Thursday, October 26, 2006


Gwyneth Stevens Book II:



Mandy M. Roth


Chapter 1

I stared at the giant hole in the ground and stood silent. I’m not sure there is a good word to use when you think that someone’s fallen off the deep edge--in an ‘in love’ kind of way. Pointing it out almost seems cruel, especially when you’re who they’re in love with.

I couldn’t believe I’d let Caleb talk me into this. We’d been dating for a couple of months now. It felt more like a lifetime, after all this wasn’t my first go round with him. I’d been betrothed to him over two hundred years ago. Yeah, I know, that definitely takes the prize for the world’s longest engagement.

Standing on the edge of the missing earth, I peered into the hole. It was huge. You could easily park at least two cars in it. "I thought you said you were making a tiny Koi pond," I said, looking down at Caleb. He stood in the bottom of the hole holding a yellow-handled shovel, pitching dirt up and over his head. His muscles hardened with each movement he made, and his back seemed to ripple as the sun glistened off his sweat. This was being done strictly for my benefit and I wasn’t about to start complaining. Although, I would’ve preferred to have those muscles sweaty and taut above me. He could have dug the hole without any physical labor on his part whatsoever.

Caleb and I are both faeries. I don’t mean faeries in the little pixie way with wings that grant wishes and hang with boys from Never-Never Land--I mean faeries as in tall, or at least Caleb was tall, slender, long haired, and pale skinned.

If Caleb really wanted to, he could have used his magical power to remove the soil from the ground and be done in a matter of minutes. No, he’d insisted on taking the hard way. He’d been digging the darn hole now for the last two weeks. I knew he wouldn’t dare risk someone seeing him use magic, even though we were in the middle of nowhere. Not one single deer on the property would notice a little shift in the wind, or care, but Caleb wasn’t one to take chances. He was conservative by nature and it suited him.

Someone had to balance us out.

Standing shoulder deep in a hole with a shovel in his hand made Caleb feel as though he had a purpose. His chosen profession was bounty hunter to the supernatural. If any sort of spook, undead, or out of the ordinary criminal was on the loose, Caleb was the man they called. Bounty hunting is extremely dangerous, but pays well. He loved his job and had been forced to cut his hours back to stick around and baby-sit me.

There had been several attempts on my life a little over two months ago. Vicious and smelly trolls had attacked me a couple of times. One of the nasty varmints managed to sink its ragged, rotted teeth into my shoulder. Apparently, a troll’s bite is venomous and packs a hell of punch. It would have killed me if Caleb hadn’t shown up when he did. I still wanted to launch a campaign to get trolls listed as one of the world’s most deadly creatures, but that would mean exposing humans to the reality of their existence--no thanks.

The day we became reacquainted, Caleb had been tracking the trolls into this realm. He was curious as to why they were coming here at all. They weren’t known for leaving their rat infested swamplands often. When he saw them attacking me he figured it out real quick. They’d been sent to kill me. The acting head of Si, (pronounced shee) Sorcha, had ordered my death.

Hey, I could be as much of a pain in the butt as the next gal but wanting me dead seemed a bit extreme. I am biased, I know, but still….

Turns out Sorcha had her reasons. One of which was to kill me before her son and I could meet--again. As far as Sorcha knew, I was just a reborn faerie out to trap her son in a loveless marriage.

Yeah, reborn, I know, crazy life, huh! It was a huge shocker for me too. It was still a little hard for me to deal with and I’d found out about two months ago. From what they tell me, I once lived for over a hundred years on this earth, never looking a day over twenty, and now I was back. The only major difference, physically speaking, was that my eyes had been violet before and now they were navy blue. But that was neither here nor there, and since my other life was close to two hundred years ago, I saw little point in dwelling on it.

Being hunted down by Sorcha’s henchmen threw me for a loop. I had no idea that she even existed, let alone had it in for me. Did I forget to mention that Sorcha is Caleb’s mother? Oops! Sorcha hated me from the day I was betrothed to Caleb, in my previous life. Hating someone for close to four hundred years was a long time to hold a grudge. I had to hand it to her, she was persistent. Bottling up all that hate for so many centuries could not be healthy.

