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Mallory / SOMETHING WITCHY THIS WAY COMES
I blinked a few more times, and even then my vision was still cloudy, like I was just waking up with a massive hangover in a room bright with sunlight. I covered my eyes with my hand, trying to ward away the garish attack of light, hoping that my sense of hearing might help me figure out where I was. But my heart was beating so fast, it sounded like waves crashing into my ears.
I dropped my hand from my eyes and forced myself to focus, to concentrate on the scenery around me so I could get some sense of where I was and what had happened. Once I was able to make out the rocks that interrupted the otherwise deep blue ocean before me, I realized it wasn’t my heart that was echoing through my ears at all, but the actual waves. I glanced down at my shoes and took in the sand, feeling the sea breeze as it whipped around my ankles and caused me to shiver involuntarily.
I felt like I was moving in slow motion as I turned to face Rand. His dark brown eyes showed his concern for me as he smiled, and his dimples made him appear almost boyish. His deep chocolate hair was tousled, as if he’d just awakened from a restless night. He was breathtakingly beautiful, as always. At the sight of him, something warm began to grow within me and I recognized the feeling—relief melded with love.
If Rand was here, I was safe.
But the question remained: Where exactly was I?
I swallowed hard, trying to bridge the gap that was growing in my mind. I’d been home in . . . Los Angeles only moments ago and now I was . . . now I was . . .
I glanced around again, at the beach and then behind me. I took in the craggy hillside that led up to pastures of heather, dotted with enormous pine trees and a three-story white mansion, the plaque of which proclaimed itself to be kinloch kirk. Somehow, the title resonated with me and carried me to a place in my mind that I hadn’t visited in a while.
Kinloch Kirk is the home of the Queen of the Underworld, I told myself. It’s my home.
“We’re back in Scotland,” I whispered to Rand as I faced him again, the dawning realization forcing the clouds from my mind. He said nothing, just nodded and reached for me, engulfing me in his strong arms. I leaned my head against his chest and inhaled his spicy, masculine scent, relishing the feel of his embrace.
It was a woman’s voice—austere and calculating—and I knew it well. I turned to face the prophetess, Mercedes Berg, who stared past us, her mouth angry. The prophetess was the highest of all the witches and also the Queen’s chief ambassador, my chief ambassador. But what struck me was how upset she was that her plan hadn’t succeeded. Actually, it had been a complete fiasco.
And that was when it all came back to me, like someone had just pumped memory juice directly into my brain.
Mercedes had broken the rules of time by sending the vampire Sinjin Sinclair two years back in time to meet me before I ever became Queen . . . hell, before I was even aware that I was a witch. And Sinjin’s purpose? To get to know me before Rand did, thereby ensuring that I would never fall in love with Rand, which is what truly happened. Sinjin had wanted me to fall in love with him instead, and as much as I now hated to admit it, he’d succeeded.
But luckily for me, Rand hadn’t given up. A gifted warlock, he had recruited the help of Mathilda, a fairy. They’d traveled back in time to beat Sinjin at his own game. Why Mercedes had orchestrated the whole thing, I still didn’t know. And why had Sinjin agreed to it? Well, I also didn’t know for sure, but I did have my suspicions. He undoubtedly wanted the promise of power that went along with being the paramour of the Queen of the Underworld.
At the sound of Sinjin’s voice, I felt something within me constrict. I had to fight the feeling, though, because I’d promised myself I would get over him.
I refused to look at him. The power of his betrayal still felt like a knife in my back. Instead, I faced Mercedes and felt anger riding up my throat. She appeared so nonchalant, almost indifferent, as if sending Sinjin back in time and royally screwing up my life was no big deal. She acted like it was no more serious than if she’d just stepped on an unfortunate beetle.
“And apparently you failed,” Mercedes said, facing Sinjin with an expression that was none too friendly. I didn’t miss the fact that Sinjin had no comeback. But I still refused to look at him.
“Why did you do it?” Rand demanded of Mercedes. He took a step toward her, his shoulders tight. She turned away from him without answering. “Why the bloody hell did you do it?” he repeated, and his voice was rough, his English accent more pronounced and heated with his anger. I was suddenly afraid of a possible confrontation between the two of them.
“You must not doubt the prophetess,” Mathilda suddenly piped up from behind me. I turned to face her, in surprise, not having realized she was present. The oldest and wisest of the fae, Mathilda was slight, barely four feet tall. Her long, silvery hair flowed around her body. When I looked at her, I sometimes couldn’t tell how old she was. She’d told me a long time ago that each person’s perception of her was different—they see her however they choose to see her— apparently my confused mind was unable to distinguish her age.
