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Shadow silence, p.22
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       Shadow Silence, p.22

           Yasmine Galenorn
 
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We headed back to the SUV, soaked and chilled and tired. I gingerly crawled into the cargo bay, keeping my distance from the bag of bottles as much as I could. Aidan secured them so they couldn’t roll around, for which I was eminently grateful. Nobody talked much on the way back, not until Oriel pulled into the first Starbucks we saw and we all ordered piping hot drinks. I cupped the mocha with my hands, grateful for the triple shot of caffeine. Oriel also ordered peppermint brownies, and we tore through the bag, emptying it lickety-split.

  “Ivy and Ellia, I need you to help me destroy these. Aidan, Gareth, and Kerris, you can all go home. In fact it’s probably better if you aren’t around when we take care of this matter. I don’t want any magic residue spilling off on anybody.” She dropped Gareth off at Niles’s garage, where he had left his car. Then she dropped me off at my house and I waved as they headed back to the boardinghouse.

  I trudged inside, polishing off my mocha as I unlocked the door. Peggin looked up from the sofa, where she was curled up with the cats and a magazine. She took one long look at me and jumped up, startling Daphne as she did so.

  “You look like something the cat dragged in. Here, let me take your coat. Go take a hot shower while I heat up some soup. I know you’ve got dinner plans tonight with Bryan, but you need something hot in your stomach. I can tell that just by looking at you.”

  Grateful for her mothering, I hurried to my bedroom and peeled off my clothes. The snow had soaked through, and I realized how chilled I was. As I turned on the shower and the steam began to fill the room, I let out a long sigh and gratefully stepped under the pounding spray. As the water eased the chill from my bones and the scent of amber and vanilla revitalized me, it hit me. This is what my world was: a swirl of magic and intrigue and ghosts and friends who were strange and miraculous and slightly scary. I suddenly found myself laughing. I felt right at home.

  * * *

  Two hours later, Ivy called to tell me that they had managed to destroy the witch bottles. By then Peggin had managed to get two mugs of soup down me, and we were playing a game of backgammon over peppermint mochas. I glanced at the clock. It was almost six, and Bryan said he would drop by at seven to pick me up. I knew that we were having dinner at the Mossy Rock Steakhouse, but he didn’t know that I knew. I dressed in new black jeans, a soft blue sweater, and a silver belt.

  “Say, I think tomorrow morning I’m going to go buy the Yule tree.” My grandmother had brought me up celebrating the Solstice, and I loved how all the old traditions had lived on. In addition to the tree, we also had a Yule log every year when I was young, burning it for twelve nights straight as did our ancestors and then keeping bits of the charcoal to light the next year’s fire. I had searched through the house, looking for the remains of last year’s log, but couldn’t find any, so I decided to start new this year.

  “Do you have ornaments?”

  “Yeah, I found Grandma Lila’s stash in the attic. I think we should make an evening of it tomorrow night, decking out the house.” I gave Peggin a big smile, feeling in a suddenly festive mood.

  “I could get down with that,” she said. “I have a few ornaments at my house, although I’m not certain we should drop by to pick them up. But I’d love to help you decorate the tree, and we could rent Rudolph and How the Grinch Stole Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life.”

  “Sounds good to me. We can make hot cocoa and pop popcorn and just kick back. Why don’t you invite Deev? By the way, did you see him today?”

  She nodded, a smile spreading across her face. “He called me and I stopped in there at around two for an hour. He’s almost done with the commission; it’s going faster than he thought it would. I think you’re right,” she said. “I think he really does care about me.”

  “I told you so! Anyway, I’ll pick up the tree tomorrow morning and bring down the ornaments, and by the time you’re home from work, I’ll have dinner ready and we’ll just make an evening of it.” I realized that I was excited. When I lived in Seattle, I hadn’t celebrated much of anything. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the holidays, it just seemed futile when I was alone. Or, if I was honest with myself, I just hadn’t felt all that festive. I tried, I had bought a small tree, but the dearth of friends and my general dissatisfaction had taken the joy out of it. I had tried to celebrate the Solstice the way my grandmother taught me, but once again—life in Whisper Hollow had seemed so much like a dream. “Do you mind if I ask Aidan? And Ivy, too?”

