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Lady Rose Cheevers gathered her courage and instructed the coachman to drive toward the East End of London, a part of the city she’d never dare venture into if it weren’t for the problem she’d managed to create with her last spell.
She leaned toward the open window of her carriage when they reached Trickside and studied the ramshackle shops that they passed. Behind the rather grimy windows sat charms and potions next to signs boasting their supposed enchantments.
Rose raised a brow at some of the outlandish advertisements. Only the aristocracy had real magical powers, although occasionally a true gift for magic popped up in the lower classes, through an illicit love affair or because some foolish nobleman gave up their birthright.
Rose prayed that those rumors might be true.
She signaled the coachman to stop in front of a shop that appeared to be less decrepit than the others, gathered up her skirts and stepped out of the carriage, wincing when her lambskin boots sunk into a soggy puddle of…
Rose quickly raised her head before she could identify the muck and marched to the shop door, ignoring the stares of two impudent men lounging on the street. A bell tinkled over the door as she entered and a tiny woman emerged from the back room.
“Are you lost, m’lady?”
Rose blinked at the diminutive shopkeeper. Despite her frowsy hair and paste jewelry and ragged clothes, she had a dignity about her that smacked of gentry.
“I don’t believe so,” Rose replied. “That is…if you truly possess the magic that your sign advertises.”
“I’m no charlatan, if that’s what you mean. But I don’t know why you’d come to my shop when you have more power than my own little gift. You’re a marchioness, if I don’t miss my guess.”
Rose sucked in a breath. This small woman had an intelligence and some strange charisma that made Rose feel as if she’d found a kindred spirit. The need to confide in someone nearly overwhelmed her. For days she’d been living with the fear and grief--
“I cast an illegal spell,” she let out in a rush. “And now I can’t undo it and I can’t ask anyone to help me because they’d put me in Newgate but I can’t live with the man any longer…” Rose’s voice faded to a whisper and to her horror she began to cry.
“There now,” said the shopkeeper, patting her on the back and guiding her to a chair. “You don’t have to worry about anyone on this side of the
Rose’s tears had already dried up. She wasn’t a woman prone to crying, it’s just that she’d found out so many disturbing things in the last few days that she’d been pushed to her limits. The man she’d trusted the most had betrayed her. How could she ever trust anyone else again?
The little woman had been studying her face, and spoke as if she’d read Rose’s thoughts. “My name is Manda. I ran away from the Baron Minotaura and if he finds out where I am he’ll drag me back and marry me off to a bull-faced old man. Does that help?”
Rose twisted the dry handkerchief in her fingers. A trust for a trust. Somehow she’d managed to do the right thing by coming to Trickside. “I transferred a demon to this plane.”
Manda gasped and covered it with a cough.
“But I didn’t know he was a demon,” she continued. “He…he was my husband, you see. And I thought he’d gone to heaven…that I was summoning an angel. So I didn’t prepare a binding. But he appeared with horns and a tail and the next thing I knew I woke up with a bump on my head, and he’d managed to craft a belt of spiritgrass that prevented my reversal spell from sending him back.” Rose caught her breath, tears threatening again. “We never really know anyone, do we? During our entire two years of marriage I’d always thought him an honorable man. I missed him so much I was willing to break the law to have him back. And then I discover…well, he must have done some dreadful things to become a demon.”
Manda patted her hand. “Don’t go blaming yourself. You aren’t the first woman to be fooled by a man. And not all men are deceivers.”
Rose lifted her brow skeptically. She didn’t think she could ever trust her own judgment again.
“So.” Manda turned toward a bookshelf at the back of the room and removed a ragged looking tome. She set it on the table, pushing aside several dirty teacups. “I suppose you want to know how to get rid of your demon-husband?”
Rose winced but nodded her head.
The small woman murmured to the book and then opened it. Rose leaned forward and frowned, for all of the pages appeared blank. But Manda’s eyes moved back and forth, as if reading something written there.
“What does it say?”
Manda slammed it shut. “Well, at least this time it managed to answer my question, although why it thinks that rascal can help you is beyond me!”
“What do you mean?”
Manda turned and placed the book back on the shelf, then adjusted her black shawl around her shoulders. “It says that you can’t get rid of the demon by yourself. That you’ll need the help of Drake Pann.”
Rose closed her eyes and groaned. The last thing she needed was to trust another man. “Who is Drake Pann?”
“He’s a thief and a rake, and clever and handsome enough to get away with both. And even if you offered him all the money you had, he wouldn’t bother to help you. He despises the aristocracy.”
