You can't help who you fall for
The arrival of Dominic Brabant was like something out of a movie. Walking into Suzanna Zelensky's shop in his buttoned-up suit, he couldn't help but make an impression. She can't control the erratic beating of her heart. But this stranger's here for more pressing matters . Her home is at the top of his redevelopment list!
Zanna soon discovers you can't help falling in love with the wrong person but ending up in her rival's arms might well be the best decision she's ever made!
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No way was he a genuine customer.
Suzanna Zelensky had no need to call on any intuitive powers she might have inherited from her bloodline. Even the dark silhouette of this stranger, caused by the slant of late afternoon sunshine through the window behind him as he stepped further into her domain, radiated a palpable scepticism. He wanted nothing to do with anything this business represented. The impression wasn't all that uncommon in the gypsy shop Spellbound and it was almost always emanated by males, but they were invariably dragged in a by a female partner.
This man was alone and yet he moved with a determination that suggested he had a good reason for entering her world. Alarm bells rang with enough force to make the back of Zanna's neck prickle. Who was he and what did he want?
She had seen him well before he'd had the chance to see her. Had caught a clear glimpse of his face in that heartbeat of time from when he'd come through the door until he'd stepped forward into that shaft of light. Strong features with a shadowing to his jaw that accentuated uncompromising lines. A harsh but compelling face. This man wouldn't just stand out from a crowd. He would render those around him virtually invisible. He was different. Beautiful
Having other customers to attend to was fortunate. Zanna had time to think. A chance to consider the implications of this unusual visit and an opportunity to gather her emotional resources. She turned back to the teenage girls.
'You'll need a burner to use the essential oils as aromatherapy. We have a good range over here.' The heavy silver bangles Zanna was wearing gave the movement of her arm a distinctive, musical accompaniment.
She could feel him looking at her now. A predatory kind of appraisal that should have raised any hackles she possessed but instead, disturbingly, she could feel a very different kind of response. Her skin prickled as though every cell was being stirred. Coming alive.
'How do they work?' One of the girls was reaching for a burner.
'A small candle goes in the base.' Zanna risked a quick glance behind her, maybe because she had sensed she was no longer under scrutiny. Sure enough, the man was moving, staring at the objects on display. For a moment, Zanna stared blankly at the object in front of her. What had she been talking about?
'You put water in the bowl above it,' she managed, 'and sprinkle a few drops of your chosen oil on the water. As it heats, the scent is carried in the vapour.'
'What do these ones do?' A dark-haired girl picked up a tiny bottle.
'Those ones are designed to complement zodiac signs. They increase your personal powers.'
He was watching her again. Listening? Quite likely, given the increase in the strength of scepticism she could sense. Scathing enough to bring a rising flush of heat to her neck. Zanna had always loathed the fact that she blushed so easily and she particularly didn't appreciate it right now.
'I'm Sagittarius,' the blonde girl announced. 'Can I open the bottle and see what it smells like?'
'Sure.' Zanna moved away as the girls tested the oils. Despite being acutely aware of the movements of the stranger within the shop since he'd entered, she had made no direct acknowledgment of his presence. As far as he was concerned, he had been totally ignored, which was not a practice she would normally have employed with any potential customer. They couldn't afford to turn away business.
But this man wasn't a customer. The dismissive rake of his glance across shelves of ornate candle holders and chalices, stands of incense and display cases of Celtic jewellery, even before the flick of a finger against a hanging crystal prism that sent rainbow shards of light spinning across the ceiling, had confirmed that his mission did not include any desire to make a purchase.
He didn't look like someone who might have been drawn in for the refreshments available either. She could imagine him ordering a double-shot espresso to go, not lingering over herbal teas and organic cakes and cookies. Had he even noticed the blackboard menu as he'd raised his gaze? Had he been caught by the play of light on the ceiling from the prism or was he inspecting the intricate pattern of stained glass in the fanlights above the main windows?
He was moving away from her now, towards the selection of crystal stones in a basket near the window. He was tall. She knew he was over six feet in height because the circular feather and twine dreamcatchers suspended from the ceiling brushed the top of his head as he walked beneath them. His hair was black and sleek, the waves neatly groomed, with just enough length to curl over the collar of a well-worn black leather jacket. His jeans fitted like a glove and the footwear was interesting. Not shoesboots of some kind. Casual clothing but worn in a way that gave it the aura of a uniform. Of being in command. A motorbike helmet was tucked under one arm.