  Peggin flashed me a soft look. “You love being back here, don’t you? Even with all the problems, Whisper Hollow agrees with you, doesn’t it?”

  “How can you tell? Yeah, you’re right. It really does. Okay then, we have a plan for tomorrow night. What do you want for dinner?”

  “Oh no, you’re springing for enough as it is. I’ll bring dinner with me. I’ll make sure there’s enough for at least five. If Deev is free, I’m sure he’ll join us.” But she refused to tell me what she was going to bring. “Just let me surprise you for once.”

  We finished the backgammon game five minutes before Bryan arrived.

  I held my finger to my lips as I stood to answer the door. “Remember, he doesn’t know that I know about his plans. So don’t say anything.”

  She just raised her eyebrows and grinned. “You don’t have to worry about me. Enjoy yourself.”

  I thought I suspected a smirk hiding behind her eyes, but I didn’t have time to investigate. I answered the door and Bryan stood there, looking handsome as hell. He was wearing a snug pair of jeans, a green shirt with a black leather vest, and a very snazzy suit jacket. I blinked, not used to seeing him so dressed up.

  “Are you ready?”

  I shrugged into my jacket—a velvet blazer with pearl buttons. “Do I look okay?” Which was, of course, code for am I under- or overdressed?

  “You’re gorgeous, as always.” He waved at Peggin, then slid his arm through mine and escorted me out to his car. He had brought his Lexus.

  “Fancy ride tonight.”

  “Stop fishing. Our destination is a secret.” He looked extremely pleased with himself.

  I laughed and leaned back, staring out the window as we drove through town.

  The Mossy Rock Steakhouse was at the fork of Junction Street and Fourth. We passed Diago’s copse as we hung a right on Whisper Hollow Way. Turning left on Lakeshore Drive Connector, we passed the city hall, firehouse, and the police station. After the grade school we turned left onto Junction Street and then eased into the parking lot of the Mossy Rock Steakhouse. The place was jumping, and I had a feeling a lot of people wanted to eat out tonight.

  I tried to act surprised. “We’re having dinner here?”

  “Do you mind?” Bryan look so concerned that I hurried to reassure him.

  “You know I love Nadia’s restaurant. The food here is wonderful. This is perfect.”

  We were escorted right to our table, and I ordered a strawberry daiquiri and Bryan ordered Cognac. While we were waiting for our drinks, I told him about the day.

  “So Ivy and Oriel managed to destroy the twelve bottles that we found. We still have to look for the other three, but this should be enough to disrupt the spell for now. I tell you though, those woods are powerful. The magic out there is incredibly strong, and seductive in a way. I wanted to just crawl under a tree and sit there and close my eyes.”

  I paused while the waitress placed our drinks in front of us. After she took our order—I wanted a rib eye steak and Bryan asked for a surf and turf—I snapped my fingers. “Oh by the way, I’m getting a tree tomorrow. Do you want to come over tomorrow night and help Peggin and me decorate? We’re going to watch movies and drink hot cocoa and eat popcorn.”

  “I would like nothing better than to join you. Anybody else going to be there?”

  “Deev, if he can get away. And I’m going to ask Aidan and Ivy.”

  Bryan laughed. “Are we g
oing to have a sing-along, too?” When I started to answer, flushed, he reached over and took my hands. “I was just joking! I’m teasing you, sweetheart. Get used to it. I will be there with bells on, and I will even wear an elf hat if you want me to.”

  I smacked his hand lightly. “Just for that, yes, I want you to wear an elf hat.”

  He stopped suddenly, a serious look on his face. “You know what? I was going to wait until dessert, but I have something important to talk to you about.”

  My laughter drained away. He sounded so serious that all I could think of was that something was wrong. “Is everything okay? Are we okay?”