Rose stood. At least now she had some hope, some plan of action. She’d figure out some way to get this man to help her. She leaned down and hugged the smaller woman, a pleasant whiff of cats and camphor tickling her nose. “Thank you, Manda. Where can I find this thief?”
Manda returned the hug, her face a mixture of surprise and pleasure. “I’ll give you his address but be careful. He lives near shape-shifters and they’re an unpredictable lot, what with their immunity to magic and all.”
Rose took the slip of paper, just catching Manda’s last words as she sailed back out the door.
“He’s one man you don’t have to worry about deceiving you, though. He’s proud of what he is.”
Rose twisted a curl of hair with her finger while the carriage slogged its way through a street of crumbling brownstones. She could only think of one way to get this Mister Pann to help her, but she’d been raised to respect the rights of others. Putting a spell on someone without his knowledge just wasn’t done.
“And neither is transferring back a spirit from the dead,” she murmured as the coach stopped in front of the address that Manda had given her. The coachman clambered down from his perch and up the stairs of the residence, using a rusty knocker to pound on the splintered door. A servant opened it, a conversation ensued, and Rose held her breath.
Her coachman turned and shook his head. She had hoped this Mister Pann would meet her in the carriage. She should have known better. Rose gathered up her skirts again and went to the door herself.
“I wish to see Mister Pann,” she said, sweeping past the servant with all the dignity her title gave her.
“I tol’ yer man, milady. Master won’t want to see ye.”
Rose glanced around her, surprised at the elegance of the interior. Evidently thieves made a good living. “Oh, but I’m sure he will.”
“And what makes you think so,” demanded a voice from the top of the walnut staircase.
Rose looked up at the shadowy form, gathering her magic and her will into a love spell that would hopefully overcome his hatred of her title. She flushed in shame but uncurled her fingers, releasing the enchantment with a sigh. It was the easiest way she could think of to get him to help her.
She smiled determinedly at the man who came down the stairs. “Are you Mister Pann? Manda--from the bookshop in Trickside--told me you could provide your assistance with a rather delicate matter…” Rose’s voice trailed off as Mister Drake Pann’s booted feet reached the landing.
Manda had not exaggerated about the man’s appearance. He took her breath away. Thick, curly black hair framed a rather boyish face; clear green eyes seemed to mesmerize her so that she couldn’t move.
He grinned and each cheek dimpled and Rose thought she might faint. Putting a love spell on a man this dangerously handsome might have been a mistake. She felt too vulnerable to resist the lure of his instant attraction to her.
“How can I resist a damsel in distress,” he murmured, taking her hand and raising it to his lips. The shock of that brief contact made Rose tremble with an emotion she didn’t want to recognize.
Mr. Pann glanced up at his servant and her coachman. “Get out.”
Neither man hesitated in obeying, even her own loyal servant. When Mister Pann led her into the drawing room, Rose didn’t hesitate either. She’d never had such a strong reaction to any other man in her life. If she hadn’t known better, she’d suspect that her love spell had enchanted her as well.
He closed the doors behind them and she found herself backed up against a silk-papered wall, his arms trapping her body next to his. He smelled like spice and a clear, country night.
“What do you think you are doing?” whispered Rose.
Black curls tumbled over his forehead as he lowered his face. “You said you needed my assistance, didn’t you?”
“Why, yes, but you don’t even know what I want.”
He shifted his body closer and instead of feeling threatened, Rose felt her skin tingle from his heat.
“Ah, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll do anything for you as long as I get what I want.”
Rose swallowed. She hadn’t expected her love spell to affect him so strongly. She had only wanted to get past his hatred of the aristocracy enough to help her. Magic was crafted mainly by will--what had lain in her heart to put so much force behind her spell?
“And you want…”
His head dipped. Warm, strong lips met her own and her arms lifted and went around his neck of their own accord. Her fingers sunk into the silky curls at the back of his neck and she sighed into his mouth, all the worry and heartache of the last few weeks fading under the overwhelming feeling of his kiss.
Skillful hands untied the bow under her chin and slid her bonnet from her head, undid the buttons of her bodice and corset. Rose’s head began to spin. This was happening too fast. He was a complete stranger to her…but it was her love spell and she would have to suffer the consequences.
His mouth trailed kisses across her cheek and down her neck, and when his warm lips reached her breasts she groaned aloud. Good grief, did she say suffer? Everywhere he touched made her skin tingle, made her burn to have him inside of her. Was this how making love was supposed to be?
Oh, her demon husband had fooled her in more ways than one.