I looked down at Caleb digging in the hole and was unable to figure out how I’d been so lucky to get him. He was a vision of beauty--his six foot four frame was well defined, thin, but not too thin, and his long shiny-blond hair hung to his waist. It was smooth and straight. I was so envious of his hair. I had to laugh at the fact that my boyfriend had better hair than me. Don’t get me wrong, I’d been blessed all right, but I unfortunately didn’t get to be a blonde bombshell. Genetics dealt me long wavy hair that was black as night.

Yeah, Caleb was beautiful, a little too beautiful. It didn’t matter--every bit of him was man, you can trust me on that. I know this because we had sex the first day we met. No, I don’t normally run around having sex with strangers, but he wasn’t a stranger. We’d been together for a hundred years once, so that had to qualify for something.

Sometimes, I even confuse myself.

"Are you going to be doing that all day?" I asked, missing his touch. He’d been consumed with getting the old farmhouse fixed up. It was his new mission. He was one of those people that always needed to be doing something constructive or they’d go mad. I was the complete opposite. I could sit for hours on a rock, observing the wonders that nature had to offer, and never once feel guilty about it.

Caleb glanced up at me with dirt smeared on his forehead and cheek. I snickered as he wiped his dirt stained hand across his cheek effectively blackening out the side of his face. "I’m sorry. I just want to get this filled with cement, before the weather gets too bad. I’m pushing it enough as it is doing it this late in the year. I want you to have this, Gwen. Let me do this for you, then we can sit out here, listen to the water roll over the rocks and maybe," he wagged his eyebrows and gave me a half-cocked smile, "we could do a little something else out here as well."

How could I argue with that? Caleb’s forest green eyes looked at me with such love, I wanted to jump down into the hole and kiss him, but getting out would be an issue for me. Standing at only five foot five made it hard to get in and out of there without the aid of a ladder. He was making it seven feet deep, because the Koi needed it deep to survive the harsh winter. I personally think he did it just to tease me about how short I am.

When Caleb decided to help me fix up the farmhouse, we’d picked up a bunch of remodeling books and magazines. We sat together, cuddled in our bed flipping through the pages, picking things out that we liked. I’d stopped at a picture of an attractive white home, with a large man-made water garden in front of it. The magnificently colored pond lilies and large multi-colored fish caught my eye. It looked so peaceful, so serene. The next day I woke to find Caleb missing from the bed. I went searching for him, and found him out behind the house digging a hole in the ground. He had the magazine opened to the page with the water garden. My heart melted.

"Well, baby, do you at least want some lunch?" He hadn’t eaten breakfast and it was pushing two o’clock. I didn’t want him to get run down. He had to work this weekend. I hated the idea of Caleb leaving me to head off to wherever it was he went. His job was dangerous and I worried sick about him the entire time he was gone.

"Gwen, I’m fine, a ghrá, don’t worry about me. I’m just about done for the day." He tossed more dirt over his head. I hated this. I knew that he was doing this for me, but I wanted to see him. I wanted to spend time with him before he had to leave.

We’d only been "back" together for two months, but already I felt attached to him. My body ached when he was away from me. I missed his smell--he always smelled so fresh and clean, like the morning air after a rainfall. I had often wondered if they could bottle the smell of him and mass-produce it. Women would dig it--I’m sure.

The wind around us picked up. It sent dried leaves scattering about the yard. Caleb didn’t seem to notice or care about the weather cooling down, he still ran around with no shirt on and a pair of jeans most of the time. It was forever summer to him. I often wondered if he was running a core body temperature that was twenty degrees hotter than most. He had that California beach-babe thing going and I couldn’t help but love it.

I, on the other hand, had packed my shorts away for the season and pulled out my winter clothes. I was always cold lately. I pulled the sleeves of my Cappuccino-colored acrylic sweater down and over my hands. I had a knit shirt underneath it, but I was still chilly. Great, I hoped I wasn’t getting a cold. I hadn’t really ever had one before, but I’d seen my friends and coworkers fighting them off. All the phlegm, hacking, and headaches, no thanks I’d pass.

