Raphael Sutter waited impatiently in the middle of the glen as the witches from his coven trickled into the area where they always met. It was as if none of them wanted to be there. Just days ago they’d been happy to celebrate Beltane, to mark the fact that summer was getting close. But now they all looked as if they’d swallowed several bottles of wine apiece and had the head woes to prove it.
When they were all there he waved his hand to form the circle that would protect them from prying eyes.
“Why are we here?”
He’d expected this sort of grumbling from a few of the witches, but not from his former lover Chetna, who usually did nothing more than smile and vote the way he wanted if problems arose, as they had done today.
“We have a situation,” he said. “The entire coven needs to be aware of what I’ve learned. It concerns Tycroft.”
Groans filled the circle, most of them sounded fearful, but a few expressed distaste.
“He’s left the area after the debacle with Arabella and Delroy.” This had come from Cesar, a Spanish warlock who had taken up residence with his wife, Catherine.
“So we think,” Raphael said. “But Arabella came to me yesterday to tell me a tale that you all need to hear.”
“Why should we believe a word she says?” Chetna snorted in derision. Raphael stared at her. She’d dyed her hair a bright red, and he couldn’t help but think it was done in an attempt to attract his attention. Their time together had been good, but not wonderful.
She held a grudge against him, he knew, because of his love for Gianna. It was something he would never lose, and when he’d told her that, she’d slapped him, and said she would never forgive him for not even trying to love her. “Arabella left her husband to go to Tycroft’s bed. A witch that sleeps with a demon is not to be trusted.”
“Here, here,” several witches said at the same time.
Martha, an English witch who had fled her village rather than be put to death by fire, cleared her throat. “We need to hear what she said before we judge the story.”
“Here, here,” several more witches said.
Raphael felt as if the coven was split, but he knew they would listen, and, hopefully, they would decide whether or not to believe her. For his part, what Arabella said had stunned Raphael.
“First off, let me tell you that she was embarrassed to come and see me,” he said
“As well she should be,” Martha said. “Giving yourself over to a demon should mean you’re shunned by the magical world.”
“Unlike humans, we don’t pass judgments like that.” Raphael felt that Martha, who fled from persecution, would know better than to say such a thing.”
“Let’s hear him out.”
Raphael inclined his head toward Arnaldo Rossi, who sat with his wife, Gianna. She was a witch, and he was a shape shifter. They were older members of the coven, with two grown sons who were known mostly for seducing young witches.
“So let’s hear it,” Chetna said. “We’re wasting moonlight just sitting here.”
Raphael took his seat so that everyone could see him and said, “Arabella told me Tycroft is obsessed with death. His death, to be exact. So much so that he’s been seeking out soothsayers so he can see how long he will live.”
“He’s immortal,” Chetna said.
“He can be killed,” Martha said.
“Obviously he’s foreseen his death,” Raphael said. “One of the tellers he saw said it would be five hundred years from now, but apparently that’s not long enough for him. Arabella said he’s selected three of his demons to bring him back. She didn’t hear the entire plan, but she knows it will take place. And when he comes back…” Raphael paused and took a deep breath. “His powers will be stronger than before. He will enslave us all, all beings, supernatural and human.”
“We can’t allow that to happen,” Arnaldo said. “How do we stop it?”
“We can’t,” Chetna said. “But we can take steps to kill him after his death.” She laughed softly. “You know what I mean. If he plans to bring himself back to life…”
“We need to make sure he’s unsuccessful,” Raphael said.
“Exactly,” Gianna said. “We need to put our heads together and stop him.”
“The good news is we have five hundred years to plan,” Martha said.
They all chuckled.
“We just have to make sure we keep it between us,” Raphael said. “Nothing leaves this circle.”
They all agreed.
“Then we meet again in three days’ time, and everyone brings their best solutions to this problem.”
After he’d broken the circle, and they were all gone, Raphael looked up at the stars and wondered about his own sanity. Had he been wrong to bring this issue to his coven? Was Arabella telling them the truth? Or was this some sort of trick? Was Tycroft trying to pull off some trick? Raphael knew the demon was always trying to steal power from witches. Was this some sort of grand plan of his?
Only time would tell, and Raphael knew they needed to be on their guard. Hopefully they would find a way to keep Tycroft dead after he died five hundred years from now.
Lucinda Lymer hopped off the boat and looked up at the building across the Grand Canal toward the building where Matteo Rossi lived. Memories flooded through her as she focused on the balcony on the third floor. How she’d loved taking coffee and breakfast on that balcony after a night of lovemaking with Matteo.
He’d lived in this building for more than four hundred years. She’d been his lover for more than a hundred years; and she’d hated him for the past seventy-five. One thing about being blessed with supernatural powers was long life. It brought with it much pleasure, but also much pain at times.