Mister Pann lifted her skirts and bunched them around her waist, his deft fingers fondling her in ways that made her tremble and squirm in delighted surprise. Oh, this wonderful feeling had happened occasionally with her husband, buy only by accident. Mister Pann seemed to be bringing her pleasure on purpose, those beautiful green eyes of his watching her with calculated intent.
When Rose reached that threshold that had evaded her so many times before, the man shifted and she nearly cried out in dismay. And then she gasped in shock when she felt the tip of his shaft against her wet opening, and he resumed his ministrations until she felt her body explode and the urge to pull him inside her overwhelmed her.
But she needn’t have worried that she wouldn’t be fulfilled. The moment her lips parted and her hands clenched at his shoulders he plunged inside, slamming her back against the wall again and again until another pleasurable feeling, this time deep inside of her womb, made her cry out his name.
The world slowly came back into focus and his mouth quirked in a grin. “I think you can call me Drake.”
Rose blinked at him. “What just happened?”
He frowned, his eyes smoky with confusion. “I don’t know. It’s never happened to me before.”
Rose flushed with shame. He probably had never been a victim of a love spell before. But she felt remarkably better and their brief encounter certainly wouldn’t harm Mister Pann. Despite the misgivings of her conscience, she didn’t regret it for an instant.
He sat across from her in the coach, that half-grin of his still on those full lips, his eyes hooded while he watched her. Rose looked everywhere but at Mister Pann, suddenly feeling quite shy. How foolish.
“Do you truly think you can get the charm off of my--that demon?”
He held up his strong, slender fingers. “I’m a thief, lady. A pick-pocket when times are lean. Keep him distracted and it will only take me seconds to remove his protection.”
Rose eyed his hands. She didn’t doubt his skill with them, especially after…she blushed and he laughed, sensing where her thoughts had led her. Rose tried to focus on her problem. “As soon as you remove the protective charm, I can cast a spell that will send him back to where he belongs. I was a fool to try and bring him back.”
Mister Pann shrugged. “I suppose that’s why there’s magical laws, to protect innocents like you. Don’t ever blame yourself for loving someone enough to do something foolish, though. We’ve all done it.”
He cocked his head at her, black curls falling across his forehead and cheek. “I don’t know, lady. You tell me.”
Rose flushed again and turned her attention to the scenery outside the window. They’d reached the West End, and the gentry had come out in full regalia, their carriages spelled to look like golden chariots, their mounts crafted into unicorns and enormous songbirds.
After they’d made love Mister Pann had used those clever hands to put her clothing back together. He’d sat her on a velvet chair and had redone her hair, the bun at the back of her neck even neater than when she’d arrived at his house. He’d carefully twisted her side curls back into the proper shape, his warm fingertips caressing her skin occasionally as he did so.
He’d treated her like a precious thing, a rare feeling for her. Her heart had warmed toward him as easily as her body had.
“Do you, um, enjoy being a thief?”
He stretched out his long legs, his body seeming to take up every inch of space in the carriage. “Not particularly. I am, in many ways, what society and birth has made me. As are you.”
Rose leaned forward. “But if you had another occupation…I mean, if you had an opportunity to do something else, would you take it?”
He narrowed his eyes. “Depends on what it is. And who offered.”
Rose clenched her hands. What had gotten into her? She knew perfectly well that she’d have to remove the spell after he’d accomplished his task. She couldn’t in good conscience leave it on him, despite her overwhelming desire to do so. And then he would go back to his old life. There certainly could be no future for the two of them. Her heart might tell her that she’d known him forever, but in truth, she barely knew the man.
She sternly told her body to stop wanting him again. It would have to be satisfied with that one moment of delirious madness.
The coach rocked to a stop in front of her mansion, making Rose’s stomach turn over. Mister Pann helped her out of the carriage, his hand warm and strong in hers. She took a deep breath. “George should be in the study. He likes to pretend that nothing has changed; that I’m still the ignorant girl he married and that our life has resumed the same peaceful routine.”
Mister Pann said nothing as they entered the house, but his eyes took in everything. She noticed that he paid particular attention to the location of door and windows, as if looking for possible exits.
“Most of the servants have left,” whispered Rose. “George terrifies them.”
Mister Pann nodded, a warm solid presence at her side as she opened the door to the study. She watched his clear green eyes as he studied her husband, looking for a spark of fear but finding none. Rose admired Mister Pann for his bravery.
She tried to keep her own fear hidden as she approached her husband’s desk. “George, dear, I’ve brought a visitor.”
Her husband looked up from the book he’d been reading, his yellow eyes blinking in his ruddy face. Horns peeked out from his gray head of hair, and Rose fought the urge to watch the swish of his horned tail like a snake to its victim.
