Welcome message


Free Reads From the Genre-istas will close to story posts in February of 2015.
Until we close, we w
ill do Encore Postings each Friday beginning Jan. 9th. Thank you for your interest and support!


Friday, December 28, 2012

A New Year's Kiss by Paty Jager

New Year’s Kiss
By Paty Jager
Edda Rae Bartlett paced the parlor. All day callers had stopped in at her parents’ house on the edge of town wishing them a prosperous coming new year. What had her in a thither was the fact Cort Haywood hadn’t been among the callers. He’d more or less told her at the last church picnic that he had something to tell her before the end of the year. Well, midnight tonight marked the end of the year and she was still waiting for him to arrive.
The parlor door opened and her best friend, Katie Aiden, hurried into the room.
“Gather your things, Edda Rae, we’re going to Priscilla’s house.” Katie didn’t even remove her leather gloves as she crossed the room.
“I can’t. I have to stay…” Amid Edda’s sputters, Katie, placed her hands on Edda’s back and began forcefully pushing her toward the parlor door. Edda tried to dig in with her heels but she was no match for her determined friend.
“I have a new game I discovered while traveling abroad with my aunt and I’m not letting you mope around here like a spinster waiting for a man.” Katie stopped pushing when they stood beside the hall tree at the front door.
“I’m not moping and I’m not a spinster.  I’m only twenty just like you. Who do you think I’m waiting for?” It wasn’t a secret she and Cort had been sparking. In fact, Edda relished the fact the other eligible women in Aidenville knew Cort had chosen her.
Katie handed Edda’s coat to her. “The whole town knows who you’re waiting for. And I happen to know he is over at Priscilla’s helping her brother set up their barn for the dance tonight.” She held out a muffler and gloves. “Now hurry up, or we’ll get there after dark and no one will want to play the game, they’ll all be sneaking drinks and dancing.”
Edda didn’t know why it was so important to her friend that they play a game. With Katie’s past there was reason to believe the game would be something scandalous and make Edda blush. Her light complexion was prone to turning all shades of red when embarrassed. And while she loved her friend dearly, Katie was usually the cause of her rosy cheeks. Knowing it was a game Katie learned while abroad… gave Edda more reason to believe it was a game her preacher father would not condone.
This knowledge made the game and the trek with Katie all the more exciting. She loved her parents and the values they taught her, but she also liked to tempt her fate. Like the night she and Cort pulled to the side of the road when returning from a dance and lay in one another’s arms, kissing and touching… Her face heated and she tamped the memory down for fear Katie would notice and ask questions.
Katie ushered her out the door and across the yard to one of her father’s buggies. As the leading stockholder in the town bank, Katie’s father was considered the wealthiest man in Aidenville. A town named after his family who founded the fertile Oregon valley. That was one of the reasons Edda’s parents allowed her to be friends with Katie. Their small church and congregation had been the benefactor of many generous endowments from the Aiden family.
“Wrap this around your legs. This last day of 1879 is a bitter cold one.” Katie took up the reins and the buggy lurched forward, the horse moving into a fluid trot.
“I’m happy you made it back to help us bring in the New Year.” Edda smiled at her best friend. She had missed Katie as her friend traveled to places Edda knew she would never see. She didn’t care to travel. Well, maybe if it was on Cort’s arm. But he would never leave this valley. His family’s ranching roots went as deep into the fertile soil as the Aiden family’s money went into the town’s growth.
Katie glanced at her and smiled. “I’d never miss bringing in the New Year without my best friend and my family.”
The Thomas ranch was only a half hour ride from town. Though a short ride, it didn’t keep the cold from seeping into Edda. To her delight, Priscilla’s brother, Jed, and Cort met the buggy when it arrived. Cort’s blue eyes and welcoming smile warmed her heart. His large hands wrapped around her waist and he lifted her out of the buggy, thawing her bones.
“Have you missed me?” he asked, still holding onto her waist after her feet touched the ground.
“What do you think?” she asked, watching little lines crinkle beside his sparkling eyes.
“As much as I’ve missed you.”
She wanted to kiss him. Her body started to lean toward him…
The sound shook sense into Edda. It wasn’t proper to kiss in public. Especially someone you weren’t married to.
Mrs. Thomas stood on the porch. “You girls get in here and let the boys take care of the buggy and the horse.” The woman gave her a stern look.
A squeeze on her waist before Cort’s hands slipped away brought her gaze to his.
“I’ll only be a few minutes,” he said, following Jed as he led the horse to the barn.