But back to the time-travel thing . . . Right before Mercedes sent Sinjin back in time, I was looking for my cat, who had escaped from the house. Instead of finding her, I stumbled across Mercedes as she was performing a time-traveling charm on Sinjin. It was on the beach, just below the bluffs of Kinloch Kirk. Knowing it wouldn’t be long before everything I knew was whisked away from me, I used my telepathic connection to warn Rand—who was miles away at the time—about Mercedes’ intentions. Then, boom! When I woke up, it was two years in the past, in Los Angeles. I was completely unaware of the fact that I was officially Queen of the Underworld. Truth be told, I hadn’t even met Rand or Sinjin because they had yet to venture into my life.
To make a long story short, Rand, Sinjin, and Mathilda were able to return to the present. (I hadn’t traveled back in time to begin with, so I didn’t have to make the trek back.) I was surprised that everyone had returned to the same place—right here on the beach where Mercedes had first sent Sinjin on his merry way into the past. I wasn’t sure why, but I had guessed that upon returning, each person would reappear wherever he or she had departed. Well, clearly that wasn’t the case. ’Course, I also couldn’t say I understood the hows and whys about time travel, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.
“Damn not doubting her,” Rand raged.
“I had but one goal,” Mercedes answered in her same level tone, fixing her gaze on Rand and then on me.
“What was it?” I asked, my voice sounding hollow and drained, which wasn’t surprising considering everything going on around me.
“I made the decision to ensure the safety of our Queen and sovereign,” Mercedes finished, raising a brow at Rand as if to say, How can you argue with that?
“Her safety against what?” Rand asked as he wrapped his arms around me, pulling me close. It seemed as if just the very thought of a threat to my safety bothered him.
Mercedes didn’t alter her straight-lipped expression. Instead, she stared at him vacantly for about two seconds. “The Lurkers,” she finished succinctly. “Sending the Queen back in time would give us another two years to train her in an environment free of Lurkers.” I was about to respond when she held up her hand. “I never told you, Jolie, but I could sense something was coming, something dangerous.”
“So you decided to send Sinjin back in time to avoid it?” I asked.
She nodded. “It was the only way I could protect you, to give us more time to plan our retaliation.”
“Fat lot of good it did,” I muttered. The Lurkers, a breed of half-human/half-vampire creatures who had a vendetta against all Underworld residents, had done as good a job of attacking me in the past as they had in the future—well, now my present. Shit, this time-travel stuff was going to get confusing fast.
“What do you mean?” Mercedes pressed.
“She means that the Lurkers found her even though you upset the balance of time. So your reasoning was completely flawed,” Rand finished, his eyes burning.
“The Lurkers found you?” Mercedes asked slowly, spearing me with her eyes.
I nodded, reliving my fear as I remembered my brush with the Lurkers and how they had poisoned my dreams. “Yes.”
“They sent me a dream,” I answered, remembering the images—a battlefield littered with bodies, an image of a throne unattended. It was a dreamscape that appeared to me twice in my sleep. The first time, I awoke with the realization that the Lurkers were not only half-vampires, but also possessors of magic. The second time I had the dream, I was back in Los Angeles, two years ago, and the images resulted in an attack on my psyche. “My magic wasn’t strong enough to fight the images and I became very sick.”
“She could have died,” Rand finished for me, his lips tighter than before. I could feel his hands fisting around me, and I glanced up at him and smiled, loving the fact that he was so protective.
It’s going to be okay, Rand, I thought the words, knowing he could hear them. Even though I didn’t believe my own words, it felt good to say them. I wanted to trust that this was all going to work out just fine and that the Lurkers weren’t such a huge threat after all. Wishful thinking.
Instantly, I felt pride and love welling up within me, a feeling that threw me for a second because they weren’t emotions that belonged to me. No, they were Rand’s feelings making themselves known to me. That was when it dawned on me—Rand and I were still bonded, which meant we were soul mates, for lack of a better description.
I wasn’t sure why I was surprised. I mean, we had bonded after he, Sinjin, and Mathilda traveled back in time. I guess I hadn’t thought the bond would survive when Rand traveled forward in time, but apparently it had. And I had to admit I was elated. I’ve always known Rand was the only man for me. I love him like no other, and now I knew our bond had cemented us permanently. With it, we could hear each other’s thoughts and feel each other’s emotions. Bonding is like the ultimate union achieved between two witches, and it’s forever. The only end to a bond is death.
Mercedes and Sinjin manipulated you, Jolie, and that is not okay with me, he responded, shaking his head as he thought the words. But I couldn’t say I sincerely agreed with him. Things were not as black and white for me as they were for him. And knowing that Mathilda trusted Mercedes so wholeheartedly spoke volumes, because I trusted Mathilda.
“We will discuss the dream later,” Mercedes said resolutely as she faced me. I noticed she was careful not to glance at Rand, who probably looked furious.