George stood and held out his hand. “What a delightful surprise,” he growled. “It seems like we haven’t had a visitor in ages.”
Mister Pann gave the outstretched hand a hearty shake, despite the fact that George’s outline shimmered when he did so, blinking briefly from red demon to flesh-rotting skeleton.
Rose’s admiration for Mister Pann went up several degrees.
George’s attention centered on her. He came around his desk, his face split into a toothy grin. “Rose dear, I’ve missed you today.”
He bent and kissed her cheek while Rose held her breath against the stench. George carelessly threw an arm around her waist, pulling her against his side. His charade that nothing had changed between them bothered her the most. She’d been a naïve, young girl when they’d married. She never asked him what he’d done to deserve the horns and tail, but she wasn’t stupid.
For a moment, Rose thought she might be sick. But when she looked at Mister Pann’s face, he nodded confidently at her, and she braved herself to her next act. She willingly kissed the demon.
George growled a laugh inside her mouth, as if he knew she couldn’t resist his virile manhood. With all the inner strength she possessed, Rose threw her arms around his cold body and pretended that he was right.
She never felt Mister Pann move, not even a slight displacement of the air. But after a moment she distinctly heard him say, “Do it now, Rose.”
She stepped away from her husband and waved her hands, every ounce of her will behind the spell she threw at him. But he didn’t fade. The look in his yellow eyes changed from amusement to absolute rage.
Rose glanced over her shoulder. Mister Pann stood behind them, George’s warding of spiritgrass held negligently in his hands.
“You witch,” snarled George. “Did you really think I wouldn’t be prepared for your betrayal? Our marriage has been nothing but a game, with you pretending innocence and me pretending to be the devoted husband. But I’ve always known the truth about you, lady.”
“But I…I never pretended anything,” protested Rose, backing away from him. “I always thought that you were kind and honorable…”
Rose noticed that the demon’s body began to waver; the edges of his features started to blur. She centered her will again, praying that her spell would be strong enough to send him back. But despite everything, she must still have some sort of affection for him, because he stayed firmly rooted to her world.
His laugh made the hair on her arms stand up. “You were nothing but a fool, and still are. And if I go back you’re coming with me!” George lunged for her and Rose cursed her petticoats that made her stumble.
And then George froze, his head slowly turning to look over his shoulder at his desk. Rose followed his gaze. The biggest black panther she’d ever seen in her life crouched atop George’s papers, clear green eyes centered with feral intensity on her husband. The muscles beneath that silky black coat vibrated with powerful menace, and it crouched to spring. It held George’s spiritgrass ward within its deadly jaws.
“Mister Pann?” whispered Rose.
George’s body flickered, as if he shifted in both planes of reality at once, and then he screamed and lunged at her again, catching her arm in a cruel grip. Rose felt her spell consume them both when he touched her. He hadn’t been lying when he said he could take her with him.
And then the panther sprang and George tried to use her body as a shield against the animal. But the demon wasn’t quick enough. Rose saw a flash of black, felt the circle of spiritgrass settle over her head. Her arm was nearly torn from its socket when the panther slammed into George’s body.
Her husband’s scream was quickly silenced as his body shimmered like flame and disappeared. The panther snorted and spun, his lethal claws splitting the air as he searched for his enemy. He finally stilled and the ridge of hair on his back flattened as he turned to stare at Rose.
“Thank you,” she murmured in awe. The enormity of what had happened hadn’t quite penetrated her senses yet.
The panther blinked its crystal green eyes at her and then shimmered, shifting back into the dangerously handsome Mister Pann. He took two hesitant steps, and then a third as she swayed on her feet, folding her in his strong arms.
“Are you all right?” he whispered into her hair.
“I…I think so.” Rose pulled away and glared at him accusingly. “You’re a shape-shifter!”
Mister Pann…no, Drake. Drake frowned at her. “I thought you knew.”
“No. Manda never mentioned that you were a shape-shifter. She just said that you lived near them…good heavens!” Rose searched his handsome face. “If you--then that means--you’re immune to magic.”
He grinned, those captivating dimples appearing in his cheeks. “I thought that’s why you came to me for help.”
Rose felt her knees wobble. Drake was immune to magic. Which meant that the love spell she’d cast on him would have no affect whatsoever. Which meant that…
His eyes lit with emerald fire and he complied without hesitation. Rose melted in his arms, while at the same time an inner fire built within her. Heaven help her, she’d misjudged a man again.
But this time she was astonishingly grateful.
Copyright @ 2008 by Kathryne Kennedy, All Rights Reserved