“My, my. It seems you and Cort are doing more than sparking, you’re throwing sparks,” Katie said, and nudged her with an elbow before entering the Thomas house laughing.
Edda followed behind, wondering how she would get through an evening of games before she could dance around the barn in Cort’s arms. And receive a kiss at midnight.
Inside, Katie and Priscilla had their heads bent together. Three other young people she knew from the area stood in the parlor conversing. Mrs. Thomas took Edda’s coat, gloves, and muffler and ushered her into the parlor with the others. Within minutes Cort and Jed returned.
Edda’s insides fluttered at the proprietary glint in Cort’s eyes as he crossed the room, barely acknowledging the others and stood by her side.
“Quiet. I’m going to teach you all a game I learned while abroad with my aunt. It’s simple, yet so scandalous.” Katie danced on her toes in her excitement.
Priscilla crossed to the parlor door and closed it snugly. Edda’s heart thumped against her ribs. How bad must this game be if Priscilla shut them away from her mother’s hearing and sight? She peered up at Cort, who winked. What was going on?
“Everyone take a seat, boy, girl, boy, girl, please.” Katie took a seat and was immediately flanked by Jed and Toby Hutchins. 
Cort held the chair out next to Jed for her, and then he sat beside her. Did he know how to play the game? It was as if everyone knew what was happening but her.
Katie tossed a small fluffy ball of cotton into the middle of the round wood table. “Everyone clasp your hands in front of you, like this.” Katie put her hands together as if she were going to pray.  “And place your arms on the table edge, sliding your elbows to meet the person’s on either side of you.”
Edda glanced at Jed, but he was too busy making sure the elbow on his other side was touching Katie’s. Cort’s elbow touched hers and she smiled. She liked this game knowing the rules allowed them to touch. She glanced from their touching elbows to Cort’s face and caught him watching her. His lips tipped into a smile.
“The object of the game is to blow the cotton away from you. If it touches you, you have to either tell a secret or kiss one of the people next to you.” Katie peered at everyone around the table, winking at Edda.
Her friend’s bold antics made Edda’s face flame with heat. Cort chuckled and nudged her with his elbow. Edda glanced at Cort.
“One, two, three, blow!” Katie announced and everyone started blowing.
Before Edda could fathom the game had started everyone stopped blowing and stared at her.
She glanced down. The cotton ball rested against her arm.
“Tell us a secret or kiss someone,” Katie said.
Edda’s throat went dry as all eyes watched her intently. Heat rose up her neck, scalding her chin, cheeks, and even her scalp. She had to be as red as the Santa suit Mr. Thomas wore to the Christmas Eve service.
“Do you have a secret to tell?” Cort’s husky voice next to her ear changed her embarrassment to smoldering desire.
How could she want to kiss this man when a table of people sat watching?
“Let me help.” Cort raised a hand and held her chin. “She’ll take the kiss.”
His lips touched hers and she forgot where they were and what her parents would think. All that mattered when he kissed her was the love and warmth that wrapped around her heart and eased her mind.
“That’s enough. It’s supposed to be a penalty not a pleasure.”
Katie’s comment and laughter straightened Edda’s spine. She peered into Cort’s eyes and was rewarded with a wink. They resumed their places with elbows touching and the game continued. The cotton landed against Priscilla’s arm.
“Secret or kiss?” Katie said.
Priscilla studied the young men on either side of her and said, “Secret. I saw Cort visiting Reverend Bartlett when Edda was helping Doc Wyland.”
Edda’s head pivoted on her neck and she searched Cort’s face. He just smiled.
“Resume the game.” Katie ordered and everyone began blowing at the cotton ball.
Edda’s head was spinning with why Cort would visit her father and how everyone could keep pushing the cotton with their breath. Blowing so much made her lightheaded.
She was still blowing and lost in her thoughts when Katie’s voice stopped her pathetic attempt at pushing another breath of air from her lungs. “Secret or kiss?”
The buzzing in Edda’s head from lack of air took her a minute to register that the voice saying secret belonged to Cort. 
Cort once again took her chin in his cupped hand. “My secret is I’ve fallen in love with Edda Rae Barlett and I asked her father for her hand in marriage.”
Her head still buzzed from the lack of air. Edda shook her head to clear it.
Cort’s face came into view. He looked crushed.
She placed a hand on his cheek. “What’s wrong?”
“You don’t want to marry me?” His whispered voice shook.
“Why would you think that?” she asked, still trying to grasp the full content of what he’d said.
“You shook your head when I said I asked your father for your hand.”
Elation popped the last of the haze from her mind. “I was shaking my head because all the blowing made me lightheaded.” She flung her arms around Cort’s neck. “Yes, I’ll marry you. I love you.”
The whole room exploded with whoops and whistles as Cort kissed her until she was dizzy again. 