Caleb glanced up at me. "Gwen?"

He was always so concerned about me. He was convinced that his mother would never stop trying to sabotage our relationship. I didn’t worry about that too much. I figured my father would look out for us. He was, after all, the King--and no Caleb and I are not related. Sorcha, Caleb’s mother only stepped in to lead the Dark Realm in the absence of my father.

Under normal circumstances, Sorcha was just the head sorceress for my father. He took her on for this duty when he saw that she had a young son, Caleb. Instantly, my father arranged a marriage between the two of us. I was only days old and he’d only seen me once. Not a good way to start out I know, but things had changed this time around, they were better--he was better.

Caleb gave me another questioning look.

"I’m fine. I swallowed some dust or something, really," I said, trying to sound as convincing as possible. I didn’t want him to feel like he had to stay home with me. Caleb enjoyed his job and I didn’t want to take that from him. Besides, James and Caradoc were coming up to stay with me for the weekend. It would be great. They’d turned into two of my closest friends in a relatively short period of time. They were both vampires, but that didn’t faze me a bit.

I’d slept with their Master, Pallo, about two months ago. Yep, same time I began seeing Caleb. Walking in and meeting Pallo had changed my life forever. He had been what jogged my memory of my life before. I had been in love with him hundreds of years ago when he was still human. I’d even left Caleb for him, well not for him but for another vampire. Yeah, I know, I was totally screwed up in the head. What do you expect? I am, after all, the daughter of the King of the Dark Realm. I’m bound to have some hang-ups. Okay, maybe a lot of hang-ups!

The phone rang and I headed into the house to grab it. I ran through the kitchen door, almost knocking a can of paint over. It seemed like Caleb was tackling a project in every room of the house. He was now in the process of putting another coat of white paint on the kitchen cabinets. I had to admit, they looked great, like they were brand new. I just wished that he’d finish one project before moving on to the next.


I snatched the phone off the wall. "Hello?" I said, a little out of breath.

"Gwen? Are you all right?"

"Ken!" I was happy to hear his voice. Ken was my boss, and my ex-fiancé. There was a time not long ago, when the sound of his voice made me nauseous--that was when I was still operating under the assumption he’d cheated on me. I had gotten over that, now I just missed him. He’d been distancing himself from me. I could hardly blame him. Things in my life were pretty screwed up right now. "Yeah, I’m good. How about you? How are you doing?"

"Good, I’m doing good. I finally got all moved into my new place. It’s nice, I like it," he said, his voice low. He was keeping his emotions out of this, I could tell. I also noticed how Ken didn’t offer to show me his new place. I knew his new little sweetie, Beth, had been the Realtor who helped him find it. I’d had issues with Beth from the moment he told me about her. She was the Realtor who’d taken us house hunting when we were engaged. How convenient for her that Ken’s apartment had been destroyed by hellhounds and that his fiancée had left him.

"Sounds nice ... how is Beth doing?" I hit myself on the forehead. Why in the world did I bring her into this? Ken had every right to be dating other people, I was, but it didn’t lessen the pain any.

I pictured his athletic body wrapped around hers and it made me sick. I could see Beth running her fingers through Ken’s dark blond hair. Last time I’d seen him he had finally let it grow out from the tight cut he had always worn. It looked good on him. I bet Beth really liked it too.

"Beth’s fine, but that’s not what I called about," he said, voice flat.

"Well, what did you call about, Ken? It’s obvious you really don’t want to be speaking to me, so what gives?"

"I just needed to call you and let you know, that you don’t need to come back in." He was getting at something I was sure I wouldn’t like.

"I told you I’d be back in on Monday." I’d been his personal assistant for two years. I was his right-hand girl. He never did anything without my knowledge. I knew that my taking personal time, and telecommuting from home had put a burden on him, but everything was still getting done.

"No, Gwen, I don’t think that’s a good idea."

