Piya flipped the sign on the door of her gift shop to "closed" then stepped out onto the street to lock up for the evening. The late day sunlight gleamed gold but lacked any real warmth, and she shivered as a chill wind gusted up the busy street.
She fit her key into the lock and turned it until the deadbolt answered with a loud click. After dropping her keys back into her purse, she glanced one last time at the Halloween candle sculptures she'd arranged in the lighted window display an hour or so before.
Amid the orange, tinsel-strewn display stood three elegantly detailed black cats with glittery-green gemstone eyes and sleek, arched backs'some of the finest candle work she'd turned out in months.
A small smile tugged at her mouth. She left the shop and walked down Main Street, huddling deep into her leather blazer as traffic rushed the intersections in stops and starts, stirring up gales of cold wind.
She crossed with the light and took a deep breath, slipping her purse higher on her shoulder as she hopped up on the opposite curb and made her way toward home.
The hot-oil smell of funnel cake and corn dogs frying hit her the minute she rounded the corner. Shady, tree-lined Park Street had been closed off to traffic for Arborville's annual Halloween along the Avenue celebration. Booths lined both sides of the street, and hay bales had been arranged curbside for sitting on, and to house the massive pumpkin displays set up every few feet.
Piya followed the foot traffic, cutting across the street when the crowds grew too thick. The amplified echo of someone speaking into a microphone drew her attention to her right, and as she continued up the block toward Comfrey Street, she noticed that a costume contest was going on in the pocket park between the barber shop and the Trinity Church.
Her gaze lingered on the announcer and the makeshift stage until a small swarm of kids in costumes came squealing up the sidewalk. She quickly stepped aside and watched them pour in to the park swinging pumpkin-shaped candy pails: a witch, Frankenstein, and a red devil.
Amused, she thought about sticking around, but someone stopped near her with a steaming tray of chili-cheese nachos and her stomach growled. She hadn't eaten anything since breakfast and knew if she didn't get home soon, she'd give into the temptation of carnival food.
Thinking about the left over chicken strips and potato salad she'd put in the fridge, she picked up the pace, following the block down to the intersection and rounding the corner onto Comfrey Street.
The thought of good food reminded her of her childhood and living at home with her parents, and a wave of nostalgia swept through her. Normally she spent Halloween in North Haversham with her mother and stepfather, and at least a dozen other relatives that brought way too much good food with them. But business had been slow this year, and her best friend of five years had moved upstate to take a better paying job. She just didn't feel up to the socializing. She'd been restless lately, a little bummed out. Instead of the usual routine, she planned to stay home, light a few candles and do a bit of chanting. Maybe take a rosewater bath then sit down with a cup of tea and her computer to play Mutant Street Wars in her bunny slippers.
She passed her neighbor's house, and at the edge of the driveway, she cut across the front lawn, passing beneath the tall oak that was nearly bald from shedding its leaves'leaves that shuffled and crunched beneath her boots.
She jaunted up the front steps, and stopped on the porch, pausing long enough to find the cord to switch on the stand-up plastic pumpkin she'd set by the door for decoration. Afterward, she turned her attention to the bundle of mail hung on the hooks of her letterbox.
The post lady had secured what looked to be a stack of postcard advertisements and store circulars in a large rubber band, and at the core of the folded over bundle it was a small 4x6 shipping box with a large green "perishable" label on it. Someone had also marked the box with several red ink stamps that marked the contents "fragile".
"Ooh, goody," she said to no one, and slipped the box out for better inspection. She didn't recognize the return address right away, but candle supply companies often sent her samplers, sometimes candles themselves, and sometimes scented wax chips or wicks to test out in her shop.
Once in the house, she flipped on the lights and tossed the mail in the basket on the side table. Glad to be home, she dropped her purse in the chair, kicked off her boots and slipped out of her jacket, leaving everything where it landed.
She'd turned to pick up the package when Scooter padded into the room, greeting her on sight with a string of staccato meows. The gray tabby leapt up onto the arm of the couch and flexed his toes on a well-worn spot. Piya mimicked his meows for a second before she picked him up and snuggled him.
"How was your day, kitty-beast? Did you miss me?"
Scooter purred, rubbing his whiskers against her chin. Piya gave him a smooch on top the head then carried the cat and the package through the house to the kitchen where she set both on the countertop.
Scooter meowed at her until she opened a pouch of kitty kibble into a dish for him. She then went to the fridge and took out the container of leftovers and popped them into the microwave.
While waiting for the timer, she left Scooter to his dinner, tucked the package under her arm and walked through the house, coiling her long, black hair into a knot at her nape of her neck.
In the bathroom, she set the box on the counter and slithered out of her jeans and panties. After pulling off her blouse and bra, she slipped into a cotton robe, and with a wave of her hand, set her bathwater running, and lit the myriad of white lily candles around the bathtub.
