Darknight (The Witches of Cleopatra Hill Book 2)

Darknight
Book 2 of the Witches of Cleopatra Hill
Christine Pope
Dark Valentine Press
Darknight
Book 2 of the Witches of Cleopatra Hill
Christine Pope
Dark Valentine Press
Contents

T
his is a work of fiction
. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, organizations, or persons, whether living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

DARKNIGHT

Copyright © 2014 by Christine Pope

Published by Dark Valentine Press

Cover design and ebook formatting by
Indie Author Services
.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems — except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews — without permission in writing from its publisher,
Dark Valentine Press
.

P
lease contact
the author through the form on her website at
www.christinepope.com
if you experience any formatting or readability issues with this book.

T
o Allie
, Arynn, and Kat, my intrepid beta readers.

I couldn’t do this without you!

1
Barriers

T
he ceiling
above me was unfamiliar, cool white crossed by dark wood beams. I blinked up at it, but this wasn’t like one of those books or movies where the heroine wakes up in a strange place and has no idea of where she is.

Unfortunately, I knew exactly where I was.

I sat up in the narrow bed and glanced over at the clock sitting on the table a few feet away. Nine-twenty. Usually I was up long before that, but since I hadn’t managed to fall asleep until nearly five, I knew I shouldn’t be all that surprised by the hour.

The door to my room was still closed and locked, the way I had left it the night before. Obviously, Connor Wilcox hadn’t done anything to disturb me as I slept. Was he even up yet? I had no idea whether he was the type to wake up early, or whether he slept the morning away.

So much I didn’t know…so much I wasn’t sure I
wanted
to know.

After pushing back the covers, I got out of bed and tiptoed to the door. In the duffle bag Connor had given me the night before, I’d found flannel pajama bottoms and a thermal top to match, so I was mostly covered up. Whoever had done the shopping for me hadn’t bothered with providing any frilly babydoll nighties or lacy teddies, the sort of thing I imagined Damon Wilcox might have preferred for his captive
prima
. Maybe he’d envisioned me not wearing anything at all.

I shivered then, pushing back the dark memory of his mouth on mine. Things were bad, yes, but they could have been so much worse.

Barely daring to breathe, I cracked open the door and peered out into the hallway. The window I’d noticed the night before was uncovered, letting in a flood of brilliant white-gold morning light. It felt somehow incongruous to me, as if the weather should be dark and stormy so it would be a better match for my current situation.

I went to the window and looked down onto a street already clotted with vehicles, most of them splattered with mud. The road was clear enough, although snow was piled high on the curbs. Plows must have come through sometime during the night. People bundled in hats and scarves and heavy jackets moved along the sidewalks. All the buildings looked fairly old, possibly as old as those in Jerome, which told me my guess of the night before had been correct — Connor’s apartment was in the historic downtown section of Flagstaff.

From downstairs I caught the rich loamy scent of fresh-brewed coffee and a faint drift of music, a steel-string guitar playing a complex melody that was somehow wild, compelling, as if evoking the dark forests and high snowy mountains of the landscape just beyond the city’s borders. The tune also sounded strangely familiar, like I’d heard it somewhere before. Maybe I had; lots of local bands played small clubs everywhere from Flagstaff to Jerome to Prescott. They weren’t bound by the same constraints I’d suffered my whole life. After all, normal people could go where they pleased without worrying about which clan ruled which particular territory.

The smell of the coffee and the sound of the music told me one thing — Connor was definitely up and about. Looking down at my flannel pajama bottoms and thermal top, I wondered if I should hurry back to my room before he realized I was awake. Did I really want him to see me like this?

Why should you care?
I scolded myself.
It’s not like you’re trying to impress him…
.

True enough. I was doing my best to forget the sweet fire of his lips against mine, the heat that traveled through every limb and vein as we made the
prima
and consort bond. I
couldn’t
want him, no matter what my body might be telling me. No, I had to get out of here, even though escape didn’t seem very likely at the moment, not with the wards that had been set on the windows and doors.

I had just turned to go back to my room when I stopped, freezing like a deer in a hunter’s sights. Connor stood at the end of the hall, a dark-glazed mug of coffee in his hand.

Unlike me, he was already dressed, hair combed, although a faint dusting of dark stubble along his cheeks and chin indicated that he hadn’t bothered to shave. “I thought you could use this,” he said, extending the hand with the mug toward me.