I stood there playing with the phone cord and my stomach tightened. "Ken, are you letting me go?"

"Yes," he said, his voice void of any emotion.

My cheeks flushed. I wasn’t hurt. I was pissed. "Well, thanks for having the balls to tell me over the phone instead of in person. I really appreciate hearing it this way. You should have sent me a letter so you wouldn’t have had to speak to me at all. But, I’m probably not worth the price of a stamp, so…" I was furious with him. I didn’t care about the job, that wasn’t it at all, and I didn’t need the money. I’d saved enough over the last few years to get by. I cared about how hard he was pushing me away.

"Gwen, don’t be…."

I cut him off. "What don’t be what? Don’t be mad that someone I care about hates me, or don’t be mad that I still care about you?" I put my hand over my mouth. Did I really just tell him that I still cared for him? What the hell was I thinking? I had Caleb now and Ken had Beth.

Ken fell silent on the other end. I didn’t really expect him to say anything, although, a just kidding, you’re not fired would have been nice. Seconds ticked by before I gave into the impulse to hang up. There wasn’t really anything left for me to offer that would be considered polite, so it was better this way.

If you can’t say anything nice….

Walking over to the fridge, I took out the pitcher of lemonade. I wanted a glass of wine but the lemonade would have to do. I set the pitcher on the counter and grabbed two glasses down from the shelf. As I walked back towards the freezer to get ice the phone rang again. I knew it was Ken calling me back. I didn’t want to talk to him. The machine could get it. I grabbed a handful of ice out of the icebox and dropped it into the glasses. The plunking sound was a nice distraction from the nagging feeling of loss threatening to consume me.

The phone had just stopped ringing when Caleb walked in the back door. My voice greeted the caller, from the answering machine in the hallway. When the machine beeped, I looked up at Caleb. Suddenly, I wanted him to be digging out in his hole again. Not in here listening to Ken’s call.

I heard Ken’s voice on the machine and cringed. "Gwen, don’t do this. I’m sorry. I’m having a hard time with everything still. I just need some time. You’re not fired, I’m sorry, I just thought ... I don’t know what I thought, pick up please ... I know you’re there, Gwen? I still have feelings for you, too ... Maybe you should take a few more weeks off ... I can’t do this right now. I love you too much to watch you with someone…" The machine beeped and stopped recording.

Caleb stood very still. I never really got the expression about hearing a pin drop until that moment. The anger on his face was evident. "What the hell was that about?"

I tried to avoid eye contact with him. I didn’t want to hurt him, but I didn’t want to lie to him either. "I love you," was the best I could come up with.

Reaching out, he took my hand in his. His hand was rough from all of the manual labor he’d been doing. It didn’t matter to me that he wasn’t as smooth as he’d once been, I’d take him anyway, so long as he was with me.

"Gwen, don’t do this, please," he said, his hand tightened around mine. I looked up at his face. The moment I saw his green eyes, I couldn’t help myself--I cried.

Prior to finding out about my past, I was normal--well as normal as a faerie living among humans could get. I didn’t have multiple men at one time. I hadn’t even had sex for six months before I met Caleb. Ken had been the last man I’d been with and we’d been engaged. Since I began to remember bits and snippets of my past I began to have uncontrollable desires and I didn’t like the new me one bit.

Caleb pulled me close to him. His body was sweaty but still smelled wonderful. I took a deep breath in and let his scent calm me as he held me tight against his chest. He was warm and lately I’d been cold all the time. I let my head rest against him and he stroked the back of my head gently.

"Marry me, Gwen, marry me and this will all stop, I promise."

I kept my head buried in his chest. How could he be so sure, how could he know that I wouldn’t leave him again for another man? That’s exactly what I’d done to him my last time on this earth. I couldn’t even think about committing to him, then destroying him like that again. I had a hard enough time liking myself lately. Doing that to Caleb would kill me, I was sure of that.

"I can’t," I said, between sobs. His hands tightened in my hair--he was just this side of pulling it.

