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“Redheads!” I exclaimed, and searched my memory. I hadn’t seen that one coming, although I vaguely recalled reading about redheads put to death for witchcraft in medieval Germany. But while I believed the unfortunate redheads were killed for witchcraft, I didn’t believe they were witches. It was the fear and superstition of others that had sealed their fate.
Havoc reached out with his fingers and snagged a thick curl of my hair. “The redder the hair, the more powerful the witch.”
I took a quick look at Valor and noted a muscle pulsing in his jaw. I wanted to think he resented Havoc’s fingers sifting through my hair but I guessed it had more to do with the conversation about witches. It occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t my red hair that bothered Valor. Maybe it was the fact that he thought I was a witch. “I’m not a witch,” I scoffed, and straightened my spine assertively.
“Yes, you are,” Havoc countered.
“And we can prove it,” Reason added.
“Reason,” Valor growled with a sharp note of warning in his voice.
“How?” I asked, ignoring Valor and crossing my arms over my chest.
Reason ignored Valor, too. “You want your neighbor to stop cutting his trees, right?”
“Well, you can stop him with nothing more than a simple spell.”
“A spell!” I echoed. “But I don’t know any—”
“That’s enough,” Valor snarled at his cousin. “She has no powers and she doesn’t want to have any.”
I narrowed my gaze on Valor. For some reason, he didn’t want me to be a witch. And while I don’t much care for other people making up my mind for me, I couldn’t think of a good reason to argue with him. Obviously, I didn’t believe for one moment that I might be a witch. Trust me, if I were a witch and if I had any powers, a tree would have fallen on my neighbor the day he started slaughtering trees wholesale. Either that, or he would have cut off his leg with the chain saw. I’m not a saint and I wouldn’t be a saintly witch.
No, I definitely wasn’t a witch…although the idea of being able to cast spells was kind of appealing.
Reason opened his mouth as if to argue but closed it again when he noticed Valor’s fierce expression. “A witch might come in handy,” he muttered beneath his breath as he slanted his stubborn gaze in my direction.
Valor took a menacing step toward his cousin. “Leave it, Reason.”
Reason backed away and raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. I was impressed. I could see that Reason considered his cousin a force to be reckoned with, even though Valor was younger than him.
I just hoped that force would be on my side when it was reckoning time.
We left Pine Grove and took I-70 east toward Denver International Airport. It’s a relatively new airport and there’s a lot of undeveloped property surrounding it so we were able to pull off the road about a mile from the runways. We left the car straddling a shallow drainage ditch and climbed an embankment where we threw some bleacher blankets down on the dry grass. We lay on our backs and watched the planes pass directly overhead. We even got lucky and saw a helicopter take off from the airport though it didn’t fly in our direction.
“Ah,” Havoc sighed as if he’d landed in heaven. “That’s grand.”
I laughed and even Reason chuckled. “That’s frickin’ grand,” he agreed.
On the way home, we detoured up Coal Creek Canyon. There’s a place on the county highway where the railway tracks follow the road on one side, cross a bridge over the highway then turn back up the road on the other side. So if you park your car in the right place and a long train is on the tracks, the train actually wraps around you on three sides as it climbs uphill.
The view is epic.
I timed my arrival so that we entered the canyon just before the train traveling west from the city got there. The guys were gobsmacked as well as awed. I was pretty pleased with myself for showing them such a good time. I took a picture of the guys with the bridge-full-of-train behind them then handed Havoc my cell phone and showed him how to use the camera. He went crazy taking photographs.
A few miles down the road we stopped at a railway museum and everybody got a close look at the old engines and passenger cars that operated during the days of cowboys and gold miners. “Amazing,” Valor murmured. His blue eyes glowed as he admired an old engine painted a dark, shiny green.
“Worth waiting for, wasn’t it?” Havoc murmured, and bumped his brother with his elbow.
“It was worth every minute of eight hundred years,” Valor agreed. “If I’d known this was waiting for us…”
“What?” he asked as he snapped a quick picture of the train.