Her love for Matteo had been true, and lasting. Or so she thought, until she’d found him in bed with two witches, wedged in between them like meat between two slices of bread. They’d tried to make it work afterward, but more often than not they’d ended up fighting, and those fights hadn’t ended with hot, make-up sex. Six months after the blondie sandwich she’d left Venice for New Orleans, where she’d been ever since.
Matteo had been out of her life until two months ago, when he’d shown up in New Orleans to check on his brother, Berto, who had been injured in the fight against the now dead demon Tycroft.
And now here she was in Venice, at the order of Dante, the exorcism-performing Dante who was the boss of what they were now referring to as The Abbey, where supernatural beings gathered to fight evil forces. In effect, Dante was her boss, and he’d ordered her to Venice to meet with Matteo. She knew why he hadn’t sent Berto, but she wished he’d selected anyone else but her.
No matter the reason why, she was now here and she couldn’t make her feet move across the bridge and knock on Matteo’s door. There was no telling what she would find. Maybe he was in bed with two women—again. Or maybe he’d shifted into the gondola driver and had dropped her off just now and was watching her, laughing because she couldn’t find the courage to confront him.
Not that she was confronting him. She was delivering news that he would not be happy to hear. Part of her prayed he already knew and would not fall apart when she handed him the letter she had in her bag.
“Are you going to stand there all day?”
Lucinda jumped at the sound of Matteo’s voice. She looked up to where he stood on the balcony, the one he’d bent her over so many times.
“I wasn’t exactly invited,” she said. “I wasn’t sure I would be welcomed.”
He drew a circle in the air. “The front door is open for you. Come to the third floor. I’ll pour the amaretto.”
Alcohol. She wasn’t sure if that was a good idea or not, but it might give her the courage to behave herself and not throw him against the wall.
When she was upstairs he bowed, and then offered her a glass of golden liquid. “You’re as beautiful as always,” he said after she’d taken it. “But sensing you outside is the most surprising thing that’s happened since I found out a certain queen had supernatural powers.”
He took his own glass and disappeared through the balcony door.
Lucinda stepped into the doorway and stopped just short of joining him. “I’m not here for pleasure.”
“Too bad,” he said. “I have a new four-poster that you would look lovely stretched out on.”
Her body quivered as she thought about him doing just that, tying her up and then fucking her until her eyes crossed. Lucinda shook her head to clear her thoughts.
“I’m here to tell you that your mother has passed.” It was best, she knew, to say it as quickly as possible. Dragging it out would only make it more painful. But the look on his face told her it hurt, and it really didn’t matter how quickly she told him. Perhaps she should have prepared him better.
“How?” he asked.
“Murdered, in New Orleans,” she said.
“By whom?” He’d said the words in Italian, then shook his head and repeated it in English.
“We don’t know,” she said.
“When?” His voice shook, and it took all of her willpower not to cross the balcony and take him in her arms to offer comfort.
“Yesterday,” she said. “Matteo… I’m sorry.”
“How?” he asked again. He sounded as if he might burst into tears. “How was she murdered?”
“I don’t…” She sighed as she thought of a kind way of telling him.
“Don’t hide the truth from me,” he said. “Just tell me.”
“Her throat was slit, and her apartment was searched. Well, searched is a mild term. It was a magical being. They stripped the walls and pulled up floorboards with their magic, leaving the place a mess. They were obviously looking for something.”
“And Dante sent you to tell me?” Matteo drained his glass. He got up, pushed past her and crossed to the table. He poured himself another drink, drained it and refilled the glass.
“Berto is a mess,” she said. “Sybil is with him. This morning, a witch I’ve never met arrived at The Abbey. She delivered two letters. One for Berto. One for you.”
Lucinda reached into her bag and pulled out the letter. “I’ll deliver it and leave.”
“Please stay,” he said. He didn’t reach for the letter, even though she held it out to him.
“Matteo, I am sorry for your loss, but I don’t think me staying is a good idea.”
“Hate me that much?” he asked.
“Yes.” She took a sip from her glass. The smooth, sweet liqueur tasted wonderful, and warmed her just enough to relax her just a bit.
“There’s a fine line between love and hate,” Matteo said.
“Take the letter so I can leave,” she said. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she knew she was going nowhere. She could toss the letter on the table and leave, but here she stood, of her own free will.
“Damn you,” she whispered.
“Damn you, too,” he said. He drained his third glass, slammed the tumbler on the table so hard she was surprised it didn’t shatter, then crossed to her and grabbed the letter. He sat down on the couch, turning it over and over in his hands.
“I thought you were leaving,” he said after a few moments.
“Just open the thing and read it.”
“After you take a seat,” he responded.