Friday, November 30, 2012

A Family Thanksgiving Menu

by Deanne Wilsted

Starter –Toasted Family Topped with Disappointment Tapenade

As Boston blew its icy November wind through the double paned windows in Cynthia Madison’s downtown apartment, she wrapped her faux cheetah throw around her shoulders and snuggled deeper into the soft suede sofa by her fireplace. The crackling flame threw off heat, but not enough to offset the chill of panic that had come to rest in Cynthia’s body. She stared with unseeing eyes at the calendar in her lap and wondered how Thanksgiving had snuck up on her this year.

     Glancing at the nearby phone, she considered her choices. Was there anyone available who might invite her to join them for the holiday? Her mind was empty of options. All of her friends were travelling, and she was currently between boyfriends; something that was unusual for her in general and absolutely so during the holidays. Usually she depended on using her boyfriend as an excuse to avoid the very dilemma she now found herself in. Annoyed with herself for having forgotten to plan better, she contemplated her only option other than staying home alone: This year she would have to accept her sister Erin’s invitation to their family Thanksgiving. Typically, she avoided her family like the plague.

     Her younger sister Erin spent all of her time flying around the world for work. So much so, in fact, that when her husband used the term colleague she didn’t realize it was with a very different definition than you’d find in Webster’s dictionary.

     Meanwhile, her father had to actually check through his carry-on bag simply so he could bring along his own gallon jugs of vodka.

     Her opinionated grandmother spent all of her time commenting, in the most ungracious terms, on the state of the world and her family.

     And finally, there was Cynthia’s older sister Isabelle, the one person in the family Cynthia had always relied upon to keep things in perspective for her. But she knew this was no longer an option. Isabelle had struggled simply to manage her own life and her five year old twins for two years now; ever since her husband’s death.

     Family time in this environment would have been overwhelming to anyone. But for someone who insisted on an ordered life, it required a double martini to get through. Rather than turn out like her father though, Cynthia had preferred to simply avoid all family occasions. She’d been rather good at doing this for years now. So it must have been a very strong cosmic force that was bringing her to the Thanksgiving table this year.

     She picked up the phone to call Isabelle. The only good part of attending the family Thanksgiving would be getting to see her, even if she was pulled in twenty other directions at the same time. It wouldn’t be enough to make up for the angst that lingered long after spending time with her family, but it was better than sitting in her condo eating a microwave turkey dinner alone.

Pallet Cleanser – Sorbet of Three Kinds of Confusion

Having only just arrived at Erin’s home, Cynthia watched the chaos already kick-off right in front of her. Isabelle lunged for her son before he could skid into a large cloisonné vase Erin must have picked up on her last trip to China.

     “Sam red light! Red light!”

     Moments later Isabelle’s other child, Lily, almost completed her twin’s averted destruction. Closing her eyes, Cynthia waited for the crash to come, knowing it would create the first of many arguments about child rearing between her sisters. Strangely, the sound never came.

     She peeked through spread fingers to see what had happened and found herself staring into deep grey eyes framed by long black lashes. The eyes belonged to a scruffy looking guy who could have stepped off the pages of GQ magazine. He was about Cynthia’s age and held her niece, Lily, under one arm like a piece of luggage. His tall frame stood at least four inches over Cynthia; a feat considering she was five-foot-nine. Cynthia guessed if not a model, he was probably a professional snowboarder or maybe a Wall Street investor, even a college professor; and certainly a Roman God. Lily’s short five-year-old legs dangled four feet off the ground. He flicked his head to throw back the unruly brown curls that had fallen into his long face and smiled, first at Cynthia and then over at Isabelle.

