November 2010 Series
The year is 1780. Ezra Keys is in charge of the smuggling operation in the small Cornish village of Portwith. Like the rest of the world, Ezra has no idea magic is real, but it is, and it is powerful and dangerous. Alyce Sheridan is a witch hiding out from her witches’ council. The leader of the council, Matthew Howe, is trying to force Alyce to marry him so he can use her magic to found a powerful dynasty. Calling herself Mrs. White, Alyce has rented the isolated cottage that looks out onto the cove where Ezra’s smuggling runs are conducted. Both Ezra and Alyce have secrets that must be protected, but neither expects the explosive attraction between them.
Ezra Keys had two choices: punch someone or take another drink. Since the men crowding The Lantern were either his friends or confederates, he opted for the more diplomatic option. He took a deep drink from his tankard. Unfortunately, it did nothing to quench his fury.
Sitting across from him, Daniel Saunders wouldn’t meet Ezra’s gaze. Good.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Ezra demanded. “Blackbriar Cottage looks right out onto the cove. We all agreed that it should stand vacant.”
“Sorry, Ezra. I just…couldn’t help it.” Daniel shrugged powerlessly.
“‘Couldn’t help it?’” He glowered at Daniel, fighting the urge to wrap his hands around his old friend’s neck.
“She showed up at my door, asking about the cottage, whether it was for let. I couldn’t say no.”
“Of course you can say no.” Ezra growled. “She could be working for the customs officers.”
Daniel’s face fell. Clearly, this had not occurred to him. And clearly, there was a reason why Ezra came from a long line of Keys men who ran the smuggling operation here in Portwith, Cornwall. Illegal trade in brandy and silk fed the families of Portwith, and had for generations. If Ezra—and his father, and his father’s father—didn’t protect the trade, then people would starve.
By renting the abandoned Blackbriar Cottage to some unknown widow, Daniel had put the entire welfare of the village in jeopardy.
“I cannot simply throw the woman out,” he protested. “She said she had nowhere else to go. And she paid the first three months.”
Ezra sighed, then pushed back from the table and stood. He shrugged into his greatcoat and put on his hat.
“Where are you going?” Daniel asked.
“To get the widow out of Blackbriar Cottage.” He headed toward the door.
“You aren’t going to hurt her, are you?” Daniel’s eyes widened in alarm.
In response, Ezra smiled, the same smile he knew worked miracles on women up and down the Cornish coast. “I’ve other weapons at my disposal.”
Alyce Sheridan stood outside the door, smelling the salty air as the wind rushed up and blew through her hair. Smiling, she felt as if for the first time she could live in peace and harmony. Suddenly, the wind changed directions blowing her red hair across her violet eyes. Stiffening, Alyce knew what that meant. It meant trouble was coming.
Mumbling to herself, "Great...just great! This is all I need. What now?"
Pushing her hair back from her face she saw a man striding towards her. She could see his thigh muscles flexing as he took long strides up the side of the hill towards her. Looking her dead on, she gasped. It was him! The man from her dreams. The man who was going to be the death of her.
Turning, she started running back towards her cottage. If she could only reach her home she would be safe.
Rushing, she began to run faster. She could hear the man's footsteps as he began to run faster. Turning for a quick peak was the worst idea but she could not help herself. But it was her downfall. Literally...as she turned to see how close he was, Alyce tripped over a rock and fell.
Scrambling on her hands and knees, trying to stand back up, she suddenly felt his body fall on top of her, pushing her down against the dirt. Through her skirts she could feel him. She could scent him. He smelled like a man. Not in a bad way. A nice sweaty smell...the kind that stated he wasn't afraid to go after what he wanted. And it was obvious he wanted her. She could feel it through her skirts. And Alyce was suddenly more terrifed than ever. Because she wasn't afraid he would harm her. She was terrifed that she would give in to whatever he asked.
Ezra pushed himself off the young woman and stood. Bending down he offered his hand but she refused, pushing herself off the ground under her own power.
He couldn't help but stare at her at her as she stood. Her flaming red hair could only indicate temper, while her soft violet eyes led him to believe there was a hidden warmth about her. After looking upon her, he could understand why Daniel had had such a hard time putting her out. But, no matter. Her looks would not affect his decision. She mustn't ruin their plans.
