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Third book in a series of funny paranormal romances by Natale Stenzel.
Daphne Forbes always knew the world was an odd place. Unlike most CPAs, she grew up the daughter of a druid. Unlike her father, she eschewed the supernatural. But magic was coming to trip her up. In the form of an enchanted cornerstone, it was set to knock Daphne's socks off—or at least one of her shoes—and the rest of her clothes were soon to follow.
Magic filled Daphne, empowered her, shifted her shape and raged wild as a summer storm. Enter Tremayne. Whether the tormented newcomer was truly her guardian or something more sinister, one thing he wanted was clear. Daphne wanted him, too. She had spent her whole life with control but little power; this was just the opposite. She was suddenly between a magic stone and…someplace harder. And we're not (just) talking about Tremayne's abs.
BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HEART PLACE
By Natale Stenzel
Dorchester Love Spell
From Chapter One
Still shaking, Daphne forced one foot in front of the other. The path. Where was the freaking path? She was so completely out of here, both shoes or not—
“Ms. Forbes.” A commanding voice from behind. Not Tremayne’s. Yeah, and speaking of freaking things, what the hell was Tremayne? Obviously he was not simply the mysterious private detective her mother had hired to tail her philandering and apparently criminal father. Daphne should have known there was more to him than had first met the eye. After all, she’d never been drawn so compulsively to anyone before in her life. Not to Warren, her one-time boyfriend and almost fiancé, and not to any man before or since then. She’d ignored them. Easily. Once burned, twelve times shy.
But since she’d first spotted him a couple months before, Tremayne had proven to be completely, disturbingly un-ignorable. Not only was she constantly aware of him on an elemental level, but it seemed there was no avoiding the man, period. He was everywhere, either one step ahead of her or almost on her heels, watching her, watching her parents. He drew her eye, her thoughts, her near obsession, in spite of her well-founded mistrust of interfering types. She hated feeling that way about any man. The lack of control galled and stunned her. It struck her as unnatural—and shouldn’t that have been a tip-off? Where was her head? No doubt about it, Tremayne had a whole lot more going on than a simple private detective would. Even a stunningly good-looking one.
“Daphne Forbes. Please. I realize you’re unsettled by what just happened here. Let us help you.”
She slowed and turned to look over her shoulder. It was that Druid guy her father hated, Phil something. He was also the High Druid, which would make him, in her opinion, the cult leader. If the crowd thought she was getting naked and submissive with that, they were as nutty as white-robed fruitcakes. Which they were, actually.
Well, the Druids were white robed. The puca and the faeries were dressed like any other schmoes on the street. Pucas and faeries. She felt like an idiot even silently acknowledging— Okay, sure, she’d read of the existence of such…beings…in her father’s journals, and she’d actually met two guys who claimed to be pucas, but faeries? Tinkerbell? She’d probably be doubting still—a smart girl didn’t believe everything she read—if she hadn’t just now watched a man who called himself faerie king summon others of his kind with a simple snap of his fingers. Just poof, and two women had appeared out of nowhere.
To think that most people had no idea they coexisted with beings like this. Other than model-perfect faces and bodies, these pucas and faeries looked human. That was so wrong! Where were the pointy ears and magic wands and slanting, googly eyes? Was a tail or pair of hooves too much to ask? The fact that freaks could walk among humans, controlling them, manipulating them, when humans were completely unaware of their existence or interference… It was intolerable. Daphne backed away from them all.
“Oh, no. I’m done with you weirdos. Do what you will with Daddy Dearest and his conniving and violent ways. He asked for every bit of justice you want to drop on his power-hungry head. Just count me out.” She turned and kept walking. Where had the path disappeared to? It was here, right here, just a moment earlier.
“We will deal with Duncan Forbes,” Phil said. “I am not asking you to intercede for him. I am concerned, however, that you might spontaneously shift shape again.”
She froze. Spontaneously… “You’re kidding me.” So, the cat thing could happen again?
But she hadn’t really changed into a cat. How could she have? Sure, she knew of the existence of shape-shifters—in myth and legend and, well, hearsay—but she was human. Humans did not change shape. So, obviously she’d just…had an episode. Or something. Maybe it was something she’d eaten. Or maybe that stupid cornerstone had really bounced off her head and done cerebral damage before landing on her foot. That would explain much. Like the zinging she still felt along her nerve endings, as though they were all conversing energetically. What would nerve endings have to discuss anyway? Hey, how’s the weather on your side of her ass? Kind of chilly over here.
I would say that there’s nothing remotely chilly about that ass of yours, said a voice out of nowhere.
She caught her breath. Tremayne’s voice? She was thinking about her own ass in Tremayne’s voice? That was just wrong.
So you did hear me. That answers all questions.
What did that mean? Maybe she was in shock. Or dealing with aftereffects from her episode. Was it an aneurysm? A stroke?
