Secrets and Spells [Northern Circle]
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by Jessica Jarman
Category: Romance/Dark Fantasy
Description: Anxious for a change and wanting to learn more about her late mother and where she came from, Thalia Wells accepts a job in the small town of Parrish. As she settles into her new life, she begins to notice unsettling oddities about her new home. Gray is used to secrets. Being a witch and living in a town of people with magical abilities means living with secrets. But keeping Thalia in the dark kills him especially when it brings her pain. Thalia doesn't believe in magic and had given up on happily ever after, but can she find both with Gray?
eBook Publisher: Resplendence Publishing, LLC, 2012 March
eBookwise Release Date: July 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [100 KB]
Reading time: 61-86 min.
Thalia Wells suppressed a shiver as she stepped out onto her tiny front porch. There was a wicked chill in the morning air, despite it being late June. She suspected it was because of how close she now lived to the big lake. She didn't mind the cold, though. In fact, she hoped it held. A summer without stifling humidity sounded just about perfect to her.
She raised the zipper on her hoodie, re-secured the strap of her bag over her shoulder then shoved her hands in her jeans pockets as she made her way to the sidewalk and turned toward Main Street. She nodded toward Ms. Thompson as the older woman hurried on her way down the opposite side of the street, her little dogs pulling her along on their leashes. Thalia felt a bit guilty as relief filled her. Any other day, she'd be happy to stop and talk to her elderly neighbor, but this morning, Thalia'd overslept and was running late. Of course, she could always hop in the car, but driving such a short distance seemed incredibly wasteful, and besides, if she drove, she'd miss the walk home. Her lips curved as she quickened her pace. The soles of her worn tennis shoes slapped on the cracked pavement. Humming, she continued on her way and took the time to mentally go through her to-do list. It was her day off, and rather than relaxing, she was preparing for a house guest. Her best friend Lissa would be arriving that evening, and Thalia had a blue million things to do.
She rounded the corner onto Main and stopped short when two hands gripped her shoulders just before she toppled over to avoid a collision. She gasped and chuckled when she met amused green eyes.
"Where you off to in such a hurry?" Sheriff Dan Lowry asked with a laugh.
"Trying to keep tabs on me?" she said with a smirk before adding, "Uncle."
He smiled and rubbed a hand over his heart. "Still getting used to hearing that."
She nodded awkwardly. "I know. Me too. Saying it, I mean."
"You're up awfully early. Figured you'd want to sleep in, it being your day off and all."
Thalia felt her cheeks heat slightly. Thank God, she could blame the morning chill and exertion from her walk for the flush. "I've gotten used to Carla's breakfasts every morning."
"Ah." He nodded and ran a hand through his black hair. "Well, I'll let you get to it. See you later."
"Bye," she murmured and skirted around him.
It was ridiculous to feel so uncomfortable around family. Of course, she hadn't known about this particular side family until about two months before when Dan had called her to offer her the deputy position. She pushed down the surge of anger that flared inside her. There was no point in getting worked up over it, anymore. What was done was done. She was here now and getting to know her newfound relatives. That's what mattered.
She wiped her palms on her jeans as she walked up to the entrance to Carla's Diner. Pulling open the door, she scanned the bright interior and sighed in relief. She wasn't too late after all.
"Hey there," Susie, one of the waitresses, called out from behind the counter. "Go ahead and have a seat, and I'll be right with you."
"Thanks." Thalia made her way to one of the booths toward the back of the restaurant and sat. She grabbed one of the menus, mostly to look busy since she always got the same thing.
Just as Susie came with a cup of coffee, Thalia's phone rang. She pulled it from her bag and, with a glance at the display, grimaced.
"I'll be back to take your order in a few," Susie said in a hushed tone as she set the steaming mug on the table then moved to one of the other occupied tables.
Thalia took a deep breath and flipped the phone open. "Hi, Dad."
