Home > Witches of East End (The Beauchamp Family #1)(3)

Witches of East End (The Beauchamp Family #1)(3)
Author: Melissa de la Cruz

There he was now, tall and dark-haired, wearing an ill-fitting blazer, shuffling through the party and accepting the well wishes of his friends with his customary shy smile. Bran Gardiner was not at all charming or erudite or witty or worldly like the men from his background, who relished zooming about the unpaved streets in their latest Italian sports cars. In fact, for an heir, he was awkward and self-conscious and Talented Mr. Ripley-ish—as if he were an outsider to an elite circle and not the very center of the circle itself.

“There you are.” He smiled as Freya reached to straighten his bow tie. She noticed the sleeves of his shirt were worn, and when he put an arm around her she smelled just the slightest hint of body odor. Poor boy, she knew he had been dreading this party a little. He wasn’t good with crowds.

“I thought I’d lost you,” he said. “Are you all right? Can I get you anything?”

“I’m perfect,” she said, smiling at him and feeling the butterflies in her stomach begin to calm.

“Good.” He kissed her forehead and his lips were soft and warm on her skin. “I’m going to miss you.” He fiddled nervously with the monogram ring he wore on his right hand. It was one of his little tics, and Freya gave his hand a squeeze. Bran was traveling to Copenhagen tomorrow on behalf of the Gardiner Foundation, the family’s nonprofit venture dedicated to promoting humanitarian charities around the globe. He would be gone almost the entire summer for the project. Maybe that was why she was feeling so jittery. She didn’t want to be without him now that they had found each other.

The first night they met, he hadn’t even asked her out, which annoyed Freya at first until she realized it was because he was simply too modest to think she would be interested in him. Instead he showed up the next night during her shift at the Inn, and the next night, and every night after that, just staring at her with those big brown eyes of his, with a kind of wistful yearning, until finally, she had to ask him out—she could see that if she left it up to him, they would never get anywhere. And that was that. They were engaged four weeks later, and this was the happiest day of her life.

Or was it?

There he was again. The problem. Not Bran, not the sweet man she had pledged to love forever—he had been stolen away by the crowd and was now in the middle of chatting up her mother. His dark head was bent over Joanna’s white one, the two of them looking like the best of friends.

No. He was not the problem at all.

The problem was the boy staring at her from across the room and from all the way down the length of the great hall. Freya could feel his eyes on her, like a physical caress. Killian Gardiner. Bran’s younger brother, twenty-four years old, and looking at her as if she were on sale to the highest bidder and he was more than willing to pay the price.

Killian was home after a long sojourn abroad. Bran had told Freya he hadn’t seen his brother in many years, as he moved around a lot and traveled the globe. She wasn’t sure where he had just come from—Australia, was it? Or Alaska? The only thing that mattered was that when they were introduced, he had looked at her with those startling blue-green eyes of his, and she had felt her entire body tingle. He was, for lack of a better word, beautiful, with long dark lashes framing those piercing eyes, sharp-featured with an aquiline nose and a square jaw. He looked like he was always ready to be photographed: brooding, sucking on a cigarette, like a matinee idol in a French New Wave film.

He had been perfectly gracious, well-mannered, and had embraced her as a sister, and to her credit, Freya’s face had betrayed none of the turmoil she felt. She had accepted his kiss on her cheek with a modest smile, had even been able to engage him in the usual cocktail conversation. The soggy weather, the proposed wedding date, how he found North Hampton (she couldn’t remember, she might not have been listening: she had been too mesmerized by the sound of his voice—a low rumble like a late-night disk jockey). Then finally someone else had wanted his attention and she was free to be alone—and that was when all the small but awful things at the party began to happen.

Cat scratch fever. That was all it was, wasn’t it? Like an itch you couldn’t quite reach, couldn’t placate, couldn’t satisfy. Freya felt as if she were on fire—that at any moment she would spontaneously combust and there would be nothing left of her but ashes and diamonds. Stop looking at him, she told herself. This is insane, just another of your bad ideas. Even worse than the time you brought the gerbil back to life (she’d gotten an earful from her mother for that one, lest someone on the Council found out, not to mention that zombie pets were never a good idea). Go outside. Get some fresh air. Return to the party. She glided over to the vase of pink cabbage roses, trying to suffocate her whirling emotions by inhaling their scent. It didn’t work. She could still feel him wanting her.

Goddamnit, did he have to be so good-looking? She thought she was immune to that kind of thing. Such a cliché: tall, dark, and handsome. She hated cocky, arrogant boys who thought women lived to service their voracious sexual appetites. He was the worst offender of the type—screeching up in his Harley, and that ridiculous hair of his—that messy, shaggy, bangs-in-your-eyes kind of thing, with that sexy, come-hither smolder: but there was something else. An intelligence. A knowingness in his eyes. It was as if, when he looked at her, he knew exactly what she was and what she was like. A witch. A goddess. Someone not of this earth but not apart from it either. A woman to be loved and feared and adored.

She looked up from the vase and found him still staring directly at her. It was as if he were waiting the whole time, for just this moment. He nodded his head, motioning to a nearby door. Truly? Right here? Right now? In the powder room? Was that not just another cliché that went with the motorcycle and the bad-boy attitude? Was she really going to go into the bathroom with another man—her fiancé’s brother, for god’s sake—at her engagement party?

She was. Freya walked, as if in a daze, toward the aforementioned rendezvous. She closed the door behind her and waited. The face that stared at her from the mirror was flushed and radiant. She was so happy she was delirious, so excited she didn’t know what to do with herself. Where was he? Making her wait. Killian Gardiner knew what to do with wanton women, it seemed.

The doorknob turned, and he walked in, smooth as a knife, locking the door behind him. His lips curled into a smile, a panther with his prey. He had won.

“Come here,” she whispered. She had made her choice. She didn’t want to wait a moment longer.

Outside the door, in the middle of the party, the cabbage roses burst into flame.

 

 

chapter two

Country Mouse

 

Old Maid. Tight-ass. Spinster. Ingrid Beauchamp knew what people thought of her; she had seen the way they huddled and whispered behind cupped hands as she made her way across the library, putting away returned books to their proper shelves. In the decade that she had worked there, Ingrid had made few friends with her patrons, who found her strict and high-handed. Not only did she never forgive a fine, she had a tendency to lecture on the proper care and maintenance of the books under her jurisdiction. A book returned with a broken spine, a drenched cover or dog-eared pages was sure to garner a cool reprimand. It was bad enough that their operating budget barely covered their expenses; Ingrid did not need the patrons doing unnecessary damage to the books in her care.

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