"You mean you won’t." The hurt in his voice was evident. I wanted to comfort him, but I was crying too hard. I wasn’t going to be much good in the consoling department when I was sobbing like a baby. I tried to pull away but Caleb held me tight. "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get you all upset. I’m sorry."

"I love you, Caleb. I love you so much, but I can’t hurt you again! This is all so fast ... too fast." I yearned for reassurance that he wasn’t mad and that everything would be all right. I couldn’t imagine my life without him. He had become everything to me, my friend, my lover, my life. I wondered if we’d been this way before, and if so why did I leave him? I wasn’t sure I’d ever know the answer to that.

He kissed the top of my head. "I love you, too, Gwen. I love you, too."

Sliding my arms around his back, I hugged him tight. He was so warm, so loving, so different from any other man I’d ever had in my life. He touched my forehead lightly with the back of his hand. "Gwen, you’re ice cold. Are you all right?"

I smiled and the tears began to dry on my face. It was a little like having one of those facial masks drying on you only without the luxury of being able to peel it off, and as far as I know any exfoliating qualities. I did my best to wipe my cheeks before pulling Caleb’s face down to mine to kiss his lips. The salt from my tears pressed into both of our mouths. I pushed my tongue in, diving, digging for his. When I found it, it was warm and wrapped itself smoothly around mine.

My body burned to be with him, to have him hold my naked body in his arms. I knew he had to get cleaned up and get ready to go, but that didn’t change the fact that I still wanted to lie with him before he left. I loved him so much and didn’t want to think about the possibility of the last time we talked ending in a fight. His job was dangerous and there was always a very real chance he wouldn’t come home. I’d thought I’d lost him once already and that was more than enough not to want to go through it again.

"Gwen, I’m calling Mark, I can’t go in with you like this." He walked around me and headed out in the hall to use the phone. Mark was his partner. I’d never actually met him. I’d heard Caleb talk about him a few times but that was it. I asked about him once, but Caleb just told me that in their line of work, the less people knew about them the better. I wasn’t sure I agreed with that. I mean, he was putting his life in this guy’s hands. Didn’t I have the right to at least meet him? Caleb didn’t seem to agree with me on that one.

I didn’t want Caleb to stay home on account of me. He loved what he did. I could always see a spark in his eye when he returned home after hunting down some crazy creature. He loved to tell me all about his adventures. I usually sat there with an aching pit at the bottom of my stomach every time he went into detail about being in danger, but I kept a smile on my face all the same. Caleb was a thrill seeker--that much was plain to see.

"Caleb!" I called after him. He turned around and looked at me. "Hey, I’m fine, you go. Besides you’ll ruin my weekend movie marathon."

James would be stopping at the video store before he and Caradoc came. James and I had taken to watching movies. We’d become our own two man critiquing team. Two fangs up or down. It wasn’t the best rating system, but it worked. Besides, James may be the only person more jaded than me. I couldn’t be sure, but maybe. Last week’s marathon had been an ode to the eighties. We’d spent the weekend watching teen flicks that dealt with serious issues, like paying your paper carrier on time, turning sixteen, and spending a weekend in detention.

It was very stimulating.

Caradoc, one of the most serious vamps I’d ever met, refused to sit with us and stare aimlessly at the television screen. He always wandered off into the woods or brought a few books to read. I’m sure he thought James and I were childish. Even though I’d just turned twenty-five, Caradoc still had me by about three hundred years or so, give or take a little.

James, on the other hand, was a "smidge" younger than him. He kept his hair cut short, and bleached it blond. I had to laugh every time I saw him spreading hair gel through it to spike it up. I think, no I know, he owns every black t-shirt ever made, and he rarely incorporates color.

Caleb walked over to me and touched my head with the back of his hand again. "Gwen, you’re really cool, what’s going on? Are you still taking your pills?"

The pills he referred to were my birth control pills that a Si doctor, Dr. Brown, had prescribed for me. The word Si, means elf, faerie, or magical creature. I had to hunt around for a doctor who specialized in this. Going to a normal doctor would have been too risky. Ordinary everyday people didn’t know that faeries, vampires, and other creatures of the night were real, and it had to stay that way.