He cleared his throat, held out the rent money she had paid, and said, "I'm sorry. But I'm afraid my friend that let you the cottage was mistaken. It's not empty."
Alyce raised an eyebrow in question. "Well, of course it's not empty. I'm there."
"No. I don't believe you understand. I mean, it wasn't empty before you. You must leave."
"Again, I am truly sorry. Here are your funds. Good day." He turned and started to walk away when he was hit in the back of the head. Turning to face the young lady, he saw her packet of money lying on the ground.
"No, I'm the one who's sorry. For you. Because I have no intentions of leaving. Good day," she said before stalking back to the cottage, walking in,and slamming the door shut with a thud.
Alyce could not believe the nerve of that man! How dare he...ugh! Trying to calm down, she went into the kitchen to make herself some tea. She was a little shaken up due to the fact that somehow, the pouch of money had flown from her hand. She had never been able to use her magic right. It always turned out wrong. Thanks to that stupid curse. But somehow that man had made her so angry that for once her magic aimed true. Her cat Daimon rubbed up against her legs. Leaning down she scratched his beautiful black coat. She remembered when she first got the cat. She was on the cart hiding under the haystack when she heard a cry for help. Searching through the hay, she found Daimon meowing for all he was worth. Though he had a beautiful jeweled ribbon around his neck, the poor dear was so skinny it left Alyce with the impression that he was homeless and had been for awhile. So she took him with her. She was glad for his company.
"Well Daimon...I am going to make a spot of tea I think. I need something to calm my nerves before I strangle a certain gentleman." Alyce stated as she got down the tea leaves and cup.
Later as she sat at the table and sipped the last of her tea, she looked at Daimon and said, "Well...do you think I should read my tea leaves? No...I guess not. It never works that way does it? I can't read my own. Maybe if you knocked the cup upside down it would work?"
Laughing at her ramblings, she got up from the table and went to grab the cup when Daimon suddenly jumped up on the table and knocked the cup over. Shaking her head at the coincidence, Alyce decided to see what the leaves said.
"Well, I can tell that this won't work. Because the leaves state that you will bring danger into the home. They also state that you are not what you seem. How ridiculous is that? What else would you be?" Alyce shook her head as she picked up the mess and left the room.
Matthew Howe watched Alyce as she picked up the cat. Bespelling the jeweled ribbon was a brilliant idea. Now he could keep an eye on the witch while he planned his next move.
Here the beautiful redhead thought she was safe from him when he knew better. He was only half a day's ride away from her. He was just biding his time. Because he had to wait for her powers to become unlocked. Right now she was pretty clumsy with her powers. They could only be unlocked if she could figure out the cure for the curse that was put upon her family.
Opening his grimoire, Matthew turned to the page that contained the legendary Sheridan curse.
With one night of passion, a Sheridan curse was born. For daring to touch another's husband. The curse will not run out, only being broken if one can find the cure. The cure is within the original curse. In order to find the cure, a Sheridan witch must find the passion that will unlock her magic. Only then will the curse be broken.
And Alyce had played her part beautifully. She had walked right into Ezra Keys' town and the place where the original curse was made. Once the curse was broken, Matthew would ride into town and take the witch away. He would bind her to him, using her body for his pleasure, her magic for his power, and consume her soul for his immortality.
Alyce felt the dream coming on again. It always started the same way. And there was absolutely nothing she could do to stop it. She was running in a field of flowers. The sun was shining and the sky was a beautiful baby blue. She was being chased by that man. But it was all in fun.
Suddenly, he tackled her. Laughing, she rolled over and breathlessly said, "uh-oh. You caught me. What are you going to do to me now?"
He leaned down and when his lips were an inch from hers, he whispered, "I am going to ravish you. I am going to leave you wanting more. I am going to give you so much pleasure your body will feel as if it is overwhelmed in sensual delight."