"Well, I guess I should count myself lucky that you're at least answering my calls, now." Bruce Wells' voice rumbled over the line.
"How are you?" She forced a cheerful tone.
"Worried sick, that's how I am," he snapped. "When are you coming home?"
"This is my home now." How many times would she have to say that, to have this same miserable conversation, before it penetrated his thick, albeit well-meaning, skull?
"Nonsense. I know the last year has been tough on you, but that's no reason to run away, Thalia. I can only imagine what that fool-headed Lowry is filling your head with, enticing you to stay in that God-forsaken town."
"Dad, stop. He offered me a job; he certainly didn't force me to take it. And believe it or not, I like it here. A lot."
"Sure, you do. It's new, exciting, and adventure. And summer. Just wait until winter comes around. You won't be enjoying it so much when there are snow banks as tall as you are."
"I'm not going to argue with you about this anymore. I made the decision to move here. I've agreed to at least a year on the job, so there isn't anything to be done about it. I don't go back on my word. You taught me that," she pointed out.
She chuckled when he trailed off. Obviously, he wasn't able to come up with a quick counter for that one. "Now, I'm sure you have work to get to. Why don't I call you tomorrow? I have Lissa coming in today, and--"
"Well, that's something. Maybe she'll be able to talk some sense into you! She'll take one look at that little podunk town and drag you back where you belong."
"You can hope," Thalia said dryly, pressing fingertips to her temple.
"Fine, tomorrow then." He hesitated a moment, then added. "I love you, Thally."
She sighed. "I love you too, Dad."
She closed the phone with a snap and set it on the scarred wood table. Lifting the coffee cup to her lips, she closed her eyes briefly in pleasure as the bold taste and scent of coffee enveloped her senses.
"You want your usual this morning?" Susie sidled up next to her and set a hand on her shoulder.
Thalia looked up at the other woman and a wave of sadness suddenly swept over her. Her head swam, and she blinked rapidly against tears. Drawing in a shuddered breath, she shook her head slightly. "Y-y-yes, please."
"Hey, you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." Thalia narrowed her eyes as she studied the waitress. She took in the reddened nose, the puffy eyes, the extra bit of makeup meant to conceal those things. "Are you?"
Susie nodded. "I'm great."
"Are you sure? You feel...I mean you look sad."
Susie dropped her hand and opened her mouth, once, then twice before she could speak. "I shouldn't be surprised you'd notice. Your mama was awfully strong; it'd just follow that you are too."
"What do you mean?" It wasn't the first time her mother had been mentioned to her. Not shocking considering Cassandra Lowry-Wells had grown up--and died--in the small town, but it also wasn't the first time it had sounded so odd. Her mother had been strong? What did that have to do with anything?
"Well, I just meant..." Susie stammered, then when she looked past Thalia, her face paled slightly. "I just meant your mama was real intuitive about stuff, ya know? Seems like you are too. I'll just, uh, go get another coffee."
"Thanks, Suse." A low male voice sounded behind Thalia and she twisted in her seat, although she already knew who it was.
He was the reason she was here, the reason she was up and out of bed on her day off--though she'd never admit that even under torture. Grayson Parrish smiled down at her, brown eyes crinkling a bit. After a brief touch to her shoulder, he took a few steps forward and slid into the seat across from her.
"Good morning, Thalia." He studied her a moment before lifting a brow. "Something wrong?"
"I...ah... No." She shook her head then sighed heavily. "How are you?"
"I'm fine." Reaching over, he took her hand. "Would you tell me if there was something wrong?"
"Gray, really, I'm fine." Anything she'd been feeling before was quickly shoved aside as lust--hot and overwhelming--filled her. It was always the same. If Gray was in the vicinity, hot and bothered was on the menu. And honestly, who could blame her? She couldn't be the only woman around who appreciated his quick smile, his warm eyes, and the way his butt filled out his favored blue jeans oh so nicely. And if her fingers itched to run through the short-cropped brown hair to see if it felt as soft as it looked, that was only natural, right? And thoughts of leaning forward and sniffing, maybe even tasting, his golden skin cropping into her mind whenever they were together were normal for a healthy woman, surely.