     “Another disaster averted,” he said with a laugh. Isabelle smiled back at him, and making sure her son was stationary, let go of his hand.

     What was going on? Her sister hadn’t mentioned she was finally dating someone. She raised her eyebrows in silent question but her sister smiled enigmatically and shook her head.

     “This is my sister Cynthia,” Isabelle introduced.

     Tanned, long fingers released Lily carefully, placing her on her feet with a pat on the head, and then extended out toward Cynthia. “Very nice to finally meet you,” he said.

     “Yes.” For once in her life Cynthia was at a loss for words.

     “And this,” Isabelle told Cynthia as his strong, warm fingers engulfed hers, “is our new nanny, Jack.”

Main РRoast Chaos Stuffed with a M̩lange of Stress, Humor, and Hope

By the time Cynthia had stored her stuff and made it to the kitchen twenty minutes later, the cooking was already in full swing. She found a corner where she could prop herself and allowed the activity to flow around her.

     “So, I told the Prime Minister that time was too short to worry about whether the moon was waxing or waning.” Erin was entertaining the room with her latest international exploits.

     Cynthia tried not to roll her eyes. Erin’s bragging affected her in multiple ways; one part of her wanted to laugh at it, while the other part couldn’t help but feel inadequate in comparison. She thought of her own last business meeting, a torturous thirty minutes in a stuffy boardroom arguing about the merits of using the word sweat in an advertisement for ladies underwear.

     “Interestingly enough,” she heard Jack interject from his spot across the kitchen, “some researchers believe the waxing and waning moon can indeed affect emotions, mental capacity and even fertility.”

     He stood at the sink snapping green beans like Gordon Ramsey in Hell’s Kitchen. Cynthia scanned the cold, metallic, sterile white kitchen. It was a perfect backdrop to his endeavor. He could have easily been a world famous chef there.

     Lost in her internal world as usual, Erin didn’t seem to hear what Jack had said. But Cynthia found the comment intriguing. She had never imagined a nanny would be so articulate and worldly.

     “That’s hogwash.” Her nana’s authoritative voice cut in from the doorway. “The only thing that affects fertility is a little hoo ha. That’s what I’ve been telling Erin. How’s she ever going to have kids if she’s never home to have sex?”

     Ouch! Nana certainly knew how to go for the jugular. Cynthia desperately tried to come up with an escape for Erin, but it turned out to be Jack that saved her.

     “Ha… but that’s assuming her trips are all business. For all we know, she might be having plenty of fun on those trips of hers.” He winked at Erin. It was just enough humor to break through Erin’s tension. The irony of it being Erin, rather than her husband, having an affair, wasn’t lost on Cynthia’s grandmother who doubled over in laughter.

     “Too bad I’m not a little younger,” she told Jack when she could speak again. “We’d make a good pair.”

     Nana took her iced tea, which even from across the room had a distinct scent of whiskey to it, and left; probably to find someone else to plague.

     It became clear, a few hours later, that dinner was still a loooong way off. Cynthia wasn’t sure why, but Erin’s meal planning apparently hadn’t counted on having a drunk father and grandmother, who each took turns destroying whichever dish they insisted on helping with.

     At one point, Nana had decided the sisters knew nothing about making gravy and pushed them aside to “show them how it was done in the olden days”. Unless historic recipes called for whiskey spilt from the chef’s drink, Cynthia couldn’t imagine it was an accurate representation.

     It didn’t take much coercion to convince their grandmother to pour herself a new drink, allowing Erin and Cynthia to sneak back over and try to fix what they could of the gravy. No matter what they tried, however, the gravy at this point would not thicken. Corn starch? Nope. Flour? As if!

     Erin and Cynthia were at a loss and wanted to ask Isabelle. Unfortunately her hands were full keeping track of Lily and Sam, who having finished their quiet time, seemed determined to hold their mom’s attention by any means necessary. Most recently this had resulted in four green bean pods being pulled from Lily’s nostrils where her brother had stuffed them before getting caught.

     Cynthia was impressed by Jack’s quick thinking when he stole a bunch of the runny brown gravy and gave it to the kids. He let the kids go at it in a bowl, providing all kinds of random ingredients from the pantry. They might have been starving, but at least they were now amused.

     Meanwhile, Dad was determined to carve the turkey. Isabelle must have noticed Cynthia’s panicked expression when Erin prepared to hand over the sharp carving knife to someone who had just polished off four large martinis.  “Jack, would you do the honors,” Isabelle asked, intercepting the hand off.