The timer went off in the other room but she ignored it, leaving the chicken and potato salad to cool off in the microwave. She took a pair of cuticle scissors from her vanity table and sliced through the shipping tape on top of the package. Inside, she dug through the foam peanuts and found a small burgundy candle and an invoice. She spread out the sheet and read over it quickly.
"We welcome you to try our candle making supplies. For best scent results, please use sample prior to Halloween."
She inspected the mini pillar candle, held it up and turned it in the light. Right away she saw it was handmade and of great quality. The color was remarkable. Someone had added a reflective shimmer to the wax, probably a finely ground gold glitter.
She sniffed it, and noticed the candle had a cherry-vanilla scent with a hint of currant'interesting. She sniffed again. Exotic. A sensual tremor ran through her. Unreal how a scent could do that!
She glanced at the bottom of the candle for a description seal, a label for the fragrance, and discovered there wasn't one. It must be custom, but then again'. She couldn't remember where she might've smelled that particular scent before, but it was remarkably familiar.
Mulling it over, she set the candle on a pillar tray, and once she'd turned off her bathwater, she fished around the bathroom drawer for the box of matches she kept there. The best way to test the quality of a candle, the wick, was to light it the old fashioned way.
She took out a match and struck it against the box, orange fire flaring on the head of the matchstick. Piya laid it against the wick, and to her surprise, the flame flared high and threw off a shower of sparks like the hissing fuse of a firecracker.
Piya flinched back from it, gasping in shock, but an unseen force seemed to lasso her and hold her in place. Her stomach lurched and her vision went suddenly dark as the sensation of being tugged through empty space surrounded her.
Seconds later, Piya squeezed out of the dark tunnel into an open room lit by firelight. Disoriented, she staggered a little and grabbed onto the back of a leather chair.
Shocked by the suddenness of the shift, she glanced at the flagstone floors and marble fireplace, and instantly recognized where she'd landed'in the private study at Balfour Manor.
"Glad you could join me tonight, Piya."
She turned toward the voice and there he was'the culprit, not that she was really so surprised.
"Abhay. I should have known." She crossed her arms over her chest and frowned. "I can't believe I fell for that'a transport spell. What are you, six?"
"Six with a couple of zeros," he said while pouring brandy from a crystal decanter.
Still handsome, and just as infuriating as the last time she'd crossed paths with him, she decided. Only now he wasn't speaking to her from across a ceremonial circle. In fact, he looked like he'd just come in from a hard day at the office. His white shirt hung open over his black trousers, unbuttoned from top to tails, exposing tan skin peppered with dark hair, and rock hard abs that never failed to grab her attention.
He glanced at her as he took down a second snifter and poured. "You could at least pretend to be happy to see me, you know."
"Should I? The last time I saw you, you wanted me to give up my house and my career."
"I asked you no such thing. I asked you if there was anything you wanted to bring here from the house in New England'hardly a crime. It's only natural a wife moves in with her husband after the wedding. It's tradition."
"Maybe'if we were still living in the dark ages."
"Admit it." He put the stopper back in the bottle and looked at her with a flat expression. "That last argument had nothing to do with me. It was all about you and your cold feet."
Piya bristled, heat blooming in her face. "Well, that's a high handed conclusion, Mr. Scottish Laird'. Mr. Coven Council Know-it-all!"
Perhaps some of what he said was true, but not all. Besides, no way was she about to let him guilt her into changing her mind, or in giving up her shop. And she certainly wasn't going to let that thick accent seduce her again, either. Not this time.
A lock of hair fell free of her chignon and landed against her cheek. Flustered, she reached up to brush it back from her face and her hand jerked short. She looked down, and her mouth gaped at what she found. For a moment, all she could do was stare in shock at the slender gold chain binding her wrist. Then her anger piqued, and outrage flared through her.
"What is this?" She glared at Abhay. "Take this off right now!"
"You know I can't do that, sweet. Gold spells are unbreakable, and that chain is made of genuine fairy flake. See for yourself."
She did see. Each individual link in the chain glittered as though it had been dusted in shimmering powder. Thinking back to the candle, the gold flakes in the wax should have set off warning bells. But it hadn't, and for that she could have kicked herself. She couldn't say that to him though, because it would only add confirmation to his cause. He'd tell her she'd grown too trusting, that she'd grown soft living among mortals. The old argument would begin again when the truth was she simply hadn't been looking for a trap'and why should she?
Gold flake. That rat! So she'd been caught by a spell that had to run its course'.
"Oh, I suppose you think you're really clever."
"If the shoe fits," he drawled. "Perhaps it will ease your mind to know the magic should only last an hour, give or take, then the chain will turn into dust again."