“So that was your plan?” I asked her, trying to decide if I believed it. “To send Sinjin back in time to avoid the threat of the Lurkers?” She just nodded. “Then what about saving yourself?”
Mercedes was the prophetess, yes, but not all Underworld creatures believed in her existence—mainly because no one had ever seen her because she’d imprisoned herself in the year 1878. Why? She’d received a vision that if she didn’t relive the year 1878 repeatedly, she’d be killed by Lurkers. Luckily for her, she was able to harness my power to bring me back to 1878, and we returned to the present together. Thus, in sending Sinjin back and changing the course of history, she would also have changed the course of her own history, possibly sacrificing herself . . .
“I gave the vampire express instructions on how to train you until your powers were strong enough to send for me yourself,” Mercedes answered.
“So you had it all planned out,” I said, swallowing down the lump in my throat as the pieces began to fall into place. Did I actually buy her explanation? Any way I looked at it, I couldn’t think of another reason why she would have bothered with such a grandiose plan. And I had to admit that I did believe Mathilda when she said every action by Mercedes was intended to protect the kingdom, and likewise, to protect me. So, in a way, I guess I had to believe her.
Yes, I was still angry about the whole thing, but when I thought about it in this new light . . . well, it offered an angle I hadn’t yet considered. And it also meant something else—that Sinjin had been telling me the truth. He’d insisted that he’d done Mercedes’ bidding because he wanted to protect me. Prior to the whole time-travel thing, Sinjin had been a guardian to me, the Queen. He’d insisted that he was and always would remain my loyal protector.
Even though I didn’t want to, I turned to face him.
Sinjin Sinclair is in a word . . . stunning. He’s about six-foot-four and lean, with broad shoulders and long legs. His hair is the color of midnight—so dark that it sometimes appears almost blue, his eyes a much lighter blue—like the color of alpine water. He is the quintessential rogue, a real Casanova, and he’s six centuries old.
I felt something inside me rise up. It was a sort of numbness that quickly gave way to anger and pain, then feelings of betrayal. I refused to give in to them, though, and instead took a deep breath, already facing him. “Is that true?” I asked him.
“Of course,” he answered simply. “It was to protect you.” His eyes bored into me as if he could see into the depths of my soul. I felt myself swallow hard. “As I told you earlier.”
“Jolie, don’t believe a word from his mouth,” Rand interrupted. “He’s done nothing but lie to you, and he will continue to lie to you,” he spat, staring at Sinjin.
“Poppet, I have only ever spoken the truth,” Sinjin continued, not even sparing a glance at Rand. It was the same as always between them—Rand wore his emotions on his sleeve, and where Sinjin was concerned, those emotions were usually anger, protectiveness, and jealousy. Sinjin, on the other hand, while he probably did experience the same emotions, was always even-keeled and level-headed. I attributed it to the six hundred years he’d had to master his art.
“You conniving—” Rand started.
Sinjin merely cocked a brow in his direction and turned to face me again, wearing a smirk. “I have always been and will always be dedicated to the protection and longevity of my Queen.”
Okay, so I was willing to suspend my disbelief for the moment and lend a little credence to Mercedes’ and Sinjin’s story, but there was one part of the whole thing that still didn’t sit well with me. Well, aside from the fact that they both attempted to change the course of my life without my permission. I faced Mercedes and took a deep breath. “Was it your intention for me to develop feelings for Sinjin?”
I suddenly felt deeply depressed, then recognized that I was experiencing Rand’s reaction to my words. I glanced at him quickly and smiled, letting him know exactly how much he meant to me. Even though Sinjin had in a way tricked me into falling in love with him, it wasn’t something that would ever be long-term. No, I would beat this. I knew I would because I loved Rand and always had, and ours was the type of love that was forged by fate, set by the fires of destiny.
“That was not my intention,” Mercedes said as she eyed Sinjin suspiciously. “But apparently it was a by-product?”
If only my feelings for Sinjin could be dissected and archived as nothing more than a “by-product.” I said nothing, though, since I recognized the situation for what it was. Mercedes just didn’t understand the language of emotions—she was one of those people who lived only for the facts; there were moments when I envied her for that.
“I do not believe any of this,” Rand spat out at last. “And I have never trusted you,” he finished, glaring at Mercedes. “What you did was in no way defensible. You changed Jolie’s life when it was not your right.”
And Rand was correct. One hundred percent. Whatever their reasoning, I couldn’t deny that the wool had been pulled right over my eyes, that I’d had no say whatsoever.
And then something interesting happened. Mercedes’ eyes narrowed as she faced Rand, and I could see heat building in her face, staining the apples of her cheeks to a handsome shade of cherry. Mercedes is very pretty—she has long dark hair and the most gorgeous green eyes you’ve ever seen. At the moment, though, those eyes looked like they were about to resurrect World War II.