It means that you retain the puca powers that were discarded by the former puca Riordan, used by your father for foul purposes and then bound so temporarily inside that cornerstone. Those powers are now loosed from the stone…and tied to you. You wield the puca powers.
She whirled to glare at Tremayne, who stood unmoving, off to the side. “Are you insane?”
No. And before you ask, neither are you. Mindspeak is a puca power, as is shape-shifting. It’s apparent you have a strong natural talent for both. His lips never moved.
“Oh, no. That’s all on you.” She pointed a finger at him. “You’re the freak around here, not me. I’m human. I don’t ‘mindspeak’ and I don’t turn into a wolf after dark. The only ‘powers’ I wield involve math, taxes and the IRS. So why don’t you go find more of your kind and loiter somewhere…metaphysical. But leave me out of it. I have a flight to catch.”
“I’m afraid we can’t let you do that, Ms. Forbes.” It was High Druid Phil again, his calm almost exaggerated.
Daphne scowled. “Funny, how you have absolutely no say in the matter. I’m outta here. Now, where the hell did the path go?”
“It will return when the time is right.”
She whipped around to face Phil. “Return? What, the path is gone? You made it go away? Oh, but of course. You’re a Druid. Your type can do stuff like that. Guess that means I’ll have to strike out on my own. Cross-country and all.”
Steeling herself, she made a sharp left, kicking aside brush and ignoring the sharp edges of rocks and sticks beneath her bare foot. Stupid missing shoe. Had the cat eaten it? Her thoughts stumbled clear of that mental sidetrack.
Shoving through branches and brush that seemed to grow thicker, she felt perspiration dampening the material between her breasts. A drop of moisture slid down her spine. It was winter in Virginia—albeit a mild one—and here she was sweating all over her silk blouse, thanks to a misguided and badly timed attack of conscience. She would smell utterly rank by the time she set foot in the airport. And oh, look, a fresh stain on the sleeve of her blazer. Damn it! So much for getting her seat upgraded to first class.
She reached up with both hands to grasp a particularly thick grouping of branches obscuring her view and…pushed right back into the Druids’ circle?
They all patiently looked at her, thirty or so assorted males and females, all dressed in white robes and representing probably every walk of life, not to mention every brand and style of footwear. Also present were that handful of supposed faeries, a puca and a few non-Druid humans. All were staring at her. It was like Halloween, except scarier and with no candy to make her feel better. And they were all standing in that damn circle, right where she’d left them.
Which she would do again. Stoic, she turned her back on the group and raised a hand to shove at another branch.
“It won’t do you any good.” Phil spoke quietly. “Every path you take into the trees will lead back to this circle until I give you permission to leave.”
Daphne’s temper flared. Great. Another damn control freak of a Druid. Like she hadn’t seen enough of that as the daughter of Duncan and Violet Forbes as they acted out the Druid version of War of the Roses. But didn’t the warring spouses in that movie end up mercifully broken and forced to stare at each other as they expired? Like she could possibly get so lucky. No, if there was dying to be done in the Forbes household, her parents would undoubtedly crush Daphne between Mommy and Daddy so all three could expire simultaneously. On their terms. Never hers. She was so done with possessive control freaks, that right now she felt capable of—
Careful, Daphne. Your temper. You have undisciplined powers. If you hurt the Druid, even by accident, the penalty will be very high.
She glared at Tremayne. “Do you think invading my mind will make me any less inclined toward violence?”
Amusement glittered in his eyes.
He thought this was funny? Funny?
“Well, it is really refreshing to see someone as composed as you completely lose your temper. I imagine you can count on one hand the number of times you’ve made a scene like this in front of anyone,” he replied.
She narrowed her eyes. “If that’s your way of suggesting I take it easy and be a nice girl, I’m very much afraid your efforts are backfiring.” Very afraid. Very, very— Her breath hitched. Oh, god. She felt it again, the zings racing along her spine and veering outward to pelt various nerve endings.
Tremayne abruptly strode toward her. Unnerved by the force of his presence and her usual reaction to it, she backed up a step. But he kept coming until he stood just a pace away. His face expressionless and his manner calm, he gripped her shoulders with both hands. The zinging, which had accelerated to a mind-robbing frenzy, slowed and then dissipated. Daphne exhaled shakily, gazing sightlessly around the clearing. She wouldn’t meet his eyes.
“Daphne.” Tremayne murmured her name. “Look at me.”
Gritting her teeth, she peered through her lashes at him. “I’m looking. What should I see?”
Dark, nearly black eyes, fathomless depths she’d always found so unnervingly compelling, stared down at her. Calm overtook her. Oh. She inhaled deeply, drinking it in, and let her breath out slowly.
Strangely enough, it was. She eyed him warily. “What happened? Why is…” She gestured shakily at him and her and their silent audience. Everyone else seemed willing to let Tremayne deal with her, crazy as she was.
Copyright © 2009 Natale Nogosek Stenzel.
All rights reserved.