"Oh, well, there's good news," she blustered, putting a hand on her hip. "In the meantime, I suppose this is your idea of a hot date?"
"Not really," he said, and then scanned her from head to toe as though he could see right through her cotton bathrobe. "Well, I guess it could be."
She clutched at her lapels in self-defense. "I dare you to try it."
He sighed. "Piya, my love, you should know by now I'm only teasing." He brought her one of the snifters he'd poured and held it out until she took it, then he raised his own in a quick toast. "To us."
He sipped his brandy and she frowned, watching him walk over to one of the leather sofas where he sat down heavily. He beckoned her by patting the seat beside him, but she stayed right where she was.
"Why exactly did you drag me here, Abhay?"
"What better time is there? It's the second anniversary of our marriage arrangement."
"Is it?" she choked. She tabulated the date in her head like a run down of store figures. "Are you sure?"
"I'm positive. I received the official blessings from the council two years ago to the day. That same night, I tried to contact you, but you were with friends in New York City, going to'"
"'a candle convention." She'd totally forgotten, but now that she thought about it, he was right. "And you just decided to bring me here so we could throw back a few cocktails and reminisce?"
"No need to be crass, sweet. I've tried calling you, but you never answer your phone."
True, she avoided the phone. She left her cell purposely on voicemail, and almost never checked her answering machine. What was the point? Half the time it was her mother calling to ruffle her feathers, to ask her why she hadn't settled down yet, and when she planned start popping out grandchildren, as if that were some spontaneous thing she could control by the wave of a hand.
Rubbing her forehead in a bid for patience, she started to sip her drink, but stopped short and looked into the snifter, dubious. "What's in this, anyway?"
"Cognac," he said, and gestured toward the cantinas in on the sidebar.
"Cognac and nothing else? No potions or draughts?"
His brows lifted. "I see your opinion of me hasn't changed."
"A politician with magical ability'what's not to trust?"
He let out a bark of laughter. "Touch."
She took a small sip of brandy, watching him carefully over the rim. Hearing him laugh curled her insides, made her skin break out in goose bumps. Already that electric attraction seemed to be working on her, that unexplained magnetism, damn him. Abhay had always been too smooth for his own good'and for her sanity.
After that maddening initial chase he'd put her through, and remembering how in awe she'd been of him those first few blazing-hot weeks after they'd met, she felt incredibly self conscious standing in his presence now.
"You're thinking hard," he said.
"I was thinking about when we first met."
A devilish smile curved his mouth, and Piya shivered as a ribbon of desire pooled low in her stomach.
He lifted a hand, and with a flick of his fingers, a long gold leash feeding off the chain around her wrist appeared in his grasp. He gave it a little tug, just hard enough to lift her wrist away from her side.
She glared at him. "You said no spells!"
"No. I said there weren't any draughts in your drink." He made a face and tugged again at the gold leash. "Stop being so ornery and sit with me. It's bad enough that I've missed you."
She ignored the excited leap of her heart at those words, and walked across the room and sat beside him on the couch. He put his arm around her and hugged her shoulder.
"There, that wasn't so bad?"
Close to him like this, she could feel his body heat, smell his enticing masculine scent. "Your cologne'" Piya gaped at him when she recognized it. How could she have forgotten? She leaned over and sniffed his neck to make sure she hadn't imagined it. "That vanilla-cherry currant smell'. It is you. No wonder that candle smelled so familiar."
He looked surprised. "I braided one of my hairs into the wick to ensure you ended up here, but I assure you, I didn't add any cologne."
She stared at him thoughtfully then sat back and laughed. "And you told me you'd quit smoking, you big liar. Your scent was in the candle: cherry-vanilla pipe tobacco, and brandy. You didn't have to add any cologne to the candle, your hair braided into the wick put your magical essence in there for you."
He raked a hand through his hair, a roguish grin spreading across his face. "You would deny a six hundred year old man his pipe?"
She gave a snort, and took another drink of her brandy. Beside her, Abhay spoke a short command that reverberated around the room, and suddenly the furniture shifted.
Piya dug her fingers into the couch cushion to hold on, but it happened in an instant: the lounge tables vanished, the wing chairs moved. The couch they sat on revolved and sank to the floor, and when Piya looked down, the black cushions had remolded into a thick, white Flokati rug in front of the massive fireplace.
"There. Much more comfortable, don't you think?" Before she could protest, he propped himself on his elbow and stretched out beside her. "So, tell me, how is work? You're still making candles at your little shop?"
She started to tell him, but stopped short, uncertain. "Seriously? You want to talk?"
"What did you think I was going to do? Chain you and fall on you like a rutting beast?"
"The idea crossed my mind, yes."
He set aside his drink. "Give me some credit, Piya. I've never touched you when you didn't want me too."