Zanna could almost taste the testosterone in the air and it made her draw in a quick breath and take a mental step sideways.
Maybe those alarm bells had been ringing for a more intimate purpose. Perhaps her intuition had been overwhelmed by the raw sexual energy this man possessed. A subtle but determined shake of her head sent a lock of waist-length copper-coloured hair over one shoulder. She brushed the errant tress back calmly as she moved towards the stranger.
'Can I be of any assistance?'
Dominic Brabant almost dropped the stone he was weighing in a careless hand. He'd only seen the profile and then the back view of this woman when he'd entered the shop because she'd been busy with her customers. He'd had a good look at that back, mind you, while wrestling with the annoyance that two silly schoolgirls presented such an effective barrier to having a private conversation.
He could wait. He'd learned long ago that patience could be well rewarded.
Maybe he would go to one of the small wooden tables, screened by bookshelves, and order one of the teas described on the blackboard menu.
A ginger tea for its energising properties, perhaps?
No. He had more than enough energy. The motivation for being here in the first place had been validated in those few minutes he'd had to take, standing out there in the street, untangling the overload of memories and emotions. He could feel it fizzing in his veins and gaining strength with every passing minute. It had to happen. Fate had provided the opportunity and it felt like the inspiration had always been there, just waiting to be unleashed. The desire to succeed was more powerful than any that had preceded his achievements so far in life.
This was personal. Deeply personal.
He blew out a breath. Maybe a soothing chamomile tea might be the way to go. He couldn't afford to make this any more difficult than it had to be. And he wasn't even sure that this was the woman he needed to speak to. She might simply be a shop assistant who was paid to wear that ridiculous dark purple robe and improbable hair that had to be a wig. Nobody had real hair that could ripple down their back like newborn flames.
It was just part of the image. Like the flowing clothes and heavy silver bangles. The assumption that she was probably large and shapeless under that flowing fabric and that the hair under the wig was steely grey was blown away somewhat disconcertingly by the sound of her voice at close quarters.
The witchif that was who she was, according to the information he'd been provided withwas young and the lilt in those few words created a ripple that was reminiscent of the silky fall of that wig.
He cleared his throat as he turned to meet her gaze. 'I'm just looking at the moment, thanks.'
A flash in her eyes let him know that she recognised the ambiguity as he continued to look at her rather than what was for sale in the shop.
The sustained eye contact was unintentional. This wasn't the time to intimidate anyoneespecially someone whose cooperation might be essentialbut the proximity of the window gave this corner of the shop much more light than the rest of the candlelit interior. Enough light to see the copper-coloured rims around those dark, hazel eyes and the dusting of freckles on pale skin. And the hair was real. Or was it? Nic had to suppress an outrageous desire to reach out and touch the tendril caught on the wide sleeve of the robe. Just to check.
'Are you looking for something in particular?' Zanna held the eye contact with difficulty. The hint of a foreign accent in the stranger's deep voice was only faint but it was as intriguing, not to mention as sexy, as her earlier observations. The feeling of connection was more than a little disturbing. How could such an intensity be present so instantaneously?
And, yes he was looking for something in particular.
Something he had promised when he'd been only six years old.
'When I'm big, Mama, I'll be rich. I'll buy that big house next door for you. '
Disturbingly, he could almost hear an echo of his mother's quiet laugh. Feel her arms holding him. The sadness that would always give her voice that extra note.
'Merci beaucoup, mon chéri. Ce sera merveilleux! '
'No.' The word came out more forcefully than he'd intended. He summoned at least the beginning of a smile. 'Nothing in particular.'
His eyes were dark. Almost black in this light. Inscrutable and unnerving. Resisting the instinct to look away was almost unbearable. The strength of will this man possessed was a solid force but she couldn't afford to lower her guard until she knew what his motives were in coming here.
He was bouncing the crystal in his palm. Zanna had the uncomfortable notion that it wasn't just the rock he was playing with. He had a purpose in coming in here. He wanted something from her. He wanted her?
The ridiculous notion came from nowhere. Or was she picking up a well-hidden signal?
Whatever. It was strong enough to make her toes curl. To send a jolt right through her body, sparking and fizzing until it melted into a glow she could feel deep in her belly.