     Undaunted by Jack’s obvious carving skill, not to mention pointy knife, their dad stood over him, directing every slice.

     “Do you smell smoke?” Erin asked, her voice climbing an octave.

     They all stared at the oven where smoke was leaking into the room like dry ice from a Halloween cauldron. Cynthia opened the oven door and jumped backward to avoid the billowing cloud that erupted. Inside the oven, a pan of yams with marshmallows on top looked like a beach bonfire.

     Adding insult to injury, the smoke detector began to wail as if the whole house was ready to burst into flames. Pandemonium erupted as Jack and Isabelle pulled the kids from the room and Erin began fanning the smoke detector with a dishtowel. Apparently glad for the chance to take over carving, her dad ignored the mayhem and picked up the knife with the hand not holding his drink.

     “Oh my God! Nana, are you okay?” Cynthia realized she was the only one to have noticed her grandmother fall in the doorway.

     “Get away, you’ll ruin it,” Nana shouted as Cynthia leaned over to try to help her up. “I want the firemen to give me mouth to mouth.”

     Heat rose in Cynthia’s cheeks as she realized Jack had heard Nana’s excuse. What must he think of her crazy family? The glimmer in his eye gave away that it wasn’t what she’d expected.

     Go for it, he mouthed.

     The dare took hold. Cynthia lay down next to her grandmother and smiled over at her.

     “You’ll have to share,” she told her.

Sides – Mashed Fingers, Whipped Courage, and Sweet Flirtation Sauce

Cynthia watched her sisters’ kids chase each other around the perfectly set family Thanksgiving table and blinked back sudden tears. God! What if she’d missed this family holiday like all the others?

     Her eyes found Jack’s steady, happy gaze and the argument Erin and her dad were having faded away. Her brother-in-law’s attempt to play footsie under the table disappeared. The burnt turkey, curdled gravy, runny cranberries, and lumpy mashed potatoes lost their history and floated into a collage of colors rather than mistakes. The nanny’s gray eyes should have reminded Cynthia of the storm around her, but instead reflected his calm and humor. They shared the knowledge that in a world of lunacy, life could still be fun. Her day hadn’t started that way, but this Thanksgiving Cynthia had found a well-spring of gratitude she hadn’t even known existed.

     What on earth had ever made her restrict herself to dating guys with advanced degrees? It had been a very specific rule she’d made for herself, and now as she watched Jack pull Lily over to his side and wipe her mouth before she made another lap of the table, Cynthia couldn’t imagine why.

     Jack neatly caught her grandmother’s wineglass, which she’d drunkenly placed on the edge of her plate, before it spilled a drop on Erin’s handmade Italian lace tablecloth. Meanwhile, he diverted the conversation to soccer, something her father followed but wasn’t passionate enough about to cause any fights. Only a circus juggler could have been better at keeping so many disparate balls in the air. Cynthia’s shoulders relaxed even as butterflies played hockey in her stomach.

     At the head of the table, Cynthia’s brother-in-law, Steve, eyed Jack suspiciously. The fact that all of the women, including the colleague that he’d invited, were paying more attention to Jack than to him must have been driving him crazy.

     Ignoring the girl’s attempts to flirt with him, Cynthia felt Jack’s eyes fasten on her. He answered Cynthia’s questioning smile with a teasing wink, giving her confidence to make her own move.

     The next time her brother-in-law’s foot accidently found its way up her thigh, she aimed her stiletto heel and got him in the calf.

Dessert – Gratitude Pie

Dinner was over and the drunks and children had gone to bed. Her brother-in-law had left to drive his colleague home, and Erin and Isabelle were in the living room debriefing over Irish coffees. Like soldiers left standing, Cynthia and Jack were trying to put Erin’s kitchen back to its original pristine order.

     “I have a good idea,” Jack said handing her a pot to dry.

     “Hmmm,” she answered distractedly. Alone at last, there was so much she wanted to find out about Jack, so much she wanted to tell him, that Cynthia felt overwhelmed. His humor and easy-going interference had allowed her to actually appreciate her family for the first time in many years. Her fingers ached, not only with the need to touch him, hold him, but also with the desire to physically reach into him and extract answers about who he was… why he was.