When he just stared at her, she shook aside her wayward thoughts and gave up trying to pretend everything was perfect. "I just talked to my dad and he's still trying to convince me to 'come home'."
"Hmmm." His fingers danced over her palm. "I'm sorry he's upset you again."
She shrugged. "He means well; I know that. Anyway, I'd rather not dwell on it." She forced a smile as Susie set a cup in front of Gray.
"The usual for you too, Gray?" the waitress questioned.
"Sounds good. Thanks." When she'd walked away, he asked, "Your friend is coming in today, right?"
Thalia pulled her hand away and dropped it in her lap. A move of self-preservation. She managed to be coherent in his presence but physical contact... Well, her thoughts weren't on conversation then.
"Yep, sometime tonight."
"Did you manage to get some time off?" He settled back in the seat.
"I have to work tomorrow but then have a couple days off. Luckily, Dan was cool about it."
"The joys of working for family." He winked.
Laughing, she shook her head. "Well, Hunter was more than happy to switch some shifts with me." Hunter was Gray's brother and the other deputy in town.
"Ah, yes. Poor Hunt's had his heart broken and is looking for anything to take his mind off of it." He rolled his eyes. "He'll be over it soon enough and onto the next pretty girl--the distraction of work will help."
"Seems mean to be happy over his misfortune, but I'm glad to have the time off." She paused as Susie strolled over and placed their meals before them. After a murmur of thanks, Thalia spread the pat of melting butter over the short stack of pancakes. "So, any suggestions for two girls playing tourist for a couple of days?"
Gray looked thoughtful as he chewed a large mouthful of eggs. Swallowing, he nodded. "You can tour some of the old mines, if you're interested in that sort of thing. A day up in Copper Harbor and visiting Brockway Mountain definitely should be on your list. Um, Hungarian Falls are gorgeous if you don't mind a hike."
As they ate, discussion centered around the various sights and destinations found in the Keweenaw Peninsula. By the time their plates were cleaned, Thalia was grateful she had a notepad in her bag and was busily jotting down Gray's suggestions.
"Thanks. I haven't had much opportunity to explore the area yet. I'm really looking forward to it."
"Any time." Gray pulled out his wallet and, after withdrawing a few bills, threw them on the table. He stood and held a hand out.
Thalia braced herself for the jolt and placed her hand in his. Not that it helped. Tingles streaked up her arm, and her stomach tightened deliciously as he pulled her to her feet. He said nothing as they left the diner, but kept his fingers clasped around hers. They walked along Main and turned onto the small road toward Thalia's house. She knew she should pull away. Anyone could see them and get the wrong idea. Hell, she didn't want Gray to get the wrong idea. Even though they'd agreed to just be friends, the last thing she wanted to do was lead him on. She liked him--a lot--but she just wasn't ready to...
"So," Gray drawled as they came to a stop at the walkway to her home, "enjoy your day off." He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear with his free hand.
"Thanks. I'll, uh, see you soon?"
"Count on it." His fingertips grazed her cheek, and his chocolate brown eyes darkened. "Thalia..."
"Yeah?" She cursed inwardly at the breathiness of her voice.
"If I asked you out on a date again, what would your answer be?"
She slid her hand out of his and shook her head regretfully. "Gray, I--"
"Hey," he cupped her cheek, "no worries. But I warned you I was going to keep asking." Leaning forward, he pressed his lips to her forehead then stepped back.
Before she could say anything, he turned and headed back the way they'd come. He glanced back, saying over his shoulder, "And eventually, Thalia Wells, you'll say yes."
She watched him walk away and wished, not for the first time, that she was ready to get involved with someone again. No, not someone. Him. She wanted to be ready for Grayson Parrish.