Just as his lips met hers, the dream changed again. Once again she was running. She was still in a field of flowers, but now the sky was filled with horrible black clouds. The wind whirred around her, making her shiver as she fought to run against it. Twisting around, she saw the same man chasing her. But instead of laughing like she was enjoying it, a bolt of terror rushed through her body. The look of hatred on his face made her realize that she was not going to survive whatever torture he was planning.
Tripping, she landed on her stomach and it knocked the wind out of her. Scrambling up on her hands and knees, she scraped the ground with her nails as she fought to stand up. But he knocked her back down, landing on top of her. Rolling her over, he stared down in her eyes.
Voice shaking, she said, "You caught me. What are you going to do to me now?"
Bending down, inches from her lips he whispered, "Now I am going to kill you."
Sitting up, he grabbed the sacrificial knife from his satchel and held it over his head. Just as a bolt of lightning lit up the sky, he thrust his body forward. Alyce watched in terror as the knife came closer and closer to her heart.
Thump, thump, thump. At first Alyce assumed it was the sound of her heart as it beat in terror. Thump...thump...thump. Gasping, Alyce woke up and realized someone was at the door. Not thinking about it, she mumbled some words and cast a spell to make whomever was behind the door go away.
"Oh shiiittt!" was the reply when a pop and bang sounded outside.
Slowly getting up, Alyce walked to the door and peaked outside. She had to bite her lip hard to keep from laughing. On the otherside stood the man who had tried to buy her off earlier. And when he had shouted the cuss word, it had seemed as if it was fitting. Because somehow instead of getting him to leave she somehow blew up the outhouse. And the explosion landed on him.
"What are you doing here?" Alyce asked as she continued to try to contain her laughter.
"I was walking back to my place when I heard screaming coming from your cottage. I would have just come in but the door was barred." He said in exasperation as a steamy pile of...err...plopped out of his hair and landed on his shoe.
"Well...I thank you Mr....um...hmm...I don't even know your name."
"Oh...sorry about that. My name is Mr. Ezra Keys. And you are Mrs. White."
"Yes. Oh...you have heard of me I guess. It is a small place. To be expected I assume. I appreciate you stopping Mr. Keys but I am just fine. I had a nightmare, that was all. Have a good night."
With that, Alyce shut the door in his face. Then deciding she must try to fix it, she cast a spell that would help him get cleaned up.
A shout, follwed by a splash had her rushing back to the door. Opening it, she found that Mr. Keys had tumbled backwards into the horse trough.
Looking at her with an odd expression in his face, he said, "Well...I am all wet now. But hey...I am clean at least."
Slowly closing the door, she mumbled "stupid magic". Then she bent over and laughed. The look on his face. Maybe it would teach him not to come knocking on her door in the middle of the night.
Ezra Keys had done one good thing for her. He had erased the nightmare from her mind. She could now sleep well for the rest of the night.
Alyce sighed as the birds sung merrily and lifted her face into the breeze as it brushed gently across her face. Smiling, she reflected how much happier she was since she had come to Blackbriar Cottage. Even with the problems she had been having with Ezra it was nothing compared to what problems she could be having with Matthew. A shiver of forboding tingled up her spine and she shook it off. She was not going to let that idiot man spoil her fun. Here she was looking out her kitchen window over a spectacular view of the cove while she was making her favorite type of dessert. Apple pie. Sigh...nothing could ruin the moment.
Rubbing her hands on her apron, Alyce went to answer the door, already knowing who was on the otherside. For some reason the thought of Ezra being at her place again gave her tingles...and not all of them were bad.
"What do you want this time?" Alyce asked in a voice she hoped came across as irritable.
Ezra just stared. He had never seen anyone more beautiful. Her violet eyes sparkled with passion. Her auburn hair was done up in some hapharzard way that had half of it up and half of it cascading around her face. And right there on the corner of her cheek was just a touch of flour. He suddenly found himself wanting to lean forward and brush it off. With his lips if he could.
Trying to look like a neighbor just out for a stroll, he asked in a voice he hoped sounded engaging, "May I come in? Please?"
Sighing, Alyce opened the door and allowed Ezra to enter. Going back to her pie, she began to put the finishing touches on the crust. She was determined to enjoy her day. And Ezra Keys was NOT going to ruin it for her.
