Home > Thrice United (Witches Knot #4)

Thrice United (Witches Knot #4)
Lauren Dane

Chapter One

Holly Daniels hurried across the packed Red Square, book bag over her shoulder. Head down against the rain, beads of water glittered against the coppery rope of her waist-length braid. A thousand competing responsibilities and commitments ran through her head, dizzying her. She was so preoccupied that she didn’t even notice the man perched on the low brick wall outside of Suzallo Library.

Money and how she’d pay for tuition and books next quarter lay heavy on her mind. The stress of the last months had eroded her grades and for the first time since she started school, she worried about the results of her finals. But worst of all, she missed her mother. Loss and isolation sliced through her when she thought about how alone she was. She and her mother had always had each other—just the two of them against the world but cancer had taken that from her and she was left feeling cast adrift.

And there had been the ever-present feeling that she was being watched. More than that, in danger. She swallowed around the lump in her throat and tried to convince herself—again—that she was just imagining things. After all, she was living alone for the first time in her entire life. But she didn’t have much talent at denial and wasn’t having much success making herself believe that.

Pushing it all away as best she could, she picked up her pace, rushing to catch her bus to get home.

* * * * *

Rhett watched her avidly. She fascinated him and he was still trying to figure out just what about her captivated him so deeply. Certainly she wasn’t his usual type. He liked his women tall and blonde, thin with long legs and big breasts. This woman was of middle height with her hair perpetually tied back in a long braid. She wore those funky glasses that reminded him of a woman he dated once in Greenwich Village. Art school girl glasses, he thought with a smile. She was definitely not the supermodel-thin, lithe women he usually found himself in bed with.

A month ago he’d walked into Elliot Bay Books to hear a reading by a favorite author. The basement area had been packed to standing room only in the café. All of those humans—all of that blood—had heightened his awareness and so at first he hadn’t thought much about it when his skin had seemed so alive.

He’d found a place near one of the doorways and leaned there. It was her hair that first drew his gaze. Like a river of brilliant copper, it twisted in a braided rope on her shoulders and back. Sitting there against her sweater, it had almost seemed alive.

It slid down as she’d turned and their gazes locked. Everything in him had frozen when the shock of recognition—of connection—rode him. The electric sensation shot straight to his cock, hardening it to the point of pain. Her big brown eyes widened behind her glasses and her lips had made a little “O” of surprise.

Suddenly, his brain had been assaulted with visions of that mouth wrapped around his cock, her hair freed and cascading over his hands and arms like liquid fire as he guided her over his flesh. The sense memory of it was so vivid and strong that he’d nearly come right then. As it was, he’d stood there, breathing hard, unable to tear his gaze from her. He’d felt so connected to her that it was as if he could hear her heart pounding from two rows away.

As if she’d known what he was thinking, a flush had stolen over her face and she’d turned away quickly. She’d faced forward for the rest of the reading but he’d been unable to stop staring at her.

After the reading he’d wanted to approach her—to get close enough to scent her better—but the author who’d been speaking was a huge draw and the crowd had been too thick to do it without using his powers to get to her. That had been too big a risk to take when he and Nate had just gotten to Seattle a few months before and were keeping a low profile.

He did follow her home at a discreet distance—after all she was a woman alone and he was a stranger. He’d been watching her—watching over her—every evening since then. He watched her as she worked as a waitress at a local bar. Watched her study late nights in the library. Watched her read on the bus. She’d become a part of his life and he wanted more than the sad routine of watching her from a distance. He wanted to know her.

While she appeared quite shy and introverted, there was something else there, just beneath the surface. When she smiled, her entire face transformed from serious to sexy. At times she seemed innocent and sweet and admittedly, that called out to him. Made him want to crack open that shy shell and free the siren inside. He wanted to corrupt her inch by delicious inch.

His cell phone shifted in his pocket and Rhett came back to himself. His roommate and best friend Nate had gone back to Atlanta for a while, needing to seek out his Sire for advice, but his plane should have arrived back in Seattle by then.

Still keeping his eye on her, Rhett pulled out the phone and punched in the number.

“Yeah.” Nate’s rich voice filled Rhett’s ear.