“I wouldn’t have spent all those years waiting for the chance to flatten you.” Valor chuckled darkly.
I stood slightly behind and to the side of the two gargoyles. As Valor grinned at his brother, I couldn’t help but wish he would turn one of his heart-stopping smiles in my direction. Sadly, he’d managed to get through the entire trip without saying a single word to me. But I was glad the gargoyles had a good time. They were in a great mood as we headed home with some fast food and I figured I’d gained at least a few points toward improving my hostage status.
Two voice mails were waiting for me on the landline when we walked in the house. Greg wanted to make sure I was going to be home in the morning to open the garage for the shipping company. Mom wanted me to call her and check in. When I did, she said she hoped I was having fun and that I’d met some nice guy and that was why I wasn’t home when she called.
My mother is such a romantic.
She also told me she hoped I was eating something besides pizza while she was gone. I made a mental note to make sure the pizza boxes went out in the trash before she returned on the weekend.
When I got off the landline, Havoc tossed my cell phone at me. He told me to check out his photographs when I had a chance. But I noticed some text messages waiting for me and by the time I answered them, I forgot about his pictures. I didn’t remember them until I went up to my bedroom for the night.
Sitting cross-legged on my bed, I called up Havoc’s pictures and flicked through the images of Coal Creek Canyon and the train museum. The last few photos were shots of me, Valor and Reason exploring the train cars. And here’s the weird part. Maybe it was just the angle, but in every one of those last few photos, the image of Valor seemed to be watching the image of me.
It was bizarre. I could have sworn he hadn’t looked at me all day.
“Did you look at my pictures last night?” Havoc asked as I came down the stairs on Monday morning. He stood in front of the stove, scrambling eggs while bacon sizzled in a second pan.
“Yes,” I answered, eyeing him carefully and wondering why he thought it was so important for me to check his photos.
“Good,” he said with a satisfied smile. And that was it.
But I couldn’t help suspect him of meddling—in a sweet way, of course.
I kept busy after we ate breakfast, washing dishes and cleaning counters. I was so nervous and excited I could hardly stand still. Three more crates were scheduled to arrive before noon. I just hoped for Valor’s sake that his brother was in this shipment and not in one of the three crates that were still in England. I kept pacing to the living room window whenever one of the others weren’t standing in front of it.
At last, I saw the blue and white van starting up the driveway.
“They’re here!” I shouted as I made for the garage at top speed. My ankle almost gave out again as I skidded into the mudroom. The gargoyles were right behind me and I felt a hand on my hip, guiding me upright again before my feet went out from under me. I glanced over my shoulder to see who had stopped me from landing on my butt, hoping it was Valor. But Reason was closest to me. He caught my gaze and smirked as if to say, “God, you’re hopeless”.
I ignored him. If he wanted to be a pain in the ass, there was nothing I could do about it. And he already had such a good head start, it was probably too late to change anything.
Hooligan raced ahead of us as we spilled into the garage and threw the garage doors open. He was waiting for the van as it came to a stop in the driveway. The driver watched the dog apprehensively and waited for me to take Hooli’s collar before he opened the door.
You could almost feel the excitement and impatience rippling through the garage as we waited for the crates to be unloaded. My hands were shaking as I signed the driver’s clipboard.
He pushed his sunglasses up on top of his head and eyed the three guys with an unspoken air of disapproval. To him, they probably looked like a bunch of chancy young gigolos. “You be safe,” he cautioned me before he left.
As the driver climbed back into his van, I looked at Havoc and shrugged.
“He was just looking out for you,” Havoc said, making excuses for the driver.
As soon as the van disappeared around the bend in the driveway, the gargoyles went to work on the large wooden shipping crates.