Taking off his hat, Ezra peeked over Alyce's shoulder to see what she was doing. Taking a deep appreciate sniff, he not only smelled the apples and cinammon of the pie but he could smell the delectable scent of the woman herself. Realizing that his sense of smell was getting him into trouble, he backed off before she realized how much she made him want her.
"Look. Maybe I should have come right out and said something to you yesterday. The reason I want you out of Brackbiar Cottage is because of my father. See, he is ill. He is incapacitated. A horrible carriage accident has left him bound to a wheelchair. I was planning on having him come live here where I could take care of him." He explained with what he hoped was a convincing air.
He heard her open the oven door and put the pie in. Turning away, he felt rather than saw Alyce approach him. When she put her hand on his shoulder, he turned and saw they were practicaly nose to nose.
"I'm sorry Ezra. I didn't realize. But you have to understand that I have nowhere else to go. And I also got a contract. So unless you are willing to part with a huge contract fee, I suggest you find somewhere else to put your father." By the time she was finished speaking, Alyce could feel her anger rising. How dare he try to make her feel as if being here hindered his father's well being.
Stepping closer, Ezra noticed the flour once again on the side of her cheek. Raising his hand, he slowly brought it to her face. Gently rubbing his calloused thumb across her cheek he watched as her pupils dilated.
Bending down until his lips were inches from hers he stated, "You have a hint of flour right here on your cheek. Ever since I saw it I have wanted to kiss you. And now I am going to do just that."
Alyce felt her chest tighten and her body tingled at the thought of finally getting a taste of the man who haunted her day and night. Sighing, she leaned forward and just as her lips were a breath away from his, knock...knock...knock...
Shaking off his hypnotizing effect, Alyce stepped back and walked over to the door. Opening it up, she found a man who was close to sixty years old. He had long white hair, broad shoulders, and stood about six feet tall.
"Hello Ms. Sheridan. I am Jonas Keys, Ezra's father. I was wondering if you knew where he was?" The man asked.
Hearing a groan come from behind her, Alyce turned and lifting one eyebrow stated, "This is your incapacitated father? He looks to be in great health to me?"
"Well...I can tell I interrupted something going on here. I will just step back out. Ezra I was just coming to find you to let you know that your sister has given birth to another son." With that Jonas stepped out the door and left.
Turning around, Alyce stared at Ezra. He shrugged and stated, "well it was worth a shot."
Clenching her teeth, she started poking him in the chest and pushing him towards the door.
"You know what your problem is? You don't know how to handle a woman. You are used to seducing anything in skirts. Well I am here to tell you that you cannot just lift my skirts and tumble me the way you usually tumble other women. Now get out!" By the time she had finished her sentence she was shouting.
Ezra was looking at her oddly. He was just standing there, right on the outside of the doorway.
"Now what is your problem? Why are you looking at me like that?" She asked irritably.
"Oh nothing. I was just picturing you with your skirts up around your waist. I must say..." Ezra started stating.
Screaming in embarrassment and anger, Alyce slammed the door in his face. Damn the man. He always knew how to push her buttons. Sniffing the air, she realized the pie was done and grabbed it out of the oven before it burned. He would not ruin her day!
He peeked out from behind the bushes. The scent of apples wafted through the air. He'd been told he could find the widow, Mrs. White, at Blackbriar Cottage. And he'd not been disappointed.
As he sit back on his haunches and stroked his beard, he focused on the scenes in front of him. The cozy, private cottage was hopping. First, Ezra went in. Then, an old man knocked on the door.
When the elderly man left, Matthew could hear Alyce screaming at Ezra. If her tone was any indication, then the two of them hadn't gotten close enough to end her curse, yet.
Blast it all! Did he have to do everything? Was he going to have to find away to get those two together?
As he waited and watched, he noticed happenings down at the wharf. Walking stealthily towards the water front, he came upon two men talking.
"I tell ye, the shipment is goin' be 'ere tonight. And that young widow woman is goin' to ruin everything. I dun heard Mr. Keys beratin' Daniel for his ignorance in the situation."