Lucinda weighed her options. She wanted to leave, but she was curious about the contents of the letter she’d just delivered. She knew Dante had witches and reformed demons searching for Gianna Rossi’s killer. Lucinda wanted to take part in the investigation, and hearing what Gianna had to tell her sons might provide information. But then again it might just be a goodbye letter.
“Will you please sit down,” Matteo said. His voice no long shook, which meant he’d gained control over his emotions. For now.
Against her better judgment, Lucinda crossed the room and sat down. As soon as she’d taken her seat, Matteo tore open the envelope and pulled out two sheets of paper, which he slowly unfolded. From where she sat she could see they were handwritten.
She watched as his eyes moved from side to side as he read the missive. Tears formed in his deep blue eyes, he blinked, one drop of water fell down his cheek and then he cleared his throat.
“I will skip the personal things,” he said. “This is the part you want to hear.”
He cleared his throat once more. “There is a prophecy, once that we thought was true, then forgot, but has now come back to rear its ugly head. It was said that Tycroft would die in the year 2019, and he did. The prophecy said he would be brought back to life on Halloween of 2020.”
“That can’t be,” Lucinda said.
“Please don’t interrupt,” Matteo said. “The prophecy came to light through Arabella, whom we now know took part in Tycroft’s death.”
“When was—” Lucinda stopped speaking when Matteo glared at her.
He waved the paper. “This was written three days ago. Now, please stay silent.”
Lucinda narrowed her eyes, but she kept her mouth shut.
Matteo started to speak again. “At first, our coven did not believe Arabella when she told us this news. But we finally decided it was too dangerous to ignore. If Tycroft was planning some sort of resurrection we needed to make sure that it didn’t happen. To do that we put together a plan to kill him once and for all. To keep it safe we split it into three parts. Unfortunately I can’t tell you what those parts are. If this letter found its way into the hands of one of Tycroft’s minions, and it held the location of the items we created to defeat him, it would be disastrous.”
Matteo held out his hand. The bottle of golden liqueur on the table levitated toward him. It turned up and filled his glass, and then he took a healthy swig.
“You and Berto need to work together,” Matteo continued. “But you need to stay here. Tomorrow you and Lucinda need to go to the glen. You know which one I’m talking about. Lucinda, I know you’re there. You have to work with Matteo. Without your bond this will be a failure. That is all for now. I love you, my son.”
His voice broke on the last words.
“She knew she was going to die,” Lucinda said.
Matteo folded the first sheet and she watched as he read the second one. When he was done with it he folded it once and placed both of them in the envelope. Once again she saw tears forming in his eyes.
“She knew I was going to be here, too,” Lucinda said. “I wonder if she’d talked with Dante and told him to send me here.”
“Knowing my mother, yes.” He chuckled. “She hated the fact that I drove you away. She tried to get me to bring you back into my life. I tried to tell her there was no way you would come back. But here you are. All it took was her dying.”
Lucinda cringed. “That’s harsh.”
“I didn’t mean it as a slap against you,” he said. “I’m just saying she found a way to make us work together.”
“Did the other sheet give you more information about what was going to happen?”
“No.” Matteo clicked his tongue against his teeth. “It was personal.”
Lucinda didn’t want to pry. “I’ll find a hotel nearby and come back in the morning.”
“The glen she’s talking about is outside Rome,” he said. “It’s five hours from here. And the second part of the letter told us to be discreet in using our magic. She said we’d understand once we reached the glen.”
“That raises an interesting question,” Lucinda said. “Do we want to leave now? Drive there and stay the night, and visit the glen tomorrow? Or stay here tonight, and leave in the morning?”
“I need some time to process,” he said. “Let’s leave in the morning.”
“Then I’ll go find a hotel,” she said.
“I have an extra room, as you know.”
Lucinda shivered a bit. Staying under the same roof as Matteo could be a dangerous thing.
“I’ll be the perfect gentleman,” he said. “I’ll even order in dinner from that little restaurant around the corner. I’m sure you brought luggage and you’ve hidden it somewhere using your magic.”
“I did,” she said.
“There are wards around here. Bring it here and we can rest this afternoon before dinner. I don’t mean to be rude, but I’d like to be alone for a while.” Before she could answer he said, “You can take the first room on the right.”
He stood and disappeared down the hallway. Lucinda couldn’t imagine how he felt right now. Both her parents were alive and well, having lived more than three hundred years. At one point her father had teased her that her lover, Matteo, was older than him.
She tried not to think of the first time they’d met, of the first time they’d made love. After a moment she shook her head and snapped her fingers. Her luggage appeared by her side. If Matteo was going to rest, or meditate, or whatever he was doing, she was going to do the same. That way they’d be on the same timetable for whatever they decided to do next, to get to the bottom of things.