The first box held Defiance, a gargoyle with straight, ash blond hair tied back at the nape. Like the rest of the gargoyles, he arrived barefoot and dressed in a pair of long shorts, complete with belt and knife. As I expected, he wore a tattoo on his neck that was different than the tattoos the others wore. When he grinned, I noticed one of his front teeth was slightly chipped. But it did nothing to harm his angular good looks. In fact, it added a sort of wild, rough element to the clean lines of his features.
Valor and Havoc were relieved to find Dare in the next crate. They seemed to recognize their brother before they even got the bubble wrap off him. That might have been because he was the only gargoyle to arrive without his wings spread. Unlike the rest of the gargoyles, a loose long-sleeved shirt covered his upper body and I couldn’t see a vest showing in shirt’s low neckline as he came to life. His hair was night-black like Valor’s, but not as straight and a shade longer. Oddly, the bottom of his hair was tipped with two inches of white where it touched his shoulders in loose waves.
Although Valor had mentioned that he and Dare were close in age, Dare looked older. His face was drawn, his cheeks hollowed out beneath high cheekbones, the lines around his mouth deep and well defined. Thick scars cut across his knuckles, remainders of what must have been some horrific wounds. All in all, he looked as if his life had not been easy and I wondered how his past had differed from Valor’s.
The final crate held Victor and I peeked between the guys to get a look at the “golden” gargoyle. Everything I’d heard about him was true. All of the gargoyles were beautiful but Victor was utterly perfect. His hair fell to his collar in a tangle of colors ranging from rich creams to dark burnished gold. His perfectly formed mouth curved into a wickedly charming smile with those really masculine dimples that look so good on guys. Even his skin had a tawny glow, which set off the silver wristbands he wore, not to mention his pale, blue-green eyes.
He was really something. He was just about as pretty as a guy could get and still be a guy. But if it came down to a male beauty pageant, I’d pick Valor over Victor any day of the week. Victor was too elegant. I preferred Valor’s bluntly chiseled looks.
Victor’s eyes glinted with interest as soon as he caught sight of me. “What do they call you?” he asked.
Valor stepped between Victor and me before I could answer. “Don’t even think about it,” he growled in a mutter so low I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right.
The golden gargoyle just stepped around Valor and grasped my arm below the elbow. When I took hold of his the way Havoc had shown me, Victor closed his hand over mine for a long, lingering moment while he held my gaze.
I was glad to have made a friend in Victor, if only because of the whole hostage issue which I was hoping to change. But more than that, I was longing for the sort of warmth that Valor had denied me. And even though Havoc acted friendly toward me, I still had to deal with the outright hostility I got from Reason.
“Forget it, Victor.” Valor might have been younger than his golden-haired cousin but he sure didn’t look it as he scowled at Victor. There was a definite “back-off” tone in his voice.
I didn’t know whether to be annoyed or encouraged by Valor’s behavior. Obviously, he had no right to interfere in my life. On the other hand, I figured it was an improvement over the way he’d ignored me yesterday.
“Don’t move, m’dear,” Victor instructed me. With an elegant air of patience, he let go of my arm and turned to face his cousin. Victor pointed a long finger toward me. “She’s not wearing your rune. That makes her fair play in my book.”
I didn’t know what Victor meant by wearing Valor’s rune. Maybe back in their time it was common for a girl to wear a guy’s token when he liked her, like a scarf embroidered with his family crest. Maybe even a ring with a seal on it. The medieval equivalent of a letterman jacket. I had to admit I liked the idea of wearing Valor’s token but he’d given me nothing…as Victor had so bluntly pointed out.
Valor positively bristled. His fists knotted at his sides as he glared at his cousin. “You know it’s too soon for that.”
I sidled up next to Havoc. “What does Victor mean by rune?” I muttered.
Without speaking, Valor’s brother lifted his finger and pointed at the tattoo on his neck.
I stared a moment at the swirling blue lines before I realized what he was trying to tell me. The symbols decorating their throats were runes—letters from an ancient alphabet that was used in Europe and Scandinavia before the Latin alphabet took hold. And it looked like I was “fair play” because I didn’t have Valor’s rune tattooed into my skin.
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