Desire? Surely not. That was a sensation she thought she might have lost for ever in the wake of the London fiasco with Simon. But what if it was? What if something she'd feared had died had just sprung to life again? She couldn't deny that the possibility was exhilarating.
It was also inappropriate. She knew nothing about this man and he could well represent a threat, both to herself and the only other person on the planet she had reason to cherish. Knowing she had to stay in control in the face of the power this stranger had the potential to wield over her physically was going to be a challenge.
And that was just as exhilarating as knowing she was still capable of experiencing desire. These last weeks, alone in both the shop and the house, had been lonely. Stifling, even.
The challenge was irresistible.
'You're holding a carnelian crystal.' She was pleased to find she could keep her tone pleasantly professional. If she gave him something concrete to dismiss maybe he would reveal his true motive for being there. 'It's considered to be a highly evolved mineral healer that can aid tissue regeneration. It enhances attunement with the inner self and facilitates concentration.' She smiled politely. 'It opens the heart.'
'Really?' He couldn't help his sceptical tone. His own concentration had just been shot to pieces and he was still holding the stone.
Did some people really believe in magic?
Like they believed in love?
He released it to let it tumble back with its companions in the small wicker basket. He wasn't one of them.
'Excuse me.' The teenage girls had given up on the essential oils. 'What's in all those big jars?'
It was hard to turn away from the man and that was a warning Zanna needed to listen to. A few moments to collect herself was a blessing but the task was made more difficult because the girls were staring at the man behind her now, their eyes wide enough to confirm her own impression of how different he was.
'Common ones like rosemary and basil,' she added, to distract them. 'And lots of unusual ones, like patchouli and mistletoe and quassia.'
Zanna never tired of looking at her aunt's collection of antique glass containers. They took pride of place on wide, dark shelves behind the counter, the eccentric shapes and ornate stoppers adding to the mysterious promise of the jars' contents. They had always been there. Part of her life ever since she'd arrived as a frightened young girl who had just lost both her parents. As grounding as being here, in the home she loved.
'They can be burned for aromatherapy or drunk as teas. They can also be used for spells.'
'Spells.' The girls nudged each other and giggled. 'That's what you need, Jen. A love spell.' They both sneaked another peek behind Zanna and Jen tossed her hair.
'Have a look at the book display,' Zanna suggested, unhappily aware that her tone was cool. 'There's some good spells in that small, blue book.'
'You have got to be kidding.'
The deep voice, unexpectedly close to her shoulder, startled Zanna and made her aware of another jolt of that delicious sensation. Cells that had already come alive caught alight. She could actually imagine tiny flames flickering over every inch of her skin.
'Got some eye of newt in one of those jars?'
Here it was. The first open evidence that this man was not a genuine customer. Zanna turned, her smile tight. 'No. We find that currants are a perfectly acceptable substitution these days.'
The giggles suggested the girls were oblivious to the tension that Zanna could feel steadily increasing. She cast a quick glance at the grandfather clock near the inner door of the shop. Only another ten minutes or so and she could close up and stop wasting her time with customers who either had no intention of buying anything or schoolgirls who couldn't afford to. At least the girls were enjoying themselves. The stranger wasn't. She could sense his irritation with the girls. Why? Was he waiting for them to leave? So he could be alone with her?
The flames flickered again but it was beyond the realms of possibility that the strength of the physical connection she could feel was being reciprocated. He wanted her for something, though Of course why hadn't she thought of that the moment she'd seen him come in, looking as though he had ownership of whateverand whoeverwas around him? As if he had the power to snap his fingers and change her world? To give her exactly what she wanted most.
Or to take it away.
Zanna stilled for a moment. Could he have come from the offices of the city council? They were as keen as the owner of the dilapidated apartment block next door that this property be sold and both the buildings destroyed in order to make a fresh development possible. There'd been veiled threats of the council having the power to force such a sale.
There was no sound of movement behind her either. Just a deep silence that somehow confirmed her suspicion and made her apprehensive.
Maybe the girls picked up on that. Or perhaps they'd seen Zanna look at the clock.
'Have you seen the time?' one of them gasped. 'We're going to be in so much trouble!'
They raced from the shop so fast the door banged and swung open again. Zanna moved to close it automatically and, without really thinking of why she might be doing it, she turned the sign on the door around to read 'Closed'.
She turned then. Slowly. Feeling like she was turning to face her fate.