“Perhaps there was one other reason I sent the vampire back in time, warlock,” she said between gritted teeth. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen her so upset.
“And what was that?” Rand persisted, seemingly unconcerned that she was so angry, which hinted at his courage. The prophetess could have made a peanut butter and warlock sandwich out of him in two seconds flat.
“It was a test,” she finished squarely.
“A test?” he repeated, and I felt my heart rate increase. Tests are never good, particularly when you haven’t studied.
“What do you mean?” I demanded.
She glanced at me and frowned. “You have admitted yourself that your feelings for Rand have caused you pain. As far as I was concerned, your feelings for him were getting in the way of your duty to your kingdom and your people.”
I swallowed even harder. This was going to end badly. I could see it already. “That was not your place—” I started.
“It was and is my place,” Mercedes interrupted, her eyes ablaze. “I am responsible for your safety and your happiness. And as far as I could tell, Rand has caused you nothing but agony.”
“But—” I started, but she wouldn’t be silenced.
“Do you recall the time when you begged me to send you back to 1878 because, in your own words, you ‘hated your life’?”
Damn, I did, and now those words were coming back to haunt me. But it’s not like I’d really meant them. I mean, at the time, Rand was being his usual obstinate self and I was having a pity party for myself, remembering 1878, when he and I had loved one another openly. But it wasn’t like I really wanted Mercedes to send me back . . . or was it?
You asked her to send you back to 1878? Rand’s words echoed through me, but I couldn’t face him. His voice sounded too hollow, surprised in its sadness.
Yes, but I didn’t . . . I didn’t mean it, I responded, feeling guilty. Looking back on it, I was happy that Mercedes hadn’t sent me back. Somehow I hoped all those thoughts translated over to Rand.
“I wished to spare you the heartache inflicted upon you by this man,” Mercedes finished. She crossed her arms against her chest as if daring any of us to argue with her. I couldn’t really find it in myself to be that angry with her because I did believe her. And somehow it’s hard to be super irate with someone when they can’t see the full picture, since they probably had good intentions. As it was, I actually felt sorry for her.
“That’s just life, Mercedes,” I said, shaking my head. “You can’t control people’s destinies. You aren’t God.”
She swallowed hard. “I was only doing what I thought right.”
“Well it wasn’t right,” Rand insisted. “And Jolie is much more forgiving than I’m willing to be.” He gritted his teeth. “Because of you, I nearly lost her.”
“But you didn’t,” Mercedes snapped. “I had to ensure your worthiness to court my Queen,” she continued. “This was a test of your loyalty and affection for her and of whether you were the ideal recipient for her love.”
I watched Rand swallow hard as his arms tightened around me, his anger suddenly consuming me.
“Then you knew I would go after her? That I would time-travel just as Sinjin did?” he asked.
Mercedes glared at him for a few seconds before responding. “I did not know, but I suspected, or rather, hoped you would.”
She cocked a brow and frowned. “Obviously, you passed the test. That is proven not only by the fact that you are standing here, but also that you are bond mates again.”
There really wasn’t anything Mercedes didn’t know. I’d reached that conclusion a long time ago. She had an uncanny ability to detect things, our bonding status being a prime example. I mean, it wasn’t like bond mates had to wear matching shirts. It was just one of those things Mercedes inexplicably knew.
“You are bonded?” Sinjin asked, turning to me. His expression was tight, his fangs indenting his lower lip. He didn’t look happy. Instead, he seemed surprised, yes, but more than that—hurt.
“Yes,” Rand responded before I could. “You lost, Sinjin,” he said, his eyes angry as he took a few steps closer to the vampire. “Even though you did everything in your power to ensure that I would lose Jolie, you failed.”
Sinjin said nothing, and I faced forward again. I didn’t want to see pain in his eyes. I just couldn’t believe it—couldn’t believe he’d ever cared for me.
You know he cared for you, a small voice piped up from within me. Don’t try to kid yourself, Jolie.
Sinjin tricked me, I responded. I don’t care what Mercedes says or what excuses Sinjin makes—he isn’t being honest. Yes, he wanted to protect me but he also hungers for power, and I’ve always known that. Everyone knows that.
“At any rate,” Rand continued. “Punishment must be doled out to those who transgressed against the Queen. I will not allow this to be swept under the proverbial rug.”
I gulped as I considered it. It wasn’t like Mercedes could be punished. Or could she? She was like this supreme being—way more powerful than any of us—so how could we hope to punish her? I wasn’t sure. Which left one person. I couldn’t help it—I glanced back at Sinjin, only to find his eyes trained on me.
“I await my punishment with bells on,” he said as he disappeared into the cold night air.