlized surface and then over to him. “Fresh muffins here if you’re interested.”
Cole pulled out a chair, cocking it to the side and sat. Leaning back, he stretched his long legs in front of him and set his elbow on the table. “Kid’s made arrangements to have that girl here today. He’s having it recorded by an officiator. Wants you to get things ready.”
James furled his brow and took a bite of his toast. “It looks like he’s fallen for her more than I expected. I have to admit, his comment about her caught me off guard.”
Cole puckered his expression. “He was always eager to move on. One more notch on the belt.” With a flick of his wrist, a mug shot to his hand. He poured himself coffee from the percolator. “Pass the cream.”
“I’m sure we all displayed a bit of free spirit during our first life cycle. He treats his women well enough.”
“And the butter.”
James handed the items to him. “But to claim his commitment to this one after moving on when the others passed—he broke his own pattern.”
“I’d say,” Cole spread a thick layer of butter on his muffin, “our little brother’s soul was created to serve a bigger purpose than we expected.”
“That, coming from you is quite a statement.”
“The gods accepted him as part of the Triad in his first lifetime. What would you think?”
“Exactly the same thing. It just sounds more monumental coming from you.”
Cole chuckled. “I still don’t think I can give up the fact that he’s a kid.”
James smiled and then waved his hand through the air, taking in the kitchen at large.
The oven turned on. Bowls, cooking utensils, and ingredients flew from the cupboards and lighted on the baker’s island. Flour neatly poured into the sieve as the other dried products measured their respective amounts into a bowl. Eggs cracked and slumped into the liquids; a whisk beat the mixture at high speed.
He glanced at Cole’s perplexed gaze. “I can’t have guests over for a promising without refreshments.”
Cole took a bite of his muffin and shook his head. “I’ll never figure out how you can do so many things at once.”
“Well, I don’t see how you can pick up on emotions like you do. And I still haven’t mastered thought sharing.”
“You and Kid just talk too much. You don’t exercise the inner process.”
James chuckled. “Vince would say it’s your brooding taking over.”
“My brooding.” He clicked the inside of his cheek and then took a drink of coffee. “My brooding has its advantages. At least I’m not going on wife thirteen.”
“No.” James lowered his gaze and sat back in his chair. “With only seven wives in nearly eight-hundred years, nobody can say you don’t take that step seriously.”
“As do you, brother.” Cole lifted his cup in salute. “So. How about you?” He took the chance James might reveal his essence trace of the other night. “Any thoughts on looking up someone? Sarah maybe?”
“I’ve thought about it.”
He nodded when no further comment came. “Okay. Well, I need the lab to perform the next level of enchantments on the memory box. You won’t need it, will you?”
James gestured with his hand. “Go ahead. What I’m doing can wait.”
Cole stood as the oven door opened and swallowed three pans of batter. Bowls and utensils flew to the sink, and ingredients returned to their proper place. He glanced back at his brother just as the bright stream of sunlight poured back through the charm-released window. Squinting from the glare, he grumbled under his breath and turned to leave.
Lab. Give me the dark dank lab.
~ * ~
Vincent trotted up Shilo Hillside drive, allowing the crisp breeze to wash along his skin. The gradual two-mile climb to the manor offered a picturesque view. Apricot orchards filled the border, suburbs skirted the park, and the east side merchants’ district sprawled across the scene to the left. Industrial sites that towered over the trees silhouetted nicely at dusk. The heart of the city with its glass and granite buildings reached the butt of the mountain that edged Oberon Sea. Steam from the west side manufacturing plants seeped from the bluffs, where they nested to take advantage of natural ores.
Shivers sent tingles to dance across Vincent’s arms and up his neck with each forward bound. Twitching his finger, the wide gates to Shilo Manor swung open. He entered the plush grounds with a skip. The iron bars clanked shut behind him.
Elaina’s call pulsed across his mind. Pausing his stride, he looked down at his watch with a smile. “Tell me you’re ready.”
“This is so amazing! I can see you so clearly.” She beamed up at him from the face of the instrument. “And you sent a Nobleman’s limo? The neighbors keep calling Dad to see what’s going on. He’s beside himself.” She lowered her tone to mimic her father’s voice. “My daughter’s marrying a royal Founder’s son. She has certain privileges now, you know.”