“Where are you?” He spoke as he trailed behind Holly at a safe distance. In the last two weeks he’d picked up her fear and felt a driving need to protect her. He wasn’t sure why. Well, he had an inkling but he wasn’t ready to admit anything to himself or anyone else just yet. So after sunset, he kept an eye on her the best he could and tried not to feel like a stalker.

“Hey, Rhett. I’m walking up the sidewalk to the front door right now. I take it you aren’t here?”

“Nah, I’m at the UW.”

“Watching her again? Man, get hold of yourself and introduce yourself to her already.” Nate laughed as he said it and Rhett could hear him going into the house and dropping his bag. “You know, Rhett, I’m going to have to see this woman for myself. I feel like I know her as much as you yammer on about her all the time.”

“She works at The Roanoke Tavern. I’m going in tomorrow night, you can see her then. I’m just going to make sure she gets home safely and then I’ll see you at our place. Have you fed yet tonight?”

“My donor is back in town, I just spoke to her a few minutes ago. She’s got a friend who would love to help you out.”

Just about the only thing that tore him away from watching over his mystery redhead was hunger. “All right. Sounds good.” Hanging up, Rhett waited until she’d gotten on the bus and jumped on behind her and found a seat a few rows away. He took in her profile as she looked out the window blankly.

The bus slowly wound its way through the streets, stopping every few blocks, and Rhett’s attention remained on her. He could see her pain in the lines around her eyes. Her tension and the sense of sadness that emanated from her made him want to sit next to her and brush a soothing hand over that magnificent hair while murmuring reassurances to her. Instead he dug his fingers into the seat and forced himself to stay put. Something new for a guy who was more the “love ‘em well but get the hell out afterward” type.

The bus route was familiar to him and he knew her stop was approaching so he got up and moved toward the door. Shadowing her as she walked to her apartment building, he stealthily perched in a tree across the street. Once he saw the light in her apartment window turn on and watched her shadow move into the apartment he allowed himself to relax and quickly hopped down.

Hungry, he silently glided back toward the Capitol Hill house that he and Nate shared, her sad face on his mind.

* * * * *

Holly took a long, hot shower and put on sweats, thick wool socks and a sweatshirt to gird against the cold. Her last exam over and done, she was free for the next month until school began in early January. The luxury of time was something she always took advantage of when it came her way. She planned to do nothing more than pleasure reading and working until January. Well, and maybe a little bit of research.

The thought of her first Christmas without her mother made her heart ache. They’d never had anyone else but each holiday they’d built their own traditions, no matter if they were living in a cheap motel in Phoenix or a small apartment in Detroit. But now she was alone.

She cursed the family that her mother would never go into details over. The people who’d turned a fifteen-year-old pregnant daughter into the streets, alone. Over the years, Holly repeatedly begged her mother to tell her about the people she came from. She’d wanted a connection. Family. More than that, she wanted to know what the hell happened that sent her mother packing to begin with. All her mother would do was shake her head and refuse, her lips in a tight white line.

Heating up a bowl of soup, Holly took it to her small table and ate as she thought. At last she gave in to her curiosity and pulled out the deck of tarot cards that she’d been carrying in the bottom of her bag for the last two weeks. They drew her attention time and again and she drew her fingertip over the deck, tracing the deeply colored figure on the top card.

She could no longer ignore that voice, that bright ember inside of her. It was time she dealt with the whole issue of magic. Now that she had a break from school, it was something she needed to confront and explore. After a lifetime of being forced to pretend it didn’t exist, Holly barely knew where to start. But everything in her life had been pointing at the burning need to know what lay inside her and why.

Two weeks before, she’d been walking past a shop in Wallingford when an elderly woman walked out and handed the colorful deck of cards to her.

“You should use these. They’ll help you free the magic. You don’t need them to see. Your gift is there,” she tapped Holly’s forehead. “You have the sight. But she was afraid to lose you so she made you bury it.”

Holly had blinked in shock and surprise as tears stung her eyes. “What are you talking about?”