"Ah, she's just a little sweet thing. She wouldn't be hard to distract. Why maybe I ought to volunteer for that duty. I'll just mosey on down to the cottage and give her what every woman wants."
"And what might that be?"
"Why a piece of me!"
Both men let out a hearty laugh.
"Now, we have to be serious about this. Mr. Keys is mighty worried. And well, so am I. If we don't get that silk in and get it sold then my wife won't get to see the doctor. And I tell ye she needs to see the doctor."
"What's wrong with her this time?"
"Why, if I knew what was wrong with her then she wouldn't need the doctor!"
Matthew rolled his eyes. The town was filled with a bunch of dimwits. If Ezra was dependent on people of this ilk to get his jobs done then he was up a creek without a paddle.
As Matthew thought about what the men had said, he formulated a plan. Now, to The Lantern for a tankard of ale. Then he could start on his strategy.
The Lantern was busy, full of people he didn't recognise. Not local villagers. He got a tankard of ale and found himself a relatively quiet corner and settled down to think.
That woman was going to be the death of him he was sure. Hiding out here in the middle of nowhere and getting in the way of smugglers one of whom had inappropriate ideas about ways to distract her. Humph. If anyone was getting under Mrs White's skirts, well Matthew planned on it being himself, not some good looking, young, local dopey smuggler who thought he was god's gift to women. Maybe he was better looking and maybe he had more to offer but so what thought Matthew.
Now if he could only get . . .
Hmmm...that just might work. Standing up, Matthew quicklyleft the Latern. On the way to the cottage, he picked up a foot long branch. Sneaking up to the cottage window he peeked in. Alyce had her back to him as she finished flitting around the kitchen.
"Eye of Newt, eye of bull, from this stick make a snake." Matthew quickly mumbed. The stick started to shake and began to glow a pea green color. Ironic how each individual magical person had their own color. While his was a nasty color, Alyce had a beautiful purple, almost the same color as her eyes. As the stick started to bend and coil and take shape into a snake, he dropped it into the cottage.
As he walked away, he made sure to bump into Ezra.
"Hey...are you Ezra Keys? I heard you know everyone. Well...that widow, the one who lives in the cottage, something just went into her cottage. I am not sure what it was but I am pretty sure it was dangerous. Since she doesn't know me..." Matthew broke off as he watched Ezra take off at a dead run toward the cottage door.
Smiling, he rubbed his hands together and thought, "and that is that."
Ezra didn't even stop to knock on the door. He just barged right in. Then he stopped. Because Alyce was holding a nasty green snake in her hand. Its body was twined around her forearm as it began to crawl up her arm.
Shuddering, Ezra stepped forward to help her. Talking calmly he stated, "Please be careful. I don't want you to get hurt. Just slowly take your left hand and grab it behind its head. Then..."
Turning, Alyce thrust the snake towards Ezra and said, "See what I found wandering around inside my house. It is a common garden snake. Great to keep the varmin away. Do you want to pet it?" Alyce asked as she thrust it towards him once again.
Ezra felt all the blood drain from his face as the nasty creature stuck its tongue out at him. He swore he could see its eyes devouring him. Backing up towards the door, he felt something brush up against his cheek. Then everything went black.
Alyce could not believe that he had fainted. The big macho man was afraid of snakes. And it wasn't even a snake that touched him. It was a loose piece of his own hair. She didn't think she had ever seen anything more funny than watching Ezra turn white as a ghost and then pass out.
Well it was funny till Alyce tried to move poor Ezra. He was not waking up as she had expected and when she went to give him a shake she discovered that he had hit his head on the door frame on the way down to the stone floor of the cottage, and again on the floor itself. There were already two big lumps on his skull and when she lifted his eyelids she saw that his eyes had rolled right back in his head and only the whites were showing.
For once Alyce was scared.
Yes. So many fatal accidents occur in the home, just like they say, she knew. And poor Ezra. Poor Ezra, who wanted only the best for her and had tried to keep her safe when she didn't need it . . . He might now not wake up the same man, or not wake up at all, if she did not call on all her skills to relieve the concussion he was now suffering. They might be primitive times, but Alyce was a witch, and witches understood more about medicine and injury than normal men and women would for another hundred years.