Vincent’s thoughts battled with his emotions as he neared his master bedroom. Elaina had promised to keep their abilities a secret when she learned he could manipulate the elements…before the promise band.
A magic man has cast a spell on me and I’ll be that wizard’s wife, whatever it takes.
The words sent a cringe up his neck. Though innocent, the disclosure hurt. He set his hand on the door handle and opened the latch. Temper this. Understand.
Elaina glanced at him from the edge of the bed as he entered, her brilliant blue eyes dull. Puffy lids held soaked lashes, tears pooling around the edges and falling to her freckled cheeks.
His heart clenched. He held out his hand, but she blinked away her gaze. “Take my hand, Elaina. We need to talk.”
Gingerly setting her fingers in his palm, she choked out her words. “Don’t leave me, Vince. I couldn’t take it…if you left me.”
What? How could she ever believe it would come to that? He watched as her shoulders jerk with stifled sobs. It crushed his soul.
The mattress dipped as he sat at her side. “I love you, Elaina. I’m not going to leave you. We can work through anything.”
Elaina’s lips quivered. “I didn’t mean to tell Linda. I didn’t mean to even imply you were wizards.” She wiped a cheek dry and more tears spilled to replace them. “And when Cole sent us to the parlor after she threatened to go to see Lord Dressen…”
“I know Linda badgered you, Elaina. Cole told me you tried to avoid the topic.”
“But, Vince,” she turned to him, her eyes widening as she spoke. “That’s not all.”
Vincent’s brows pulled together at the frantic plea in her tone. What had happened to rob her of her spirit? Confidence had always shown strong in her gentle ways. The woman before him sounded… broken.
“She figured out much more.” Words tumbled forth in a rush, and guilt heated Vincent’s skin. All the changes, the secrets…she had needed someone to talk to. He should have been there, supported her as she came to terms with her new life. He watched as her brows rose with her exclamations.
“When she sat in the chair across from the hearth, she asked who the man was in the portrait. I told her it was Sylis Shilo, your father. When she looked at me the way she did, I knew I’d said the wrong thing. She asked how the founder of the city could be your father and if he was than you had to be centuries old. And how could you live that long unless you were a wizard.”
Her shoulders drooped, and she cocked her head. “Vince, I knew it was you when the manor shook. It happened right after I had the conversation about being a wizard’s wife with Linda. You blew up the study, didn’t you? Your father’s study.”
A sigh blew through his nostrils. “James fixed it. Only a few old items were broken beyond repair.”
“But it happened. You were so angry at me that you destroyed the room dedicated to your family’s heritage.”
He brushed his palm along her strawberry curls. “It was a misunderstanding and I over-reacted. Forget the study.”
She wiped her cheek again. “And I didn’t mean to—faint when everything happened.”
Laughter puffed from Vincent’s lungs. So much worry about doing the right thing. Gods, I’ve been too shortsighted. “And don’t worry about fainting during the unbinding. It was traumatic.”
“And it failed. Poor Anna. What’s going to happen to her? To Cole?”
Through all of this, she’s thinking about someone else? What was he thinking? Of course, she was. This was Elaina.
His soul grasped the gift of having her in his life anew. “You’re really something, you know that? You’ve entered a new world, taken on heavy covenants, dealt with this crazy family almost all on your own the last few days and you’re worried about two people you hardly know.”
A weak smile curved her lips.
“Well,” he sighed, “James restored her health. Linda was making her comfortable in a new room, last I saw. The gods charged Cole to serve her for the rest of his soul’s life. If I know him at all, she’ll be his only thought from here on out. She’ll be happy.”
Elaina lowered her gaze. “And Linda?”
He took a deep breath. “By rights, Cole could call for a partial memory recall. James is talking to her, seeing if she’ll accept a promising. He’s against tampering with her memory. In all honesty, it causes more harm than good.” He looked back at his love. “Regardless, she needs to stay here until she takes part in the Chalice ceremony.”
Vincent stroked a finger down her lips and then lightly kissed them. “Elaina, your life is changing fast. I’m sorry I haven’t been there when you needed me. I promise to do better. All of this will take some getting used to. Be patient with yourself. With us. Our love is stronger than the obstacles this union will throw at us.”
Tears filled her eyes again, and she set her hand along his jaw. “I love you, Vince. With all my heart.”
Combing his fingers through her long curls, he cupped the back of her head with his palm. “I love you. More than you may ever know. And I can’t wait to kneel beside the alter with you as my bride.”
A wide smile lit her face, and sparkles returned to her blue eyes.
He pulled her into a tender kiss. Elaina, his heart and soul. Nothing would keep him from loving her.
~ * ~
James leaned against the door jamb as Linda tucked clean linens around Anna. She brushed her friend’s pale cheek, and he tilted his head, watching the compassionate gestures.
A thick sigh issued from her full lips, and she leaned her elbows on her knees. As she lowered her brow to her palms, he quietly stepped to her side and placed his hand on her shoulder.
Meeting his gaze, the corners of her eyes dipped. Shame flashed in her blue irises.
“She’s resting now,” he whispered. “Why don’t we go relax in the parlor? I’d like to talk with you.”
Her chin quivered as a smile teetered into place. She nodded.
Jittery steps punctuated her walk. As they passed the banister sentinel, she wavered, and her hand lifted to her brow.