Despite Holly’s demand for answers, the woman had just pressed the deck into her hands and walked back into the shop. Holly had thought to follow but the accuracy of the woman’s comments had spooked her and she’d hurried past instead. The deck had been in her book bag ever since. She’d pulled them out several times but had hastily packed them away again, telling herself to wait until after finals.

From a very early age, Holly had known things before they happened. Simple things like when the phone was going to ring or who would be at the door and later, more complex things. She’d had visions, dreams of her mother’s cancer for over a year. Holly had urged her to go to the doctor but Elena had been so frightened she refused and told Holly to stop speaking of it.

The worst thing was that as her mother lay dying they both knew it wasn’t necessary. Holly knew her mother had a gift for healing. Her mother had taken away hurts and health problems many times over Holly’s life, but she wouldn’t do it to save herself. She always refused to use the gift on herself. She chose that stubbornness over living and Holly hated her for it as much as she loved her and missed her.

And here she was, not knowing who she was or what the heck this prescience she had meant or how to use it. Elena had forbidden Holly to even speak of her own unique gifts. And so, over time, Holly had just walled as much of it out as she could and pretended not to deal with what did leak through.

Now her mother was gone and she ached to understand herself and her gift. She needed to know where she came from and if anyone else in her family was like her. So many questions plagued her.

Making up her mind, she pulled the cards out of the deck, taking their weight into her hands. She slowly shuffled through them. She’d never seen tarot cards up close before she’d received the deck. They were beautiful—colorful and vivid. She’d looked through a book she found at the library and had learned a lot of interesting things.

Shuffling one last time, she cut the deck. The Empress was at the top. Taking a deep breath to center herself, she thought of her path and a pattern just came to her as she laid five cards on the table before her.

Four of Wands. Unity and family? Five of Cups. Loss and mourning but also seeking to heal. That one made sense. Justice. Questioning why something happened, seeking answers. Okay, that one made sense too. The Hierophant. Seeking knowledge but questioning it too. The last card, The Moon. Hmm, facing fears, personal journey, questions. More questions.

She closed her eyes as a vision hit her, knocking her off balance mentally. And found herself facing a small woman with hair like hers, although auburn more than coppery red. Holly looked into a face that held a chin very much like her own and—her heartbeat stuttered a moment—her mother’s lips, complete with the little cupid’s bow. Smiling, the woman held her hand out to Holly and she noticed the two men standing at the redhead’s side. More than a physical look at the men, Holly got an impression of them. But what was worrisome and sent a frisson of fear down her spine were the dark shadows around the edges of the vision and the same feeling of danger in the air she’d experienced over the last weeks.

* * * * *

In a very large bed a few thousand miles east, Lee Charvez sat up abruptly. Alex, the dark-haired man who’d been kneeling between her thighs, made a surprised sound. “Baby? What is it?” He reached out to touch her, concerned and wanting reassurance.

The other man, Aidan, slid his hand up Alex’s body and he disentangled himself and knelt next to her on the other side, exchanging a worried glance with Alex.

“Oh my god,” Lee said quietly. “I’ve got to call Grand-mére.” Scrambling over the men, she grabbed the phone with trembling hands.

Alex turned and pressed a kiss into Aidan’s shoulder and they both watched Lee, anxious to hear what she’d seen.

A voice sounded on the other side of the connection and Lee took a deep breath. “Grand-mére?”

“Yes, chere? You’ve dreamed, haven’t you?”

“How is it that you always know?” But there was comfort in that, comfort in being known that well by the people in her life and the understanding that she could seek solace and advice freely.

Her grandmother chuckled. “Oh it’s not that hard. I can hear it in your voice. I’ve been feeling out of sorts lately too. Something is wrong with one of our own. Tell me what you saw.”

“Grand-mére, I can see her face. She has my hair and Tante Elise’s chin and mouth. She’s in trouble. Alone and in trouble. She feels abandoned. She doesn’t know we exist. She needs us. Who could it be?”

Her grand-mére gave a long sigh filled with sadness. “Chere, before you were born we lost one of our own. There are things—painful, stupid things—it’s time we all talked about them. Let’s have a family meeting at your maman’s house, eh? I’ll call and arrange it. Tomorrow night. We need to bring this girl back home.”

“What are you talking about, Grand-mére? Who is she?”

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