  Bryan reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out something, keeping his hand wrapped around it. “Kerris, you know I’m your guardian and I will always be here for you no matter what. But I want you to know the last couple months have been the best I’ve spent in . . . I don’t know how many years. I’ve never been as happy as I am when I’m with you. I know it’s only been a short time, but I love you and I want to spend my life with you. I want to spend my life guarding you, making you happy, treating you the way you should be treated. So . . .”

  My eyes grew wide as he slowly opened his hand to reveal a jewelry box. He handed it to me. I looked at him, uncertain of what do, not quite sure if he was asking what I thought he was asking.

  “Open it.”

  I slowly opened the box to find my mother’s wedding ring inside. It was the ring that Ivy had given her son—her own mother’s wedding ring. Avery had proposed to my mother with it and she had been wearing it when she was killed, even though he had long disappeared. I had found it on her skeleton.

  “What . . . How did you get this?”

  “After you left this morning, I asked Peggin to find it. I knew you wouldn’t be wearing it out to the woods. Kerris, your mother should have been able to wear this throughout a full and wonderful life. Your father should have been able to see it on her hand every day. Since they didn’t get their chance, I thought . . . I talked to Ivy and she agreed that it would be appropriate if I proposed to you with it.”

  And then, right there in the restaurant, Bryan got down on one knee beside me. He took my hand as I watched, speechless, and said, “Kerris Fellwater, you are the one I’ve been waiting for. We’re meant for each other, a mated pair. I want you by my side as long as we live. Will you marry me?”

  Will you marry me? The words reverberated through me as I realized that this was really happening. It was soon, it was so soon, but it felt so right. He was my guardian protector, and I had fallen for him since the first night we met when I almost ran him over.

  I pushed back my chair and stood, taking his hand to pull him to his feet, where I said the only words that made any sense at all to my heart. “Of course I’ll marry you. I love you, and I don’t ever want to lose you. And I love that you thought to give me my mother’s ring.” Tears running down my face, I realized that this man knew me better than anybody ever had in my life. He was my protector, and he was my mate.

  “She said yes!” Bryan’s sudden shout startled me, but not as much as the influx after that. From around the corner, we were suddenly inundated with shouts of congratulations as Ivy, Oriel, Ellia, Aidan, Peggin, and Deev appeared. I realized that he had set this up better than I could ever imagine.

  I turned to Peggin. “And you didn’t tell me?”

  She grinned. “Do you really think I’d spoil such a great surprise?”

  Nadia appeared at that moment, clapping loudly as she was followed by several waiters. “The room is ready if you want to go in now.”

  “Room?” I looked around, but we were suddenly being herded toward the back. I realized that we were heading into one of the conference rooms that the steakhouse kept for group parties. As I entered the room, I saw a banner with our names on it over the table; balloons, bouquets of red roses filled the room, and there was a full buffet. In the center of the buffet sat a beautiful two-tiered cake, covered with white fondant and dripping with red icing roses and green vines. The words Congratulations, Bryan and Kerris were written across the top.

  “I cannot believe you set all this up. What would you have done if I had said . . .” I stopped, then shook my head. “You knew I’d say yes. How could you expect different?”

  Bryan kissed me again. “I never, ever took your answer for granted. You have no idea how nervous I was.”

  Everybody crowded in, taking plates and lining up for the buffet. There was steak, and fried chicken, and lobster tails, along with mashed potatoes and corn on the cob and salad. The smell of hot, yeasty rolls filled the air and my mouth began to water. The chicken noodle soup was long gone and I was starving.

  I leaned my head against Bryan’s shoulder as he wrapped his arm around me.

  “I’m so glad you didn’t make any other plans for tonight.”

  I didn’t want to tell him that Nadia had warned me in advance, so I just smiled. “I can’t believe we’re engaged.” I held out my hand where my mother’s ring now sat on my left ring finger. I usually wore it on my right hand when I wanted to feel closer to her. “I meant what I said. This is perfect, her ring.”

  The band was rose gold, engraved with filigree, with a half-carat diamond in the center. It sparkled. Bryan had obviously had it cleaned today.

  “I want to buy you a band to go with that. A plain rose gold band, to match. You should have one from me as well as the family ring.”