It was true, and she lowered her eyes, heat scorching her face that she'd even suggested otherwise. When she did, he slipped the snifter from her fingers and set it back behind him, off the rug.
"However much you like living in the mortal realm," he said with a sigh, "you belong here at Balfour with me. Of course I have all the time in the world to wait for you, and don't get me wrong, love, your happiness is very important to me, but I'm growing impatient."
"Oh, is that all'."
He lifted her hand and laid a soft kiss against her knuckles. "It's not easy living alone, you know? Thinking about someone you can't touch every day. It's damn maddening."
"You could have come to Arborville at any time if you wished to see me."
"Yes, I could have." Sly eyes regarded her. "And if I'd paid you such a visit, would it have made you accept tradition? Would you have agreed at last to complete the Heart Spell?"
At the mention of those two words she felt a frisson of panic race over her skin.
"Did my mother put you up to this?"
"Good gods, no. Sugandmom is the last person I'd call. Nothing against your mother, but she's too bent on grandchildren right now. She'd likely try to talk me into some hair-brained, romantic scheme. I much prefer the direct approach."
Her brows lifted. "Besides, it's not as if a transport spell hidden in a candle isn't hair-brained enough."
"Ah, but it worked, didn't it? Would you have come to me any other way if I'd asked?"
"Probably not," she admitted softly, and then upon thinking about it, shook her head and frowned, that faint restlessness nagging her again. "I don't know. Maybe I would have. The point is you could have asked."
"Very well, I will ask you now. Piya, I love you and I want you near me. Will you please come to live with me in Balfour?"
Butterflies sprang to life in her stomach at the husky promise in his voice. Oh, dear. This is not good. Not good at all!
She hadn't truly expected him to ask, or that he'd sound so sexy doing it. He waved his hand and the fire dimmed, throwing orange shadows around the room. All around them, the sparkle of sensual energy crackled in the air. It feathered over the fine hairs on her body, like the caress of static against her skin.
Candles lit in the candelabras all around them, and Abhay gave her a soft, romantic lip locking kiss, that made her heart flip.
"It's time to fulfill the Heart Spell, Piya," he murmured against her mouth. "I have already given you my heart, and I have waited for your response long enough." He pulled back and looked into her eyes. "I call on you to either accept tradition or deny me entirely."
Piya licked her lips. She only had to speak the words and they would be bound together, heart to heart, soul to soul. Man and wife in this life, and in the next.
"Your answer, Piya'."
Her gaze flicked to that tempting mouth hovering so close to her own, and she sighed. "You're a serious danger to my sanity."
His voice had taken on a husky timber, and she cursed him in her mind. It wasn't fair that she should find him so irresistible. But then, for the Heart Spell to work there had to be an underlying attraction, one strong enough to bind. Never mind the fact it had to be strong enough for the Coven Council to even recognize it.
After all, what good would the ritual do if there was no passion to hold the bond in place?
"Piya, speak now or'"
"Oh, fine," she relented, ignoring her own excitement at the thought of joining with him. "You know I always intended to do it, and don't pretend you weren't already certain of it."
A devilish smile curved his lips, a split second before he leaned down to kiss her. She promptly stopped him with her finger.
"Just one more thing, Abhay. If we're to do this now, tonight, I would like a few concessions from you first."
Dark eyes glittering, he pulled her closer. "Name them."
"I will not give up my mortal carousing, as you like to call it, and I'm keeping my candle workshop'including the house in Arborville. If I live here with you, I'll need it to keep up appearances."
He responded by nipping lightly at her lower lip. "And?"
"And Scooter goes where I go."
"The cat? But of course."
He nibbled at her chin and moved lower to kiss her throat. Brows furrowed, she closed her eyes allowing the current of desire to swirl through her. The feel of his hot hands on her bare body beneath the bathrobe was nothing short of intoxicating.
"Anything else?" he asked against her skin.
"Yes, actually, I' Oh'." Her mind drew a total blank. Abhay had drawn her robe open, and now his fingers stroked over her breasts, her rib cage, and down the flat plain of her belly to her moist apex.
Gods, but he excited her to distraction.
He stroked her with his fingers while kissing the mouth, his tongue swirling around the peak before he withdrew and blew gently across her wet . She sighed, shivering as chills broke out across her skin.
"You know, I really can't think with you doing that," Piya confessed.
"No?" he asked, and repeated the sensual process with her other breast. Piya drew in a deep breath and arched in response, tangling her fingers in his hair.
"Since you're being so wickedly unfair right now," she groaned as his fingers flicked against her just the way she liked, "you'll just have to promise we negotiate the rest later."
Laughing low in his chest, Abhay teased a slow kiss from her then pulled back and stripped off his shirt. "Agreed."
If you like please comment i am expecting mor please
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