“Well, I want your family to come to the manor today. An officiator is going to record the promising and explain a few things. It should set his mind at ease concerning your stay with us.”
Elaina laughed. “Oh, they’ll like that. Imagine, my family in a wizard’s home.”
“What was that, dear?”
A chill stabbed his senses. “Who was that?”
“Oh, Mom’s gathering things from her wedding. I’m going to wear her gown. Kind of a tradition. She’s getting it ready for the cleaners.”
“Elaina.” He spoke in a hushed voice. “You haven’t said anything remotely near what we’re about, have you? She doesn’t know of the scrying lens I gave you, does she?”
“Huh? No, of course not.” She glanced to her right. “She didn’t really hear me.”
Vincent closed his eyes and took a steady breath to control the foreboding as it gathered in his heart. “What about your father.”
“No. Vince, I wouldn’t tell anyone.”
“You just said it in front of your mother, Elaina!”
“It slipped out. And really, she—didn’t catch it.”
Raking his fingers over his head, he growled and threw his hand down to his side. Blue neon bolted from his fist, gouging into the drive. Cobblestones shot through the air from the strike.
“Make sure she says nothing,” he hissed. “You don’t realize the severity of disclosing that information!”
“Okay, Vince, I promise.” Tears welled in her eyes.
His heart sank at the sight. “Aw, Elaina, I’m sorry—silence is paramount. You’ll grow to understand as you learn more, but for now please tell me you’ll be more careful in honoring the promising. You may not be able to speak out directly, but information can get relayed.”
Elaina’s face melted, and her glistening eyes sought his. “I promise, Vince. I promise. I’m so sorry it slipped. I love you.”
“I love you, too. Just get here as soon as you can. And—be sure the whole family comes.”
“Linda and Jarrett left last night with the girls. He refused to stay another day. But Mom and Dad will be there.”
He nodded and offered a small smile. “I’ll be here waiting.” He dropped his hand, closing the connection, and ran his fingers through his hair. Turning toward the manor, he stormed through the door. “Cole!”
James’ voice came from the kitchen. “He’s in the lab.”
With a determined stride, he headed down the hall, taking the first door to the left.
~ * ~
Cole called up his father’s chronicles and then passed his finger over the Vignette’s flame as if turning the pages to a book. As the appropriate instructions appeared, he retrieved the small memory box from his pocket. Its copper surface gleamed brightly with the effects of his last level of enchantments and satisfaction lightened his mood. It appeared just as it should.
He performed the next step of the charm, whispering incantations as his hand re-created the ritual depicted in the images. The crystal center glowed, and the delicate etchings altered.
Cole smiled as the door to the lab opened and steps descended the hardwood stairs into the basement. He held up his hand to ward off speech as Vincent came into view.
He whispered another spell, producing a fine mist of lavender to hover over a shallow bowl. Pinching at the cloud, he led a trail of quintessence to the memory box as he continued his recital. “Merromel estora, consentrae allure.” Holding his hand level with the container, a puff of ginger fell from his palm to the contents. “Cloer disantan omeret, amid emoria tress.”
He closed the jewel-crested lid and sighed. “It’s complete. Knowing Dressen, he won’t be able to refuse.”
Vincent nodded and motioned to the box. “You called for the enhancement of his experiences when he relives the memories he focuses on.” He smiled. “And did I catch the word desire in there too?”
“This is a gift he’ll have a hard time putting down.” Cole dimmed the Vignette’s instructions. “James has been working in the kitchen to welcome our guests. When are they showing?”
“The limo’s waiting for them. And, I think we’d better present the family with promise bands.”
Cole glared at him. “Why? What happened?”
“When Elaina called, she mentioned our being wizards with her mother in the room.”
“What?” He stood up so quick his head banged against the light he lowered over his task. With a growl, he paced the length of the lab. “How many other times has she just mentioned we were wizards with someone around?”
“Don’t get bent, there.”
Cole stormed to Vincent, pointing an accusing finger at his chest. “This is on you. They accept a full promising of their own will or I’ll take care of it my way. We will not be disclosed by a loose-tongued fem.”
“There might be a slight problem with her father. He likes to be in charge. He might consent if we play him right, but I doubt his heart will be in it.”
Cole headed for the stairs and caused the loud clomp of his feet on the steps to relay a stronger message. “Or my way, Kid!”