  “That would be perfect. We can pick out your ring to match at the same time.” I paused, my mind skipping ahead. “Do you mind if we wait till the autumn to get married? When the leaves are just beginning to change and the air has that slight, bittersweet tang?”

  “We can get married whenever you want. I’ll be happy either way, whether it’s waiting till autumn or getting married tomorrow at the courthouse. But I think it would be fun to have a big wedding. And your grandparents would like it. I know your grandfather will expect me to do right by you.” Bryan’s smile was infectious and I began to laugh.

  “Does the Tierney clan have a tartan?”

  “I’m afraid the Irish don’t really have a history of tartans for each clan. We’re not exactly like the Scottish. But I do have something to give you on our wedding day. It’s a family necklace, emerald and diamond.” Bryan gave me another squeeze and then nodded to our guests. “Why don’t you go talk to your grandmother? And get some food. This is a party, woman. This is your party.”

  I snorted. “You mean it’s our party. And don’t you forget it.” And with that I sashayed over to where Ivy was talking to Peggin. They both looked up as I approached. My grandmother stood and wrapped her arms around me, kissing my cheek.

  “Congratulations, my dear. You don’t know how happy I was when Bryan came to talk to me. You know that he got Aidan and me together, and asked our permission to marry you.”

  “The only permission he needed was from me. I’m a grown woman and I can make my own decisions, thank you.” But secretly, the fact that he cared enough to seek out their approval made me happy. He wanted their blessing, and that said a great deal.

  “Oh, hush. Anyway, Aidan and I were delighted to welcome him into the family.”

  My stomach rumbled at that point, and I realized just how starved I really was.

  “I’m going to get some food, and then we’re going to sit down and we’re all going to have a nice long chat. By the way, I think we’ll get married in the autumn. Peggin, you know you’re going to be my maid of honor. And Ivy, I don’t want to be given away like some piece of property, but I would love for you and Aidan to escort me down the aisle.”

  The rest of the evening, we spent eating and talking and planning. For once, it felt like things were going the way they should—that we had turned a corner into a brighter and better future. I wondered about Bryan’s family. His father was dead but I couldn’t remember if his mother
was still alive. In fact, his father had been murdered in front of him when he was very young, back in 1878. And of course, I would have to meet his daughter, Juliana.

  His pack was tight-knit, and I wondered how they would feel about us marrying. He’d been married before once, but it’d been an arranged marriage. In fact, I realized Bryan didn’t talk much about his family in the present tense.

  “You look very far away,” Ellia said, and I realized that she was standing beside me.

  “I was just thinking about Bryan’s family and how they’ll feel about me.”

  “If they are traditionally oriented at all, they will accept you right in. The Tierney clan is well entrenched in the service of the Morrígan.” She smiled and her hand moved ever so slightly as if she was thinking of patting my shoulder. But years of practice kept her from doing so. “Everything will be fine. And for what it’s worth, I’m glad he asked you. It’s soon, yes, but you two were made for each other. You are destined to be together I think, the same way your mother was destined to be with Avery. Only, we’ll make certain your union turns out much happier.”

  And with that, she returned to the buffet, and I shook off my doubts and worries. These were my people now, and they accepted me. And Bryan would be my husband, and everything would be okay.

  CHAPTER 15

  The next morning, we all had mild hangovers from the champagne. Peggin headed off to work, as did Bryan. He promised to talk to Peggin’s Realtor that day, and I was hoping that we could have matters finished and her out of her contract by nightfall.

  I settled in at the table, espresso in hand, making my list for the day. I wanted to buy the tree and pick up some new ornaments to go with the ones I had found in the attic. I also decided to stop by the bakery and pick up an assortment of cookies for tonight. Prepackaged cookies just wouldn’t do for a tree-trimming ceremony.

  I put a load of clothes in the washer, noting that Peggin had cleaned up the laundry room. She had also taken it upon herself to clean the bathrooms and mop the floors. Agent H rubbed around my feet, purring as I filled the food dishes.

 
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