The coffee did smell divine. Without meeting his eyes, and careful not to touch his fingers, I took it from him. “Thanks.”

He was being careful, too, I could tell. After all, it would have been easy enough for him to slip his fingers over mine, to wake that unwelcome heat in my core. But he held his hand still, letting me extract the mug from his grasp without making any movement until it was safely cradled in my own hands.

Maybe I should have been worried that he’d doctored it or drugged it somehow. But I had a feeling he hadn’t. It would have been all too easy for him to come to me as I slept, to touch me before I even knew what was happening. Instead, he had let me sleep unmolested. Whatever was going on here, I had begun to get the feeling that Connor was no more a willing participant than I.

The coffee was good, strong and hot, with just enough cream and sugar to take the edge off. Goddess knows I needed it, after getting only about four and a half hours of sleep.

Connor waited until I had taken my first sip before saying, “I have to leave you here for a little while. There are some fresh towels in the bathroom, and I think there should be a bag with a toothbrush and that sort of thing in the duffle I gave you last night.”

Only one word seemed to register fully. “Leave?”

For the first time, he smiled. Just a little, but it reminded me of how he’d smiled at me when I’d believed him to be Chris Wilson, just a cute guy I’d met at a dance. No agendas, no lies. He gave a sort of apologetic lift of his shoulders and said, “I own the gallery on the first floor. I need to open up and get things going. When I have a break, I’ll come back up.”

He seemed awfully confident that I wouldn’t try to bust myself out of here the second he left me alone. Then again, he’d pretty much proved last night that the spells locking me in were more than effective at making me stay put…at least for the moment.

“You don’t have anyone to help with your business?”

The smile faded. “I do have someone who works in the gallery, but she just helps with sales. I’m the only one with keys.”

“You Wilcoxes aren’t exactly the trusting sort, I suppose,” I remarked, then swallowed some more coffee.

He didn’t rise to the bait. “Some of the pieces I have for sale are very valuable. It’s easier this way. So I’ll be back in a while. There are some bagels in the fridge, if you’re hungry.”

So casual, still behaving as if I were merely a friend who’d come over to crash at his place for a day or two. I wanted to snap at him to stop acting so normal, that there was absolutely nothing ordinary about our situation, but I realized there wasn’t much point to that. The situation was bizarre all around. If this was how he wanted to handle it, fine.

Besides, it would be a lot easier to take a shower if he was safely downstairs handling business in his gallery.

“Okay,” I said, affecting an air of supreme unconcern, and began to turn back toward the guest room where I’d slept.

He hesitated, as if he wanted to say something else, but then shook his head and headed downstairs. I waited in the doorway of my borrowed room, listening as his footsteps sounded on the wooden floor in the living room. That wild, strangely melodic guitar music stopped abruptly, and a minute after that I heard the front door shut with a soft, heavy
thud
.

I was alone.

For some reason, that realization was not as reassuring as I’d thought it would be. I waited for another minute, just in case he came back for something, but it seemed as if he was truly gone, at least for now.

Yes, I needed a shower, but first things first. After taking a large swallow of coffee, I set the mug down on the table. Then I moved over to the window in the guest room and pulled the wooden blinds up and out of the way, pressing my hands against the freezing glass, even as I took in a breath to try one of my unlocking spells. At once an excruciating jolt of energy shot through me, and I backed away immediately, hands stinging and body shaking from the aftermath of my contact with the glass.

All right, so the usual methods weren’t going to work. That didn’t mean I couldn’t try a little brute force. After flexing my fingers to get the worst of the tingles out, I picked up the heavy wooden chair next to the table and went back to the window, then swung with all my might.

The chair bounced off the glass as if the window were made from rubber, the rebound feeling like it was about to pull my arms out of their sockets. Immediately I dropped the chair onto the rug, and reached up to rub my aching biceps. So much for that idea. I had no way of knowing who had cast the containment spell — Damon Wilcox or Connor or someone else in their clan — but whoever it was, they’d done too good a job of it.

On to Plan B. Or Plan C, I supposed.

I went back out to the hall and peered into Connor’s room. It was a good deal larger than the guest room, and had a king-size bed with a dark brick-colored comforter on it. More paintings hung here, but they looked different from the ones I’d seen in the rooms downstairs. These pictures still depicted local landscapes, as far as I could tell, but the style was more delicate, more feminine.