     “Don’t you want to hear it?” he asked with a wicked grin that lit Cynthia’s insides like an Olympic torch.

     It was on the tip of her tongue: Yeah, I have a good idea, too. Let’s live happily ever after. What came out of her mouth though was a cautious, “Yessss?”

     “Yep,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows. “How about we finish these dishes, then go outside and play fireman?”

     Something loosened in Cynthia’s chest and wound its way through her body, along her arms and into her hands which suddenly felt purposeful in a brand new way. She sought to identify the feeling rushing through her. It felt like honesty. It felt like hope. It felt like love. But most of all, it felt like Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Devil of Dunmoor

by Christy Carlyle

“You cannae go there, lass! Not on All Hallow’s Eve of all nights.” Adelaide Morton heard the old woman’s voice tremble with fear as she spoke and the meager glow cast by the single candle made her familiar face appear drawn and eerie. Addy ignored the shiver that skittered across her skin and gave Senga a reassuring smile. She reached out to offer some comfort, but the cook grasped her hand with all the force her aged body could muster.
            “They say the devil lives there. The Evil One himself.” Senga’s voice was high and desperate as it echoed off the cold stone walls of the kitchen. Some hidden chink in the stones admitted a breeze to rustle the copper pots hanging from hooks above the oven. One pot scraped a grating path along the stone wall and Addy searched the darkness for the source of the noise. A gust of wind rapped at the window and they both jumped.
            Addy stood and turned toward the still warm oven, chafing her hands above the heat. She couldn’t allow superstitious fears to deter her. “Those are rumors, Senga. Legend. Superstition. I have been up to the stones before. Further than the stones. To the house itself.”
            Senga raised her hands to her mouth. “No, lass. You never.”  
“How do you think I healed him?” Adelaide had known Senga all of her life and yearned to tell her the truth. But it wasn’t her truth to tell. It was his secret and for what he gave her, she would pay him anything. Silence was the least of what she would give.
Addy could let Senga think that she met the devil at the ancient stone circle and made a deal for the health of her brother. She could even allow her to believe that Lucifer himself had lured her into his decrepit manor house that lay on the crag beyond. What she could not do was breach his trust.
There was no doubt Senga was trustworthy. The woman had been more than a family cook. Unlike the parade of nannies and governesses, she had been a constant. Whether Addy had needed a late night cup of warm milk to chase away bad dreams or a sympathetic ear to listen to her woes, Senga had been there where her mother could not be.
Addy had killed her own mother in childbirth. That was never how her father put it, of course, but his coldness towards her often made her wonder if that is how he felt about the whole dreadful matter.
Addy knew his old grief was compounded when her father had lost his second wife the previous autumn. Caroline had lived long enough to mother her own child, but only for five years. Now William, Addy’s little brother, lay weak and feverish in his bedroom above. He had been sick so many times in his short life that Addy had lost count. But this illness was different. It clung on with vicious tenacity, imprisoning him in a cycle of coughing and fever that racked his small body. He had shown such signs once before and Addy had found the answer. Now she had to seek out that answer again. She would see him again. The thought quickened her breath and stoked a heat in her chest. She grasped her abandoned cup of tepid tea and gulped down the liquid that Senga brewed dark enough to choke a weak man.
“I must go now. There is no time to dither. With this storm, you know he will worsen. I cannot allow that. I cannot lose him.” The thought of laying that precious little body in the earth next to his mother, next to her mother...no. Addy felt the hot sting of a tear at the corner of her eye and swiped it away before Senga could see.
“You’re a reckless girl, Adelaide Mary Morton.” Senga stood and crossed her arms across her chest as if she would stand sentry at the kitchen door and deny Addy the right to cross the threshold. “I’ll not allow you to go.”
Addy pulled her father’s tattered old overcoat from a hook near the oven and collected the scarf that she’d perched near the fire to absorb a bit of its warmth. She tied her bonnet quickly and approached Senga. She had intended to give her a peck on the cheek and head off to meet the devil, but the woman’s tired eyes held her fast.
“My dear, I am hardly a child anymore and I know what I am about. I told you, I have been there before and yet stand before you all in one piece. I will be fine, but Willy may die if I do not go.”