“It’s okay, Leenja.” In a swift dip, James scooped her up into his arms.
She wrapped her arm around his neck, and her head rested near his collar. Waving his finger at the door, it opened, and he eased over the threshold. He slowed as they approached the sofa, but she showed no desire to be released.
“The cushions are probably more comfortable.”
She peeked at him through the top of her lashes, and a blush bloomed on her cheeks. “Sorry.” She let go of his neck. “I…just…” Tucking her hair behind her ear, she motioned to the couch. “Yeah, I mean… The sofa’s fine. Anywhere’s fine.”
James lowered her onto the soft pillows, and then pulled an ottoman before her. Taking a seat, he leaned his elbows on his knees.
She quickly swung her legs over the edge and pushed herself to an upright position. Raking her fingers through her hair, she blinked at him with a crooked smile. “Thank you.”
“Um,” she patted her thighs. “You really didn’t have to carry me in here.”
“No trouble at all.” He furled his brow. “I’d offer you a drink after everything that happened, but I think it might not be the best idea with the spell you received.”
Linda glanced at the bar and then blinked her gaze back to him. “Oh, yeah. Um, what was that Cole did to me?”
James lowered his gaze, but kept a small grin. “That was a calming draught. Nothing more.”
She nodded and looked away. “It sure felt like more.”
“Your heart was searching for reprieve.” He leaned his head with a sympathetic gaze. “Leenja.”
Her gaze snapped to him, and he started at the quick response. He furled his brow. “Did I say something wrong?”
“My name.” She flopped her hand. “Would you say that again?”
A breath of laughter puffed from her lips. “Wow,” she said with a breath. “I love that.”
James smiled. How could she draw his attention away from his concerns so easily? He watched her, eager to know what he had done this time. “What do you love?”
“How you say it. Your unusual accent. My name is Linda and you pronounce it Leenja.”
A chuckle rumbled in his chest. That’s it? Such a simple thing? What a pleasure. Pressing his lips together, he nodded. “I’m glad you like it.”
Sparks danced in her eyes.
“Leenja,” he grinned as she tried to hide her smile. “I heard your prayer to Gryffin as we formed in the park.” He took her hands in his. “And I know what happened with your husband.”
Her cheeks lost color, and her smile faded. She gnawed at her lower lip as she blinked several times.
James tightened his grip.
As she looked toward the far side of the room, moisture coated her eyes. She swallowed, but didn’t stifle the hiccup. “I can’t blame him…for going to her. Look at me. But my girls—I can’t live without my girls.”
As if the words slapped him in his face, James flinched. What? Of all the unbelievable things she could have said, she said that? His voice rose with his shock before he could harness it. “What do you mean you can’t blame him for going to another woman? And what about how you look? You’re beautiful.”
Confusion jotted his thoughts. He shuffled in his seat, and his hands fumbled over hers. Standing, he launched into a stride around the chairs. As he reached the hearth, he halted, and ran his hand over his chest. His cheek quirked, and he glanced back at her.
“I’m sorry,” she choked. “I didn’t mean to bother you. Especially with all that happened and you being so nice to me.”
He shook his head and held out his hand to emphasize his view of her. “Leenja, you are a beautiful, voluptuous woman. How can you think…” he turned to the hearth to cut off his words. Had he just called her voluptuous out loud? Heat rose to his face.
James looked back at her as she blinked her gaze to her hands, and then she quickly withdrew a cigarette from her pocket. As she lit the end, she glanced in his direction. “You said I shouldn’t have a drink, but I need something.”
He grinned and returned to the ottoman, reclaiming his seat. Lifting his finger, he circled the tip of her cigarette. A tiny conduit appeared, and the smoke trailed into the void.
She looked at him, eyes wide.
“I rarely smoke,” he said. “The night air can have the remains.”
His grin widened, pressing dimples into his cheeks. “So, you think I’m better looking than Vincent, you love how I say your name, and you think I’m amazing. I guess I’m doing something right.”
Full lips pinched into a quirked smile.
Rounding back to the reason he needed to speak with her, he cupped her hand in his. “I must ask you, Leenja, to remain at the manor. I know you agreed to a short stay but under the circumstances it’s imperative to ensure silence. What has taken place must never be spoken of outside these walls.”
Linda flushed, her smile slid into a slight frown, and then her blonde brows rose. “James, you have my word. I’ll never speak of this to anyone.”
“Would you be willing to accept a promising?” He reached into his pocket and withdrew a champagne diamond wristlet. “It’s a promise band. Once placed on your wrist, the promises you make upon acceptance are difficult to be broken.”
“I’ll do anything to prove how deeply sorry I am for what I tried to do.”
He slid the adornment over her hand, and gazed into her eyes. “Promise me you will honor our privacy.”
“Promise me what happens within our family will remain silent.”
“Promise me our nature and our ways will not be shared.”
“That will do.”
She shook her head, and her voice held a tremor as she spoke. “And James, I promise to never try to use your wizardry for gain.”
Smiling, he lightly kissed the promise bracelet. It morphed, molding to the curves of her wrist. He brushed his fingers across her cheek. “I wish I could ask for more promises from you. But I believe that would be inappropriate.”
Linda’s lips pinched into a sassy smile, and he knew she wished he would go ahead and at least hint at those promises.