But I wasn’t concerned with Connor’s choices in art. I spied what I’d been looking for — a MacBook Pro sitting closed on the round table beneath the large picture window. Well, all right, I’d been hoping for a phone, but his laptop would do just as nicely.

Luckily, he didn’t have it protected with a password, so when I opened the lid, the screen came alive right away, showing a scene of Mt. Humphreys still topped with snow, but with meadows of yellow flowers beneath it.

Very pretty, Connor,
I thought. Then again, what was I expecting? Naked women, or maybe a nice picture of a ritual sacrifice?

The urge to snoop through his email or his browsing history was almost overwhelming, but I had a more important goal in mind. I opened a new tab in his browser, then went to Google and the Gmail web interface. My aunt had an email account, of course, but she maybe looked at it once a week, since she didn’t really interact with much of anyone outside Jerome. Sydney, on the other hand, was religious about checking her email, even if she preferred to text.

I logged in, then hit the “compose” button and typed “
[email protected]
” in the “to” field. No point in lengthy explanations; I just wanted to let her — and by extension, my family — know that I was okay.

For the moment, anyway.

I threw a quick glance over my shoulder, as if to reassure myself that Connor hadn’t suddenly reappeared and wasn’t standing in the door, watching me use his laptop. But I appeared to be alone still, so I typed quickly,
Syd, please let Aunt Rachel know that I’m all right. Tell her I’m in Flagstaff. She’ll know what to do. Thanks, Angela.

Then I pressed “send” and let the message wing its way through the ether. I closed the tab and made sure to clear the browser cache so Connor couldn’t immediately figure out what I’d been up to.

My fingers reached up to close the laptop…and then I paused. Would I get another chance to peek, to give myself the opportunity to learn something more of Connor Wilcox?

One minute,
I told myself.
That’s it.

His bookmarked sites weren’t all that salacious — a blog about hiking trails in northern Arizona, Amazon,
Overstock.com
, Facebook, DeviantArt, which I knew about because some of the artists back in Jerome had accounts on the site. He wasn’t logged in to Facebook or any other social media sites, so I couldn’t do any snooping there. And when I allowed myself a brief scan of his email, that all seemed pretty innocuous, too. The usual advertisements from places where he’d bought things online, a few exchanges with people about planning a skiing get-together, fundraising solicitations from ASU. So that part of his story had been true at least, although he’d admitted that it had been a few years since he attended college. What did that make him…twenty-five, maybe twenty-six?

I didn’t have time for any more speculation — or snooping. Connor had said he’d be back in “a while,” which could’ve meant anything from fifteen minutes to an hour or more. I really didn’t want to find out what his reaction would be if he caught me poking around in his room.

Just to be safe, I took the hem of my shirt and wiped down the laptop’s lid in case I’d left any fingerprints behind. Then I hurried back to the guest room, and knelt down and rummaged through the duffle bag. Sure enough, there was the underwear I had picked out at Nordstrom Rack in Phoenix, and the bras, although the tags had been removed, and they felt as if they’d been washed. Someone was being conscientious, that’s for sure.

I took the underwear and a pair of jeans and a lace-trimmed silver-gray tank with me to the bathroom. The room was larger than I’d expected, and the shower far more up-to-date than the claw-footed monstrosities I’d used in both my aunt’s apartment and the house I inherited from Great-Aunt Ruby. Here was warm rustic tile and a huge square shower head in an equally huge glassed-in enclosure.

Big enough for two
, part of my mind whispered at me, and I shut that notion down as soon as it popped up. Goddess, was I going to have to fight these thoughts even when Connor wasn’t in the immediate vicinity?

Scowling, I locked the door behind me, then wiggled the knob just to make sure the mechanism had caught. Not, of course, that a locked door was much good in keeping out a witch or warlock determined on getting in, but it gave me a spurious sense of security.

The hot water came on fast, strong and steady. I quickly climbed out of my night clothes and got into the shower enclosure, letting the water from that amazing shower head run all over me, rinsing away some of the dregs of last night’s terrors. Not all, but it’s hard to feel completely depressed in a hot shower.

Connor had some kind of natural-brand shampoo and conditioner for dark hair, and a big bar of a creamy soap that smelled of cloves and mint. Obviously he wasn’t getting his toiletries at Walmart. Wherever he’d bought it, it all felt wonderful, and I soaped myself up well, then let the water wash away the richly scented suds.

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