“There is evil in those stones. And God only knows what dwells in the house beyond. In the village, they say that bodies go missing from their graves...”
“Nonsense. They buried Mr. Cuthburt in the spring and I am certain he is still in the ground." Addy softened her tone. "You put flowers at his stone just last week.” Senga had been sweet on old man Cuthburt and it was clear the shopkeeper was smitten too, but he had been a quiet, shy sort. And he’d waited too long.
Addy put her hand on the door latch and looked back to give Senga one last smile before heading out into the blustery autumn night.
“Wait!” Senga rushed at her in the gloom and thrust an object into her hand. It appeared to be some kind of root, though dessicated and washed clean. “‘Tis a talisman. Henbane. I pray it will protect you. Now, get on with you, lass. I will wait up for your return.”
There was no use arguing with her. Addy had learned that lesson well. She leaned in to kiss the tissue-soft skin of Senga’s wrinkled cheek and heard her whisper, “God speed, my girl.”        
           Halfway to the stone circle, Addy acknowledged to herself that Senga was right. She was reckless and a fool to boot. Making one’s way across the moor was difficult enough on such a stormy night, but the darkness and rain only added to the trial. She had rushed off without lighting a lantern and though the moon was full, fierce winds chased clouds across the sky, obscuring its glow.
            A crack of thunder shook the sky and a streak of lightning illuminated her path for a moment. She was close. The stone circle rose up before her, just ahead. It glistened from the drizzling rain. She thought she could see a wan yellow light flickering inside Dunmoor Manor. Or what was left of it. The townsfolk referred to it as a ruin. Burned by fire, they said, and rightly so. From her earliest memories, Addy could recall nothing but fear and loathing spoken about Dunmoor Manor. The master had been mad, they said, and evil. Most told the tale that he had taken the lives of his own family and lost the plot as a result. His madness had turned him into a ghoul who lured fools and children to their doom. At least that was the story that governesses told their charges to scare them into good behavior. Miss Gimley had tried the tale on her a time or two. Hateful woman.
But Addy knew the real story of Dunmoor Manor. It was darker than anyone could imagine, but it was also a tale of survival. And there, in the darkness, on All Hallow’s Eve, she was approaching the extraordinary creature who had survived.
Just as she reached the circle’s edge and saw the dark outline of the ruined manor ahead, Addy lost her footing and reached out for the nearest towering stone to steady her. Instead of touching slick rock, her hand encountered muscle and bone. She cried out and felt her feet skid on the muddy slope. Arms encircled her and she was yanked up against a wall of heat and rough, wet clothing.
“Calm yourself, Miss Morton.” His voice was the deepest she had ever heard, impossibly deep and dark, with a rasp that rumbled through her. From the first moment she had met him, his voice had haunted her dreams. If the devil was a seducer, he would have a voice like the heir of Dunmoor. But Adelaide knew he was no devil.
She also knew she should pull away from the man, but the heat emanating from his body was a delicious balm against the cold. She noticed that he had wrapped her in the folds of the cloak he wore, trapping the warmth between them. She opened her mouth to speak, but was pulled off her feet once again as he turned toward the manor and swept her along with him.
“Mr. Hewitt, I can find my own feet. Thank you.” He released her immediately, opening his cloak and freeing her from his embrace. When she wobbled, he grasped her upper arm to steady her. “Thank you, sir.”
He didn’t acknowledge her gratitude. “You’re soaked through, Miss Morton. We must get you inside.”
It wasn’t difficult to follow his footsteps toward the broken manor house. He kept her close, never loosening his grip on her arm. The guiding contact was welcome to Addy in the darkness, and she pushed away the notion that his touch was welcome for any other reason.
As she entered his room, the only of the manor’s chambers she had ever been allowed to see, he lit an oil lamp to shed some light on the crowded space. Books, papers, bottles, tubes, and bits of plants and trees covered every available surface. It was the laboratory from which he produced the medicine that had saved her brother before and she said a silent prayer that he could repeat the act.
He did not look at her as he moved to a mortar and pestle to grind away at the contents within. His deep voice sounded muffled in the crowded room. “Is it your brother again, Miss Morton? Is it William?”
“Yes, sir. His coughing improved with the syrup you sent last time. But he has a fever now. It went away two days ago, but returned this morning with the rains.” She realized she was beginning to shiver, fear and anxiety for Willy draining the remaining warmth from her body.