I had no idea what was in the pills, but they were the equivalent of taking three normal birth control pills at one time. I had to take them twice a day because I was a Si and was in the reproductive prime of my life. No one knew how long I would remain fertile, it could be hundreds of years, or it could just be a few weeks. It could end tomorrow and revisit me again in a hundred years. There was no rhyme or reason to it all and it made it hard to prevent unplanned pregnancies.

Caleb and I had agreed not to have a baby right now. I could have already been swollen with child right now if I didn’t take the pills religiously. We were perfect matches, and in the life of a faerie, you only got a few of those--if you were lucky. A match, or life-mate, was someone whose essence was complementary to you, thus possibly producing a healthy offspring. My female Si body would be very selective on whom it would allow to impregnate me. I never actually got a list of prerequisites for the guy to possess, so I wasn’t sure who all fit the bill. Two possibilities existed so far, Caleb was the only sure thing. He wanted to marry me and have a family, I knew that, but he also respected me enough not to push it, most of the time.

"Yeah, I’m still taking the pills, so no, I’m not pregnant."

Staring down at my stomach, he looked disappointed. My gestation rate was a bit more accelerated than a human’s was, so if I were to become pregnant I would show in a matter of weeks. I’d still have to carry the baby for almost a year, allowing it to soak up magical powers from me, but I’d be huge by four months. I felt bad for letting him down, but this was my body, and right now, I did not want to have a baby.

He glanced up at me and knew I’d caught him fixating on my stomach. A slight smile played across his face. "I was just…."

"You were just hoping I decided to surprise you. Well I didn’t, sorry." I hated being like this with him. "Look, I’m sorry, but do you really think I want to get pregnant, watch you head out that door hunting some lethal demon, only to never come back through it? Do you think I want to raise our baby by myself? Is that it? God, Caleb, get real, you can’t expect me to do that, you can’t expect me to say, hey let’s do it, gee we’ve only been a couple for two months but let’s start a family anyways. Oh, then after I have a perfect little version of you I can sit around and spend the rest of my life mourning the man I loved and lost every time I look into his eyes." I was rambling and I knew it. "I’m not cut out to be a mother. Take a good look at me, Caleb! I can’t even take care of myself. I’m a mess and you know it!"

My temper flared. I had a nasty one and he knew it. He was always saying how much like my father I was. I wouldn’t really know since the man didn’t raise me. Two wonderfully loving humans raised me, not the King of the Dark Realm. I’d have to take Caleb’s word on issues involving my father.

Caleb reached out to touch me. I pulled away from him. "Gwen, I didn’t mean that, and if you don’t like what I do why didn’t you just say something? I’ll stop, I’ll quit right now if it will make you feel better about us. I’ll do anything you want. You just have to tell me what the hell it is you want. I’m not like some ‘people’ we know, I don’t read minds."

Rolling my eyes, I sighed, feeling extremely defeated. I didn’t want him to quit his job. He loved what he did and I’d never ask him to give it up. In truth, I didn’t know what I wanted anymore. I just knew that I didn’t want to fight about this again. "Forget it, I’m fine. Go, you need to get cleaned up."

"Just this once, I’ll make an exception about magic." Warm air surrounded us both. It wrapped itself around me and I closed my eyes just for a moment to bask in the felling of Caleb’s power. When I opened them again, he was clean.

He reached out and grabbed me around my waist. Before I could protest, he’d picked me up in his arms, and I grinned from ear to ear. He could always make me smile no matter what. It was a gift few possessed. He carried me up the stairs and to our bedroom. We had taken over the master bedroom and he was in the middle of tearing down the wallpaper. The walls looked like something had been clawing at them, shreds of paper hung loosely to the floor. I laughed at the state of the room as he tossed me down on the bed gently.

Sliding his hands up and under my sweater, he traced his fingers lightly over my silk bra. My nipples hardened under the weight of his gentle touch. Moaning, I rubbed my body against his, needing to feel every inch of him. Quickly, he removed my pants and underwear before sliding back over me.

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