“Come.” He was looking at her, watching her, across the dim room and she saw him gesture toward an open flame that flickered from one of his strange tubed contraptions. It shot straight up in a long thin flame, and he turned a knob to make it reach higher. She crossed the space between them and stood at the table where the flame danced in shifting shades of blue and white. The air around it was warmer and as she watched it, he thrust a steaming cup under her nose. “Drink this.”
She searched for a glimpse of his face in the flame's glow, but he stood just outside the circle of light. When she didn’t take the cup, he spoke again.
“You trust me with your brother’s life, but not your own? Drink the tea. It is warm and you are cold. It will help.” Addy felt a blush rush up her cheeks at the memory of his cloak around her, his arms holding her close, and the indulgent heat of his body.
“Thank you, sir.” The tea was warm and had a pleasing, unusual flavor. She imagined a hint of orange on her tongue, though she had not eaten the fruit for years.
“Will you ever call me by my given name, Miss Morton?” She nearly dropped the cup. His voice was still deep but it held a hint of playfulness she had never heard, never expected, from him.
“I will call you whatever you wish, sir. But I do not know your given name.”
“Dorian. It was my father’s name and I have long wished for another, but I must claim it. No, I must reclaim it."
"Yes. Dorian." The name, his name, felt foreign and exotic on her tongue. She wanted to repeat it again and again. Instead, she smiled at him. She had never smiled at him before.  
"May I have the same privilege, Miss Morton? May I call you Adelaide?" She had no idea how he knew her name. She was certain she had never told him.
"You have saved my brother. You may call me what you like."
He turned from her and returned to the concoction he was grinding. Her words had angered him. She could read it in the stiffness of his stance and the ferocity with which he ground the powder.
He turned to her and held out a small bottle filled with the mixture from his mortar. "Mix a bit with water and give it to him morning and night for five days, even after the fever breaks."
She didn't move. The anger in his voice disturbed her and she was not certain what to say to calm him. She started with his name. "Dorian..."
"I am no savior, Miss Morton. Nor am I a sorcerer. I am a doctor. I was trained to heal the sick. There is no magic here."
"I know that, and I am most grateful for your skills." Addy reached into the deep pocket of her father's overcoat and pulled out a five pound note. "I brought you payment this time, though for Willy's sake we owe you more than we can ever repay."
"I don't want your money, Adelaide." A surge of pleasure came when she heard her name on his lips again, but his words confused her. She had to give him something.
"I have nothing else to offer." Her words seemed to clear the chill between them. He moved toward her and she finally saw him clearly in the light. She bit her lower lip to stifle the gasp she felt bubble up inside.
He was an extraordinary-looking man. His black hair was too long, too wild, but the color of it was the dark of a bird’s wing, seemingly plain but shimmering blue in the light. But that blue was nothing to the shade of his eyes. They were the clearest blue, like a crisp, cloudless sky in early spring. Like the dancing flame nearby, they seemed to glow with a light of their own.
"There is something I want." He towered over her now, and Addy felt her body sway toward his as if pulled by an invisible cord.
"Anything." He crooked a raven black brow at that.
"Come closer." She took a step, and her skirt brushed against his legs. “I want to kiss you, Adelaide.” Her lips tingled in anticipation at his words.
Quietly, with a tremor in her voice, she accepted what she had only imagined. “Yes.”
The first touch of his mouth on hers was the sweetest relief, a cure for her ills as surely as the medicine he offered. His lips were tender, hesitant, but when she slid her hand up to his neck, he grew bolder. He pressed into her, pulling her towards him with a hand at her back. Then, with a growl in the back of his throat, he pulled away, leaving her breathless. His breath came fast too, and he leaned his forehead against hers before he spoke.
“I must see William. It is time I tended to him in person.” The mention of her brother brought his small face vividly to Addy’s mind, and she felt the press of guilt for the pleasure she took lingering in Dorian Hewitt’s company. He seemed to read her thoughts. “Yes, we should go now.”
“Now? You will come tonight?”
“I think I must. I should speak to your father immediately.”
Addy looked into his eyes and prayed he could read the question in her heart. She could not ask, so she repeated his words. “You will speak to my father?”
“I have waited for you all of my days, Adelaide. I cannot bear more waiting. Will you have me? Can you love the devil of Dunmoor?” Before she answered, Addy lifted his fine, strong hand, ignoring the scars, and placed a kiss inside his palm.
            “You are no devil. And I will have no other.”